PHOTOS: Palm Sunday Celebrations in Jerusalem & Bethlehem

Thousands of Christians from all over the world come to Jerusalem and participate in the annual Palm Sunday March. Sadly, many Christians from the West Bank and Gaza do not attend. Often their permissions to enter Jerusalem arrive late. Even for those with permission, crossing checkpoints inhibits freedom of movement, something you don’t want to experience on a celebratory day.

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Grandma moves house

After their home has been demolished 5 times, a family in Khirbet Yarza decides to move and leave the location they’ve lived in for generations.

by Ken, Yanoun team

We must look a strange sight to the locals, travelling along the precipitous mountain tracks on our way to rescue those in need, in our canary-yellow coloured “German donkey” (VW Caravelle taxi) … like something out of a Monty Python sketch or a spoof spaghetti western.

But there’s nothing funny about the situation that we find in Khirbet Yarza.  Masadi’s sitting in the wreckage of what was her home until a couple of hours ago, before the 50 soldiers arrived and bulldozed everything flat. Once would be bad enough but this is the fifth time that this has happened to them!

In my entire life I’ve never seen anyone so distraught; grief is etched into her features but she can’t cry, she can’t even speak to us, and I realize that she’s suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome. She gestures helplessly with her hands at the catastrophe around her and then retreats to a make-shift kitchen area she’s cleared from the rubble.

Sixteen persons, including 12 children, living in this extended family were made homeless. Fayas, the husband, explains that his family have lived as shepherds in this area for generations and have land title deeds going back to Ottoman times. It doesn’t matter: they’ve been punished for the cardinal sin of erecting a structure without a building permit. They thought the demolition order served on them had been suspended pending their legal challenge: they were obviously wrong.

The family is in a desperate ‘Catch 22’ situation as a building permit is next to impossible to obtain by a Palestinian and certainly not on land declared by the army to be a closed military zone.

What will they do now?

“What can we do but start again?” says Faisal stoically and starts constructing a wind- and waterproof shelter from borrowed materials.

Masadi scoops up some of the ruined food and animal fodder with her hands and shows it to us: “I don’t understand why this has been done to us. Why don’t they just kill us instead of destroying our lives?”

We call the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and soon humanitarian aid begins to arrive. Before going I say to Masadi “Allah yusalmik” [God protect you]. She nods resignedly in acknowledgement but I can’t help thinking that she wonders why God appears to have abandoned her.

Three weeks later it’s a case of déjà vu. We’re back in Khirbet Yarza. At 06.00 am roughly 40 soldiers arrived without warning and demolished everything again.  The family was not given time to remove the calf from one of the animal shelters; of course it died. Masadi sits forlornly amidst the rubble, contemplating the family’s future:

“This is not a life. Everyone is forced away from Palestine. Soon there will be no Palestinians left. What can we do now?”

Faisal has the answer: move. The Israeli army has finally won. Faisal’s had enough, the last straw being the confiscation of his tractor for having the temerity to disobey the army’s previous instruction to vacate the site.

Two of my colleagues sit patiently with Masadi, holding her hands and speaking softly to her in English, Arabic and Swedish to comfort her, like the two daughters that she may never have had. Meanwhile I and another EA help Fayas salvage what we can from the debris and load it onto a tractor and trailer to be taken to the family’s new home, a single-roomed stone structure further along the ridge.

 

It takes five trips to complete the move. Meanwhile the girls remain with Masadi at her new home but soon other women begin to arrive. Things are starting to look up but it’s cuddling her grandson that finally puts a smile back on Masadi’s face.  Everyone pitches in to make the new home habitable. I sweep out the room, someone else mops the floor, others bring in the meagre items of furniture, while Faisal and sons rig up the solar power installation.

We all help to rebuild the dry stone walled enclosure for the sheep and goats. Throughout all this a tired old donkey looks on; maybe he’s seen it all before. At last we’re finished. The Ritz it certainly isn’t, but at least it’s a roof over their heads. More importantly it’s a place out of the way of the threat of demolition. Inshallah! (God willing!)

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Grabbing every hilltop

“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” ~Ariel Sharon (2001)

by Michaela, Bethlehem team

The settlement of Efrat can been seen in the distance from the land of Al-Khadr. Photo EAPPI.

The settlement of Efrat can been seen in the distance from the land of Al-Khadr. Photo EAPPI.

