‘Urif school clash between Israeli settlers & military and Palestinian youth

by Yanoun team

On November 18, a group of Israeli settlers came near the school in ‘Urif and began to throw stones. Later, the Israeli military arrive and shoot tear gas into the school yard. EAs were there to catch it all on film for you.

‘Urif boys school suffers from frequent settler harassment and violence from the Israeli military. This is just one example of struggles children in Palestine face in Accessing Education.

*Read about our Access to Education project.

The smell of fresh baked bread

An EA Writes a poem as he Reflects on Demolitions in Um Al kher

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

Children play in the ruins after the demolitions in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

A poem by Leif Magne Helgesen, November 2014
Translation into English by Janet Holmén

was it the smell of fresh baked bread you could not stand
early that morning when you entered the village of Um al Kher
with bulldozers
military jeeps
and white cars
as if you came in peace

why did you tear down the poor peoples’ homes
and the old taboun
where they baked the village bread
year after year
for young and old

was it because of the settlement Karmel
that you built nearby
on land you stole from another people
do you want more
are you never satisfied

does it offend you that children have bread
after a night
in houses you just laid in ruins
why do you tear down
instead of building up
why wage war
instead of making peace

you came back
again and again
tore down houses and tents
so four-month-old Sarah
now just has heaven for a roof

why
my simple question
if God created charity
where has it gone

*Read the full background story on recent demolitions in Um al Kher.

Closure of Al Aqsa Mosque limits Access to Worship & Education

by Debbie & Nkosi, Jerusalem team

EA outside Old City of Jerusalem

An EA stands outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

Why should we not be able to pray?

This is the question asked of us by Zarifa Ibrahim, a Muslim woman who is standing with other women outside Bab Hutta (the gate leading to a Muslim neighborhood bordering the Al Aqsa mosque compound) on November 5. She along with all other Muslims, including the students from the schools are locked out of the Al Aqsa mosque compound

Zarifa at Bab Hutta in Old City Jerusalem

Zarifa waits to enter Al Aqsa mosque compound. Photo EAPPI.

The Al Aqsa mosque compound, which lies in the Israeli-occupied Old City of Jerusalem is the third most Holy site in the world for Muslims . It is has been a site that has seen much conflict over who should have access.

Each morning as the EAPPI Jerusalem Team, we monitor access to worship at the gates to the Mosque to see which gates are open and to which people. On October 30, Israeli security forces completely closed the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. It was the first time in more than a decade that Al-Aqsa was closed to this extent.

Since the October 30th closure, all women and men under 50 have had reduced or no access to the mosque. Needless to say the increased restrictions to the Al Aqsa have also resulted in increased clashes between Israeli Security Forces and Palestinians both in the Old City and several neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. To those of us monitoring the situation, Jerusalem is not the city of peace that we had imagined in our minds.

The clashes have also been fueled by the discussion in the Israeli parliament about dividing Al Aqsa mosque both in terms of the physical space and the hours of prayer for the two groups. Moreover, it seems to us, that the clashes are a chain reaction to all the restrictions and denial of basic human rights that Palestinians living in Jerusalem experience on a daily basis.

Mousa Hijazi, is an engineer who works inside the compound each day. Like the others, he is waiting to be let in and says to us:

“All of the time the European people say they want a democracy but where is the democracy here. Why aren’t they asking for a democracy here?”

President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech to mark the 10th Anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, noted that the closure of the Al Aqsa is tantamount to a ‘declaration of war,’ which is turning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict into a religious war, rather than a political war.

On November 5, girls going to Al Sharim Sharif girls school are waiting to access the Al Aqsa mosque compound for the school day. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

On November 5, girls going to Al Sharim Sharif girls school are waiting to access the Al Aqsa mosque compound for the school day. Photo EAPPI/D. Hubbard.

When the Al Aqsa mosque is closed, it not only denies Muslims access to prayer in their place of worship but also denies children access to education. The Al Aqsa mosque does not only serve religious purposes, but inside the mosque there are two schools; one for boys and another for girls. So these frequent closures affect the students at these schools, along with Muslim worshipers.

“This is our Holy place where we pray. I don’t understand why they closing us out. What is a man without God?”

Says another man who has been waiting for two hours for the soldiers to grant access to the Mosque.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR), Article 18, states:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

This right to worship individually or in community on a daily basis at the Al Aqsa mosque remains a dream for many Palestinians. Physical barriers, ID checks checks, soldiers saying, ‘not until 10:00′ prevent them entering for prayers and schools.

