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 'Tossed Out Like a Dog'

By Gideon Levy

22/08/08 "
Haaretz" - -- In the lawless South Hebron Hills, things are wild as usual: The settlers continue to attack shepherd children with clubs and stones, to steal their sheep and to make their lives miserable, while the Israel Police continue to abuse anyone who tries to file a complaint against the settlers.

Mahmoud Abu Kabaita, whose children and flocks were the targets of settlers from Beit Yatir and Susia, was left outside the Kiryat Arba police station in the burning sun for four hours, until they even allowed him to enter. The members of the Abu Awad family, some of whose children suffer from a serious skin disease, have already been victims of a cruel pogrom by the settlers of Asael, as described here three weeks ago. Relatives waited outside the police station for two hours, and left without filing a complaint, after being attacked once again last Shabbat. That is how the Israel Police enforces the law here.

After writing in this column about the Abu Awads, all of whose meager property was destroyed and looted by the rioters from Asael, some readers offered to help the penniless family. One prominent figure, who is well known in the political establishment and not necessarily from the left, and who wanted to remain anonymous, gave the family a personal financial contribution which is considered huge by local standards. There was great joy in the miserable encampment, but it was short-lived: Last Shabbat the children and their sheep were attacked once again by the Asael people. A wonderful way to welcome the "Sabbath bride," as is customary every week.
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The Abu Kabaitas, whom Israel decreed would have to live outside the separation fence, along with and adjacent to Beit Yatir, were not very fortunate either. They were also attacked by rioters from the neighboring settlement. They were also abused by the Israel Police, which are supposed to protect them.

Thus there exists, with a distance of an hour and a half from Tel Aviv, a region with its own rules: The settlers rampage as much as they please, and the police don't lift a finger and even treat the victims of the violence rudely when they want to complain. In the past weeks, as everyone knows, the rioting has mounted, for some reason, but for the police it's business as usual.

Opposite the new checkpoint and among antennas and wind turbines, lives the Abu Kabaita family. There is a mother, a father, 13 children and two grandmothers, one of them 97 years old, and of course the sheep and goats. They have been here since 1948 - Palestinians who live in a poor, but relatively well-kept compound of lean-tos, tents and stone structures, some of which have been demolished by Israel.

In the shade of a date tree are several plastic chairs; one of the children is picking dates and serving them together with small cups of sage tea. The father Mahmoud is relating the story of his tribulations. He is 40 years old, born here on the private lands registered to his family since the days of Turkish rule. He does not keep the official documents in the compound; he already knows that the settlers and perhaps even the police and the army are liable to confiscate them. Wearing a baseball cap backward on his head, speaking fluent Hebrew, he looks like an Israeli. A new Ferguson tractor is parked within the compound, but he has to leave his private car, an old Subaru, on the other side of the separation fence and the checkpoint on the slope, several hundred meters from his home. He is forbidden to bring it any closer to his house. Israel built the fence in such a way that Beit Yatir will remain in Israeli territory, along with some of its Palestinian neighbors.

It may be good for the settlers, but for the Abu Kabaitas the new checkpoint has only heralded more troubles: The children must pass through it every day on their way to school, as does Mahmoud on his way to buy feed for the sheep or to sell one of his herd, to bring a gas canister or other goods. Sometimes the soldiers allow him to pass, sometimes they don't. When he wants to take sheep to sell in neighboring Yata, the soldiers allow him to take out only two at a time. That's just how it is. Every crossing by he and his children depends on the good will of the checkpoint soldier: If he so desires, he'll let them pass; if not, he won't.

Abu Kabaita: "I drive with the tractor to Yata to bring water. If the soldiers are nice they let me pass. If not, I have to travel three hours in the fields on a route that bypasses the checkpoint. It all depends on the type of soldier at the checkpoint." He adds that his sister and other relatives who live on the opposite side are not allowed to visit him at all.

The path to the Abu Kabaitas' private pasture land is also an obstacle course: It passes within the border of Beit Yatir. This is also the source of constant friction; the children of the settlers sometimes throw stones at the shepherd's children when they traverse the settlement. Sometimes the settlers also try to steal the sheep or run them over, as happened on August 1.

The family has 200 head of sheep; they are now sprawled in their pen, resting in the summer heat. When Beit Yatir was established, in the late 1980s, the war over the land began. Abu Kabaita did not give in, embarked on an exhausting legal battle and remained on his land. Beit Yatir was forced to expand in a different direction, not into his lands, which are adjacent to the fence that surrounds the settlement, which is also of dubious legality, because it passes through his property. He and his children cross through an opening in the fence to the grazing area. The tin roof of the family home is strewn with small stones that the children of the settlers sometimes throw at it.

"We are not spoiled," explains Abu Kabaita. "We were born in caves and we're used to a hard life. We have no problem, we became used to it already from our parents and I also force my children to become accustomed to our hard life. Only the settlers disrupt our lives - they are destroying our lives. We grew up with this. We liked this situation, we like to be with nature in difficult conditions, except for the settlers who have inhabited our lands. They have disrupted things. All we want is to continue our lives. That's all. And we hope that the settlers will stop causing us problems. They're interrupting our lives."

