Rerouting of wall in Jayyus is bittersweet

by Karen, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

EAs accompany Abu Azzan to visit his released land. Photo EAPPI/S. Skanberg.

EAs accompany Abu Azzan to visit his released land. Photo EAPPI/S. Skanberg.

Throughout my 3-months Palestine and Israel with EAPPI, I have felt quite at home as our team has been welcomed by the Palestinian people with much hospitality. When I return home, I will have much to share about what life is like for these new friends as they live under occupation. Despite all the difficulties, I also see much hope and faith.

One example of this hope and faith is the dedication of farmers who have been separated from their land by the “separation barrier” for the last dozen years. The last few weeks, however, have been sacred for the people of Jayyus as they saw 1/3 of their land released from the behind the barrier in early September.  An Israeli high court decision promised to release this land several years ago, however, Israeli authorities only implemented the decision this September.  Since that time, Palestinians who own parts of the land have started a pilgrimage to their land. Now, everyone can go whenever they want, without the need for an agricultural permit.

Going to the land after 12 years of struggle

In this area, the separation barrier was removed and Palestinians can once again access their property.  Many people were able to return to their land for the first time since 2002.  For farmers, having access to their land means they no longer need to line up at the agriculture gate during restricted hours to have their permit and finger prints checked just to get to their own land. It means they don’t have to constantly keep looking at their watch in order to get back home through the gate at the specified time.  It also means that I, as an international, could go to the land, something not possible before.

There were many surprises when families visited their land for the first time since 2002.  In fact, they noticed that the land is much more productive and much more of it is cultivated than before the barrier was built.  Villagers told me that there is about twice as much land cultivated than was when the separation barrier was put in place.  It seems that people decided the best way to protest the loss of their land was to put their energies into cultivating and reclaiming it.  This cultivation was important as Israeli laws inherit an old Ottoman law stating that land can be claimed by the Israeli state if left uncultivated for 3 years. The Israeli government uses this law to confiscate land left uncultivated by Palestinians, even land that is difficult to access on the other side of the separation barrier.

For this reason, farmers from Jayyus focused on their agricultural practices, during the past 12 years. They worked painstakingly to efficiently use their limited water to irrigate the citrus and other fruit trees, along with the greenhouses filled with vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers.  The village is fortunate in that it has 6 water wells, but still struggles to have the necessary water resources as Israeli authorities control their wells. Also, the community had to rely on diesel fuel to pump the water rather than electricity, as Israeli authorities also forbade them to run electric lines to the wells. Pumping water with diesel proved to be much more costly than electricity.  Some villagers estimate they had to pay double the cost. Despite all the obstacles they faced, the people of Jayyus pulled together, working to reclaim some land that had not been cultivated previously, and to create their own garden of Eden so to speak.

The first time our team visited the land was a few weeks before it was released.  At that time, it was a 2 hour journey. We took an Israeli license plate taxi to one checkpoint, only to find it closed. We traveled to another checkpoint where we spent an hour, while the taxi vehicle was searched. Now, we can simply walk across what was the military road and we are there!

Families have returned from around the West Bank and even Jordan to go to the land.  Even those families who do not have land or still have land behind the new separation barrier came to spend time on the land of friends.  They gather beneath fruit groves, roasting chicken and vegetables over open fires.  Children play where their parents and their grandparents had once played.  However, it really isn’t a celebration.   It is perhaps rather a symbol of what freedom and peace could look like, but the challenges of occupation are still in the foreground.

Challenges still remain

Even as the separation barrier has been removed to “free” the land, a new separation barrier is in place marking that two-thirds of the land is still not accessible except through military gates.  The shiny new barb wire glistens in the sun.  In the area adjacent to the barrier, the barb wire even encloses olive trees making them inaccessible—a symbol of the Israeli military occupation—not even the olive tree can be free.  A new gate is in place, but it is only open three times a day for a half hour.  Previously one of the gates was open for 12 hours a day.

Some farmers have land both inside and outside the separation barrier, meaning it is almost impossible to manage their work in both places to irrigate fruit trees and greenhouses, while needing to move back and forth except in the narrow window of time afforded by the Israeli military.  For some farmers, their land is very close to the village but with the new route of the wall, they must travel about 10-15 or more kilometers each way to get to the new gate and then circle back alongside settlements to their land which is literally a few feet from where they started.

The village is also relieved to have 1 of its 6 water wells on the released land. They have built infrastructure needed to bring water from the well to town and make the village green and productive, but approval from the Israeli authorities is still required for the electric line to be run to the pumping station.

