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.”

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.”

EA Blog: Bus Stop Blues

by Derek, Yanoun Team

Seeing the familiar apoplectic Facebook posts in response to a strike by tube train drivers in London this Christmas I was reminded of my first visit to Yanoun. We alighted from a service (minibus taxi) at the Za’atar junction, a busy roundabout on the edge of the city of Nablus, and our Brazilian guide Alex, from the preceding EAPPI group in Yanoun, gave us our first lesson in the transport politics of the West Bank.

Settler bus stop” he said, pointing to an empty shelter with a bench, set back  from the junction on a paved area, with two large concrete blocks in front of it. “We will wait there.” He continued, pointing to a group of Palestinians stood in the road about 30 feet ahead. As we walked around the shelter, I took in the guard tower positioned behind it.

Though I was a little slow to gather the implications of this set-up, it sank in eventually. Jewish Israeli Settlers (in this instance mostly from Tappuah settlement, which overlooks Za’atar) in this area have their own bus stops, which Palestinians are restricted from using, with the threat of force used to ensure compliance. Thus the Palestinians wait on the busy road itself, unprotected from the elements, to catch buses or taxis.

EAs pass the bus stop at Za'atar Junction. The manned guard tower overlooking the stop is visible in the background.

EAs pass the bus stop at Za’atar Junction. The manned guard tower overlooking the stop is visible in the background.

As we learnt, this single clear contrast is the tip of the iceberg. There are effectively two transport systems in the West Bank, but not two parallel systems that work along similar lines. Rather at every turn transport is less reliable, less safe and less comfortable for the Palestinian population than for the Israelis who inhabit the settlements. For example, according to a report by the Israeli peace group B’Tselem:

In October 2010, there were 232 kilometers of roads in the West Bank that Israel classified for the sole, or almost sole, use of Israelis, primarily of settlers.

The right of Palestinians to freedom of movement in the West Bank is severely constrained, not just by segregated busing and roads, but by measures such as checkpoints, permits and the separation barrier, 85% of which is not on the 1967 armistice line but inside the Occupied Territories.  The situation is fluid, and 2012 saw the lifting of some movement restrictions in the West Bank. However as B’Tselem points out:

the military continues to treat Palestinians’ freedom of movement as a privilege rather than as a right.”

There are a number of bus services that exclusively serve settlements and facilitate the movement of Settlers between the occupied territories and Israel, effectively discriminating against Palestinians and bolstering Israeli support to Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law.

Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the West Bank have confirmed that settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — which states that

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The declared goals of these measures are security for Israelis, both those inside Israel and the 500,000+ settlers living illegally in the West Bank. Even taken at face value, such a comprehensive regime of measures affecting a specific population constitute collective punishment, also illegal under the fourth Geneva Convention. A 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice rules that:

The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.”

Both the settlements and the measures taken to protect and sustain them violate the human rights of Palestinians. This reality is unavoidable, even when one wishes to do something as simple as catch public transport. Whatever the tube’s shortcomings, I know which system I prefer.

The 'Settler' bus stop at Za'atar. A Palestinian man waits by the roadside in the far distance.

The ‘Settler’ bus stop at Za’atar. A Palestinian man waits by the roadside in the far distance.