After the Demolition

It has now been four days since the demolitions in Um al Kher.  While the bulldozers have left, the suffering has just begun.  My heart aches for those whose homes have been demolished.  My heart aches that humanity can willingly and knowingly inflict such cruelty on other human beings.  How can we be so brutal?  So downright mean?  And how, in a world of limited resources, can we as a species be so wasteful?

These are questions that I, from my place of privilege, of plenty, of secure housing, can ask.  For the villagers, these questions and others are present, but the more immediate concern is that winter is coming.  It is essential to get things in place for the cold months ahead.  Basic needs must be met.

The first order of business was to immediately rebuild the taboun oven.  The community needs to eat.  The Israelis arrived the day after the demolition and demolished the new taboun oven.  There are plans to rebuild it yet again.

 

After the second taboun oven demolition.

After the second taboun oven demolition.

While the demolition crew were there the second day, they also damaged a small olive tree and took out the electrical power to one of the village’s communal latrines (supplied by solar panels because the villagers are not allowed to hook up to the power grid that supplies the neighbouring settlement).  The day before, they had broken the water pipe to the latrine.

 

Iman's husband Bilal holding the broken olive tree next to the damaged latrine.

Iman’s husband Bilal holding the broken olive tree next to the damaged latrine.

 

Bilal repairing the electricial wiring to the latrine.  The day before, he had repaired the broken water pipe.

Bilal repairing the electricial wiring to the latrine. The day before, he had repaired the broken water pipe.

The ICRC delivered emergency tents.  They are helpful to serve as a temporary kitchen, but it is obvious that they will not provide adequate winter shelter.

 

An ICRC tent placed in front of the rubble of  Iman and Bilal's home.

An ICRC tent placed in front of the rubble of Iman and Bilal’s home.

 

The interior of the tent.  It is very basic,  with a dirt floor, a tent flap opening (no zipper) at each end, and two small windows.

The interior of the tent. It is very basic, with a dirt floor, a tent flap opening (no zipper) at each end, and two small windows.

Iman, Bilal and Mohammed are currently living in a small, uninsulated shed .  While it is a roof over their heads, it is cold at night and is really only big enough to hold their bed, cradle and a few belongings.

 

The small shed Iman, Bilal, and Mohammed are living in.

The small shed Iman, Bilal, and Mohammed are living in.

When speaking with them, I could sense that the  stress and trauma of the last few days are clearly taking a toll on both of them.

Villagers have decided to search through the rubble and salvage what they can.  Yesterday, a group of international volunteers  arrived to help.  Israeli friends from a nearby kibbutz, members of EAPPI’s new South Hebron Hills team, a visiting women’s football team from the UK, other HIRN volunteers, and a variety of other internationals all came together to help with the work, and through our presence to show solidarity and to offer hope. Together with the villagers, we were able to clear through much of the rubble and salvage what we could.

 

Internationals helping to clear and salvage the rubble.

Internationals helping to clear and salvage the rubble.

 

Two of the British football team at work in Um al Kher.

Two of the British football team at work in Um al Kher.

 

Clearing the rubble and firming up the base for the foundation of a future rebuilt house.

Clearing the rubble and firming up the base for the foundation of a future rebuilt house.

The road ahead will bring difficulty and challenge.  Our message to the people of Um al Kher is clear.  You are not alone.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

 

 

 

This Hurts

Last week I wrote about my young friend living in a rural village whose home was at risk of demolition.  I deliberately did not include her name or the location of her village so as not to jeopardize the slim hope they held that this demolition could be avoided.

Yesterday, the villagers received word from their lawyers that they had exhausted all legal means to save the 4  homes in the village that were at greatest risk. The only option open to them was to submit a fee of 1000 NIS per house (approximately $350 $Cdn) before Thursday of this week to apply for mercy from a judge.  The villagers were unable to pay the fee.  Today, we were thinking about how we could help them raise this money when we received word that the Israeli military and bulldozers had arrived in their South Hebron Hills village of Um al Kher.  By the time they left, 5 homes were demolished, as well as the taboun oven,  a community bread making oven shared by a number of women in the village to bake their daily bread.  Bread is a staple of the traditional Palestinian diet.  The issue of the taboun oven is currently before the courts. As such, there was no demolition order on the oven. Nonetheless, it was demolished today.

When we heard that the bulldozer was in the village, we immediately set out to go there.  Shortly thereafter, we received word that the military had declared the village a closed military zone and were blocking people from entering.  Once the demolitions were complete and the military had left, we went to the village.

