‘Price tag’ attacks: Violence is never the way forward

by David, Summer team

David worked as an EA in Jerusalem from April until June 2014.

Muhammed’s car where Israeli extremists have slashed the tires and written, “All Arabs are the enemy”, in the background an Israeli settlement. Photo EAPPI/D. Jakobsson.

Muhammed’s car where Israeli extremists have slashed the tires and written, “All Arabs are the enemy”, in the background an Israeli settlement. Photo EAPPI/D. Jakobsson.

We walk down a street just outside of Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem. Last night Israeli extremists slashed the tires of 10 cars and sprayed graffiti of hateful messages, including a Palestinian school bus were they have written “Death to the Arabs” in Hebrew.

Muhammed noticed the destruction in the morning when he was supposed to take his kids to school. Someone had slashed his tires and sprayed “All Arabs are the enemy” on his car. Aisha, his wife, tells us that she thinks it is the Israeli extremist youth in an outpost about one block away that are responsible. They have been responsible for similar attacks in the last two years, after they took over a Palestinian house in the area.

Harassments like these are called price tag attacks. The name comes from that Israeli settler extremists put a “price” on events that Palestinians been involved in. For example if a settler is attacked in the occupied Palestinian territories, then Israeli extremists will conduct revenge attacks on Palestinians in both Israel and in Palestine. These revenge attacks can be everything from hateful messages to burnt down houses, cutting down trees and physical attacks on Palestinians.

Picture of a price tag attack in Aqraba in the West Bank, where Israeli extremists had written “Price tag, Jewish revenge”. In connection to this they also put an animal storage on fire which led that the assaulted family now will have trouble feeding their sheep. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton

Picture of a price tag attack in Aqraba in the West Bank, where Israeli extremists had written “Price tag, Jewish revenge”. In connection to this they also put an animal storage on fire which led that the assaulted family now will have trouble feeding their sheep. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton

When the three missing Israeli teenagers were found dead outside of Hebron the attacks on Palestinians from Israeli extremists became more frequent and crueler. A Palestinian boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and murdered, which led to riots from Palestinians in Jerusalem and surrounding areas.

The murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir were also condemned by the family of the three murdered Israeli teenagers, and in a statement they said that “There is no difference between blood. Murder is murder. There are no forgiveness or excuses for murder.” Many Israelis have also demonstrated against the Israeli extremist mobs that walked around in Jerusalem and attacked Palestinians.

In Beit Hanina we also meet Hussein that also had his tires slashed, among them the school bus that he drives during the day where the Israeli extremists had written “Death to the Arabs.”  The Israeli police offered to take it in as evidence and take care of it for him. He accepted, as he anyways cannot drive around children in a bus with such message. But Hussein is not especially down after the attack. He has bigger problems right now; his house has a demolition order, which he will go to court to try to revoke next week. The price tag attack is just as he states it “a part of life here”.  Israeli police is investigating the hate crimes, but without evidence and identifications of the perpetrators Hussein says it probably will not lead anywhere.

I believe generalizations and collective punishment never is a way forward and the vendettas that follow will escalate the violence.

Even in our own countries we see hate on Facebook and other social media and it is important that we dare to question hate and generalizing descriptions of both Israelis and Palestinians. To dare to be uncomfortable and question when others dehumanize groups of people, no matter what group. You can make a difference!

*You may also be interested in: ‘Price tag’ attacks: It’s not about the graffiti by Yossi Gurvitz for Yesh Din.

 

 

 

 

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The Bicycle

by Stefanie, Summer team

Stefanie worked as an EA in Hebron from April until June 2014. This story was first published on her blog www.philnemo.com/en on May 5th, 2014.

Like any other day in Hebron, I spend this sunny Tuesday afternoon observing the kids in Shuhada street on their way back from school. I am standing at checkpoint 55, on the foot of Cordoba school. There is no physical barrier, yet a soldier makes sure that none of the kids continue walking on Shuhada street – because that part of the street is closed for Palestinians – but they all turn right to walk up the stairs. Next to the stairs there is a small square, which is used as a parking lot by Israeli settlers.

Checkpoint 55 in Hebron. Photo EAPPI/S. Gartlacher.

Checkpoint 55 in Hebron. Photo EAPPI/S. Gartlacher.

