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.

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.

 

Life behind the wall

‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi is in the seam zone. Sandwiched between the green line and the wall, the village is isolated.

by Samuel, Jayyus/Tulkarm team

The car for the PMRS mobile clinic, loaded with medical supplies. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

The car for the PMRS mobile clinic, loaded with medical supplies. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

“Fine, let them build the wall. But do it on the green line,” Suhad says to me.

Suhad works for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) which is an NGO that offers medical services for the most vulnerable people in Palestinian society. She says these words as we stand on the outskirts of the village ‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi, which is a village PMRS supplies medical services for. The reason is that the village is in the seam zone.

In 20012, the Israeli goverment decided to build a wall between Israel and the West bank for security reasons. But due to illegal Israeli settlements in the West bank, the wall was built to keep as many of the settlements on the Israeli side of the wall. 85% of the wall is built on Palestinian land, thus creating an area between the “green line,” the internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine, and the wall. This area is known as the seam zone. Those living in this area are still living in Palestinian territory, but are separated from the rest of the West Bank.

Because’Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi is located in the seam zone, they are not able to build. Therefore, the new school they built has a stop working order on it, which means it will be demolished. The case on the school is in the Israeli court and is yet to be decided.

I talked to Alam, the head mistress in the school. She previously worked as a teacher in Hablas, a village in the West Bank that is not in the seam zone.

“What is the biggest difference to work here compared to Hablas?” I ask. 

“The movement” she says. “To come here you need a permit to cross the checkpoint.”

To cross a checkpoint in the wall, you need to apply for a permit for a specific checkpoint. You either need to have land or a job on the other side of the wall. Many people are rejected. Alam tells me there is problem for her and the teachers at the checkpoints. It can be problems related to permits, but mostly it takes a long time to stand in the queue to pass. 

“How are the children affected by the occupation?” I ask.

Always when I ask questions like this I feel embarrassed because it is so obvious the children here can’t live a normal life. Still, I want to hear the people living under Israeli occupation describe it themselves.

“To be isolated here,” the headmistress replies. “They can’t move and they can’t get the services they need. They are blocked in.”

A boy running off to class. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

A boy running off to class. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

She tells me that they can’t go to school trips like normal school children. The school must coordinate with the Israeli authorities to get books to the school. It is also hard when the children will be vaccinated because they have to pass the checkpoint and go in to other parts of the West Bank.

“Everything is hard behind the wall. Things that normally take one hour take the entire day.”

Suhad and I take a tour in the school and greets the children. When Suhad asks if they are happy to be back in school, they smile and say yes.

“Why” Suhad asks.

“Because it will help us to become adults and be educated,” a little girl replies.

Suhad pointing at the nearby settlement. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

Suhad pointing at the nearby settlement. Photo EAPPI/S. Skånberg.

After our school visit Suhad and I take a walk around the village. She points to the Israeli settlement on a hill not too far away. This settlement is the reason that the wall is dividing this village and others from the rest of the West Bank. She tells me that her father used to be a farmer and have land. He used to export fruit to Kuwait and other countries, then only to Jordan, then selling only locally in the West Bank and now the land is behind the wall so he can’t use it.

Once again I feel embarrassed for my question but I ask it anyway.

“What do you think is the first step towards peace?” I ask.

Suhad smiles sadly and says, “To stop the occupation.”

 

*Read about how life is dramatically different in ‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi from the nearby settlement, Alfe Menashe.

A Day in the Life of an EA: Checkpoint duty

Going through the checkpoint is not just a story of queues, turnstiles, and metal detectors, but encompasses the permit system for Palestinians and the sometimes arbitrary attitudes of Israeli soldiers. It is a story of daily humiliation and dehumanization, in stark contrast to every humans right to freedom of movement.

by Bron, Ar Ram team

One of our regular tasks as EAs in Ar Ram is “checkpoint duty” at the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint. Qalandiya checkpoint stands between the two Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It is on the Separation Barrier, which is at this point not on the international border known as the Green Line, but some 8 km north-east, in Palestine.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Twice a week we arrive about 4.15am, as the queue of workers from Ar Ram and Ramallah begins to build up, and for three hours we monitor the queues and the length of time it takes to pass through, and count the numbers of men, women and children crossing the checkpoint.

