Planting olive trees: a nonviolent act of perseverance and steadfastness

by Ken, Yanoun team

 

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

It’s 9:00 am on a warm sunny morning in Burin. The weather is unusually mild for the time of year and the farmers are complaining about the scarcity of rainfall.  We’ve been asked to accompany the villagers while planting new olive trees to replace the ones Israeli settlers from the Yizhar settlement destroyed. Our transport arrives: a tractor and trailer containing about 50 olive tree saplings. The many passengers make room for us as we climb aboard and, precariously balanced, we set off on a 2 kilometre long journey across the valley and up a steep incline to arrive at a ploughed field just 300 metres from the fence surrounding the settlement.

Mamoun, from the rural development association in Burin and also one of the coordinators of this event, shows me the blackened remains of olive trees burned by Israeli settlers in an adjacent field. He believes in a conspiracy theory that I’ve heard before: that this arson is not a random act but part of a coordinated attempt to undermine the Palestinian rural economy.  He explains that “they know what they are doing. There is some genius thinking for them”. He also cautions us that farmers are often “beaten” in this area, especially if they get too close to the fence.

There is more to this event than just planting trees: it is both a memorial and a political statement. Attached to the saplings are photographs of Palestinian nationals. Some are long-term prisoners in Israeli jails; others have died in resisting the occupation. One photograph is of a local boy, aged about 10, who recently died of a brain tumour in spite of eventually receiving expert Israeli medical care. I realise that the man standing stoically alone in front of the tree is the boy’s father. At the risk of intruding on his private grief, I offer my condolences on his loss and a prayer for him. He thanks me for my concern in a most dignified way but then continues his vigil.

Planting trees is hard, sweaty and tiring work and our team pitches in. At a scheduled break I search for a stone to sit on, mindful of an earlier conversation with Mamoun about the local flora and fauna in which he mentioned that there were “many snakes” including a “Palestinian cobra”. Mamoun senses my anxiety: “don’t worry”, he says, “it’s winter and they’re sleeping”.

I ask Mamoun about his organization. He explains that it’s primarily concerned with improving agricultural productivity, and especially in helping farmers to become self-sufficient despite the diminishing amount of land accessible to them. It also organizes a women’s handicraft cooperative, promoting health education, and setting up a savings scheme to help parents pay for their children’s university education. All this depends on volunteer help without external funding.

This initiative seems to worry the Israeli military intelligence, as if being a community activist is somehow subversive. Mamoun’s office has been subjected to no less than six night-time raids by the army. He and, by association, his family are on a ‘black list’. When his 64 year old father enquired as to why his application for a permit to work in Israel had been rejected the answer was “ask your son”!

The planting ends ceremonially with the unfurling of a ‘solidarity’ banner and the obligatory taking of photographs. Everyone is in a jubilant mood. The trees have been planted without provoking a reaction by the settlers, and the army has kept its distance even though it has captured everything on video from beginning to end.

Mamoun sums up the feeling of the workers when he says “for every one tree they [the Israeli settlers] destroy, we will plant ten trees more”.

I’m convinced that against all the odds this continuing emphasis on nonviolent resistance will eventually win the day for the Palestinians as it did for Gandhi in India and Mandela in South Africa.

Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, about what he calls a ‘third intifada’ believes that “it is the one that Israel always feared most – not an intifada with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott”.

The final word naturally belongs to Mamoun: he warmly thanks our team “for your support and for showing solidarity with us”, and the other workers beam in agreement.

Life on Shuhada Street

This is part 2 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

 

Today, the once lively Shuhada Street in Hebron is a shell of its former self. Welded shut doors, rusty awnings, graffiti-sprayed walls, weeds, and caged balconies characterize this once active and busy street. The street was essentially shut down during the second Intifada and access to the street denied to Palestinians. Despite Israeli pledges to reopen the street, Shuhada Street remains closed and eerily empty.

Shuhada Street stretches from the entrance to H2 from H1 at Checkpoint 56 to the opposite side of H2 and Checkpoint 209 and is home to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. There are three settlements on Shuhada Street: Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. The location of these settlements is what makes Hebron such a unique city as they are situated in the heart of a Palestinian city and Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinians because of it.

