Friday, 22 March 2013

"We refuse to be enemies"

At the risk of repeating myself I decided to publish this post that was half finished in Palestine because it has additional information.

Despite having been to many of the places we have visited on this CPT delegation in the past, I have found myself deeply shocked on a number of occasions. I have done many presentations about the situation in the West Bank. I knew that the Israeli settlers could be vicious and that the IDF could be violent, cruel and abusive, but I had not realised before how planned  the occupation and systematic reduction in Palestinian land was.  If you look at the map that was given to us by ARIJ you will see that there are what are called seam zones and corridors where most of the Israeli settlements and even outposts are located. You can see that the Palestinian areas are reduced to ghettos that are totally separated from each other by not just the settlements but by the Israeli only roads and, of course, the separation barrier which itself takes up around 13% of West Bank land. What is worse is that there are Palestinian communities that are being cut off by Israel into a sort of no-man's land. These communities are denied both Israeli or Palestinian citizenship because although they are cut off from Israel by the barrier Israel will not allow them to be taken under the PA wing either. Some of these communities have the barrier almost completely surrounding them with no access to any amenities or resources.

Many of the stories we have heard have been heartbreaking and most of them have been backed up with facts and figures from the many organisations we have had the privilege to visit. I include in this blog a list of links so that you can see the information for yourselves. In Jerusalem we visited the Sabeel Office where we heard a Palestinian Christian tell us of her experiences. We went to the office of ICHAD - The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions where we heard from Israelis who shared the facts and figures of the Israeli demographic policies that refuse both Israeli Palestinians and West Bank Palestinians permits for almost anything from house extensions to water cisterns to animal sheds and even to working on their own land so that Palestinians have to do almost everything 'illegally' and Israel can claim legal reasons for their actions.

We have seen the workings of such policies in the Negev, East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Tent of Nations, Jericho, Hebron and The South Hebron Hills. I have personal stories and even videos to back this up as well as so many photos.

In Hebron we heard from a Palestinian called Atta Jabber.  Atta lived with his parents, but when he got married, wanted a home of his own. There were 60 houses in the area, with around 144 people living in them. An Israeli settlement had already been built and the Israeli authorities wanted the land in his neighbourhood to build more. The families started to receive demolition orders on their houses and in 1995 the Israel High Court decided to bulldoze all 60 houses in one day! This was just the start of a nightmare that is still going on today.

The very first round of action won the Jabber family a reprieve, but in 1996 he received a new demolition order with just 48 days to appeal and their lawyer was not informed. When Atta continued to work on his home he was arrested for doing so and was fined $500. In 1997, while he was away from his home the Israeli army forced his wife and 2 daughters out of their house into the winter cold and rain and then damaged everything surrounding it. His wife and daughters fell ill and had to spend a couple of nights in hospital. That March the family received another order giving them just 2 hours to move all their belongings from the house - again into the rain. They did so and the bulldozer did not arrive.

In 1998 the army came again with bulldozers and threatened his family so he removed them himself and watched his home destroyed. He immediately rebuilt it with the help of internationals and CPT. An organisation called Peace Now arranged for Atta to meet the Knesset to request a permit for this second house and they refused. On 19th Sept that year bulldozers came again with many soldiers. When the family were out of the house, his wife remembered their 4 month old baby was still inside and went to get him. Atta in despair told an officer to take his baby and care for him as they could not do so himself without a home. He was arrested and beaten up, taken to a police station where he was tortured. The handcuffs held his wrists behind him so tightly there was blood, his neck was cut badly so that he could hardly speak and he had wounds all over his body. He was taken to a clinic where the doctor said there was nothing wrong with him and was then accused of being dangerous because he had tried to defend his home. He was moved to a prison where he received no medical attention for 8 days and became so ill that he was in danger of dying. When he was finally taken to hospital he spent 4 hours in the emergency room and was then released the next day. However he was then charged for attacking the army with his baby!

Rabbis for Human Rights came to court with the baby and presented the child to the Judge who was so moved by it all that she released him without charge! Atta and his family then spent the next 5 months living in a tent and finally moved into the Old City of Hebron in 1999. In 2000 Atta finally gained a permit for his house. As it was near completion around 100 Israeli settlers attacked him and occupied it. He took them to the Israeli court who instructed them to leave, so they set the house on fire causing considerable damage. The settlers were not punished and the courts refused to allow Atta to return to his home for a further 3 months. A member of CPT then stayed in his home with his family to protect them until he could return.

200 settlers then took the land surrounding his home and attacked his wife who was pregnant. She lsst her baby as a result of the attack. In fact she lost 4 babies over the years as a result of attacks. In 2009 Atta received an Israeli order to demolish everything surrounding his home forcing his family to live in just the house and a very small area, so he took the case to yet court again. In 2011 it cost another $15 - 20,000 in legal fees.

