Conflict in the Jordan Valley

Palestine

Conflict in the Jordan Valley

An Israeli settler and a Palestinian born in the Jordan Valley discuss land rights. I took this photograph last Sunday on a tour of the Jordan Valley with Ma’an Development Centre (http://www.maan-ctr.org/)

Advertisements

The View From Hebron

Palestine

Image

On Saturday 4th May our group took a trip to Hebron.

With a population of 170,000 Hebron is the largest city in the West bank, it is also one of the places where the occupation can most obviously be seen.

Since the start of the occupation in 1967, small Israeli settlements have been built in the centre of Hebron in the old city, which used to be the commercial hub of the southern West Bank. Following the 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi mosque, the Israeli law enforcement and security forces have pursued an overt policy of separation in Hebron. The intention of this policy is to segregate the Israeli settlers from the Palestinian majority. Furthermore, under the Oslo Protocols in 1997 Hebron was divided between H1 and H2; the Palestinian authority controls H1, whilst H2 is under Israeli military control. As a consequence of this division the movement of Palestinians is severely restricted within H2. The policy of separation in Hebron has had devastating consequences for the local economy. Whole streets, where once there were shops and businesses, are now empty. The economic impact and the violations of Palestinian’s human rights have compacted the suffering of Palestinians in Hebron and led many to leave the centre of the city. For those that remain living in such close proximity to violent Israeli settlers and soldiers who are there to protect the invaders is a continuous battle. But, to exist is to resist and their continuing presence is one last act of defiance against the occupiers.

Image

We visited the Ibrahimi Mosque (pictured above), the site of the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers by an Israeli settler. Since this incident, which resulted in riots and the killing of 21 more Palestinians by Israeli forces, access to the Mosque by Muslims has been restricted. 60% of the Mosque is now used exclusively as a place for Jewish worship. Muslims must enter the Mosque by a side entrance, passing through a security gate before doing so, furthermore access to the Mosque is restricted by its position in H2 meaning that Palestinians must pass through a checkpoint before visiting the Mosque. This action by the Israeli forces has had the effect of punishing the victims of a crime.

Image

Whilst removing my shoes outside of the main room of the Mosque I met a Palestinian man named Ahmed who offered to give me a tour of the Mosque. He showed me around the Mosque explaining the history of the building, which has been a place of worship for thousands of years and has been used by Christians and Muslims at different points in history.

Image

After leaving the Mosque Ahmed and his friend Ruben offered to give us a tour of H2. They led us past the soldiers and down the hill into the Old City of Hebron. They told us that if they were alone they wouldn’t feel safe to walk around H2 but as they are in the company of Internationals the soldiers were unlikely to bother them. Even so there were some streets which we walked up alone leaving our guides to wait with the soldiers as they were not allowed to walk there. It is completely ridiculous that as British citizens, born thousands of miles away, we were able to walk these streets and yet men who were born and raised in Hebron are unable to.

Image

Image

Al shuhada street, once the main market street of Hebron, is today a ghost town with all the businesses boarded up and only soldiers and a few tourists walking around. The segregation of the city has had a devastating impact on the economy of the old city where today 77% of Palestinians live beneath the poverty line. According to a survey done by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2007, 1 829 Palestinian shops located in H2 have closed since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. This is mainly due to military orders, curfews and the closure regime imposed by the Israeli authorities hampering economic activity.*

*Source: TIPH: Hebron Today

Image

There is a heavy military presence in Hebron with approximately 3000 Israeli soldiers. The soldiers are there to protect the 500 settlers from the 30,000 Palestinians who reside within H2. According to B’Tselem (The Israeli Centre for Human Rights in the OPT) soldiers often do nothing to protect Palestinians from settler violence and do not enforce the law for Palestinians or bring assailants to justice. Apart from a soldier shouting at a group of young boys who were trying to sell us sweetcorn we did not witness any incidents between soldiers and Palestinians. In fact, in some cases the soldiers seemed to have good relationships with the Palestinians, there was no obvious animosity between them.

Image

Image

After walking around the Old City we visited one of the few remaining Palestinian businesses within H2, a pottery shop selling beautiful hand painted bowls, mugs and plates. The man who owned this shop had been successful in taking out a court order against the closure of his shop because his house is attached to the shop.

