Category Archives: December
It has been a busy week here in the South Hebron Hills. Operation Dove asked us to take over a school run. Children from Tuba go to school in At Tuwani. Between Tuba and Al Tuwani there is a settlement and an outpost. The road to school runs right between them. So it is dangerous for the children since they are harassed. The other way is to go around but that is a long way and some of the children are 6 and 7. So the military comes and drives behind the children to escort them past the outpost and settlement. Can you imagine. The Israeli army having to protect Palestinian children from Israelis! Sometimes though they show up late or not at all. So the children miss school and if the military is not there when school is out, people from Operation Dove (OD) walk with them the long way to Tuba. OD also sleeps two nights a week in Tuba since the people there are so close to the outpost.
I will say something here about Operation Dove. They are young people who live in a house in Al Tuwani and do some of what we do. They live just as any Palestinian in a home without much of the comforts that we have here in Yatta. I admire them very much and some have been arrested or faced prison and some have been deported. They try to film demolitions, etc. Right now there are only two but usually there are four of them. They are mostly from Italy.
On Monday, we decided to go to two villages we had not visited before. We did a lot of walking again near the desert. We stumbled on one older couple living alone. Their cave had collapsed a few days earlier. It was night and they sleep at the back of the cave which was a good thing. Everything near the front of the cave was crushed including their fridge,etc.and now too they had no electricity. It is hard though to describe where to find them for an aid agency to get to them but we try. They were very upset and desperate.
Today Leif and I went for protective presence for shepherding. It was close to a settlement and we saw 7 settlers watching us so I kept an eye on them. When 4 disappeared, the two shepherds clearly became worried and kept looking around in case the settlers were coming to ambush them. I kept walking between the shepherds and the settlement. And as usual, the military eventually showed up. After a while they came down from the road into the valley where we were. At least with the army there, the shepherds did not have to worry about the settlers. They told the shepherds not to cross a certain point on the hill. But of course it is Palestinian land belonging to the village of Shuweika. Access to land is another issue here.
We stayed with the shepherds from 8 to 12:30 when they were done we had Abed meet us at the road and we returned to Yatta to have lunch.
We had planned to do an incident report about a home that was burned. A molotov cocktail was thrown through a living room window of a Palestinian’s home. Luckily, the people were in bed and not injured- it was around 3 a.m. They woke to the fire in the other room and worked to extinguish it.
But things do not go as planned and we got a call that a farmer was stuck at the checkpoint in Beit Yatir. They would not allow his tractor and trailer with many bags of feed for sheep to go through to his farm. He has his farm in the seam zone which is between the “wall” and the green line. The farm has been in his family for generations and the people at the border know him. They said that every bag of feed had to go through the scanner. But the bags are very heavy and so he had been there for three hours. We came and the manager at the checkpoint suddenly became friendlier and a solution was found. He called for a dog to come with a handler from Meitar checkpoint. The dog could get on the trailer and sniff the bags for bombs. In 20 mins or so they came with the dog and we stayed to watch and make sure the farmer could get on his way. This could have been done right away of course but it took us being there.
This is the same checkpoint where schoolchildren have to pass through on a daily basis. They live in the seam zone and the school. The checkpoint was put in a few years ago so children were cut off from their school. Even though it is the same children day after day, they have to pass through a scanner as in airports and have their bags checked. I wonder what it will do to their health with all that radiation from the time they are 5 or 6 and every school day for years. Also psychologically. One older girl is always kept longer and the headmaster from the school wanted to know if we could look into it since she is frequently late. See earlier blog about the seam zone.
Then we went to Um Fagarah since there was a demolition this morning. We had visited this village about two weeks ago. I will call the red cross and other aid agencies to see if anything can be done.
We may get to the burned home tomorrow since we had not more time today. We need to do an incident report for that and the data goes to the UN.
Here we go again. Friday morning started with making an incident report regarding a barley field that had been poisoned. The field belongs to a farmer from Susiya. Today it was to report on demolitions in towns not in our zone but Nassar thought we should go anyway since the EAPPI team from Hebron was not covering it either. The area though has not had too many problems in the past so the demolitions were surprising. The one was a cow barn and factory where cheese was made. The other demolition was a chicken barn. And the third was three sheep shelters. These demolitions were in towns rather than the small bedouin villages that we usually cover here in the South Hebron Hills. These places were also in Area C.
We also went to a land action in Um la Kher. There were three women from the Netherlands there as well as people from Taayush. It was to put up a shelter and do the floor. Of course, the military also came to see what was going on.