Despite winning case after expensive case, the settlers have continued to harass his family and so it goes on to this day. One constant battle and the loss of most of his land.

"If we were animals an organsation would step in and rescue us, but because we are just Palestinians no one comes to our aid." he said.
The stone that lies at the entrance to the Tent of nations, which says in 3 languages
"WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES"


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Itinerary, Organisations and links

During the delegation with the Christian Peacemaker Team we visited and heard from a number of organisations. I also met others on days when I was not actually on the delegation.
There are many other groups who also do valuable work, but in order to keep this information more accessible I have limited this list to those I actually met or who are mentioned in my blog.
I was travelling to Jerusalem to meet the CPT delegation that I would be journeying with for the following 2 weeks so the first organisation to mention is:
CPT - www.cpt.org. Christian Peacemaker Teams. Ecumenical violence-reduction project started by the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers with a presence in Hebron since 1995. Practises get-in-the-way of nonviolence. Also has teams in other parts of the world.

DAY 1

After arriving at the Golden Gate Hostel my first day in Jerusalem was free. Although some of my plans did not materialise I visited the Jerusalem office of EAPPI and climbed the Mount of Olives (See beauty, truth and good Wine) and met Pauline Nunu, owner of The Jerusalem Hotel (see details below), which has become a centre for the press, human rights workers and Alternative Travel. In the evening I went to see 'The Gatekeepers' at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

The Golden Gate Hostel - http://www.goldengate4.com/  A very good, clean hostel with both single rooms and dormitories situated in the Old City close to the Damascus Gate. A very good budget place to stay.

EAPPI - http://www.eappi.org/  Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel  brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.
I was an EA from October 2009 to Jan 2010 and was a member of an international team in Hebron during that time.

The Gatekeepers at the Jerusalem Cinematheque - http://www.jer-cin.org.il 'Charged with overseeing Israel's war on terror- both Palestinian and Jewish- the head of Israel's secret service is present at the crossroad of every decision made. For the first time ever, six former heads of the agency agreed to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. The Gatekeepers offers an exclusive account of the reasons that each man individually and the six as a group came to reconsider their hard-line positions and advocate a conciliatory approach toward their enemies based on a two-state solution.
Nominated for an Oscar Award for Best Documentary and well-worth seeing.
Beautiful view of the monastery and vineyard

DAY 2

Visit to Cremisan Vineyard - http://www.cremisan.org/ now under threat of being divided in two by the Israeli separation barrier with the Monastery and vineyard on the Israeli side and the Convent and school on the Palestinian side.
(See Posting 'Beauty, truth and Good Wine')



DAY 3

Our delegation leader Bob with Naim Atteek

This was the first official day of the delegation. As well as getting to know each other and look at the itinerary we visited the Jerusalem Sabeel Office and were taken on a tour of East Jerusalem by ICHAD.
Sabeel - www.sabeel.org  'Sabeel' means 'The Way' in Arabic.  'Ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians'.
(See posting 'What does it mean to hope?')
Ruth from ICAHD showing us maps as we
stand by the separation barrier that blocks
the road to Jericho in the heart of East
 Jerusalem.

ICHAD - www.icahd.org  Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (Jeff Halper). A direct action group that co-ordinates with Palestinian groups. It leads tours around areas of concern, especially in regard to house demolitions, evictions and land confiscation.

DAY 4

We stood with the women in Black at their weekly Friday vigil and attended a demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah.
Women in Black - http://www.womeninblack.org/en/jerusalem  These women, and some men, hold a weekly Friday silent vigil on a roundabout in West Jerusalem. They hold placards in Hebrew and English saying 'Stop the Occupation'. They are often verbally abused by passing pedestrians and cars.
(See posting '"He has buried his head in shit"')
Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity - http://www.en.justjlm.org/ 'The Solidarity Movement, which has grown from weekly protests in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, is a grassroots organization working towards civil equality within Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.'  Sheikh Jarrah is in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews are claiming that the neighbourhood was originally Jewish and are systematically ejecting Palestinians from their homes. The irony is that these Palestinians are refugees from 1948 Israel and Israeli Jews are living in their old homes. While the Israelis claim the right to return to their old properties, Palestinians have no right to return to their old properties!
(See posting '"He has buried his head in shit"')

DAY 5

We travelled to the Negev where we were taken to Bedouin villages under threat.
Negev Coexistence Forum For Civil Equality - www.dukium.org   NCF considers that the State of Israel fails to respect, protect and fulfill its human rights obligations, without discrimination, towards the Arab-Bedouin citizens in the Negev. As a result, the Forum has set out as one of its goals to achieve full civil rights and equality for all those living Negev.
(See posting 'When Bureaucracy is a Weapon of war')

DAY 6

This water duct in the Jordan valley supplies water usually only after the winter rains. Much of the year it is dry. It is damaged and needs urgent repair , yet Israel denies the Palestinian community living there the planning permission to repair it. If they touch it they risk arrest or worse. You can see that the water is splashing out of the duct and is undermining the structure further.
We travelled down to to the Jordan valley via Jericho and the Dead sea. The river Jordan is only a trickle in places as is full of effluent from the nearby settlements. Can I really blame Israel for that? When Palestinian communities are denied planning permission for improvements or even repairs to infrastructure on their own land, while the illegal settlements have all amenities supplied, but still pollute the water, then, yes, I can blame Israel. We also saw water systems that supply Palestinians villages that Israel does not permit the Palestinians to repair. 

