Gallery

It is possible, we CAN live together

The ever increasing number of illegal Israeli settlements and their outposts may ultimately stretch like tentacles around all the West Bank villages to isolate them from one another.

The purple fields on the United Nations map above show some of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestine.  Note, for example, how the village of Yanoun in the north is totally surrounded by outposts of the Itamar settlement. 

Before 2011, Qusra was not in the news.  But since the beginning of that year armed Israelis from the illegal settlement Shilo and its outposts Eli and Eish Qadeesh have started to enter the Palestinian village to harass the townsfolk and damage their property.

My encounter with Qusra started in September 2011. During the course of this month alone, Israeli settlers:   

  • Desecrated Qusra’s new mosque with fire and terrible graffiti (I do not want to post my photos),
  • Burnt, cut and uprooted hundreds of olive trees (usually on Fridays when most of the villagers are at the mosque for prayers),
  • Injured five men and killed another (the Israeli army equipped these illegal Israeli settlers with live ammunition and teargas.)

I went to the funeral of the young man who was killed, not knowing what to expect as this was only the second day after my team and I started our service term in this area.  This is what I found… men praying over and over again in an open field next to the olive groves:

A boy watched intently as men pray at the funeral of a villager killed by the IDF on 23 September 2011 after settlers invaded Qusra and damaged the olive groves.  Unarmed villagers, with the broken branches of their trees in their hands, tried to chase the settlers away. But they were shot at and five more had to be hospitalised.  No Israelis suffered injuries.



During the funeral the settlers invaded olive groves on another side of the town and damaged 500 more olive trees.

In yet another incident, approximately 200 olive trees were broken or uprooted by settlers on the night of 06.10. 2011. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) were present. They stopped the unarmed Palestininians from entering their fields to safeguard their property and the soldiers did nothing to stop the settlers. In fact, they used flares/ light bombs to light up the area making it easier for settlers to find their way over the rocky terrain. Olives and olive oil are the main of source of income to most Palestinian farmers.

We sat in the shop of Mohammad A.A. Hassan after settlers uprooted and damaged more of the village’s olive trees on 06.11.2011. He rubbed his tired eyes:

Look at this young man who studies at university. We want him to find a job and have a family like everyone else in the rest of the world. We want a normal life, not more, but also not less than others. But now we are sad and angry.  The army uses live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas and we throw stones.  But this can’t liberate our land. We need the help of the world.  We are waiting for this.

I turned to the young man he pointed to, an IT specialist, who started to talk:

I have many internet friends all over the world who have very nice lives. I don’t want that, I just want a simple life here.  I have in my heart that Palestine will one day be free. I am optimistic. I don’t want to kill settlers.

Some of my friends are settlers because they used to come into the town to buy things before the new outpost was there. I asked one of them if he can smell this soil, as for me, it is like heroine, I breathe it in. He started to cry. He said they were promised a good life in this land, but he cannot smell this soil and he doesn’t know the names of the plants. He told me that I am a good man.  He is from California and he thinks his life here is bullshit, but his parents came here to have a good life. He wants to return to California.  I told him that if he wants to stay, he should stay.  We are all human and we can all live here.  Just don’t burn our olive trees, I asked.

On another day a soldier at a checkpoint called me a terrorist. I said I wanted to ask him just one question and then he may shoot me if he thinks it is necessary.  I asked him where was his father born.  At first he got angry and called five more armed soldiers. But I just looked at him and asked him the same thing again.  Then he saw me as a human being. He sat down for a long, long time and said nothing.  Then he looked at me and said he knows I am not a terrorist.  I felt that this soldier has a heart and a mind.

I trust my friends who are Israelis.  They all say to me that this is my land.

We need to talk to one another without religion. We need to talk as human beings. We can live in peace with all religions.

Do you know how we greet one another in the street?  We say assalamu “alaykum which means peace on you.  We say this every time, even if we bump into the same person after five minutes. By doing this, we actually say let there be peace for all everywhere.

