Between a gate and the wall; Palestinians receive medical care in the seam zone

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By Line and the Tulkarm-Qalqiliya team.

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Suhad of PMRS showing EA the seam zone on a map. EAPPI/L. Jensen

An ambulance is driving down an empty street in Qalqiliya, in the northwest of Palestine. It’s still early and the city has not yet begun to buzz with street vendors and people on their way to work. The ambulance has big round logos on the side that say PMRS – Palestinian Medical Relief Society. PMRS is an NGO that offers medical services for the most vulnerable people in Palestinian society including those living in the seam zone. Inside are the doctor, two public health nurses and a lab technician, all having fun and laughing. The gynaecologist is not at work today – so there is room for me and my fellow EA to accompany the team. We are very excited and a little anxious, truth be told, because we are going into the seam zone.  Continue reading

Dismantling Barriers

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by returned EA John.

“God has broken the dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14)”

The reading from Ephesians 2:11-22 is concerned with building a new community where Jews and Gentiles are united in peace. There are no longer insiders and outsiders, rather God’s grace extends to all. Christ is the cornerstone of a new temple (or community) marked by unity and reconciliation.

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Northern West Bank. 2016 Photo EAPPI

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‘Our clothes are too clean’: Humiliation at Deir Al Ghusun

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by Tulkarm/Qalqiliya team, 

It was dark when we left. The 5am alarm sounded and the placement house began its usual morning splutter to life. Cameras. Notepads. Jackets. We tipped the lights and set out to monitor access to livelihood at the Deir Al Ghusun agricultural gate, just north of the Palestinian city of Tulkarm.

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It’s all about land

by the South Hebron Hills Team

We recently went on an excursion into the countryside with Nasser Nawaja a local contact and resident of Susiya. Nasser is a field researcher in the South Hebron Hills for B’Tselem an Israeli-Palestinian human rights organisation. Through his work he knows the fragmented pastures around Yatta like the back of his hand. While touring with Nasser he pointed out a number of restricted “security zones” around the settlements and explained how the grazing land is divided up between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The first thought that struck me, while he spoke, was that there really should be no “division” as such, nor any dispute over who goes where; the UN has after all officially recognized Palestine as a country.

Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore

Hilltop showing patches of land which have different access rules for Palestinians and Israelis. South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore 2015

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 lands have been expropriated from their Palestinian owners under a variety of pretexts in order to allow the building of settlements. There are approximately 150 settlements in occupied Palestine. Significantly these settlements have large ‘buffer zones’ around them which Palestinians are denied access to.

“The fenced or patrolled areas of settlements cover three percent of the West Bank; in total 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.” UNOCHA 2012

Compulsory purchase orders have been enacted which have taken advantage of legal frameworks dating from the times of the Ottoman Empire.  According to Ottoman law all land belongs to the State unless someone can specifically prove ownership in writing; further clauses have allowed the confiscation of land that has not been used or cultivated for three years. These laws tend to work against Palestinians living on the “seam zones and security areas”, where they are often denied permission to cultivate the land. Additionally when a dispute arises over the ownership of a particular tract of land, any use of the land is prohibited. This results in further loss of land and livelihoods for local herding communities.

“You see that brown patch of land down there in the valley?” said Nasser, pointing into the distance. “That and the green corridors extending away from it in both directions is an area closed to everyone. The same goes for the lush grassy area heading up from one of the corridors towards the outpost on the hill. On the other hand… the stretch of land from the look-out post down towards the road is off-limits to the settlers.” Nasser 2015

While Nasser spoke I tried in ernest to take the new information on board and to discern the logic of it all, if only so that I might remember the status quo in different strips of land on different hilltops. In the end I gave up realising it was a fruitless task and concluded “there was no logic”.

Nasser Nawaja and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Nasser and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Soon after a patrol car appeared behind us and some Israeli soldiers beckoned us over. By coincidence, at that precise moment Nasser spotted a few goats belonging to the nearby settlement, grazing in an area that was off-limits to all parties. He pointed them out to the soldiers and asked why the goats were not being driven away from the prohibited area like Palestinian shepherds often were. The soldiers had no answer to this and they got back into their personnel carrier and drove away.

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

I burst out laughing but then I felt ashamed. The situations one encounters in this bizarre patchwork quilt of hills and valleys would be comical – if it were not so tragic for so many. Each and every ‘re-zoned’ strip of dirt is somebody’s lost land.

Here we go on frequent visits to vulnerable communities living in Area C to give our support to families whose homes have been bulldozed or who are awaiting demolition. Many have received demolition orders because their homes have been deemed too close to either an Israeli settlement, a military firing range or an archaeological site. Access to land in area Area C, where the Israeli government has full control, is severely restricted. In fact, less than 1% of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development and construction is heavily restricted in 29% of Area C. UNOCHA 2013

Just a few days ago, our team rolled up our sleeves and joined the locals who were working to clear the demolition rubble away from the foundations of a house that had been leveled. The Israeli military carried out the demolition of a dozen homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Khair in October 2014. Umm al-Khair is bordered by the Israeli settlement of Karmel.