This shows one of the springs that flows
into the Jordan river.



Auja Eco Centre - www.foeme.org & http://www.aujaecocenter.org/  'We envision the Jordan River Valley and the Dead Sea as a healthy ecosystem – one in which the water is shared in a just and equitable way between the people who live in the valley; in which the aquifers, rivers, and springs that support all life here are used in a sustainable manner; in which the cultural heritage is protected; in which biodiversity thrives; and in which human communities flourish.We contribute towards this by inspiring and educating people about the history and value of this landscape; by promoting a vision of the valley a whole and interconnected system of ecology and human culture; by generating income and employment for local people; and by advocating for the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.'

DAY 7

We had very comfortable accommodation in the Bethlehem Bible College and then went on to visit 3 organisations situated in Bethlehem
Bethlehem Bible College - http://www.bethbc.org/  A very good place to stay.
Sami Award who spoke to our
group.

Holy Land Trust - www.holylandtrust.org   'Nonviolence is at the heart of Holy Land Trust's work and is incorporated into everything we do and strive for. We seek to live out nonviolence as a core spiritual teaching, not only as a pragmatic approach to dealing with conflict.  Our nonviolence projects, training and activities (for children, youth, and adults) provide participants with tools that assist them in building communities founded on the principles of nonviolence and develop strategies and actions that allow them to address all forms of oppression and violence.' Inspiring non-violence strategies.

                                                                                                                    


Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) - http://www.arij.org/  In its capacity as a national research institute, it frequently provides current data and research necessary to the formulation of position papers and policy strategies on such issues as land and water resources.
Badil - www.badil.org   Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and refugee Rights. very good source of information.

DAY 8

First thing at 5am we went to the Gilo checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Many workers gather there as early as 4am in order to get to their work in Jerusalem in time. Although it is only a short distance away these workers have no idea on any day as to how long they will be delayed at the checkpoint or indeed whether they will get through at all.

In the photo on the left you can see the queue of workers in the cage running along the wall towards the huge checkpoint building. The people on the right of the photo have given up on the humanitarian gate, which is closed and will have to join the regular queue. two men are seen jumping the queue by climbing in further up. This seems to be accepted by those waiting. Desperation to get to their work leads to desperate measures. Israeli employers can dismiss Palestinians even for sickness and that can lead to the loss of their permit to enter Jerusalem.


We then  travelled to Hebron via the Tent of Nations. Very well worth visiting.

Tent of Nations - www.tentofnations.org  'At Tent of Nations, our mission is building bridges between people, and between people to the land.  At Tent of Nations,  we bring people of various cultures together to build bridges of understanding, reconciliation, and peace. Inspiring creative non-violence.
(See posting 'this is your land, this is my land')

DAY 9 

Children in Hebron have to pass through these checkpoints every day.  Often young children have their bags searched and are sometimes detained. the headmaster of the school can be seen in the background near the barrier checking in case any of the children are having problems. CPT stands at 2 of the checkpoints and EAPPI at another to monitor and protect the children from both the IDF and settlers.
Each morning CPT attends the school patrols at 7am and then again at noon when the children come home. We accompanied them each morning at 7am.
We visited the soup kitchen in the Old City, which is an important resource providing food for many families in desperate need.  We learnt that despite being in Area A, Israel will not give it planning permission to build an upper floor so that they can provide enough food for all rather than having to turn people away. They asked for our help to contact the Israeli authorities to try to get them to change their minds. Can providing food for desperate people be a security issue unless you are trying to drive those people to leave the area?
In the Afternoon we had a very interesting meeting with Atta Jabber who told us his story.  (See posting 'We refuse to be Enemies'). Also mentioned Rabbis For Human Rights -  http://rhr.org.il/eng/ is the only rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, defending human rights of marginalised communities within Israel and the Palestinian Territories.   The organization was founded in 1988, and today has over 100 members-all Israelis and all ordained Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal rabbis as well as some rabbinical students.
You can see the tear gas clearly here.

We then witnessed a clash between Palestinians and the IDF with ample evidence of tear-gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and even live bullets. Although it is counter-productive for the Palestinians to throw stones at the IDF, it is hard to prevent children who are brought up in such a violent and unforgiving environment, often who have been evicted from their homes or have family members in Israeli jails, from expressing their anger and frustration in this way. This has become almost a daily occurrence. 

