Open Letter to world leaders from a Bishop in Jerusalem and a refugee

1 September, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

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PHOTO ESSAY: The life of a child under occupation in Hebron

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by the Hebron team, Life is very difficult for many of the Palestinians living in the Israeli controlled part of Hebron. Significant military presence, harassment by settlers and restriction on movement are everyday occurrences. As an EA living in the … Continue reading

The Settler’s Tour in Hebron

by the Hebron Team

Hebron is a contested city. The settlements are located in the middle of the city’s center and there are few other places were Palestinians and settlers are living so close to each other. Because of the proximity, tensions frequently arise between the two sides.

Hebron, therefore, is often said to represent a microcosm of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern Settlers entering into the old city.  06.04.2015

Settlers entering into the old city, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The city is divided into one Israeli and one Palestinian zone. Normally the Old City is off limits for the settlers, but every Saturday afternoon a group of settlers and supporting tourists go on a “tour” around the Old City.

The group is accompanied by some 30-40 soldiers, including a troop of snipers that go ahead to secure the area. In some cases this means entering Palestinian homes. For approximately one hour the group makes its way through the Old City of Hebron protected by heavily armed soldiers. Some of the settlers participating in the tour are also armed.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour.06.04.2015

Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The tour guide is one of the ideological hardliners from the settlement community in Hebron. He presents the settlers’ narrative of the history of the Jewish community in the city. However, from what EAs have observed the audience rarely pays attention to what is being said. Instead they tend to hang out and chat with each other, the soldiers, or they concentrate on their phones. The Settler’s Tour has become a renowned attraction in Hebron. Also regular tourists come to Hebron to watch this spectacle of settlers, soldiers and members of international organisations.

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The Palestinians living and working in the Old City regards the settlers tour as way of “showing who’s in power” and to “intimidate the population”. EAPPI, is always present during the tours to provide protective presence to the inhabitants of the Old City.

We, as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), do our best to ensure that Palestinians do not face restrictions on their freedom of movement and that they are allowed to pass the group of settlers and soldiers without problems.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  EA monitoring the tour. 06.04.2015

EA monitoring the Settler’s tour Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

However, the tour is affecting the locals’ ability and willingness to move around the Old City. On one occasion we met two women with their daughters, who said they were too afraid to walk past the tour and decided to wait until it had passed.

In addition to affecting the number of customers in the Old City, the Settler’s Tour has further consequences for local commerce and trade. A shopkeeper in the Old City says about the tour:

“Sometimes the settlers break my things and throw my products on the ground and trample on them, other times the settlers buy things, you never know with these groups”

Nevertheless, the shopkeepers in the Old City staunchly open their shops and refuse to let the “tour” control their opening hours.