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

by Emmi & Zoë, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

Whole Class

A class of 7 & 8 year olds draws life in Palestine.

“What are the things we have here in Azzun Atma?” asks a teacher from her class of second graders. Many hands rise, as children want to tell the visitors about their village. “Trees.” “Shops.” “Oranges.” “School.”

Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending a morning in one of the schools in the village of Azzun Atma. Its trees, shops, schools and around 2,000 people are entirely surrounded by the separation wall and four Israeli settlements. No Palestinians are allowed inside of Azzun Atma unless they have a proper permit saying that they live in the village or go to school there.

Our team goes to Azzun Atma a few times a week to monitor the checkpoint at the entrance of the village, where about 90 children and 40 teachers pass each day to get to school. 

At the school, we asked the children if they would be willing to draw some pictures about their life in Azzun Atma. The photos that follow are some of the drawings we received, pieces of the stories of some 7 and 8 year olds who live and go to school there.

*Download our Azzun Atma Report.

‘Urif school clash between Israeli settlers & military and Palestinian youth

by Yanoun team

On November 18, a group of Israeli settlers came near the school in ‘Urif and began to throw stones. Later, the Israeli military arrive and shoot tear gas into the school yard. EAs were there to catch it all on film for you.

‘Urif boys school suffers from frequent settler harassment and violence from the Israeli military. This is just one example of struggles children in Palestine face in Accessing Education.

*Read about our Access to Education project.

European-Funded Structures demolished in Tawayel in the Jordan Valley

by Becky, Yanoun Team

“We condemn such a demolition and I have asked the Israeli ambassador in Brussels to meet me at my department. First of all to convey my condemnation to the ambassador, but also to request compensation for the damage caused.”

Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, 2 October 2014

In October this year, the tiny village of Tawayel in the West Bank became national news in Belgium. On 29 September, the Israeli Military destroyed a power network which provides the small shepherding community in Tawayel (Tell al Khashaba) with electricity. The network was funded by the Belgian government and implemented by the Belgian Technical Company (BTC). The deliberate Israeli military demolition of 70 electric pylons and 4.5 kilometres of cables caught on camera by the EAPPI team from Yanoun sparked outrage in Brussels.

Demolition of Belgian-funded electric pylon in Tawayel on September 29. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

Israeli authorities demolish an electric pylon in Tawayel which was funded by the Belgian government, 29 September 2014. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

The destruction of the Belgian electricity network in Tawayel itself is not unique. Last week, the EAPPI team based in Yanoun arrived in Tawayel to witness the Israeli military in the process of destroying several water pipes funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). However, the strong condemnation of the demolitions expressed by the Belgian government is a positive step forward, as many demolitions go unchallenged by European funders.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

The financial and human cost of demolitions

The European Union (EU) is amongst the largest donors in the Palestinian water and agricultural sectors. The EU and its member states help to fund water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity networks and roads in the West Bank, particularly in Area C. From 2002 to 2012, the Israeli military destroyed 82 projects with a total financial loss of €49.15 million. Since 2012, many more projects have been damaged by the Israeli military. Despite the financial cost to the European Union and its member states, few funders have objected to the demolitions or demanded compensation.

In addition to the financial losses, every demolition has a human cost for the Palestinians living in affected areas. Tawayel is a shepherding community, dependent on electricity to store their milk, cheese and yoghurt products. Although the electrical network has been partially restored, the damage to the electricity pylons could have a negative impact on the livelihood of shepherds such as Osama Beni Fadil, who has nine children to support. Living with the reality of demolition can be extremely demoralising.

“Nobody cares about us here, because we are not in Jerusalem,” Osama told EAPPI on 2 November after the demolitions of the water pipes, roads and one of his buildings.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

Are the demolitions legal?

International Humanitarian Law applies to the whole of the West Bank, including villages such as Tawayel which are in Area C. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that destruction of personal property belonging to ‘public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations’ is prohibited unless ‘absolutely necessary by military operations’. The destruction of water projects violates the human right to access clean and adequate water which is enshrined in multiple international laws. The demolition of water pipes and roads in Tawayel are also illegal under Israeli law, as according to locals they had not been issued with demolition orders.

