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.

Unsettled life

Wadi al-Hussein is a neighborhood in Hebron adjacent to the Kiryat Arba settlement.  Meet 2 of its residents who show that settler violence and fear dominate their daily lives.

by Anssi, Hebron team

Photo of Wadi al Hussein

A view of Wadi al Hussein. Photo EAPPI.

Kayed’s Story

Meet Kayed, a 50-year-old Palestinian man who lives in Wadi-al-Hussein with his family right next to the wall surrounding Kiryat Arba, the biggest Israeli settlement in Hebron. One can see endless fatigue on Kayed’s face after being stuck in his yard for years since he is forced to protect his home and family against unpredictable settlers nearly around the clock.

“I am able to go to downtown once or twice a month. I practically do not have leisure time. On Friday I go to prayers worrying about my house and family. There is no psychological relief.”

Even though Kayed owns his house and land, the Israeli occupation practically reduces his rights to his property. According to Kayed, he must stay two meters away from the wall of Kiryat Arba. Passing too close to the wall would make the Israeli army intrude into his yard, considering him a threat to the settlers. Kayed tells us that one Friday three settlers invaded his house without any consequences.

“If I had done the same in Kiryat Arba they would have killed me at once”, Kayed states.

Photo Kayed's house close to Kiryat Arba.

Kayed’s house on the right is located adjacent to Kiryat Arba settlement, behind the wall on the right. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Moreover, his everyday life is comprised of settlers throwing stones, garbage, and sewage into his yard. He reminds us that settlers in Kiryat Arba live there for religious and ideological reasons, not simply economic reasons.

Kayed lives in his house with his wife and 10 children. The house belonged to his family long before the 1970s when Kiryat Arba was established. Kayed has seen both Palestinian intifadas, and his adult life has been underscored by movement restrictions and settler violence that Israeli soldiers often cannot and will not control. Therefore, it may not be a surprise that he seems highly pessimistic concerning the future. However, he strongly believes that liberation is coming soon:

“[Prime Minister] Netanyahu thinks he has control over Israel and Palestine. This attitude will turn against him very soon.”

Jamal’s story

Photo of Jamal

Jamal, age 50, and his family live in Wadi al-Hussein next to Kiryat Arba settlement. They face settler violence on a daily basis. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Meet Jamal, a 50-year-old man whose family suffers the same problems as Kayed. Jamal’s house is situated in Wadi al-Hussein right behind a religious settler school in Kiryat Arba where kids learn at an early age the legitimacy of harassing Palestinians.

“If you love God throw a stone”, has been written, according to Jamal, on the school wall.

The results are apparent. Jamal says settlers from Kiryat Arba throw things, such as eggs and stones, at him and his family on a daily basis. In practice, the family’s options to defend themselves are minimal:

“If you throw a stone back they will put us in jail”, Jamal says.

He also criticizes the Israeli police who do nothing to protect them. He tells us about an incident where settlers burnt his father’s house with a Molotov cocktail. Police arrived at the house after the fire had been extinguished but could not do anything because they did not see the fire itself.

Jamal has stopped expecting sympathy from the Palestinian Authority as well. He says that the presence of municipality administration in Wadi al-Hussein is non-existent and rather than protection, the family receives insults from decision-makers.

“We are in the frontline. We should not go to them, they should come to us!” Jamal raises his voice. “We [through our persistence in staying on our land] stop the settlements from expanding!”

Kiryat Arba settlement as seen from Jamal's house. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Kiryat Arba settlement as seen from Jamal’s house. Photo EAPPI/A. Holmstrom.

Apart from security issues the family also confronts problems with the municipality regarding water supply. The family receives water irregularly twice a month. However, when water runs out it is, according to Jamal, useless to wait for any help from the municipality.

Settler harassment has severely limited Jamal’s family’s everyday life. During Jewish religious holidays the family is too afraid to sending the children to school or to kindergarten. When we met Jamal, his 19-year-old son had been assaulted by a group of settlers near the Mutanabi school. According to Jamal harassment and assault are the settlers’ way to try to make the family leave their home. They have, however, firmly decided to stay:

“My family has been living in this house since 1949, my family was one of the first people who built houses here. I have never felt like going away from here”.

*Read more about Wadi al-Hussein.

EAPPI around the world: Sweden

EAPPI is a world-wide network.  Our EAPPI national coordination offices in 26 countries work hard to recruit EAPPI human rights monitors and coordinate their advocacy when they return home.  Today, we continue our series in which we get to hear from these dedicated supporters of EAPPI all over the world.

Today, Sofie, one of our Swedish National Coordinators and a former EA shares her motivation to work for EAPPI.

Black tea with sugar and mint is a staple of Palestinian hospitality.

Black tea with sugar and mint is a staple of Palestinian hospitality.

“Welcome to my Hebron!”

The words come from an old midwife, wearing the traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, living in an area called wadi al-Hussain outside the city center of Hebron.

Her daughters serve us in EAPPI team 35 sweet tea with mint, telling us the family stories, showing us pictures of weddings and family occasions, and, finally and with another tone of voice, describing to us newcomers the difficulties of living in the area situated close by the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

It is an early evening in March 2010, and I have just arrived to Palestine. The stories of the challenging everyday life of Wadi al Hussein, the harassment from the neighboring settlement, the road blocks closing up the area and the struggle of the families’ right to their land, as well as the generosity and the kindness of the old midwife and her family, are touching and eye-opening.

How did you first get involved in EAPPI?

I first got involved in EAPPI in late 2009 when I found information about the programme in the Swedish EAPPI website and applied to become an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA). I had been studying political science and international humanitarian law, and was at the time working as a journalist focused on international news reporting, but wanted to gain more practical experience from field work.

I grew up in a Pentecostal Church environment where the views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict tended to take on a religious perspective only, focusing on the classical Biblical stories and of the Old Testament description of the Holy land as promised for the Jewish people. But as a teenager, I grew interested in global issues and as a university student; I understood that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not only religious, but has several layers of ethnicity, economy, regional politics and world politics. I became aware of the Christian Arab minority and of the injustices made towards the Palestinian people.

When applying to become an accompanier, my intention was to get to know the situation from a grassroots perspective. I wanted to see the conflict with my own eyes, and to talk to people in both Israel and Palestine. I wanted to make up my opinion as a journalist and a political scientist, but also from a perspective of my personal beliefs.

What has surprised you most about working with EAPPI?

I got accepted and was placed in Hebron and later also in Yanoun for the summer cover team. As I had hoped for, I had the chance to meet and talk to people with many different backgrounds and experiences of the conflict, and to see the situation in various places in the West bank, as well as in Israel. I got positively surprised by the professionalism of the program and of the local support for the EAs work. I came home with many first hand stories, (as those from the midwife´s family) a strong belief that the occupation has to end, and many good international friends.

What is you personal philosophy on what should be done to end the Israeli occupation and achieve peace?

From what I have learned from my experience is that when people meet on equal basis, look each other in the eyes and talk, a mutual understanding will grow between them. What I find most challenging about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that these important meetings seldom take place.  When they do, on initiatives from the Israeli and the Palestinian peace movement, the result is fruitful. If we don’t understand the other side’s perspective, peace is hard to build.

What would you tell someone who is thinking of joining EAPPI?

Today I am working as one of three Swedish coordinators for the programme. I would advise anyone with an interest in peace building and nonviolence, and with a humble heart and an open mind to apply to become an EA. And if you are accepted and placed in Hebron, my advice would be to start with a visit to the old midwife in Wadi al Hussein!

Do you want to know what EAPPI is doing around the world? Read more from Australiathe UK & Ireland, and Canada.