DAY 10

We travelled to the South Hebron Hills. 
Our first visit was to the village of At Twani where CPT used to have a team, but now Operation Dove has taken over to live with and be a protective presence for the villagers.  The village has Israeli settlements close by with settlers who frequently attack both the villagers and the children on their way to school. The IDF have to provide the children with a military escort and just last week the villagers attempted to erect a tent for the children to wait in as the IDF are often late. Sadly, the same IDF force who accompany the children have destroyed the tent twice as it is considered a structure and the village has no planning permission for it!
The photo to the left shows an abandoned village. Israel would say it was abandoned voluntarily. The villagers would say that they were terrorised out of it and now live in At Twani with the international protection. 

A large swathe of the South hebron Hills has been declared a military firing zone by the IDF. Although there are many villages in the area the Palestinians living in them are now seen as a security risk and Israel is attempting to evacuate them! How can this be seen as anything but another ploy to take more land in Area C?


Operation Dove   -   http://www.operationdove.org   'We are people committed to nonviolence and to finding nonviolent solutions to conflicts and war.  The action aims to improve people’s everyday life in the area of the South Hebron Hills. The objective of the project is to support mutual trust through nonviolent shared actions, build capacity for nonviolent conflict resistance, empower marginalized parties, and support cooperative policies and strategies of civil societies present in the area.' Also has teams in other parts of the world.

We had hoped to be taken down to Jinba, a village in the firing zone, by tractor, but that did not materialise so we climbed down instead. On our journey down we were invited into the village of Bir El Id, which I had visited as an EA. We had helped Taayush another Israeli human rights organisation (http://www.taayush.org/), drive sheep across the the South Hebron Hills to enable the villages to return to a village they had been forced to abandon. the Israeli High Court had given permission for their return, but the IDF and settlers were opposed to it. 
I am pictured with a member of
the family that kindly lent us
their cave for the night. she was
very unusual in wanting to be
photographed.


We spent the night in Jinba where a family very kindly vacated their cave for us. 
This village is constantly under attack from the settlers, supported by the IDF, but is also fighting for its life through the Israeli courts as the new military firing zone is being given as the reason for Israel wanting them to leave their homeland, even though they have proof of ownership going back to Ottoman times.
The father of this child, now 13 years old, shows
the bullet wound in the boy's back, which he
received from an IDF bullet a year ago.

And back to Hebron






DAY 11

After the morning School Patrol I had arranged to meet a couple of previous contacts and friends;
Hamed who works as a Human Rights Officer for the UN and Naheel who also works for the UN distributing food aid. (see posting 'This is your land, this is my land')
In the afternoon we were expecting to join the weekly Saturday Israeli Settler Tour. Hebron is divided into H 1 and H 2. H2 takes up much of the Old City of Hebron and contains a number of Israeli settlements. the Palestinians living there have had their lives blighted by the very violent settlers. I will probably include another posting with the basic details of life in Hebron, but the weekly tour in which the Jews proclaim ownership of various building currently inhabited by Palestinians and often cause damage to the struggling Palestinian shops while protected by the IDF is an unpleasant affair. For some reason and most unusually, it did not take place on this occasion. 

DAY 12

After the School Patrol we travelled back to Jerusalem for the last day of the delegation.

Bob talking with Mordechai.

We had our last meal together as a team in The Jerusalem Hotel where we met Mordechai Vanunu. He is a former Israeli nuclear technician who, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction, revealed details of Israel's nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986 and after many years in solitary confinement in prison in Israel is now under a sort of house arrest, which means that he cannot leave Israel even to enter the West Bank.



The Jerusalem Hotel - http://www.jrshotel.com   This is a commercial organisation and the hotel is not a budget hotel and not where we stayed, but is a very convenient meeting place and restaurant close to the Damascus gate in East Jerusalem as well as being a good hotel for those who can afford it.
Alternative Tours - http://www.alternativetours.ps/ - The tours are designed to help you discover the most interesting places in the West Bank and Gaza . At the same time, they aim at providing you with background information about the life, history and current situation of the Palestinian people. ( I did not go on any on this visit, but have used them in the past).

DAY 13

Met a member of Combatants for Peace, visited the B'tselem office. In the evening another group had a member of Breaking the Silence come to speak to them and the 3 of us remaining joined in.

Combatants for Peace - www.combatantsforpeace.org 'The “Combatants for Peace” movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace'

Btselem - www.btselem.org the Israeli Information Centre of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which produces excellent reports and provides video cameras to Palestinians to record violence and human rights violations against them.

Breaking the Silence - http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il   is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavour to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.


I will probably add to this list and may also write further posts to explain how and when I came into contact with these organisations where they are not already mentioned in my posts.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

"This is your land, this is my land........"

