The South Hebron Hills
To walk in the SHHs is one of the reasons I came here. I suppose I thought that walking there again would be a time of reflection/meditation. I arrived in Yatta after being for a few hours in Hebron. There I walked to the old city and once again saw the craziness that is Hebron. Took a picture of the nets above the shops. They are there because the Israelis living above throw their garbage down on the shopkeepers and their wares. Hebron has a settlement in the middle of it and to accomplish that, the Israelis closed the economic centre of the town (Shuhuda Street) and homes, etc. It was replaced by barriers and checkpoints. EAs accompany children to school since they need to go through checkpoints which is dangerous at time. Their bags are checked day after day no matter their age. Many young people have been killed by soldiers. One recently was a 15 year-old girl. According to a shopkeeper close by, one of the soldiers talked to her in Hebrew, probably wanting her backpack. The girl did not understand so started shaking. She was shot 5 times because she was acting suspiciously. The soldiers did not call an ambulance but watched as she bleed to death. I know, hard to believe this goes on.
Back to Yatta. I arrived at Abed’s home in the late in the afternoon. After eating, we went to see the progress on the guest house he is building with investment from Christian and Laura, who were my teammates while an EA. I took pictures to send to Laura. Afterwards we went to see a man in one of the villages. Abed got two lambs from him. He says the keeping the sheep and hens in the first level of his home gives his mother something to do. I think Abed though is a farmer at heart. His father seems to divide his time between Yatta and the village of Susiya.
The next morning I left early for At-Tuwani to start my walk from there. I first talked to a couple of young people from Operation Dove who live there and do much of the same work as EAs. They warned me about walking by myself. My biggest fear was dropping dead and the Israelis doing something to make it look like the Palestinians were responsible. That would reinforce the narrative that it is dangerous for tourists to come to the West Bank and the Palestinians are all terrorists. I decided to go ahead but skipped going to the outpost. I took my time since it is strenuous going up and down. Rocks and stones shift under foot. I sat for awhile in the shade of the cement pillar on which is written: “Danger. Firing Zone. Entrance Forbidden.” From that vantage point I could see part of the Israeli Maon settlement and Maon Farm. Then there was an Israeli outpost which eventually become settlements. And then a village. No greenery, no running water, just makeshift shelters. Walked some more and neared the village of Um Faggara. Two children waved for me to come. They put a mat on the floor for me to sit and not long after, the tea pot and cups appeared. I had a bag of nuts in my backpack which I gave to the children to share. I had several cups of tea with mint – keep in mind that the cups are smaller than the mugs we use. Their home had no beds, just mats and not a single toy. A teenage girl who was going to university had a computer. Electricity was by way of a solar panel donated by COMET. No table or other furniture.
I visited three more villages before heading to the main road. Army vehicles passed but did not stop or did not see me. Nearing Susiya, I encountered a man leading some sheep The sheep saw me and came to where I was despite the protests by the shepherd and the swishing of his rod. When I stopped, they all gathered round me. It took me walking to where he was for the sheep to finally go back with him.
In Susiya, I met Nassar and had a meal at his “home”. He told me of recent events in the efforts to save the village. Right now there is a bit of a reprieve since it will be two months before the court decision once again. However the army has orders to demolish the village so one never knows. There are many supporters and still international pressure to save the village. While there, three Israelis came. They come to show that not all Israelis agree with what is going on. It would be good if the village could get a “Master Plan” which would mean that they can build without fear of demolitions. Mahmoud and Nassar drove me to Abed’s home in Yatta. Despite Abed’s protests, I decided to catch a minivan back to Hebron and on to Bethlehem.
Rawna and Issa Khouriya live in Jifna where they have a guesthouse. I stayed there on Sunday evening. The town is about half Christian. Rawna and Issa have 2 children and the oldest is now studying in Germany.
Life under Jordanian rule was much easier and they both had good jobs. Issa was a contracter and Rawna worked in setting up learning centres for disabled children. As the Israeli occupation progessed, so did the difficulties facing the family.