Life on Shuhada Street for Israeli settlers is quiet. There is no traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, there is excessive security ensuring safety, there is a coffee shop, school, and museum. Residents of Beit Hadassah deliver snacks and hot tea to the soldier at Checkpoint 56 below their building each morning. Children wait at bus stops for the school bus to collect them. Worshippers walk up Shuhada Street to the synagogue and the Cave of Patriarchs. Tour groups of settlers and internationals peruse the street with interest and intrigue. As a settler, life on Shuhada Street is normal.

Life on Shuhada Street for Palestinian residents is a struggle. Those still living on the street are forbidden from accessing the street and therefore using their front doors. As a result they are required to search for alternative access to and from their homes, which often means dangerous careering across staircases and rooftops. Many, if not all, of the balconies are encased in fencing with the goal of preventing stones and eggs reaching their belongings.

Cordoba School, for Palestinian children, is situated above Shuhada Street and access to the school is a steep staircase at Checkpoint 55 that also marks the border of Palestinian admission to Shuhada Street. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor this checkpoint and Checkpoint 56 two times a day during the school week. Israeli soldiers and settlers often harass children walking down Shuhada Street to school. EAs attempt to prevent such agitation by providing protective presence and in the process develop relationships with the children and teachers of Cordoba School.

From the staircase leading to Cordoba School to the access road of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Palestinians are forbidden from walking or driving on the Shuhada Street. Approximately 30,000 Palestinians and 700 Israeli settlers live in the H2 partition of Hebron. For Palestinian residents, Shuhada Street is a clear symbol of the occupation. Israeli authorities use the Palestinian nationality as a weapon to control where they walk, how they live, and where they exist. The empty Shuhada Street epitomizes the Israeli occupation.

Life on Shuhada Street is a dream for some and a nightmare for others. For the Israeli settlers inhabiting Shuhada Street is a dream of access, peace, and protection. For the Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street life is a series of humiliating checkpoints and restrictions. It is a conundrum of rights and a skewed priority of safety.

* Read Part 1: The Story of Shuhada Street.

The Story of Shuhada Street

This is part 1 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Nov 2013 Shuhada Street 2 Hebron S. Robinson

Walking down Shuhada street is undeniably eery and feels as if walking in a ghost town. Photo EAPPI/S. Robinson.

Shuhada Street; most cities have one: the street that embodies the values of the community. The street where people meet and tourists visit. The street that breathes with activity and life. The street that symbolises all that it good and all that is bad in a city. New York has 5th Avenue, London has Oxford Street, Johannesburg has Bree Street, Paris has the Champs-Elysees, and Hebron has Shuhada Street. Or rather, Hebron had Shuhada Street.

Shuhada Street rests in the soul of the old city of Hebron. For centuries it was the commercial and social heart of this historic city. Shop keepers lived above their stores so life on the street was not limited to trading hours. The main fruit and vegetable market operated on Shuhada Street and the access to side roads and slip paths originated from this street. It was a bustling and busy road full of activity and life for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Then, in 1994, after the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque where a Jewish settler named Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshipers, the street was closed to Palestinian vehicles. When the second Intifada erupted six years later, the street was shut down completely. Shops were closed, people evicted, and Palestinian access banned in the name of security. Today, almost 20 years later, Shuhada Street is a shell of its former self.

This once exciting and elegant stretch of Hebron is now a ghost town. Palestinians have access to approximately 100m of the street. Israelis have access to the entire street. Palestinians that still live on Shuhada Street are forbidden to use their front doors. Instead they are forced to find alternative routes to their homes through the back of the buildings and over roofs.

According to B’tselem:

“As a result of these severe restrictions, 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street closed down, and Palestinian municipal and governmental offices that had been on the street were relocated to Area H1. Israel also took control of the central bus station that had been on the street, turning it into an army base.”

The significance of Shuhada Street extends to both Palestinians and Israelis. There are three Israeli settlements on or near the street; Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. These residents have full vehicular and pedestrian access to Shuhada Street. Several military checkpoints dot the road, all equipped with heavily armed soldiers. It is because of these settlers and their prioritised protection that Palestinians are barred.

Walking down Shuhada Street is undeniably eerie. Stray cats and military dogs add to the mysterious images of broken windows, welded shut doors, graffiti stained walls, army jeeps, and shattered stone. The little life this street holds is quick to enter and often eager to escape. Many walls host Israeli posters describing the history of the street albeit remarkably one-sided. Occasionally the face of a small Palestinian child peaks through a caged window on the second floor of a building curiously inspecting a street they have never stepped foot on. Israeli children catch buses to school and settlers enjoy a morning run on this stricken street. The separation is seamlessly clear.