 

I am talking to the soldier. He tells me that he joined the army 6 months ago and that he came to Hebron three weeks ago. There is also a German tourist group asking me about my work in Hebron. While we talk, two 10 year old boys come down the stairs and stop to talk to the soldier. One of the youngsters points at an old bicycle that is lying in the square that he is not allowed to enter. He explains to the soldier that it is his bike. One of the German tourists speaks Arabic and translates the conversation for us.The soldier looks at me and says: “You can pick it up.” Without thinking about it, I walk towards the bicycle and pick it up. In the same moment Anat C. – a famous Israeli settler, who lives next to checkpoint 55 – shows up.

All of a sudden I remember: The bike is on the “Israeli side”, so maybe it’s not the Palestinian boy’s bike? I put the bike aside and walk back to the group. A couple of minutes later the police shows up. In the H2 area of Hebron there are two different law systems: Palestinians are ruled by military law, the Israeli police takes care of the settlers. The situation is chaotic, with the soldier trying to explain the situation to the policeman and Anat interrupting the conversation, pointing her finger at me. The policeman comes up to me and asks, why I had picked up the bike and if it was mine. “No,” is my answer, “I just wanted to pick it up for the boy.” The policeman asks: “Do you know that the bike is placed on the side Palestinians are not allowed to enter?” Yes, I know, but in that moment I didn’t think about it. I sometimes forget about all the invisible borders….

The Bicycle. Photo EAPPI/S. Gartlacher.

The Bicycle. Photo EAPPI/S. Gartlacher.

The policeman asks for my passport. To my relief my colleagues show up and observe the scene. Then the policeman tells me to get into the police car. I am nervous. He acts with authority but friendly and agrees on letting one of my colleagues come with me. The policeman tells me not to worry, we’re just going to the downtown police station. If I was in real trouble, they would bring me to Kiryat Arba, the settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. All right, even though I am sitting in a police car with bullet-proof windows, I am not in big trouble. I am not sure, if that makes me feel any better…

Anat C. is already at the police station. She accuses me of having tried to steal the bike. The police officer takes her evidence, I sit two meters away from them. While telling her side of the story, she looks at me for a brief moment with an empty gaze.

Stefanie explains her case to the soldier after Anat C. accuses her of stealing the bike. Photo EAPPI.

Stefanie explains her case to the soldier after Anat C. accuses her of stealing the bike. Photo EAPPI.

Then it’s my turn. I am nervous but calm, explaining the situation again. I also mention, that I cannot sign a document written in Hebrew, because I cannot read or understand it. With a friendly voice he offers that I write the testimony myself, since he doesn’t speak English very well. “I am allowed to write the testimony myself? That’s strange.” He gets my concern and explains to me, that he has to follow up on these cases, even if it seems weird to me. You are in Hebron. Things are different here. You have to be careful,” he says. I sign my testimony and he hands me my passport. I’ve never been happier to be able to hold my passport in my hands. On my way out, my colleague takes a photo of me and the police man. I am so relieved, I even give the policeman a hug. Outside, my colleagues are welcoming me with a warm smile.

The same evening I think back on the event. There is a boy who wants his bike – I still don’t know who the bike really belongs to – but can’t get it, because it’s on the “wrong side.” I  pick the bike up and end up being detained for attempted bike theft. The policeman is doing his job and follows up on every case, even the smallest one. In Anat’s view, I was intentionally committing a crime against the settlers. I can’t stop thinking about her empty gaze – what a sad look. Yes, life in Hebron is really different… 

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Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan

by Lindsey, Jerusalem team

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

55,000 people live in Silwan, a beautiful but run-down area of East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City. Its name comes from the Greek Shiloam whose pools are mentioned in the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and 2 Samuel, as well as in John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man.  It is perched precariously on steep slopes along both sides of the Kidron Valley, above the Gihon Spring. The upper part of Silwan is known as Al-Bustan and the lower as Wadi Hilweh.

Until 1967 the area of Silwan was an almost totally Palestinian Muslim area, under Jordanian rule.  The families here owned their properties since Ottoman times.  After the 1967 war, the area was annexed by Israel and it is the declared plan of the Jerusalem Municipality to have 75% of Silwan Israeli-owned.  To this end, illegal Israeli settlers are moving into the area, particularly at the end nearest the Old City. 

