Settler violence and impunity in the West Bank

by the Yanoun team.

On the 31st of July, 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh was burned to death in a fatal arson attack on his family home in the Northern West Bank village of Duma. Israelis from a nearby settlement are believed to be behind the attack which saw two Palestinian homes torched by petrol bombs.  Ali’s parents and 4-year-old brother survived the attack but were taken to the hospital in a critical condition. Sadly on the 8th of August Saad, Ali’s father, died from third degree burns just one week after his son. Two members of the family are still in a critical condition. The family living in the second house were not at home when the attack happened.

31.07.15 Nablus, Duma. Leaflet dedicated to Ali distributed during funeral ceremony, Photo EAPPI / J. Burkhalter

31.07.15 Nablus, Duma. Leaflet dedicated to Ali distributed during funeral ceremony, Photo EAPPI / J. Burkhalter

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Susiya: ‘another day of seeking and working for a just peace’

by EA Rev. D. Etherington​, Susiya

Just 14 months ago, I said my goodbyes to the residents of Susiya.  And now I have returned to this village in the South Hebron Hills as it faces threats of imminent demolition and a forced removal of all those living here. I have returned to Susiya at the invitation of the World Council of Churches to be part of a team of internationals providing ecumenical accompaniment and protective presence to the village in hopes that a demolition and removal may be put off.

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, photo EAPPI by L. Magne Helgesen

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, Photo EAPPI / L. Magne Helgesen

My arrival in Susiya coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the most holy time in the Muslim year, a time of fasting for the month. This month of fasting begins with the daily call to prayer in the pre-dawn hours and ends at the sunset call to prayer. This period of Ramadan will end July 18 and is a time of reflection and reformation of the soul.

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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.

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.

Twice a refugee – The story of Mr. Sabbagh

In recent years, Sheikh Jarrah has become the location of active demonstrations against Israeli policies in the neighborhood. After many families were forcibly evicted from their homes in order for Israeli settlers to take up residence, weekly Friday protests began.  Here is the story of one family forced from their home.

by Jerusalem Team 50

Mohammad SabbaghDuring the 1948 war, Mr. Sabbagh’s family became refugees from their village of Yavneh. They were forced to leave their homes and take only the items they could carry. They left behind not only their houses, but their entire properties that they worked they accumulated over the years. Mr. Sabbagh’s family lost 250 dunums of land.

They fled to Jerusalem and were brought as refugees to Sheikh Jarrah, an area now in East Jerusalem.  At that time, Sheikh Jarrah came under the rule of the Jordanian government.  Many refugees, including Mr. Sabbagh’s family were given houses in Sheikh Jarrah on the condition that they pay rent to the Jordanian government.

In 1967, when the state of Israel took over East Jerusalem and the West Bank and began its military occupation, Sheikh Jarrah once again fell under their rule. At this time, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian Government transferred ownership of the houses in Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinian families living in them.

For Mr. Sabbagh’s family, the dispute over their home began in 1972 when Israeli settlers claimed that their ancestors lived on the land on which Mr. Sabbagh’s house was built and the land and house belonged to them. Although these claims began in 1972, Mr. Sabbagh’s case came to the forefront in 2010 when the family received eviction orders from the Israeli authorities based on the claims of Israeli settlers.

Since then, the family’s lawyer is still contesting their eviction and seeking recognition of Mr. Sabbagh’s family’s ownership of the property.  Despite proof of Mr. Sabbagh’s ownership in documents obtained from records in Turkey that combat the settlers’ claims, the Sabbagh family was evicted from their home, forced to stay in tents they erected nearby.

The startling fact of families being forced from their homes, opened the eyes of many in Israel and throughout the world.  Public demonstrations began to oppose the forced evictions of Mr. Sabbagh’s family and others.  Every Friday, Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians gather at 3:00 pm in the afternoon voicing their support for the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.

Many thoughts come to our minds as we ponder Mr. Sabbagh’s story. How can Palestinians persevere, despite the double loss of homes, property, and the dreams and memories these places carry? How much money has been wasted in support of countless human rights violations? How long can the Israeli government support the active violation of Palestinians human rights without facing repercussions?

These questions bare heavily on our minds, but we find hope in the solidarity Israelis and internationals show every Friday with the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.  Much more needs to be done, but one day freedom will be delivered to those that are oppressed.

Read about Sheikh Jarrah on +972 Magazine.

Watch videos about Sheikh Jarrah from Just Vision.

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.

Giving children a positive way to deal with the trauma of conflict

Despite the difficulties facing the neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem, the Wadi Hilweh center aims to give kids a creative outlet

by Rasani, Monika, Joyce, and Allan, Jerusalem team

The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem is located next to the Old City walls. Photo EAPPI.

The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem is located next to the Old City walls. Photo EAPPI.

Silwan, is a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, just south-east of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Over the years, this neighborhood faces many difficulties. The Jerusalem municipality plans to build green areas on much of the land, means that approximately 65% of the Palestinian homes in the neighborhood are under threat of demolition. Moreover, in several incidents, Israeli settlers took over Palestinian homes, even those where people are currently residing.  Heavy security presence for settlers, the archaeological project of the City of David, ongoing clashes, and arrests of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities, have created an atmosphere of tension, under which children suffer deeply.

The Wadi Hilwah Centre is located next to the City of David Centre.  We met Ahmad Qaraeen, an active volunteer with the Wadi Hilwah Centre, who along with 14 other members of the community rented a house and developed a creative community center for children and adults.  The Wadi Hilwah Centre aims to find ways to pull children from the street and give them positive experiences.

Former EAs with students in Wadi Hilweh. Photo EAPPI/C. August, August 2013.

Former EAs with students in Wadi Hilweh. Photo EAPPI/C. August, August 2013.

They began with music workshops, sponsored by organizations such as GIZ, War Child Holland, and YMCA. After the Israeli authorities demolished part of the building, however, many of the girls were afraid to participate.  Women of the community also feared leaving their homes.  To target these groups, the Centre now offers Hebrew language classes, sewing and cooking groups, yoga and sports.  The centre is now a place where friendships develop and women are able to sell their creative works to support the center’s programs.

Over the past nine years, the Wad Hilwah centre organized a children’s summer camp, which gives children a way to forget their problems for a while and just be children, which is still difficult for children who have experienced so much trauma.

Ahmad Qaraeen recalled: “Five years ago, I was shot by an Israeli settler in my leg. My young son saw this and ran to me. He screamed out. The settler came back and shot me again in the other leg. The settler told my son, it was his fault because he was shouting. My son started to hate Israelis.  Even today, he asks me, ‘why did the Israeli come back and shoot you again? I answered –it was a settler, not an Israeli.”

Ahmad says that the future of many of the children of Silwan is damaged.  They find contradictions between what they learn in school about treating everyone with love and respect, and what they see outside of school.  They have trouble concentrating on school work, they have anger and depression, and their relationship with parents is sometimes strained.  Some are unable to go to study abroad or find government jobs because they were involved in even minor incidents and have a record.

The film “Childhood Remnants” by Sumer Hussum in cooperation with the Wadi Hilwah Centre shows the impact of the struggles on the children of the community.

When asked why he is still hopeful and not depressed, Ahmad said,We were occupied in the past by Jordan, by Britain, and now by the state of Israel, but the Palestinians still remain here and will always be here.”