A sight I will never forget

It’s Thursday morning. A Palestinian man clutches a microphone that is attached to a mobile PA system in the back of a van. His voice escalates until he is yelling. He says that everyday his son asks him when they are coming to knock down his home. He has been issued another demolition order after his home has been rebuilt three times already. It is not necessary to understand all of his words, his face and tone say everything.

As the man pours his pleas for mercy into our cameras, a couple of international reporters walk away with tears streaming down their cheeks.

On the horizon behind him a crane lowers a new caravan onto the illegal outpost settlement of Sde Boaz.

It is a sight I will never forget.

Al-Khadr severed by the wall, a road, and surrounded by settlements

We are with a group of 30 journalists as well as the Governor of Bethlehem on a tour to highlight the issues faced by Al-Khadr, a municipality in the South West of Bethlehem.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 the population of Al-Khadr was approximately 10,000, 41% of whom were under 15 years of age. The town was named after the local monastery and for  a town of such little notoriety, it has a fair share of attractions including the famous Solomon’s Pools and other significant historical ruins and religious sites. It is also known for quality grape and olive production.

85% of Al-Khadr land is under full Israeli control and thousands of dunums of agricultural land have been severed from the village by the concrete Separation Barrier and the Route 60 bypass road. On top of this, since 1979 Al-Khadr has become increasingly surrounded by the settlements of Neve Daniel, Efrat and Elazar. These settlements are like small cities with thousands of residents.

All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under International Law. The Fourth Geneva Convention calls upon the occupying power not to transfer it’s own population into the occupied territory and UN Resolution 465 declares that Israel’s settlement policy is an obstruction to a just and lasting peace.

There is more to settlement expansion than red-roofed houses built on Palestinian land

In 2002, settlers also took over a hilltop North of Neve Daniel, planted a shipping container and encircled it with barbed wire and guard dogs. It has since grown into an unauthorised settler community called Sde Boaz (Field of Boaz). Despite the fact that these outposts do not have official Israeli authorisation, some enjoy basic infrastructure such as electricity and water. Recently, some of the containers were removed as the result of a High Court order although we witnessed another being added this week. On researching Sde Boaz, the information states that the community is made up of “23 Jewish souls living and working together for a common cause”

Since 1967 Israel has established 150 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem as well as 100 ‘outposts’ which are built without official authorisation from the Israeli government.

There is more to settlement expansion than the increase of red-roofed Jewish only towns and cities being built on Palestinian land. Each settlement results in more human rights violations for the Palestinians such as displacement, home demolitions and confiscation of land as well as obstacles to access and movement.

The villagers of Al-Khadr suffer from increasing settler attacks and vandalism, their buildings are destroyed and trees uprooted. They often have to pass through security measures and show permits to access and tend to their own land as well as put themselves at risk of violence at the same time.

Multiple levels of violence

Last week, we were privileged to hear leading Israeli journalist Amira Hass speak. She has analysed settler violence over the last twenty years and states that “they are acting within the DNA of the system”. She talked about ”circles of violence” which include individual violence, bureaucratic violence and the violence of the Israeli court system. She also talks of the accompanied violence of the Israeli Army and Police and claims that settlers are assisted with ”deliberate eye closing.”

We met Yassin, a farmer from Al-Khadr, whose remaining land is next to one of the settlements. On February 14th, 150 of his olive trees were uprooted. The trees had just been donated by the YMCA. Yassin went to the Israeli police to report the theft and was told that there was no Captain available. He went back the following day and was told that the Captain was available but didn’t speak Arabic and he was sent to an office in Hebron. When he got to Hebron, he was told by the authorities that they didn’t believe he had trees on the land and that he needed to prove it. Yassin made another trip, this time to the YMCA to get a photograph that they had luckily taken. He has since handed the photograph in, telephoned twice and is waiting for an outcome. Bureaucratic violence?

Peace talks continue while human rights violations continue

After 9 months of talks, the deadline for the realisation of a framework for a peace agreement is April 29th.

Today, figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics say that the number of housing starts in the West Bank more than doubled in 2013.

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to persuade the Palestinians to extend the negotiations for another 6 months. President Abbas and other negotiators have stated that they will not agree to an extension as Israel’s settlement activities prove that they are not seriously committed to the peace process.

Meanwhile, Yassin and the residents of Al-Khadr will carry on looking at their hilltops from behind a 12ft concrete wall. They will continue to have to justify every aspect of their existence while experiencing the theft and destruction of their land and livelihoods.