At 4.15am, the checkpoint building is alive with birdsong, and fat sparrows hop backwards and forwards under the metal bars, doing very well on the crumbs left by men eating breakfast as they wait. The freedom of the birds to come and go as they please is in marked contrast to that of the Palestinian people.

Let me give you an idea of what is involved in crossing the checkpoint. First you wait in line in one of three metal cages that is just wide enough for one person. At the end of this cage is the first turnstile, which at busy times opens to allow perhaps 10 or 12 people through at a time and then closes again for several minutes. Once through the first turnstile you go to one of 5 booths where you wait again at another turnstile. This turnstile usually opens to allow 3 people through, and then closes again for three or four minutes. You are then at the checkpoint proper, which is a little like airport security. You take off your shoes and jacket and belt and pile your possessions on a conveyor belt. You walk through a body scanner and present your ID and permit for inspection by the soldier on duty. You may well have to have your handprint checked too. If all is in order you are free to pick up your possessions and pass through 3 further turnstiles before you reach the other side and the buses waiting to take you to Jerusalem.

 

Men, women, and children begin to line up at Qalandiya checkpoint at 4:15 am every morning. Their daily commute involves this dehumanizing treck. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The queue at the checkpoint during busier hours of the day. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

It sounds simple. It is anything but.  The permit system which controls the freedom of Palestinians to travel around their country is a story in itself – there are 101 sorts of permits for different sorts of need, many are temporary and the process for acquiring a permit is complex, time-consuming and stressful. For now let us just say that, having reached the checkpoint, you may find that your permit has expired, or that it has been revoked, or that your handprint does not match that held on the database, or you have simply been “blacklisted” for some reason that you know nothing about.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow.  Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Or, as happened recently to families embarking on a day out, you may have been told that you do not need permits for your under-5s, but when you get to the checkpoint window the soldier on duty arbitrarily decides that you do and refuses to let the children through. (The wonderful Israeli organisation Machsom Watch  sorted that out very quickly for us by phoning the Commanding Officer).

For many Palestinians, crossing the checkpoint is a daily piece of frustration and humiliation inflicted upon them by the occupying power, Israel. For the most part they deal with it with stoicism and patience, though understandably resorting to some shouting and remonstrations when the queues stretch out to the car park and only two or three of the booths are open.Even if your permit is fine, navigating the route through the checkpoint can be an obstacle course. There is a “humanitarian gate” for women, elderly or sick people. But it does not save you a single turnstile. And the turnstiles are a menace to small fingers and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying small children or bags and a walking stick.

One of the most moving things we witness is the lines of men who, having spent perhaps half an hour or more queueing to pass the checkpoint, stop to pray on the Jerusalem side before boarding their bus.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state”. But as an elderly man told me in frustration as he emerged into the sunshine on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint last week:

“I am 70 years old. I was born in Jerusalem. I need a permit to go there. Half my family is in Ramallah, half in Jerusalem. I’m not from Europe or Africa – I’m from Jerusalem. And I need a permit to go there.”

The article Early Morning at Qalandiya was originally published on the blog Through My Eyes and Ears.

Palestinian Christians find hope in Pope Francis’ visit

C. Holtan Pope Francis by the Wall in Bethlehem 250514

Pope Francis waves as he makes his way past the separation wall and to Manger Square in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

by EAPPI team

From 24 to 26 May, Pope Francis made a 3-day tour to the Holy Land, making stops in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  In Jerusalem, the Pope’s visit was clouded when Israeli security forces used violence against Palestinian Christians marching toward the passage road of the Pope to welcome him.  Yet, a peaceful and celebratory visit to Bethlehem and Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of the difficult reality of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict left many Palestinian Christians with a feeling of hope.

Bethlehem: Pope Francis makes iconic stop at separation wall and calls for peace based on justice

In Bethlehem, Pope Francis made an unexpected stop, stepping down from his vehicle where he rested his forehead against the separation wall, which cuts off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and said a silent prayer. On the wall in the background, someone had sprayed a graffiti message: “Pope we need someone to speak about justice.” Photos from this stop have now become iconic across the media. Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, commended the Pope for being willing to acknowledge the reality of the situation in Palestine.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

The Pope steps down from his vehicle to say a prayer at the separation wall in Bethlehem. Photo EAPPI/E. Mutschler.