The most notable is freedom of movement. One year, the family wanted to go to Jerusalem for the holy days of Easter. They got permits and were excited to be in Jerusalem for the first time. They got to the checkpoint and they let Issa through, then their daughter, then Rawna and now for their son. The young soldier did not permit the son passage. Despite Rawna showing he was on her permit, the same as the daughter, and despite many pleas and tears, the soldier did not give in and said the son should go back home. So in the end they all went back. To this day they have not been in Jerusalem.
Yes, families are separated. One may get a permit and not another. And going to checkpolnts where you are at the mercy of some 18 year-old, always hat in hand so to speak. Sometimes they pick out the Christians and tell them to go ahead of the Muslims so as to create division. And there are flying checkpoints, ones that appear at any time, never knowing how long it will take to get from one place to another.
Nearby Jifna is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank. Balata refugee camp is crowded. There is no privacy. If someone dies, you must hold the body close like a baby since there is no room to carry a body horizontally. Fridges, for example are hoisted to the roof and passed from roof to roof until there is a road where it can be hoisted down. That is how tight the homes are. Refugee camps only have a certain area on which to build and cannot go outside that perameter. So they build up, etc. Grandparents may live on one floor, then their children, then another floor to accomodate married grandchildren, etc. As the population grew, the area for the camps did not. So they are crowded with no green space. And in all the camps there are frequent incursions by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The last few days
There is so much to write about. Staying at Claire’s has been good. There are other travellers also. We linger over breakfast and discuss the issues as well as their lives back in their home countries.
Yesterday, I walked to the House of Hope to find out more about their work with blind and disabled children. There are presently 23 students. I toured the workshop where older ones learn woodworking and crafts which are sold. They do rely on volunteers to help out as house parents. Presently they do not have volunteers there. A couple from Canada just recently left as their time was over. The man giving me the tour invited me to go to church with them on Sunday morning but I had already thought to go to the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. When I told the man that I was going to Nativity Square, he offered a ride since the van was going to Beit Sahour and would be passing close to the square. I went into the Church of the Nativity – much restoration being done there – and listened for awhile to the monks as they read and chanted. (See video). I walked back to Claire’s place which takes about an hour, of course that is with going into some shops along the way. When I returned, there was the doctor from Chili painting on the wall. He is staying also at Claire’s. (See picture on yesterday’s post)
Today I got up early and by 7:45 went through Checkpoint 300 to catch a bus to Jerusalem. It is only a few yards to go through the wall but of course not the checkpoint which is a system of bars along walkways and turnstiles and booths with soldiers. So what once took 2 minutes can now take 2 hours or more for people to go to work. I made it to the Church in time – not easy to find it in the old city. Just knew it was near Jaffa Gate in the Christian quarter. The service was held in the chapel of the church. It is ancients with a central courtyard. I spoke to Rev Carrie Smith before the service since she came into the chapel to prepare and introduced herself. I had met her before when an EA. It was not long before people started to come in – young families and young people. Some tourist groups and the regulars work for organizations such as the UN or embassies, etc. I spoke to a lady from the Netherlands after the service. Her husband has a 3-yr term working in Ramallah. From the church, I made my way to the Western Wall and then hurried to enter the Al Asqa Mosque. I only had ten minutes before it would close. I had promised a Muslim friend that I would take some pictures – he wanted me to take a selfie of me standing at the mosque.
From nearby Damascus Gate, I fook a bus to Ramallah and on to Jifna. Now at a Khouriya Family guesthouse. This town is about half Christian and half Muslim. Wanted to get the stories of how the occupation affects their lives and livelihoods so will write about that. Unfortunately there are no other guests here at this time. The house is huge. I am on the thrid floor and there is a livingroom, kitchen, patio as well as the bedrooms.
Courtyard in Church of the Redeemer.
On the Via Dolorosa- 4th station of the cross.
Inside Church of Nativity. Some of Western Wall. Doctor from Chili painting on Wall.
Back in Bethlehem
The journey to Israel went well and entered without incident. Since my flight got to Ben Gurion airport in the evening, I had booked a night in a hostel. There I lmet fellow travellers yet of the ones I met, I was the only one going to the West Bank. The general idea I encountered was that it was dangerous to go there. Of course that is not true.
