The double standards of ‘firing zones’ in the West Bank

by Nikki, Yanoun Team

“Why is it a military zone for Palestinians only?” exclaims Ayman Banifadl, Mayor of Aqraba.

He is referring to the ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’ which the Israeli authorities have assigned to 30% of Area C in the West Bank. These areas are meant to be used for military training exercises and usually have signs prohibiting all access, even though often signs are placed directly in front of already existing Palestinian communities. However, the Yanoun team has recently sighted Israeli settlers alongside the Israeli army during a military training exercise within a ‘firing zone’, indicating the ongoing collaboration occurring between the Israeli army and settlers. This incident also highlights the double standards which are exercised by the Israeli army in relation to who is allowed within these closed military areas.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

Communities living in areas of the West Bank now considered a ‘firing zone’ by the Israeli authorities face huge threats to their existence. These threats include demolition, displacement, and limited ability to realize their rights to water, adequate shelter, education, health, and livelihood.  Many communities have demolition orders on their structures and frequently Israeli authorities demolish houses & structures.

Nearby to the large village of Aqraba is Tawayel (or, Tell al Khashaba), a small Palestinian herding community located within Area C and within a ‘firing zone’. The very existence of Tawayel has been threatened by the demolition of multiple houses and structures, including the community’s mosque on 29 April 2014. According to Ayman, “in 1976 the Israelis said that all the land from Aqraba [eastwards] to Jordan is a firing zone.” This announcement came despite multiple Palestinian communities living within this area. The reason for declaring the area a ‘firing zone’ seems clear to Ayman: establishment of Israeli settlements. He describes how the settlement of Gittit, to the east of Tawayel, was established. The area was first declared a ‘closed military zone’ and a small army camp was established. A mere 2 years later the camp was disbanded and the land was handed to Israeli settlers who built the Gittit settlement.

“It is clear that these lands are used for economic reasons, not military ones,” Ayman tells us.

10 Israeli settlement outposts have been established and allowed to expand within these ‘firing zones’ in Area C, even though they are illegal under international and Israeli law. Whilst Palestinian communities present before the areas were designated ‘firing zones’, face frequent demolitions and are prevented from building to expand or repair their communities.

 

The remains of the house demolished on 20th August 2014 in Tawayel Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

The remains of the house demolished on 20 August 2014 in Tawayel
Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the “Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand”. The Israeli army uses the area around Tawayel for military exercises on average once a month. As Ayman stresses, however, “there has been no war in this area since 1967.” The existence of these communities cannot be constituted as an ‘imperative military reason’.

In the case of Tawayel, there are no plans for forced transfer of the community. Instead, the people of Tawayel are being slowly pushed off their land under the auspices of a ‘firing zone’ without anywhere else to go. Ayman believes that the Israeli authority’s policy is to ensure that all remote Palestinian communities are displaced to towns.

If it was not already evident that a ‘firing zone’ only applies to Palestinians and not Israeli settlers, it became clear on 10 September 2014. The EAPPI team in Yanoun was called to Tawayel at 12:30 pm due to sightings of Israeli soldiers near to the village. When we arrived we found a group of 10 soldiers fully armed sitting under a tree sheltering from the midday sun, 100 meters from houses in Tawayel. We stayed in Tawayel to monitor the soldiers’ movements. At 1:30 pm, 3 Israeli army jeeps were sighted at the eastern end of the valley driving towards Tawayel. They had come to drop off more soldiers underneath the trees ready for, what it appeared to be, a training operation on foot.

Following close behind the 3 military jeeps was a civilian jeep. Basem Dili, the Head of Tawayel, identified the driver of the civilian jeep as a settler by the name of Koby. He explains that Koby lives in the settlement of Itamar, near to Yanoun. According to Basem, Koby was the settler who had been in charge of confiscating land around Yanoun to build settlement outposts to expand Itamar. Koby paused to have a conversation with the 2 military jeeps which were stopped by the trees before he continued along the valley. Afterwards the military jeeps returned in the direction they had come from. What was occurring before our eyes was confirmation of the close, collaborative relationship existing between the Israeli army and Israeli settlers.

