Today I met a merchant in Bethlehem. He lives close to the wall. At one time he had a factory employing ten people and would travel regularly to Nazareth and Jerusalem. Now he has a shop – no factory. He is able to make a living just for himself. He can no longer travel to Jerusalem or Nazareth – he cannot get a permit.
He is confident that God will not allow such injustices to go on and that in his time, things will change. Israelis and Palestinians will someday live together with the same rights and privileges as equal citizens. He says Palestinians are a peaceable people. I found this to be true. I do not sense hatred among the people I have met. He knows too that many Israelis are ignorant of the situation here.
He also has seen a change in the international community. More and more tourists are coming to the West Bank and expressing solidarity.
He offered me coffee which I was glad to accept.
He also spoke about his Christian neighbours – how Christians and Muslims live side-by-side and how God sent Mohammad and Jesus into the world to teach us how to live. He says when his Christian neighbours have a birth or wedding in their family, that his family is invited to share in the celebration and visa-versa. There are no problems between Christians and Muslims here despite what the outside world may think. He also says that some people are surprised that Palestinians are not terrorists. A few Palestinians who have committed a violent act should not reflect on the whole population. No more than the violence committed by some in the Israeli army or settlers means the whole population are murderers.
This morning too, I went to the checkpoint from 9 to 10 am. It is Friday and people want to go to the mosque in Jerusalem but only those over 60 seem to be able to go. Strange, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem are both in the West Bank but people must go through the humiliation of Checkpoint 300 (you can see images online – I managed to sneak a few pictures too trying to avoid being seen by the everywhere present watchtowers).
I also went through the checkpoint with a colleague. You have to go through a narrow corridor with bars on each side and through turnstiles that stop every so often as it did with me. Then your stuff is put through an x-ray machine and you go through something like what you have at airports. Then finally you get to booths that check your documents. The Palestinians put their finger on a scanner and then I see their picture comes up on the computer manned by soldiers in the booths. One lady had papers but was denied since she was only 56 but her husband could go since he was 60.
EAs take down the names and ID numbers of all those rejected and pass the information on to the Israeli women of Machsom Watch. These women also monitor checkpoints and speak to other Israelis about the oppression and discrimination. They have helped many Palestinians with their security permits by writing letters to authorities and providing legal aid.
I am in the placement house in Bethlehem and enjoying the company of the EAs here. Also of Tear Gas (TG for short) and Smoke Bomb (SB). They are two very young cats that greet you when you go out the door or when you come back. The one especially does not look too healthy and they are undernourished. Boiled an extra egg for them this morning and may buy some food later today. (I did get some tuna late this afternoon.)
Now I will go to interview a Christian couple whose home is enclosed on three sides by the Wall. The man described his home as a coffin without a lid. I plan then to write an article about the challenges this family has had because of the Wall and of their resilience.
Just got back from the interview. Very difficult and emotional. ( I will write an article about this.) Then walking back to the placement house, I met a lady picking lemons from the tree in front of her home. I asked if I could take a picture. She gave me some lemons and invited me into her home. She spoke some English. I am always taken aback at how people invite total strangers to their homes. We can learn a lot from the people here about having time to connect and showing hospitality without expecting anything in return.
But my day was not over yet. We took a taxi to an area by the Cremisan monastery where there is an outdoor mass on Fridays because the monastery is under threat since Israel wants to sever the land for a separation wall. They are in a legal fight. However, the time for the mass apparently changed with the winter and was an hour earlier. There were two other ladies there and one is a United Methodist minister. So we had a prayer service.
On the way back, a former EA and I got out of the taxi in an area where there had been some clashes with soldiers and young boys. You could still feel the tear gas a bit in your throat but the clashes appeared to be over. We cut through a cemetery and went to the entrance of Aida refugee camp. At the entrance of the camp is a large key (see picture). It symbolizes the keys people had in hope of one day returning to their homes. I picked up a spent tear gas canister and walked back through the cemetery and along the wall and the area where Pope Francis stood.
Shortly after getting back to the placement house, we were off again to join a group of nuns, priests, and others walking along the wall, praying and chanting in different languages. They do this every Friday.
So this was my day. I learned a lot and hope to come back to Bethlehem on one of my days off.
Just a quick post to let you know what I have been doing the last few days. On Monday, Christian and I went to a centre for disabled children in Yatta. We were there to check to see if they had the facilities to help a girl, Laha, who has cerebral palsy. She is very disabled and is cared for by her family. We wanted to know if there are facilities in Yatta capable of giving her physical therapy. But the centre we visited did not have the ability to help Laha. They have classes for the deaf children and not much else.
At noon, we headed to Susiya to meet up with a bus load of German tourists who were interested in having lunch in a Bedouin community. They had spent the morning in Hebron where my teammate, Laura, had met them and acted as translator. Our driver has relatives in Susiya so he had arranged a lunch for the tourists and also explained the history and challenges in Susiya.