The mayor of Jayyus informed us that while the land was on the Israeli side of the wall they were able to sell produce in the Israeli market.  Now for land that is on the Palestinian side, farmers are free to cultivate it, but their usual market is no longer accessible.

Although the village is happy to have some of their land, it cannot be seen as a complete victory. Still many families have some or all of their land on the Israeli side of the wall. Many tears have been shed over the years lost in cultivating and enjoying their land. The separation barrier is still visible, despite its new route and is a reminder that every aspect of life in the West Bank is under military rule.

Steadfastness fueled by hope and faith

I am amazed by the steadfastness of the villagers of Jayyus. They have faced a huge catastrophe. Their land has been behind a separation barrier, but still they have found a way to make their land flourish. For this harvest people can share delight in returning to the land with their families to spend it together in the fields they love and remember. They find that the occupier has not destroyed those fields, but rather the farmers have put their heart and souls, their sweat and steadfastness into a land for the future—a land that can be released when it is no longer under occupation.  The pilgrims making their way to the land for the first time in a dozen years perhaps find a glimpse of “new heaven and a new earth” as they remember their past when they were free from occupation and hope for the future when they again can be free from the occupation.

 

Occupation: cancer in the blood

 

The daily reality of having to crossing an agricultural gate and rely on soldier behavior in order to access your farmland, and thus, your livelihood.

by Jayyus/Tulkarm team

A shepherd and his sheep go through 'Akkaba agricultural gate. Photo EAPPI/K. Osterblom.

A shepherd and his sheep go through ‘Akkaba agricultural gate. Photo EAPPI/K. Osterblom.

“The occupation is a cancer in the blood.” These were the words of a Palestinian farmer waiting to cross North gate, one of the 80 agricultural gates situated in the West Bank.

To reach his land, on the other side of the separation barrier, he must get a permit from the Israeli authorities and ensure that he crosses the gate during the opening hours that are decided by the same Israeli authorities. Over recent years, the number of permits issued has dwindled and the opening hours have become shorter and more sporadic. And yet still, the farmers must comply with these regulations, decided an occupying government and implemented in occupied territory: the alternative would mean losing one’s livelihood.

Being based in the Jayyus/Tulkarm area, a large part of our work involves monitoring these agricultural gates. The intimate setting – a sort of magnified version of a checkpoint – means that we are able to observe the soldiers and Palestinians very closely, watching the scene play out. Perhaps the most unnerving thing that we observe is the unpredictability of the soldiers’ behavior. 

Imagine having a boss who banned you from entering your office one day for wearing trainers, only to open the door for you the following day despite the fact that you were still wearing the same trainers. From where we stand, a lot of the measures carried out as a result of the occupation seem to be dependent on the mood of the soldiers.

“This is my country,” were the words uttered by one soldier manning an agricultural gate, as he stood in front of around 80 farmers waiting at ‘Attil gate to cross over the separation barrier (85% of which, when completed, will run inside the Green Line).

Earlier that morning the same soldier had, at a nearby agricultural gate, made each Palestinian lift up his trouser legs and t-shirt, sometimes instructing them to remove one or two shoes. There was no rhyme or reason to his behaviour; not every farmer was treated the same. He even told one to put out his cigarette whilst he was talking to him.

Occasionally the soldiers show an interest in what we EAs are doing at the gate.

One asked “Isn’t it dangerous living in Jayyus? If we went there they would kill us.”

To hear this coming from a man fully armed whilst standing in front of a group of unarmed farmers waiting to get to their land was quite surprising. This statement demonstrated the degree to which the ‘them and us’ mentality is so deeply ingrained, which will poison to any proposed peace solution, whether two or one state.

Some things we see would be funny if they were not so tragic and symptomatic of the absurdity of the occupation.

At one gate, ‘Akkaba, a flock of around 100 sheep were let through the gate before their shepherd, who was subsequently refused entry – he was not even allowed to go through the gate to retrieve them, and had to ask his brother to tend them.

Another man, Ahmad Said, who lost 250 of his olive trees due to the construction of the separation barrier across his land, is on the permit blacklist until 2099. What had earned him a place on this list? Not the fact that he had been to prison, but the fact that in 2003 he had been involved in activities against the wall.

Not only is it important to be aware of the poor treatment of the farmers and workers that is meted out by some of the soldiers, but also to consider what agricultural gates mean in the more general sense.  They represent yet one more obstacle preventing Palestinians from accessing their own land. Needless to say, these gates have serious economic consequences: because the gates are not open all year round the farmers are unable to tend to their crops continuously, which greatly affects their yield.

