Home sweet home in firing zone 918

by the South Hebron Hills team.

It is six o’clock in the morning, and day is about to break over the valley below. In the distance, the foothills of the Negev emerge above the mist. All is quiet and peaceful in Ziad’s tiny homestead, where we have just spent the night.  Only the hollering of the jackals and the barking of a lone dog interrupted the silence of last night. Ziad arose well before daybreak to say his two morning prayers, as is his religious custom. He has worked tirelessly all morning feeding fodder and maize to his one hundred and twenty sheep.

He lives by himself in a very small simple cave and he seems satisfied with its rudimentary comfort it offers. Electricity comes from solar panels and water is collected in cisterns. A local NGO has built a toilet cubicle adjacent to the house. A few olive trees and a fig tree are planted next to the small platform where Ziad sits when he rests for a moment. A small paradise on earth, one may think and yet a closer look at life in this area reveals that it is far from ideal…

13-10-15 South Hebron Hills Bir al Idd Breakfast after overnight protective presence Abu Tariq EAPPI BG. Saltnes

13.10.15 South Hebron Hills, Bir al Idd, Abu Tariq and EA share breakfast after overnight protective presence Photo EAPPI BG. Saltnes

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E1: The End of the Dream for a Palestinian State?

by Jerusalem Team.

The Israeli authorities plan to expand the settlement Ma’ale Adumim and connect it to Jerusalem was approved by the Israeli government 1999. The plan, commonly referred to as the E1 Plan, has long been opposed by the international community as an obstacle to the realization of the two-state solution. Several events that have taken place in recent months indicate an acceleration of the implementation of this plan.

15.08.15, E1 area, Ma’ale Adumim and Jabal Al Baba, Atallah Mazarah Photo EAPPI

15.08.15, Jerusalem, E1 area, Ma’ale Adumim settlement and Jabal Al Baba Bedouin community. Photo EAPPI/A. Mazarah

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Harassment in the Hebron Hills

by South Hebron Hills Team.

Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control since the Oslo Accords of 1993, is dotted with Bedouin villages. Many of the Bedouin currently living in Palestine fled there in 1948 from their ancestral lands in the Negev Desert as the newly-founded State of Israel pushed its way into the Negev. The Bedouin purchased land from the local people and initially were able to continue their simple farming – growing crops and shepherding.

Since 1967 when Israel began to occupy the West Bank, Area C has also become dotted with Israeli settlements, the building of which is illegal under Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a convention ratified by the State of Israel.

30.07.15 . South Hebron Hills, Um al Kher next to Karmel settlement. Photo EAPPI / S. Lise Bedringaas

30.07.15 . South Hebron Hills, Um al Kher next to Karmel settlement. Photo EAPPI / S. Lise Bedringaas

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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 sign of hope in Access to Education

In the midst of bedouin communities facing displacement, one village will receive a school for its children.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

The community of Jab’a is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Today few Bedouins who live in the countryside to the East of Jerusalem are able to continue their semi-nomadic lifestyles, as they have been moved to designated areas not suitable for herding or farming. They are restricted by fences, Israeli settlements, poisonous waste from settlements – not to mention obstacles like busy motorways. This is the story of a small community fighting for their land and for their children’s education, giving a glimpse of hope in the often bleak reality.

The tribe of A Ka’abneh  that EAPPI supports has been separated by these obstacles from the rest of the Jab’a Bedouin community to which they belong, and their smallest children face a journey to school so challenging it can scarcely be imagined.

According to a UNDP Report, education in Palestinian bedouin communities often suffers because of the poor environmental conditions and educational quality, often stemming from restrictions of the Israeli occupation.  This results in a high percentage of school dropouts and a correspondingly high rate of illiteracy, especially among females.

The small community of Ka’abneh is to be found squeezed in between fences, the Israeli settlement of Adam and a motorway intersection. As guests, we are made welcome amidst the poor houses, ruins of demolished houses and tent constructions. While we are seated under a dusty olive tree drinking a never-ending supply of sugary mint tea, it is impossible to ignore the roar of the cars speeding by. The contrast between the traditional garments of the mukhtar – the village leader – and the hypermodern surroundings that suffocate the village highlights the tensions they live with. This is far from the traditional picture of Bedouin life that most of us have.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

An EA listening as Mohamed Ka’abneh outlines his plans. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

After meeting with the village leader Mohamed Ka’abneh we are shown the pipe. Yes, that is correct, the pipe, that children crawl through to cross under one of the busy main roads that surround the village. The alternative is to dodge through the speeding traffic. Each day they pick their way through garbage, scorpions and mud to get to school. So far “only” one child has been bitten by a snake. The children willingly show us their difficult way to school through the pipe, and as we wander back towards the site of what will become their new school, they burst with excitement.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

Daod (12) and Ahmad (8) emerge from the pipe under the busy road. Photo EAPPI/ML. Kjellstrom.