The younger Mohammed telling his story to Eduardo, my fellow EA.

See more.

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.

Gallery

A mother and her children at home

When my EAPPI colleagues and I visited Asira, Naja (pictured here with one of her children) gave us water and tea and cool drinks.  She told us their story and showed us how they try to protect their windows and where fire was set to the house.  But what I remember best, is the weary expression in her eyes despite her friendly smile.  I could see that she didn’t think there is much we could do to help her. Asira is a Palestinian village south of Nablus, in the West Bank.

September 2011:  In a special arrangement between the Israeli government and ICRC (the Red Cross), Israel removed 40 of its most vigilant settlers from the West Bank to Tel Aviv (where they were on holiday) for a few months.  This was necessary to calm things down in the West Bank when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas asked the UN to recognise Palestine.

Despite this, other (more moderate?) illegal Israeli settlers did their best to provoke Palestinian villagers during that time….  they damaged hundreds of olive trees, unarmed villagers were shot (one dead and four injured), etc.  But the removal did help, as in some of the other villages where we monitored human rights, things were more quiet.

And now those vigilant settlers are back… and they have renewed energy.  This news my team members and I have already received  from the team who replaced us.  They told us about renewed efforts of the nearby settlers (living illegally in the West Bank) to harass Palestinians who have every right to stay in their own land:

On 1 February, 2012 Padre James Bhagwan wrote:

The homes at the edge of this Palestinian village are located a few hundred metres from houses in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. But the relationship is anything but neighbourly.

On a late January tour of the Palestinian village led by representatives of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), residents said attacks by Jewish settlers on their village are more organised and increasing.

Sometimes the attacks, which involve rock throwing, vandalism and crowd intimidation, are a part of reprisals known as “price tag” attacks carried out by settlers after an Israeli government attempt to dismantle illegal outposts or a Palestinian attack against Israeli targets, they said.

Read more…

This breaks my heart. Naja’s husband leaves home early in the morning to start his day as a taxi driver. What happens while he is away – and also why he is there? More damage to their house due to fires, stone throwing, broken windows, and Zionist signs on the walls? Their children scared to come home after school or to play outside next to the fragrant red roses in Naja’s garden?  My heart aches for them, and for those who feel called to intimidate others and damage their property.

Naja was right.  I couldn’t do anything for her and her family while I was in the occupied territories of Palestine.  But I’m not giving up.  We, ordinary citizens, need to speak up, and cry out, each and every one of us: injustice no more and an end to the oppression! Like the world did with South Africa under an apartheid regime. The UN is not going to do it, for the USA will continue to veto the UN’s recommendations.  They have already done so many times. The mass movement against oppression in Palestine needs to grow and we need to put pressure on the powers of the empire. As Alice Walker said, “we are the ones we have been waiting for”.

(All images in this post were taken by me when we visited Naja and her family)

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.

Such good news – watch this!

Update 19.01.2012: 

Oh no, oh no…..I really, really wanted to share a beautiful story filled with hope and courage with you.  This is what I wrote a few days ago:

This is about the story of Eid Suleiman Hadaleen, a self-taught artist.  Eid is from the Palestinian Bedouin village of Umm Al Kher located in the South Hebron Hills area of the West Bank. 

But this story is not about what happens in the West Bank…

Since the age of 12, Eid has been building miniature-sized jeeps, bulldozers, and helicopters from plastic, iron, and other scraps that he finds in his village.  In real life, these vehicles represent the oppressive Israeli occupation, but through his work, he shows us what is possible and gives hope….. 

I love what he does…. do watch his short video

You can e-mail Eid:  eidsul@gmail.com

But now fellow EA Jan (from Canada) has more news about Eid’s village:

This past week I received an email from Operative Dove, an Italian peace group that works in the South Hebron Hills, telling us that the village of Um al Kher is now under greater threat of demolition.  The village is deemed illegal by the Israeli’s and is now at risk of being totally demolished, despite the fact that it sits on land that was purchased by the villager’s forefathers in the early 1950′s (after they were pushed off their original homeland).

