If we shout loud enough, we can make a difference

Hanna was an EA from Norway in 2013.  Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of her memories, her advice on becoming an EA, and the victories she sees on the ground and abroad.

photo of beoduin girl

A little girl at a bedouin community outside Jerusalem. Photo taken by Hanna as an EA. Spring 2013.

What was it like to be an EA?

It’s interesting, because you learn a lot everyday. It’s challenging, in the sense that it forces you to rethink your own viewpoints.  You hear many different stories and these challenge your perspective.  It’s frustrating, because you see so many horrible things happening to people that you can’t do a lot about. But it’s also fun. You learn to work well in a team. You meet great people from around the world with many different backgrounds and experiences.

What’s your most significant memory from your time as an EA?

Before I was an EA, I had studied the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for 10 years. I wrote my Master’s thesis about Israeli settler violence, which meant I read about every attack that occurred for years.  I knew what the conflict was about and what was happening.  But I didn’t really get it or feel the impact on the lives of humans until I stood in the living room of a family with 5 children whose house was just torched by Israeli settlers. At this moment, I was actually hearing from the family and seeing what had happened with my own eyes. Then when I started thinking about the numbers of settler attacks I knew from my thesis and realizing how many people were affected just like this family, it really hit me.  I specifically remember the hospitality of Palestinians, which never ceased to amaze me!  Even in that moment, when the family was sharing their experience, the mother suddenly stopped and realized that she had forgotten to offer us something to drink and proceeded to bring us beverages. I couldn’t believe she was so concerned about us after everything they had been through.

Why did you choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

After studying Israeli politics and settler violence for my thesis, I realized I was just sitting and tallying statistics.  I had forgotten about the people and I knew I had to get on the ground, meet the people, and get back in touch with what is actually happening. This led me to look into different monitoring programs in the area and when I chose to apply for EAPPI.

In Norway, EAPPI has a very good reputation.  I new it was a respectable and serious program, as opposed to other monitoring programs that are less structured.  Even the application process in Norway is difficult and not many are chosen to be EAs.  We are carefully selected based on our ability to work productively in a team and in a stressful environment.  I knew that EAPPI had a clear vision and this made me feel like I was going to be a part of something where I can actually make a difference.

What’s the biggest change you see that EAPPI has?

Right now, Norway is going in the wrong direction.  Just recently Shimon Peres visited and renewed ties with Norway for research and academic cooperation.  Before this, there wasn’t really a public audience for advocacy that highlighted the Palestinian side of the conflict, because Norway, by default, was primarily pro-Palestinian. This was the mainstream.  Now with the current government, there is more of an arena for sharing stories about the human side of the conflict.  Before, although people in Norway were pro-Palestinian, they didn’t actually know what is going on.  Now, EAPPI actually has an opening to share their eyewitness stories and shed light on what is really happening on the ground.

I also think that we do see victories on the ground.  As an EA, I knew that merely my presence deterred violence from happening to civilians.  We didn’t stop violence everywhere, but it did help.  I knew that we wouldn’t end the occupation in 3 months, but at least we could make someone’s day better.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

Speaking as a European, like in any conflict, we are very euro-centric.  We don’t really care what is happening around the world unless someone in our community is involved.  People care more about people they know.  In this way, being here, we can bring more media attention and attention from those in our communities and ultimately areas in conflict will benefit.  This is the same for Israel and Palestine.

How can internationals influence the solution to the conflict?

With enough people shouting loud enough, you can force governments and companies to act, and eventually they will change their behavior.  But you have to be smart about it, and share what they want to hear. It’s about small steps, but it can happen.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

It’s great! But it’s also challenging and you should be prepared for this.  You need to understand that it will be demanding, both physically and mentally.  You will have to get up early in the morning and freeze while monitoring the checkpoints in cold weather.  You will have no privacy living together in a team.  It is mentally challenging and you basically work 24 hours a day.  It’s a developing country and things won’t always work in the way you are used to.  You must be sure you can handle this.  But if you can, it will be a really meaningful experience. You will learn a lot about the conflict and also a lot about yourself.

*Read more about life as an EA.

A Day in the Life of an EA: Checkpoint duty

Going through the checkpoint is not just a story of queues, turnstiles, and metal detectors, but encompasses the permit system for Palestinians and the sometimes arbitrary attitudes of Israeli soldiers. It is a story of daily humiliation and dehumanization, in stark contrast to every humans right to freedom of movement.

by Bron, Ar Ram team

One of our regular tasks as EAs in Ar Ram is “checkpoint duty” at the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint. Qalandiya checkpoint stands between the two Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It is on the Separation Barrier, which is at this point not on the international border known as the Green Line, but some 8 km north-east, in Palestine.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Twice a week we arrive about 4.15am, as the queue of workers from Ar Ram and Ramallah begins to build up, and for three hours we monitor the queues and the length of time it takes to pass through, and count the numbers of men, women and children crossing the checkpoint.

