Operation Dove Report: September 2012

Nonviolent peace corps (Association Community Pope John XXIII)
Updates from Projects


After one month of project closure due to the slowness in the bureaucratic procedures for visas, Clara and Monica came back to San Josecito. Clara will stay in and daily share her life with the community for one year.

Even in the month of September situations of violence and uncertainty have been part of people’s life. The death of a teacher in the Bella Vista vereda (approximately two hours walk from San Josè community)  has been among the most severe episodes. Fabiola Perea, 32 years old young mum and teacher was inside the school when some armed men shoot her many times in the face. It is not sure whether the shooters were from guerrilla or paramilitary groups and the reason for such a heinous crime  still remain unknown. It is though sure that in a country willing at all costs to show that national security in under control, crimes like this are the blunt truth.
At the end of the month two violent fights, presumably between Army and Farc, took place in San Josè among people’s house
Our presence becomes even more urgent in such an ambiguous context where, while so many bombastic words are said about peace talks, they only thing one can here now are gunshots.

Murders relevant to blood vengeances didn’t stop during the month of September.
At the beginning of September a 22 years old boy and 49 years man were killed. At the end of the month a whole family, made up mother, father and a 24 years old son  were murdered in Blinisht, a village in the Zadrima area, close to Shkoder. The wave of violence that took place last summer make us even more determined to carry on our work.
For many years the members of the Catholic local church have been searching for efficient tools to fight against the use of such an heinous violence often used to “solve? conflicts among families and restore questioned honor.
In the middle of September bishops from Shkoder, Sapa and Tirana dioces, issued an excommunication decree, confirmed by the Holy See, for the catholic Christians that committed murder, included those who did it in order to revenge or restore the honor of a family member that got killed. Excommunicated Catholics are barred from receiving sacraments (Baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, marriage) and lose the right of having a catholic funeral.
The decree also specifies the conditions to be fulfilled and the necessary path to fully return within the catholic community. The excommunicated person will have to surrender to justice, atone the punishment inflicted after trial, sincerely regret its deeds, ask the victim’s family for forgiveness, doing its best to compensate the damages and consequences of its actions cause to the victim’s family and the whole community.
The document was read in the parishes in Shkoder area. We do hope this action will be given much publicity inside and outside Albania.
Newspapers are giving more space and attention to the phenomenon of blood feuds not only through articles connected to crime news but also by interviewing opinion makers and important people. The only concern is that sometimes these articles aren’t signed.
The Church’s taking a stand had pushed the Albanian Government to acknowledge, although only partially, the phenomenon. Prime Minister Sali Berisha has in fact acknowledged that there are committed murders relevant to gjakmarrja, but he also said the phenomenon is on the fall if compared to previous years.
Our work is also aimed to prod institutions to take full responsibility and to commit in directly act against the problem.
We plan to treat the phenomenon in all its complexity and we wish to create paths of reconciliation and forgiveness where secular and religious institutions would be the main promoters and players.  Our participation to the 7th Diocesan Assembly called by the Shkoder Bishop on 8th September 2012 was meant within this frame of action.
Father Gianfranco Testa, who had already visited the project in June, took part in the Assembly. During his first visit Father Testa had the opportunity to get to know our work, to help in strengthening our relationship with the families confined because of blood feuds and to establish a cooperation on the  gjakmarrja issue (blood feud) with the bishop of Shkoder. This cooperation lead Angelo Massafra, bishop of Shkoder  to invite Father Testa as a speaker to the 7th Diocesan Assembly (watch the photos here).

During the meeting Father Gianfranco talked about forgiveness and reconciliation through his life experience. His words arouse the participants interest so much that he was interviewed by Radio Maria Shkoder. The local network also invited him to come  again in December.
Through the meeting between Father Testa and the bishop of Sapa, Operation Dove’s staff had the opportunity to better understand how much the ecclesiastical authorities who are dealing with families in the Tropoja area are operative on the blood feud issue.