In a tour with Mahmoud Qaraeen, who works at the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and leads regular tours of the area, he describes the variety of ways Israeli settlers are able to move into Silwan. Some of the houses have been purchased using middle men so that Palestinians are unaware that they are selling to Israelis; some obtained by the forging of documents.  Most have been acquired by invoking the Absentee Property Law, a law which came into being after the Nakba of 1948 declaring that any Palestinian property which was empty for three years – or for which no documents of ownership could be produced – could be appropriated by the Israeli State.  Many Palestinians have no documents to prove their ownership.  Historically, land and property has been passed down informally through families.

Israeli settlements and archaeology in Silwan

According to Mahmoud, there are now 250 illegal settlers in Silwan.  Many Silwan residents have been evicted from their homes and 64% of the houses in the area are under demolition orders.  In 2013, 123 houses were demolished in East Jerusalem; many of them were in Silwan.

The biggest illegal settlement establishment in the Silwan area is the controversial City of David archaeological park, to be called the Garden of the King.   Some Israelis believe that this is the actual location of the biblical city of Jerusalem captured by King David over 3,000 years ago. The City of David Foundation (Elad is the Hebrew acronym) is dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs.

 

The excavations, however, which are still ongoing, have been carried out clumsily by bulldozers and some ancient Islamic remains have been carelessly destroyed. 

Adina Hoffman writing in the Nation in 2008 describes the methods used:

“As Rafi Greenberg (University of Tel Aviv professor of Archaeology explained during an alternative archaeological tour) the digs in Silwan are being conducted in the most tendentious way–with bulldozers clearing huge areas in haste and multiple levels being dismantled in a race to get to “Jewish” bedrock. Settlers build houses right on top of relics, and extremely tenuous conclusions are being drawn on the basis of nationalist ideology and a literalist reading of biblical texts, not the actual shards and stones that turn up in the course of the digging. Historical cross sections aren’t being preserved. Instead of the usual timetable for a dig-with one season of excavation followed by months in the lab-the City of David excavations are taking place year-round, straining professional standards and leaving no time for careful analysis.

It is, says Greenberg, ‘bad science.’”

Life in Silwan

In Silwan, the roads are pot-holed and narrow like a refugee camp and the neighbourhood itself is greatly overpopulated. Palestinians residing in Silwan are plagued by poor infrastructure. Even though East Jerusalemites pay 47% of the city’s municipal taxes they receive a mere 5% of the revenue back in benefits.  There is no secondary school, no post office and the small number of green spaces they had have been appropriated by Elad and named as archaeological sites, off-limits to Palestinians.

Mahmoud Qaraeen says that the Silwanis feel that they are constantly under scrutiny from the Israeli police and army.  There are more than 550 CCTV cameras around the area. There are many night raids and child arrests. Both children and adults are frequently assaulted and abused by settlers, the settlers’ armed guards and the Israeli army. There are not enough school places for the children of Silwan and the school dropout rate is 65%, compared to 52% in Jerusalem as a whole.

 

Overcoming difficulty with creativity

In 2007, the residents of Silwan decided to take matters into their own hands  and, with mostly European funding, established the Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, as a means of non-violent resistance.   Here women can do courses in cookery, sewing and life skills and children can learn music, dabke dancing, drama and art.  It started small but has grown and now has after- school activities for the children, including a computer room and a well-stocked library.  More than 200 children per week participate in the activities here and it also provides a safe place for adults to meet and talk.

Life is still hard for children in Silwan.  In 2012, Jawad Siyam the General manager of Madaa Centre, formed a Children’s Protection Committee. It came as a result of the frequent assaults and abuses of children, who are often kidnapped and arrested in ways which flagrantly violate the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Room No 4 is a photographic project which was based on a Madaa report published in 2012: The impact of child arrest and detention.

Room number 4 is the room in the Russian Compound – the main Israeli police station in Jerusalem – where Palestinian Jerusalem residents, including children, are investigated.  The exhibition, which is based on real testimonies of children aged 7-17, deals with issues such as night arrests, investigating children without the presence of their parents and assaulting and threatening them.  It has been shown in various places in Palestine and Israel and also in Europe.

Children playing in Silwan.  Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Children playing in Silwan. Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

To return to Adina Hoffman’s account of the area, she reports on the Israeli plan to take over the area of Silwan:

“Most clever of all was Elad’s decision to fix on archaeology as the key to winning the hearts and minds of the wider Israeli Jewish public. Archaeology has, of course, long been something like Israel’s national pastime, a “scientific” discipline that, in this particular cultural context, has often blurred into the realm of major-motion-picture-scale mythmaking (see under: Masada). Since the early days of the state, archaeology has provided vivid settings and props that have helped Israelis both secular and religious to dramatize the stories they like to tell themselves about their historic bond to the modern homeland.”