At 4.15am, the checkpoint building is alive with birdsong, and fat sparrows hop backwards and forwards under the metal bars, doing very well on the crumbs left by men eating breakfast as they wait. The freedom of the birds to come and go as they please is in marked contrast to that of the Palestinian people.

Let me give you an idea of what is involved in crossing the checkpoint. First you wait in line in one of three metal cages that is just wide enough for one person. At the end of this cage is the first turnstile, which at busy times opens to allow perhaps 10 or 12 people through at a time and then closes again for several minutes. Once through the first turnstile you go to one of 5 booths where you wait again at another turnstile. This turnstile usually opens to allow 3 people through, and then closes again for three or four minutes. You are then at the checkpoint proper, which is a little like airport security. You take off your shoes and jacket and belt and pile your possessions on a conveyor belt. You walk through a body scanner and present your ID and permit for inspection by the soldier on duty. You may well have to have your handprint checked too. If all is in order you are free to pick up your possessions and pass through 3 further turnstiles before you reach the other side and the buses waiting to take you to Jerusalem.

 

Men, women, and children begin to line up at Qalandiya checkpoint at 4:15 am every morning. Their daily commute involves this dehumanizing treck. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The queue at the checkpoint during busier hours of the day. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

It sounds simple. It is anything but.  The permit system which controls the freedom of Palestinians to travel around their country is a story in itself – there are 101 sorts of permits for different sorts of need, many are temporary and the process for acquiring a permit is complex, time-consuming and stressful. For now let us just say that, having reached the checkpoint, you may find that your permit has expired, or that it has been revoked, or that your handprint does not match that held on the database, or you have simply been “blacklisted” for some reason that you know nothing about.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow.  Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Or, as happened recently to families embarking on a day out, you may have been told that you do not need permits for your under-5s, but when you get to the checkpoint window the soldier on duty arbitrarily decides that you do and refuses to let the children through. (The wonderful Israeli organisation Machsom Watch  sorted that out very quickly for us by phoning the Commanding Officer).

For many Palestinians, crossing the checkpoint is a daily piece of frustration and humiliation inflicted upon them by the occupying power, Israel. For the most part they deal with it with stoicism and patience, though understandably resorting to some shouting and remonstrations when the queues stretch out to the car park and only two or three of the booths are open.Even if your permit is fine, navigating the route through the checkpoint can be an obstacle course. There is a “humanitarian gate” for women, elderly or sick people. But it does not save you a single turnstile. And the turnstiles are a menace to small fingers and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying small children or bags and a walking stick.

One of the most moving things we witness is the lines of men who, having spent perhaps half an hour or more queueing to pass the checkpoint, stop to pray on the Jerusalem side before boarding their bus.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state”. But as an elderly man told me in frustration as he emerged into the sunshine on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint last week:

“I am 70 years old. I was born in Jerusalem. I need a permit to go there. Half my family is in Ramallah, half in Jerusalem. I’m not from Europe or Africa – I’m from Jerusalem. And I need a permit to go there.”

The article Early Morning at Qalandiya was originally published on the blog Through My Eyes and Ears.

A Town Cut Off

The separation wall surrounds Ar Ram on 3 sides.  It is constantly in view and is a daily reminder of the city's struggles. Photo EAPPI/M. Lentz

The separation wall surrounds Ar Ram on 3 sides. It is constantly in view and is a daily reminder of the city’s struggles. Photo EAPPI/M. Lentz

by Bron and the Ar Ram team

Northeast of Jerusalem, just outside the city’s municipal border lies a town called Ar Ram. It’s a poor town of 60,000 people which used to be a part of eastern Jerusalem, but in the year 2006 many things changed. There was one concrete reason for that – Israel built the Separation Wall which now surrounds the town on three sides. It is the most prominent landmark of Ar Ram against its own will. The Wall is illegal according to the International Court of Justice, severely hampers the free movement of the people and has ruined the economy of Ar Ram.

There used to be a gate in the Wall which allowed direct access to Jerusalem for Ar Ram residents, but it was closed two years after the Wall was built, for “security reasons”. Ar Ram’s Mayor, Ali Maslamani, told our EAPPI team that he had asked the Israeli authorities “100 times” for it to be opened again, but they refuse.

So to get to Jerusalem one must pass through Qalandiya checkpoint, the main access to Jerusalem for all northern West Bank towns including Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.  What used to be a few minutes travel can now take 30 minutes up to 1 ½ hours. Our main task in the Ar Ram team is to observe the functioning of the checkpoint and the conditions for Palestinians trying to get through. The queues are usually very long, soldiers can be rude and indifferent and the tension is very visible.