Land actions are done on Saturdays since it is the Jewish sabbath and the DCO is not working. So there can be no stop work order issued and once the building is done, then it can get a demolition order but hopefully it can be delayed by getting legal help, etc. If you work to finish a project that has a stop work order, it can be demolished right away.
We spent most of the 24th and 25th in Bethlehem. Some of us attended a 5 p.m. service at the Lutheran church near the nativity square. Parts of the service was in different languages but the sermon was in English. We sang the songs in our own language since the songs were familiar. To read the sermon given by Bishop Munib Younan, click here. Very interesting.
We walked the old city and sat in manger square enjoying the sunshine and watching the people. We also went into the Church of the Nativity. By the afternoon of the 25th, I was on my way back to Yatta with Christian and Craig, an EA from Australia coming to visit us in Yatta for a few days.
On Tuesday morning, I set out for Jerusalem to meet with fellow Canadians, Debbie, Dean and Zoe, to plan for our meeting with an aide to the ambassador, Kristin, from the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and Sandra from the Consulate office in Ramallah. Debbie had made the arrangements and we put together an agenda and presentation. They arrived shortly after 11 and after introductions, we each gave a synopsis and showed a photos of the situations in our different areas. Zoe is in the Jayyus area, Dean in Bethlehem, Debbie in Jerusalem and I represented the South Hebron Hills. So the challenges are a bit different in each area. Kristin was very aware of what is going on and reports to the gov’t of Canada on the situation here. We had tried to meet with the ambassador but we had no response and so Kristin came in her stead. From what we had read about the ambassador and also from reading her tweets, we knew there would be no meeting of the minds there. See article or check out her tweets.
Below is an overview of Canada’s policy on Israel/Palestine put together by Zoe. It is very balanced. We call on our officials to uphold the position of Parliament.
– Canada supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement– Canada is committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.– Canada has played a prominent role in the search for a viable and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian refugee issue– The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.– As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.– Canada opposes Israel’s construction of the barrier inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are occupied territories.– Canada also opposes the expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure carried out for this purpose.– We support resolutions that are consistent with Canadian policy on the Middle East, are rooted in international law– Canada advocates a fair-minded approach and rejects one-sided resolutions and any politicization of the issues.– Canada believes that the United Nations and its member states have a responsibility to contribute constructively to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict.
We give aid for some projects in Palestine but aid is not what is needed. The Palestinians want respect and equal and full civic rights. They want justice and the freedom to provide for themselves.
After the meeting we had lunch to discuss how it went and what we thought may have been accomplished. Then I returned to Yatta.
The day started with a land action nearby At Tuwani. It was in a field where olive trees had been cut by Israelis. When we arrived the military was close by of course – they seem to be everywhere. Ta’ayush was also present as they are at all land actions. It is good to know that there are Israelis who are also working for justice and an end to the occupation.
Danny was there who I had previously interviewed. When I asked if he had been in the military, he said he had refused and so spent a couple of times in jail. He told them that if Israel was attacked, he would be the first to join but overseeing occupation was not defending your country.
When walking through the olive trees, he mentioned that things get worse in the spring when shepherds are out for longer periods of time and when the harvest is ready.
We were now helping to plant trees around the perimeter of the olive field. You could clearly see where the trees had been cut a year ago and the new growth. Sandra an EA from the Jerusalem team was with us on a placement visit so she got to be at a land action. She was good with the kids there and they taught her a song in Arabic. Leif and Christian dug some holes and I carried some of the plants. These land actions are a way of being present in the land and letting the Israelis know that nothing they do will drive them away. But for sure, life is very difficult.
We left the land action to walk to the Firing Zone. We entered from the At Tuwani side. Our intent was to visit three villages that we had missed. We did get to a village called Um Fagarah. It consists of 17 families with a population of 150 or so. The people need to buy water when the wells become dry. They have had demolitions in the past and demolition orders for the village as all do that are in the Firing Zone and close to the desert. They have electricity by generator which is costly. We will check to see if solar panels can be installed for them as well as the next village of Khallet Athaba. There is a third village nearby an outpost that was now abandoned. I guess, a victory for the Israelis. I do think that if this continues with settlements, villages will be isolated and cut off from each other and eventually be driven out. Now their grazing lands, etc are greatly reduced.
After returning to At Tuwani, our driver picked us up. We decided to go to Um la Kher so Sandra can see the how close it is to the settlement. This way, she got to see some of the evidence of recent demolitions.
Note: As EAs, we get a chance to visit other placements for two nights if we wish. That way we get a more rounded picture of what is happening in the West Bank. I went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to see about what goes on in a more urban environment. And we get EA’s from Jerusalem and Bethlehem coming here. Laura, from her, is now visiting the Jericho team.
