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Dit gaan alles oor die grond

Sou ’n mens die algehele duur van die Joodse koninkryke as onafhanklik beskou, het die Jode vir ’n totaal van net 414 jaar regeer.

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Geen gesprek oor die konflik in Palestina is sinvol sonder om die storie in die Ou Testament te gaan haal nie, skryf Dr. Chris Jones, ‘n teoloog by Stellenbosch Universiteit:

Aan wie behoort Palestina? Wie het die grootste historiese aanspraak op die grondgebied? Waarom is dit so moeilik om die konflik tussen ¬Israel en die Palestyne te besleg?

Om die dekades lange konflik in die Midde-Ooste beter te verstaan, help dit om die historiese wortels wat hiertoe aanleiding gegee het ook beter te verstaan.

In die proses is dit ook nodig om baie van die aanvaarde dogma oor byvoorbeeld die Sionistiese beweging en hul historiese aanspraak op Palestynse grondgebied in heroënskou te neem.

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Die grond waarop die Palestyne vir meer as 1 000 jaar gewoon het, is met die totstandkoming van die Israelse staat meestal met geweld en sonder hul instemming van hulle afgeneem.

Palestinian loss of land 1946-2005

Van die begin af was dit die Sioniste se doelwit om die nie-Joodse Palestyne van hul grond te vervreem.

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Sionisme was egter op ’n foutiewe kolonialistiese wêreldbeskouing gegrond waarin daar niks gevoel is vir die regte van inheemse mense nie.

Tussen 3 000 en 1 100 v.C. het die Kanaäniete op die grond gewoon wat vandag as Israel, die Wesoewer, Libanon en die grootste dele van Sirië en Jordanië bekend staan. Die Hebreërs het teen ongeveer 1 800 v.C. hierheen migreer.

Volgens opgrawings was Jerusalem teen hierdie tyd reeds ’n gevestigde stad. ’n Baie gesofistikeerde waterstelsel wat in daardie stadium moontlik agt eeue oud kon wees, getuig hiervan.

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Die Joodse koninkryke was slegs een van baie tydperke in antieke Palestina. Die uitgebreide koninkryke van Dawid en Salomo waarop die Sioniste hul grondeise baseer, het in totaal net 73 jaar geduur.

En sou ’n mens die algehele duur van die Joodse koninkryke – vandat Dawid Kanaän in 1 000 v.C. verower het tot die uitwissing van Juda in 586 v.C. – as onafhanklik beskou, het die Jode vir ’n totaal van (net) 414 jaar regeer.

Palestina, die bakermat van die Christendom, het in die 7de eeu reeds ’n oorheersend Arabiese land geword. In 1516 word Palestina ’n provinsie van die Ottomaanse Ryk, maar dit was steeds nie mínder Arabies nie.

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Sedert 1882 het Joodse koloniste in Palestina begin vestig, maar tot en met die lente van 1948 toe Israel as staat gevestig is, was Arabiere verreweg in die meerderheid. Daar was egter steeds ook afstammelinge van die Semiete – die oorspronklike inwoners van die landstreek – wat Christene, Jode, of Moslems was.

In 1858 kom die Ottoman-grondkode van krag wat vereis dat landbougrond in die naam van individuele eienaars geregistreer word. Vir die eerste keer kon ’n landbewoner ontneem word van sy reg om op grond te bly, dit te bewerk en oor te dra aan ’n volgende geslag. Voorheen was hierdie regte onvervreembaar. Hierdie kode het dikwels gemeenskapsregte op eiendom geïgnoreer.

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Ná die val van die Ottomaanse Ryk en die Eerste Wêreldoorlog word Palestina ’n Britse mandaatgebied.

Die Balfour-deklarasie van November 1917 wat deur die Britse regering uitgevaardig is, het ’n Joodse tuisland in Palestina belowe. Dit beteken ’n Europese krag het ’n besluit geneem oor ’n nie¬Europese gebied sonder inagneming van die teenwoordigheid en wense van die grootste meerderheid inwoners van daardie gebied, die Palestyne.

Van 1936 tot 1939 het die Palestyne in opstand gekom, maar is met Britse mag onderdruk.

In 1947 toe die Verenigde Nasies se partisieplan aangekondig is, het dit grond wat onwettig deur Jode bekom en besit is, amptelik aan hulle toegeken.

Die destydse Sioniste-leier David BenGurion was uiters ongelukkig hieroor, want hy wou nog méér grond hê as wat deur die VN bepaal is – ten koste van die Palestyne, natuurlik.

Teen hierdie tyd was Amerika een van die mees aggressiewe voorstaanders van partisie. Die Verenigde Nasies het met die partisieplan een van hul eie kernbeginsels, naamlik dié van die reg tot selfbeskikking vir álle mense, geweld aangedoen.

In Desember 1947 het Brittanje aangekondig hy gaan op 15 Mei 1948 uit Palestina onttrek. Palestyne in Jerusalem en Jaffa het toe ’n protes teen die partisie uitgeroep en gevegte het feitlik onmiddellik in die strate van Jerusalem uitgebreek. In April 1948 was agt uit die 13 groot Sionistiese militêre aanvalle gemik op Palestyne in die gebied wat aan die Arabiese staat toegeken was.

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Met hul sterk militêre mag het die Europese Jode teen 15 Mei 1948 die meeste Arabiese stede in Palestina ingeneem. In teenstelling hiermee het die Palestyne nie beslag gelê op een van die gebiede wat deur partisie vir die Joodse staat gereserveer was nie.

Ná 15 Mei 1948 het die Arabiere toegetree tot die stryd, maar dit was die tweede fase van die oorlog – in reaksie op die massamoorde, uitsettings en onteiening wat oor tyd deur Sioniste aan hulle gedoen is. In hierdie tyd het ongeveer 700 000 Palestyne gevlug – van hulle is uitgedryf.

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index0093Palestyne herdenk die Nakba (Die Katastrofe) in Jerusalem.

In die winter van 1949 was meer as 750 000 Palestyne in ballingskap. In die koue het families in grotte, hutte en tente gebly – uitgehonger, dikwels binne sigafstand van hul eie groentetuine in Palestina, wat tóé deel is van die nuwe staat van Israel.

Sedert die Sesdaagse Oorlog van 1967 het Israel min gevoel vir internasionale wetgewing. Hulle het 52% van die grond in die Wesoewer beset en 30% van die Gasastrook, vir óf militêre gebruik óf die vestiging van Joodse burgers. Tans is dit veel meer.

Net tussen 1967 en 1982 het Israel se militêre regering 1 338 Palestynse huise op die Wesoewer vernietig. Sedertdien het hierdie vernietiging voortgegaan.

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Gedurende dieselfde tydperk is meer as 300 000 Palestyne sonder verhoor deur Israel se geheime magte aangehou.

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Die VN se Algemene Vergadering het hom intussen wel uitgespreek teen Israel se besetting van die Wesoewer, Oos-Jerusalem en Gasa – en teen Israel se ontkenning van selfbeskikking en dat dít ’n ernstige en groeiende bedreiging vir internasionale vrede en sekuriteit inhou.

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Die jongste geskiedenis is gekenmerk deur die bou van ’n sogenaamde “apartheidsmuur” tussen die Palestynse gebied in die Wesoewer, Oos-Jerusalem en Israel, met gepaardgaande inperking op die beweging van mense in hul eie staat. Palestynse huise, ander infrastruktuur en grond word in die Wes-oewer en Oos-Jerusalem onteien of vernietig en nuwe Israelse nedersettings brei steeds in die besette gebiede uit.

