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Palestinians moving back to Bir el-Eid, a village from which they were expelled in 1999

22 November 2009

After spending a week in the modern city of Jerusalem, camping out on the street with a Palestinian family that the Israeli government had evicted from their home so that Israeli settlers could move into their house, I now have been down in the South Hebron Hills for two weeks near At-Tuwani where I spent the past five winters. I know most of the people in the area.

I am now living in Bir el-Eid, an ancient village which the Israeli military forced the Palestinian residents to abandon in 1999. Through the work of Israeli peace groups, especially Rabbis for Human Rights, Israeli courts have ordered that the Palestinian residents may return to the village. Around November 1, families began to return.

The problem is, the nearby Israeli settlers are furious about the Palestinians returning to the village. The settlers are insisting that no Palestinians use the Palestinian road to the village, so access in and out is difficult. The settlers claim the Palestinian road is for Jews only. The Israeli military is taking orders from the settlers and making life difficult for the villagers. Lawyers for the Palestinians are fighting this in the Israeli courts.

One exciting part of this struggle is Israeli peace activists coming to the village every day to bring needed supplies, plus legal and moral support. There also is now a continual international presence in the village to protect the villagers from both settlers and the military. It looks like this could be a long struggle. I plan to live in the village for the rest of my time here.

The village is comprised of eleven caves which have been dwellings for centuries, most of which the Israeli military demolished in 1999. Now there is much work to do after ten years of neglect and destruction. The people here are shepherds. I have been going out in the mountains with them.

Although the differences between the primitive lifestyle (no electricity, running water, houses, etc, except for cell phones) of the people in the village and life in Jerusalem are great, the issues are the same. In both places, the Israeli government wants to remove Palestinians and Palestinians are resisting nonviolently. Bier Ed in English means “Wellspring.” There is a wellspring of hope here in the middle of so much fear and hate. It is a fantastic privilege to be part of this struggle.