Video: ‘The Struggle to Save Susiya’

This video looks back on the summer months and gives a brief insight into ‘the struggle to save Susiya‘. It features interviews with Nasser Nawaja, a local peace activist and resident of Susiya.

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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.

Our Top 10 Posts from 2014

Happy New Year to all! We want to say thank you to all you follow our blog and read our posts. It’s you who help us get the word out about the injustices happening in Palestine and Israel.

The year 2014 was a difficult year with the assault on Gaza, the kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens, the closures & raids that occurred across the West Bank in the search for the teens. It was also a 6 year high for displacement from demolitions and human rights violations continued throughout the West Bank.  Here we shed light on the injustices that occurred and the faces of hope & perseverance through it all in 10 most viewed posts from 2014.

10. Final destination

photo of Selim Auda Jahaleen

Selim Auda Jahaleen is 107 years old. A Palestinian Bedouin, he is the oldest member of the Jahaleen tribe. Photo EAPPI/BG. Saltnes.

Israeli authorities announced plans, Nuwei’ma plans, to forcibly transfer over 7,000 Bedouin from the Jerusalem periphery/E1 area and Jordan Valley. Bedouin who have already become refugees twice, face imminent displacement again and the loss of their traditional way of life. Demolitions of homes and property are the immediate result of these plans and affect families such as Selim’s.

9. Responding to tragedy with smiles and sweet tea

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

Demolitions are a common occurrence in the Jordan Valley. Some homes & villages have been demolished many times. In January 2014, EAs went to the home of Nimer Hassan Hussein Daraghmi in Al Farisiya only 3 hours after his home was demolished. They found that in the face of tragedy & disaster, this family showed remarkable hospitality.

8. Humanitarian Situation Deteriorates at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

Checkpoint 300. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Checkpoint 300. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Between 4,000 to 6,000 Palestinian workers cross the Bethlehem Checkpoint everyday on their way to work inside Israel. The overcrowding at this checkpoint is dangerous and raises serious humanitarian concerns. In May 2014, the situation deteriorated severely. Check out the fact sheet we created about it.  Although it’s from May 2014, it is not far off from the everyday reality of Checkpoint 300 and is still relevant today.

7. Archaeological excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron expand and destroy more Palestinian land

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

In February 2014, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) significantly expanded excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. We gave an update in June 2014 and showed how individual Palestinian families and their land are being affected. Excavations continue today.

6. Palestinian Christians find hope in Pope Francis’ visit

C. Holtan Pope Francis by the Wall in Bethlehem 250514

Pope Francis visited the Holy Land in May 2014.  With his stop at the Separation Wall he did not just leave an iconic photo for the media, but also gave a feeling of hope for Palestinian Christians that worldwide Christians recognized the injustices in the Holy Land.

5. The tribulations of Khaled Al Najar

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled's wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled’s wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

Khaled Al Najar from the South Hebron Hills has faced numerous trials and tribulations over the years due to the Israeli occupation and settler violence.  From burned crops and livelihood to being shot in his stomach to long drawn out court cases, an EA captured his heart wrenching story.

4. “I teach all the children at the school to keep their dignity.” ~Samia, Teacher, Cordoba School

T.FJeldmann_TeacherSamiaAlJaberi_CP56_Hebron010914_2

As part of our 2014 Back to School series, we interviewed students & teachers about their challenges of going to school under military occupation and also their hopes & dreams that persist despite these obstacles.  Samia, a teacher in Hebron, shared some inspiring words.

3.Access to water in the Jordan Valley

Abu Dirra shows us the old larger Palestinian water pipe in Bardala which was severed.  Israeli authorities joined the smaller water pipe, allowing a smaller amount of water to be pumped to the village. Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

Abu Dirra shows us the old larger Palestinian water pipe in Bardala which was severed. Israeli authorities joined the smaller water pipe, allowing a smaller amount of water to be pumped to the village. Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

In 2014, we started a new placement in the Jordan Valley.  Our first team of EAs there took on the big task of raising awareness and advocating for issues in this contentious valley. In this article, they shed light on the injustices of water distribution. Although water is an issue all over Palestine, inequality is the worst in the Dead Sea area of the Jordan Valley, where Israeli settlers receive 10 times more water than West Bank Palestinians.