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Voorts is daar die onwettige verbruik van water deur Israelse setlaars en daarmee saam die inkorting van watervoorsiening aan die Palestyne in die Wesoewer, asook Israelse militêre intimidasie in die besette Palestynse gebiede.

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Dit lyk of Israel hul militêre stewels stewig in die gesig van die Palestyne wil hou. Dít is natuurlik olie op die konflik-vuur in Palestina.

Weerstandsbewegings word gevoed deur diskriminasie en menseregteskendings.

’n Mens kan weerwraak op grond van historiese onreg nooit regverdig nie, tóg sal dit ’n logiese gevolg wees – partykeer tot die uiterste gedryf, soos Hamas wat kort ná hul stigting in 1987 erken het hy wil Israel vernietig. Tog is dít nie genoem in sy Palestynse parlementsverkiesingsmanifes van 2006 nie.

Dit is nie goed genoeg dat politici net hierdie krisis bestuur nie, dit moet opgelos word. En dít kan slegs in ooreenstemming met internasionale wetgewing gebeur. Dit is al hoe ware, volhoubare vrede moontlik is. In hierdie opsig het Israel veral baie werk om te doen.

Soos gepubliseer op 24 Aug 2014 in Weekliks – Rapport.

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A debate between Jews on land rights in Palestine & Israel: Dr Paul Hendler, an Ambassador & Jennifer Harris

Ever heard a discourse on Palestine/Israel that asks for a “balanced approach” by taking “the other side” into account as the situation between Israel and Palestine is “very complex”? 

Such a viewpoint is usually expressed in terms of “truth”, “peace” and “reconciliation”.  All of this sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?

On the surface yes, and for many years, these arguments convinced me too.  But that was before I knew that the Palestinians have only 22% left of the land allotted to them by the United Nations in 1948, and before realising that endless talks about complexities without practical peace initiatives create the space for a continued land grab by Israel.

Palestinian loss of land 1946-2005

Not all Jews agree on the same “facts” or on what “peace” and “truth” entail, for example:

  • On the one hand there is Zionism – a fundamentalist position of Judaism that advances exclusion and separatism.  Many Christians endorse this paradigm in the debate on Israel-Palestine and hence feel that Israel is so special that it may ignore international laws and rulings by bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. They talk “peace”, “truth”, “facts” and “balance” and say all of the land that used to be a British Protectorate in 1948 (called Palestine) rightly belongs to Israel.
  • On the other hand there are Jews who do not approve of Israel’s  oppression of the Palestinians and the associated illegal occupation and of their land.  They use verified facts from declared sources to remind us of the death and displacement of millions of Palestinians as part of Israel’s institutionalised, systemic oppression, and that the oppression and the land confiscation continue to this day.

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fleeing-1948-nakba-palestine_0061948:  Fleeing Palestine during the Nakba (the Catastrophe)

Dr Paul Hendler, for example, has some strong views on the Palestinians’ struggle to humanize themselves…

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My name is Paul Hendler and I live in Stellenbosch. I am a Jewish South African who is against the demonization of the Palestinians by mainstream Zionism and for a rational discussion about the facts that characterize the history of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom and national self-determination.

 It was on this basis that I responded to a letter by Jennifer Harris (Cape Times 4 January) who purported that the facts showed that the Jewish Zionists were the conciliators and the Palestinians the savages against whom the Jews were left with no option but to fight (against their will or preferred option).

I am familiar with this view: I grew up with it in our community in Paarl and was to some extent imbued with it while participating in the Zionist (Habonim) youth movement during the 1960s.  But even then something wrankled and didn’t ring true about this narrative and I embarked on a search for the true circumstances of the 1948 flight of these people into a semi-permanent refugee status ever since, reading both Zionist literature and literature critical of and in opposition to Zionism. My journey has uncovered more and more questions about the veracity of the Zionist myth – the purpose of this blog piece is to demonstrate why I say this.

I hold the view that there is a truth independent of Zionists or Palestinian views and that reasonable people (on both sides) should be able to debate the facts to start defining this truth.  (I also argue that this is a precondition for a serious non-violent strategy to resist Zionist oppression and domination of Palestinians).

My experience, however, has been that mainstream Zionists get intensely defensive whenever deeper questions are raised and attempt to shut up the questioner by vilifying his/her character; it’s as if they have to stop the investigation into the roots of the flight of the majority of the Palestinian people into refugee status. My investigations indicate that the rigorous historical research and analyses has tended to be conducted by Palestinian scholars and anti-Zionists (or critically Zionist) Israeli Jews.

Here is Jennifer Harris’ letter to the Cape Times:

J Harris letter to Cape Times

…to which Paul replied as follows:

07 January 2013

Jennifer Harris (letters, 04 January 2013), a mediation specialist, needs to do a lot more homework on the facts surrounding the 1948 Naqba. She claims that Israel was established where 8,6% of land was Jewish-owned, 3,3% Israeli Arab-owned, 16,9 absentee Arab owners (who got out of the way while invading Arab armies intended to destroy Israel) and 71,2 per cent by the mandatory power, which was allocated to Israel as legal heir. She concludes “the contention that the bulk of the land had belonged to Arabs has no foundation in reality”.

The magisterial work, “All that Remains – the Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948”, edited by Walid Khalidi, (1992) (the Institute for Palestine Studies, the Galilee Centre for Social Research and Birzeit University)  referred to the Palestine Index Gazetteer and Village Statistics 1945: a Classification of Land and Area Ownership in Palestine (Palestine Government) to demonstrate that Palestinians owned between 42 and 98 per cent of land – in nine of 16 districts this was more than 75 per cent, in six between 42 and 75 per cent and in one (Beersheba) 15 per cent. Zionists owned between three and thirty-nine per cent – in eight districts between less than one per cent and five per cent, and between 14 per cent and thirty-nine per cent in the remainder. The mandatory government ownership varied between one and 23 per cent in 15 districts – in Beersheba it owned 85 per cent of the land.

Ms. Harris is perpetuating a Zionist myth that the “people without a land returned to the land without a people”, and parading this as Truth.

“All that Remains” chronicles the occupation and depopulation by Palmach (later IDF) brigades of 418 Palestinian villages located within the pre-1967 borders of Israel, based partly on IDF archival sources, partly on eye witness accounts, whereby coordinated moves by the brigades through a swathe of villages per region, resulted in attacks on villages (which were often resisted), the expulsion of most of the inhabitants and the dynamiting of their homes shortly thereafter. IDF documents describe these operations in the north (near Galilee) as “cleansing” of the countryside – presumably to Judaise these areas.

There are also narratives of those who fled before this lot could befall them, but besides Husseini’s pro-Nazi and anti-semitic calls there is no evidence of widespread calls from neighbouring Arab states for the people to flee – if anything, there were calls to stay and although Arab Liberation Army irregulars (largely volunteers) entered Palestine to defend the villages they were no match for the Zionist forces. As Israeli historian Illan Pappe (“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”), David Gilmour (“Dispossessed”) and Benny Morris (“1948”) have demonstrated there had already been 250 000 to 300 000 expelled in early 1948 prior to the declaration of the State (May). Morris, himself a Zionist, in a frank interview with Haaretz (2004), confirmed the violence inherent in the expulsion of the refugees and justified this as historically necessary in the conflict between civilized Israelis and ‘barbarous’ Palestinians. Pappe has referred to detailed evidence in Ben Gurion’s diaries (in Hebrew) which show him regarding the Palestinian peasants, small farmers and villagers as the real enemy of the Zionist project. Churchill famously said: “the truth is incontrovertible; malice may malign it, ignorance undermine it, but in the end there it is.”