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

This particular family does not intend to leave and share their hopes and plans for rebuilding. They tell us that they will not build on the site where their previous home stood since the early 1960s, but right next to it. Many victims of demolition do this in the hope that the time it takes for a new building application to go through the courts will buy them some time in their new home. The temporary emergency shelters which the families now live in have been funded by both the European Union and the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and although this international support is greatly appreciated the residents say that they expect that these shelters will also be demolished before long. This is rural life in Area C in Palestine.

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Approximately 99% of all Palestinian planning permission applications are rejected. Significantly, while old Palestinian houses are being demolished on regular basis, settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law, are being expanded at a steadily increasing pace. In some cases entire villages are under threat of demolition. The one that is probably closest to the heart of us EAs in the South Hebron Hills is the small community of Susiya, which has recently been featured in the pages of Israeli and Palestinian and international newspapers.

Susiya: a community at the heart of the struggle

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Some 550 people live in the village of Susiya. Their main source of income comes from farming and animal husbandry. From the outside, the village might look like a ramshackle tangle of tents and shacks, but it has a soul and a school and a whole lot of children. Village community life flourishes.

The village of Susiya was here at its original location from the early decades of the 19th century. In 1986, the Israeli Civil Administration declared the village land was an archaeological site and the residents were expelled and the land was confiscated. Since then the village’s history has been one long chapter of nonviolent struggles against demolition orders. Just some weeks ago, the Civil Administration announced it had quashed the last legal obstacles to the complete destruction of the village. “Complete” in this case would not just include their makeshift homes but livestock barns, water tanks, solar panels – everything in the village.

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Things are rather different at the neighbouring Susiya settlement, built on village land from 1983 onwards. Life in the Israeli settlement carries on without any threats of the demolition.  The story of Susiya is one of many in the South Hebron Hills region, where too many people live from day to day never knowing when the next expulsion will come.

On the 10th of May the Civil Administration began ‘mapping’ Susiya – residents fear imminent demolition. Click here to learn more.

Take action box 2

 

Sign and spread the Avaaz Petition started by Susiya resident Nasser Nawajeh, Save My Village!

You can help their cause by sharing their story and spreading B’Tselem’s appeal through social media using #SaveSusiya.

 

Life behind the wall

‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi is in the seam zone. Sandwiched between the green line and the wall, the village is isolated.

by Samuel, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

The car for the PMRS mobile clinic, loaded with medical supplies. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

The car for the PMRS mobile clinic, loaded with medical supplies. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.


“Fine, let them build the wall. But do it on the green line,” Suhad says to me.

Suhad works for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) which is an NGO that offers medical services for the most vulnerable people in Palestinian society. She says these words as we stand on the outskirts of the village ‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi, which is a village PMRS supplies medical services for. The reason is that the village is in the seam zone.

In 20012, the Israeli goverment decided to build a wall between Israel and the West bank for security reasons. But due to illegal Israeli settlements in the West bank, the wall was built to keep as many of the settlements on the Israeli side of the wall. 85% of the wall is built on Palestinian land, thus creating an area between the “green line,” the internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine, and the wall. This area is known as the seam zone. Those living in this area are still living in Palestinian territory, but are separated from the rest of the West Bank.

Because’Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi is located in the seam zone, they are not able to build. Therefore, the new school they built has a stop working order on it, which means it will be demolished. The case on the school is in the Israeli court and is yet to be decided.

I talked to Alam, the head mistress in the school. She previously worked as a teacher in Hablas, a village in the West Bank that is not in the seam zone.

“What is the biggest difference to work here compared to Hablas?” I ask. 

“The movement” she says. “To come here you need a permit to cross the checkpoint.”

To cross a checkpoint in the wall, you need to apply for a permit for a specific checkpoint. You either need to have land or a job on the other side of the wall. Many people are rejected. Alam tells me there is problem for her and the teachers at the checkpoints. It can be problems related to permits, but mostly it takes a long time to stand in the queue to pass. 

“How are the children affected by the occupation?” I ask.

Always when I ask questions like this I feel embarrassed because it is so obvious the children here can’t live a normal life. Still, I want to hear the people living under Israeli occupation describe it themselves.

“To be isolated here,” the headmistress replies. “They can’t move and they can’t get the services they need. They are blocked in.”

A boy running off to class. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

A boy running off to class. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

She tells me that they can’t go to school trips like normal school children. The school must coordinate with the Israeli authorities to get books to the school. It is also hard when the children will be vaccinated because they have to pass the checkpoint and go in to other parts of the West Bank.

“Everything is hard behind the wall. Things that normally take one hour take the entire day.”

Suhad and I take a tour in the school and greets the children. When Suhad asks if they are happy to be back in school, they smile and say yes.

“Why” Suhad asks.

“Because it will help us to become adults and be educated,” a little girl replies.

Suhad pointing at the nearby settlement. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

Suhad pointing at the nearby settlement. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

After our school visit Suhad and I take a walk around the village. She points to the Israeli settlement on a hill not too far away. This settlement is the reason that the wall is dividing this village and others from the rest of the West Bank. She tells me that her father used to be a farmer and have land. He used to export fruit to Kuwait and other countries, then only to Jordan, then selling only locally in the West Bank and now the land is behind the wall so he can’t use it.

Once again I feel embarrassed for my question but I ask it anyway.

“What do you think is the first step towards peace?” I ask.

Suhad smiles sadly and says, “To stop the occupation.”

 

*Read about how life is dramatically different in ‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi from the nearby settlement, Alfe Menashe.

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.