Israeli Military illegally demolish European Commission funded water pipes in Tawayel, West Bank. Video EAPPI/R. Viney-Wood.

Ongoing demolitions: Time for Europe to act

The destruction of the electrical network in Tawayel is not the first demolition of a European funded structure in the West Bank, and it is unlikely to be the last. In the case of Belgium, the electricity network is the first project they have funded to be demolished in the West Bank. Although the project had an outstanding demolition order on it from 2008 which was re-issued in March this year, the Belgian government had made the ‘utmost diplomatic efforts’ to prevent the destruction. The disregard of these efforts by the Israeli military combined with public pressure following images of the destruction in Belgian media led the government to condemn the destruction.

The Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders stated:

“We need to have an EU initiative, because this not only concerns Belgian projects, but also projects of several other countries, I believe, and definitely European Commission projects.”

Reynders added that Belgium intends to discuss the matter of compensation with other European states at the EU level. Since the Belgian condemnation of the demolitions the Israeli military have not touched the electric pylons in Tawayel, which have been partially restored. It is imperative that European funders object to Israeli military demolitions of their projects, on legal and financial grounds. It is also important for European funders to condemn the human costs of demolitions which affect every day life in villages such as Tawayel.

*Read more about the multiple demolitions Tawayel has faced in the past year.

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.

 

The double standards of ‘firing zones’ in the West Bank

by Nikki, Yanoun Team

“Why is it a military zone for Palestinians only?” exclaims Ayman Banifadl, Mayor of Aqraba.

He is referring to the ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’ which the Israeli authorities have assigned to 30% of Area C in the West Bank. These areas are meant to be used for military training exercises and usually have signs prohibiting all access, even though often signs are placed directly in front of already existing Palestinian communities. However, the Yanoun team has recently sighted Israeli settlers alongside the Israeli army during a military training exercise within a ‘firing zone’, indicating the ongoing collaboration occurring between the Israeli army and settlers. This incident also highlights the double standards which are exercised by the Israeli army in relation to who is allowed within these closed military areas.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

Communities living in areas of the West Bank now considered a ‘firing zone’ by the Israeli authorities face huge threats to their existence. These threats include demolition, displacement, and limited ability to realize their rights to water, adequate shelter, education, health, and livelihood.  Many communities have demolition orders on their structures and frequently Israeli authorities demolish houses & structures.

Nearby to the large village of Aqraba is Tawayel (or, Tell al Khashaba), a small Palestinian herding community located within Area C and within a ‘firing zone’. The very existence of Tawayel has been threatened by the demolition of multiple houses and structures, including the community’s mosque on 29 April 2014. According to Ayman, “in 1976 the Israelis said that all the land from Aqraba [eastwards] to Jordan is a firing zone.” This announcement came despite multiple Palestinian communities living within this area. The reason for declaring the area a ‘firing zone’ seems clear to Ayman: establishment of Israeli settlements. He describes how the settlement of Gittit, to the east of Tawayel, was established. The area was first declared a ‘closed military zone’ and a small army camp was established. A mere 2 years later the camp was disbanded and the land was handed to Israeli settlers who built the Gittit settlement.

“It is clear that these lands are used for economic reasons, not military ones,” Ayman tells us.

10 Israeli settlement outposts have been established and allowed to expand within these ‘firing zones’ in Area C, even though they are illegal under international and Israeli law. Whilst Palestinian communities present before the areas were designated ‘firing zones’, face frequent demolitions and are prevented from building to expand or repair their communities.

 

The remains of the house demolished on 20th August 2014 in Tawayel Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

The remains of the house demolished on 20 August 2014 in Tawayel
Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the “Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand”. The Israeli army uses the area around Tawayel for military exercises on average once a month. As Ayman stresses, however, “there has been no war in this area since 1967.” The existence of these communities cannot be constituted as an ‘imperative military reason’.