On September 12th a demonstration against blood feuds was held in Shkoder
(watch the photos here).
Besides father Testa participation, the Anthropologist Antonia Young also joined the demonstration. During the event, a video made by the photographer and cameraman Mark Gjeka against gjakmarrja phenomenon was shown, a press release condemning the murders committed last summer was read, and about 100 signatures were collected against the phenomenon. (watch the video)

In September, we were also involved in organizing another event organized by the network of associations committed against the phenomenon of blood feuds. The action will be carried out on 8 October in memory of Dritan Prroj, Presbyterian minister engaged in the fight against gjakmarrja and killed because of blood feuds.

Collaboration with other organizations on the fields allowed us  to make some meaningful work in the frame of the placement of victims of the phenomenon in the work environment. Thanks to the relationships established by Operation Dove with families and the opportunity offered by the association LVIA, a member of one of the families involved in the phenomenon began working in agriculture in the middle of the month. In this regard, Operation Dove takes care to drive people to and from their workplaces, trying to provide adequate protection.
The volunteers of Operation Dove have also had the opportunity to promote their work within a day of activities organized by the association Ambasciatori di Pace. The team was able to present its work to about 130 young people of different ages from the area of Shkodra and Lezha. Ambasciatori di Pace implemented a flashmob in Tirana against blood feuds. The action took place in three central points of the city and involved about one hundred kids including some involved in the blood feuds. Similar demonstrations had already been organized in Shkodra, Lezha and other villages in the Zadrima in the previous months.
September also saw the long-awaited opening of the Community Pope John XXIII’s ice-cream parlour “Gigi Bontà.” The managers and employees of the ice cream parlour are people who have contributed and continue to contribute to the work of Operation Dove.
This month a group of volunteers continued to supply civil escort to the families threatened by blood feuds.

With regard to the construction of paths of reconciliation between the families involved in the feuds, volunteers have strengthened the relationship with a religious figure who will give his support in setting up “pretext? activities designed to get in touch with the members of a “fis” (extended family / clan) who is expected to call for revenge against a family with which the volunteers have established a relationship of trust in the last  years.
At the end of the month, the team divided into two groups: one group continued to ensure the presence in Shkodra and the other went to Tropoja for a few days. The group in Tropoja completed the round of visits to families involved in blood feuds started during summer camp activities in August.
Given the success achieved through the summer camp (see photos), another leisure activity addressed to women in Tropoja was organized.

The full support of volunteers have been essential for carrying on all the activities . For this we wish to thank:  Anna, Agnese, Stefano, Denis, Sokol, Francesca, Father Gianfranca Testa.
A special thanks to “our? civil service volunteers  Valentina, Patrizia, Angelo and to Ilaria, Luca and Elisa.
Angelo, Valentina, Patrizia, Elisa, Luca and Ilaria were “Caschi bianchi? (civil service volunteers) in  the experimental project “Beyond  revenge” that was placed within the projects of Operation Dove – Community Pope John XXIII,  the association LVIA, and the association Ambasciatori di pace – Caritas.