Daoud stands on his property known as the Tent of Nations,  which is close to Bethlehem.  His property is surrounded by Israeli settlements and he is having a long-standing battle with the Israeli courts who are trying to take his land from him. He has called his home The Tent of Nations because he invites internationals from around the world to work in creative non-violence with him to resist the occupation and  the systematic confiscation of Palestinian land.

I have already said how shocked I have been by the deteriorating situation here, but can only repeat those feelings again as each day brings new examples of what can only be described as ethnic cleansing by stealth.

We have spent the last few days in either the occupied Palestinian territory or the Israeli 'disputed' territory depending on your perspective. However, whether it is occupied or disputed, what is not in doubt is that there are people called Palestinians (Arabs if you are Israeli) living here and that not only have they lived here for generations, they often have the title deeds of their land going back to Ottoman times.

A cave used by the Tent of Nations.
As permission to build is not allowed
above ground. They have to build and
use space below
In Ottoman times there was an attempt to get the Palestinians to register their land so that they could be taxed. Many refused to do so and others only registered a small part of it. That was a mistake, but then hind-sight is a wonderful thing. The Ottomans had a land law that said that if land was not used for 3 years it would become state land. Israel has taken this law over in a much more extreme way. While Israelis can have parks and recreation areas, unless a Palestinian can show that he is actually farming his land, even if the land is unsuitable for farming and is only suitable for grazing, Israel can confiscate that land after 3 years. Sometimes settlers prevent Palestinian farmers from harvesting their land or the separation barrier or an Israel only road is built through it so that it is difficult to reach, but if that land is not cultivated it is confiscated.

We saw many rather inhospitable places for farming where the local people feel obliged to sow something just to show that they are farming their land. Often Palestinians are offered no compensation for land taken from them, but occasionally they are offered quite large sums of money to entice them to leave. There are even cases of the IDF confiscating cars or tractors and offering to return them only if the Palestinians agree to move away. That is black-mail. However if Palestinians don't fight to maintain their land rights, there will be nothing left for them.

View from the village of Jinba in the new Israeli IDF
 firing zone. The villagers can prove ownership back to
the Ottoman period and the Israel High court supports
 them. The IDF and Israeli settlers ignore this ruling
and are still attempting to violently drive the villagers
from their village.
There  are also many cases where Palestinians who can prove beyond even the doubt of Israeli courts that they own land are continually under threat of at least demolition if not actual eviction from their land. Palestinians living in area C (around 60%) of the West Bank, which is the largest area and is totally controlled by Israel (this is Israeli 'disputed' land, not Israel) are constantly fighting to retain their property. They are rarely allowed permits to build anything on it, whether to expand existing homes or to provide water cisterns to collect rainwater, or animal sheds or even to plant or to sow their land. They are frequently surrounded by Israeli settlements already built on parts of their land and these settlements want to expand and to take even more land.

Where the Israeli High Court does give them legal protection, because there are occasions when it does recognise their right to exist on their land, the IDF and Settlers try to make their lives so miserable that they are forces to go 'voluntarily'. The Palestinian villages are often refused water and electricity, permits to make any alterations to their land or way of living and are continually under direct violent attack from settlers or of arrest for spurious reasons or for trying to defend their land, their homes, their children and their animals from Settlers who try to farm their land or take it by force. The State of Israel may recognise their rights, but fails to act to protect those rights and often Palestinians have to spend thousands of dollars in Israeli courts trying to prove and re-prove those rights. Some cases have been going on for many years as Israel tries to find loopholes that will give it permission to take the Palestinian land 'legally'. So how come these people are having to fight to keep and maintain their land at all? Why does the world stand by and allow that land to by systematically taken?
A house in Hebron that was first
taken by Israeli settlers. The owners
were able to prove that the property
was theirs, but the IDF have moved in
and will not allow the owners to return

Even in Area A, meant to be entirely controlled by the Palestine, planning permission has to go via Israel. If the IDF thinks that they need a property for 'security' reasons they just take it. If Israeli settlers don't want a Palestinian living too close to an illegal settlement and they have failed to evict the occupants themselves, the IDF will then take the property and turn it into a military base thereby preventing the owners from returning. Where Palestinians still live close to settlement buildings Israel can prevent the Palestinians from altering or even maintaining their homes.
The man stands outside his home in
Hebron and shows us the planning
permission he has, which is useless
if the settlers with the help of the IDF
prevent him from his building work.

There is a case in Hebron where Israeli settlers were evicted from a Palestinian house, which was then taken over by the IDF. The Israelis in a settlement close by complained about another Palestinian who was working on his home close by, saying that he was creating a 'nest for terrorists' and despite his having full planning permission for the work he was doing from the PA, he was ordered to stop the work by the IDF. Unfortunately that meant he could not put his roof on. The result has been not only that he cannot move into the new upper floor of his home, but everything inside of the upper floor has been damaged by winter rains. Yet this man lives in Area A within Hebron and with planning permission. This is very common.