Read the full story here.

Santa in distress, three wise men arrested


FROM BETHLEHEM, in the occupied territories of Palestine…
read a brilliant Christmas parody issued by BDS South Africa,

 Santa in Distress, Three Wise Men Arrested (24 Dec 2011)

Is the Christmas Star still shining?

Or is it mourning
over the little town of Bethlehem?

In Bethlehem today people are fenced in

behind a concrete wall
that cuts across fields and olive groves,
separating people from schools,
hospitals and work places.
In Bethlehem today Mary must give birth
at a military checkpoint,
shepherds cannot reach the stable,
the three Wise Men, gifts in hands,
stand helpless before the wall.
In Bethlehem today the star has vanished
where angels sang

hilltops are scarred by
illegal houses
Yet while we search
the darkness in vain
The angels’ message is still
Peace on Earth
So let us listen
Let us stand up and act.

Peace and Justice for Palestine.

(Ulrike Vestring 2009)

When you may not rescue your own furniture…

They gave us their testimony, freely, surrounded by their relatives and using a translator, knowing we would tell the world. The two Palestinian girls, one 21, the other 17, were brutalized for no reason on Thanksgiving Day in the southern part of the West Bank.

The young woman, Sausan, was in a cave dwelling with three children when she heard the sounds of machinery and voices.  She came out and saw the bulldozers and she quickly got the children out of the cave.  She started screaming and ran to get some things out of her house, which she could see was about to be demolished.  An Israeli soldier pushed her and told her to stop, but she kept moving. He pulled and dragged her to a place where they sprayed some kind of spray in her eyes and mouth at very close range.  She fainted to the ground then.

When she woke up, the soldiers were all around her. They were going to arrest her. When her mother protested, they pushed her mother to the ground, breaking her leg. By now the young woman’s eyes, affected by the spray, hurt so badly that she cried, “Give me water for my eyes.” A soldier put a very little bit of water in her eyes so he could have a friend take a photo of him doing so, but then wouldn’t give her any more.

The above is a quote from fellow EA Chris Cowan’s blog.  Chris is from the United States and worked in the Southern Hebron Hills in the West Bank where this incident happened.  She had to wait for the court hearings to be finished before she could publish Sausan’s testimony.

Read the full, terrible story here on her blog.

There are more photos and a video on fellow EAPPI colleague Jan McIntyre’s blog:

….When the bulldozer pulled up to the front of the family’s home, a solid stone house, his 19 year old daughter Sausan realized what was about to happen. She tried desperately to get some of the family belongings out of the house before the soldiers began this part of their destruction. That did not go over well with the soldiers. They stopped her from going into the house, they restrained her and then they administered a gas that rendered her unconscious. As she lay on the ground, her mother, Haleeni (Mahmoud`s wife), went to attend to her.

That also did not go over well with the soldiers.

As Haleeni attempted to get to Sausan, a soldier forcefully pushed her away. Haleeni lost her balance and fell against either a rock or the bulldozer, breaking her leg in the process. As Sausan lay on the ground, still unconscious, she was handcuffed. Mahmoud watched all of this, completely unable to help.

After regaining consciousness, both Sausan and one of her relatives, a 17 year old girl Amel, were arrested and taken away by soldiers in army vehicles. As of Friday at 5pm, villagers had no idea where these two young girls are, how to contact them, what charges were laid against them (if any), when they will see them again or how to help them. They too, know the reputation of Israeli jails and their treatment of Palestinian prisoners…

View the video here:

Click here for Jan’s account and photos.

Gallery

Demolitions: An account of ONE week

To sit with a family whilst their houses or water cisterns are being demolished, or when their olive trees are bulldozed to make way for the illegal Israeli wall, is a nauseating experience.

