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Jerusalem: It is done now

It happened. The people left. The dust settled. But you can still watch the children shouting, the adults trying to calm them down, the soldiers laughing, the grotesque Hyundai bulldozers hovering over the damaged furniture in the dusty rubble.

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You can also turn away – there are after all so much terror and injustices in this world. But there it remains – the flattened Palestinian house in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem.  The boy who doesn’t understand. The unsettled dust.

media_29ebc6919dd74f69ad4b1c1ff51d929e_t607(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

It happened on 5 February 2013 and it is one of thousands of similar stories.  Children returning home after school to see this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_U83yMFVFM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxCX9j230x8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-FySzDyOTI

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It is not the end.  More demolitions will follow on Palestinian land – in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.  They will be executed by the hand of Israel who occupies Palestine illegally.

My EAPPI colleague Jan McIntyre (Group 41 Sept – Dec 2011) returned to Palestine for a second term.  This time she monitors human rights violations in Jerusalem.  She wrote as follows:

Hi Marthie,

…You know how your heart is broken open in this work?  This was one of those times.  I felt physically ill at the sight of all this and my voice broke as I told the young girl how sorry I was that this had happened.  But this isn’t about me….it’s about the ongoing suffering under Israel’s occupation….

I was there yesterday to check on the family.  The scene was beyond horrible. All that is left is a massive pile of rubble.  Iman, the oldest daughter of the Castero family, a very articulate 18 year old first year law student with excellent English, came up to speak with me.  She said that the house had been a 10 year old two storey stone house (typical Arab style), built without a building permit. (Building permits are virtually unobtainable for Palestinians in Jerusalem and so people build without). A demolition permit had been issued only days ago and they had been unable to stop it. The Israeli authorities allowed less than five minutes for the family to get their belongings out of the house, and did not allow neighbours to help.  As a result, they were only able to get a very few things out of the house. The majority of their household goods are buried under the rubble.

This house was home to Iman’s grandparents, their three sons and their families.  In total, this demolition has left 37 people homeless!  They have no access to water, no food, no clothes other than what they were wearing, and no bathroom facilities.  The ICRC (Red Cross) have supplied them with two tents and other agencies have contributed a small amount of food.  Neighbours are helping out as much as they can.

Apart from the obvious physical needs of the family, they also are suffering from considerable psychological trauma.  As well, the grandmother was taken to hospital during the demolition.

I simply ask that you include this Castero family in the prayers of the people of your congregation on Sunday.

Peace,

Jan

It is all done now. The incomprehensible destruction. The shattered lives of ordinary civilians.  Israel’s repeated breaching of international law continues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_U83yMFVFM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxCX9j230x8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-FySzDyOTI

In 2011 almost 1,100 Palestinians, over half children, were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli forces in violation to international law. This is over 80% more than in 2010. What is the world doing about it? Why do we think it does not matter if we pretend to not see it?

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An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man from the anti Zionist Neturei Karta (Guards of the Walls) in solidarity with praying Palestinians against the Jerusalem municipality’s house demolition policy.  (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Can Five Broken Cameras heal many hearts?

“I kept thinking – how can I produce an emotionally charged film whilst maintaining a very gentle tone?”

This is what Guy Davidi, an Israeli film producer, asked himself.

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In 2012 the film “Five Broken Cameras” co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi became the most successful Palestinian-Israeli documentary ever. In January 2013 it won the World Cinema Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival and it was nominated for an Oscar as the best documentary feature film.

But is the world ready to see it?

The film shows the first years of life for Burnat’s baby against the backdrop of the Palestinian village Bil’in and how the local civilians resist the Israeli Wall which, together with Israeli settlers, are illegally on Palestinian land.

The thing is, the story of Emad Burnat’s family in Bil’in is not unique.  It is the story of just about every village in the West Bank of Palestine. Burnat simply filmed regular events as they unfolded.  He says that five of his cameras were smashed by the Israeli army as he documented friends and family members being shot and injured by Israeli troops.

Yet despite the acclaim and international awards, the film is not allowed in Israeli schools.  But the Israeli director in the team, Guy Davidi, finds different ways to show it to young Israelis.

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Those who watched it, said the film (and the story they did not know) changed their lives.  They ask:

“What are we to do now that we know?”

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The year 2013 is upon us.  Read the story behind the acclaimed film, watch the trailer and listen to what Israeli youth say after watching it:

Can Palestinian non-violent resistance make it into Israel’s education system?

For us who have already witnessed what happens in Palestine, what are we to do?

For me one thing is to talk about the Palestinians’ choice of non-violent resistance… and initiatives with them and with like-minded others such as my Jewish and Muslim friends and colleagues.  When the time is ready, I shall do so in future posts.

May we all have open hearts in the rest of 2013 – hearts that will not only receive, but also share blessings of goodwill and love.  May we co-discover ways to create a dignified peace.  And may this film remind us that all in the world deserve dignity.

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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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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.

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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)

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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.

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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



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.