In the end, 750 000 Palestinians lost their homes, their livelihoods, and largely their identities, although they forged a new identity through their national liberation struggle against Zionist colonization. Finding a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and one which can be pursued through non-violent means, will perforce require negotiation and possibly mediation – if Ms. Harris would like to contribute to that process she would make a good start by getting her facts right.

Dr Paul Hendler

Stellenbosch.

A week later, the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa replied as follows in the public domain:

Cape Times Article by Israeli Ambassador

After this reply, Paul could not leave the matter there.  Here is his response to SIX POINTS made by the Israeli Ambassador:

I would like to provoke debate in response to the ambassador of Israel’s article  (Cape Times, 14 January), which responded to my letter (Cape Times, 9 January). The Israeli ambassador makes six points, all of which can be disputed in good faith by reference to at least some of the crucial “facts”.

When there is a dispute about the facts it is useful to delve behind the data to examine how it has been constructed in order to assess its credibility.

Point One – “The oft-quoted 750 000 refugees is a grossly exaggerated figure for propaganda purposes”:

Walid Khalidi’s “All the Remains” (see my letter of 9 January) sets out in some detail a method for calculating the number of Palestinians depopulated from some urban centres in nine districts (which constituted the area that became the State of Israel), parts of Jerusalem 418 rural villages, and also the number of Bedouin that became refugees:

Figures Palestinian Refugees

It appears that the sources the Ambassador refers to might not have projected the population growth rates between 1944 and 1948 and not have included the Bedouin refugees in their count.

Point Two – “The Palestinians fled because they were exhorted to and then to return behind the expected victorious invading Arab state armies, and having driven the Jews into the sea to confiscate their possessions and land.”

There is a bona fide dispute about the calls to leave. Gilmour’s “Dispossessed” (1980) refers to Khalidi’s “From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948” which refers to Dr Erskine Childers’ (son of Ireland’s fourth president, BBC correspondent and UN civil servant) examination of British and American monitoring of Middle East broadcasts throughout 1948 (available in British Museum), which could not find a single order or appeal to evacuate Palestine from any Arab radio inside or outside Palestine, but that there were appeals for civilians to stay put. (http://zionism-israel.com/his/Palestine_Nakba.htm questions whether it was technically possible to research the content of all broadcasts, which is an interesting question and which could be addressed). Gilmour points to a March 1948 Arab Higher Committee letter to the Egyptian and other Arab governments resolving that it was not in the interests of Palestinians to leave the country. Gilmour also refers to Geofrey Furlonge’s “Palestine is my country” (1969) that Jerusalem leaders Hilmi and Khalidi forbade people to leave the city without a permit.

Even if there were widespread calls by leaders for the population to leave, this does not necessarily constitute the reason why they left: it is reasonable to ask why a settled rural population would suddenly uproot itself in response to calls from foreign urban political elites hundreds (if not thousands) of kilometers away, with whom few of them were acquainted.

Point Three – “The Palestinians title to these lands is questionable and in any event they were migrants first and foremost in search of better opportunities rather than communities with deep roots in the land of Palestine.”

The ambassador presents the refugees as highly mobile illegal immigrants following prosperity. Ms. Harris says that they owned only a fraction of the land, most of which was held by the Mandate authority. Based on meticulous research – including field research – which identified each of the depopulated villages and its history, “All that remains” provides a different picture of a settled population of peasant farmers and small town/village artisans with a historical presence in the area.

We need to investigate the existing land tenure arrangements in pre 1948 Palestine and also keep in mind that prior to the rise of industrial capitalism in the Middle East people occupied their land on a de facto basis as direct producers in agrarian economies and that this de facto occupation conferred both rights and obligations.

“All that remains”, drawing extensively on IDF archives as well as eyewitness accounts, details an extensive military campaign to occupy or take these villages, which is the alternative narrative to the Zionist account, confirmed by eye witness accounts. Mainstream Zionist historians – including Bennie Morris, who has admitted and justified the violent dispossession of Palestinian land – are conspicuous by the absence of any oral history and eye-witness accounts by the refugees and/or their descendants, regarding the events of 1948.

Point Four – “More Jews (850 000) were expelled from Arab countries, also losing their properties in the process, but they at least were taken in by their Zionist Jewish brethren whereas the Palestinians were abandoned by those who should have shouldered responsibility for them, namely the surrounding Arab states.”

Terry-Crawford-Browne (next to my letter of January 9) refers to Zionist-security services complicity in the acts of anti-semitism carried out in the Arab countries and which preceded the relocation of the Jews of colour (the MIzrahim) to Israel. I remember reading this viewpoint by David Hirst (“The Gun and the Olive Branch”) (2003) and I have recently purchased the book (updated) and intend to explore this further. The so-called responsibility of the Arab states for the Palestinian refugees has to be looked at in the light of the questionable assumption that they were instrumental in getting the Palestinians to pack their bags in the first place. There needs to be a lot more looking into this and precisely who said what and when. The sources of such information need to be scrutinized to determine their veracity (e.g. independent or embedded journalists?)

Point Five – “What happened to the Palestinians is simply a part of history, and has happened on a larger scale to other peoples in time of war: for example, the Germans fleeing from the advancing Red Army at the end of World War 2 and the refugees who were displaced during the breakaway of Pakistan from India.”

The Ambassador demonstrates a cavalier attitude to (what he regards as the unintended) “collateral” damage of war and trivializes the suffering not only of the Palestinian refugees and people but also the Indian/Pakistani refugees and fluechtlinge from the Soviet forces at the end of the Second World War. His logic is chillingly close to that of David Irvine, a notorious denier of the Nazi genocide of the Jews – Irvine saw the Jewish deaths (a relatively small part of the total civilian deaths in this war) as unplanned and an outcome of the chaos of the war. Applying this logic to the genocide would reduce this catastrophe for the Jewish people (and also for a similarly large population of Gentiles who were exterminated) to a banal event.

Point Six – “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and its Gentile citizens (largely Palestinians) enjoy equal rights and opportunities with its Jewish citizens.”

Hernando de Soto (UN Commissioner) and Francis Cherval (“Realizing Property Rights”, 2006) identify mechanisms that not only limit the extent of private land ownership in Israel but also ensure that de facto control of decision-making with regard to land is vested in Jewish bodies like the JNF. They conclude that “the Israeli land regime can be said to have produced long-term disparities between the ‘founding’ Ashkenazi group (i.e. Caucasian European settlers), the ‘immigrant’ Mizrahim and the ‘indigenous’ Palestinian-Arab group”.  Israel’s Palestinian citizens are also excluded from social service benefits accruing to people who have served in the IDF because they are excluded from going to the army.

Joeseph Massad (Columbia University) (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/05/20115684218533873.html) lists the following laws that discriminate in favour of Jewish Israeli citizens against Palestinian Israeli citizens: including the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State’s Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. He makes the further point that it is the very presence of Arabs in the Jewish State that propels the Jewish State to enshrine its racism in all these laws. There is an inherent contradiction in the notion that Israel is both a democratic and a Jewish state.

Having read the above discussion, I want to ask:  Should only Palestinians be freed?  Didn’t someone say that the truth sets one free?

I would dearly like to see free Palestinians and free Israelis living in harmony and in alignment with international law.

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Never Again – unconditionally

As Jews, with our own painful history of oppression, we are compelled to speak out against human rights violations committed by the State of Israel – in our name – against the Palestinian people.

These are the first words of a group of South African Jews in their public statement in the Mail & Guardian of 14 December 2012. They recognise not only their own wounds and humanity…

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…but also those of others:

The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so”

 – Nelson R. Mandela

2009 (2) Berlyn 022A Holocaust memorial site in Berlin, Germany.

Their statement continued as follows:

We note that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) together with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) recently met with the South African Presidency and other politicians. We also note, with great concern, that the SAJBD and SAZF’s assertion that they represent and speak on behalf of all Jewish South Africans, particularly when it comes to Palestine-Israel.

