The Tent of Nations centenary: “We refuse to be enemies”

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by the Bethlehem team.  

On the 12th of May 2016, the Nassar family supported by visitors from around the Globe, congregated on a scenic hilltop farm on the outskirts of Nahlin village to celebrate their family’s connection to the land which stretches back in time to over 100 years.

People came from all over the world to participate in four days of activities that included workshops and group discussions as part of the 100 Years Celebration

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He knows neither the place nor the time

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By EA Katherine, Bethlehem Team.

Among the group of teachers sitting in the sun before lessons start, Khalid Zboun is clearly the head teacher. All the teachers are drinking tea, the fuel of teaching, but Khalid is drinking his from a pint mug that wouldn’t look out of place in a British pub.  He needs to drink tea in such quantities because being head teacher of Al Khadr Boys’ Secondary School, near Bethlehem, is a tough job. He knows neither the time nor the place that the Israel military will come.

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The wall, the settlements and the refugee camps; an unholy Trinity

By the Bethlehem team,

This is what I call the unholy Trinity”, says Osama Nikolai as he points towards the horizon. Standing on the roof of Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution  and Transformation Center in Bethlehem we can clearly see what he is referring to. ”Firstly, there’s the wall”, he notes pointing at the separation barrier just a few meters away. ”Secondly, the settlement up right there up the hill”, he continues, ”and thirdly, the refugee camp down here” pointing to nearby Aida refugee camp. All three unholy components located within a short walk from where we stand. According to Osama, this is what the conflict boils down to; the separation barrier, refugee camps, and settlements.

24.12.15, EA Paula Fogel, Seperation barrier, Bethlehem. EAPPI_A.Dunne

24.12.15, Bethlehem, EA at the separation barrier, Photo EAPP/A. Dunne

Refugee camps of Bethlehem… Continue reading

When children are treated like criminals

by Ingrid, Bethlehem team,

Now back in Norway, EA Ingrid spent much of her recent service in the Palestinian village of Husan, north of the Etzion Bloc settlement, in the Bethleham Governorate. This blog highlights the problem of child detention and arrests in the area.

I write this blog to bring attention to an event that really scared me and which I thought was abnormal. While preparing this post I was also attempting to write a report on the events I had witnessed that week. Ideally the report would have been completed the evening before. Ideally it would have made organizations and individuals that work in this field offer immediate assistance to the victims. But there are very few ‘ideal’ situations here in Israel/Palestine, and what is considered normal here is far from ‘normal’ back home. Incidents are so many that the Bethlehem team cannot cover them all, and our plans change every hour. Planned topics for blog posts and newsletters are thus postponed for more urgent topics, like this one:

Early on a Monday morning, an incident was reported forcing us to postpone our plans for the day and go to a village that we had already visited eight times. I wish that the reason for going to the village of Husan for the ninth time in four weeks had been a different one. I wish that the idyllic scenery seen from our local contact’s balcony and the pleasant breakfasts shared with his neighbors had been the reasons for this visit, but we were called to Husan for a very different reason. Once again, minors had been arrested in Husan by the Israeli military. The phone call I received about the night’s detentions, in Husan, made my head spin. I thought to myself:

‘What can a 15-year-old boy possibly have done that demands he is detained in the middle of the night?’.
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“Teaching is hard enough, but when Israeli soldiers come close to the school, things are made worse.” ~Isaac, teacher Al Khader Junior school

IN PALESTINE, THE OBSTACLES TO RECEIVING AN EDUCATION ARE NUMEROUS. CHECKPOINTS, MILITARY PRESENCE, SETTLER ATTACKS, TREACHEROUS ROADS, CLOSED MILITARY ZONES, DEMOLITION ORDERS, AND VIOLENT CLASHES ARE ONLY A FEW.  BUT STUDENTS & TEACHERS PERSEVERE DAILY IN THEIR JOURNEY TO RECEIVE QUALITY EDUCATION.  WE BRING THESE FACES TO LIFE AND SHARE THEIR HOPES, CHALLENGES, AND DREAMS.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac Al Khadi, a teacher at Al Khader Junior School. Photo EAPPI.

Isaac is a teacher in the junior school of Al Khader. The school is located on the edge of the village beside a section of the separation wall. This has been a site of frequent clashes between the boys from the neighboring secondary school and soldiers. The road to both schools is littered with spent tear gas grenades.