Since I had two days off, I headed for Tel Aviv having booked a hotel near the Mediterranean coast. The trip was interesting to say the least. Took most of the day. I checked into the hotel and walked to the ocean before it got dark. I did feel like I should not be there. I recalled what a Palestinian lady had said in the video “Trip to the Moon”. She is a 40-something kindergarten teacher and talked of her father and how he told her about the sea and fishing. He was driven out of his home in ’48 to the village where she was born and still lives. She wishes she could see the sea and fish. But, of course, it is impossible for her because of the restrictive occupation.
Then early this morning, I went for a walk along the coast to the old town of Jaffa and had breakfast at an outdoor cafe. By 11 or so, I took a city bus to Tel Aviv central station and then on to Jerusalem. From the Jerusalem bus station, I took a train to Damascus Gate in order to catch a bus to Bethlehem.
Now I am at Bethlehem Inn. As you look out the front door, you see the concrete Wall. It is across the road. Here I am in Bethlehem where Christ was born and here also is the Wall – a physical reminder of discrimination, occupation, injustice.
I do need to go to bed early as I am joining up with the Bethlehem EAPPI team for the 4 am checkpoint duty.
I will be with the Bethlehem team for the next two days and look forward to learning about this area.
Today we heard of a land action at At Tuwani where Operation Dove has their place. After a few minutes there, a large tourist bus pulled up and out came 19 Canadians. One was from St Catharines and the others mainly from the Toronto area. We introduced ourselves and they were quite interested in what I was doing here. After several minutes we all walked down to the area where we were to take part in a land action. This one had to do with the opening of a road that was closed by the Israeli authorities. So with buckets and pick axes, we set to work. Several Israeli peace activists were also there to lend a hand. Before long the ever-present Israeli military and DCO showed up. They took pictures and video. When a bulldozer from Yatta came to help out, the driver was approached by the military and told that his vehicle would be taken if he used it so he unfortunately had to leave. He could not chance it.
Some people in At Tuwani made lunch for the Canadian group and so Laura and I joined in for it. Then was our meeting with Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), Operation Dove and Hamed from USOCHA to coordinate our activities and discuss the needs for villages that we have visited. Found out that the family at Khirbet al Kharaba (see Hardships posting) who really needed a tent would have one delivered tomorrow. Also that some were going tomorrow to rebuild the tabon (traditional oven) at Um al Kher. Also that aid agencies will no longer give shelters to Um al Kher since they are taken by the army. A lawyer from NRC is looking into perhaps seeing if the location of the shelters can be moved a few meters so that there is no demolition order for that particular area. Should know early next week.
We left early for a meeting for all EAs at the Norwegan Refugee Council building. Quite the trip. Palestinian buses can only go so far and then we changed to a bus that could go into Jerusalem. From Yatta to Jerusalem took more than two hours. We came to Damascus Gate by the Old City and walked to NRC offices on Nablus St. We had time for a quick tea at the Jerusalem Hotel. The sessions for the meeting dealt with land ownership, permits, demolition and stop work orders for Palestinians in Area C. The NRC does help provide legal aid. This is good to know since we can then connect them with those needing assistance regarding land issues. For instance, if a villager gets a demolition order, we can refer him/her to the NRC who will take legal action. It was pointed out that getting a permit to build is impossible – 97% rejection. The only alternative is building illegally. This goes for tents, animal pens, house additions and the like – every structure, no matter how small, needs a permit. The information we received is very helpful in understanding the challenges faced by those living in Area C.
Leif and I had to hurry back to Yatta since we were going to sleep over in the cave. We were back here at 3 or so and left for the cave just after 4. Our driver, Abed, drove us most of the way but we had to walk for about half an hour to get to the cave. There we found the shepherd and he had company – 3 of his sons, a daughter, and his wife.
The reason we provide a protective presence for the shepherd is due to previous incidences with settlers in the area. Apparently it helps when we are there. Operation Dove is there also on the other nights. We are responsible of the one night a week.
Supper consisted of the first milk from sheep mixed with what looked like bread. It was in one dish and we got a spoon each and shared. It was okay – warm and sweet tasting. Very nourishing I would imagine. The cave has electricity and TV! There is a satellite dish nearby. The beds are just the stuffed mats we see everywhere. They were arranged and we got blankets. Then after some conversation – the shepherd and his one son especially know English – it was light out just after 7:30. It would be a long night. The siblings all slept huddled together. I was very glad to see morning light since I did not sleep so well and I could not read or do anything to disturb the others. The dogs barked quite a bit during the night and the shepherd did check a few times. He has about 100 sheep and they were in the pen. Also many lambs recently born. The ‘bathroom’ was outside the cave and the ‘toilet seat’ was on the cement floor. It was enclosed on 3 sides with a cloth for the other but the wind blow it open. Then I went to see the sheep and lambs. The family was very friendly. Other times the shepherd had been there by himself since the family now lives in Yatta. Indeed, the people who lived in the village had moved away but the shepherd clings to his land and continues to shepherd his sheep.