“No one is making a demolition order for the settlers; [instead] they are building a road for him,” said the Mayor of Aqraba at the most recent house demolition in Tawayel on 20 August 2014, which left 17 people homeless.

‘Firing zones’ in this area are being utilized for settlement expansion towards the Jordan Valley. Like the village of Yanoun, the disappearance of Tawayel would bring the expansion of illegal settlements across the breadth of the West Bank one step closer. It would enable the connection of Itamar to the Jordan Valley settlements. But the people of Tawayel continue to stay strong and remain on their land amidst military training exercises and house demolitions. They have no other choice but to stay, where else would they graze their livestock and earn a living?

*On the morning this article was published, 29 September 2014, Israeli authorities arrived in Tawayel and demolished all the community’s electricity poles.

Despair and Hope: The history of Fawwar Refugee Camp

Fawwar Refugee Camp

Fawwar Refugee Camp. Photo EAPPI/R. Pond.

by South Hebron Hills team

Our first visit to Fawwar Refugee Camp was to meet and hear the story of Khalil Muhammed, a 11 year old boy who was tragically shot by the Israeli army on 10 August. On our follow-up visit to Fawwar Refugee Camp, we find ourselves sitting in the city center talking to Mohammed Abed Al Fattah Al Titi, known as Abu Akram. Several of his descendants sit on the floor cushions facing us, at times helping Abu Akram to clarify his story.

Abu Akram is an old man who tells us the story of the Nakba in 1948 and how he along with his family and neighbors from the village of Iraq Al Manshelha were forced to leave their village and become refugees in their own country. He clearly remembers the exact date, 14 May, 1949. He still dreams of going back to his village and his house and proudly shows us the key to his house in Iraq Al Manshelha, which he still has.

Both of our visits with the people of Fawwar Refugee Camp have painted a picture of both despair and hope. On the one hand, Fawwar is a community created out of a war. The only purpose of the refugee camp is to house exiles and their descendents. Yet, out of this situation comes ray of hope and promise for the future. Perhaps not Fawwar itself, but the people who live there. Although the residents of the refugee camp do not know when or if they will be able to return to their homes or be compensated for their loss, many still have the keys for their homes, which is a symbol of hope that they will one day return to their homes. The symbol of the key is prominently displayed throughout the community in murals and graffiti as a visible representation of this hope for a future return home.

Mohammed shows the key from his home. He is one of less than 5 survivors from the original inhabitants of Fawwar still living in the community.  Photo EAPPI/R. Pond.

Mohammed shows the key from his home. He is one of less than 5 survivors from the original inhabitants of Fawwar still living in the community. Photo EAPPI/R. Pond.

A Dire situation

Fawwar refugee camp is located in the South Hebron Hills, close to the city of Hebron. Its inhabitants originally come from 18 communities, mainly in the Gaza, Beersheve, and Hebron areas. Currently, a population between 9,000 to 10,000 lives in an area less than one square km. According to an official of the village, the poverty level in Fawwar is 10 times worse than the official poverty level in Palestine. Fawwar suffers from an inadequate sewage and school system. The refugee camp is the scene of frequent clashes with the Israeli army with many inhabitants bearing the wounds to verify the confrontations.

Fawwar exists under the constant eye of the Israeli army, which has placed a base and watch tower on the camp border. A large Israeli settlement and outpost also neighbor the community. The Israeli army frequently raids the community at night, searches the community, and sets up flying road blocks, not only continuing the harassment in the community, but also maintaining an atmosphere of tension.

Khalil Mohammad Al Anati's grandparents

Khalil’s grandparents with his younger brother. Photo EAPPI/R. Pond.

When we first entered the camp, the parents of Khalil were suffering both grief and anger over the senseless loss of their young son. They showed us a picture of Khalil, which was posted all over the camp.

They asked us: “What do you think this picture of Khalil says?” The told us that they think he is asking: “Why did you shoot me?”

