Houses, oranges, checkpoints, guns – kids draw life in Palestine

by Emmi & Zoë, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

Whole Class

A class of 7 & 8 year olds draws life in Palestine.

“What are the things we have here in Azzun Atma?” asks a teacher from her class of second graders. Many hands rise, as children want to tell the visitors about their village. “Trees.” “Shops.” “Oranges.” “School.”

Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending a morning in one of the schools in the village of Azzun Atma. Its trees, shops, schools and around 2,000 people are entirely surrounded by the separation wall and four Israeli settlements. No Palestinians are allowed inside of Azzun Atma unless they have a proper permit saying that they live in the village or go to school there.

Our team goes to Azzun Atma a few times a week to monitor the checkpoint at the entrance of the village, where about 90 children and 40 teachers pass each day to get to school. 

At the school, we asked the children if they would be willing to draw some pictures about their life in Azzun Atma. The photos that follow are some of the drawings we received, pieces of the stories of some 7 and 8 year olds who live and go to school there.

*Download our Azzun Atma Report.

The ABCs of occupation; obstacles and aids on the road to peace

by Irene, Jordan Valley team

photo of Child walking home from school on demolished road

Child walks home from school along the ‘peace road’ demolished by the Israeli army in 2011, al – Aqaba. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.

Al Aqaba is a picturesque village; located in the Northeast of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank. Palestinian communities have lived in the valleys and caves of this fertile region for thousands of years. In 1967, the Israeli military occupied the West Bank and in the 1990s Oslo accords divided the total area of West Bank into administrative Areas A, B, and C. The al Aqaba region was included in the 60 percent of the West Bank, classified as Area C, it is subject to the Israeli Civil Administration’s zoning authority and regulations.

The EAs in the Jordan Valley visited the village on three occasions between October and November 2014. Over the course of these visits we were given glimpsed the reality of life under occupation and learned what it means to live in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank.

Al Aqaba is home to the worlds only peace mosque. It has a distinct twin spired minaret which symbolizing peace and V for victory. Photo EAPPI/ I. Tanner.

Al Aqaba is home to the worlds only peace mosque. It has a distinct twin spired minaret which symbolizing peace and V for victory. Photo EAPPI/ I. Tanner.

On 23 October 2014, we meet with Haj Sami Sadeq Mayor of al Aqaba for the first time and ask him what are the main problems facing the community.

He leads us outside and points out a platoon of Israeli soldiers training on the hill behind the kindergarten. The roar of a low flying military jet interrupts our conversation. Haj Sami continues:

“Just yesterday they were shooting bombs from one hill to the other. If something fell it could kill people.”

Since 1967 most of the land in the greater Al Aqaba area (90%) was confiscated by the Israeli Government and is now used for military training exercises.

“Al Aqaba is now like Gaza; every day the soldiers are coming.”

photo of military training in Al Aqaba

Military training in Al Aqaba region as seen from the village kindergarten. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.

Haj Sami reports that, since 1971, more than fifty people have been wounded and sixteen killed during military training exercises in the area. Haj Sami is one of the victims.

“The army shot me three times; one of the bullets is still lodged next to my heart.”

As a young man he was hit during a live training exercises, paralyzed from the waist down and is wheelchair-bound for life. An advocate of nonviolent resistance the mayor is making strident efforts to retain the existing population and attract people to live in the village.

“Many people leave because it is too dangerous. But now we are trying to retain the people here. Three families have just moved here,” he says with pride. “People want to return but they are very afraid that Israel will damage their house.”

Almost all the structures in the town have outstanding demolition orders, including the medical center, the kindergarten, the houses, and the village mosque, the factory and even the roads. Many of the residents have had their homes demolished more than once. 

photo of children playing in their demolished home

Sara Alfaqr stands next to the ruins of their demolished house. Three of their children play on the twisted remains of their living room couch in the background. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.

On 6 November 2014, Defalla Abed Odi Alfaqr and his family, including 4 adults and 6 children, had their home demolished. This is the 3rd demolition this family has faced in just five months. Defalla recounts the incident:

“When I heard that a demolition was going on the other side of the village, I knew that they were coming for us next. They came with a big force and told us we could collect only our clothes and after the demolition the soldiers collected dirt and stones with the bulldozer and piled it on top.”

One the same day Defalla’s neighbor Khalid Ahmad Abdarahman Subeh, had an animal shelter demolished. We go to visit the family and learn that this family is also facing demolition for the 3rd time.

photo of Khalid and Sara describing demolition

Khalid Ahmad Abdarahman Subeh and his wife Sara, describe the demolition. The rubble from the destroyed animal shelter can be see in the background. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.

“When the army arrived, the sheep where in the shelter, they told us to empty the shelter and then they demolished. After they cut our electricity wire.”

When asked what he would do next, Khalid replied with resignation:

“We will stay. Tomorrow when my sons come, we will build another shelter for the sheep. I have four sons, we will have it done in one day.”

