Friday, August 21, 2015

Villagers, al-Tuwani, West Bank, Palestine, Hebron District, 12/26/1961

I posted what I've written below on my flickr account, but I thought it belonged here too. More photos of al-Tuwani to follow in future. 

photo: Romain Swedenburg

Al-Tuwani (also spelled At-Tuwani) is what as known as a "frontier village," that is, a village that is near the 1948 border between Israel and the West Bank (occupied by Jordan) and that lost its agricultural lands due to Israel. Residents of frontier villages are not considered refugees, because they still live in their original homes although they lost their chief means of livelihood. As they're not refugees, they were not covered by the the mandate of UNRWA, the agency charged with serving the needs of Palestinian refugees. We (the Swedenburg family) visited al-Tuwani on December 26, 1961, with Robert Lapham, an employee of Church World Service, one of the few aid agencies to do work in al-Tuwani. The Laphams resided in Hebron (al-Khalil), the only Christians, they reported, in the city. (You can read about Lapham here:; he passed away in 1988.)

The village, we were told, had 300 residents. We reached it over a dirt/stone track (no road) They were very, very poor -- the surrounding land was very rocky and not suitable for agriculture. My father writes in his diary: "Children without shoes, clothes in tatters." You can see an example in the photo. The villagers were extremely hospitable -- we were invited for tea at the house of the village headman, and they were about to prepare chicken for lunch but we said our thanks and departed. Reportedly we were the only Americans to have visited the village besides our host (who lived in Amman) and Mr. and Mrs. Lapham.

Since the Israeli occupation, al-Tuwani has come under very severe pressure from nearby Israeli settlers and military. You can get an introduction to the issues at wikipedia: and from the Christian Peacekeeper Teams: There is also a FB page for an organization called Humanity Together: Supporting At-Tuwani, Palestine:

Addendum: the best academic source I've read on Palestinian border villages (of which there were/are 111) is Avi Plaskov's The Palestinian Refugees in Jordan 1948-1957 (Routledge 1981).

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