2. Houses, oranges, checkpoints, guns – kids draw life in Palestine

Sadee's drawing

When I saw Sadee’s drawing I asked her if the person inside the house was holding a plate of food. She told me that it wasn’t a house, it was a checkpoint, and that the person was a soldier holding a gun. Photo EAPPI/E. Kulta.

Art is a powerful tool for self expression.  Two EAs asked kids in Azzun Atma to draw their life in Palestine. What they got were powerful reflections from 7 and 8 year olds of living and going to school under military occupation.

1. The Tent of Nations – a nonviolent conviction to resist injustice and build hope for peace

Esther Goebel - Daher Nassar - Tent of Nations - Nassar on his farm, Jewish settlements in the background

The Tent of Nations, located just outside, faces constant threat of harrassment land confiscation from Israeli authorities and Israeli settlers. Yet, Daher Nassar refuses to give and is an inspiring example of peace and nonviolence. We wrote this article about him in February before 800 of the family’s trees were uprooted in May. This calamity did not deter him, however, and he continues to plant trees as a sign of hope.

Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan

by Lindsey, Jerusalem team

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Silwan is located just south of the Old City walls in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

55,000 people live in Silwan, a beautiful but run-down area of East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City. Its name comes from the Greek Shiloam whose pools are mentioned in the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and 2 Samuel, as well as in John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man.  It is perched precariously on steep slopes along both sides of the Kidron Valley, above the Gihon Spring. The upper part of Silwan is known as Al-Bustan and the lower as Wadi Hilweh.

Until 1967 the area of Silwan was an almost totally Palestinian Muslim area, under Jordanian rule.  The families here owned their properties since Ottoman times.  After the 1967 war, the area was annexed by Israel and it is the declared plan of the Jerusalem Municipality to have 75% of Silwan Israeli-owned.  To this end, illegal Israeli settlers are moving into the area, particularly at the end nearest the Old City. 

In a tour with Mahmoud Qaraeen, who works at the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and leads regular tours of the area, he describes the variety of ways Israeli settlers are able to move into Silwan. Some of the houses have been purchased using middle men so that Palestinians are unaware that they are selling to Israelis; some obtained by the forging of documents.  Most have been acquired by invoking the Absentee Property Law, a law which came into being after the Nakba of 1948 declaring that any Palestinian property which was empty for three years – or for which no documents of ownership could be produced – could be appropriated by the Israeli State.  Many Palestinians have no documents to prove their ownership.  Historically, land and property has been passed down informally through families.

Israeli settlements and archaeology in Silwan

According to Mahmoud, there are now 250 illegal settlers in Silwan.  Many Silwan residents have been evicted from their homes and 64% of the houses in the area are under demolition orders.  In 2013, 123 houses were demolished in East Jerusalem; many of them were in Silwan.

The biggest illegal settlement establishment in the Silwan area is the controversial City of David archaeological park, to be called the Garden of the King.   Some Israelis believe that this is the actual location of the biblical city of Jerusalem captured by King David over 3,000 years ago. The City of David Foundation (Elad is the Hebrew acronym) is dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs.

 

The excavations, however, which are still ongoing, have been carried out clumsily by bulldozers and some ancient Islamic remains have been carelessly destroyed. 

Adina Hoffman writing in the Nation in 2008 describes the methods used:

“As Rafi Greenberg (University of Tel Aviv professor of Archaeology explained during an alternative archaeological tour) the digs in Silwan are being conducted in the most tendentious way–with bulldozers clearing huge areas in haste and multiple levels being dismantled in a race to get to “Jewish” bedrock. Settlers build houses right on top of relics, and extremely tenuous conclusions are being drawn on the basis of nationalist ideology and a literalist reading of biblical texts, not the actual shards and stones that turn up in the course of the digging. Historical cross sections aren’t being preserved. Instead of the usual timetable for a dig-with one season of excavation followed by months in the lab-the City of David excavations are taking place year-round, straining professional standards and leaving no time for careful analysis.

It is, says Greenberg, ‘bad science.’”

Life in Silwan

In Silwan, the roads are pot-holed and narrow like a refugee camp and the neighbourhood itself is greatly overpopulated. Palestinians residing in Silwan are plagued by poor infrastructure. Even though East Jerusalemites pay 47% of the city’s municipal taxes they receive a mere 5% of the revenue back in benefits.  There is no secondary school, no post office and the small number of green spaces they had have been appropriated by Elad and named as archaeological sites, off-limits to Palestinians.