But the difficulties in accessing Jerusalem are not the main reason for Ar Ram’s poverty.  According to the Executive Director of Ar Ram Council, MohannedShaheen, 70% of Ar Ram’s residents actually have Jerusalem IDs.  Such IDs are a prized possession, entitling the holder to the facilities – hospitals, schools etc – in East Jerusalem.  But the “permanent residency” status that goes with such an ID is always vulnerable. To keep it, you must show that your “centre of life” is in Jerusalem, not Ar Ram. This status goes in contrast to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under which “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.”

Most Ar Ram residents who have Jerusalem ID also maintain a home in Jerusalem.  And with a Jerusalem home come Jerusalem taxes, four or five times the level of Ar Ram taxes.  By the time you have paid your Jerusalem taxes, and maintained two homes, there is not a lot left to pay Ar Ram taxes.

The EAPPI Ar Ram team visiting the mayor's office in Ar Ram. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama

The EAPPI Ar Ram team visiting the mayor’s office in Ar Ram. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama

So Ar Ram struggles. There is no police force. The Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot afford to provide one. The mayor told us that the Israeli police are quick enough to enter the town and make raids on houses if they suspect a member of Hamas is there, but otherwise they take no interest whatsoever in the town. A large part of the former residents have left the town and organized crime, especially involving drugs, flourishes. There is no money for repair and maintenance of the schools.  As Mohanned Shaheen told us “we are speaking about a city with no income”.

What Ar Ram needs most of all is an end to the occupation – what both the Mayor and Mohanned Shaheen call “the nightmare occupation”.  What it also needs is investment – and the moral investment that comes with people-to-people links. Ar Ram is twinned with Bondy – a town about 30 km from Paris. Out of this twinning link came support to re-lay the disintegrating yard at the boys’ school.  It seems a small thing, but now the boys can play football and games where before they could not.  Ar Ram would like many more such links.  It is not just the money – it is the sense that people in Europe know that Ar Ram exists and understands what it is suffering.

Ar Ram may be a town cut off, but it is a town with pride and determination.

“We are strong”, Mohanned Shaheen told us. “ We may not have money or planes, but we are strong in the heart.”

EA Blog: Access to Education… Through a Tunnel

by Maureen, Jayyus Team

“Everyone has the right to education.”  Article 26 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948  (ratified by Israel.)

International humanitarian law and international human rights law are central to the work of EAPPI.  One of our tasks is to monitor children’s access to education.  We stand at checkpoints or gates where children have to cross on their way to and from school.  We watch to see that soldiers behave appropriately towards them.  Where it’s necessary, EAs walk with children through checkpoints.  But I recently came across a new problem for children in simply getting to school.

Last week I was with our EAPPI team in Jerusalem for a few days.  We visited Ka’abne, a small Bedouin village of about sixty people, near Adam settlement, not far from A Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  We went because we had heard that they had received a stop work order; if they took no action, this could quickly be followed by a demolition order, and then by the demolition of the tent in which some of them were living.

As we spoke to the adults, the children were playing round about us.  It was natural to ask about their school.  Mohammed, the man who had received the stop work order, told us that his children, like the other kids in the village, go to a school on the other side of a busy main road, which cars speed along.  We watched the traffic on the road; it would be dangerous for an adult to attempt to cross it, let alone a child.

‘How do the children go to school?’ we asked.  ‘They go through the tunnel,’ Mohammed said.  He and his brother told us that the tunnel was only 60cm high.  To be honest, I was sceptical.  That seemed very little.  So we went to have a look.

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With Mohammed at the entrance to the tunnel. Photo: EAPPI/K. Dimond

As you can see from the photos, the tunnel is very small indeed.  Going through it, the children have to crouch all the way along.  With a school rucksack on your back it must be really difficult.  My fellow EA, Keith, and I reckoned that the tunnel was about twelve metres long.

It’s not just the size that’s a problem.  It’s really more of a culvert than a tunnel.  When it rains, the tunnel has several inches of water in it.  One of the children told me that his teacher had sent him home from school one day because his trousers were so wet.  The children said that in the summer there are snakes, which is especially frightening for the little ones.

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Coming through the tunnel. Photo: EAPPI

The children were full of fun, and a couple of the boys grinned as I was hauled out and up from inspecting the tunnel.  Mohammed’s son, Abdullah, told us that his ambition is to be a lawyer.  He said that he likes school.  ‘But I don’t like the tunnel,’ he said.

The Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 explicitly states that an Occupying Power assumes responsibility for ensuring the provision of services to the population of the territory it is occupying.

The children I met in this small community, like children everywhere, have the right to education.  Don’t they have a right to better access too?   And doesn’t Israel have a responsibility to ensure that access?

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Abdullah, one of the children who goes through the tunnel each day to and from school. Photo: EAPPI