Before leaving, we asked Khalid if they had a message he would like us to share about their situation he replied:

“Tell them we want to live in peace and freedom. And we want at least fifty percent of our human rights.”

photo of Sara gathering fresh sage

Sara gathers fresh sage from her herb garden to make tea for the visiting EAs. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.

Both buildings were allegedly demolished because they were built without a permit in Area C. The affected families report that they applied to the Israeli Civil Administration for building permits but were denied. According to UN OCHA, 94% of applications for building permits by Palestinians living in area C are denied.

On the 11 November 2014. EAs joined locals and NGOs in a celebratory volunteer day to paint and clean the village of Al Aqaba. The initiative was conceived as a show of support for the community ahead of their high court case challenging the Israeli Civil Administration for its demolition orders on the village structures.

“We are having this day because the army damaged homes and barracks last week. We wanted to do something for Al Aqaba; to make it more beautiful. We need to paint the village to show it is an existing village. We want to show the court that people live here and care about this place. It is unfair to the people here if they demolish it.”

Israeli occupation policies have severely restricted the ability of Palestinians in Area C to build, access water, land and resources. The cumulative impact of these policies has been the stifling of it economy, high poverty rate, dispossession and displacement.

Despite the hardships faced this mayor remains resolute in his commitment to peace and the survival of his community. Haj Sami suggests:

“We want peace but not with occupation; we need our land. The international community needs to help Israel for peace not for war; if we do this we can change the situation.”

Unsettled life

Wadi al-Hussein is a neighborhood in Hebron adjacent to the Kiryat Arba settlement.  Meet 2 of its residents who show that settler violence and fear dominate their daily lives.

by Anssi, Hebron team

Photo of Wadi al Hussein

A view of Wadi al Hussein. Photo EAPPI.

Kayed’s Story

Meet Kayed, a 50-year-old Palestinian man who lives in Wadi-al-Hussein with his family right next to the wall surrounding Kiryat Arba, the biggest Israeli settlement in Hebron. One can see endless fatigue on Kayed’s face after being stuck in his yard for years since he is forced to protect his home and family against unpredictable settlers nearly around the clock.

“I am able to go to downtown once or twice a month. I practically do not have leisure time. On Friday I go to prayers worrying about my house and family. There is no psychological relief.”

Even though Kayed owns his house and land, the Israeli occupation practically reduces his rights to his property. According to Kayed, he must stay two meters away from the wall of Kiryat Arba. Passing too close to the wall would make the Israeli army intrude into his yard, considering him a threat to the settlers. Kayed tells us that one Friday three settlers invaded his house without any consequences.

“If I had done the same in Kiryat Arba they would have killed me at once”, Kayed states.

Photo Kayed's house close to Kiryat Arba.

Kayed’s house on the right is located adjacent to Kiryat Arba settlement, behind the wall on the right. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Moreover, his everyday life is comprised of settlers throwing stones, garbage, and sewage into his yard. He reminds us that settlers in Kiryat Arba live there for religious and ideological reasons, not simply economic reasons.

Kayed lives in his house with his wife and 10 children. The house belonged to his family long before the 1970s when Kiryat Arba was established. Kayed has seen both Palestinian intifadas, and his adult life has been underscored by movement restrictions and settler violence that Israeli soldiers often cannot and will not control. Therefore, it may not be a surprise that he seems highly pessimistic concerning the future. However, he strongly believes that liberation is coming soon:

“[Prime Minister] Netanyahu thinks he has control over Israel and Palestine. This attitude will turn against him very soon.”

Jamal’s story

Photo of Jamal

Jamal, age 50, and his family live in Wadi al-Hussein next to Kiryat Arba settlement. They face settler violence on a daily basis. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Meet Jamal, a 50-year-old man whose family suffers the same problems as Kayed. Jamal’s house is situated in Wadi al-Hussein right behind a religious settler school in Kiryat Arba where kids learn at an early age the legitimacy of harassing Palestinians.

“If you love God throw a stone”, has been written, according to Jamal, on the school wall.

The results are apparent. Jamal says settlers from Kiryat Arba throw things, such as eggs and stones, at him and his family on a daily basis. In practice, the family’s options to defend themselves are minimal:

“If you throw a stone back they will put us in jail”, Jamal says.

He also criticizes the Israeli police who do nothing to protect them. He tells us about an incident where settlers burnt his father’s house with a Molotov cocktail. Police arrived at the house after the fire had been extinguished but could not do anything because they did not see the fire itself.

Jamal has stopped expecting sympathy from the Palestinian Authority as well. He says that the presence of municipality administration in Wadi al-Hussein is non-existent and rather than protection, the family receives insults from decision-makers.

“We are in the frontline. We should not go to them, they should come to us!” Jamal raises his voice. “We [through our persistence in staying on our land] stop the settlements from expanding!”