*Read our previous post about Who is allowed on the Al Aqsa mosque compound

Video: Resonance – Daily Life in Area C

Approximately 60% of the West Bank is designated as Area C, meaning its under full Israeli military and civil control.  What does this mean for the daily life of the residents in Area C?  We talk about this area a lot in our eyewitness reports, but it’s hard to explain the impact of this area.  Thanks to GVC Italia, who has come out with a new documentary touching on all the difficulties that come with living in Area C, you can get a glimpse into life in this area.

The documentary was created by four students of Palestinian Universities in the Occupied West Bank.

*Read more eyewitness stories from Area C.

European-Funded Structures demolished in Tawayel in the Jordan Valley

by Becky, Yanoun Team

“We condemn such a demolition and I have asked the Israeli ambassador in Brussels to meet me at my department. First of all to convey my condemnation to the ambassador, but also to request compensation for the damage caused.”

Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, 2 October 2014

In October this year, the tiny village of Tawayel in the West Bank became national news in Belgium. On 29 September, the Israeli Military destroyed a power network which provides the small shepherding community in Tawayel (Tell al Khashaba) with electricity. The network was funded by the Belgian government and implemented by the Belgian Technical Company (BTC). The deliberate Israeli military demolition of 70 electric pylons and 4.5 kilometres of cables caught on camera by the EAPPI team from Yanoun sparked outrage in Brussels.

Demolition of Belgian-funded electric pylon in Tawayel on September 29. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

Israeli authorities demolish an electric pylon in Tawayel which was funded by the Belgian government, 29 September 2014. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

The destruction of the Belgian electricity network in Tawayel itself is not unique. Last week, the EAPPI team based in Yanoun arrived in Tawayel to witness the Israeli military in the process of destroying several water pipes funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). However, the strong condemnation of the demolitions expressed by the Belgian government is a positive step forward, as many demolitions go unchallenged by European funders.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

The financial and human cost of demolitions

The European Union (EU) is amongst the largest donors in the Palestinian water and agricultural sectors. The EU and its member states help to fund water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity networks and roads in the West Bank, particularly in Area C. From 2002 to 2012, the Israeli military destroyed 82 projects with a total financial loss of €49.15 million. Since 2012, many more projects have been damaged by the Israeli military. Despite the financial cost to the European Union and its member states, few funders have objected to the demolitions or demanded compensation.

In addition to the financial losses, every demolition has a human cost for the Palestinians living in affected areas. Tawayel is a shepherding community, dependent on electricity to store their milk, cheese and yoghurt products. Although the electrical network has been partially restored, the damage to the electricity pylons could have a negative impact on the livelihood of shepherds such as Osama Beni Fadil, who has nine children to support. Living with the reality of demolition can be extremely demoralising.

“Nobody cares about us here, because we are not in Jerusalem,” Osama told EAPPI on 2 November after the demolitions of the water pipes, roads and one of his buildings.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

Are the demolitions legal?

International Humanitarian Law applies to the whole of the West Bank, including villages such as Tawayel which are in Area C. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that destruction of personal property belonging to ‘public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations’ is prohibited unless ‘absolutely necessary by military operations’. The destruction of water projects violates the human right to access clean and adequate water which is enshrined in multiple international laws. The demolition of water pipes and roads in Tawayel are also illegal under Israeli law, as according to locals they had not been issued with demolition orders.

Israeli Military illegally demolish European Commission funded water pipes in Tawayel, West Bank. Video EAPPI/R. Viney-Wood.

Ongoing demolitions: Time for Europe to act

The destruction of the electrical network in Tawayel is not the first demolition of a European funded structure in the West Bank, and it is unlikely to be the last. In the case of Belgium, the electricity network is the first project they have funded to be demolished in the West Bank. Although the project had an outstanding demolition order on it from 2008 which was re-issued in March this year, the Belgian government had made the ‘utmost diplomatic efforts’ to prevent the destruction. The disregard of these efforts by the Israeli military combined with public pressure following images of the destruction in Belgian media led the government to condemn the destruction.

The Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders stated:

“We need to have an EU initiative, because this not only concerns Belgian projects, but also projects of several other countries, I believe, and definitely European Commission projects.”

Reynders added that Belgium intends to discuss the matter of compensation with other European states at the EU level. Since the Belgian condemnation of the demolitions the Israeli military have not touched the electric pylons in Tawayel, which have been partially restored. It is imperative that European funders object to Israeli military demolitions of their projects, on legal and financial grounds. It is also important for European funders to condemn the human costs of demolitions which affect every day life in villages such as Tawayel.

*Read more about the multiple demolitions Tawayel has faced in the past year.

Patience runs out in the sand

by Leif, South Hebron Hills team

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Karmel settlement is seen in the background. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

I am going from Jerusalem to our house in Yatta. It is easy to move with the local Palestinian small buses. The buses do not follow a schedule, but go once they are full. If you have to wait an hour, no one cares about it. Time is plentiful. Waiting is a part of life in the West Bank.

