In the darkness of Yanoun reality changes on the hilltops

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By the Yanoun team, 

My watch tells me it is just after 2am as I lie awake listening to the unmistakable sound of a digger moving rock after rock, being the only noise breaking the silence in the early hours of this September morning. Every once in a while, the sound of the digger is overpowered by the sound of barking dogs, brought down from the hilltop by the wind. With the darkness as shelter, the invisible work on the hilltop continues. It is impossible, after sunset, to know for sure what is happening amidst the houses and barns little more than a stone’s throw away from my bedroom. What will be changed when the first sunbeams strike the olive trees?

12.10.2016 Pictures for blog, Palestine EAPPI-RW (8 of 10).jpg

12.10.2016 The first beams from the sun hit the olive trees in Yanoun. EAs show their presence by morning and evening walks around the village. EAPPI/R.W

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PHOTO ESSAY: Israeli military presence in the city of Hebron

by the Hebron Team.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is very visible in the city of Hebron due to its division into two parts H1 and H2. The city has been divided since 1997 and it is the only city on the West bank, except for East Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers and Israeli military  live and operate in the city centre. H1 is administered by the Palestinian authority and H2 the smaller part of the city is under Israeli military control. Several areas in H2 are restricted for Palestinians and especially those close to Israeli settlements.

The images below offer an insight into what life is like for Palestinians living under military occupation and give a glimpse of the harsh realities that they face on a daily basis.

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Video: Two women, a dividing wall and a uniting hope

by Norwegian Church Aid.

Build bridges not walls: World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel

September 20th – 26th 2015

Two women, Palestinian Clemance Handal and Israeli Hanna Barag discuss the separation wall, its purpose, its effects and their hope for its eventual dismantling.

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PHOTO ESSAY: Two faces of the Hebron’s urban planning

by Diana, Hebron team

Hebron’s appearance is slowly changing… while carrying out are usual EAPPI tasks, we can observe both – the Israeli settler’s and the Palestinian resident’s efforts to transform the city.

Israeli settler efforts are concentrated mainly on Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida hill. They tend to highlight the ancient Jewish heritage in Hebron. That’s why they paint graffiti on the door of closed palestinian shops, they arrange gardens in place of streets formerly leading to the old city market, they put informative signs and mark tourist paths. Recently, they also renamed the streets in the area of settlements in the old city. On the top of Tel Rumeida hill the ongoing archaeological excavations will create a Biblical Park explaining the Jewish history of the site and the city.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) focuses its efforts on the Old City of Hebron. They rebuild houses demolished by Israeli forces, restore the former look of historical sites of the old city, and make better everyday life of its inhabitants, many of whom have moved out of the Old City after its closure. Lastly, HRC also strongly promotes tourism and other sectors of Hebron’s economy.

*Read more about the Archeological Excavations in Hebron.

*Check out our Three-part series about Shuhada Street.

Patience runs out in the sand

by Leif, South Hebron Hills team

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

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

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

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

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

Still the waiting erodes patience.

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

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

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Almotasem

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

The neighbours have complained.

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

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

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

Eyal Shani rebuilding homes in um al kher.

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

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

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

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

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

Children stand in their demolished home.

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

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

Photo of tea in Khashem ad Daraj

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

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

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

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

What can WE do?

At the end of his term in Yanoun, Rafael reflects on what EAs can do when they return home

by Rafael, Yanoun team, Group 49

EAPPI, Israeli, and other activists help build shelters for residents of Mak-hul after the demolition on September 20th. Photo EAPPI/R. Marques.

EAPPI, Israeli, and other activists help build shelters for residents of Mak-hul after the demolition on September 20th. Photo EAPPI/R. Marques.

In the middle of last century George Orwell foresaw that “Big Brother” would dominate our lives completely. In his book “1984”, the author tells the story of a fictional country controlled by a government matrix that decides from the clothes you will wear to what kind of information you can get from the media. The control is justified by the constant threat of an external enemy that you have never seen.

Those who are controlled seldom realize this. In the context of the Israeli occupation, the awareness of the Israeli people about what is happening is amazingly close to zero. But for every rule there is an exception.

The events of Mak-hul

The community of Mak-hul, in the Jordan Valley, Palestine, was demolished on September 16th, affecting at least 12 families. On September 20th, several organizations joined efforts to deliver shelter and tents to the village through the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). EAPPI joined the delegation to provide protective presence to the community and help with the shelters.

Several diplomatic representatives were also present. The army took the truck with the humanitarian aid by force. Some clashes then occurred between the villagers and the army.

On October 11th, we returned to Mak-Hul to help build shelters for the animals and some tents. This time, several Israeli activists, especially from the organization Machsom Watch, came to the community to deliver materials and offer help.

 “Dangerous” areas

Most of them were elderly. In one conversation, one of the activists said that several members of her group have been arrested for being in Palestinian areas. She herself had been arrested. After that, she decided to seek the Israeli administration responsible for the occupation, and there she was forced to sign a document taking all responsibility for visiting areas considered “dangerous”. The entry of Israeli citizens in these areas is prohibited by Israeli law.

For its citizens, the Israeli government justifies its actions as measures necessary to guarantee security. For Palestinians, the Israeli activists are always welcome.

‘What did you do, so that others may live in peace and you can enjoy the paradise?’

Among Israelis in Mak-Hul, we found Mr. Yehoshua Rosin, now 70 years-old, who, early on, decided to oppose the occupation and the decisions of his government. Mr. Yehoshua asked us to email the photos we took that day. He, then, told us a beautiful story.

“In the past I used to take pictures myself. I am a free thinker, but I’ll use a religious metaphor. According to the Jewish religion, when a Jew dies he will be judged before God. If innocent, he will go to Paradise (Garden of Eden), but if you sin and do not repent, will be condemned to hell. So I thought I’d take photos with me to the grave and when asked ‘What did you do, so that others may live in peace and you can enjoy the paradise?’, I’ll show the pictures and say ‘That’s what I could do’. Many thanks and greetings to your group for your contribution.”

It was sad to realize that most Israelis present were of advanced age. It seems that the new generation is not listening to those who have enough experience. But, just like Mr. Yehoshua and the lady to whom we have talked, we cannot surrender to “Big Brother”. As EAs, we do our part: we record what we see and we tell others. After all, “this is what we can do.”