In the darkness of Yanoun reality changes on the hilltops

By the Yanoun team, 

My watch tells me it is just after 2am as I lie awake listening to the unmistakable sound of a digger moving rock after rock, being the only noise breaking the silence in the early hours of this September morning. Every once in a while, the sound of the digger is overpowered by the sound of barking dogs, brought down from the hilltop by the wind. With the darkness as shelter, the invisible work on the hilltop continues. It is impossible, after sunset, to know for sure what is happening amidst the houses and barns little more than a stone’s throw away from my bedroom. What will be changed when the first sunbeams strike the olive trees?

12.10.2016 Pictures for blog, Palestine EAPPI-RW (8 of 10).jpg

12.10.2016 The first beams from the sun hit the olive trees in Yanoun. EAs show their presence by morning and evening walks around the village. EAPPI/R.W

Continue reading

‘Where do I go now’? Questions asked in the wake of demolitions

Featured

By the Yanoun team.

March 2nd, 2016: At 6:30 in the morning, fifteen Israeli soldiers and three bulldozers entered THE VILLAGE OF KHIRBET TANA in the east of Palestine. When they left two and a half hours later, most of the village, including the internationally funded school, was left in ruins.

Continue reading

I raise up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh the danger…

Featured

By EAs M. Mowe and G. Kerr-Sheppard, Yanoun Team.

EAPPI HAS MAINTAINED A ROUND-THE-CLOCK PRESENCE IN YANOUN SINCE EARLY 2003. THE PRESENCE OF ‘INTERNATIONALS’ AS WITNESSES TO  DOCUMENT AND RECORD INCIDENTS HAS HELPED TO DETER SETTLER ATTACKS BUT THE SITUATION REMAINS VOLATILE.

Our regular evening walks are one of the Yanoun teams most pleasant tasks. We gladly undertake this hour and a half long trip, it is a delight to ramble down the old road between Upper and Lower Yanoun and then to turn East towards overlooking the Jordan Valley. Continue reading

“Blessed art thou amongst women: “Pachamama”: In the Village of Yanoun”

By EA Paula, Yanoun team.

In Latin America, we have a special word to describe the earth, land and sea. The bounty it produces and all of our connection to it. The word is: “Pachamama”. Separate from the English term Mother Nature, the word is derived from the ancient languages of Aymara and Quechua that are native to Latin America. With “Pacha” meaning cosmos, universe, time, space and earth and “mama’ meaning mother – Pachamama represents the full embodiment of the planet and how all of us, and our survival, are inextricably linked to it.

A

Photo EAPPI

Continue reading

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.

The girl who climbed to the top of the world

The situation at Burin secondary school in the Nablus district is escalating, adversely affecting the students access to education. The presence of Israeli soldiers and settlers often result in clashes with the school boys. Despite all, one girl stands out as an inspiring model with hope for the future.

In Burin, the school begins with the national anthem as in all Palestinian schools. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

In Burin, the school begins with the national anthem as in all Palestinian schools. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

by Taika, Yanoun team

One of the most rewarding and important tasks for Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) is to do “school runs” that enable Palestinian children to arrive safely at school each morning. School runs are a part of an Access to Education initiative supported by UNICEF which aims to guarantee children’s access to education despite the hardships of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. One of the schools we visit weekly is the Burin secondary school. 285 students study here, 25 of them are female.

A provocative presence

In recent weeks the situation between the students and the soldiers outside the school grounds, only some 50 metres away, escalated several times. Israeli soldiers park their jeeps behind the school each day claiming to protect the Israeli settlers using Road 60, about 200 metres away from the school. Settlers from the Yizhar settlement, located on a hill top behind the school, and soldiers often accuse students from Burin of throwing stones at their cars. At times the soldiers get out of their jeep and walk very close to the school yard during the lunch break. Sometimes the head of security of the Yizhar settlement accompanies them.

