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.
The title for this blog is telling of the situation here. Mothers no longer have dreams for their children because their dreams have been taken by the occupation – this according to a child psychiatrist working in Hebron. He says there everyone is depressed. They are just living day-to-day. Their children have no playgrounds, no vacations, no escape.
An Israeli lady, during our training, said if you feel you should be punished for your sins, go to Hebron because it is hell. It is a city divided into area H1 and H2. There are Israeli settlements in Hebron and the disparity between the two areas is great. As I walked through the old city, saw the barriers, checkpoints and soldiers, I wonder how this could happen.
The last week has been busy. We covered the Meitar checkpoint, did some school runs and visited several villages that we had not been to before. We also did protective presence for ploughing and shepherding. Those of you reading this blog for the first time may wonder what protective presence is and why it is needed.
There are Israeli settlements near villages. Also there are outposts purposely built on land owned by villages. The outposts are usually occupied by very radical Jews and are really illegal under Israeli law but are never demolished. They have electricity and water and may eventually expand and become settlements. Since they consider Palestinians or Arabs as squatters on Israeli land, they are out to make their lives miserable. Thus a shepherd is very vulnerable since he is usually alone with his herd. Shepherds have been beaten or shot, their sheep poisoned, etc. If an international is seen, it discourages the settlers since we are witnesses and record everything. And now it is the season for ploughing and sowing and we are called also to be present.
This week, a lady invited us in for tea in one of the villages. She had been out with the sheep several months ago. Some settlers came down and beat her. She spent four days in the hospital and no one was arrested as is usually the case. However, if a Palestinian hits a settler even in self-defense, he/she is promptly arrested and jailed.
There are also cases where the Israeli Defense forces are needed to protect Palestinians from the settlers. Take for example the children walking to school in At Tuwani from a nearby village. The road they travel has a settlement on one side and an outpost on another. Soldiers come to escort them to school as they walk on the road. It is to protect them from Israelis. Can you imagine how a child must feel to know some people hate them so much?
Yesterday, we had a land action. Internationals, Israelis from the Ta’ayush organization and villagers all walked towards an outpost that had been built on land belonging to the village. It was a way to show presence in the land and hopefully keep more land from being taken. Awaiting us was a row of military vehicles and soldiers and two police cars. They were there to stop the villagers from getting close to the outpost. They were also there to protect the villagers from the people in the outpost. I walked further up the road towards the outpost hoping to see more. However, I was stopped by the police and told to go back. They said my life would be in danger if I went to the outpost so I was escorted back by three soldiers.
I talked to one young Israeli person who was obviously well known by the village children. She feels strongly about the need to end the occupation and live together. When I asked how her parents felt about her being here, she replied that her mother once came along but her father is very much opposed to what she is doing. He is originally from Canada and she thinks he needs to prove he is a strong Zionist.
After two and a half hours, we returned to the village. However, as I walked back, Ezra (also an Israeli belonging to Ta’ayush) came in his truck and told me to go back since a shepherd was coming. My teammates, Christian and Laura were ahead so I yelled for them and we walked back and sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, a shepherd came. So we stayed another hour as he kept his sheep within sight of the outpost. I noticed too that some of the military also stayed.
Palestinians are finding non-violent ways to resist the occupation. Being present on the land is one way. Another is rebuilding time and time again after demolitions. They have no where to go of course with their sheep and animals. And it is land that they bought and worked on, sometimes for generations. And there are Israeli peace activists joining them as well as more international delegations coming to the area. That is a hopeful sign.
But time is running out. Year by year the occupation is more oppressive and whole villages are disappearing.
The Ta’ayush website states: The lives & livelihood of 3.5 million Palestinians in occupied Palestine are subordinated to Israeli interests for more than 40 years. Through concrete non-violent actions of solidarity and resistance, Ta’ayush is there with them to stand up for their rights, end the occupation and achieve full civil equality for all.
We can all take action to achieve the goal of bringing justice to this land. Pray for a just peace and end to the occupation, boycott products made in settlements and speak to others about the situation here.
Our driver took Leif and I as far as the main road leaving us to walk 20 minutes or so down rough terrain. The cave is about half-way down the valley. The shepherd was there with two of his sons. For supper, we had chicken and rice. It was in one dish and we all got a spoon, sat in a circle and ate from the same dish. It sure saves on dishes. We also had some flat bread and tea. On TV, (yes, there is a TV in the cave), there was a Bollywood film with voice dubbed in Arabic. Later the news. Lights out at 7:15 pm. So it was a long night. At one or so, the dog started barking and the sheep were making a strange noise, so I got up and went outside to see if there was someone around. But it was very dark and I did not see anything. Then the shepherd also came out and said that the sheep making the noise were the mothers.