Palestinians are suffering terribly financially because of the occupation. Their livelihoods have been destroyed in many cases. They have huge court costs paid to Israel if they try to fight the various orders or for release fees after arrests whether charged with a crime or not. Their cars cost more to run because the Israeli road blocks, and closures mean the the Palestinian vehicles have to travel along poor or unmade-up roads, often over long distances, to get to a town or a field that would otherwise have taken minutes.

I had coffee with a Human Rights Officer for the UN today. He gave me some good news. At least it is better news. He told me that the excuse Israel gives for not giving planning permission to Palestinians in the West Bank is that the areas where they live do not have Zoning Plans or Masterplans in place. For this reason some international organisations as well as Rabbis for Human Rights are expensively creating and placing Masterplans with the Israeli courts. The presentation of such a plan to the Israel authorities gives the area the plan covers 5 years grace during which it is relatively safe from demolition orders. When the plan is refused as everyone knows it will be, then another plan can be devised giving the local people further time. This can only be done with outside help due to the costs, but it is being done. It will not prevent Israel building more and more settlements in area C  thereby creating what can only be described as cantons or designated areas for Palestinians to live, each cut of from the other, but it will mean that if Israel annexes Area C then those living within it will have to be given citizenship. As I have explained, this is not the same as being an Israeli National as rights are limited, but with the Palestinian birth rate as it is, that will still represent a demographic threat to Israel as a Jewish State.



Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What does it mean to hope?

Roman's 8. 24. To paraphrase this verse is simply to say that if you can already see what it is you hope for, then it is not hope, it already exists. Hope is when you cannot see the result and you have to wait patiently.

I am posting this blog now because, although it is not polished, it was started several days ago and there is much new material to add. I will post this as if it was completed on the day I began it. As time is short and the internet is unpredicatable here, please forgive the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Today left me feeling very depressed and even had me asking myself whether there was any point in continuing to try to improve life for the Palestinians. Sabeel in the morning spoke of hope, but gave no real reason for any, and ICHAD in the afternoon, gave so much information about the way Israel manipulates its own laws as well as Western media, that it left me feeling that there was no way that the giant, powerful, greedy and agressive machine could be stopped or even slowed down.

 Although I already knew some of what we were told today, much also came as an unpleasant revelation. Perhaps it was the way it was explained and the people who were explaining it. Cedar Duaybis of Sabeel told us how Israel keeps cleverly moving the goal posts so that it can continue to claim that it has 'no partner for peace'. Israel was created on land that had been inhabited by others for centuries. For those people to recognise the State of Israel was to ask them to deny their own right to that land. But in 1998, Palestine did accept the State of Israel, Israel then insisted that the Palestinians recognise Israel's 'right' to exist. In order to recognise Israel's 'right' to exist, they were, in effect being asked to deny their right to exist in that place. However eventually Palestine accepted Israel's right to exist. But that was not enough, because then Israel demanded that Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state. To do so would mean not just denying themselves the land, but to deny themselves equal rights on that land.

During this time Israel has fragmented Palestinians into 5 different groups. There are the 1.6 million Palestinians within Israel, who have citizenship, but are not nationals. These Palestinians are denied the full rights of democracy and are treated as second class citizens. It is true that many Palestinians prefer to live within Israel, but that is because facilities are better than those of their neighbours living elsewhere. It is the lesser of two evils for many of them. The second group are those in the West Bank - 2.5 million. That land has been divided by Israel into 3 areas, A, B and C. A is in theory entirely under Palestinian control. B is under Israeli military control, but Palestinian civilian control and C in entirely under Israeli control. Area A is just 17% of the West Bank and is very fragmented by Israeli roads, settlements and the seperation barrier and the IDF frequently invades the area to arrest suspected 'terrorists' or for various unspecified other reasons. The PA is bankrupt. Israel witholds taxes that it has taken and controls every aspect of their lives.

The third group of Palestinians are those in East Jerusalem. These people are neither Nationals nor Citizens  They are just considered residents as if they have entered Israel to live, rather than that Israel has annexed the land and swallowed them up. Israel is openly trying to reduce their number and make their lives so miserable that they choose to 'voluntarily' leave.

The fourth group are the many refugees scattered around the Middle East and also around the world. We were told later by another organisation called Badil (see web-site) that there are now more Palestinian refugees than from any other conflict ever. That was hard to take in and seemed almost unbelievable until we were presented with the statistics.Many are still living in squalid and vulnerable conditions in refugee camps both within this land and in many places outside of it. Some are dying in Syria right now.

And finally there are those Palestinians living in the Gazan prison about which much as been written already.

Palestinians are also divided among themselves. Israel refuses to talk with them until they are more unified. Yet it was Israel and the USA who had originally encouraged and funded Hamas as a means to fragment Palestinian politics. Now Palestinians find themselves in the catch 22 position where Israel refuses to negotiate if they try to include Hamas and refuses to negotiate if they don't!