In the case of Tawayel, there are no plans for forced transfer of the community. Instead, the people of Tawayel are being slowly pushed off their land under the auspices of a ‘firing zone’ without anywhere else to go. Ayman believes that the Israeli authority’s policy is to ensure that all remote Palestinian communities are displaced to towns.

If it was not already evident that a ‘firing zone’ only applies to Palestinians and not Israeli settlers, it became clear on 10 September 2014. The EAPPI team in Yanoun was called to Tawayel at 12:30 pm due to sightings of Israeli soldiers near to the village. When we arrived we found a group of 10 soldiers fully armed sitting under a tree sheltering from the midday sun, 100 meters from houses in Tawayel. We stayed in Tawayel to monitor the soldiers’ movements. At 1:30 pm, 3 Israeli army jeeps were sighted at the eastern end of the valley driving towards Tawayel. They had come to drop off more soldiers underneath the trees ready for, what it appeared to be, a training operation on foot.

Following close behind the 3 military jeeps was a civilian jeep. Basem Dili, the Head of Tawayel, identified the driver of the civilian jeep as a settler by the name of Koby. He explains that Koby lives in the settlement of Itamar, near to Yanoun. According to Basem, Koby was the settler who had been in charge of confiscating land around Yanoun to build settlement outposts to expand Itamar. Koby paused to have a conversation with the 2 military jeeps which were stopped by the trees before he continued along the valley. Afterwards the military jeeps returned in the direction they had come from. What was occurring before our eyes was confirmation of the close, collaborative relationship existing between the Israeli army and Israeli settlers.

“No one is making a demolition order for the settlers; [instead] they are building a road for him,” said the Mayor of Aqraba at the most recent house demolition in Tawayel on 20 August 2014, which left 17 people homeless.

‘Firing zones’ in this area are being utilized for settlement expansion towards the Jordan Valley. Like the village of Yanoun, the disappearance of Tawayel would bring the expansion of illegal settlements across the breadth of the West Bank one step closer. It would enable the connection of Itamar to the Jordan Valley settlements. But the people of Tawayel continue to stay strong and remain on their land amidst military training exercises and house demolitions. They have no other choice but to stay, where else would they graze their livestock and earn a living?

*On the morning this article was published, 29 September 2014, Israeli authorities arrived in Tawayel and demolished all the community’s electricity poles.

Israeli settlers miscalculate a Palestinian farmer

In an ongoing conflict, where victories for Israeli settlers and the Israeli occupation seem never-ending, one farmer prevails and succeeds in getting his land back.

by Helge, Yanoun team

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Israeli settlers from Shiloh try to build a fence on Palestinian land

Sometimes we see a case where Israeli settlers in the West Bank do not succeed in their plans of expanding their territory. Instead, Palestinians are able to show that law and regulations can prevail. However, relevant knowledge and ability to mobilize are needed in order to create a victory.

On the evening of August 11, Israeli settlers from the settlement of Shiloh, southeast of Nablus, walked down the hill to a field that is owned by the Palestinian farmer Muhammed Abed Aziz. They brought with them materials for setting up a fence and tried to install pipes for a new water system. The settlers started to cut down the almond trees on the field. They wanted to cultivate their own produce.

Bashar Alqaryouti lives in a nearby village. He has a long history of bringing his video camera for documenting Israeli settlers that are violating humanitarian and other laws. Bashar often facilitates protests against these injustices. On this day, he arrived on the scene early enough to document what happened and save it on his large memory stick.

Bashar alerted the relevant Palestinian authorities who called the local Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO). Israeli soldiers were dispatched to the grounds of Muhammed Abed Aziz. The police also arrived. Bashar also contacted the Israeli human rights organization, Yesh Din, to monitor what was happening.

The soldiers had no choice but to evict the settlers from the field. The police investigated and confiscated the tools of the settlers. The fence was removed. This was a total victory for the farmer Aziz. He was able to get his field, close to Shiloh, back.