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Let us be clear, the SAJBD and SAZF’s position of supporting Israel at all costs does not represent us. We also appeal to the SAJBD and SAZF to respect one of the hallmarks of Judaism: respectful debate amongst those who hold divergent viewpoints. The SAJBD and SAZF’s position on Israel, and attempts to stifle opposing voices that speak out against Israel, is morally untenable.

The Jewish community is neither homogeneous nor monolithic.  There is a growing number of Jews, in South Africa and around the world, who are organising to form alternative spaces and who unconditionally oppose Israeli policies and practices that shamefully privilege Jews over the indigenous Palestinian people.  In this vein, we support the non-violent campaign of applying Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it abides by international law and respects basic human rights [see www.bdsmovement.net].

We are encouraged that our South African government is joining those countries that are taking a clear stance against Israel’s violations of international law and its acts of violence against the Palestinian people [see this City Press newspaper article]. We also welcome and support our Department of Trade and Industry’s initiative to prevent the false labelling of Israeli settlement products. We hope that the ANC and the SA Government goes further and completely bans Israeli settlement products. Israeli settlements are in clear violation of international law and seriously undermine any chance of negotiations and a just peace.

Such positions as those recently taken by our government against Israeli violence and violations of international law, in fact, serve to affirm a proud Jewish tradition of respect for justice and human rights; regardless of race, religion or creed. Such positions connect us to our fellow humanity.

We humbly – and sadly – acknowledge that our voices may not be the dominant ones in our community, but neither were Dietrich Bonnhoefer’s in Nazi Germany nor Beyers Naude’s, Antjie Krog’s, Braam Fischer’s and Joe Slovo’s in Apartheid South Africa.

Our individual consciences, our Jewish tradition and our painful history compel us to declare to the SAJBD, SAZF and to the Israeli government that we will continue to speak out and take a stand for justice and human rights.  Taking such a stand is in the very interests of being Jewish. For when we proclaim “Never Again”, we should mean “Never Again”, unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.

Issued by Alan Horwitz for StopTheJNF, a campaign initiated by a group of Jewish South Africans committed to justice and rights for the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis.

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I took this photo in the Jewish Museum, Berlin.  The windows reflect the harrowing, unsettling reality of Jews during World War II.

Never Again – but unconditionally.

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The Jordan Valley, a Finish film crew and two settlers

I fell in love with the sweltering Jordan Valley and all its flies during my time in the West Bank. I’m not the only one though… Israel wants it too.

The Jordan Valley is the only remaining connective tissue between the cut-up, isolated Palestinian villages surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements.  It is considered the food basket of the land.

The West Bank (where the Jordan Valley is) was previously occupied by the British and by Jordan, and before them by others, but during those times, the Palestinians could cultivate fruit and vegetables and roam their sheep and goat on their fertile land.  Under Israeli occupation, this is no longer the case.

Since the Nakba (Arabic for “The Catastrophe”) in 1948 and the 1967 war, life has become increasingly unbearable for Palestinians.

Israel denies the right of the Palestinians to make a living and systematically tries to remove them by forced evacuation.  The photo above shows an Israeli sign to keep Palestinians from their own land.

In violation of the Geneva Convention, Israel as the occupier uses the occupied Palestinian land for Israel’s economic benefit – and more specifically, for produce they export with labels calling it “Produce of Israel”:

Israel breaches applicable international law by severe water restrictions, demolitions of buildings (mosques, houses, schools, animal shelters, etc.) and the confiscation of Palestinian land.

(this photo by EA Eduardo Minossi de Oliveira from Brazil)

They use these measures to take land away from the Palestinians – supposedly for “military reasons”, but actually to cultivate that land with water they also take from the Palestinians.

Pointing to the land his family used to own when he was a child, Ghassan explained that his family had been harassed by the IDF to the point where they had feared for their lives (their tent was blown up amongst other things).  Eventually, after years of harassment, they were forced to choose between their lives and their land. So they chose to live. Today Ghassan is a taxi driver and he talks peace. The land is now used by the nearby Israeli settlement for agriculture.

In the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area, about 10 000 Israeli settlers have the same amount of water allocated to every 833 000 Palestinians.  This explains why the Israeli settlements’ gardens and  fields are lush green while the Palestinians barely have enough for washing and drinking.

The stark difference between a Palestinian farm and an illegal Israeli settlement with lots of water.

Israeli wells and boreholes literally drain the Palestinian underground water sources. Palestinians wells may be up to 90m deep, whilst Israeli wells (that pump up Palestinian water for exclusive use by Israeli settlers) are 600m deep.  Palestinians in the Jordan Valley (JV) have no electricity and have to use (expensive) gasoline to pump water.  Israeli settlers, in turn, use subsidised electricity to power their modern water infrastructure:

My EA team member Emma Idestrand (from Sweden) and I accompanied a Finish film crew who were shooting footage for two films –  one on the work of EAPPI and another on advocating for a boycott of illegal produce by Israeli settlers.  We showed them how the Israelis benefit from the water in the Jordan Valley, and how little there is available to the Palestinians:

As most of the Jordan Valley is zoned as Area C and hence under full Israeli military control, the Palestinians may not even repair or upgrade their own equipment, so this is what it looks like:

As the film crew, Emma and I got into the minibus, Ghassan was still closing the back door of the vehicle on the film equipment.  A car stopped next to us. Two people got out and immediately started to angrily harass Ghassan, asking him what he was doing there. Yes, they who live illegally in the West Bank, asked Ghassan, a legal and indigenous inhabitant, what he was doing on his own land.

Well, the film crew immediately wanted to film the incident, but we discouraged them as we knew that it would aggravate the situation, and possibly create more anger which the settlers may project onto other Palestinians.  So we simply did what we were trained to do – we provided a protective presence. When Emma and I got out of the minibus, the sight of our EAPPI vests and our steadfast presence made them backtrack – albeit very noisily.  Only then did I take a picture:


Somehow this situation reminded me or my own country’s history. And for that very reason, I have hope, for I know that this kind of attitude has changed for so  many South Africans.

It made me reread the words of Cynthia Ngewu, one of the Gugulethu mothers whose children were killed by Apartheid Security Forces during our apartheid years:

This thing called reconciliation…if I am
understanding it correctly…if it means this
perpetrator, this man who has killed…
Christopher Piet, if it means he becomes
human again, this man, so that I, so that all
of us, get our humanity back…then I agree,
then I support it all.

(as recorded by Antjie Krog, a prominent Afrikaans poet who was a journalist during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Process.)

I also realise that our process of reconciliation in South Africa, the one of finding our own humanity and those of others, is not finished.  Not by far.

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What Israel wants

PEACE, OR PIECE BY PIECE?

My team and I report on human rights abuses for three months. We live in the ancient village of Yanoun, but also work in surrounding villages and in the Jordan Valley, all in the West Bank in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Today my breakfast consisted of grapes that we received from a Palestinian shepherd as we passed him and his flock of sheep earlier this morning plus some pomegranate seeds, raisins and almonds.

We do daily walks to monitor the roads of Yanoun. This is a pleasant task, especially now that it is no longer so sweltering hot. With our binoculars we search the hills for anything out of the ordinary such as new (illegal) structures or the presence of (often armed) Israeli settlers.

The sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and the olive, fig, almond and pomegranate trees stand by as we watch over the farming community. We, in turn, are watched from another hill by members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) – who should ensure peace on both sides, but often collaborate with Israeli settlers.