“I’m optimistic in the long term,” says the man next to me in the bus.

He points out that no country with such a system has ever survived in history.

Still the waiting erodes patience.

In the village of Um al Kher the taboun, a traditional outdoor oven, has given fresh bread for over fifty years. Such an oven is a focal point. A lifeline. Bread gives life. Water and bread. And some sheep, chickens and donkeys.

The land which the village is located on was bought for 100 camels after they fled in 1948 from what today is Israel. It was a high price. Since 1981, the village has been under pressure from the Israeli military and settlers. Today the price is not counted in camels. Today it is about the village and the children’s future. It’s about people’s lives.

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

Children play in the ruins after the demolitions in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Early on the morning of Monday 27 October, Israeli soldiers and police went into the village. They were joined by two bulldozers. Five houses were demolished as well as the taboun.

The next day, Tuesday, villagers build a new taboun to bake their bread.

The following day, Wednesday, Israeli soldiers return and destroy the new taboun.

Thursday, October 30, we drive into the village to see with your own eyes what has happened.

Almustasem Al-Hathaleen (26) tells what happened when they destroyed the houses and the oven. He believes the reason they destroyed the oven that did not have an demolition order was that the wind periodically blows against the Israeli settlement of hundred yards beyond. They do not like the smell of Palestinian bread, or the smell from the open fire in the taboun.

Photo of Almotasem

Almotasem stands with the remains of the taboun in the background as well as the Israeli settlement of Karmel. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

The neighbours have complained.

“We do not control the wind. It is beyond our control,” says Almustasem and shakes his head.

Not all Israelis are agree with what goes on. When we arrived at the village, there was a hive of activity to lay the groundwork to build new houses. Palestinians and Israeli peace activists working side by side. They sweat in the heat, and dust lies thick on the outside skin and clothing.

“I think the only solution is peace. When houses are being demolished, it destroys the heart. I am here for my own sake, and for my children’s sake, and to show that not all Israelis are dinosaurs”, says Israeli Eyal Shani who helped with the building.

Eyal Shani rebuilding homes in um al kher.

Eyal Shani, an Israeli peacemaker helps rebuild houses in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Eyal added that he might not live to see when there is peace between neighbours, but that someone has to start working to achieve it. He has taken a day off from his work. He hopes that one day there will be no need to do what he does.

“When children see that their home is destroyed before their eyes, it does something to them. Soon they’re teenagers. What happens to them then?” asks Eyal.

He knows that hatred grows and patience runs out. He continues to carry crushed elements of the destroyed houses to build something of that which is overthrown.

I also take a bucket and fill it with pebbles and elements of what once was a wall. Large and smaller pieces. A sweat. There is a walk in sorrow. A Via Dolarosa on the West Bank. A walk of pain at the edge of the desert.

Children stand in their demolished home.

Children stand in their destroyed house after it was demolished in Khashem ad Daraj. Two were there to witness the event. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

After a few hours in Um al Kher we drive some kilometers on bumpy roads to the village of Khashem ad Daraj. The day before they also received the visit of an bulldozer and Israeli soldiers. Some toilets, a cave, a shelter for sheep and a home was destroyed. Several more homes are under demolition orders.

Photo of tea in Khashem ad Daraj

Despite the tragic events of demolitions, the villagers of Khashem ad Daraj serve us tea to welcome us. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

We are served tea. Five children watch us. Two of them were at home when the soldiers came. The others were in school. The fear is great when strangers come to the house. They fear that soldiers will come again with guns in hand to tear down what little they have. And soon the winter will come.

*Read more about Um al Kher and its struggle to save the village taboun.

Rerouting of wall in Jayyus is bittersweet

by Karen, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

EAs accompany Abu Azzan to visit his released land. Photo EAPPI/S. Skanberg.

EAs accompany Abu Azzan to visit his released land. Photo EAPPI/S. Skanberg.

Throughout my 3-months Palestine and Israel with EAPPI, I have felt quite at home as our team has been welcomed by the Palestinian people with much hospitality. When I return home, I will have much to share about what life is like for these new friends as they live under occupation. Despite all the difficulties, I also see much hope and faith.

One example of this hope and faith is the dedication of farmers who have been separated from their land by the “separation barrier” for the last dozen years. The last few weeks, however, have been sacred for the people of Jayyus as they saw 1/3 of their land released from the behind the barrier in early September.  An Israeli high court decision promised to release this land several years ago, however, Israeli authorities only implemented the decision this September.  Since that time, Palestinians who own parts of the land have started a pilgrimage to their land. Now, everyone can go whenever they want, without the need for an agricultural permit.