Image

Image

Whilst in the shop we were given a demonstration of how they shape the clay on the wheel. The man made it look incredibly easy, quickly and effortlessly molding a candle stick and then a little vase and then a pot with a lid which fitted the pot perfectly. During this display a large group of Israeli school girls entered the shop accompanied by a tour guide. Their tour guide gave them a running narrative about the history of the shop and it’s owner, most of which was extremely biased and carried a racist undertone. He told them that the owner of the shop was a “good Arab” whose Grandfather had sheltered Jews during the 1929 attack on Jews in Hebron and that is why his shop had been allowed to stay open. He also made a comment about how tourists visiting Hebron don’t look for examples such as these where Palestinians are able to make a good living and have good relations with Israelis, instead all they want is a picture of a soldier and not to see the reality that “peace is breaking out in Hebron”.

Image

This was one of the first time I have come into such close contact with Israelis whilst in the West Bank and found it very uncomfortable particularly when one of the young girls turned to me and asked me, most sweetly, “What are you doing in Israel?” I moved outside so as not to have to listen to the guide and was put to work painting an espresso cup which I was later given as a gift. Once the group had left the men in the shop offered our group tea and we sat outside and talked with a young Palestinian man named Abdallah about the political situation in Palestine. He was keen to make us aware of the reality of the situation for Palestinians living in Hebron and offered to show us the settlements in the Old City. After leaving the shop Abdallah took us onto the roof of a Palestinian house from which we could see the Israeli military base (I was unable to take photographs of this for obvious reasons). Then he showed us the house of a Palestinian family who lived metres away from an Israeli settlement. The family have suffered much abuse from the settlers. Abdullah told us that one settler had poured chemical acid onto one of their children. I can’t be sure that this is true but it is certainly well known that settlers in Hebron are particularly violent towards Palestinians. Their house lies below the settlement, when you look up from outside their house, through the barbed wire, you can see the steps into the settlement.

Image

Image

We visited another settlement which was established in 1984 when a group of Israelis placed portable caravans on a hill top believed to be within the biblical location of Hebron where the tombs of Ruth and Jesse are said to be. Abdullah was unable to walk with us to these settlements as they are tightly protected. Most of the Palestinian residents near to this settlement have left. However, the neighbours who are an elderly husband and wife refuse to leave. As a consequence of their refusal to leave they live under a very strange situation where they must apply every 6 months for a permit to give them permission to leave their house. Their children are not allowed to visit their house (the second picture below).

Image

Image

Image

The policy being pursued in Hebron is indefensible. The need to protect the security of the settlers is grossly exaggerated but more importantly the threat to their safety is self imposed by their insistence upon living in occupied territory where they have no right to reside. The only sensible option is to evacuate the 500 settlers to Israel and allow the city to return to normality without the fragmentation of the city through the presence of the security forces of the illegal occupier.

Dinner in Aida Camp

Palestine

Image

This is Islam. Islam was born in Aida Refugee Camp and continues to live there today with her husband Ahmad and their six children. The eldest of Islam’s children is named Mohammed. Mohammed is mentally disabled, meaning that he requires additional care. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides schools and health centre in Aida Camp. However, the schools do not have the capacity to accommodate disabled children like Mohammed. This means that Mohammed cannot go to school and his full time care and education are Islam’s responsibility.

NOOR Women’s Empowerment Group is a grassroots project created by and for women in Aida Camp with disabled children. With the help of international volunteers they run cooking classes for internationals to learn how to cook traditional Palestinian food. This was an initiative created by the group to generate extra income to help them in meeting the costs of providing care and education to their disabled children. The lessons provide an enriching experience for internationals to learn about life in the camp. International volunteers have been providing the women’s group with English lessons for three years and Islam’s English is now sufficient to enable her to tell her guests about her recipes as well as her experiences in the camp. It is hoped that this skill will enable Islam to continue the classes once the international volunteers have left.

Image

On Sunday, Islam and her friend Salua showed our group how to make a dish called Mujadara, a humble dish of rice, lentils and pasta covered in caramelised onions, and served with salad and yoghurt. This was followed by a generous slice of Basbussa, a delicious cake made with Semolina and Coconut. The women in Aida Camp are used to catering for their large families and there was plenty of food to go around. Dinner was followed by tea, and then coffee to relieve the food coma induced by the large portions.