Providing a protective presence to the Palestinian people is one of our main priorities.  Local farmers lived and worked here since the eighteenth century but today there are only 75 inhabitants left after Yanoun was nearly wiped off the face of the map in 2002. Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced everybody from their homes. According to Mayor Rashed Murrar “They came with dogs and guns, every Saturday night. They beat men in front of their children. One Saturday they said that they didn’t want to see anyone here next Saturday … the whole village left that week.”

Some families returned but only after intense international media focused on their plight and with the assistance of an Israeli peace group, Ta’ayush.  Since 2003 EAPPI members have provided a protective presence to the villagers.

However, Israeli inhabitants from the nearby Itamar settlement still harass the town. Six months ago, on the 5th of March, they polluted the water well (the only source of water for the inhabitants).

A month later, on the 27th of April they invaded the village with dogs. During the night, on the 2nd of July, settlers together with over 30 armed IDF soldiers launched a full incursion into the village to search, allegedly, for stolen sheep (which was never found, the crime never proved, the harassment never interrogated). Last month, on the 7th of August, when confronted by the EAPPI team, the armed settlers and soldiers claimed to be carrying out “research” at the Palestinian water well.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967. All settlements are in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Peace talks came to a standstill a year ago precisely due to Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements. Between the start of the peace talks and now, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled – they now number just over half a million people, living in 121 settlements, at approximately 100 outposts and they control more than 42 percent of the West Bank.

The settlers gradually, piece by piece, confiscate land in the West Bank and cultivate it with water at Israeli State subsidized rates. All this while Palestinian houses, roads, wells and clinics are demolished and they themselves are denied building permits and free access to roads, churches, mosques, hospitals and schools.

Many of the Israeli settlers come from different parts of the world and have no immediate genetic affiliation with the land.  Yet they claim: “This is the land of our fathers and grandfathersThis is the land of Israel” – these are slogans on posters placed by Israelis on the main road between Hebron and Jerusalem, in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since my arrival in the West Bank two weeks ago, I have witnessed many forms of humiliation and oppression. In fact, on my third day here, I attended the funeral of a young Palestinian man who was shot in a nearby village after Israeli settlers damaged the olive groves for a third time in three weeks, during prayer-time on Friday.

I write this as I sit outside the community center with the mayor of the village.  We are waiting for a delegation from Ramallah to discuss the construction of a road on Palestinian soil that settlers began work on early this morning. He has already contacted the Palestinian District Co-ordination Office but they in turn need to ask the Israeli authorities to intervene.  There was no response from the Israeli authorities. “Maybe the Red Cross would help,” the mayor said, “maybe.”

We both watch the settlers and their tractors work on their new road that snakes downhill. We need no binoculars to do so, they are so close. I do not know what to say to the mayor.  I am thinking of the shepherd who gave us grapes, the women from whom we buy almonds, yoghurt, cheese and eggs, the children who play in front of our house at night.

Tonight we shall sleep under the bright security spotlights that light up the houses and gravel roads. I do not sleep well here.

(as published in the Sunday Independent of 2 October, 2011 by Marthie Momberg)

UPDATE: ISRAELI SOLDIERS AND SETTLERS HARASS UNARMED FARMERS

On Saturday, 7 July 2012 at approximately 3:00PM (GMT+2) Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Itamar approached three Palestinian farmers in Yanoun who were harvesting their wheat and grazing their sheep. The settlers were armed with knives and killed three of the farmers’ sheep.

A clash then ensued, in which the settlers and farmers began throwing stones at one-another. When EAs arrived to the scene, three fires were ablaze in the fields, but it was unknown whether the flames were intentionally lit by the settlers or were started by teargas canisters that the Israeli military fired at the farmers. Nonetheless, two wheat fields and one olive grove were burnt, and when other Palestinian farmers arrived at the scene to turn out the flames, Israeli soldiers and police prevented them from reaching the fields by firing more teargas at them.

In total six Palestinians were injured, and five were hospitalized:

  • Jawdat Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten and stabbed multiple times by settlers, then shot in the face and foot by Israeli soldiers. He was then handcuffed by Israeli soldiers and attacked again by the settlers while the soldiers pursued other Palestinian farmers. After being attacked, the military did not allow a present ambulance take him to a hospital or care for him for approximately 3-hours.
  • Ibrahim Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by a soldier on his head with the butt-stock of an M16 rifle, causing damage to his eye, and was later beaten by settlers while handcuffed.
  • Hakimun Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was shot in the arm at close range by a soldier.
  • Adwan Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by settlers with clubs.
  • Ashraf Bani Jaber: was beaten by a soldier with a club.
  • Jawdat Ibrahim (Hospitalized): was handcuffed, beaten by Israeli soldiers and then released for the settlers to attack as they watched. He was then tied up by the settlers and left on his land; he was found the next morning (Sunday, 8 July 2012).

Rashid, Mayor of Yanoun and long-time EAPPI local contact (pictured above), expressed fear that settlers initiated the clash to enforce new invisible boundaries, which would de facto confiscate much of the area’s wheat fields to the Itamar Settlement.

What the International Humanitarian Law says:

The International Court of Justice has stated that the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War applies to the occupied Palestinian territory.

All Israeli settlements are illegal according to Article 49 the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Thus, according to International Humanitarian Law, Israel has the duty as an occupying power to protect Palestinians from settler attacks.

Report from Rabbis for Human Rights on the settler attack.

READ MORE: Why this village needs constant protection

Demolitions near Jericho, 2011

May Palestinians live on their own land?

Clearly not according to the Israeli Government’s logic.  Take for instance the crisis faced by the inhabitants of Susiya.

This village in South Hebron Hills in the West Bank is situated very close to an Israeli settlement, which according to international law, was built illegally on Palestinian land. But these settlers want more and so they filed a petition to the Israeli High Court. The State indicated in March 2012 that it plans to demolish 70% of Susiya.

No alternatives or compensation are offered to the inhabitants. It is still icy cold in Palestine. They will loose everything. To us who worked in the West Bank, they are not faceless people. They are not “Arab terrorists.”  They are people with families, who love and live and have dreams for their children. They live legally on the land of their forefathers, the land allotted to them by the United Nations in 1948. International law protects their human rights…. or does it?

Most of that land allocated to the Palestinians has already been taken by Israel in illegal ways. Palestinians have only 22% left of what was given to them in 1948, and of this 22%, Israel occupies (in the West Bank) a further 60%

Information from a fact sheet by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (UNOCHA otP):

Susiya families, who have lived in the community since before 1948, face some of the worst living conditions in Area C. Residents, who own the land in the  community, used to live in houses, but these were destroyed by the Israeli authorities. They now live in tents and tin shelters. Residents, who rely on agriculture and herding for their livelihood, depend on rainwater cisterns, as the community is not connected to the water network and there are no nearby filling points.

A demolished house in Jericho. Here too Israel claimed it was necessary to protect an archaeological site, but is this the real reason?