Israel demolishes all kinds of Palestinian structures… schools, clinics, roads, houses, animal shelters, mosques…anything one can think of. They say they  do this for “security reasons,” but in reality they displace people and grab more land for settlements and agriculture – in other words for economic gain.

  • The current Palestine is only 22% of what the UN allocated to them in 1948.  Israel took the other 78% by force.
  • Israel currently occupies most (66%) of this 22% (Areas B and C in the West Bank) and they continue to grab more land, day by day.

According to international law, no occupying power may confiscate land to use it for their own gain, and everyone in an occupied territory have the right to basic human rights.  Yet there are many, many, many (yes many) examples of how Israel violates these laws (and the USA consistently vetoes UN resolutions that want to stop Israel).

The examples below, are a collection of some (yes some) of the things I encountered during ONE WEEK.

HEBRON:
One farmer, fifteen soldiers, a bulldozer and loads of rocks…

While visiting the Hebron EAPPI-team (a programme of the World Council of Churches) I witnessed the demolition of a farmer’s water cistern on 17 November 2011.  After destroying the cistern, the hole was filled with 20 truck-loads of rocks.

Fifteen soldiers, the contractor, the media, internationals as well as the owner and his friends and family stood by as it happened.

The Equipment:

The farmer….

The soldiers…

On what level does this make sense?

We do not know…

JERICHO, AL QASAB:
In one sweep – houses, furniture, everything…

My team and I were working on our advocacy strategy for former Ecumenical Accompaniers on 15 November 2011 when we got the call.

In total 21 people including 15 children were displaced by the three demolitions on 15th November. One person told EAPPI:

“Everything is gone. All my daughter’s toys – it is so hard.”

The New Age in South Africa published an article on the demolitions:

http://www.thenewage.co.za/35146-1020-53-Israel_demolishes_Palestinian_homes_near_Jericho

I replied to this letter on 16 November, but do not know if they published my comment:

Dear Editor of The New Age,

As my team were present at the site of the demolitions yesterday and took testimonies, we would like to draw your attention to the following:

You quote Israeli civil administration spokesman Guy Inbar saying that the structures were “uninhabited”.  In fact two of the demolished houses were inhabited, but the owners were simply not home when the Israeli Defense Force demolished the structures. The owners received no warnings, neither written nor verbal. The first house had some items removed by the soldiers before it was demolished. Nothing was removed from the other two which were demolished with everything still inside.

According to Inbar the houses were built “near an archaeological site with the risk of endangering it”.  Yet the houses were on a street amongst other houses so it was not clear to the EAPPI eye witnesses (or to the owners and their neighbours) why these particular houses posed a threat.

My team and I form part of a group of internationals who monitor human rights violations and transgressions of applicable international law in the West Bank.  We report these to the United Nations, the Red Cross (ISCRC), the Quartet and other partner organisations.

We all participate in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.  Some of us are affiliated to churches and some are not, but we all subscribe to an ending of the occupation and a just peace based on international law and human rights.

Please see the attached photo by Eduardo Minossi, one of our team members, taken yesterday at one of the demolished houses.

These photos in Al Qasab were all taken by my colleagues Linda Bailey (Wales) and Eduardo Minossi de Oliveira (Brazil):

AL ‘AQABA: 95% of this village has demolition orders…

We visited this village on 14 November 2011 to interview learners and teachers for Save the Children.  This village is considered as a place of training by Israel, as “it looks like South Lebanon”.  The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) conducts regular training in this village, i.e. weekly sessions.  They practice by “arresting” locals and “releasing” them after their training.

When we spoke to them, the mayor told us that the last army incursion into the village was two days ago.  95% of the village has demolition orders but they are on hold as they are waiting for a ruling by the High Court of Israel.

Here are some verbatim comments from the teachers and children we spoke to:

“We don’t teach the children about the war or the occupation, we teach them peace.”