Isaac told us he was worried about the children and their future. He says many of them don’t value education and don’t see a future for themselves; very few of them see education as a priority. Isaac feels that’s things are made worse by the Israeli army when they come close to the schools. Teaching is hard enough but when they come it just gets worse. However, since it is a new school year, he is hopeful that things will get better.

Isaac believes that the educational system and that the curriculum in Palestine are not up to scratch and need to be changed. He told us that he has little confidence in the minister for education. He is not proud to say he is a teacher and feels that he should be able to say he is proud of being a teacher since it is such an important job. Isaac knows he could be proud of his profession if the system was run better.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
*Share the series on facebook with your friends.

*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.

Khallet Annahlah: Israelis, Palestinians & Internationals Working Together Against the Occupation

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

by Liam, Bethlehem team

“Swiss Cheese land”

The Bethlehem Governorate is one of 16 administrative governorates in the West Bank. It covers an area of 658km2  with approximately 210,484 people as of 2014.

With the 1995 Oslo II Accord agreement, the West Bank was split into 3 non-contiguous areas with Area A (theoretically) in full Palestinian control and comprising 3% of the West Bank, Area B under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control, 23-25% of the West Bank, and Area C completely under Israeli control, currently over 60% of the West Bank territory. This fragmentation, with some referring to the West Bank as “Swiss Cheese land”, was meant to be for an interim period of 5 years, until 1999, but the Bethlehem Governorate, as with all of the West Bank, is still divided, although with slightly different percentages, into these administrative “islands” of Areas A, B and C classification.

In addition, 10km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate have been illegally annexed by Israel as being within its “Greater Jerusalem” designation. This intricately complicated division, usually left not signposted, leaves only 13% of the 658km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate under full or partial Palestinian Authority control.

“A Palestinian Walking on their Own Land is a Demonstration”

What do these numbers mean in reality? Take Khallet Annahlah, a small rural village with rich fertile land close to Bethlehem. On the 16th April, one of our first duties within the Bethlehem team was to attend an incident there. We met with a local Palestinian nonviolent activist named Hassan, from the nearby village of Al-Masara, as well as members of Combatants for Peace (CfP), an Israeli and Palestinian organisation set up in 2005 from former combatants of both sides who have decided to relinquish their weapons and work together in nonviolent approaches towards ending the occupation and a just peace for both sides.

With Hassan & CfP, we walked on the farm of Mohammed Khalil where a new Israeli settler tent had appeared, in the land that he was born on and now fears will be confiscated – either by settlers or the Israeli authorities. The tent was put up in the middle of the day, with unabashed impunity, on a hill across from the already established “Blue Tent”, so-called due to the settler choice of colour. The first tent appeared 6 months ago and now has developed into a caravan-tent lodging big enough for one or two families.

Hassan then took us further along and we entered the farmland of Ziat Zenat though we couldn’t make out where his farm actually was as, on 11 April, the Israeli army bulldozed all of his stone terraces that were used to grow a variety of herbs, such as sage.

While speaking with Ziat, 3 Israeli settlers in a white car saw us on a hill opposite with binoculars and made a phone call. Within 10 minutes, 4 army vehicles had rushed on the scene, each full of soldiers – at least 13 in total – with the settlers following behind. The settlers and soldiers were all heavily-armed and the Commander of the soldier’s unit was seen laughing and shaking hands with the settler behind the wheel of the car. We have come to learn that it is not unusual to see soldiers and settlers fraternising together. A soldier, originating from Los Angeles who has been in Israel for 3 years, questioned us over our presence despite being with the landowner on his land, and accused Hassan of trying to do a demonstration.

Hassan protested:

“A Palestinian walking on their own land is a demonstration”.

A court case on the 24th April declared 300 dunams (3 hectares) of the area as “State Land” but this is currently under appeal so no action should have been taken by Israeli authorities to destroy Ziat’s stone terraces. The declaration of private Palestinian property as “State Land” is a former Ottoman-era policy used consistently by the Israeli authorities to claim large swathes of Area C in the West Bank if the State deems them to be “uncultivated” or without documented ownership.