September began with the demolition of Israeli outpost of Migron, which was built about 10 years ago in the area between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Although this fact does not concern the South Hebron Hills, it opens the possibility that lawfulness can be respected even within an illegal frame as it is the presence of settlements into the Occupied Territories of West Bank, beyond the Green Line. The demolition was carried on by means of force, since some young settlers were opposing it.
On September 1st one settler from Mitzpe Yair outpost was detained for some hours after he beat an Israeli peace activists from Ta’ayush. He underwent a rapid trial with a 15 days prohibition to go to the South Hebron Hills.
On September 2nd Israeli soldiers protected Palestinian farmers from Jawwaya village while the latter were plowing their lands in front of the Ma’on settlement. Settlers tried to harass the farmers, but soldiers prevented them from doing so.
The following day, thirty Israeli officers, some of whom were soldiers while others were policemen, faced a group of settlers who were about to prevent Palestinian families from Jawwaya to work their lands, which lies in front of Ma’on settlement. Israeli officers had to use force to stop some upset settlers who could not accept that they were defending Palestinian rights.
On September 21st  the Israeli police stopped illegal constructions work inside the Mitzpe Yair outpost, after a report from Ta’ayush.
The daily cooperation between IDF soldiers and settlers living in illegal outposts failed again on September 22nd, on the occasion of the second Peace march of South Hebron Hills. As the demonstration marched into the valleys close to Havat Ma’on outpost, a big group of settlers tried to stop it, but were stopped by soldiers and policemen which allowed the demonstration to end in Tuba village. Few hours later some masked settlers attacked with slingshots some participants who were walking back home to At-Tuwani. Soldiers took action against them. Two settlers were detained and arrested, they are both still Awaiting trial, which is pending.
The latest behavior shown by Israeli soldiers and policemen in the South Hebron Hills has a positive trend, even though the claim for justice goes far beyond it.
Abuses and violations of the most basic rights of the occupied population have been continuing for the entire month of September.
In September Operation Dove volunteers registered six harassments against Palestinian shepherds from Al Mufaqarah carried out by Israeli soldiers near Avigayil outpost. The aim was to prevent them from using their lands. In two occasions soldiers were accompanied by settlers who have personally driven the flocks and intimidated the Palestinians and internationals present.
On September 3rd new demolition orders and stop working orders were delivered in the villages of Tuba (concerning a turbine for electricity, a tent and a house) and Umm Dirit (a fence and a well).
With the beginning of September settlers have resumed their attacks towards international volunteers, especially in the area between Humra e Kharrouba valleys. Volunteers were attacked three times during the month, by means of thrown stones, with no injury. Volunteers were attacked near a Palestinian well, which is used almost daily by settlers.
Such place lie in front of dozen of olive trees which were damaged by settlers in the past months. There, the Youth Society of Yatta Countryside organized nonviolent actions, which took place for three Saturdays during the month. Palestinians, accompanied by International and Israeli activists, pruned the damaged olive trees, cleaned the area and watered the trees under the watchful eyes of Israeli authorities, which only on one occasion vacated the area preventing the rightful owners to do complete their job.
“Popular Resistance Committee of South Hebron Hills? commitment was to organize the second Peace march of South Hebron hills which interested the villages of At-Tuwani, Al Mufaqarah, Maghayir Al Abeed, Isfey e Tuba. Firing zone 918 was for a single day a  Palestinian Peace Area, a place freed from fear of settlers’ violence and military abuse. It ended with a party in Tuba, with music and dance and the screening of  Tomorrow’s Land, a party which reinforced the awareness that the only real resistance is made of unity and nonviolence.
During the month OD volunteers visited and interviewed villagers from Al Majaz, Tabban, Al Fakheit, Mirkez, Halaweh, where demolition orders are pending. The aim was to bring OD solidarity and to get to know better the villages problems in order to think of a possible answer to the close threaten of dislocation.

The new school year in the village of At-Tuwani and in most of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) began on September 2 and consequently OD monitoring of the school patrol carried on by Israeli soldiers to escort children from Tuba e Maghayir Al Abeed to the school of At-Tuwani.
Od volunteers reported a positive trend, and indeed the military escort was always present, both in the mornings and in the afternoons. Only some carelessness has to be reported:  accompaniment by foot was low and sometimes soldiers do not complete entirely the path. Furthermore, delays were common, during which the children had to wait for the escort in an unsafe position.

The month ended with a play performed by the  Freedom Theatre: some youth from Jenin played stories and feelings of At-Tuwani and other villages inhabitants. Men and women, elderly and children, Palestinians and international, all set to share past and present in a free space of expression whiche need to be inhabited in order to exit  oppression and not being victims of hatred.
A small drop as the rain which fell lightly during the show. Fragile and timid water particles that slowly make the land fertile. A land which is often so arid and parched, but ready to flower if treated in the right way.