The First Days of 2015
On the morning of the first, we finally were able to go to the burnt house. It is in Area B and near a road that Israeli settlers use. Area B is under Palestinian administrative control but with Israeli security. We discovered a house not yet finished being built. It is very big and the settlers may have thought that it would be a mosque. They wrote something in Hebrew and broke a window to throw in the molotov cocktail. There was not too much damage as the home is made of stone and it was contained.
On Saturday, we went to a land action to show presence on the land. There was some good news for the villagers since they were able to access land that for 10 years they were not able to plow. It was conditional though that the farmer notify authorities so they can be present when he goes on the land. On Saturday, villagers, Israelis from Ta’ayush and a few other internationals were there to again show solidarity. We had been here before. (See blog – 2nd half) This time, we talked for more than an hour with an Israeli. He spoke of the educational system in Israel. He said children are not taught about the Nakba, nor are Palestinians mentioned in textbooks. They learn that they were “a people without a land going to a land without people”. So Palestinians are called Arabs and they came here from Syria or Lebanon. No mention of those who were here and also have deep roots in the land. Also there is no border shown so this is all Israel. ‘Arabs’ then are seen as not belonging. The man said he read a lot and now comes to show that he is against the occupation and the policies of his government. I heard this from others also in my months here. We and the Ta’ayush people also stayed when a shepherd came to the area since most of the military left when the villagers returned to the village.
After this we went walking to show present at Masafar Yatta which is the area close to the firing zone. Our driver dropped us off on a road used also by settlers to get to the settlement of Ma’on. We take that road to a dirt road that we walk along. A little ways along, the views are spectacular as it is high up and we can see the desert and some of the villages. We saw two boys with sheep also. As we neared the main road on our return, an Israeli on horseback came galloping past on the dirt road going to the Palestinian villages. I tried to get him to stop but he ignored me. He was masked and had a gun. I thought right away of the 2 boys. A minute or two later, a truck with 2 Palestinian men came by. They stopped and I told them to be careful since an Israeli is up ahead. Then as we got to the paved road, the military came by and I told them about the guy on horseback and they then went up the dirt road. Hope they caught up to him before he did anything. I like to think he was just having a ride but then, why masked?
On Sunday, Laura and I went to the Meitar checkpoint. It was raining and it was not busy so we returned home early. Later in the day, we went to Khirbet al Karaba. There is a family here whose home was demolished in early November and they finally received a tent a few weeks ago. They are really now would like a solar panel to provide them with electricity. So I emailed Hamed who will see to the possibility. The lady tried to teach me how to make bread in the tabon but baking is not my forte and they had a good laugh. She spoke in Arabic which Laura and I could not make out and she would laugh and we would laugh along. Had the best time with these people who were so generous with what little they have. The mother wanted our driver to find a wife for her eldest son since the driver goes to many villages and what qualities she should have. Of course the son was sitting there a bit embarrassed but I think he was wanting also to find a girl to marry.
The next day we met with the mayor of Bani Na’im north east of us. It is not in our area but he would like us to provide protective presence especially when they fix up a road which is partly in Area C. It is used by many people from the town as well as farmers but it goes past a settlement. Settlers from Pene Hever had destroyed about 7 kms of the road. It was good to explain our program to the men in attendance and the mayor spoke good English. We will add this information in to the EAPPI office to see if the area can be added to the work we already do or if the Hebron team can cover it since it is closer to Hebron.
Today Laura, Christian and I, met up with two ladies from the German Embassy. Laura had arranged this and they toured Um la Kher, had lunch at Susiya and then to At Tuwani. They said they did not know the extent of what was going on here and want us to send our reports to them. It was a good visit and I was impressed that they came to the area.
The weather is turning nasty and a lot of rain is expected. Usually then our electricity goes out and Leif and Christian went out to get groceries in case we are stuck inside. Laura hitched a ride to Jerusalem with the Embassy people. Greg who hails from Australia, is here visiting for several days. I may leave in the morning and head up to Jericho for 2 days where I hope to talk to the EAs there to see what the issues are and also work on my presentation. Also would like to interview a Christian family living in that area or the minister of a church. Maybe climb the Mount of Temptation and go to the Dead Sea.
Approaching a New Year
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.
Merry Christmas Palestine – Demolitions courtesy of the Israeli DCO
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.
Spending time in Bethlehem
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.
Saturday Land Action in the Firing Zone
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.
A small victory for the people of Susiya
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.
Tea was made out in the fields and later we had lunch in a part of the village where the school headmaster lived. It was very good.
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.
Refugee camps and the military
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.
Placement visit in Jerusalem
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.
While there, some boys came with sheep down the hillside. It added to the enjoyment of the day. It was cloudy but the rain held off.