The question still echoes, unanswered.

Signs of hope and promise

Before we leave Fawwar we have the opportunity to visit the Palestinian Child Cultural Centre where Shadi Titi, a physics teacher who volunteers as the Centre’s manager. She introduces us to T. Khalil Nasser, who leads a youth Drama group currently rehearsing for a play In The Camp which depicts life in Fawwar for youth and which the will play in Hebron in the coming weeks. Interviewing these enthusiastic young people gives us hope for the community.   Many are fluent in English and all individually spoke of their desire for peace and love for the future. Not one hint of hate or despair was reflected in their attitudes.

Visiting the community, we cannot help but be affected by both the despair of living in a refugee camp and also the overwhelming desire to move on to a better way of life.   We also cannot ignore the many individuals bearing the scars, wounds and in some cases the handicaps that resulted from encounters with the Israeli army. But in this seemingly hopeless situation, friendship and generosity abounds. Walking down the only business street of the community we are greeted with many offers of friendship and support.

Despite many generations who have lived under these terrible circumstances, they still hold out hope and promise for the future. We must not forget that all humans have the right to all human rights and to live a dignity. So do the people of Fawwar Refugee Camp. Let us hope that they finally will get the future they so rightfully deserve.   

Certainly those that have the education will be able to move to a better environment. But there are many, who for no fault of their own but simply from being refugees who live in poverty, have little education and very little opportunity to improve their lives without significant support from outside. They do not deserve to live in their current environment. We will continue to visit our new friends and be inspired by their hope for the future.

*Read more about our work in the Southern West Bank.

A sign of hope in Access to Education

In the midst of bedouin communities facing displacement, one village will receive a school for its children.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

The community of Jab’a is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Today few Bedouins who live in the countryside to the East of Jerusalem are able to continue their semi-nomadic lifestyles, as they have been moved to designated areas not suitable for herding or farming. They are restricted by fences, Israeli settlements, poisonous waste from settlements – not to mention obstacles like busy motorways. This is the story of a small community fighting for their land and for their children’s education, giving a glimpse of hope in the often bleak reality.

The tribe of A Ka’abneh  that EAPPI supports has been separated by these obstacles from the rest of the Jab’a Bedouin community to which they belong, and their smallest children face a journey to school so challenging it can scarcely be imagined.

According to a UNDP Report, education in Palestinian bedouin communities often suffers because of the poor environmental conditions and educational quality, often stemming from restrictions of the Israeli occupation.  This results in a high percentage of school dropouts and a correspondingly high rate of illiteracy, especially among females.

The small community of Ka’abneh is to be found squeezed in between fences, the Israeli settlement of Adam and a motorway intersection. As guests, we are made welcome amidst the poor houses, ruins of demolished houses and tent constructions. While we are seated under a dusty olive tree drinking a never-ending supply of sugary mint tea, it is impossible to ignore the roar of the cars speeding by. The contrast between the traditional garments of the mukhtar – the village leader – and the hypermodern surroundings that suffocate the village highlights the tensions they live with. This is far from the traditional picture of Bedouin life that most of us have.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

After meeting with the village leader Mohamed Ka’abneh we are shown the pipe. Yes, that is correct, the pipe, that children crawl through to cross under one of the busy main roads that surround the village. The alternative is to dodge through the speeding traffic. Each day they pick their way through garbage, scorpions and mud to get to school. So far “only” one child has been bitten by a snake. The children willingly show us their difficult way to school through the pipe, and as we wander back towards the site of what will become their new school, they burst with excitement.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

For years Mohamed has worked to raise funds for a school bus but without success. He later realized that it would be better to get a school for the community. Finally, with the support of the European Commission through an international NGO, a school has been promised. As they had already waited to get a school bus for such a long time the community joined forces to speed things up and each family gave a couple of hundred shekels to level the ground for the new school.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Most of the houses in the village have demolition orders pending and they fear the school may be demolished or dismantled, even before it has started to operate. So they have asked EAPPI to provide a protective presence and they want as many internationals as possible to be present in the coming weeks to deter any demolition. EAs encounter many communities and people who are in a demoralizing downward spiral of demolitions and evictions, that any sign of progress provides a welcome relief. And currently the situation in the Ka’abneh village offers a ray of hope, in a very challenging time.