All the above is just a flavour of what Cedar, a Palestinian, told us and did not prepare us for
our time with Ruth Edmonds, an Israeli/British Jew from ICAHD. Ruth managed to explain Israeli policy in such a way that we were truly left wondering if the work of the many activists, both Israeli and international, was pointless. She also drove us around areas of East Jerusalem to show and explain the evidence. Yet I have finished this particular blog several days after I began it and we have met Palestinians who may be living under an oppressive regime, but are not themselves oppressed, because they have found new creative and effective methods of non-violent resistance.  Those people give hope and inspiration in this seemingly hopeless situation. They need to know that we continue to support them. To loose hope ourselves would be to betray them.

to be continued....!


Sunday, 10 March 2013

When bureaucracy is a weapon of war.

Aziz, the son of the Sheikh holding
plaster balustrade from a demolished
house.
Can you imagine having your home destroyed 47 times in two and a half years and still going back and rebuilding something on that land just to make sure that you keep hold of it? Can you imagine that before the first demolition you had had not just your crops and all the greenery on your land sprayed with Round-up each year for three years, but also had people, animals and houses sprayed, so that animals died and adults and children became sick? Can you imagine having 4,500 olive trees cut down, over 220 sheep, horses and a camel killed, your crops ploughed over to destroy them and yet you stay because it is your land and you can prove it? Then imagine those that have destroyed your property trying to hide the evidence by planting trees over it all?
Aziz shows us water pipes and
 electrical wires from the demolished
houses

No, I am not talking about the occupied West Bank of Palestine, I am talking about the land belonging to people who are citizens of Israel and can prove ownership of the land they have lived on and farmed since Ottoman times.

We were told how the Bedouin people of Al Arakib had 573 people living on their land all with plenty of work and food. They sold organic free-range eggs, olive oil, milk, cheese and mutton. They grew wheat for their bread and barley  for fodder for their flocks.
This area has had the barley ploughed
up by Israel as the village had not got
a permit for them on their own land

In the 1970s Israel decided to measure their land.  They flew over it and took aerial photos and told the elders that the photos were recognition enough of ownership. Then later they were told that it was a mistake on Israel's part and it was not proof of ownership, but just a claim for ownership.

In 1998 they were asked to file their claim on the land. If there was no agreement they would have to go to court. Both sides would have to bring documents to prove the ownership of the land. The State refused to have to find any documents and so it went to the Supreme Court. The State of Israel referred to a law made in 1953 that says that all the land had been confiscated for the State, but the Bedouin had documents showing that they had paid taxes on the land under the British Mandate from 1921 to 1947 and the State failed to prove its case. The Supreme Court referred the case back to a lower court and ever since then the State of Israel has been trying to get around the fact that the Bedouin can prove ownership of the land and the case is still continuing to this day. In the meantime the State is trying to drive them out by any and every means and have handed the problem over to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who are in the process of creating a forest on this land, as they have already done with the land of other Bedouin tribes.
Newly forrested land

The JNF advertise their intention to make the land green and to make national parks and to tick all those ecological boxes that the world looks for at this time. But as I have pointed out in a previous blog beauty here can hide more sinister behaviour. Many Bedouin left Israel in 1948, but those that remained have been systematically forced to move into smaller and smaller designated areas called 'Siyag'. The State has even tried to move them into towns and offered them infrastructure and amenities if they did so. But there was little work except in Israeli factories and very confined space with no room for expansion and so many of the them either turned to drink, drugs and crime or went back to their old land where they are in constant threat of being violently evicted.
A Bedouin village with Israel heavy
industry in the background

Israel finally agreed to 7 'Recognised' Bedouin villages that could have proper schools and some water supplied to them, but they are small and have little land on which to herd flocks,so there are also many unrecognised villages. The schools are the only buildings supplied with electricity and the rest of the village has no refuse collection, running water, roads or any other facilities. It is interesting to note that even the recognised Bedouin villages cannot be found on an Israeli map, whereas the small groups of Israeli homes in the same area are. It is necessary to remind the reader that these people are ALL Israeli citizens and as such are entitled to amenities. Unless a farmer gets a permit he cannot sow the land nearby with barley for his flock or even graze his sheep. There is therefore little work and the Bedouin are dependent on finding the money to buy solar panels from private companies and for all their needs.