By 6:30, we started the long hike back uphill to the main road. We phoned the drivers about 10 minutes into our walk so he could come and meet us. However, he was not there and we kept walking. We walked for an hour and were almost at the village of Susiya when he came.
We were expecting a Scottish delegation from the Church of Scotland, Scottish Episcopal Church and URC Church Scotland around 9-9:30 or so. We had to arrange a place to meet their bus. I had given the contact person our driver’s phone number. We met them in At Tawani and from there they followed us to Um la Kher. Eid, a resident, told them about some of the history of the village, the story about the tabon and demolitions. The delegation seemed to appreciate the visit and tea.
Then we went back to At Tawani where we met with Sarah from Operation Dove. She told them about the issues in the area. I think it went well and the delegation expressed their appreciation and desire to return with others.
Leif and I then participated in a meeting with Operation Dove (OD), International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). These groups meet once a month or so to coordinate the work. ISM was down on the number of people that could be in the area. One of the guys was shot in the chest two days previous by the Israeli army. He is in serious condition but is expected to recover. A few centimeters different and it may have been fatal.
This week we visited the village of Khirbet Zanuta. The whole village is in danger of demolition and will have their final appeal beginning Dec. We are contacting the lawyer but it seems the Israeli side usually ends up winning. They say the village is on an archaeological site. Where will the people go with their animals? And it is the rainy season. There are also many new-born sheep and they need the warmth of a shelter. They have so little and even that may be taken. There is much injustice here and it is hard to understand any rational for it no matter what the Israeli narrative may be.
We also went to a few villages in the east that has never been visited by EAs before. Laura and I went into one home – she signalled us in – but since there were no men there, Leif and Christian went a bit further. The ladies in the tent served us tea and it was nice and warm with the fire going. Later we joined the men. They too were having tea and some flat bread. Our interpreter was with them and so they were able to find out the issues faced in that region.
The issues in these villages are familiar ones. They harassment from the Israeli settlements close by so they would like a protective presence. It is strange to think that I could be a protective presence. But if settlers know that there is an international at the scene to record everything, they are not likely to harass.
On Monday we were called to be present when some men from the village of Qawawis were ploughing and sowing. Last spring they had their harvest in and drying in the sun when settlers came and burned it. So with us there, they felt safer. One fellow had also been shot.
I had Tuesday and Wednesday off and went to Bethlehem. More on that later.
It is almost time to go to the cave and spend the night.
On Saturday morning we joined a land action at Um la Kher. Israelis and Palestinians working side-by-side. The villagers were building a road to go further into the valley were there were some homes. Of course, when we got there, a military jeep also pulled up to see what was going on. They left again but I have no doubts that they will be back when the Sabbath is over.
I had my recorder and interviewed three of the Israelis. They belong to an organization called Ta’ayush. Their website states: Israelis & Palestinians striving together to end the Israeli occupation and to achieve full civil equality through daily non-violent direct-action. Amir Bitan from Jerusalem states that members of Ta’ayust come – some every week, some once every two weeks or so. When asked why he comes, he replied: “First, we are against the occupation. Second, if we do not come, this place will be like the Valley of Jordan. The villages are evacuated by the Israeli armies and the people deported to other places. We want to help these people keep their land. It is important that we are here.” When asked what happens when he talks to other Israelis about the situation here, ” Most people don’t want to know. They cover their eyes, ears. Most of the Israelis want to live their lives and that is it.” I also interviewed Danny and later one of the four Israeli young people who came just as we were leaving. They all expressed their desire to end the occupation and the discrimination.
Building the road involves removing large rocks and filling the holes with smaller rocks and try to level as much as possible before putting the fine gravel on. The gravel had been delivered by truck from Yatta in the middle of the night so that it would not be seen and confiscated. Sad really.
In the afternoon we were called to Birin. There was what appeared to be an attempted abduction. A boy coming home from high school in Bani Na`im was walking on a road used by settlers. A car passed slowly with 5 people in it. Then a couple of minutes later it came back with just the driver. The boy then saw someone hiding behind bushes and knowing the terrain started running. Somebody ran after him but he was able to reach the gravel road leading to his village. He did not tell his parents for fear he would not be able to go back to school. However he did tell the headmaster who reported it to authorities. They drove the boy home and talked with his parents. We were asked if we could find a way for the 2 high school students to get a ride or accompany them. There is no one in the village who has a car nor school transport in the area. We will try to find a way and randomly accompany them on the way home from school. We also filed a report on this incident.