“I think that leaders like Pope Francis, when they visit, should not just meet officials, but should see the reality. The reality is that there is a wall that separates Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians and Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land. Pope Francis, I believe, prayed that this wall would no longer exist and I say this prayer with him!” Bishop Younan commented in an interview.

From his stop at the separation wall, Pope Francis made his way to attend a mass in Manger Square outside the Nativity Church. In his address the over 8,000 Christians gathered, he commented:

“I want to emphasize my sincere conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation that is becoming increasingly unacceptable.”

He affirmed that everyone will benefit from “the need to intensify efforts and measures to facilitate a stable peace based on justice, recognition of the rights of each individual and mutual confidence.” Interestingly, the nativity mural behind the Pope’s seat depicted baby Jesus lying under a keffiyeh style cloth.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

The Pope spoke at the Mass in Bethlehem in front of a mural of the baby Jesus under a cloth styled like a Keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

Bishop Younan reflected on the feeling of hope Palestinians felt after the Pope visited Bethlehem:

“The Mass gave the Palestinian people – both Christians and Muslims – a feeling of hope. To see that the President, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, Heads of Churches, all of these people attending, with locals, with people from Galilee, with people from all over the world – over 10,000 people in Manger Square – raised the moral of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian people are under occupation, we need a leader to show that the world is listening and hearing us and I believe that Pope Francis showed this to our people. There is a leader who is listening to us and meeting with us.”

Jerusalem: Palestinian Christians arrested an faced excessive force when welcoming the Pope

In Jerusalem, the experience of Palestinian Christians was not a peaceful celebration as it was for those in Bethlehem. At least 3 Palestinian Christians who joined a procession to welcome Pope Francis during his visit to Jerusalem were arrested for a brief period by Israeli security forces when the Pope arrived on Sunday. Others were injured due to use of physical force by Israeli police.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

A young woman holds a woman who was injured by Israeli security forces. Photos EAPPI/A. Macarimbang.

Israeli security forces ordered several changes to the planned route, resulting in confusion, overcrowding, and tension.  EAPPI human rights monitors reported that Israeli police began to use metal barriers to push the crowd back. Two men who became upset were beaten and arrested by Israeli police.  Another girl was injured when she was crushed in the pushing back of the crowd.

“The pre-planned route allowed us to process from New Gate to Jaffa Gate,” explained Yusef Daher, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “During the time before the Pope arrived at 6 pm, Israeli authorities rerouted the procession to Mamilla Mall. Then back to the traffic lights near Jaffa Gate. This continued. As soon as we arrived at one destination, they rerouted us back to another. Eventually, the procession was cornered in the streets.”

When the procession arrived to Jaffa gate after the first rerouting, Israeli police did not allow any Palestinian Christians to enter Jaffa gate.  They formed a chain to block the people from entering, which caused stress and anger among those waiting to greet the Pope.

“Even when the situation calmed down, many Christians were disappointed that they were not able to welcome the Pope,” described EAPPI human rights monitors.

Many Jerusalem Christians expressed their wish to welcome the Pope with the same freedom as Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem:

“They are not treating us like humans,” expressed one woman who was a part of the Jerusalem procession. “You can see we are peaceful people. We are holding our prayers in our hearts. We want to pray and welcome the pope that’s all!”

EAPPI’s Local Programme Coordinator commented: “I noticed a stark contrast between police actions toward the Christians at Jaffa Gate and police action two days later when thousands of Israelis gathered in Sheikh Jarrah for Jerusalem Day.  Even though the latter group was much larger and they were loudly singing and celebrating, Israeli security forces did not attempt to hold back the crowd. On the contrary, they seemed to protect the marchers as several police vehicles followed the procession around the Palestinian neighbourhood at 3 o’clock in the night.”

Pope Francis offers hope and challenges all to move beyond their entrenched positions

Jerusalem Christians immediately wrote an open letter to the Pope describing their situation. The Pope received the message before he left the country and during a service at the Garden of Gethsemane responded with the addition of these lines to his original text:

“I wish to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Christians in Jerusalem: I would like to assure them that I remember them affectionately and that I pray for them, being well aware of the difficulties they experience in this city. I urge them to be courageous witnesses of the passion of the Lord but also of his resurrection, with joy and hope.”