KEY FACTS (from an UNOCHA fact sheet, March 2012):
  • Susiya has a population of some 350 people, including 120 children.
  • In 1986, the main residential area of the community was declared an archaeological site by the Israeli authorities and approximately 60 families were forcibly displaced, without any compensation according to residents; an Israeli settlement outpost, Suseya Synagogue, was subsequently established in the same area.
  • The Israeli settlement of Suseya, est. 1983, and the outpost, est. 2002, control land that is ten times larger than the built-up area of both Israeli settlements, much of which is privately-owned Palestinian land. (source: Rabbis for Human Rights)
  • Susiya residents now have access to less than one-third of the approximately 6,000 dunums of land that were previously available to them for residential, agricultural and herding purposes.
  • In 2001, all structures in the community were demolished and the residents forcibly displaced again.
  • In 2011, the Israeli authorities carried out four waves of demolitions, targeting 41 structures, including 31 residential tents or shacks and two water cisterns, repeatedly displacing 37 people (including 20 children) and affecting another 70.
  • At least 70 percent of the existing structures in the community, including the school, have pending demolition orders.
  • Residents pay 25 NIS per cubic meter of tankered water, five times more than the nearby illegal Israeli settlement, which is served by the national network, and spend up to 1/3 of their income on water.
  • Water consumption is 28 litres/capita/day (l/c/d), significantly less than the 70 l/c/d consumed by an average Palestinian and well below the World Health Organisation standard of 100 l/c/d. (WASH cluster)

There is a clear pattern of discrimination between Susiya and the nearby Israeli settlements, particularly regarding planning and zoning. The illegal Israeli Suseya settlement has an approved plan that allows construction. While the structures in the nearby Israeli outpost lack a building permit, the Israeli Civil Authority (which is actually a military body) has carried out no demolitions here and to discriminate even further, the illegal Israeli outpost is connected to the water and electricity networks.

Susiya residents are exposed to systematic intimidation and abuse from settlers, in an attempt to forcefully displace them…..  to have no home in one’s own land. The cases recorded include physical assaults, verbal harassment and prevention of access to their land and hence their livelihood. Of course these ongoing abuses damage people on a psycho-social level…. particularly children who have not yet developed coping strategies.

This seems to be a deliberate Israeli strategy.  For if Palestinian communities in Area C my not build or live on their land and if there is no freeze on demolitions, the situation in these communities will continue to deteriorate, increasing their risk of forced displacement and hence undermining Palestinian presence in Area C of the West Bank.  This seems to be what Israel wants. The ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements counter to international humanitarian law, and together with that the persistent settler violence which the Israeli authorities consistently fail to investigate, make matters worse and all of this play into the forceful removal of locals.

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

The case of Susiya is unfortunately not unique. See also my post on Al ‘Aqaba where 97% of the village is under threat of demolition by Israel.
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May Israelis live in Palestine?

According to international law, the civilians of an occupier may not live in the territory it occupies (see Article 46 of The Hague Convention, Article 49, par 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN Security Council Resolution 465, and the 9 July 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.)

But what happens in reality? 

Israel has an active and official policy of settling Jews from all over the world (read this as people with NO genetic links to the Holy Land) in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. More than 650 000 Israeli settlers live illegally in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  Yet this illegal occupation in Palestine continues with the world seemingly standing by.

What is the role of these illegal Israeli settlers? 

Take for example, the case of Asira:

The inhabitants of Asira, one of the Palestinian villages south of Nablus in the West Bank,  suffer regular and serious harassment from the outposts of the Israeli Yitzhar settlement.  Since 2008, crops were burnt, Molotov cocktails were thrown, houses were demolished, cars were destroyed, and olive trees were cut down.  In 2011 settlers also started to throw paint bombs at the houses.

My team (EAPPI Team 41, Yanoun group) visited Nahla (37) and her children at their house in September 2011.  Nahla’s husband is a taxi driver, and in fact he once drove us from Ramallah to Za’tara when we left Jerusalem to go to our placements.  He leaves home early in the morning and return late in the evenings.  Their house is somewhat isolated from the rest of the town.  There are beautiful red roses in the garden.

Nahla and two of her children, note the mesh to protect the window

On average, settlers harasses this family three times a week, but sometimes it is more.  The star of David and the word SAM are sprayed all over their house’s exterior walls… there are also fire marks… the windows are all protected by mesh… in many, many places stonework are damaged by bullets…

Nahla talked to us with a weary smile. She gave us cool drinks, and later, some coffee.

The family took a loan for a fence to safeguard their house.  Now they need an additional 5000 NIS (about R10 000) to get a permit to build the fence around the house.

As I listened to her, I felt weary too…

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are in complete violation of international law.

What about Christians?

Christians across the world often confuse the Israel of the Bible with the current state of Israel.  And so uninformed Christians uphold a theology of exclusivity and deny Palestinians the land given to them by the United Nations in 1948. Such Christians forget that Palestinians had absolutely nothing to do with the terrible Holocaust. They view Palestinians as faceless terrorists and turn a blind eye when Israel takes more and more of this land. We forget that there are Christians too in Palestine. We think it is fine if the Palestinians have only 22% left of what was given to them in 1948. We agree that Israel may occupy, in multiple, institutionalised, degrading ways, a further 60% of the 22% in the West Bank. Ghaza too is like a open air prison since Israel controls the air space, the sea fare and access on land.

We use the Bible to justify suppression.  Through us, the unthinkable becomes normal. Because we cannot imagine Israel being guilty of crimes against humanity – it simply feels wrong.  Weren’t they at the receiving side of crimes during the terrible Holocaust?

The thing is, we cannot make judgements based on feelings only. We should also apply our minds and take facts into account.  How can we simply ignore, for example, the alarming statistics on the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ website?

Let me return to the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestine:

A 1993 agreement signed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin set out a plan for Palestinian self-rule, which was never fully implemented. Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank. Building permits are refused, houses and roads are demolished and military checkpoints prevent citizens to go to churches, mosques, schools and hospitals.

Peace talks came to a standstill precisely due to Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements. Between the start of the peace talks and September 2011, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled:

  • according to the latest figures, there are about 500 000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem,
  • living in 121 (but ever expanding) settlements,
  • with approximately 100 outposts and they control more than 42 percent of the West Bank.

Many of the Israeli settlers come from different parts of the world (the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, Russia, Marrocco, South Africa, etc.) and have absolutely no genetic affiliation with the land that dates back to the times of the Old Testament.  They don’t have to understand Hebrew, they just have to be adherents of the Jewish faith tradition. Yet on posters with anti-Arab slogans on the main road between Hebron and Jerusalem hung by settlers on Sunday 26 September 2011,  they claim “This is the land of our fathers and grandfathers” and “This is the land of Israel”.

How can we allow this to happen?  What kind of theology do we choose? Do we want to exclude, or embrace? Why do so many Jews, some of them Israelis and others not, choose to stand up for a free and just Palestine? Is the Israel of the Bible the same place than the modern state of Israel?  By which terms may any religious tradition suppress another people and deny them basic human rights?

May Israelis live in Palestine? 

No, according to international law, Israeli civilians may not live in Palestine. Hence all settlements and all of the more than 500 000 Israeli civilians in Palestine are illegal.

Yet many, many Palestinians I spoke with, reminded me that Jews, Muslims and Christians used to live as neighbours, like brothers and sisters, in peace together for more than a thousand years on the land that was known as Palestine before the state of Israel was declared. Therefore many of these people prefer a one-state solution where there is freedom, equality, dignity and peace for all.

There is so much to say… If you want to know more, do read, for example, Mark Braverman’s excellent book on Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land: Fatal Embrace (2010). Mark is an American Jew and one of those who advocate for freedom and justice in Palestine. His book explains his own journey of insight and contains personal and theological reflections.

South Africa urges Israel to save the village of Al ‘Aqaba

My team member Ueli Schwarzmann from Switzerland at the ruins of a demolished farm-house in Al ‘Aqaba

On Thursday 9 February 2012 tears welled up in my eyes as I sat in my living room.  I was so angry, and so upset.

How does it happen that almost an entire well managed, clean village with residents who live in peace in the northern part of the Jordan Valley, Palestine, are under threat of being demolished?

When I was there at the end of 2011, I met the mayor, teachers, pupils and other townsfolk.  These people lead simple, peaceful lives on land they legally own and which is recognised as such by the United Nations.  Like us they have dreams for themselves. At the time 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel. (See my earlier post on demolitions and scroll down to the heading: AL ‘AQABA: 95% of this village has demolition orders…)

We asked the children how they feel when they see soldiers on their way to school.  This is what they said to my colleague Linda Baily (from Whales) and me:

 “I am scared when I see their guns and that they may hit me with it. I have seen them hitting motorists at Tubas with the back of their guns.”