Dig, popularizing ‘explusion disguised as archaeology’

In the last few weeks, Hoffman’s words have come to seem prophetic. NBC, which owns the USA cable network, has started shooting its Dig archeological thriller series there. Starring Anne Heche and Jason Isaacs, it will be broadcast on popular channels in the United States and has brought tens of millions of dollars in investment to Israel. It is based on the story of an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who is investigating the murder on an American archeologist at the Silwan excavations. NBC will receive a $6.5 million grant from the Israeli government, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, to make the series.  A film by Dave Lippman about the project calls it a celebration of ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology.’

The raising of Silwan’s profile by the presence of Hollywood is unlikely to make any positive difference for Silwan’s Palestinian residents. It is much more likely to give strength to the Israeli settlers moving into the area. As with many, many of the injustices of the occupation, the international community appears to be turning a blind eye.

In the gospel of John, Jesus takes dirt from Silwan and makes a blind man see.  Is it too much to hope that it can happen again?

The article Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan was originally published on our EA’s blog This Year in Jerusalem.

Posted in Demolitions, Displacement, Settlements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Khallet Annahlah: Israelis, Palestinians & Internationals Working Together Against the Occupation

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

by Liam, Bethlehem team

“Swiss Cheese land”

The Bethlehem Governorate is one of 16 administrative governorates in the West Bank. It covers an area of 658km2  with approximately 210,484 people as of 2014.

With the 1995 Oslo II Accord agreement, the West Bank was split into 3 non-contiguous areas with Area A (theoretically) in full Palestinian control and comprising 3% of the West Bank, Area B under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control, 23-25% of the West Bank, and Area C completely under Israeli control, currently over 60% of the West Bank territory. This fragmentation, with some referring to the West Bank as “Swiss Cheese land”, was meant to be for an interim period of 5 years, until 1999, but the Bethlehem Governorate, as with all of the West Bank, is still divided, although with slightly different percentages, into these administrative “islands” of Areas A, B and C classification.

In addition, 10km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate have been illegally annexed by Israel as being within its “Greater Jerusalem” designation. This intricately complicated division, usually left not signposted, leaves only 13% of the 658km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate under full or partial Palestinian Authority control.

“A Palestinian Walking on their Own Land is a Demonstration”

What do these numbers mean in reality? Take Khallet Annahlah, a small rural village with rich fertile land close to Bethlehem. On the 16th April, one of our first duties within the Bethlehem team was to attend an incident there. We met with a local Palestinian nonviolent activist named Hassan, from the nearby village of Al-Masara, as well as members of Combatants for Peace (CfP), an Israeli and Palestinian organisation set up in 2005 from former combatants of both sides who have decided to relinquish their weapons and work together in nonviolent approaches towards ending the occupation and a just peace for both sides.

With Hassan & CfP, we walked on the farm of Mohammed Khalil where a new Israeli settler tent had appeared, in the land that he was born on and now fears will be confiscated – either by settlers or the Israeli authorities. The tent was put up in the middle of the day, with unabashed impunity, on a hill across from the already established “Blue Tent”, so-called due to the settler choice of colour. The first tent appeared 6 months ago and now has developed into a caravan-tent lodging big enough for one or two families.

Hassan then took us further along and we entered the farmland of Ziat Zenat though we couldn’t make out where his farm actually was as, on 11 April, the Israeli army bulldozed all of his stone terraces that were used to grow a variety of herbs, such as sage.

While speaking with Ziat, 3 Israeli settlers in a white car saw us on a hill opposite with binoculars and made a phone call. Within 10 minutes, 4 army vehicles had rushed on the scene, each full of soldiers – at least 13 in total – with the settlers following behind. The settlers and soldiers were all heavily-armed and the Commander of the soldier’s unit was seen laughing and shaking hands with the settler behind the wheel of the car. We have come to learn that it is not unusual to see soldiers and settlers fraternising together. A soldier, originating from Los Angeles who has been in Israel for 3 years, questioned us over our presence despite being with the landowner on his land, and accused Hassan of trying to do a demonstration.

Hassan protested:

“A Palestinian walking on their own land is a demonstration”.