EAPPI’s Local Programme  Coordinator reiterated this message of hope: “I am amazed by the way the Pope identified with each faith community and political counterpart on its own terms but also gently challenged all beyond entrenched positions. His meditation at Yad Vashem was a case in point. Without taking anything away from the horror and atrocity of the Holocaust, his “Adam, where are you?” both embraced and went beyond the victims of that particular tragedy to include all who suffer atrocities, and all who commit them today.”

A Town Cut Off

The separation wall surrounds Ar Ram on 3 sides.  It is constantly in view and is a daily reminder of the city's struggles. Photo EAPPI/M. Lentz

The separation wall surrounds Ar Ram on 3 sides. It is constantly in view and is a daily reminder of the city’s struggles. Photo EAPPI/M. Lentz

by Bron and the Ar Ram team

Northeast of Jerusalem, just outside the city’s municipal border lies a town called Ar Ram. It’s a poor town of 60,000 people which used to be a part of eastern Jerusalem, but in the year 2006 many things changed. There was one concrete reason for that – Israel built the Separation Wall which now surrounds the town on three sides. It is the most prominent landmark of Ar Ram against its own will. The Wall is illegal according to the International Court of Justice, severely hampers the free movement of the people and has ruined the economy of Ar Ram.

There used to be a gate in the Wall which allowed direct access to Jerusalem for Ar Ram residents, but it was closed two years after the Wall was built, for “security reasons”. Ar Ram’s Mayor, Ali Maslamani, told our EAPPI team that he had asked the Israeli authorities “100 times” for it to be opened again, but they refuse.

So to get to Jerusalem one must pass through Qalandiya checkpoint, the main access to Jerusalem for all northern West Bank towns including Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.  What used to be a few minutes travel can now take 30 minutes up to 1 ½ hours. Our main task in the Ar Ram team is to observe the functioning of the checkpoint and the conditions for Palestinians trying to get through. The queues are usually very long, soldiers can be rude and indifferent and the tension is very visible.

But the difficulties in accessing Jerusalem are not the main reason for Ar Ram’s poverty.  According to the Executive Director of Ar Ram Council, MohannedShaheen, 70% of Ar Ram’s residents actually have Jerusalem IDs.  Such IDs are a prized possession, entitling the holder to the facilities – hospitals, schools etc – in East Jerusalem.  But the “permanent residency” status that goes with such an ID is always vulnerable. To keep it, you must show that your “centre of life” is in Jerusalem, not Ar Ram. This status goes in contrast to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under which “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.”

Most Ar Ram residents who have Jerusalem ID also maintain a home in Jerusalem.  And with a Jerusalem home come Jerusalem taxes, four or five times the level of Ar Ram taxes.  By the time you have paid your Jerusalem taxes, and maintained two homes, there is not a lot left to pay Ar Ram taxes.

The EAPPI Ar Ram team visiting the mayor's office in Ar Ram. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama

The EAPPI Ar Ram team visiting the mayor’s office in Ar Ram. Photo EAPPI/J. Valkama

So Ar Ram struggles. There is no police force. The Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot afford to provide one. The mayor told us that the Israeli police are quick enough to enter the town and make raids on houses if they suspect a member of Hamas is there, but otherwise they take no interest whatsoever in the town. A large part of the former residents have left the town and organized crime, especially involving drugs, flourishes. There is no money for repair and maintenance of the schools.  As Mohanned Shaheen told us “we are speaking about a city with no income”.

What Ar Ram needs most of all is an end to the occupation – what both the Mayor and Mohanned Shaheen call “the nightmare occupation”.  What it also needs is investment – and the moral investment that comes with people-to-people links. Ar Ram is twinned with Bondy – a town about 30 km from Paris. Out of this twinning link came support to re-lay the disintegrating yard at the boys’ school.  It seems a small thing, but now the boys can play football and games where before they could not.  Ar Ram would like many more such links.  It is not just the money – it is the sense that people in Europe know that Ar Ram exists and understands what it is suffering.

Ar Ram may be a town cut off, but it is a town with pride and determination.

“We are strong”, Mohanned Shaheen told us. “ We may not have money or planes, but we are strong in the heart.”