Mahmoud Qaraeen says that the Silwanis feel that they are constantly under scrutiny from the Israeli police and army.  There are more than 550 CCTV cameras around the area. There are many night raids and child arrests. Both children and adults are frequently assaulted and abused by settlers, the settlers’ armed guards and the Israeli army. There are not enough school places for the children of Silwan and the school dropout rate is 65%, compared to 52% in Jerusalem as a whole.

 

Overcoming difficulty with creativity

In 2007, the residents of Silwan decided to take matters into their own hands  and, with mostly European funding, established the Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, as a means of non-violent resistance.   Here women can do courses in cookery, sewing and life skills and children can learn music, dabke dancing, drama and art.  It started small but has grown and now has after- school activities for the children, including a computer room and a well-stocked library.  More than 200 children per week participate in the activities here and it also provides a safe place for adults to meet and talk.

Life is still hard for children in Silwan.  In 2012, Jawad Siyam the General manager of Madaa Centre, formed a Children’s Protection Committee. It came as a result of the frequent assaults and abuses of children, who are often kidnapped and arrested in ways which flagrantly violate the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Room No 4 is a photographic project which was based on a Madaa report published in 2012: The impact of child arrest and detention.

Room number 4 is the room in the Russian Compound – the main Israeli police station in Jerusalem – where Palestinian Jerusalem residents, including children, are investigated.  The exhibition, which is based on real testimonies of children aged 7-17, deals with issues such as night arrests, investigating children without the presence of their parents and assaulting and threatening them.  It has been shown in various places in Palestine and Israel and also in Europe.

Children playing in Silwan.  Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

Children playing in Silwan. Night arrests of both children or their parents creates a difficult environment for children to grow up in. Photo EAPPI/L. Sharpe.

To return to Adina Hoffman’s account of the area, she reports on the Israeli plan to take over the area of Silwan:

“Most clever of all was Elad’s decision to fix on archaeology as the key to winning the hearts and minds of the wider Israeli Jewish public. Archaeology has, of course, long been something like Israel’s national pastime, a “scientific” discipline that, in this particular cultural context, has often blurred into the realm of major-motion-picture-scale mythmaking (see under: Masada). Since the early days of the state, archaeology has provided vivid settings and props that have helped Israelis both secular and religious to dramatize the stories they like to tell themselves about their historic bond to the modern homeland.”

Dig, popularizing ‘explusion disguised as archaeology’

In the last few weeks, Hoffman’s words have come to seem prophetic. NBC, which owns the USA cable network, has started shooting its Dig archeological thriller series there. Starring Anne Heche and Jason Isaacs, it will be broadcast on popular channels in the United States and has brought tens of millions of dollars in investment to Israel. It is based on the story of an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who is investigating the murder on an American archeologist at the Silwan excavations. NBC will receive a $6.5 million grant from the Israeli government, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, to make the series.  A film by Dave Lippman about the project calls it a celebration of ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology.’

The raising of Silwan’s profile by the presence of Hollywood is unlikely to make any positive difference for Silwan’s Palestinian residents. It is much more likely to give strength to the Israeli settlers moving into the area. As with many, many of the injustices of the occupation, the international community appears to be turning a blind eye.

In the gospel of John, Jesus takes dirt from Silwan and makes a blind man see.  Is it too much to hope that it can happen again?

The article Celebrating ‘expulsion disguised as archaeology’ in Silwan was originally published on our EA’s blog This Year in Jerusalem.

Archaeological excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron expand and destroy more Palestinian land

EAs investigate the archaeological excavation at Tel Rumeida. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pederson.

EAs investigate the archaeological excavation at Tel Rumeida. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

by Werner and Annica, Hebron team

The soldier shouts: “In 3 minutes I will shoot teargas, so everyone leave now!”

EAs withdraw a couple of meters together with the other international observers in Hebron. There are altogether about six of us, plus the members of the family of course. The young soldier is walking back and forth for a while, juggling the teargas grenade and grinning.

One could think that the EAs are caught in the midst of Friday clashes. But no, they are rather observing the enlargement of an archeological excavation.

On the left, one can see two strong women, a mother and a daughter, sitting where a big stonewall was standing just a couple of days ago. They won’t budge.

“This is our property,” they say.

For the second time a part of their wall, which marks the border between their property and the archeological excavation, has collapsed as a result of the digging.