“I am so afraid when the army trains here and I’m an adult – so you can just imagine how the children feel.  They can’t concentrate.  They want to watch what happens and want to know how they will escape and what they need to do.”

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

“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.”

“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.”

The town’s mayor is in a wheel chair after being hit by three bullets when he was 16 years old.  Over the years, 50 people in this village have been injured and 13  killed as a result of the IDF’s training.

The next two photos feature Mayor Haj Saml Sadiq.  He travels the world to spread his message of peace and the ending of the occupation:

AL AUJA: A mud school threatening Israel?

This mud school of the Bedouin community outside Al Auja received a demolition order (the green in the background is an illegal Israeli settlement):

This is what fellow EAs Linda Bailey (Wales) and Jan McIntyre (Canada) looked out upon as they stood in front of the school….

How do we make sense of this?

We don’t.

Instead we advocate for the ending of the occupation and a just peace based on international law.

In the mean time, life goes on…

… several baby goats were born a few metres from the  school while we were there

And across the road, in the nearby illegal Israeli settlement, life also goes on – one with houses, swimming pools and electricity…

And finally….

AL HADIDIYA:
June 2011, and again in November 2011

In June 2011, 40 people including 15 children were made homeless in Al Hadidiya.  See Fact Sheet 2011 02 on the EAPPI website:

Last week we heard that the Israeli authorities handed over demolition orders that target 17 structures and will affect 72 people, including women and children, in Al HadidiyaThese demolitions were due on 18 November 2011.  However we contacted our respective national representative offices, and so far the demolitions have not yet taken place.  We hope….

(See also my post on Pending demolitions in the Jordan Valley for details on Al Hadidiya)

More on demolitions:

Sometimes the Israeli Defense Force demolishes Palestinian structures without orders to do so as in September 2011 when they destroyed six water wells in An Nassariya.  (See my post All we have in our hands are plants.)

Are the demolitions of Palestinian structures perhaps on the decrease?

I wish I could say yes. However house demolitions in 2011 were 80% more than in 2010.

This trend continues in 2012. 120 Palestinian structures were demolished in the first two months of the year, including 36 homes.  Remember that it is winter and very, very cold. On average over 25% more people were displaced per month in 2012 than in 2011 (125% more than the average per month in 2009).

By March 2012, whole towns were under threat of being demolished by Israel (Al ‘Aqaba in the Jordan Valley and Susiya in South Hebron Hills).

More photos by EAPPI on recent demolitions.  

United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied territories of Palestine: Statistics and more information

Al ‘Aqaba in the Jordan Valley

Susiya in South Hebron Hills



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Israeli’s met verskillende perspektiewe

In die middel van ons termyn, het al sewe die EAPPI spanne meer opleiding en blootstelling buite die areas waar ons werk gekry.  Ons het met Israeli vredesorganisasies gepraat, asook met ‘n (onwettige) Israeli setlaar.

Hier is ‘n paar foto’s:

Ons vertrek Sondagoggend opgewonde vanaf Yanoun – Eduardo (links), Ghassan ons vriend, kontak, vertaler en taxi-bestuurder (middel) en Ueli (regs)

‘n Gesprek met Michael, hoof van Breaking the Silence – ‘n groep veteraan Israeli soldate wat vrede nastreef.

By die Suid-Afrikaanse verteenwoordigende kantoor in Ramallah.  Hier is ek, Mpumi, Zodwa en Alicia by SA Ambassadeur Makalima.

Die gesprek met Ruth Hiller van New Profile was fassinerend. Sy is deel van ‘n Israeli vredesorganisasie wat jongmense help om kwytskelding van militere diensplig te verkry.

 

Bob Lang, voorheen van die VSA maar nou setlaar van Efrat by Bethlehem, is  hoof van die Efrat godsdienskomitee. Hy ontvang gereeld toeristegroepe en het ook met ons gepraat.