On Friday, Christian, Laura and I started out at 7 a.m. from the main road near Khirbet Bir al’Idd, on the edge of Firing Zone 918, and started walking, first to Jinba and then from there to other villages in the firing zone. We have been there before but entered from the opposite end and stayed closer to the desert visiting villages more to the north east. Now we entered from the southwest and wanted to visit about 5 villages. When we get to a hilltop we could see a village or two in the distance and would head that way. Of course, you lose sight of them as soon as you get a bit lower. We did manage to get to a few that we had not been to before. We found one family living apart from a village (Khirbet al Fakheit) about 300 metres away or so. What brought us to them is that we spotted camels in that direction and wanted a closer look. Then a lady waved and we walked to her home. There were 2 ladies and several children at home but no men. Normally then we would not then enter the home but she invited us for tea and we were happy to accept. We gave a brochure in Arabic explaining what we do. They would like electricity like the village has. So we will contact Hamed from UNOCHA or COMET ME about giving them a solar panel as there is in the village nearby. The younger woman could give us a phone number and a name so at least we could pass on that information since we had no idea how to describe where they lived. I also recorded some of the conversation and will have our interpreter listen to it if needed. Communication is a problem since our Arabic is greatly lacking.
We continued our long hike stopping to have an apple, some flat bread, a few nuts and water that Christian had the foresight to pack. We also visited Khirbit at Tabban and had tea there. There was one man who spoke some English and it was enjoyable. They had camels (the others we saw were wild), donkeys, chickens and sheep. He pointed us in the direction of At Tuwani where Operation Dove has their place and also we could phone our driver from there to pick us up. We finally arrived there at 2 p.m.
The villages we visited did not have military visits although they are all under demolition orders. They did say that the planes fly over quite often.
Seeing camels, shepherds, having tea with villagers and just walking was cathartic.
Today we were again called to go to Susiya. When we arrived, the DCO and a military vehicle were at the roadside near a tractor that appeared to have been ploughing. We discovered that the tractor was ‘under arrest’ because it aided in putting up some water tanks for the village. These water tanks were donated by COMET ME which also supplies solar panels. There was no permit for having water towers so they also had to go. Of course, there is no way to get a permit which is needed for anything the villagers may want to build. That includes a toilet or animal pen.
You may wonder how the Israelis know that the village has received some water towers. Well, there are watch towers on most hilltops here in the South Hebron Hills. Also, the Israelis have balloons with cameras. And, in some cases, the settlers would inform them. So if there is a new structure, they would know about it.
Eventually the tractor was taken. An Israeli drove it into the village and hooked up a trailer and put in one of the stands that held a water tank. Then the tractor, trailer and stand were driven up onto a large flatbed truck and that left. Later another truck came and four water tanks were taken and another stand. It was a very difficult time. There was some appeals trying to save the tractor and some cried. I do not know how this can go on. Such injustice.
It will soon be the rainy season and the more water the village can collect, the less they would need to buy. Many of the wells and cisterns have been destroyed in this area and people are then forced to buy water at five times the price than the Israelis living in the settlements. Also it is ploughing and seeding season. The tractor is vital.
It is very difficult if not impossible for people to improve their lives. At one time, they had good homes and sufficient land to use for farming and shepherding. But every year, more land is confiscated and their lives made impossible.
I know it may be difficult for some to believe this goes on. But it does and it is played over and over again. We need to advocate for a peaceful solution based on International Law and UN resolutions. The Palestinians deserve the same rights and freedoms as their Israeli neighbours. Help end this injustice.
You are probably wondering if the tensions in Jerusalem is affecting life here. Today, Nassar came and asked if we could go to his village and walk around so that settlers know there is an international presence. There has been reports of more settler violence and harassment and it is believed that some were in his village during the night but were scared off when a man woke and yelled.
I was briefly in Jerusalem on Monday before going to Bethlehem. There is a sign on one of the streets announcing that there are renovations in East Jerusalem and sorry for the inconvenience. Of course the ‘renovations’ are home demolitions as Israel takes more of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu did announce 1300 new settlements in East Jerusalem earlier this year. It is clear provocation. But of course no excuse for violence. However things sometimes seems hopeless.
Netanyahu talks about the battle for Jerusalem. To annex East Jerusalem is against international Law and would leave the Palestinian Christians and Muslims without access to their holy sites. East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank and very important for Palestinians.
Today we let our presence be felt in a couple of villages. The villagers feel that they are safer if we are around. Of course, that is not always possible. We stayed in Susiya for more than an hour walking on the outskirts of the village. I am sure that the soldier(s) in the watchtower saw us and perhaps the settlers saw us too. Then we got a call from Um la Kher. Some homes made from metal were being put up but they got a stop work order. So now there are eight structures that are either ‘stop work’ or under demolition order. Sad, really. The Norwegian Refugee Counsel (NRC) is providing free legal aid and also they have another lawyer. So there can be two court cases as they challenge the orders.