“The workers must stop destroying our wall and stop destroying our olive tree.”

The olive tree in question now hangs half in mid-air, almost as in gasping for its last breath. Yet, it prevails. Just as the two women do.

One EA approaches Emmanuel Eisenberg, the elderly Israeli archeologist with a colorful shirt and a big hat. He is coordinating the project and is annoyed with the women disturbing his work.

Emmanuel Eisenberg and David Ben Shlomo look at the destroyed wall. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Emmanuel Eisenberg and David Ben Shlomo look at the destroyed wall. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

“I didn’t know that the wall would collapse!” he responds quite irritated when told that the owners are worried that even the rest of the wall would come tumbling down.

“Well,” the EA replies, “I have no education in archeology, but with the way you were digging, even I could have told you beforehand that the wall would collapse.”

“How should I know? I am an archeologist, not a construction worker!”

“Well, the exact same thing happened before, I would expect you to have learned a lesson by now?”

The archeologist goes from annoyed to angry.

The Israeli police arrived and and talk with the women. After heated discussions we are told that the archeologists have been prohibited from touching the wall. It would seem that the two strong women have won a small, rare victory over the overwhelming power of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Sadly, however, the IAA has seldom respected such prohibitions, and the internationals and the women will be ready for work even the next day.

Every Inch Matters on Tel Rumeida 

The excavations on the historical mount of Tel Rumeida are no new phenomenon. We posted about it in February on the EAPPI blog.

The current digs on Tel Rumeida, the hill believed to be the location of biblical Hebron, have secured support from Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. They were planned to last for a year, and cost around 7 million NIS.

The excavation site is blocked of by fences and danger signs. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

The excavation site is blocked of by fences and danger signs. Photo EAPPI/C. Bödker Pedersen.

The lead archeologist at the site, Emmanuel Eisenberg is no stranger to the people living on Tel Rumeida. Already in the late 1990s, Eisenberg and the Israel Antiquities Authority were involved in the archeological digs, which famously resulted in the expansion of the Admot Yishai Settlement to house even more settlers right on top of the excavations.

As above, even the current excavations form part of a larger vision: a biblical pathway, and the adherent archeological park.

The planned archaeological park in Hebron will include areas that have been excavated both the 1960’s by an American archaeologist, P. Hammond, and in the 1980’s by Israeli authorities. The present excavations also include the cleaning of previous excavations sites, and expanding existing pathways amid Palestinian houses. In a couple of years, there could even be cafes and kiosks and a steady stream of architecture aficionados.

The biblical pathway will lead from one side of the hill to the other, effectively cutting the Palestinian neighbourhood in half, while simultaneously providing panoramic views of the ancient city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The Israeli archaeological organization Emek Shaveh, which works on the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been critical of the motives behind the excavations, as well as the possible findings. According to their experts, none of the findings in land Lot 52 (find a map of area here) so far have been of exceptional archaeological significance, nor have the findings given any support to the plans of a tourist attraction in the area.

The poor results of the initial digs may also be one reason why in May 2014 the digs were significantly expanded over onto land lot 53, covering now almost double the amount of land they used to on land lot 52.

The Emek Shaveh experts explain that the ancient walls found in the neighbouring lot 53 have much more historical relevancefor the planned archaeological park, since these can at least be dated to the time of the Patriarchs and to the kingdoms of Judea and Israel.

Still, the Director General of Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities for the Palestinian Authority in Hebron, Dr. Ahmeed Rjoob shows no hesitation in calling the current excavations illegal. Palestinian Authorities are prohibited from even visiting the excavations, and prevented from evaluating and assisting the archaeological work.

Under the Oslo agreement, all excavations inside Hebron are required to be coordinated with us, but they never contacted us, and they keep ignoring us.”

Furthermore, the planned archaeological park qualifies as expansion of the existing Tel Rumeida settlement.

Continued Palestinian Perseverance

The Abu Haikal family’s fight for their private property has been rewarded with a couple of small victories, only to be followed by bigger disappointments.

Recently, Fariel Abu Haikal has on several occasions single-handedly stopped the digs by stepping in front of both the proverbial and the real life bulldozer that has been trespassing onto her land. Most often her daughter Arwa joins her, and side-by-side the two strong women have engaged in an iconic stand-off against the perpetrators.

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Fariel Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

So it goes on. Day after day the two women defend their land, as international observers provide protective presence. And the world is taking note.