A court case on the 24th April declared 300 dunams (3 hectares) of the area as “State Land” but this is currently under appeal so no action should have been taken by Israeli authorities to destroy Ziat’s stone terraces. The declaration of private Palestinian property as “State Land” is a former Ottoman-era policy used consistently by the Israeli authorities to claim large swathes of Area C in the West Bank if the State deems them to be “uncultivated” or without documented ownership.

According to the Israeli human rights NGO, B’tselem, only 9% of the total area of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) was registered as being owned prior to Israeli occupation in 1967. Nonetheless, Israel defines “State Land” as being for the benefit of the local population, which would be Palestinian. However, since 1967, the Israeli Civil Administration own figures state that Palestinians have been allocated only 0.7% (860 hectares) of “State Land” in Area C whilst the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), which develops illegal settlements, has been allocated 31% (40,000 hectares). Approximately, 21% of the total West Bank defined as “State Land” (BT’Selem 2013); land that Palestinians have little hope of being authorised to utilise. In this way, Israeli authorities reappropriate land by misusing old laws whilst disregarding international laws regarding the occupier’s responsibilities to those occupied.

“A Demonstration without Media does not Exist”

On the 18th April, recognising the strategic importance of the area, a nonviolent demonstration was led by Combatants for Peace (CfP) member Udi with Hassan and other local Palestinians from the village to make a public statement of the illegality of the settler’s actions. When organising the demonstration, the local media are always invited to ensure that as many hear about it as possible.

CfP member, Larry, says:

“A demonstration which does not make the media, does not exist”.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

The Israeli peace activists parked up on the road, blocking the entry to the land, and walked quickly over to the settler tent holding two Palestinian flags. Speed was of the essence as everyone knew how quickly the soldiers would be called out by the settlers. The white settler vehicle could be seen observing the demonstration and, again, within 15 minutes; the soldier’s jeeps could be seen driving towards us in the distance. Udi and the other Israeli peace activists placed the Palestinian flags over the settler tent to “reclaim” it, and its land, as Palestinian. Udi then announced through a megaphone that the settlers are on Palestinian land and that they are even outside of the artificial border Israel has created through building the Separation Barrier.

Observing the Israelis and Palestinians working together towards a common goal; it was possible to see that both members are equal with neither instructing the other – even if the law is not applied equally to them. Only Israelis can dare to place their cars blocking the road and risk putting a Palestinian flag over the settler tent because the soldiers only have jurisdiction over the Palestinians, who live under martial law, whilst the Israelis live under civil law which means that they fall under the authority of the Israeli police. This dual legal system over the same territory is inherently discriminatory and disenfranchises Palestinians.

Once the soldiers had reached the tent by foot, everyone was ordered to leave by 11am, and having achieved the objective, the demonstrators complied and returned to the village of Khallet Annahlah. Once returned, a soldier accused Hassan of assault using a word in Hebrew which is ambiguous as to whether it was a verbal or physical assault, and the soldiers seemed incensed at being prevented from stopping the demonstration. A member of CfP said that, for soldiers, “lying to them is an assault to the respect they expect”. They detained Hassan and attempted to arrest him but after an hour of negotiation by Israelis; the soldiers let Hassan go. It was clearly due to international presence and Israeli activist intervention that Hassan evaded arrest and the demonstration was a success.

Continued Protective Presence

We returned to Khallet Annahlah on 29 April, the same day settlers were ordered by the Israeli High Court to remove the illegal new tent there, to see Mohammad Ayesh, 55yrs old and his son Qasm, who own the farm next door to Ziat. Settlers had come the day before and tried to take Mohammad’s sheep and goats. He told them that they couldn’t take his animals but the settlers called the army and they detained him for 2 hours. The morning we went, at 9am, the settlers brought a horse and allowed it to eat the farmer’s crops and started constructing a barracks.

Mohammed has been fighting his case through the courts since 2004. All three farmers in the area have had their water cut off for 120 days and the Israeli authorities told their neighbour:

“We will give you water but only if you don’t associate with them [the three farmers]”.

On the 2 May, we returned once more after Mohammed had trees cut down by the Israeli authorities. Hassan explains the community’s response is a call to action:

“The settlers have taken 40 dunams, but that’s just a step on their way to take…the remaining 300 dunams [30 hectares]…We’ve decided to make non-violent and useful activities here together, to save the land”.

With the 3 families in their tiny rural village, it is easy to see the interconnected nature of the relentless number of incidents Palestinian farmers face in protecting their homes, land and livelihoods. It is also possible to see what a difference Israeli and internationals, such as yourselves, can make to ensure that their stories and acts of nonviolent demonstration are heard. CfP member Hillel told us:

“We know you [Ecumenical Accompaniers] come here and volunteer your time, working day and night, to help and we feel it’s something that we, as Israelis, should be doing. Thank you, we appreciate you”.