During the month of March 2014, ‘Akkaba gate was opened late on numerous occasions, with delays ranging from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours. On 22 April 2014 the soldiers arrived 2 hours late. This unpredictability makes life incredibly difficult for the farmers, as by the time they reach their land it is already getting warm.

More worryingly, the unpredictable behavior of the Israeli soldiers demonstrates a lack of respect for the Palestinian farmers and workers, and a complete disregard for their livelihoods – if the farmers are not informed of the correct opening times, they cannot rely on being able to use their land for a stable income.

The Israeli government, as the occupying power, has an obligation to provide for the basic needs of the population – this means that they should be facilitating, rather than preventing the occupied population from being able to use their own land in order to make a living. If a two state solution does come into existence, and the borders are drawn along the line of the wall, it is likely that these problems faced by farmers and workers will be greatly exacerbated, perhaps to the extent that they will no longer be able to gain access to their land at all.

In the meantime, what is to be done?

As one Palestinian woman said, ‘my existence is my resistance’.

In that way, persistence is also a form of resistance – the farmers keep going to their land to demonstrate to the soldiers that they will not surrender.

As for us EAs, we keep calling the Humanitarian Hotline, the phone number given for the Israeli authorities who are supposed to improve these issues, because we want to show that we will not give up. As one exacerbated woman on the end of the Hotline said after having been called at least 5 times that morning by us – ‘don’t worry, we won’t forget you. It’s not possible’. Good: we will keep calling until there is no longer a need.

Our most shocking facts from 2013

A huge part of the work of an EA is actively engaging in monitoring and reporting human rights violations that they witness. We report these incidents to the United Nations and other local and international humanitarian and legal organizations so that they can provide the necessary assistance.  Many of these incidents find their way into the stories our EAs write on this blog and share back home as part of their advocacy for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Here’s an infographic summarizing EAPPI’s 2013 reports on human rights violations:

EAPPI Incident Reports 2013 Final

Is it acceptable to blindfold and arrest an eleven year old?

by Elina and Heidi, Jayyus team

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

Omar and Ahmed’s story

On 16 November the Israeli military went to arrest fourteen year old Ahmed. According to the military he and his friend Omar, eleven years old, had thrown stones at Israeli cars passing by. Because Ahmed was nowhere to be found, the soldiers decided to arrest his father. Two members of the Jayyus EAPPI team were present at the site to witness this arrest. As one of the soldiers went into the back of one of the armored vehicles, for a brief moment one member of the EA team was able to see Omar. He sat in the car with his hands tied and blindfolded. Omar is only eleven. He was alone. He was not accompanied by a parent. One of the EAs confronted the soldiers and pointed out that this is illegal, even according to Israeli law! The soldier looked the EA dead in the eye and denied that there was a child in the car and then drove away.

Ahmed’s family was told that the father of the family would not be released until they handed over Ahmed. With tears in her eyes Ahmed’s mother turned to his sister and argued that the military would anyway come at night to arrest Ahmed if they did not hand him over today. The sister wept. Ahmed himself, who returned home after the military had left, also looked really nervous when hearing he would have to face Israeli imprisonment.

Fortunately, both the boys and Ahmed’s were released from detention about an hour after Ahmed turned himself in. When the Jayyus EA team spoke with Omar, he explained that the  Israeli soldiers had neither hit him nor threatened him. When an EA team member asked him if he was afraid during the detention he became quiet and then denied being afraid. Then the adults in the room said that it is ok to be afraid.

Sadly, this is not a unique story

Under the current Israeli occupation Omar’s and Ahmed’s story is by no means a unique one. As EAPPI observers we have witnessed several similar cases that have led to the detention and imprisonment of a child for several months. Under the occupation Palestinian people, including children, are tried according to military law. Children over 16 years of age are considered adults before Israeli military law -responsibility before law starts at the age of 12. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” to be “every human being below the age of eighteen years”. Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli forces continue to be interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent, and without a video recording of the sessions.

The hardest thing to witness is the psychological damage and violence the occupation causes to Palestinian children and their families. Not only is this a violation of human rights and international law, but most importantly it is a disgrace towards human dignity. As EAs we have seen the sorrow of the families who cannot provide security for their children.  What kind of consequences does this have on the peace process?  What will the future look like, when it is built in this manner using tools of oppression, fear and humiliation? By hiding behind the law one can justify actions taken and continue breaking young minds, causing suffering for the Palestinian people, not just as individuals but for the community as a whole.