Going to the land after 12 years of struggle

In this area, the separation barrier was removed and Palestinians can once again access their property.  Many people were able to return to their land for the first time since 2002.  For farmers, having access to their land means they no longer need to line up at the agriculture gate during restricted hours to have their permit and finger prints checked just to get to their own land. It means they don’t have to constantly keep looking at their watch in order to get back home through the gate at the specified time.  It also means that I, as an international, could go to the land, something not possible before.

There were many surprises when families visited their land for the first time since 2002.  In fact, they noticed that the land is much more productive and much more of it is cultivated than before the barrier was built.  Villagers told me that there is about twice as much land cultivated than was when the separation barrier was put in place.  It seems that people decided the best way to protest the loss of their land was to put their energies into cultivating and reclaiming it.  This cultivation was important as Israeli laws inherit an old Ottoman law stating that land can be claimed by the Israeli state if left uncultivated for 3 years. The Israeli government uses this law to confiscate land left uncultivated by Palestinians, even land that is difficult to access on the other side of the separation barrier.

For this reason, farmers from Jayyus focused on their agricultural practices, during the past 12 years. They worked painstakingly to efficiently use their limited water to irrigate the citrus and other fruit trees, along with the greenhouses filled with vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers.  The village is fortunate in that it has 6 water wells, but still struggles to have the necessary water resources as Israeli authorities control their wells. Also, the community had to rely on diesel fuel to pump the water rather than electricity, as Israeli authorities also forbade them to run electric lines to the wells. Pumping water with diesel proved to be much more costly than electricity.  Some villagers estimate they had to pay double the cost. Despite all the obstacles they faced, the people of Jayyus pulled together, working to reclaim some land that had not been cultivated previously, and to create their own garden of Eden so to speak.

The first time our team visited the land was a few weeks before it was released.  At that time, it was a 2 hour journey. We took an Israeli license plate taxi to one checkpoint, only to find it closed. We traveled to another checkpoint where we spent an hour, while the taxi vehicle was searched. Now, we can simply walk across what was the military road and we are there!

Families have returned from around the West Bank and even Jordan to go to the land.  Even those families who do not have land or still have land behind the new separation barrier came to spend time on the land of friends.  They gather beneath fruit groves, roasting chicken and vegetables over open fires.  Children play where their parents and their grandparents had once played.  However, it really isn’t a celebration.   It is perhaps rather a symbol of what freedom and peace could look like, but the challenges of occupation are still in the foreground.

Challenges still remain

Even as the separation barrier has been removed to “free” the land, a new separation barrier is in place marking that two-thirds of the land is still not accessible except through military gates.  The shiny new barb wire glistens in the sun.  In the area adjacent to the barrier, the barb wire even encloses olive trees making them inaccessible—a symbol of the Israeli military occupation—not even the olive tree can be free.  A new gate is in place, but it is only open three times a day for a half hour.  Previously one of the gates was open for 12 hours a day.

Some farmers have land both inside and outside the separation barrier, meaning it is almost impossible to manage their work in both places to irrigate fruit trees and greenhouses, while needing to move back and forth except in the narrow window of time afforded by the Israeli military.  For some farmers, their land is very close to the village but with the new route of the wall, they must travel about 10-15 or more kilometers each way to get to the new gate and then circle back alongside settlements to their land which is literally a few feet from where they started.

The village is also relieved to have 1 of its 6 water wells on the released land. They have built infrastructure needed to bring water from the well to town and make the village green and productive, but approval from the Israeli authorities is still required for the electric line to be run to the pumping station.

The mayor of Jayyus informed us that while the land was on the Israeli side of the wall they were able to sell produce in the Israeli market.  Now for land that is on the Palestinian side, farmers are free to cultivate it, but their usual market is no longer accessible.

Although the village is happy to have some of their land, it cannot be seen as a complete victory. Still many families have some or all of their land on the Israeli side of the wall. Many tears have been shed over the years lost in cultivating and enjoying their land. The separation barrier is still visible, despite its new route and is a reminder that every aspect of life in the West Bank is under military rule.

Steadfastness fueled by hope and faith

I am amazed by the steadfastness of the villagers of Jayyus. They have faced a huge catastrophe. Their land has been behind a separation barrier, but still they have found a way to make their land flourish. For this harvest people can share delight in returning to the land with their families to spend it together in the fields they love and remember. They find that the occupier has not destroyed those fields, but rather the farmers have put their heart and souls, their sweat and steadfastness into a land for the future—a land that can be released when it is no longer under occupation.  The pilgrims making their way to the land for the first time in a dozen years perhaps find a glimpse of “new heaven and a new earth” as they remember their past when they were free from occupation and hope for the future when they again can be free from the occupation.