According to the Israeli human rights NGO, B’tselem, only 9% of the total area of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) was registered as being owned prior to Israeli occupation in 1967. Nonetheless, Israel defines “State Land” as being for the benefit of the local population, which would be Palestinian. However, since 1967, the Israeli Civil Administration own figures state that Palestinians have been allocated only 0.7% (860 hectares) of “State Land” in Area C whilst the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), which develops illegal settlements, has been allocated 31% (40,000 hectares). Approximately, 21% of the total West Bank defined as “State Land” (BT’Selem 2013); land that Palestinians have little hope of being authorised to utilise. In this way, Israeli authorities reappropriate land by misusing old laws whilst disregarding international laws regarding the occupier’s responsibilities to those occupied.

“A Demonstration without Media does not Exist”

On the 18th April, recognising the strategic importance of the area, a nonviolent demonstration was led by Combatants for Peace (CfP) member Udi with Hassan and other local Palestinians from the village to make a public statement of the illegality of the settler’s actions. When organising the demonstration, the local media are always invited to ensure that as many hear about it as possible.

CfP member, Larry, says:

“A demonstration which does not make the media, does not exist”.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

The Israeli peace activists parked up on the road, blocking the entry to the land, and walked quickly over to the settler tent holding two Palestinian flags. Speed was of the essence as everyone knew how quickly the soldiers would be called out by the settlers. The white settler vehicle could be seen observing the demonstration and, again, within 15 minutes; the soldier’s jeeps could be seen driving towards us in the distance. Udi and the other Israeli peace activists placed the Palestinian flags over the settler tent to “reclaim” it, and its land, as Palestinian. Udi then announced through a megaphone that the settlers are on Palestinian land and that they are even outside of the artificial border Israel has created through building the Separation Barrier.

Observing the Israelis and Palestinians working together towards a common goal; it was possible to see that both members are equal with neither instructing the other – even if the law is not applied equally to them. Only Israelis can dare to place their cars blocking the road and risk putting a Palestinian flag over the settler tent because the soldiers only have jurisdiction over the Palestinians, who live under martial law, whilst the Israelis live under civil law which means that they fall under the authority of the Israeli police. This dual legal system over the same territory is inherently discriminatory and disenfranchises Palestinians.

Once the soldiers had reached the tent by foot, everyone was ordered to leave by 11am, and having achieved the objective, the demonstrators complied and returned to the village of Khallet Annahlah. Once returned, a soldier accused Hassan of assault using a word in Hebrew which is ambiguous as to whether it was a verbal or physical assault, and the soldiers seemed incensed at being prevented from stopping the demonstration. A member of CfP said that, for soldiers, “lying to them is an assault to the respect they expect”. They detained Hassan and attempted to arrest him but after an hour of negotiation by Israelis; the soldiers let Hassan go. It was clearly due to international presence and Israeli activist intervention that Hassan evaded arrest and the demonstration was a success.

Continued Protective Presence

We returned to Khallet Annahlah on 29 April, the same day settlers were ordered by the Israeli High Court to remove the illegal new tent there, to see Mohammad Ayesh, 55yrs old and his son Qasm, who own the farm next door to Ziat. Settlers had come the day before and tried to take Mohammad’s sheep and goats. He told them that they couldn’t take his animals but the settlers called the army and they detained him for 2 hours. The morning we went, at 9am, the settlers brought a horse and allowed it to eat the farmer’s crops and started constructing a barracks.

Mohammed has been fighting his case through the courts since 2004. All three farmers in the area have had their water cut off for 120 days and the Israeli authorities told their neighbour:

“We will give you water but only if you don’t associate with them [the three farmers]”.

On the 2 May, we returned once more after Mohammed had trees cut down by the Israeli authorities. Hassan explains the community’s response is a call to action:

“The settlers have taken 40 dunams, but that’s just a step on their way to take…the remaining 300 dunams [30 hectares]…We’ve decided to make non-violent and useful activities here together, to save the land”.

With the 3 families in their tiny rural village, it is easy to see the interconnected nature of the relentless number of incidents Palestinian farmers face in protecting their homes, land and livelihoods. It is also possible to see what a difference Israeli and internationals, such as yourselves, can make to ensure that their stories and acts of nonviolent demonstration are heard. CfP member Hillel told us:

“We know you [Ecumenical Accompaniers] come here and volunteer your time, working day and night, to help and we feel it’s something that we, as Israelis, should be doing. Thank you, we appreciate you”.