People from all over the world are following the continuous updates from the excavation site. At the time of writing, the Facebook page called Save Tel Rumeida, which the Abu Haikal family created in January 2014, has more than 600 members and photos and videos are posted on almost a daily basis. 

 

 

Land grab in the name of archaeology

An Israeli archaeological excavation on Palestinian land is worrying the residents of Tel Rumeida, a hill in central Hebron and one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world. With funding from the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport and a potential plan for an archaeological park, the project seems to be expanding illegal Israeli settlements and settler tourism in Hebron. 

by Hebron team

Ferial Abu Haikel overlooking the land her family has tended for decades. Photo EAPPI.

Ferial Abu Haikel overlooking the land her family has tended for decades. Photo EAPPI.

When caterpillars entered the land next to their house in the early hours of January 5th of 2014, the Abu Haikal family watched with disbelief as they witnessed the uprooting of almond trees that the family had tended and harvested for decades. It was only after two hours that they learned the reason for this abrupt end to the life of their trees. Israeli authorities presented an order to clear the land for archaeological excavations.

The archeologists from Ariel University – a university located in an illegal Israeli settlement – state that they are digging for the ancient bronze and iron age city of Hevron, which lay here between 4500 and 2500 years ago. So far, David ben Shlomo says, leading the excavation, “the most remains found are from the early period, and so far actually we’ve found mostly rocks.”

When we meet Farial Abu Haikel in early February, a month after the start of the excavation, she is in a good mood. The workers did not show up that day and a glimpse of hope is on her face. Maybe the initial permit to conduct excavations was not renewed, maybe the paper work was not in order, maybe they will stop the work altogether. However, just the following week, the excavations were expanded to another patch of land that has also been worked by the Abu Haikel family and work in the initial plot was resumed.

The family has hired a lawyer and is taking the land issue to court, but the legal situation is complex to say the least.

Originally being Islamic Waqf property, the land was rented to a Jewish association during the British Mandate of Palestine. A Jewish Palestinian family, who the Abu Haikal family sheltered and protected during the massacre against the Jewish minority in Hebron in 1929, had taken care of the land. Following the establishment of Israel in 1948 the land was placed under the care of the Jordanian government, and eventually fell under the Israeli Absentee Property Law with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Throughout all of this, the Abu Haikel’s rented the land from the Jewish association, granting them the status of protected tenants.

Tel Rumeida – a troubled neighborhood

The hill of Tel Rumeida, on which the Abu Haikel’s house and the excavations are located, sits just above the old city of Hebron. It is home to many Palestinian families and an Israeli settlement, which houses a few very radical Jewish families, according to the Israeli counterterrorism specialist and expert in far-right Jewish groups Ehud Sprinzak.

The Palestinian residents of Tel Rumeida are all too well aware of what archeological excavations can lead to. After the first settlement was created here, with caravans parked on a small military base, the land next to it was fenced in to conduct archeological excavations. Today, on this very spot, a multi story apartment building rises, constituting the biggest part of the Tel Rumeida settlement.

Head archaeologist David ben Shlomo explains that the current excavation will be carried out for 2 or 3 more months. “But we have a permit for all of 2014.”

What happens after that, he does not know. But the land may be opened for tourism, he concedes. In order to reach the historical layers that they are looking for, the archaeologists every day bulldozer up truckloads of soil from the area. When we ask David Ben Shlomo what will happen to the soil they remove from the land he answers that he doesn’t know. “I think it is being sold, it is very good soil!”

The Palestinian residents living in the vicinity of settlements, experience heavy restrictions in their movements, livelihoods and personal lives. Tel Rumeida is off limits to Palestinian vehicles, with only settler cars being allowed to speed by. Palestinians face harassment and violence by their involuntary neighbors on a regular basis. The construction of yet another settlement on the hill is being anticipated with fear by those whose daily life will be affected by it.

We visit Ferial again. She shows us the land tended by the family and explains how the family over the years have suffered several attacks by the settlers from the Tel Rumeida settlement. She points to the trees in the part of her garden that the family still has access to, overlooking the archeological excavation.

“All of these trees, they are political. We planted them to prevent the settlers from throwing stones at us.”

Now the plots of land tended by the family have been fenced in, the trees have given way to gaping holes, and armed border police will tell anyone coming too close to the fences that the land is now off-limits.

Read more on this story on Ha’aretz.