“When I see them, I think they came to demolish my home.”

“Our minds are not with our teachers when there is training happening.”

“They sometimes knock on our door at night and search our house.  They ask if we have guns. We are scared that they may leave guns in our house just to be able to say that it belongs to us so that they can arrest us.  They once took my neighbour’s father far away for a week.”

“I started to cry when I arrived at my house after school and saw that it was demolished. We couldn’t remove anything from the house.”

What I learned that afternoon on 9 February in my living room, was that 97% of this village now has demolition orders. 

How did this happen? I quote from the e-mail I received that afternoon from EAPPI:

In recent years, the Rebuilding Alliance (www.rebuildingalliance.org), an American human rights organization sparked international interest in the Jordan Valley village of Al ‘Aqaba by discussing its problems with Members of the US Congress and organizing an awareness-building tour for the village’s mayor, Haj Samy Sadeeq (Tel. +972.9.257.2201) in the US.

As a result, in January 2012, the Head of the Israeli Civil Administration, Brigadier General Motti Almaz visited the village, to “look into complaints” filed by ‘Aqaba’s residents pertaining to mass demolition orders that would effectively destroy the entire village if executed.

According to Sadeeq, he told Almaz the following during the latter’s visit to Al‘Aqaba’s Village Council:

“You destroy our homes and we build them again. What else can we do? This is our village and we have nowhere else to go. In our village there had never been clashes with the military. Yet, for years soldiers trained here with live ammunition between our homes, and as a result villagers were killed and wounded. I personally was shot when I was just 16 years old and remain in a wheelchair for life. Yet I feel no bitterness or hatred. I support peace. I just ask that the military leave us alone.”

Sadeeq asked Almaz to approve a zoning plan for Al ‘Aqaba so villagers can build legally, and for reassurances that the military will not demolish ‘Peace Road’ (the main entrance into Al ‘Aqaba) again if the village rebuilds it with their own money and labor.

 The mayor also asked Almaz for:

  • permission to build a school on the 42 dunams (4.2 hectres) of “state land” that is in the middle of the village,
  • Al ‘Aqaba to be connected to the water network, and re-connected to the electric grid.

Almaz responded to all of Sadeeq’s concerns by saying, “We will look into it”.  At this stage 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel.

A few days later, on 24 January 2012, a representative of the Israeli Civil Administration (which is actually a military organization, despite its name) distributed 17 more demolition orders for homes, animal shelters, and even the communal oven.

 The representative told Sadeeq, “This whole village is illegal; everything must be destroyed”. A few days later, the same person returned to Al ‘Aqaba and issued another eight demolition orders, which included orders to demolish Al ‘Aqaba’s kindergarten and medical clinic. In total, 25 of 45 structures in the village received demolition orders in January 2012.

See the EAPPI online album of photographs of structures in Al ‘Aqaba that have pending demolition orders.

Israel’s behaviour is in clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law (Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 and Article 53
 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949).

URGE ISRAEL TO SAVE THE VILLAGE OF AL ‘AQABA:

I decided to do something and so we at Kairos Southern Africa wrote a letter to the South African government (Kairos SA letter to SA Govt re Al ‘Aqaba).  We asked them to stop Israel.  We now appeal to all Kairos movements in the world to join us in asking your governments to stop the demolition of Al‘ Aqaba. All the villagers in Area C of the West Bank has the right to  adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions.

This is what we asked our government:

Dear Sir

Urgent Action Appeal to rescind Demolition Orders in Palestinian Village

In November 2009 the South African government called upon the Israeli government to cease its activities that “are reminiscent of apartheid forced removals”. Sadly, those policies and practices of the State of Israel continue. We now call upon the South African Government to request the Israeli Ambassador in South Africa and/or Mr. Ehud Barak, Israeli Minister of Defense to rescind the recent 25 demolition orders issued by the Israeli Military Government’s Civil Administration to the village of Al ‘Aqaba in the West Bank: 

Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, Hakirya, Tel Aviv, Israel, Fax: +972-3-6977285 / +972-3-6916940, e-mail: minister@mod.gov.il / dover@mod.gov.ilpniot@mod.gov.il

The village of Al‘Aqaba lies east of Tubas, in the northern part of the Jordan Valley.  For many years, the 300 inhabitants of this village have faced severe repression by the Israeli Military Government, and repeated destruction of homes and infrastructure. Despite recent promises to the village by IDF Brigadier General Motti Almaz, harassment continues on a weekly basis and the threat of mass destruction of homes hovers over the village.  (Please see the attached information sheet).

 The residents of Al‘Aqaba have the right to live peacefully in their homes. 

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 clearly states that:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” 

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 in turn states that:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

 Al ‘Aqaba is not the only example of a village in the West Bank where civilians suffer from multiple and illegal ways by which the Israeli occupation is enforced:

  • Members of Kairos Southern Africa who worked in Palestine as human rights monitors witnessed the devastation on the lives of civilians when their houses, schools, clinics, mosques, water cisterns, animal shelters and roads are being demolished by Israel. 
  • According to the United Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (UNOCHA) demolitions and forced displacements in the West Bank are on the increase. During 2011, almost 1100 Palestinians, over half of them children, were displaced due to home demolitions.  This represents an increase of over 80% in comparison with 2010. During last year, 4 200 Palestinians were affected by the destruction of their livelihoods.
  • On 27 January 2012, Mr Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory called for an immediate end to home demolitions in the West Bank by the Government of Israel.

 Our call for justice on behalf of the residents of Al ‘Aqaba is an urgent appeal for adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions in all the villages in Area C of the West Bank.

 Sincerely,

Kairos Southern Africa (including Rev. Moss Nthla, Rev. Edwin Arrison, Ms. Dudu Masango, Dr. Stiaan van der Merwe, Dr. Frank Chikane, Terry Crawford-Browne, Laurie Gaum, Dr. Clint le Bruyns, Deon Scharneck, Ms Christel Erasmus and Ms Marthie Momberg); Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa (BDS South Africa); the Media Review Network; the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in South Africa; the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU); Dr Carol Martin, Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI Team 40) and Shereen Usdin.

YOU CAN ALSO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

 

Al ‘Aqaba 2011: The IDF’s destroyed the tar on this road.

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Update 07.01.2012: Pending demolitions and a letter to Tony Blair

On Thursday November 10 2011, the Israeli authorities handed over demolition orders for 17 structures affecting 72 people, in Al Hadidiya, Jordan Valley.  More about this, as well as why Tony Blair received a letter from the Al Hadidiya community below (ook in Afrikaans). 

But first, the latest news…

UPDATE 07.01.2012: To our relief the Yanoun Team 42 reported that all the demolition orders in Al Hadidiya as well as those in eight surrounding communities were frozen – and signed as such by Ehud  Barak.
HOWEVER the team also reported home demolitions in Fasayil al-Fauqa and Fasayil al-Wusta, two other communities in the Jordan Valley.  Remember that it is winter – and very, very cold. (These demolitions started on the day that we left Yanoun, as we were waiting for our transport to arrive.  It was terrible to leave like that.)  No news to date on the letter we handed to Tony Blair at the Quartet’s office in Jerusalem.

Another round of demolition orders in Al Hadidiya

Al Hadidiya is a Bedouin community of some 112 permanent inhabitants.  a further 130 inhabitants return to villages near Tubas during the two cold winter months as Israeli forces have already destroyed their homes and they have not found the necessary means to build shelters that can protect them from the winter cold.