Kiryat Arba settlement as seen from Jamal's house. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Kiryat Arba settlement as seen from Jamal’s house. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Apart from security issues the family also confronts problems with the municipality regarding water supply. The family receives water irregularly twice a month. However, when water runs out it is, according to Jamal, useless to wait for any help from the municipality.

Settler harassment has severely limited Jamal’s family’s everyday life. During Jewish religious holidays the family is too afraid to sending the children to school or to kindergarten. When we met Jamal, his 19-year-old son had been assaulted by a group of settlers near the Mutanabi school. According to Jamal harassment and assault are the settlers’ way to try to make the family leave their home. They have, however, firmly decided to stay:

“My family has been living in this house since 1949, my family was one of the first people who built houses here. I have never felt like going away from here”.

*Read more about Wadi al-Hussein.

If we shout loud enough, we can make a difference

Hanna was an EA from Norway in 2013.  Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of her memories, her advice on becoming an EA, and the victories she sees on the ground and abroad.

photo of beoduin girl

A little girl at a bedouin community outside Jerusalem. Photo taken by Hanna as an EA. Spring 2013.

What was it like to be an EA?

It’s interesting, because you learn a lot everyday. It’s challenging, in the sense that it forces you to rethink your own viewpoints.  You hear many different stories and these challenge your perspective.  It’s frustrating, because you see so many horrible things happening to people that you can’t do a lot about. But it’s also fun. You learn to work well in a team. You meet great people from around the world with many different backgrounds and experiences.

What’s your most significant memory from your time as an EA?

Before I was an EA, I had studied the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for 10 years. I wrote my Master’s thesis about Israeli settler violence, which meant I read about every attack that occurred for years.  I knew what the conflict was about and what was happening.  But I didn’t really get it or feel the impact on the lives of humans until I stood in the living room of a family with 5 children whose house was just torched by Israeli settlers. At this moment, I was actually hearing from the family and seeing what had happened with my own eyes. Then when I started thinking about the numbers of settler attacks I knew from my thesis and realizing how many people were affected just like this family, it really hit me.  I specifically remember the hospitality of Palestinians, which never ceased to amaze me!  Even in that moment, when the family was sharing their experience, the mother suddenly stopped and realized that she had forgotten to offer us something to drink and proceeded to bring us beverages. I couldn’t believe she was so concerned about us after everything they had been through.

Why did you choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

After studying Israeli politics and settler violence for my thesis, I realized I was just sitting and tallying statistics.  I had forgotten about the people and I knew I had to get on the ground, meet the people, and get back in touch with what is actually happening. This led me to look into different monitoring programs in the area and when I chose to apply for EAPPI.

In Norway, EAPPI has a very good reputation.  I new it was a respectable and serious program, as opposed to other monitoring programs that are less structured.  Even the application process in Norway is difficult and not many are chosen to be EAs.  We are carefully selected based on our ability to work productively in a team and in a stressful environment.  I knew that EAPPI had a clear vision and this made me feel like I was going to be a part of something where I can actually make a difference.

What’s the biggest change you see that EAPPI has?

Right now, Norway is going in the wrong direction.  Just recently Shimon Peres visited and renewed ties with Norway for research and academic cooperation.  Before this, there wasn’t really a public audience for advocacy that highlighted the Palestinian side of the conflict, because Norway, by default, was primarily pro-Palestinian. This was the mainstream.  Now with the current government, there is more of an arena for sharing stories about the human side of the conflict.  Before, although people in Norway were pro-Palestinian, they didn’t actually know what is going on.  Now, EAPPI actually has an opening to share their eyewitness stories and shed light on what is really happening on the ground.

I also think that we do see victories on the ground.  As an EA, I knew that merely my presence deterred violence from happening to civilians.  We didn’t stop violence everywhere, but it did help.  I knew that we wouldn’t end the occupation in 3 months, but at least we could make someone’s day better.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

Speaking as a European, like in any conflict, we are very euro-centric.  We don’t really care what is happening around the world unless someone in our community is involved.  People care more about people they know.  In this way, being here, we can bring more media attention and attention from those in our communities and ultimately areas in conflict will benefit.  This is the same for Israel and Palestine.

How can internationals influence the solution to the conflict?

With enough people shouting loud enough, you can force governments and companies to act, and eventually they will change their behavior.  But you have to be smart about it, and share what they want to hear. It’s about small steps, but it can happen.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

It’s great! But it’s also challenging and you should be prepared for this.  You need to understand that it will be demanding, both physically and mentally.  You will have to get up early in the morning and freeze while monitoring the checkpoints in cold weather.  You will have no privacy living together in a team.  It is mentally challenging and you basically work 24 hours a day.  It’s a developing country and things won’t always work in the way you are used to.  You must be sure you can handle this.  But if you can, it will be a really meaningful experience. You will learn a lot about the conflict and also a lot about yourself.

*Read more about life as an EA.

‘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