 

 

 

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Two communities – different realities – one thing in common

The bedouin village of Arab abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi live in the shadow of the Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe.

by Jayyus team

The view of Alfe Menashe settlement from the view of the two bedouin camps. Photo c/o Peace Now.

The view of Alfe Menashe settlement from the view of the two bedouin camps. Photo c/o Peace Now.

The air is thick with the stench of garbage, animal waste, and dead animals. They are strewn around tent dwellings made of tarpaulins, plastic sheets and scraps of wood  held together with rope and wire.

We are in the Bedouin villages of Arab abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi located in the Seam Zone (the area between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier) near Qalqiliya in the North West Bank.

Every two weeks we accompany the Mobile Clinic of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) on their bi- weekly health check- ups to these villages, where approximately 600 Bedouin men, women and children, of all ages, live in appalling conditions. There is no garbage collection or sewage system in the villages. The roads are dirt tracks. And there is no proper water or electricity supply. 

On the hill above the villages is the settlement of Alfe Menashe.  Started in 1983 on Palestinian land it is surrounded by the Separation Barrier  which also encompasses the Bedouin villages and creates an enclave physically attached to Israel. Alfe Menashe settlement compares well with any upmarket estate or gated community in Europe or the USA, with wide tree lined streets, landscaped green areas – schools, swimming pools, excellent services and utilities. The population of Alfe Menashe is 8,500 and growing.

So what have these two communities got in common? At first one might be inclined to say absolutely nothing. Yet they do – and it is this: they are both like they are because of Israeli governmental policies, programs and laws.

Israeli settlements, which are illegal according to international laware heavily subsidized by the Israeli governmentThe Bedouin villages, in turn, are not being recognized as villages by Israel. They are deprived of the right of free movement, the right to build any structure and the right to work in Israel. They are denied all of these rights even though they own the land that they live on, land which is less than 700 metres from  the Alfe Menashe  settlement which is  built on land confiscated from Palestinian farmers.

Poverty isn’t the problem

One time we sat in the Bedouin community tent and drank sweet tea with some of the village elders and Suhad Hashem-Shrim from PMRS .

“Poverty is not the cause of the problems here – it is the result. Thsese people could get support from NGO’s and funding agencies and they are hard workers, but they are not allowed to build anything – not even an outdoor toilet – anything they build will be demolished – it’s these laws that keep them in theses conditions”, Hashem-Shrim told us.

One of the Bedouin village elders Abu Khamis  told us his family were first displaced by the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 to the Negev, then  in the 1950’s they were pushed out of Israel to the West Bank which was then under Jordanian rule.

The map of the separation barrier around Alfe Menashe Arab Abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi.

The map of the separation barrier around Alfe Menashe Arab Abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi.

Life was okay at first, they had lived a traditional Bedouin way of life, grazing their flocks in the valleys in winter and on the hill ranges in summer.  All of this changed in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and the movement of the Bedouin was gradually restricted.

“The situation changed again for the worse when the Separation Barrier was built”, he added.

The UN reports that approximately 85% of the barrier route is within the West Bank  and the International Court of Justice  has released an advisory opinion declaring this route illegalAs it stands now the Bedouin of Arab Abu Farda and Arab Ar Ramadin Al Janubi find themselves in the shadow of Alfe Menashe  on the Israel side of the  Barrier separated from the Palestinian villages and other Bedouin  communities in the West Bank.

Meanwhile Alfe Menashe continues to expand with plans to increase the current population from about 8,500 to 12,500. According to Suhad Hashem-Shrim there is no shortage of prospective settlers willing to move.

“Why would they not“, she says, “with the incentives they are offered, they can buy a house in the settlement with  all services provided at half the cost of most Israeli cities – and still work in Tel Aviv and be there in half an hour.”

At the same time the people of Arab abu Farda and its neighbour Arab ar Ramadin,  are trapped;  they don’t have the rights of Israeli citizens and  they can’t get services from Palestinian authorities either, because of the barrier. They can work on the Palestinian side of the barrier, but when they come back, they have to go through an Israeli security checkpoint, which controls their movement through the barrier.

This applies also to schoolchildren from these villages – and also to many other Palestinians. According to UN OCHA, in total, around 11,000 Palestinians living in the Seam Zone need a permit to live in their own homes.