Posted in Israeli peace groups, Land confiscation, Settlements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who is allowed on the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound?

The Dome of the Rock on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Photo EAPPI.

The Dome of the Rock on the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound. Photo EAPPI.

by David and Annica, Jerusalem team

It is 8 am on the Israeli Independence day, which this year was on the 6th of May. There is tension in the air. A group Jewish worshippers walk around on the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound escorted by Israeli police. The few Muslims that were allowed in to the area this morning watch with worry in their eyes as the provocation enfolds.

After the Six day war in 1967, when Israeli military annexed East Jerusalem, a deal was made on the protection of the holy sites. The Israeli Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, guaranteeing different religious groups access to their holy sites. A deal was also made with the Islamic Waqf, where Israel agreed to leave the administration of the holy site of the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, which includes the Dome of the Rock, in the hands of the Islamic Waqf, while the Israeli police would guarantee and secure access to it.

The great majority of religious Jews respect this decision. Futhermore, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel even declared in 1967 that it is forbidden for Jews to walk on the Temple Mount, which many believe is the same location as the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, due to its pronounced sanctity.

However, for some years now, Jewish eschatological groups have tried to come up on the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, which they believe is the location of the Temple Mount, and worship. This is naturally seen as a provocation by both religious and secular Muslims, and often leads to clashes. Furthermore, in recent years, the Israeli Authorities have been put under growing pressure from Jewish extremists, who maintain that Israel should take control of the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, because it is the Temple Mount.

The Al Aqsa Mosque Compound is no doubt one of the most contested religious sites in the world, and remains a key focal point of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. Many experts thus say that moving control over it to Israel would threaten not only the peace process between Israel and Palestine, but also peace with Israel’s neighboring countries.

It is thus no surprise, that on Israeli Independence Day, the Israeli police expected clashes when Muslims under 50 years of age had to stand outside of Al Aqsa Mosque Compound queuing, while tourists and a group of provocative Jewish extremists had free access to the compound.

In the afternoon, a group from the Third Temple Movement demonstrate at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound. A group wishes to pray up on the holy site. The police monitoring the demonstration are noticeably bothered by the activity, while the demonstrators show little respect for the police’s authority. When the protesters move towards the Chain Gate leading to the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, they forcefully push through the Israeli police and their roadblocks.

Some of the protesters are arrested, while others are forced towards the upper entrance to the Western Wall plaza. The protestors are jammed through the metal detectors, while trying to fight the police. As they are pushed out, other Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall halt what ever they are doing, and turn to see the spectacle. Many start filming with their phones. Neither the demonstration, nor protesters seem to receive common support, rather they soon face counter arguments and aversion. Clear discontent towards them lingers in the air.

After a while most of the demonstrators have calmed down. One of them comes up to an EA, aiming for a discussion, maybe even some support. He tells the EA:

“We just want the right to pray on the Temple Mount. Now neither you Christians nor us Jews pray there. Only Muslims.”

However, there is also a different reasoning behind the rally, which could be found on a blog of the group arranging the demonstration. They write that the goal of the Independence Day activities was to transfer the authority over the Temple Mount into Jewish control, while the Third Temple Movement’s final aim is to build a new temple.

Still, the antipathy of other Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, and their negative view of the Third Temple Movement, reveal something positive. It shows that people are getting tired of how smaller extremist groups constantly threaten the peace process, eventually trying to cause tensions and divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, but also within Israeli society. Working towards a just peace would, to them too, mean guaranteeing that Muslims are allowed to access their holy sites in the same way as Jews have access to the Western Wall, without routine restrictions and limitations. 

Posted in Freedom of movement, Freedom of worship | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day in the Life of an EA: Checkpoint duty

Going through the checkpoint is not just a story of queues, turnstiles, and metal detectors, but encompasses the permit system for Palestinians and the sometimes arbitrary attitudes of Israeli soldiers. It is a story of daily humiliation and dehumanization, in stark contrast to every humans right to freedom of movement.

by Bron, Ar Ram team

One of our regular tasks as EAs in Ar Ram is “checkpoint duty” at the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint. Qalandiya checkpoint stands between the two Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It is on the Separation Barrier, which is at this point not on the international border known as the Green Line, but some 8 km north-east, in Palestine.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Twice a week we arrive about 4.15am, as the queue of workers from Ar Ram and Ramallah begins to build up, and for three hours we monitor the queues and the length of time it takes to pass through, and count the numbers of men, women and children crossing the checkpoint.