In fact, many of the families have already suffered several home and property demolition in clear violation of international law and human rights.  Since 1998, the Israeli occupation authorities have implemented a systematic and continuous drive to permanently expel the Palestinians residents of the Jordan Valley from their lands. Most of the people in Al Hadidiya have already had their homes and/or animal shelters destroyed more than five times by the IDF.

The people in Al Hadidiya are entirely dependent on rearing animals as they do not have sufficient water for agriculture. In the nearby Jewish-only settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot, agricultural produce is farmed using hi-tech methods and with an abundance of water.

Much of this agricultural produce is exported to world supermarkets by Israeli agricultural export companies swuch as Bickel, Mehadrin, Arava and Carmel.  These products are labelled as “Produced in Israel” (also check the products in Pick and Pay and Woolworths.)


One of the 17 demolition orders without ID numbers, Abu Saqer in the background.

The latest orders were simply left in a shelter on Abu Saqer’s farm where he later found it.  None contain ID numbers. The community is assisted by a lawyer.  They have papers from the Ottoman period (thus before the Jordanian and the British reigns) to show that they live on their own land.

While the international community discusses Palestinian statehood,  Israel is continuing the ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine with  further displacements in the Jordan Valley.

The new Yanoun team (Group 42) discussing the demolition orders with community leader Abu Saqer on his farm.

One of the first things our team did, was to agree with Abu Saqer that he would write a letter to Tony Blair on behalf of his community to ask for a proper school building.  We, the Yanoun EAPPI team 41, promised to deliver this letter to him.

Tuesday 29 November 2011: Abu Saqer signs his letter for Tony Blair.  This was my last ask in Al Hadidiya – to receive this letter:
My colleague Linda Baily handed the letter to the Office of the Quartet in Jerusalem on behalf of our team during the last week of our term. 

Abu Saqer (60) on his farm in Al Hadidiya

Abu Saqer’s story:

We will not leave (again) …

(Afrikaans hieronder)

Abdel Raheem Bsharat-Abu Saqer (60) greeted us energetically, his wiry figure in black against the pastel shades of the untilled land like a pen on a pale page.  It was around noon and blisteringly hot.

Abu Saqer's current house

He farms with sheep and plants oats and wheat in the winter when it rains. We climbed the rocky hill behind the house. On the other side, beyond the dry dust beneath our feet, lay a lush green strip of land with permanent structures – Roi, an Israeli settlement.

Water is precious and scarce in the Jordan Valley. Illegal Israeli settlers are allocated by far the greater portion of the water (45 million cubic metres per annum for 64,000 people at subsided rates, compared to the unsubsidised 31 million cubic metres allocated to the 56,000 Palestinians in the valley in 2008).

Abu Saqer’s farm in the foreground, with the illegal Israeli settlement Roi in the background.

As we made our way back down to the home built of canvas and reeds and other portable materials, the Israeli military base on the opposite hill caught my eye. Abu Saqer’s previous home was demolished by the Israeli Defence Force while he had taken his wife to hospital for the birth of their youngest child.

We asked about the green strip on the other side of the hill:

“They are stealing our water.  They plant flowers in the settlement and we don’t have water to drink.  The Israeli politics is to move us – should I then live in the air?

Our message to the world is to look at us as human beings.  I am not a political person or a negotiator, but I need to feed my family. My message is for them to look at us as people who want our children to be educated.  I now need to drive a 35-40 km detour each day when I take my children to school because they closed my gate.  This means that our children are in the village while we are here and we cannot take care of our children and their school work.

My message to Great Britain is to stop helping the Israelis.  They have helped them since 1916 until now and this is why the Israelis continue to break the law.  My second message is for the United States of America.  The tax payers in the USA should know that they support the Israelis to fight us. My message for the Israelis is you cannot take our land. We will not leave our homes like those who left their properties in 1948. Not all Israelis are the same and our aims are supported by many organisations and individuals in Israel and in other parts of the world.

We hope that this awareness of our humanity will grow. We want to live in peace with the Jews and Christians. Peace and love is the essence of all three our religious traditions. The current Israeli politics cannot last forever. We hope the situation will change because people all over the world appreciate us.  We want a peaceful solution.  If things are not changed in a peaceful way, then I have no solution for our children.

But we need a true state and freedom.  It should be democratic and by election.  Then we should have a school building here and not just a tent which is too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Then a letter to Tony Blair will not be necessary. But if we are a state and we still have no water, and if the soldiers continue to demolish water wells without permits as in An Nassariya, it will mean nothing.  We need to have a proper infrastructure.

Ons vlug nie weer nie

Die songedroogde boer groet ons met vitaliteit, sy skraal figuur in swart soos ‘n pen afgeëts op die blad van die pastelkleurige, onbewerkte landskap.

Dis ons eerste besoek aan die gemeenskap van Al Hadidiya in die Jordaanvallei. Dis in die middel van die dag en warm. Hy boer met skaap en plant hawer en koring in die winter as dit reën. Hy is nog besig met enkele sake en ons stap solank oor die klipperige heuwel om die wêreld te bekyk. Aan die anderkant van die dor stof onder ons voete lê ‘n lieflike groen strook met permanente geboue. Dit is Roi, ‘n (onwettige) Israeliese setlaarsgemeenskap.

Water in die Jordaanvallei, soos elders in Palestina, is kosbaar en skaars. Die Israeliese setlaars kry by verre die meerderheid daarvan (45 miljoen kubieke meter /jaar vir 64 000 mense) teenoor die 31 miljoen kubieke meter (in 2008) vir die 56 000 Palestyne in die vallei. Ons draai terug en my oë val op die Israeliese militêre basis op die oorkantste heuwel. Ons stap terug, af na die huis van tente, riete en ander vervoerbare materiaal. Abu Saqer se vorige huis is deur soldate vernietig terwyl hy sy vrou hospitaal toe geneem het vir ‘n bevalling.
Ons is bly oor die glasies tee wat ons aangebied word. Ons stel onsself voor en Abu Saqer wil by my weet hoe dit was om in ‘n land van apartheid te woon.
Ons gesels. Hy meen dat Palestina ‘n speelbal is vir wêreldmagte. Dalk gee hulle geld, sê hy, maar hulle harte is nie oop vir ons nie. Hulle gee nie regtig om wat van ons word nie. Om nou as ‘n staat verklaar te word, gaan volgens hom niks beteken nie.  Die land het hulp nodig met die opbou van ‘n infrastruktuur.
Ek kyk na hom, want daar is ‘n lig in sy oë. Ek vra wat laat hom en sy familie dan aanhou. Ghassan, ons bestuurder en tolk, dra sy woorde oor:

“This land is my life, if you take this away from me, I will die. We will not leave our homes like those who left their properties in 1948. Not all Israelis are the same and our aims are supported by many organisations and individuals in Israel and in other parts of the world. We hope that this awareness of our humanity will grow. We want to live in peace with the Jews and Christians. Peace and love is the essence of all three our religious traditions. The current Israeli politics cannot last forever.”

Abu Saqer se vraag oor hoe dit was om in ‘n land van apartheid te woon, en hoe dit nou met ons gaan, bly my by toe ons wegry.

Earth banks created by the IDF prohibit Palestinians to reach their own land in the Jordan Valley.

Double standards:
A warning of a firing zone (i.e. Palestinians who enter may be shot)
and on the side,
a trail marker (i.e. if you’re an Israeli, go ahead and enjoy nature).
There are many of these in the Jordan Valley.

The entrance to Abu Saqer’s farm has been blocked by inhabitants from the illegal Israeli settlement Roi, and he now has to use a 15 minute detour through the veldt to reach his home.
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