Ambulance’s can’t get through

The problems of Bedouin villages are manifold.

“For example in Ramadin, only three food vans are allowed in weekly and only two taxis for transportation. They don’t even allow them to bury their dead in the villages”, says Suhad Hashem-Shrim.

The Children in these  Bedouin  villages suffer from a variety of poor health issues  from skin infections, respiratory infections, and in the past dirty water has even caused  hepatitis. For emergencies, the villagers have to be alert, because even ambulances don’t get through. The patient has to be brought to the checkpoint. 

“When women here are about to give birth, most of them try to find a relative from towns close by and go there”, Hashem-Shrim says.

As we stood on the dirt track that’s called a “road” in the Bedouin village and looked up at the tree lined avenues of Alfe Menashe it was difficult to decide which crime that was happening here was worst– the theft of land to build settlements  –  Israeli policies which support the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank rendering any prospect of a Two State solution impossible – or the laws that deprive this  indigenous community the bare necessities of life.

What do they see when they look down?

As the settlement of Alfe Menashe continues to expand with shops, clinics, sports and civic facilities, what is to become  of the two Bedouin communities in the valley below – they have nowhere left to go.

As we walked back along the dirt track past a herd of cattle knee deep in muck and eating from a pile of sweet potatoes  two Jewish Israeli men wearing yarmulkes  came driving from the opposite direction – not what we expected to see in an Arab Bedouin village. We asked the Bedouin elder who explained they were Israeli Jews who came to buy a cow and slaughter it in one of the sheds according to kosher rules.

“They buy from us because it is cheap and we are happy they do – they are welcome here any time”, he says.

We wonder how do the settlers feel when they look down into the bedouin villages and see the conditions there. Maybe they don’t even see them – it’s easy to ignore the suffering of the poor when you are living the good life.

 

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Israeli military training evacuates families from their homes and damages agricultural fields

On March 25, 20 families, consisting of approximately 125 people, most of who are children, were forcefully evacuated from their homes due to Israeli military training in the area. The families moved only 200-300 meters away from their homes and were forced to stay outside without shelter until around 12:00AM. This was the second time this month that the families had to evacuate their homes for military training, and they have been ordered to evacuate on 02-03.04.14 as well. During the military exercises, soldiers drove tanks over fields of crops, causing extensive agricultural damage.

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EAPPI around the world: UK and Ireland

EAPPI is a world-wide network.  Our EAPPI national coordination offices in 26 countries work hard to recruit EAPPI human rights monitors and coordinate their advocacy when they return home.  Today, we continue our series in which we get to hear from these dedicated supporters of EAPPI all over the world.

EAPPI UK and Ireland shares about a new initiative whereby Israeli families and EAs get to meet together on a human level.

EAs and Israeli families enjoy a picnic together, as part of the Haifa initiative. March 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

EAs and Israeli families enjoy a picnic together, as part of the Haifa initiative. March 2014. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

What is the Haifa Initiative?

EAPPI UK and Ireland has set up a pilot initiative whereby EAs and members of a synagogue in Haifa spend a weekend together. 28 EAs have taken part so far. They stay with an Israeli host family connected to a synagogue in Haifa. The aim is to meet on a human level and hear about each other’s lives and experiences.

The Israeli host families get a briefing paper in advance that explains that the programme works nonviolently to end the occupation and is underpinned by principles of international law and human rights law. The EAs get a briefing paper on the synagogue, the educational centre it’s part of, and the motivations of the families involved.  Here the UK/Ireland National Coordinator reflects on the initiative, which will be evaluated at the end of 2014.

Israeli families and EAs gain a deeper understanding

“When I see the look in an EA’s eyes, I have to believe what they tell me…..even if I don’t want to,” commented one Israeli Jewish woman who hosted an EA for a weekend in Haifa in 2013.

She was expressing her dilemma: should she believe what an EA was telling her about what they had seen in the West Bank?  It just didn’t fit with what she thought she knew.

Many Israelis find it hard to understand why some in the international community are critical of their government’s policies. Many Israelis have never been to the West Bank and are prevented from visiting by laws and the separation barrier. But when EAs become house guests for a weekend the Israeli hosts graciously put themselves out of their comfort zone to hear some of the realities of an EAs’ work.