Leif and I then walked back to the main road. We phoned our driver to pick us up. We walked for almost an hour before he came. It was good though.
Today is the Muslim ‘Sunday’ so we did not visit any villages and caught up on reports, etc. We did however walk for an hour or so in Yatta and we heard many “Hello. How are you” or “What’s your name” or “Welcome”. These are the English words a lot of children know so we hear it over and over again.
We set out early this morning for Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills. Before entering the zone however, we visited a school. The issue there was that one classroom had been demolished a while back. There had been no recent activity and it seemed to be running well.
All the villages in the firing zone has demolition orders so we thought we would try to reach some of them. They had not been visited by the previous EAPPI team. We had to go by foot since our driver and vehicle would be prohibited. Indeed, as you see by the sign, no one can come into the zone. We walked many kilometers before reaching the first village situated near the ‘wall’ or where the wall would be once it is constructed. The villagers offered us tea, as we receive everywhere we go. People are very friendly. Their livelihood seemed to be animals – sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys and some agriculture. The season for ploughing and planting is close as the rains will be starting. Indeed we have had some already. After tea, we headed to the next village. Everywhere hills and from the tops, you can see villages in the distance. We managed to reach the second village and also found the people friendly and one lady could speak some English. We found out that their has been no incidents to report concerning the villages. They have had demolition orders since 2012 but they have not been followed through on. By this time it was well after lunch and we had to find our way back to the main road. It took another hour. All we had with us was water and an apple and a banana to split between us. We had no cell phone reception in the Firing Zone so called our driver when we were near the main (dirt) road. He came with a jeep and thought he would show us an area from which we could see the desert, a small glimpse of the dead sea and the mountains of Jordan. In the distance we could also make out a caravan of camels.
That may have been a good day if not for what followed.
We received word that the village of Um Al Kher may again have the military come for more demolitions. So we headed straight there.
Just to fill you in. Since the last demolition (see http://searching4justice.co/2014/10/31/a-running-start/ and https://searching4justice.com/2014/11/02/the-first-2-days-of-november/ ) the village received new toilets and tents from the Palestinian Authority. The men of the village hid the toilets. Two days ago, they took down the tents and put up a makeshift structure of scrape and such. They were afraid the military would come again and if they did, the villagers did not want them to see the new tents. We arrived at the village and shortly thereafter, Operation Dove also arrived as did some media. Some women in the village made us bread – flat & thin and very good. It was then that in the distance we saw vehicles. A large truck and military jeeps. Very disheartening. They came and told us to leave. We had to watch from a distance. Once the military and truck left, we went to assess the damage.
The army had found the tents – they seemed to know that the village had them and they demolished the makeshift housing. One older man collapsed and the ambulance had to be called. He seemed to be okay after awhile. One young man asked where his family would sleep – under the rain? He also said they just want to live and care for his family and tend his livestock They do not harm anyone and yet this happens. Who are the terrorists, he asks. I feel his pain. And even more painful is our inability to do anything to make his situation better.
in 1948. The catastrophe being the displacement of Palestinians when the state of Israel was established. Many of the
original refugees immigrated to Jordan in 1967. We were in this camp two weeks ago also and visited with the family of the 12-yr-old who was shot by the Israeli army. This time we were shown around by Khoulod Al Titi, who works as an English teacher.
We talked to one boy who was released from an Israeli jail two weeks ago. He
was there for 5 months for throwing stones. He said that he was in a cell with 9 other boys and he was the oldest at 17. They had nothing to do all day and could walk in an enclosed area for one hour/day. He said one 15 yr-old was sentenced to 4 years.
Yesterday we visited the village of Khirbet al Kharaba which we also had visited with the previous team. It is inhabited by two permanent families. It is in Area C and it has had a home demolition recently. They have no electricity, shelter or water. We are hopeful that a tent will come very soon before any more rainfall. We contacted UNOCHA again about the situation here. A village nearby has some solar panels and our driver could run a line to Khirbet al Kharaba but the neighbours said ‘no’ because there was not enough power and the invertor keeps burning out. Also the people must buy water which is very expensive. At one time, they had wells but the Israeli administration has destroyed them or taken them over. They control the water supply in Area C and the Palestinians have to pay a much higher price than the Israelis living in the Settlements.
On Sunday we accompanied some children walking from their school and having to go through a checkpoint. Their bags were searched, etc and they walked past guards with weapons in hand. Why? Because they live in A Seefer, which is their village in the seam zone. The seam zone or closed zone as it is also called, is the area between the Wall and the green line. The Wall is 80% over the green line and the people between the green line and Wall live in the seam zone. They are separated from their schools, farmers from their fields and villages from each other.