Only in the West Bank do we have Freedom to Worship

Our EAs this year provided protective presence and monitored the human rights situation throughout the Easter celebrations. This is the final account from our EAs sharing from Easter 2014 in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

by Liam, Bethlehem team

God sent his son to Bethlehem to get people to love God…but he didn’t say anyone needed permission”

As the 52nd EAPPI team in Bethlehem, we found our first week in placement coincided with Easter; a momentous occasion for Christians around the world but especially so for those living in the Holy Land. We were walking not far from our house, by ‘Ayda refugee camp, when a woman called out to us from her car.

“Hello! You are the new team; you must come to my house. My name is Antoinette. You like coffee? I make you coffee! You like cake? I make you cake too!”

As we have quickly found, one thing Palestinians are not in short supply of is hospitality. Here, sharing tea and coffee is a declaration of friendship. How could we refuse such a kind offer? Sitting in her house, we were introduced to her brother and sister-in-law, her nieces and nephews, their children and offered two types of cake, particular to Easter: ka’ek bi ajwa and ka’ak bi ma’moul

We spoke with Antoinette Knezevich on Thursday  April 17, the day before Good Friday, and discovered she was still waiting for her permit to be able to travel to Jerusalem for Easter celebrations. Antoinette used to teach at Schmitt College just outside of the Old City in East Jerusalem but, when the Separation Barrier was built by the Israelis; she was no longer permitted to drive to work and is not physically able to walk the distances required to pass through Checkpoint 300 – which cuts Bethlehem off from Jerusalem though they are a mere 7kms (or 4.4 miles) away from each other. Now she lives with her brother and his family, close to ‘Ayda refugee camp, with the Separation Barrier and its cameras looking into their kitchen.

The Permit Lottery

Cameras on the separation barrier look directly into Antoinette's window. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

Cameras on the separation barrier look directly into Antoinette’s window. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

Antoinette described how, before the permit system, she used to attend St. George’s Cathedral, the Anglican church in Jerusalem, and tended to the garden there:

“My husband and I were members of the church…my husband had a British passport because his father [Alexander Antonio Knesevich) was the first British Consul to Gaza during the British Mandate for Palestine”.

As is Antoinette’s case, if you have a Palestinian ID, Israel requires you have a permit even if you have an international passport. She continued:

“But since the building of the Wall I cannot anymore go to Jerusalem and to the church there. So flowers now make me sad. Can you imagine?”

Antoinette explained the process of applying for permits to worship:

“We are catholic and the priest took all the names and gave them to the Israelis and some got permits and some not. The husband might but not the wife – you see what they do?”

Individuals cannot apply for worship permits and are “awarded” permits much akin to a lottery yet preventing people access to worship is in contravention of International Humanitarian Law. Her brother and his wife succeeded but Antoinette did not. Antoinette questioned us:

“Since Jesus was here, we have been here. Do you need permission to visit the Church by your government? Where’s the justice?”

Two EAs converse with Antoinette. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton,

Two EAs converse with Antoinette. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

The Catholic Church in Bethlehem requested 5000 permits for the Easter period and received just 700 from the Israeli District Coordination Office, which were given across families forcing them to make the decision between only some of the family visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem or the whole family forfeiting the possibility. Antoinette decried:

“God sent his son to Bethlehem to get people to love God…but he didn’t say anyone needed permission”.

Freedom to Worship

Antoinette told of how Muslims and Christians live peacefully with each other, with Muslim families even sharing Santa gifts at Christmas and coloured eggs at Easter:

“They respect us and we respect them. Near my home are Muslim neighbours and we have no problems. The only problem is the occupation.”

Stood on her balcony, looking out towards the stark grey wall with its imposing watching presence; Antoinette shared:

“When they built the wall, it was like they built it on my heart…too heavy”. Her gaze dropped then and she looked deep in thought then quietly but firmly said: “It is like they took me up from the root of myself and threw me away”.

Antoinette points out the separation wall in front of her home. The wall now cuts her off from accessing Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton,

Antoinette points out the separation wall in front of her home. The wall now cuts her off from accessing Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton,

We worked Checkpoint 300 on the morning of Holy Saturday, greeting and wishing a “Happy Easter” to those passing through. Later in the afternoon, we saw many of the same people in Beit Jala for the parade to welcome the miraculous light from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When we asked why they were in Beit Jala and not the Old City, we were told how the Israeli administration had put the Christian Quarter on lockdown so, despite being some of the lucky few to receive a permit, they were still not allowed to enter the holy sites and engage in worship.

One man said: “Only here do we have freedom to worship”.