At 4.15am, the checkpoint building is alive with birdsong, and fat sparrows hop backwards and forwards under the metal bars, doing very well on the crumbs left by men eating breakfast as they wait. The freedom of the birds to come and go as they please is in marked contrast to that of the Palestinian people.

Let me give you an idea of what is involved in crossing the checkpoint. First you wait in line in one of three metal cages that is just wide enough for one person. At the end of this cage is the first turnstile, which at busy times opens to allow perhaps 10 or 12 people through at a time and then closes again for several minutes. Once through the first turnstile you go to one of 5 booths where you wait again at another turnstile. This turnstile usually opens to allow 3 people through, and then closes again for three or four minutes. You are then at the checkpoint proper, which is a little like airport security. You take off your shoes and jacket and belt and pile your possessions on a conveyor belt. You walk through a body scanner and present your ID and permit for inspection by the soldier on duty. You may well have to have your handprint checked too. If all is in order you are free to pick up your possessions and pass through 3 further turnstiles before you reach the other side and the buses waiting to take you to Jerusalem.

 

Men, women, and children begin to line up at Qalandiya checkpoint at 4:15 am every morning. Their daily commute involves this dehumanizing treck. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The queue at the checkpoint during busier hours of the day. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

It sounds simple. It is anything but.  The permit system which controls the freedom of Palestinians to travel around their country is a story in itself – there are 101 sorts of permits for different sorts of need, many are temporary and the process for acquiring a permit is complex, time-consuming and stressful. For now let us just say that, having reached the checkpoint, you may find that your permit has expired, or that it has been revoked, or that your handprint does not match that held on the database, or you have simply been “blacklisted” for some reason that you know nothing about.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow.  Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Or, as happened recently to families embarking on a day out, you may have been told that you do not need permits for your under-5s, but when you get to the checkpoint window the soldier on duty arbitrarily decides that you do and refuses to let the children through. (The wonderful Israeli organisation Machsom Watch  sorted that out very quickly for us by phoning the Commanding Officer).

For many Palestinians, crossing the checkpoint is a daily piece of frustration and humiliation inflicted upon them by the occupying power, Israel. For the most part they deal with it with stoicism and patience, though understandably resorting to some shouting and remonstrations when the queues stretch out to the car park and only two or three of the booths are open.Even if your permit is fine, navigating the route through the checkpoint can be an obstacle course. There is a “humanitarian gate” for women, elderly or sick people. But it does not save you a single turnstile. And the turnstiles are a menace to small fingers and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying small children or bags and a walking stick.

One of the most moving things we witness is the lines of men who, having spent perhaps half an hour or more queueing to pass the checkpoint, stop to pray on the Jerusalem side before boarding their bus.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state”. But as an elderly man told me in frustration as he emerged into the sunshine on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint last week:

“I am 70 years old. I was born in Jerusalem. I need a permit to go there. Half my family is in Ramallah, half in Jerusalem. I’m not from Europe or Africa – I’m from Jerusalem. And I need a permit to go there.”

The article Early Morning at Qalandiya was originally published on the blog Through My Eyes and Ears.

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Archaeological excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron expand and destroy more Palestinian land

EAs investigate the archaeological excavation at Tel Rumeida. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pederson.

EAs investigate the archaeological excavation at Tel Rumeida. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

by Werner and Annica, Hebron team

The soldier shouts: “In 3 minutes I will shoot teargas, so everyone leave now!”

EAs withdraw a couple of meters together with the other international observers in Hebron. There are altogether about six of us, plus the members of the family of course. The young soldier is walking back and forth for a while, juggling the teargas grenade and grinning.

One could think that the EAs are caught in the midst of Friday clashes. But no, they are rather observing the enlargement of an archeological excavation.

On the left, one can see two strong women, a mother and a daughter, sitting where a big stonewall was standing just a couple of days ago. They won’t budge.

“This is our property,” they say.

For the second time a part of their wall, which marks the border between their property and the archeological excavation, has collapsed as a result of the digging.

“The workers must stop destroying our wall and stop destroying our olive tree.”

The olive tree in question now hangs half in mid-air, almost as in gasping for its last breath. Yet, it prevails. Just as the two women do.