Image

Visiting the camp and being warmly received into the family home of Palestinian refugees was an incredible experience. After dinner Islam’s family began to arrive home – Islam’s six children, her sister and her children, and Ahmad joined us. When the cooking classes began Ahmad had been apprehensive about allowing internationals into his family home however, he seemed relaxed in our presence and engaged us in conversation. Ibtehal, Islam’s ten-year-old daughter, was keen to practice her English and enthusiastically showed me her schoolbooks containing lines of very neat English vocabulary. I was reluctant to leave having enjoyed helping Ibtehal with her English. I hope to visit again if I have chance to return to Bethlehem, as the family were so welcoming.

Image

The people of Aida Camp are refugees from the 1948 Nakba (disaster) who were displaced during the creation of the state of Israel. Having been forcefully removed from their villages by the Israeli army they have lived in Aida camp ever since, awaiting a time when they will be granted their Right of Return. It is not at all clear when this might be and as time goes by it seems less and less likely. Meanwhile, conditions in the camp continue to get worse as the funds granted to UNWRA decrease. The building of the Separation Wall by Israel in 2002, following the second Intifada, has exacerbated the degradation of conditions. Unemployment is a massive problem in the camp as men, like Ahmad, who used to travel to Jerusalem to find labour can no longer do so due to the presence of the Wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Image

Visiting NOOR Women’s Empowerment Group and taking part in one of Islam’s cookery lessons is a must do for anyone planning a trip to Palestine. It allows you to meet the victims of the Nakba, who continue to suffer today thanks to the on-going illegal Israeli occupation, but more importantly, it demonstrates the resilience and tenacity of the Palestinian people and provides an opportunity to experience their exceptional hospitality.

Find out more about NOOR Women’s Empowerment Group here: http://noorweg.wordpress.com/

Permission to Narrate

Right to Education - Palestine, Video

This video documents the restrictions on Palestinian control over their teaching curriculum one of the ways in which their right to education is denied under the Israeli occupation. Understanding their common history is important for uniting the nation of Palestine and raising awareness which is essential for resisting oppression. The video was made by students from the University of Birzeit working on the RIght to Education campaign.

The Right to Education

Right to Education - Palestine

On Monday morning I began work on the campaign for the Right to Education in Palestine. This is a student led campaign which aims to raise awareness and provide peaceful opposition to the denial of the Palestinian people’s right to education under Israeli occupation. Under Israeli occupation the Palestinian population experience many infringements on their right to education, this effects both lower and higher education. The main issues which effect the students at the University of Birzeit are restrictions placed upon international travel to Palestine through the allocation of visas by Israel which affects the ability of the University to recruit international staff and students, the restrictions upon movement within Palestine which is leading to the localisation of Universities, and student prisoners and detainees.

The occupation is distorting the education system of Palestine through restrictions upon the freedom of movement both within Palestine and from abroad to Palestine. Universities rely upon the movement of academics and students in order to transfer knowledge. Universities such as the University of Birzeit in Palestine, where the campaign is based, are experiencing the recycling of knowledge within the institution which is impacting upon the quality of education that the University can deliver. Israel will only issue tourist visas of up to three months and will not issue student or working visas to internationals who wish to study or teach in Palestine.

In the past students from Gaza made up 20% of the students at the University of Birzeit today however, there are only 7 students from Gaza. This is due to the extremely tight restrictions placed upon movement by Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza. This has led to an increase in division between the Palestinian population. Restrictions placed upon movement within the West Bank are also reducing the ability of students to attend a University away from where they live. This means that today the majority of students attending University in Birzeit are from Ramallah or the surrounding villages.

There are currently 74 students from the University of Birzeit in prison. The ability of the Israeli security to place students under arrest and hold them without charge under administrative detention severely harms the ability of many students to complete their studies. This is an issue which is hugely important to the students of the University as it frequently impacts upon them personally when either they or someone they know is arrested. Charges against student detainees normally relate to political activism and can be as simple as being a member of a student society or union.

Over the next few months I will be posting more information about the denial of the right to education for Palestinian’s living under Israeli occupation.

Find out more about the Right to Education campaign here: http://www.right2edu.org/ and here: http://r2eoutreach.wordpress.com/

Restiamo Umani

Palestine

Restiamo Umani

” We must remain human, even in the most difficult times …
Because, despite everything, there must always be humanity within us. We have to bring it to others.” Vittorio Arirgoni

Vittorio Arirgoni was an Italian reporter and solidarity activist with the International Solidarity Movement. He entered Gaza in 2008 via the first Free Gaza mission to break Israel’s siege of the area and stayed in Gaza until his death. He was assassinated in Gaza on 15th April 2011.