We were called to be present for plowing near Susiya. When we arrived, the military was there as well as an Israeli settler. There were three tractors that had been plowing but now had stopped and one had soldiers around it.The settler had contacted the military when they saw tractors on land that they thought Susiya could no longer use. I thought, Oh, no. Not again. It is in Susiya, that the village tractor was arrested and taken away. (See post. After three weeks, they were able to pick up the tractor after paying more than 3,000 shekels and signing papers saying they would use the tractor only for farming and nothing else under penalty of five years in prison for the person signing the papers.)
After much discussion and the military looking at papers that Nassar Nawaj’ah showed them, and making phone calls, the soldiers allowed the tractors to keep working. A victory for the villagers. They had not been able to work on that land for more than 20 years and now the courts gave them permission to work use it again.So now tractors from neighbouring villages were also there. The mood was festive. Our driver, Abed, who grew up in Susiya, was almost in tears. He has memories of bringing sheep there when he was a child and now they could reclaim that area.
We stayed and sat between the settlement and the plowing. I noticed that one soldier was at the watchtower close by. The Israeli settler stayed on the road making phone calls. Another Israeli vehicle came also and they chatted for awhile and both eventually left. I do not doubt that when the harvest is ready, settlers will be back to burn it as they have done elsewhere. Hopefully I am wrong. What was sown, is to be food for sheep.
Then we headed to more fields in an area close to Bir al Id where one of the tractors was going to do more plowing. I walked with the headmaster who spoke good English. He pointed out how those in settlements, who were mostly immigrants, could live in nice houses and have good infrastructure. But Palestinians who were here for generations cannot get permits and had to live in tents and sometimes those were destroyed. He spoke of one child who suffered a fractured skull when his home was blown down.
The area now being plowed was close to Lucifer farm which is in fact an illegal outpost. It was not given that name by Palestinians but rather by nearby Israeli settlers. It appears he has a bad reputation among the Israelis also.
We had been in that area before but not quite so close. Some of the villagers had lived in caves but moved to Susiya because Yaakov Talia from Lucifer farm is very violent. I walked up to the fence around the farm and could see the buildings and heard the dog barking. I was hoping for him to come out and have a conversation. However, I did not notice anyone so he must have been away. I did leave a note however asking for an interview and leaving a phone number. Would be interesting. (To date, no call.) I am sure that I would not have gotten close had he been home. It was very messy around his place.
It is good that I had a book along to read. After 2 and a half hours or so, we hiked back to a road where our driver could pick us up. By this time it was close to 4 pm.
Here the refugee camps are not what you may think a refugee camp looks like. At one time, they were tents but as the years went on, shelters were built and now the camp appears like a town. There are schools, clinics, funded by aid agencies, and some shops.
Why are they called refugee camps then? The people living there are refugees driven from their homes in 1948 following the Nakba (Day of the Catastrophe). Some people to this day still have keys to their homes in the hope of returning to their land. These keys are passed on to the next generation as a way of keeping their narrative alive even though the homes may not exist anymore.The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is in charge of supervising the camps since they are refugee camps.
The Israeli military conducts many night raids and arrests in the camps. According to one former Israeli soldier who spoke to us, they will use the camps for military training. If they want to teach a new group of soldiers how to secure a home or town, they will pick a Palestinian home or town and it is usually a refugee camp. They learn how to arrest people by breaking downs doors in the middle of the night and arrest a young person saying that they threw stones at a military vehicle.
Young people do throw stones. It is the only weapon they have and they want to protect their homes and families. But when the military comes in the middle of the night to make arrests rather than at the time the stones were thrown is suspicious. These raids are clear provocation.
There are many children in Israeli jails. Some for as long as three or four years which is the sentence for the third offense of stone throwing. When the children are released, they find their friends have moved on and they are behind in school. Many then suffer further from isolation and depression.
The military sometimes shots at stone throwers and children are killed. As in Fawwar Camp in August when a 12-year-old was shot in the back. He was returning from buying bread and was near the entrance to his home when the military came through. Recently, a 21-year-old student at Qalandiya Refugee Camp was shot, the fourth person at Qalandiya RC this year. He was unarmed and standing on the roof of his home. It is the military who come into the camps with all their weapons and vehicles and break into people’s homes.
When an Israeli is killed, we learn all about them. For example, if an Israeli young person is killed, we learn their name and hear about their family, that he was good in violin, had a sense of humour, etc. When a Palestinian is killed, he/she is just a number. They remain nameless and faceless in the world press.
Here are pictures of just four of the children killed this year. I know it is graphic but these children too had dreams and families and special talents.
None of the soldiers involved has been held to account.