Hoping the shepherd is okay. He is very vulnerable as shepherds are often alone and in remote areas.
Abed, our driver just came in to see the pictures we took of the detained men. The one who ended up arrested has his trial on Sunday in Ramallah and it would mean his freedom if our pictures show that it was definitely in Palestinian territory. Leif has one that shows the detained men and the shepherd in the background and there is also one of me talking to a soldier in front of the detained men so I may be going to testify.
I have Monday and Tuesday off and headed to Bethlehem again. I wanted to see Aida Refugee Camp since I did not have the opportunity to go into the camp before. There is a wall as you enter the camp with names of children who have been killed. I walked down some of the streets. A few boys walked along. One had been shot in the head and appeared to have had stitches. I am not sure if it was with a rubber bullet or not. Later, a little girl took my hand and wanted me to come into her house. Her mother was very welcoming and insisted I eat and have tea. However the language barrier made conversation a bit of a challenge. I am amazed though by people’s hospitality. It started to rain and she also gave me a hat.
Walking back, I saw an interesting building and peering around the corner, a young man motioned for me to come in the out of the rain. The building is a factory. It once employed 50 men and shipped product (bedding supplies) to markets in Jordan and Lebanon. Now it is enclosed on two sides by the wall and they can only send products to the West Bank. Now 5 men work there. I hear that more and more.
Today (Tuesday) I had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before walking to the area where I could catch a mini-bus to Hebron. I met up with my teammates and toured Hebron. Lots of soldiers. There is an Israeli settlement in Hebron. Parts of the city is closed to Palestinians – there is a Palestinian section and Israeli section. There are barriers, checkpoints and road closures. This is the city that Israeli Hanna Barag of Machsom Watch calls hell.
Then a supper before going to Yatta.
I returned to Yatta on Saturday morning. Christian, Leif and I got up early Sunday morning to be at the Meitar checkpoint for 4. We got there at 3:45 and there were venders already there to sell to workers and drivers. I went into the ‘stalls’ with the men already lined up. I wanted to go through the line to see how long the process would take and what was involved. Even though it was early, there were already close to 500 men in the line. Some wanted to let me go ahead but since I wanted to time it, I declined. At one point there was some shoving since there are those who climb over and try to get ahead in line. This is especially true at 5:30 or so when the men are desperate to make sure they get to the buses picking them up on the other side of the checkpoint. They work in Israel in a variety of jobs picking fruit, factories, construction. The work permits belong to the employer and can be revoked at any time. No reason has to be given. Or it could be revoked for “security reasons”.
I went through 2 turnstiles and got to an area like in airports. Had to put my jacket and EAPPI vest through the conveyer and walk through a ‘doorway’ that detects metal. Next, our ID was taken and then given back a bit further down the line. I thought that would be it but after going through yet another turnstile, I had to give in my passport again. And as with Checkpoint 300 at Bethlehem, the men had to put their ID on a tray and put their finger on a fingerprint detector and wait for their picture to come up on a computer screen in a booth manned by soldiers. They made some calls about my passport and so I waited. Then two security personnel showed up and the soldiers gave the passport to one of them. He looked at it, and just told me to go. So now I was on the ‘other side’ – in Israel. Here I saw mini-buses lined up probably belonging to different companies that were picking up workers. The whole process took 45 minutes.
Getting back was a bit of a challenge of course since I was going against the tide so to speak.
I rejoined Leif and Christian. Leif was counting the people going through and Christian was recording the number who were rejected and trying to find out why. We rotated jobs every half hour.
As daylight was breaking, we spotted men trying to bypass the line by walking through the desert and we felt that maybe there was a break in the fence. It was not long however when you could make out the cloud of tear gas and people were coming back.
We counted 5437 men that morning going through the checkpoint.
Returning to the car and our driver, we saw 13 men sitting handcuffed on the ground and two soldiers guarding them. So we stayed and watched. I talked to one of the soldiers. He blamed all Palestinians for what a few do. I told him that I talked to the mother of the 12-yr-old that was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier. Does that mean all Israeli soldiers are child killers? You cannot blame a whole population for what a few do. Three hours went by and during this time, more soldiers came as well as a police car. Eventually 12 were let go. The other apparently had a problem with his I.D. One of the detained men came in the car with us since he lived in Yatta and our driver knew him. He said that they were hit and kicked before we came.
While the men were being detained, a shepherd came over the hilltop. They came past were we were and the shepherd took them across the busy street. I was amazed at how well the sheep obeyed and followed him. Also further up on the hill was a man with a donkey ploughing. Such scenes!