To get to A Seefer, the kids must negotiate the checkpoint and also the Israeli settlement that lies between the checkpoint and their village. Sometimes they are harassed so it can be scary for them.
The EAPPI team got through the checkpoint. Our stuff was searched of course and we were questioned. Our driver knew he could not cross so he stayed behind. Children here have quite a walk to and from school. Wore me out. Very hilly as everywhere.
We talked to a lady in A Seefer who spoke some English. The people have been living in A Seefer since the time of the Turks and have the land deeds. About 10 families live here presently. Many leave – there is nothing for them. Some of the homes here have been demolished by the military including a bathroom unit. Life is uncertain. Their main source of income is livestock. When kids shepherd the sheep, settlers have come and stolen some. So they are scared to do it.
The main obstacles to living here now is the checkpoints and the social isolation. You need permits for going anywhere and families cannot come to visit. And sometimes you have a pass but your vehicle does not.
On Saturday, Nov. 1, we went first to Hebron for an event celebrating the fourth anniversary of Hebron international resource network (H.I.R.N.) is an international organization based in Hebron and is run on a purely voluntary basis by a group of dedicated Palestinians and internationals. Find my picture at https://www.facebook.com/pages/HIRN/388180624554795?sk=photos_stream
After the speeches and goodies, we went to a restaurant with the teams from Hebron and Bethlehem. Then walked past some shops and bought some supplies for our home in Yatta.
We then returned to the H.I.R.N. office since our driver was there, and after talking to Hamed about developments at Um al Kher, we headed back to Yatta. We were only home for a short time before heading off to Um al Kher. The PA (Palestinian Authority) had brought 3 new toilets and large plastic tents. The military was there today and saw the toilets but the tents were put up after they left. A resident of the village, Amotasem al-Hathaleen, said that the men were going to hide the toilets since they think the military will be back with bulldozers again to destroy them. They were also going to see about disguising the tents and make it look like something made of scrape. I hope they succeed.
Today is Sunday. Leif and I were out of bed at 2:45 and left at 3:15. It was a chore to wake our driver. He has a 3-month old son and he kept him awake until after 1. We did make it to Meitar checkpoint in time for the 4 a.m. opening. We arrived to find vendors already open to sell to the people going through the checkpoints or the taxi drivers.
Unfortunately you can’t take pictures at the checkpoint. There are watchtowers. It is awful. Bars, barbed wire. I did manage to get the picture here on a previous visit when the checkpoint was closed. There are watchtowers to make sure the rules are. We counted 5427 people going through from 4 to 7 a.m. They have work permits which belong to the place that they work for and only good for a period of time. 44 people were turned back for various reasons. At times there was pushing and some climbed over sections to jump the line. Some of the workers pick oranges and the like.
This is all for now but will add on tomorrow so I hope you check back to hear about the school run and our visit to the seam zone.
After breakfast together, our driver and interpreter, Ahab, came over and we discussed the plans for the day. First is a visit to Um al Kher, the village that had the demolitions on Monday. It is a bedouin community that we had visited last week before the devastation.
The village is very close to the Israeli settlement of Karmel. There they have running water and electricity. But for Um Al Kher there is very little infrastructure and with these latest demolitions, life will be even more difficult. The Israelis control the water supply in the region and destroyed wells and cisterns belonging to Palestinians.
Today there were people who had come to help with some clean-up. There was a women’s football team from Bristol, UK who were in the West Bank to promote good will through sports. Also some media and UN personal. We stayed for an hour and a half talking to people and lending a hand with moving stone to build a wall.
Please see http://ow.ly/DvC8i The man speaking on the video is Hamud Qawasmeh, a human rights office and wonderful hands on fellow who mobilized those helping in the cleanup. He also is our go-to person when we find out the needs of villages and he can contact the NGO’s who may be able to provide for the needs.
There is a home lower down in the valley which was not destroyed. The fellow living there makes things out of scrape material. His home is also under demolition orders but is still intact for now. He has a blog: http://eidworkshop.wordpress.com/my-home/
After the visit at Um al Kher, we went to Khashem ad Daraj. It is very close to the firing zone 918. From the village we could see Jordan and between also lays the Dead Sea although that is at a low elevation so was not visible.
The Israeli government will declare an area a firing zone and then proceed to displace those living in that area. Some of the land too is used by shepherds and they can no longer go there.
The bulldozers and military were at Khashem ad Daraj the day before and destroyed a cave, toilet, animal shelter and a home. Two children were home when the destruction began and the father stated that they cry at night. Three other children were at school. Imagine coming home and finding a pile of rumble.
We made out an incident report. Not sure if it will result in help since it is very remote and cut off.
So that was our day.