The school will enroll 50 children from the age of six to twelve, and teachers from outside the community will start teaching as soon as the classrooms are ready.

The children, the community and EAPPI await with excitement the first day of classes in the new school. This time there will be no pipes and no mud to crawl through.

* Read more about the struggles of the bedouin in the E1/Jerusalem Periphery.

“I am afraid that there will be more harassment from Israeli settlers after the war in Gaza.” ~Mohammad, teacher at Imneizil school

IN PALESTINE, THE OBSTACLES TO RECEIVING AN EDUCATION ARE NUMEROUS. CHECKPOINTS, MILITARY PRESENCE, SETTLER ATTACKS, TREACHEROUS ROADS, CLOSED MILITARY ZONES, DEMOLITION ORDERS, AND VIOLENT CLASHES ARE ONLY A FEW.  BUT STUDENTS & TEACHERS PERSEVERE DAILY IN THEIR JOURNEY TO RECeivE QUALITY EDUCATION.  WE BRING THESE FACES TO LIFE AND SHARE THEIR HOPES, CHALLENGES, AND DREAMS in our Final post in our Back to school 2014 series.

Mohammad Ed’ass, English teacher at Imneizil school. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

Mohammad Ed’ass, English teacher at Imneizil school. Photo EAPPI/E. Maga-Cabillas.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I fear that the future will be very difficult. The war in Gaza and the peace accord would make Israeli settlers and Israeli army more aggressive, and the Palestinian people will suffer.   The school is located very near to the Beit Yatir Settlement with only a barbed wire fence separating it from the school. It is also close to Beit Yatir checkpoint where some children are passing through every day. I see now more difficulties coming, financially and politically. And our freedom in moving forward for the future will be restricted even more than before.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

I am living far from the school. Every day, I expect difficulties or bad things to happen. For instance, I expect that there will be more verbal harassment from Israeli settlers.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine?

There must be some changes to the educational system in Palestine, like the curriculum. There are too many courses for the students. I would like to suggest only to focus on three areas such as: Arabic, English and an open course, which is the choice of the teacher, what he thinks is needed for the class. To give you an example, we, the teachers need more knowledge in information technology and we need more education in pedagogical skills. We need to upgrade our skills in general, equipping both the teachers as well as the students.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

“Teaching is hard enough, but when Israeli soldiers come close to the school, things are made worse.” ~Isaac, teacher Al Khader Junior school

IN PALESTINE, THE OBSTACLES TO RECEIVING AN EDUCATION ARE NUMEROUS. CHECKPOINTS, MILITARY PRESENCE, SETTLER ATTACKS, TREACHEROUS ROADS, CLOSED MILITARY ZONES, DEMOLITION ORDERS, AND VIOLENT CLASHES ARE ONLY A FEW.  BUT STUDENTS & TEACHERS PERSEVERE DAILY IN THEIR JOURNEY TO RECEIVE QUALITY EDUCATION.  WE BRING THESE FACES TO LIFE AND SHARE THEIR HOPES, CHALLENGES, AND DREAMS.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac is a teacher in the junior school of Al Khader. The school is located on the edge of the village beside a section of the separation wall. This has been a site of frequent clashes between the boys from the neighboring secondary school and soldiers. The road to both schools is littered with spent tear gas grenades.

Isaac told us he was worried about the children and their future. He says many of them don’t value education and don’t see a future for themselves; very few of them see education as a priority. Isaac feels that’s things are made worse by the Israeli army when they come close to the schools. Teaching is hard enough but when they come it just gets worse. However, since it is a new school year, he is hopeful that things will get better.