The Israeli soldiers are often accompanied by the security staff of the close by Yizhar settlement in their white jeeps. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

The Israeli soldiers are often accompanied by the security staff of the close by Yizhar settlement in their white jeeps. Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

The presence of the settlers particuarly provokes the students who start shouting and gather at the school fence. Sometimes the boys throw stones, which causes the soldiers to respond with tear gas and sound bombs. Sometimes the soldiers also enter the school yard to intimidate the students, or set up a flying checkpoint just outside the school gate when it’s time for the students to go home. They detain the boys and check their hands in order to find out if they have thrown rocks. They also search their school bags and keep them waiting for long time before they can go home.

“The best way to fight the occupation is to get an education.”

Incidents like this have a huge effect on the education of the students in Burin secondary school. Hyped-up by their encounters with the soldiers, the students are not able to concentrate on their studies in the classroom. Teachers at Burin secondary school tell us it has become increasingly difficult to control the students or to get them to pay attention during the lessons. This particularly affects the boys.

“The boys want to fight the occupation, they want to fight the soldiers”, says Ghassan, a local activist, who graduated from the Burin secondary school some years ago. “They don’t understand that the best way to fight the occupation is to get an education,” he sighs.

She climbed Kilimanjaro

Yasmeen al Najjar is one of the first palestinian women to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. "I can't climb to the hills here in Burin because of the soldiers and the settlers, but I can climb a mountain in Africa," she explains. "It shouldn't be like this." Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

Yasmeen al Najjar is one of the first palestinian women to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “I can’t climb to the hills here in Burin because of the soldiers and the settlers, but I can climb a mountain in Africa,” she explains. “It shouldn’t be like this.” Photo EAPPI/T. Kopra.

In the midst of the chaotic everyday life of Burin school, we meet one of the most inspiring people that we have met during our time in Yanoun. 17-year-old Yasmeen Al Najjar, a student, just returned from a trip in Africa. This bright young woman climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in just eight days. A remarkable achievement for anyone, let alone for a young woman who wears a prosthesis on her left leg. Yasmeen took part in an expedition as a member of Palestinian Child Relief, an organization focusing on helping handicapped children in Palestine. Now the whole school looks up to her. We meet her on a morning when she received an award for her remarkable achievement.

When we ask her, what does she think of the soldiers parked outside of her school every day, she emphasizes that all children have the right to study in peace. She feels that the Palestinian students are not in an equal position with their peers in Israel or in other countries.

Israel signed and ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which expects all signatories to “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict” (Article 38/4). As an occupying power, Israel must guarantee equal educational rights to Palestinian children. 

Despite the harsh reality in Burin school and the students’s deteriorating chances to focus on their studies, Yasmeen is confident when we ask what she aspires to do in the future. She wants to study abroad and become a medical engineer who develops better prosthesis for children who are born without a limb or have lost one in an accident. When we tell her how much we admire her courage to climb to Kilimanjaro, she responds with a warm smile and reassurance: “You can also do it.”

Protective presence still needed to keep Yanoun alive

EAPPI has maintained a round-the-clock presence in Yanoun since early 2003. The presence of ‘internationals’ as witnesses to  document and record incidents has largely acted as a brake on further settler attacks but the situation is still volatile.

by Ken, Yanoun team

Two EAs on their morning walk for protective presence. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

It’s 06.00 on a chilly morning in Yanoun as we begin our daily morning walk between the upper and lower villages. The sun is slowly rising over the Jordanian hills bringing warmth to the valley; the old olive trees stand sentinel in the fields as both human and animal life begins to stir. Suddenly the tranquility is shattered by two Israeli military vehicles that roar towards us, slowing only to make a quick appraisal of these new incomers before continuing on their way. This is a stark reminder that we are in Area C of the West Bank, fully controlled by the Israeli army and subject to military law. The walk is part of our protective presence in the village, designed to reassure the villagers and to deter the Israeli settlers, who occupy the ridges overlooking the village, from carrying out acts of harassment and intimidation.                           