The story of Shuhada Street is not complete. Several chapters are yet to be written. Many organisations are tirelessly campaigning to open Shuhada Street. The separation cannot be sustainable for Israelis or Palestinians. Until the street is opened, the dream of what Shuhada Street could be is just that; a dream.

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.

Israeli settlers attack Palestinian family on their way home in Hebron

Violent attacks like these are hard for many to believe, but are common place in Hebron

Khayed, the disabled son of Mohammad and Ramsina.  Here he watches as they are taken to the hospital in an ambulance after settlers attacked them on October 29. Photo EAPPI/M. Ward

Khayed, the son of Mohammad and Ramsina, watches as his parents are taken to the hospital in an ambulance after settlers attacked them on October 25, 2013. Photo EAPPI/M. Ward

On the evening of October 25, Mohammed, Ramsina and their 4 year old daughter Aya, parked their car near the Israeli settlement outpost of Givat Ha’avot in Hebron.  They are not allowed to drive their car to their house, as vehicular access is restricted for Palestinians in that neighborhood of Hebron.  As they were walking home carrying sweets, Israeli settlers, visiting Hebron for the the holiday of Shabbat Sarah, harrassed them.

The settlers swore at Ramsina and insulted her. A male settler about 20 years old spat at the family.  Then they began to block the way for Mohammed and his family.  When Mohamed asked them to move, the settler hit him in the face. Mohammed began to fight back, but many more settlers arrived and surrounded the family. Ramsina told Aya to run home. She arrived home yellow in the face from shock, neighbors recalled.

Meanwhile, the settlers began to beat Mohammed and Ramsina.  They tried to pull of Ramsina’s hijab, head covering, and punched her in the neck and sprayed pepper spray in her eyes.  After that, she passed out.  She remembers waking up in the ambulance.

Before the ambulance arrived, their son Khayed, who is disabled, walked by on his way to the mosque to pray.  He became very upset when he saw the settlers attack his parents, but the settlers began to beat him too.

Even when the neighbours came to carry Mohammed and Ramsina back to their house and call an ambulance, Israeli settlers followed them and surrounded them shouting; “There are Arabs here, come and attack them.” During the incident, the Israeli soldiers stood by and did not help Mohammed and Ramsina. They even tried to arrest the neighbors who assisted Mohammed and Ramsina.

When EAPPI arrived at the scene, there were roughly 10 soldiers, military jeeps, Israeli police, and an ambulance outside the home of Mohammed and Ramsina. Khayed stood nearby, looking visibly distressed. Later that night, Mohammed and Ramsina were released from the hospital.

The next day EAPPI’s Hebron team visited the family. Mohammed and Ramsina recalled that this is not the first time Israeli settlers attacked Mohammed and Ramsina’s family, but they are now more fearful. Ramsina explained:

“Since the attack we have closed all the shutters at the front of our house and told our daughters to stay away from the front of the house – we are scared that the settlers will come again.”

Idyllic to tragic

An EAPPI human rights observer reflects on the mixed emotions felt day to day while witnessing life under occupation.

by Orla, October 9, 2013

This afternoon we were called to a school in the Palestinian village of Jalud where masked men from a nearby Israeli settlement came, smashed the windows of 5 cars belonging to teachers cars and threw rocks at the classroom windows whilst the children were in class. The children told us they cried and were terrified.

F. Djurklou Teacher's Car Damaged by Settlers Jalud 131009

Israeli settlers smashed the windows of 5 teachers’ cars outside the school in Jalud. Photo EAPPI/F. Djurklou

As we left the scene, we noticed smoke coming from the fields behind the school and saw that the settlers had also set the olive groves on fire. Only yesterday I helped my neighbours harvest their olive trees and just this morning a family, gathered in the shade of their olive trees, offered me tea as they were getting ready to harvest. I felt so privileged to be part of such an important family occasion.

This afternoon was a different story. I felt useless as the flames and smoke forced me back. I watched scores of men and children run down from the school, breaking olive branches in an attempt to extinguish the fire and save not only the olive trees, but also people’s livelihoods.

This is not a one off incident. Such acts of terror and intimidation are part of daily life for Palestinians in the West Bank, yet the Israeli authorities do very little to prevent such incidents or bring the perpetrators to account for their crimes.

*This post was originally published on Orla’s personal blog.