Isaac believes that the educational system and that the curriculum in Palestine are not up to scratch and need to be changed. He told us that he has little confidence in the minister for education. He is not proud to say he is a teacher and feels that he should be able to say he is proud of being a teacher since it is such an important job. Isaac knows he could be proud of his profession if the system was run better.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

Israeli settlers miscalculate a Palestinian farmer

In an ongoing conflict, where victories for Israeli settlers and the Israeli occupation seem never-ending, one farmer prevails and succeeds in getting his land back.

by Helge, Yanoun team

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Israeli settlers from Shiloh try to build a fence on Palestinian land

Sometimes we see a case where Israeli settlers in the West Bank do not succeed in their plans of expanding their territory. Instead, Palestinians are able to show that law and regulations can prevail. However, relevant knowledge and ability to mobilize are needed in order to create a victory.

On the evening of August 11, Israeli settlers from the settlement of Shiloh, southeast of Nablus, walked down the hill to a field that is owned by the Palestinian farmer Muhammed Abed Aziz. They brought with them materials for setting up a fence and tried to install pipes for a new water system. The settlers started to cut down the almond trees on the field. They wanted to cultivate their own produce.

Bashar Alqaryouti lives in a nearby village. He has a long history of bringing his video camera for documenting Israeli settlers that are violating humanitarian and other laws. Bashar often facilitates protests against these injustices. On this day, he arrived on the scene early enough to document what happened and save it on his large memory stick.

Bashar alerted the relevant Palestinian authorities who called the local Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO). Israeli soldiers were dispatched to the grounds of Muhammed Abed Aziz. The police also arrived. Bashar also contacted the Israeli human rights organization, Yesh Din, to monitor what was happening.

The soldiers had no choice but to evict the settlers from the field. The police investigated and confiscated the tools of the settlers. The fence was removed. This was a total victory for the farmer Aziz. He was able to get his field, close to Shiloh, back.

Justice Can Prevail

This case demonstrates that justice can prevail when Palestinians use the system wisely. Success depends on many factors. Aziz was able to provide papers to show that his property was fully registered under his name. He proved that he was undoubtedly the owner of the land. Land registration is often difficult to document for Palestinian farmers, whose claim to the land often stems from the fact that their family has cultivated this land for generations. They often have old land registration deeds from Ottoman times or documents from the British mandate or Jordanian protocols. These kind of papers, however, differ from those required by Israeli regulations created after Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967 and they may be contested. Aziz had a keen mind to know what land registration documents are valid today.

Many farmers do not have the necessary papers after having fled as refugees during the 1948 and 1967 wars and then returning to an empty house. Moreover, the land ownership might be in doubt if it lies in Area C, 60% of the West Bank which is under full Israeli military & civil control as delineated in the Oslo Accords.

But Aziz was able to document without a doubt that he owned his field with almond trees. The settlers had miscalculated the situation and were forced to face an eviction. Bashar was there to catch the settlers’ trespassing with his revealing electronic eye.

Bashar and the case of the road blockade 

Some days later, we meet Bashar on the terrace of his fathers house in Qaryut. He spends a considerable amount of time confronting Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities who let injustice prevail. His biggest project is to remove an army blockade on a road that forces the people in nearby villages to drive an extra 30 kilometres everytime they need to go to Ramallah, which is not only time-consuming, but also expensive. The blockade has other ramifications as well. Bashar has been involved in many of the 120 demonstrations against this blockade throughout the 13 years it has been enforced.

The case of the blockade is still hanging in ”the system,” the Israeli authorities reply when Bashar asks them about the final outcome. The purpose of the blockade, according to Bashar, is to tie settlements together by aquiring land on both sides of the road. As the farmers cannot reach their land because they can not use the road, they have difficulties cultivating it. The land will become state land after 10 years without ploughing and can then be bought by new owners.

”Why can’t you take this guy with you to Oslo and keep him there so I can have some sleep at night?” Bashar’s fathers utters looking at me with a smile.

He is worried about his activist son, but evidently also proud of him for spending so much time defending other peoples’ rights in a conflict that causes so much pain.