One EA approaches Emmanuel Eisenberg, the elderly Israeli archeologist with a colorful shirt and a big hat. He is coordinating the project and is annoyed with the women disturbing his work.

Emmanuel Eisenberg and David Ben Shlomo look at the destroyed wall. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Emmanuel Eisenberg and David Ben Shlomo look at the destroyed wall. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

“I didn’t know that the wall would collapse!” he responds quite irritated when told that the owners are worried that even the rest of the wall would come tumbling down.

“Well,” the EA replies, “I have no education in archeology, but with the way you were digging, even I could have told you beforehand that the wall would collapse.”

“How should I know? I am an archeologist, not a construction worker!”

“Well, the exact same thing happened before, I would expect you to have learned a lesson by now?”

The archeologist goes from annoyed to angry.

The Israeli police arrived and and talk with the women. After heated discussions we are told that the archeologists have been prohibited from touching the wall. It would seem that the two strong women have won a small, rare victory over the overwhelming power of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Sadly, however, the IAA has seldom respected such prohibitions, and the internationals and the women will be ready for work even the next day.

Every Inch Matters on Tel Rumeida 

The excavations on the historical mount of Tel Rumeida are no new phenomenon. We posted about it in February on the EAPPI blog.

The current digs on Tel Rumeida, the hill believed to be the location of biblical Hebron, have secured support from Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. They were planned to last for a year, and cost around 7 million NIS.

The excavation site is blocked of by fences and danger signs. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

The excavation site is blocked of by fences and danger signs. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

The lead archeologist at the site, Emmanuel Eisenberg is no stranger to the people living on Tel Rumeida. Already in the late 1990s, Eisenberg and the Israel Antiquities Authority were involved in the archeological digs, which famously resulted in the expansion of the Admot Yishai Settlement to house even more settlers right on top of the excavations.

As above, even the current excavations form part of a larger vision: a biblical pathway, and the adherent archeological park.

The planned archaeological park in Hebron will include areas that have been excavated both the 1960’s by an American archaeologist, P. Hammond, and in the 1980’s by Israeli authorities. The present excavations also include the cleaning of previous excavations sites, and expanding existing pathways amid Palestinian houses. In a couple of years, there could even be cafes and kiosks and a steady stream of architecture aficionados.

The biblical pathway will lead from one side of the hill to the other, effectively cutting the Palestinian neighbourhood in half, while simultaneously providing panoramic views of the ancient city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The Israeli archaeological organization Emek Shaveh, which works on the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been critical of the motives behind the excavations, as well as the possible findings. According to their experts, none of the findings in land Lot 52 (find a map of area here) so far have been of exceptional archaeological significance, nor have the findings given any support to the plans of a tourist attraction in the area.

The poor results of the initial digs may also be one reason why in May 2014 the digs were significantly expanded over onto land lot 53, covering now almost double the amount of land they used to on land lot 52.

The Emek Shaveh experts explain that the ancient walls found in the neighbouring lot 53 have much more historical relevancefor the planned archaeological park, since these can at least be dated to the time of the Patriarchs and to the kingdoms of Judea and Israel.

Still, the Director General of Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities for the Palestinian Authority in Hebron, Dr. Ahmeed Rjoob shows no hesitation in calling the current excavations illegal. Palestinian Authorities are prohibited from even visiting the excavations, and prevented from evaluating and assisting the archaeological work.

Under the Oslo agreement, all excavations inside Hebron are required to be coordinated with us, but they never contacted us, and they keep ignoring us.”

Furthermore, the planned archaeological park qualifies as expansion of the existing Tel Rumeida settlement.

Continued Palestinian Perseverance

The Abu Haikal family’s fight for their private property has been rewarded with a couple of small victories, only to be followed by bigger disappointments.

Recently, Fariel Abu Haikal has on several occasions single-handedly stopped the digs by stepping in front of both the proverbial and the real life bulldozer that has been trespassing onto her land. Most often her daughter Arwa joins her, and side-by-side the two strong women have engaged in an iconic stand-off against the perpetrators.

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Fariel Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

So it goes on. Day after day the two women defend their land, as international observers provide protective presence. And the world is taking note.

People from all over the world are following the continuous updates from the excavation site. At the time of writing, the Facebook page called Save Tel Rumeida, which the Abu Haikal family created in January 2014, has more than 600 members and photos and videos are posted on almost a daily basis. 

 

 

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