Now Abu Kabaita removes from his pocket a folded packet of documents, confirmation of the complaints that he has managed to file with the police against his neighbors' attacks. "When I come to the police station they see me and close the gate. I waste my entire day there; if I go to file a complaint, I need to spend an entire day in the sun. That's what happened the last time. I stood there, tossed outside like a dog. I push the buttons, speak on the intercom; they tell me I'll be admitted right away, and nothing happens."

The last time he tried to file a complaint, on August 4, after baking in the heat for hours, representatives of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, came and complained that they were not letting Abu Kabaita in. That didn't help either, and he remained outside. "At 2 P.M. they allowed me to enter," he says. "I had arrived there at 10 A.M., and it took me until 5:30 P.M. before I could file the complaint. Even when I had already done so, I felt that the policemen were not receiving me properly and the investigator was not writing down what I said."

The complaint number that time was 309765/2008. Among the large number of documents showing evidence of complaints, about which nothing has been done, he also has a photograph that he once took clandestinely, in which one sees a settler from Beit Yatir, who, according to Abu Kabaita, is the violent one - dressed in white, a large white skullcap on his head, with a long beard, covering his face with his hands so that he won't be identified as he is fleeing.

Danny Poleg, spokesman and assistant commander for the Judea and Samaria Police District writes: "1. Mr. Mahmoud Abu Kabaita did register a complaint on 4.8 at the Hebron station. An investigation is under way. 2. With regard to the amount of time he waited, there is no factual evidence to substantiate his claims. It should be noted that the Hebron police conduct ongoing, careful surveillance of the gates at the station, also by closed-circuit TV, to determine whether there are complainants or others in need of their services. 3. At the entry gate where Palestinians are received, there is a telephone with relevant extensions listed and signs. 4. Despite all this, and in response to your request, the commander of the Hebron district has ordered a clarification of this subject among the staff. 5. The policy of the Hebron district is to provide professional, high-quality and especially prompt service to the area population.

It was August 1, at twilight, and his two sons, Bilal, 11 and Sagr, 8, were on their way home with the sheep from the grazing land beyond Beit Yatir. A group of settler children was there, playing paintball. They teased the shepherd children and threw the balls of paint at them. That is how Mahmoud Abu Kabaita describes it. It was a group of young people from Susia, he explains, and some others from Beit Yatir. "They began to shoot those paint bombs at our children and our children got scared and fled," says Abu Kabaita.

Bilal remained at a distance to watch over the sheep and Sagr ran home. Their father was in the family olive grove at the time. He dropped everything and rushed toward the flock and another shepherd boy who had remained behind. When he arrived he saw about 10 young people, who were holding onto several sheep. A white car was parked alongside the group. Five goats and sheep were already tied to trees in the woods.

"I wanted to approach, to ask them: Why are you stealing our sheep? But they are very fanatic people and they told me to leave the place immediately. I didn't see Bilal or the sheep. Where was Bilal? Where were the sheep? I was afraid. I phoned the emergency number, 100. They didn't answer. It started to get dark. We're in the dark alone, they're cursing and shouting, and I'm worried about my son and the sheep."

He called the offices of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Hebron. They referred him to the B'Tselem human rights organization. B'Tselem's research coordinator, Najib Abu Rakia, together with the organization's district fieldworker, Musa Abu Hashhash, called the Israel Defense Forces and the police to come to the site. The IDF came, the police did not.

When the IDF jeep arrived the settlers fled, leaving behind the flock. The soldiers did not say a word to Abu Kabaita, however, and left the scene. He and Bilal untied the goats and sheep, and returned home with the flock late in the evening, tired but mainly frightened.

Bilal and Sagr have refused since then to go out by themselves to the grazing land beyond Beit Yatir, and their father must accompany them daily, in the hope that they will return home safely. He is now very concerned about the fate of his children and his flock. He also feels there has recently been an intensification in the violence on the part of the settlers.

Abu Kabaita: "I got the children used to not being afraid, and I hope that it won't happen again. I don't want to say that all of Beit Yatir is like that. Not everyone in the settlement is a thief and wicked. It's important to say that. Only a few, and especially the one in the picture. In recent months it's become worse and they've started to make a lot of trouble for us. I feel it. They try to steal sheep, they try to run over sheep, they throw stones at night and scare my children."

Fortunately for him, the wind turbine built by the settlers almost on top of his house is often broken. The noise it makes at night when it is working prevents them from sleeping. "Every time it revolves - boom. It's like an explosion at night."

A turbine above their heads, one settlement spilling over into their pasture land, another on a nearby slope, and the threat of violence around them - that's the safe and pleasant life enjoyed these days by the Abu Kabaitas.

Copyright 2008 Haaretz. All rights reserved

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