In the far south of the 'West Bank' there is a village named At Tuwani. Fifteen families live here ... about 150 people total. There are another twelve villages like At Tuwani in this area.
We visited At Tuwani after seeing Hebron and it was a bit like stepping back 100 years (or more) in time. Some of the people live in caves as their ancestors did. Only a few households have running water. They have three hours electricity per day from a generator. People have lived in this area seasonally for many centuries, mostly as shepherds of goats and sheep.
Despite the fact this is in "Palestinian" territory, there is an Israeli settlement and life has become increasingly difficult for the villagers. They live by grazing their sheep and goats but have their paths and grazing areas increasingly cut back. Settlers and soldiers threaten them. The 100 year old mosque in the village was destroyed. Land is continually being expropriated without any compensation.
Because this the only life they know, the villagers have refused to give up their land and traditional way of life. They have welcomed internationals who have maintained a presence here for years.
We met four Americans and two Italian women. The Americans are with Christian Peacemakers Team. The Italians are with "Operation Doves". This group lives in the village and supports the villagers in their ongoing conflict with the settlers and military. They accompany the kids to school and back to their villages. They witness and document conflicts and settler threats or violence.
A decade ago the local villages pooled all their resources and built a nice school where the kids could learn. Israeli government said that since there was no permit it would be destroyed. Villagers found a good lawyer who fought the case and got a ten year delay. But the ten years is about up. Villagers don't know what will happen. Currently there are about 100 students and 5 teachers working at the school.
It was amazing to see the villagers and their tranquility in the face of these hardships. As we sat under a crude cement overhang in blazing heat several things were impressive:
1) how many flies were crawling over the rice and bread
2) the dedication of these young Americans and Italians who have given up comfort and modern advantages to help these villagers
3) there must be something magical and attractive about this village. On the surface it is dirt poor; there must be something much richer underneath.