——————–

Facts about Israeli military court and child arrests in the occupied Palestinian territory
(source Addameer.org)

  • 159 children were kept in Israeli prisons and detention centers on November 1, 2013. Fifteen of them are under the age of sixteen.
  • Israeli administration detention orders empowers military commanders to detain an individual without a charge for up to six month long renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security requires the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can then be continued indefinitely.
  • The current Israeli order of Criminal Code divides Palestinian children into three different categories – those under 12 are considered children, those between 12 and 14 are considered “youth” and those between 14 and 16 are defined as “young adults”. Palestinian children over 16 years old are considered adults before the military law while Israeli children age 18 and older are tried under Israeli civilian law.
  • Palestinian children continue to be charged according to their age at the time of sentencing, instead of their age at the time of the alleged offense, as required by international law. This practice enables them to be sentenced as an adult for an offense they may have committed as a child if they are unfortunate enough to be charged years after the alleged offense, or simply if they turn 16 while awaiting sentencing.

November Resources of the Month

resources of the month nov 2013It’s the end of the month, so here are a few resources for you to keep up to date and use in your advocacy.

  1. Christmas is coming up in less than a month and advent begins next week!  Use Kairos Palestine’s advent resources and remember Palestinians as you prepare for Christmas. It’s even available in 9 languages.
  2. Have you seen Just Vision’s new Interviews with Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders working to end the occupation and the conflict using non-violent means? Also, check out their Visual Quotes, which are easy to share online! Haven’t heard of Just Vision? Please check them out.  They have a wealth of advocacy resources.
  3. Our mid-term orientation is coming up soon and our EAs will soon meet with New Profile, a movement for the demilitarization of Israeli society.  Their slide show offers a unique picture into one aspect of Israeli society.
  4. Don’t forget our fact sheets and briefings. New and updated ones can always be found HERE. Be sure to check out our latest fact sheet: Report: Azzun Atma partial checkpoint re-activated.

Have you seen any great advocacy resources lately? Comment below and we may include them next month.

Children: what’s the toll of occupation?

Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel

Photo EAPPI/M. Schaffluetzel

by Jake, Jayyus team

Although children do not choose to participate in conflicts, from an early age they are often caught in the crossfires of hostility, violence, or war. Their loss of innocence and a carefree childhood is an especially tragic part of conflict.

Last Sunday, I was traveling to Nablus with another member of the Jayyus EAPPI team. As we approached the road where we expected to catch a taxi, we noticed the Israeli army detaining two young Palestinian boys across the road from us. The boys leaned against the guardrail with their backpacks at their feet as a soldier kept guard over them. The difference in size between them and the soldier was a striking illustration of the imbalance of power between the boys and the soldiers.

When one of the fathers asked questions of the soldier, he answered very few questions. Eventually, the soldiers led the boys to the back of an army jeep and drove off with them. When the rest of the families arrived shortly afterwards, they wondered where their children were being taken and what would happen to them.

Palestinians who witnessed the scene told us that the boys were picking leftover olives – as many boys do at this time of year for some extra pocket change – in an olive grove that runs alongside the road when they were detained. The Israeli army claimed that the boys were detained because they were in fact throwing stones at Israelis on the road.

That evening, I couldn’t forget what I had seen that afternoon. I don’t know whether they had thrown stones or not, but the reality was that these boys were now in the hands of people whose treatment of Palestinian youth is often dubious. I wondered helplessly what they were going through at that moment and how scared they were.

A few days later, another member of the Jayyus team and I visited the two boys who were detained. Thankfully, they were released the same night. As we sat in their living rooms and drank coffee with their families, they recounted their experiences to us.

They told us about how they were handcuffed and brought to a police station in a settlement. About how they were left to sit out in the cold for two hours. About how they witnessed an Israeli soldier beat another boy being beaten. About how the soldiers knew they did not throw the stones, but kept them for eight hours anyway.

The events of the detention traumatized one of the boys especially. We could tell he was still frightened and in shock. For that reason, his mother did not sent him to school that week.

As I sat there, I could not think of any appropriate questions to ask him or his family. What I really wanted to know could not be answered in that moment. What I wanted to know about this boy and about the Palestinian youth was the toll of occupation. Do these kinds of traumatic events leave imprints that lasts a lifetime? Does living in constant fear of unjustified arrests, detainments, and having the army knock down your door in the middle of the night ever become normal? How can children and their families possibly cope with this fear?

Maybe I cannot answer these questions fully, but they in themselves point to the effects of the Israeli occupation; it is ruthless and relentless and children are suffering because of it. Of that, I’m convinced.