EAs also say that meeting Israelis in Haifa on a human level has helped their understanding – of the pride Israelis have in their country; of the fear they experience in a way that is real to them; of the dilemmas facing parents as their children do their military service. Of course EAs also meet Israelis in the West Bank, but these are more commonly in agreement with EAPPI work, because they are likely to be members of Israeli peace and human rights organisations.

The power of meeting on a human level

In EAPPI UK and Ireland we have always been interested in finding ways for people to take seriously what EAs have experienced.  Our particular question to the Jewish community in the UK and Ireland has been “What helps you hear what we have to say?” and we have had some very helpful discussions. Our starting point, of course, is to give attention to listening to others, even when we don’t necessarily agree with them.  EAs report that telling UK Jewish audiences that they have spent time listening to ordinary families in Haifa makes it more likely that they will be given space to tell their stories about what’s happening in the West Bank.

It is no surprise that there is a huge range of views about the occupation in Israel. EAs are clear about the damage that it does to Palestinian society and they suggest that it damages Israeli society too. This is not easy for the hosts to hear, but both the families and the EAs each commit to hearing the perspective of the other.  This is demanding work. It is rare for each to agree with the perspective of the other, but mostly the synagogue members and the EAs agree that is it worthwhile to talk and meet on a human level.

EAs are learning that they can talk frankly and although they might be met with dismay, and sometimes disbelief, it seems that mostly their hosts prefer their speaking to their silence. Some of the most interesting feedback has come from young people about to join the Israeli army, who are very interested to hear about life in the West Bank.

The experience could be summed up in the words of one EA after her time in Haifa:

“We are all just people who have an interest in what is happening in Israel and Palestine – from whatever perspective. We need to talk to each other. What’s the worst that can happen?!”

Read the 1st post in this series: EAPPI around the world: Australia

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Jabal al Baba in E1 area outside of Jerusalem faces new threat

Home of Abu Ghassan, an elderly blind man, was demolished less than 3 weeks after Israeli authorities delivered 18 stop work orders to the bedouin community of Jabal al Baba in the E1 area of Jerusalem.

by Phil, Jerusalem team

Jabal al Baba is located in the E1 area, east of Jerusalem. If Israeli plans to build a settlement in this area come to fruition, the North and South of the West Bank would be separated from each other. Photo EAPPI/P. Craine.

Jabal al Baba is located in the E1 area, east of Jerusalem. If Israeli plans to build a settlement in this area come to fruition, the North and South of the West Bank would be separated from each other. Photo EAPPI/P. Craine.

Just four kilometres east of Jerusalem’s Old City lies the hill known as Jabal al Baba, named after the Pope because the catholic church owns land nearby.  The location is a special one, with magnificent views, and the hill itself crowned with pine trees. Since the early 1950s it has been home to a community of Jahalin Bedouin who live here in shacks and caravans, along with their flocks of sheep.

But gradually this community is being placed under siege by the Separation Wall, which Israeli authorities continue to build. When completed the separation wall will surround them on three sides, and cut them off from even the nieghbouring town of Al Eizariya.  Already, temporary checkpoints have been set up, maybe twice a month, between them and Al Eizariya.  The Bedouin are well aware that their hilltop lies in a strategic place: the E1 area located directly between Jerusalem and the already-built settlement of Ma’ale Adummim.

We first visited this community on February 25, when 18 stop work and demolition orders on structures in the community had been issued two days earlier.  Villagers told us that the next week, on March 3, an Israeli court would consider an appeal to freeze the orders. Nobody was hopeful for this and knew that demolition might happen any time after that. Four homes have been demolished before.  Israeli authorities have offered an alternative for them – and many other Jalalin – to the north, near a large garbage site, but this solution is alien to their way of life.

Unfortunately, on March 12, the fears of villagers came to fruition. A large Israeli military procession of jeeps, bulldozers and soldiers entered the village and demolished the home of Abu Ghassan. Abu Ghassan is an elderly resident of Jabal al Baba who has been blind since 1993. He has a family of eight and so depends on his children for everything.

Now that the family’s home was demolished, they have nowhere to go – so they will rebuild. Abu Ghassan’s words show a mix of perseverance and pessimism:

‘We will fight to stay here but sooner or later we will be evacuated.  Send us back to Tel Arad and I’ll be very happy.’

Although he has never been there, Tel Arad was their ancestral home in the Negev from where they were forcibly evacuated by Israeli forces in 1950s.

He added, ‘Near the garbage site there would be no space available for each family, and we could not continue life with our animals.  There would be no privacy between families.’

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