Kort voor lank haal Bob ‘n kaart uit om te verduidelik hoe klein (die supermoondheid) Israel is en dat al die grond deur God aan die Jode beloof is.

Hy verduidelik dat die heuwels waar daar tans (onwettige) setlaarsdorpe is, “leeg” was. Hy laat na om te noem hierdie heuwels (en setlaarsdorpe) is binne die grondgebied wat die VN aan Palestina toegestaan het in 1948 en dat Israel dit volgens die Geneefse Konvensie nie mag benut nie.

As hulle (die Palestyne) kan bewys dat hulle die grond besit, sal ons meer as gelukkig wees om dit van hulle te koop“, vertel hy. Hoekom noem hy nie dat die VN in 1948 die grond aan die Palestyne toegewys het nie? Die VN se stappe teen Israel lei  tot niks nie, want die VSA veto telkens (ten minste 14x al) optrede teen Israel.

Ons streef vrede na. Ons moet hier leef want Abraham het op hierdie grond geloop. Ons hoop om verder uit te brei. Ek glo in ‘n een staat oplossing – die staat sal Israel wees. Dit sal vrede bring gebaseer op gelykheid.” Gelykheid? Wie besluit wat is gelyk? En geregtigheid? Watter soort vrede? Vir wie? Ek skat dis die soort praatjies wat toeriste se harte sag maak vir Israel se wandade.

Oor die meer as 750 000 Palestynse vlugtelinge van 1948 sê Lang: “‘n Mens kan nie na 60 jaar nog ‘n vlugteling wees nie – they must get over it“. Verstaan ek reg – mense wie se voorgeslagte nog nooit in Israel gebly het nie, mag “terugkeer” solank hulle Joods is, maar mense wie se voorgeslagte terugstrek na die tyd van Ou Testament en nie Joods is nie moet voert en is nie vlugtelinge nie?

Terug in Jerusalem ontmoet ons nog mense…

Tim Williams van die Kwartet (links) en EA Jan-Egil Berg in gesprek. Op ons vraag aan Tim oor wat in die pad van vrede staan, was sy antwoord dadelik: “Sonder twyfel Israel se besetting van die Palestynse gebied.”

Daar was selfs tyd om vinnig toeris te speel in Jerusalem…

Skemer in die tuin van Getsemane – ‘n wonderlike, wonderlike ervaring vir my. Hierdie olyfboom is 2000 jaar oud!

Jerusalem: die ou stad se muur.

Wat ek nie hier genoem het nie, is:

Ons gesprekke met spesialiste oor Christen-Zionisme, ons fantastiese gesprekke met die Israeli vredesorganisasies Peace Now en The Other Voice asook met iemand van die Arab Minority Rights in Israel.  Ek hoop om later iets hieroor in die media te doen.

IDF soldiers beat children in Hebron

22/10/11
Israeli soldiers beat seven children at a checkpoint near the Cordoba School in Hebron last week.

Ecumenical Accompaniers from EAPPI were called to the scene and were informed that Israeli Soldiers refused to allow teachers to pass through the gate next to the container at Checkpoint 56.

A new military commander in the area had decided that teachers must pass through the metal detector at the checkpoint, contrary to previous agreements. The teachers refused, and stood in protest. When the children realized why their teachers were not in class, they went back to the checkpoint and joined them in solidarity. Soldiers began hitting children with their rifle butts and kicking them in the legs to disperse the crowd, hospitalizing six girls and one boy, aged between nine and 13.

Soldiers also kicked Ms. Ebtisam Al-Junaidi, Principle of the Cordoba School, in the legs but she was not hospitalized.

Click here to view a short video of the incident.

NOTE: Teachers have been coming to the checkpoint everyday since this incident happened to protest the new military measure.

THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION:

The right to education is protected under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (1979), and the Convention On The Rights of The Child (1989). Teachers and students should be guaranteed free access to educational institutions, regardless of their ethnic and religious background.