For years Mohamed has worked to raise funds for a school bus but without success. He later realized that it would be better to get a school for the community. Finally, with the support of the European Commission through an international NGO, a school has been promised. As they had already waited to get a school bus for such a long time the community joined forces to speed things up and each family gave a couple of hundred shekels to level the ground for the new school.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Jab’a community is surrounded by busy roads. Photo EAPPI/P. Buckley.

Most of the houses in the village have demolition orders pending and they fear the school may be demolished or dismantled, even before it has started to operate. So they have asked EAPPI to provide a protective presence and they want as many internationals as possible to be present in the coming weeks to deter any demolition. EAs encounter many communities and people who are in a demoralizing downward spiral of demolitions and evictions, that any sign of progress provides a welcome relief. And currently the situation in the Ka’abneh village offers a ray of hope, in a very challenging time.

The school will enroll 50 children from the age of six to twelve, and teachers from outside the community will start teaching as soon as the classrooms are ready.

The children, the community and EAPPI await with excitement the first day of classes in the new school. This time there will be no pipes and no mud to crawl through.

* Read more about the struggles of the bedouin in the E1/Jerusalem Periphery.

Grandma moves house

After their home has been demolished 5 times, a family in Khirbet Yarza decides to move and leave the location they’ve lived in for generations.

by Ken, Yanoun team

We must look a strange sight to the locals, travelling along the precipitous mountain tracks on our way to rescue those in need, in our canary-yellow coloured “German donkey” (VW Caravelle taxi) … like something out of a Monty Python sketch or a spoof spaghetti western.

But there’s nothing funny about the situation that we find in Khirbet Yarza.  Masadi’s sitting in the wreckage of what was her home until a couple of hours ago, before the 50 soldiers arrived and bulldozed everything flat. Once would be bad enough but this is the fifth time that this has happened to them!

In my entire life I’ve never seen anyone so distraught; grief is etched into her features but she can’t cry, she can’t even speak to us, and I realize that she’s suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome. She gestures helplessly with her hands at the catastrophe around her and then retreats to a make-shift kitchen area she’s cleared from the rubble.

Sixteen persons, including 12 children, living in this extended family were made homeless. Fayas, the husband, explains that his family have lived as shepherds in this area for generations and have land title deeds going back to Ottoman times. It doesn’t matter: they’ve been punished for the cardinal sin of erecting a structure without a building permit. They thought the demolition order served on them had been suspended pending their legal challenge: they were obviously wrong.

The family is in a desperate ‘Catch 22’ situation as a building permit is next to impossible to obtain by a Palestinian and certainly not on land declared by the army to be a closed military zone.

What will they do now?

“What can we do but start again?” says Faisal stoically and starts constructing a wind- and waterproof shelter from borrowed materials.

Masadi scoops up some of the ruined food and animal fodder with her hands and shows it to us: “I don’t understand why this has been done to us. Why don’t they just kill us instead of destroying our lives?”

We call the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and soon humanitarian aid begins to arrive. Before going I say to Masadi “Allah yusalmik” [God protect you]. She nods resignedly in acknowledgement but I can’t help thinking that she wonders why God appears to have abandoned her.

Three weeks later it’s a case of déjà vu. We’re back in Khirbet Yarza. At 06.00 am roughly 40 soldiers arrived without warning and demolished everything again.  The family was not given time to remove the calf from one of the animal shelters; of course it died. Masadi sits forlornly amidst the rubble, contemplating the family’s future:

“This is not a life. Everyone is forced away from Palestine. Soon there will be no Palestinians left. What can we do now?”

Faisal has the answer: move. The Israeli army has finally won. Faisal’s had enough, the last straw being the confiscation of his tractor for having the temerity to disobey the army’s previous instruction to vacate the site.

Two of my colleagues sit patiently with Masadi, holding her hands and speaking softly to her in English, Arabic and Swedish to comfort her, like the two daughters that she may never have had. Meanwhile I and another EA help Fayas salvage what we can from the debris and load it onto a tractor and trailer to be taken to the family’s new home, a single-roomed stone structure further along the ridge.

 

It takes five trips to complete the move. Meanwhile the girls remain with Masadi at her new home but soon other women begin to arrive. Things are starting to look up but it’s cuddling her grandson that finally puts a smile back on Masadi’s face.  Everyone pitches in to make the new home habitable. I sweep out the room, someone else mops the floor, others bring in the meagre items of furniture, while Faisal and sons rig up the solar power installation.

We all help to rebuild the dry stone walled enclosure for the sheep and goats. Throughout all this a tired old donkey looks on; maybe he’s seen it all before. At last we’re finished. The Ritz it certainly isn’t, but at least it’s a roof over their heads. More importantly it’s a place out of the way of the threat of demolition. Inshallah! (God willing!)

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.