Right now I am at Claire Anasta’s place (look her up on youtube) for a second night. Just had a really good conversation with a young man from South America and another man who hopes to go to Gaza. The young man from Chili is a doctor and wants to do volunteer work here. He came in via Jordan was was detained for 10 hours and they searched everything and wanted to see his computer and he even had to strip down. So maybe it was a good idea I did not go through Jordan. I did not like the idea of them taking passports on one side of the bridge and handing it back on the other.
This morning I had breakfast at Claire’s with a young woman who is in micro-fiancing and had been in Uganda and then worked in Tel Aviv. Now she is in the West Bank to learn about life here. She wasn’t sure where to go next and wanted to know what I would be doing.
I spent most of the day today in Jerusalem in the old city. The cost for accomodation there was very steep and so it was better to return to Bethlehem since that takes less than 30 minutes or so and costs only a few dollars. And I was keeping most of my stuff at Claire’s so I could go light.
Tomorrow going to the House of Hope first thing. I want to find out more about it and it is within walking distance. After that I may head to Ramallah. I expect to go to Hebron on Tuesday and then to the South Hebron Hills.
“The sky will be my blanket and the earth my bed”; what Bedouins’ face
Displacement: a daily reality in East Jerusalem
Authorities leave the residents and herds with no shelter in harsh weather conditions
This morning, around 6am, civil Administration and army forces arrived at the a-Sa’idi community, near a-Za’ayem. The forces demolished the homes of four families numbering 32 people, of them 21 minors. The a-Sa’idi community numbers a total of 6 families, around 40 residents. Read more.
Water pipes, tanks and restrictions in the Jordan Valley
Abudallah Sawafta, age 78, a senior resident in Bardala, the northernmost village in the Jordan Valley, occupied Palestine, describes what happened when the Israeli military visited his village.
The last days as EA in the West Bank
The new EA team is now in Yatta. We had a handover ceremony on Wednesday. The outgoing teams said this: We pass onto you the calling to walk in the Light with the people of (name of placement e.g. South Hebron Hills). May you walk with kindness, hope, patience and love so that you are blessed and are a blessing to all. Nkosi, an EA from South Africa, and Leif sang and after some other singing and readings, the Bishop from the Redeemer Lutheran Church spoke about Christians in the Holy Land.
After the lunch, I went to Ramallah as I had not visited the city previously.
On Thursday, we had debriefing. However I went to Al Tuwani and hiked for awhile in the hills and once again caught sight of the desert and some of the villages from a hilltop. It was my own way of letting go of the work here, a pilgrimage of sorts.
Today I joined the Women in Black to protest the occupation
What will I take back from this experience? I have become close to my teammates as we shared the personal impact of what we saw – the events that brought anger and grief. And our enjoyment walking together, visiting villages and, of course, sharing in the hospitality of the locals.
There is much work ahead. Advocating for an end to occupation, for a just resolution based on international law, is now our task as EAs. Over the next week, I put together a presentation about what I witnessed. I knew about the occupation coming here but not the full depth of it and its effects on the occupied and the occupiers.
I stayed at the Auberg Inn in Jericho. When I left Yatta, it was cold and raining and we had no electricity. Jericho is below sea level and has warmer temperatures. The Auberg Inn is near the foot of the Mount of Temptation and about a 40-minute walk from the town.
I did not go up the Mount but Mahmoud, the taxi driver, took me to the Jordan River at the site where Jesus is said to have been baptised. There were Israeli soldiers on the one side and a Jordanian soldier on the other. I had my picture taken with the soldiers. They then asked what EAPPI is since I was wearing my vest. I informed them of the type of work we do in the West Bank. I also took pictures of some people who went into the river.
Then I went to the Dead Sea briefly and also saw the Sycamore tree that Zaccheus supposedly sat in.
There are many more historic sites in the area e.g. Masada but I did not go. Instead I headed to Bethlehem. Leif called to say that the electricity was still out in Yatta and he, Christian and Craig would meet me at the Bethlehem Inn. Our other teammate, Laura was in Jerusalem where she had been for her days off.
Please see related article.