On Monday, I once again went to Jerusalem to join the team there and learn of some of their work. In the evening, two of the team members and I went to a book launch. It generated some interesting discussion on the makeup of Israeli society and the need to work of full civil rights of all residents including Palestinians.
In the morning, Debbie, Jane and I got up early to be at the Qalandiya checkpoint for 4:15. After about an hour and a half, things got bad. The lines were not moving. The men were in danger of missing a day’s work and perhaps getting fired. Even the humanitarian line was not open or just one person got through at a time. The humanitarian line is for women, elderly and school children. Imagine school children not getting through and missing their bus on the other side. Also the parents cannot go with the children.
The line got longer and extended out of the building. Debbie phoned Sylvia from Machsom Watch to see if she could make some calls to open the lines up. Sylvia is an Israeli activist and often monitors the checkpoints. We could have used their presence this morning.
Debbie got worried and thought it best to leave. She felt that a clash would happen. We then got into the humanitarian line. One gentleman said that they are treated as animals. He was born in Jerusalem and now lives in Ramallah. Why should he have to go through a checkpoint? He pointed out that some soldiers were obviously immigrants and here he is, born in Jerusalem and they are asking him for his permit. He feels striped of all dignity. There was also a teacher who worked at the school for the blind. She too would be very late.
On Sunday we received a call to be a protective presence for some farmers who where plowing. It was near a settlement of Mitzpe Yair and also near Lucifer’s Farm. The farm is owned by Jacob Taljah and he is known to be particularly violent. He came from South Africa after converting to Judaism and the end of apartheid. You can read a post from a former EA about the situation in this area. I noticed when we were close to the settlement, three tractors plowed the plot of land to do it quickly. Then when a man went to sow in that area, some women and I sat on the hillside and watched. Many of the villagers were there for extra protection also.
This week we have been on a break from our placements. I came to Jerusalem after the land action (see previous post). The Canadians here met up with two people from the United Church of Canada office, Patti and Christie, to have dinner together and plan for meetings on Sunday. The purpose was to talk to us individually to see how we are coping, etc. For my meeting, Patti and I just slowly walked in the old city and went to the wailing wall as we talked. On Sunday morning we went to a small Catholic church conducted in Arabic. The person on the piano, when seeing us there played “How Great Thou Art” since she knew that to be universal. I also recognized some of the other tunes.
On Monday and Tuesday, we had debriefing, advocacy sessions and a BBC documentary film on Jerusalem. Included in the schedule Tuesday evening was a trip to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Here children from the camp performed for us and we had dinner with them.
Wednesday included an Introduction to Israeli Society by Michael Warschawski. He has the company called Alternative Information Center based in Jerusalem. He had both Palestinian and Israeli employees but the time came when his Palestinian employees could no longer get permits to come to Jerusalem. He now has a branch of his company in Bethlehem. Very informative. What stands out for me is what he said about Gaza which he described as an open-air prison. He called what happened this past summer the Gaza massacre since Gaza has absolutely no chance against Israel. He called it a political war. Abbas had announced a coalition between Fatah and Hamas. This made Netanyahu angry. He thought he could cause a split. If Abbas came out in strong support of Gaza and Hamas, he could paint him with the same brush as Hamas i.e. call Abbas a friend of terrorists or a terrorist. If Abbas distanced himself from the conflict, then it would cause a split. Mr. Waschawski also said the rockets fired from Gaza are ineffective and cause little or no damage.
On Wednesday afternoon, we went by bus to Haifa. On the way we attended the Truth Commission on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the Events of 1948-1960. See http://zochrot.org/en.
The following day, we learned about Palestinian citizens living in Israel and then an Israeli, Ruth Hiller, spoke on New Profile: Demilitarization of Israeli Society. Both very interesting topics. We had some free time after lunch. Our venue was a convent on the mountain overlooking Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea. Very picturesque. Most of the EAs went to explore Haifa. Friday we went back to Jerusalem stopping at Wahat al-Salam / Neve Shalom for a tour and lunch. This is a village of Jews and Palestinians living together. It is on land owned by a church. At first it was leased but now the church donated the land to them. Until very recently did not get any funding for infrastructure, schools, etc. although they paid taxes. It would have never been allowed on state land. In Israel, everything is state land. There is a waiting list to get into the village and they cannot expand at all.
In the evening we attended a reform synagogue. It is different then a regular synagogue in that men and women sit together and sometimes they have musical instruments. It is to modernize and be more inclusive. The service on Friday evenings is to prepare one for the Sabbath.
That was our week off. Didn’t include everything. If you want to know more about the topics we covered, let me know. Looking forward to being back in Yatta.