The Villages Group is a small Palestinian/Israeli loosely structured organization engaged in dealing with the troubled communities in the South Hebron Hills, where the already harsh conditions are worsened by severe trouble in form of violence and harassment from settlers and demolition orders on everything from small bathroom units to kindergartens, schools and community centres. An indepth description of the organisation can be found here.
Every Thursday the members of the Villages Group try their best to make room for an entire day concerned with the welfare of the communities scattered around the South Hebron Hills. On today, the 31st of October, three of the… members of the Villages Group was present: Erella …, Limor .. and Hamed Qawasmeh as well as one friend of the group, the American Liz …, David … and myself. Besides conducting the regular visits with the different villages, families and individuals the main point on the agenda was to try to engage David who is and Irish-born British musician and teacher .. in the different kindergartens and schools. David has a history with both Palestine and the people of the Villages Group, and is spending five weeks in total in Palestine promoting musical creativity and engagement amongst the children, in an effort to provide a break from the distress of their daily lives with his musical instruments.
The first stop on the agenda was visiting the Kindergarten of Umm Al Khair, a Bedouin community faced with a large amount of issues mainly concerned with the Karmel settlement which is situated, and being expanded, right next to, and into, the land of the Bedouins. The Kindergarten is the first in the area, and was financed by generous donators through the villages group, who also pay the salary of the teachers. The Kindergarten has been functioning properly for more than a year and is currently preparing more than 32 young community members for their time in the nearby school. The project of rebuilding the kindergarten, which has previously been a regular home, began in … and ended with the final completion of the project in …. The depressing case of demolitions and settler related harassment in the Umm Al Khair, and more information in general about this fascinating and inspiring community can be found here. And thankfully, the kindergarten does not suffer from demolition orders or demolitions due to the fact that it is situated a couple of hundred meters away from the communities, which legally includes it in a part of the community, where reconstruction of houses is not faced with a demolition order, as is the case of many of the houses in the area.
After a brief introduction to the children, David began some initial exercises with the children of the Kindergarten, trying to determine to what extent he was able to break the barrier of verbal communication with his instruments. The children responded in an extremely intuitive and appreciative way and seemed very happy with the prospect of spending more time listening and engaging in David’s musical experiments.
The next stop of the day was the small community of …. Mufuaqara? Which is facing severe problems with both accessibility of water (extremely restricted, sometimes unavailable) and electricity (non-existand) in combination with being surrounded by three different settlements or outposts which is a continuous source of issues of demolitions, beatings and harassment.
The community, which consists of several smaller enclaves inhabited by several families are located behind Tuwani (the central city in the South Hebron Hills), where the children and young adults attend school, but due to the hardships that the community suffer because of the lack of basic services, the children often meet different kinds of obstruction in trying to excel in their school work. In cooperation with the Villages Group this need has been tried to be fulfilled by the establishment of enrichment cooperation together with the local teacher Ali, which has received funding for one term of enrichment classes, and is currently in the process of trying to raise funds for a second term. After the visit at Ali’s family now including his sister’s newborn baby (born the day of the Eid Al Adha), the group decided to split up in order to get in touch with as many people as possible.
Erella, David and Liz went to the community of Sussiya to meet with the teachers and headmaster of the school there, in order to try to engage David in this area as well, while Limor and Myself went to talk to another family of the Mufaqara community, where the Israeli military and the Israeli settlers had jailed the father and beaten up one of the daughters. Said .. and his family live in an area adjacent to Mufaqara alongside a few other families, and relies mainly on themselves. Upon arrival we were met by the wives of Said and the many children who told us the story behind the arrest. The dispute between Said and the settlers and military was regarding the construction of some reinforcement for the well from where the family receives there water. The process of reinforcing the well, in order for it to be more resilient to weather condition and settler attacks has been going on for a couple of weeks, in defiance of the Israeli settlers and military who disapproves of the construction. According to the family, Said was jailed for refusing to stop his work on the water well and leave the area, and in the process they beat up and hospitalized his adult daughter whom had just returned from hospital. Said was still awaiting trial for his actions, and we left the family ensuring them, that we would do our best to help with the release of their father and husband.
We rendezvoused with the others in Sussyia, where they had had a successful meeting the teachers of Sussiya school and a prospect of how David’s involvement in the communities were going to be handled was beginning to form. After a few visits in the village of Sussiya, which is one of the communities which suffers the most from demolitions (more information found here), we sat together everybody, being joined by Hamed Qawasmeh, the last member of the group, and settled on an outlook, where David would be spending Sunday till Tuesday living with a family in the Sussiya villages teaching at the school and Tuesday till Thursday living and teaching in the Umm Al Khair community.