The result of all this is increasing prejudice against the Bedouin people who are now seen to live in little more than shanty towns surrounded by rubbish and largely barren soil. There are photos of Al Arakib from before 2010, which show the village before it was destroyed, surrounded by tees, crops and livestock. I will also remind readers that the ownership of the land is still in dispute. Israel has not so far been able to prove that the land no longer belongs to these Bedouin, yet it has not stopped the nightmare for those that are trying to live on their land. It seems to make little difference to Israel whether the land is legally theirs, based on their own laws, or not.
The Sheikh of the tribe

The head of Al Arakib gave us an impassioned speech. "If Netanyahu wanted peace he should first make peace with the Palestinians at home. Only by making peace with their brothers can the Jews have peace. We also love the Jewish people. Many Jews come as activists with the hope of making Israel a just place, but the army is being brainwashed that the Bedouin are animals. The officers come and find that we are not animals. They co-operate with what Israel wants and make the Bedouin outlaws and slaves that are landless.  Why does the country need all these trees? 3 years ago we planted our own. They have destroyed our future, but now we have trees!"
The Sheikh speaking with Amos, an
Israeli activist and Tamar 

One of the Israeli activists explained that Israel uses bureaucracy as an act of war and not an act of law. It is not a violent clash, it is a 'peaceful' situation for Israel. For Palestinians it is an ongoing war against them. It is war by stealth. The world would react if they saw more direct violence towards the Bedouin, but it turns a blind eye to bureaucratic ethnic cleansing.

There was one very positive aspect of our trip. We took a couple of people with us and one of them was a young Israeli woman called Tamar. She had only recently joined the Israeli army and had been commissioned to be a correspondent for the Israeli radio, which is the main channel for the army. She was hugely knowledgeable and intelligent and had come with a genuinely open mind. If only more Israelis would show such interest and be prepared to engage as she did there would be hope.


Friday, 8 March 2013

"He has buried his head in shit"



Today I rediscovered what a small world we live in. Yesterday was really depressing and I will post about it later, but today made up for that simply because I found the point of carrying on that I had briefly questioned.

We are still in Jerusalem and we don't venture to Bethlehem and on to Hebron and the South Hebron Hills until Sunday. So today, as it is a Friday, it followed that we should stand vigil with the Women in Black in West Jerusalem and then go onto the weekly demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah. I have been to both in the past and it was good to be there again to catch up with the friends I have made before and to find out what's new, both good and ill.

There were a good number of people at the West Jerusalem roundabout. A mixture of old faces (and sadly the members of Women in Black are getting older and fewer) and new EAs as well as other internationals. There was also a woman on the other side of the road with an Israeli flag and the usual mixture of verbal abuse and thumbs up from passers by.

I went to stand on a wall next to a younger Woman in Black who turned out to be 64 and we got talking. We discovered we had a very great deal in common. Her mother, like mine, had been a refugee from the Sudetenland in 1938 and had come to the UK. Her mother had also married an Englishman and at some point her family had also lived in Golders Green, North London! It was like finding a old friend and we enjoyed each other's company for the rest of the hour. Hopefully we can continue our new friendship though email and Facebook.

I asked Nomi if she had seen the film 'The Gatekeepers' and she had of course. She told me that Netanyahu had refused to view it. I responded by suggesting he was burying his head in the sand. She replied "No, not the sand. He is burying his head in shit!" She also quoted the Arab MP, Ahmed Tivi, who had said "To be a victim of those who were victims is the worst thing." She said she felt optimistic, but when I asked her for an example of something positive, she sadly could not think of anything except the hope that the new government would be more left-wing.

What is just so wonderful about these few Israeli women is that they stand for an hour at this West Jerusalem roundabout every Friday between 1.00 and 2.00pm whatever the weather and whatever the abuse they receive, with their placards against the occupation and they do so year after year without fail. To do so in the face of so little hope is inspiring. To do so, not in occupied territory, but in Israel itself where so many others refuse to hear or see what their leaders are doing just a short distance away from them, is brave indeed.

This Palestinian man stands in front of the home that
was taken from him.
Sheikh Jarrah is in East Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel. It seems that many years ago some Jews did live in the area, but left it to move into the newly created Israel and now they want to return to those old homes; at least they want to take them back from the Palestinians who now live in them. These Palestinians moved into the empty houses when they were made refugees from Israel in 1948 and were forced to leave their homes there, which are now inhabited by Israelis. The response to the demand of the Israelis that they get their old property back is, 'yes of course, if we can have our old property in Israel back in return'. As far as Israel is concerned the Palestinians have no right of return so that is impossible. Meanwhile the Israelis are arriving and are evicting them from their homes  and literally onto the street with nothing. Total injustice and hypocrisy.

So every Friday there is a demonstration consisting of evicted families, Israeli activists, other Palestinians and internationals like ourselves and EAPPI. Last time there were arrests of activists by the IDF, whereas on this occasion, the IDF allowed the demonstration to continue and even some harassment of the Israeli squatters. Sadly that is unlikely to change anything and meanwhile the remaining Palestinian residents continue to fight to retain their homes.
Netanyahu and other Israelis as well as all their supporters around the world refuse to see that this is not the behaviour of those who truly live in a modern western democracy. Such behaviour can only be described as the work of the sort of tyrannical regime that they are so quick to accuse others of.