Upper Yanoun is home to seven households of 30 persons. It’s only 300 metres from the boundary fence of the Itamar settlement outpost of Giv’ot Olam. A very short distance across the valley outposts ‘836’ and ‘777’ named after the contours of the hills they occupy, look down on Middle Yanoun, which now is no more than one house occupied by a household of six the other two houses having been abandoned. About a kilometre down the valley Lower Yanoun is home to a further seven households of 44 persons. The muezzin’s call to prayer from the Lower Yanoun mosque often accompanies our evening patrol as far as the old Nablus road; we have been warned by the settlers not to go any further.

Outpost Hill 777 through binoculars. Photo EAPPI/C. Schelbert, 2012.

Outpost Hill 777 through binoculars. Photo EAPPI/C. Schelbert, 2012.

In the late 1990s Itamar settlement began annexing the nearby hills and establishing outposts on Palestinian land along the ridge above Yanoun. The settlements in Palestine are illegal under international law but the Israeli government continues to promote and support their development with impunity. Settlement outposts are even illegal under Israeli law but they’re spreading across the land. Yanoun is in a strategic position and is blocking the advance of these settlements towards the Jordan valley.

With the settlers came violence: the villagers repeatedly experienced physical assaults, threats of shootings, vandalism of personal and community property, and theft of land and crops. The violence escalated to the point that in October 2002 the villagers decided to evacuate their homes. This was the first exodus in recent times of a Palestinian community from its village in the wake of settler attacks. The village was mostly reoccupied a few days later but only because of intense interest from the international media and with the support of Israeli peace activists.

Rashid Murar, head of Yanoun, says of EAPPI’s continued protective presence, that “if the internationals leave the village in the morning, we will leave in the afternoon”.

The villagers’ troubles don’t end there. In 2012 the Israeli army declared part of Yanoun’s land as a closed military zone, denying the villagers access to cultivate their fields but allowing the settlers to confiscate it, establish outposts and to cultivate the land. This action prompted a violent clash between the villagers and the settlers; the army sided with the settlers.

Altogether the villagers have now lost more than 70% of their land to Israeli settlers. The villagers are now confined to grazing their sheep on the lower slopes and farming in the valley bottom. The hilltops and fields beyond are off limits; the villagers risk being shot on sight if they attempt to reclaim their land. The steadfastness of the villagers in spite of the difficulties they face is truly awe inspiring.

As I’m writing this article, I receive a phone call: the settlers have attacked Lower Yanoun! We race to the scene to be met by a heartbreaking sight.  In a field just beyond the boundary of our evening walk 45 out of 115 olive trees, aged between 100 and 200 years old, have been cut down by Israeli settlers sometime during the night; many of the other 70 have suffered severe damage from a chain-saw.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Israeli settlers cut down olive trees in Yanoun. Even if replanted, it will take 5 to 10 years before this family can bring in their current income from these trees. Photo EAPPI/K. Hodgson.

On the opposite hillside a lone, armed settler watches the crowd that has gathered. A representative of the Israeli Civil Administration (staffed by army personnel) and a contingent of army and police arrive to assess the situation. A prolonged and heated discussion takes place. In the middle of all this Avri Ran arrives on the scene: he’s a dedicated Zionist alleged to have been the inspiration for the fanatical ‘hilltop youth’ movement, and he’s also our neighbour. None of us knows what he wants but a short while later he drives away.

I ask one of the farmers what the Israeli authorities will do about the incident. He replies, with a fatalistic shrug, “they will take photographs and then ‘Khalas’ [finished]”.

This sad story doesn’t have a fairy tale ending but the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture has told the villagers that it will replace all of the trees and others lost in a recent storm. But it will take between five and ten years for the trees to be become commercially productive; in the meantime the families will lose a much needed income.  The settlers know this. Some Palestinian farmers even believe that such attacks are part of a coordinated strategy to undermine the Palestinian rural economy.  Our part in this story hasn’t ended either: we’ve been asked and agreed to provide a protective presence during the tree planting. The work starts next week.