Justice Can Prevail

This case demonstrates that justice can prevail when Palestinians use the system wisely. Success depends on many factors. Aziz was able to provide papers to show that his property was fully registered under his name. He proved that he was undoubtedly the owner of the land. Land registration is often difficult to document for Palestinian farmers, whose claim to the land often stems from the fact that their family has cultivated this land for generations. They often have old land registration deeds from Ottoman times or documents from the British mandate or Jordanian protocols. These kind of papers, however, differ from those required by Israeli regulations created after Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967 and they may be contested. Aziz had a keen mind to know what land registration documents are valid today.

Many farmers do not have the necessary papers after having fled as refugees during the 1948 and 1967 wars and then returning to an empty house. Moreover, the land ownership might be in doubt if it lies in Area C, 60% of the West Bank which is under full Israeli military & civil control as delineated in the Oslo Accords.

But Aziz was able to document without a doubt that he owned his field with almond trees. The settlers had miscalculated the situation and were forced to face an eviction. Bashar was there to catch the settlers’ trespassing with his revealing electronic eye.

Bashar and the case of the road blockade 

Some days later, we meet Bashar on the terrace of his fathers house in Qaryut. He spends a considerable amount of time confronting Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities who let injustice prevail. His biggest project is to remove an army blockade on a road that forces the people in nearby villages to drive an extra 30 kilometres everytime they need to go to Ramallah, which is not only time-consuming, but also expensive. The blockade has other ramifications as well. Bashar has been involved in many of the 120 demonstrations against this blockade throughout the 13 years it has been enforced.

The case of the blockade is still hanging in ”the system,” the Israeli authorities reply when Bashar asks them about the final outcome. The purpose of the blockade, according to Bashar, is to tie settlements together by aquiring land on both sides of the road. As the farmers cannot reach their land because they can not use the road, they have difficulties cultivating it. The land will become state land after 10 years without ploughing and can then be bought by new owners.

”Why can’t you take this guy with you to Oslo and keep him there so I can have some sleep at night?” Bashar’s fathers utters looking at me with a smile.

He is worried about his activist son, but evidently also proud of him for spending so much time defending other peoples’ rights in a conflict that causes so much pain.

“The political situation is a reason for problems, but it is not the only reason, and we need to realize this.” ~Sameh, English teacher, As Sawiya 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.

Sameh Shahrouj, Age 24. An English Teacher at As Sawiya School. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Sameh Shahrouj, Age 24. An English Teacher at As Sawiya School. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

What are you looking forward to this school year?

I am looking forward to teaching the students the new curriculum and building strong bases in English through new methods, like mixing games with abstract material. I want to focus on their personalities [the students], because nobody cares about the students personalities, even in his or her house.

What are your biggest challenges in going to school?

There are a few…

  • The location of the school is far from my nearest bus stop
  • The number of students in each class is too big. So it is difficult to control them.
  • Most importantly. Students don’t like the English language. So it is very hard to convince my students that this is the most important language in the world. So you have to find interesting ways to teach.

What is needed for education to thrive in Palestine?

It needs many things…

The mentality of the teachers needs to change. We need to change this traditional mentality. They don’t want to use technology. Instead of using technology, they are destroying it. The main problem is that the parents don’t care about their children, so they send them to school just to get rid of them. A student is lucky if his friend’s parents care. The popular perspective for students now is to drift away from school to go work in Israel so they can earn money and buy designer labels. So focusing on the teachers, the parents and the whole system is needed. Some statistics I have read say the problem is in the curriculum, or in the teachers, or in the parents. I think the problem is within them all.

I don’t like to focus on the political situation because it is used as an excuse. We have a saying like ‘putting all your clothes on one iron rod’; we find an excuse and blame it on something else. The political situation is a reason for problems, but it is not the only reason, and we need to realize this.

*Read more testimonies from this year’s Back to School series.
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*Check out last year’s photo essay: Visualizing Back to School in Palestine.