Our most shocking facts from 2013

A huge part of the work of an EA is actively engaging in monitoring and reporting human rights violations that they witness. We report these incidents to the United Nations and other local and international humanitarian and legal organizations so that they can provide the necessary assistance.  Many of these incidents find their way into the stories our EAs write on this blog and share back home as part of their advocacy for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Here’s an infographic summarizing EAPPI’s 2013 reports on human rights violations:

EAPPI Incident Reports 2013 Final

Yanoun, the Valley of Shadows

“I see what I want of love…I see
horses making the meadow dance, fifty guitars sighing, and a swarm
of bees suckling the wild berries, and I close my eyes
until I see our shadow behind this dispossessed place”
– from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Rubaiyat

It’s 6AM. We are overlooking the Jordan Valley while the sun rises and throw it’s sunbeams over an olive tree covered landscape. It’s quiet. We have no need to talk to each other. We just look. Enjoy. The view over the Jordan Valley takes your breath away. Beautiful. I can’t find other words that can describe the small village of Yanoun.

An EA photographs Israeli settlement outposts on the hills surrounding Yanoun. Photo EAPPI/A. Aguilar.

An EA photographs Israeli settlement outposts on the hills surrounding Yanoun. Photo EAPPI/A. Aguilar.

The morning sun lights up the entire valley. But a shadow still covers Yanoun like a lid. Our eyes move along the horizon. We see some buildings on the hilltops that surround us. They are Israeli outposts. Outposts are expanding settlements on Palestinian land that the Israeli government has not legally approved.  They are illegal according to both Israeli and international law. Two such outposts surround Yanoun. Givat Olam and Hill 777. The reason we do morning walks is not to take in the beautiful scenery of the Jordan Valley, but to provide protective presence.

The settlers from the outposts are known to be extremely violent. They were so violent against the villagers in Yanoun that the whole village was evacuated in 2002. The Mayor, Rashed Murar, explains:

“They came with dogs and weapons every Saturday night. The settlers climbed on top of the roofs in our village. They beat up the men in front of their children. One Saturday they said that they didn’t want to see us there the next week. The whole village left that week.”

This created strong international reactions, and since 2003 EAPPI has been present in the village. Unfortunately, settlers and soldiers keep on harassing the villagers and make life difficult.

A flock of sheep in Yanoun. Photo EAPPI/A. Aguilar.

A flock of sheep in Yanoun. Photo EAPPI/A. Aguilar.

We feel the tense atmosphere in Yanoun. It is a strange mix of peacefulness, unpredictability and fear. On the hilltops around the village, the settlers constructed watchtowers and huge spotlights that light up the village every night. Freedom of mobility is limited. Settlers wash their dogs in the village’s drinking water. They attack the village regularly. And the duty of the Israeli soldiers is to protect these settlers. As a result, there are only 70 villagers left in Yanoun.

It is recess at the village school. The seven pupils play with a ball while I drink tea with the teachers. We joke about each other and about the neighboring village. Life goes on and it is important to keep your head up.

Before I leave a teacher says pensively:

“Why do the Israelis look down on us? We are all equal. We are all humans. We are all brothers. Why?”

What can WE do?

At the end of his term in Yanoun, Rafael reflects on what EAs can do when they return home

by Rafael, Yanoun team, Group 49

EAPPI, Israeli, and other activists help build shelters for residents of Mak-hul after the demolition on September 20th. Photo EAPPI/R. Marques.

EAPPI, Israeli, and other activists help build shelters for residents of Mak-hul after the demolition on September 20th. Photo EAPPI/R. Marques.

In the middle of last century George Orwell foresaw that “Big Brother” would dominate our lives completely. In his book “1984”, the author tells the story of a fictional country controlled by a government matrix that decides from the clothes you will wear to what kind of information you can get from the media. The control is justified by the constant threat of an external enemy that you have never seen.

Those who are controlled seldom realize this. In the context of the Israeli occupation, the awareness of the Israeli people about what is happening is amazingly close to zero. But for every rule there is an exception.

The events of Mak-hul

The community of Mak-hul, in the Jordan Valley, Palestine, was demolished on September 16th, affecting at least 12 families. On September 20th, several organizations joined efforts to deliver shelter and tents to the village through the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). EAPPI joined the delegation to provide protective presence to the community and help with the shelters.

Several diplomatic representatives were also present. The army took the truck with the humanitarian aid by force. Some clashes then occurred between the villagers and the army.

On October 11th, we returned to Mak-Hul to help build shelters for the animals and some tents. This time, several Israeli activists, especially from the organization Machsom Watch, came to the community to deliver materials and offer help.

 “Dangerous” areas

Most of them were elderly. In one conversation, one of the activists said that several members of her group have been arrested for being in Palestinian areas. She herself had been arrested. After that, she decided to seek the Israeli administration responsible for the occupation, and there she was forced to sign a document taking all responsibility for visiting areas considered “dangerous”. The entry of Israeli citizens in these areas is prohibited by Israeli law.

For its citizens, the Israeli government justifies its actions as measures necessary to guarantee security. For Palestinians, the Israeli activists are always welcome.

‘What did you do, so that others may live in peace and you can enjoy the paradise?’

Among Israelis in Mak-Hul, we found Mr. Yehoshua Rosin, now 70 years-old, who, early on, decided to oppose the occupation and the decisions of his government. Mr. Yehoshua asked us to email the photos we took that day. He, then, told us a beautiful story.

“In the past I used to take pictures myself. I am a free thinker, but I’ll use a religious metaphor. According to the Jewish religion, when a Jew dies he will be judged before God. If innocent, he will go to Paradise (Garden of Eden), but if you sin and do not repent, will be condemned to hell. So I thought I’d take photos with me to the grave and when asked ‘What did you do, so that others may live in peace and you can enjoy the paradise?’, I’ll show the pictures and say ‘That’s what I could do’. Many thanks and greetings to your group for your contribution.”

It was sad to realize that most Israelis present were of advanced age. It seems that the new generation is not listening to those who have enough experience. But, just like Mr. Yehoshua and the lady to whom we have talked, we cannot surrender to “Big Brother”. As EAs, we do our part: we record what we see and we tell others. After all, “this is what we can do.”

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.

Visualizing back to school in Palestine: A Photo Essay

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.