Upon speaking with my young friend, she told me that I was free to use her picture and name in the sharing of this story.

Her name is Iman.

Iman, her young baby Mohammed, and myself. This picture was taken in her living room, on my visit  to the village prior to the threat of imminent demolition.

Iman, her young baby Mohammed, and myself. This picture was taken in her living room, on my visit to the village prior to the threat of imminent demolition.

In spite of our age difference (she is younger than my daughters), we share a precious and abiding friendship that began 3 years ago when I was with the South Hebron Hills EAPPI team.  She is gentle natured, kind hearted, articulate with excellent English, and carries a wisdom beyond her years. Today, the Israeli forces demolished the home she has shared with her husband Balil and their 5 month old son Mohammed.

Here are some photos of their house.  It was a fairly simple 4 room house.  A living room, bedroom, small bathroom and small kitchen. But it was more than that.  It was their home.

Iman's kitchen

Iman’s kitchen

Their typical Palestinian bathroom.

Their typical Palestinian bathroom.

The doors to the home.

The doors to the home.

The single bedroom in their home, with baby Mohammed sleeping in his cradle beside the bed.

The  bedroom in their home, with baby Mohammed sleeping in his cradle beside the bed.

The living room where we visited.  Notice the oranges on the table.  This picture was taken the day they learned that the house was at risk of imminent demolition.  In spite of the stress associated with that, she insisted on sending me home that night with a bag of oranges that Balil had brought home from the farm he works on.

The living room where we visited. Notice the oranges on the table. This picture was taken the day they learned that the house was at risk of imminent demolition. In spite of the stress associated with that, she insisted on sending me home that night with a bag of oranges that Balil had brought home from the farm he works on.

Today, all that is left of their home is a pile of rubble.

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The gate to Iman and  Balil's home, with the rubble in the background.

The gate to Iman and Balil’s home, with the rubble in the background.

The family's belongings.

The family’s belongings.

The windows from the house that Iman was able to salvage prior to the demolition.

The windows from the house that Iman was able to salvage prior to the demolition.

Iman said that when the bulldozers arrived, she started to get their belongings out of the house.  Balil was away at work.  The bulldozers demolished some of the other homes before coming to hers. When they arrived at her house, the soldiers laughed at her as she stood inside.  Then one of them yelled at her to “Shut up and get out.”  When she was outside, the demolition started.  Unable to watch, she cried as their home was destroyed.

Very shaken, she spoke of her concern that winter is coming and they do not have a home.  Winter here is cool, windy, and damp.  The ICRC provide small tents for families whose homes have been demolished. How could they live in a tent in those conditions with a baby?

Of more immediate concern was where they would sleep tonight.  There were 5 families left homeless by these demolitions today.  All would need shelter.

Of further concern was the loss of the taboun oven.  It has served as an integral part of the village for many, many years. It is the oven that Iman and several other village women have used on a daily basis to bake their bread.

The remains of the demolished taboun oven, with the nearby settlement homes in the background.  The settlers are suing the villagers for smoke inhalation due to the oven, asking for a 500,000NIS ($165,000 Cdn) settlement.

The remains of the demolished taboun oven, with the nearby settlement homes in the background. In what can only be described as a further act of cruelty and harassment,  the settlers are suing the villagers for smoke inhalation due to the oven, asking for a 500,000NIS ($165,000 Cdn) settlement.

Prior to the army’s declaration of the village as a closed military zone during the demolitions, 3 volunteers from the Italian peace organization Operation Dove arrived in the village.  Operation Dove are a well respected peace group in the South Hebron Hills and do excellent work observing, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, as well as providing non violent protective presence.  Today, one of the 3 Operation Dove members who went to the Um al Kher demolitions was arrested in the village.  We were told that he is currently being deported from the country.

It was a deeply painful day today in Um al Kher.

Tonight, I have no words to express the suffering in the village.  But I do know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that demolishing Iman and Balil’s home will not further the security of the State of Israel in any possible way.  This is an absolute act of willful cruelty.  As an occupying power, Israel has the legal obligation under International Law to provide for the well being of the occupied people.  Demolishing people’s homes does not provide for their well being.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly stated that Canada is Israel’s best friend.  I do not believe that Canadians support actions that dehumanize and inflict needless suffering on innocent individuals and families.  I do not believe that Canadians support the actions of foreign governments that so blatantly contravene International Law.  It is time that our elected representatives actually represent the values of the Canadian people on the world stage and hold nations states accountable for their actions.

Tonight, let us pray for the those who have been hurt by this act of violence.

Tonight, let us pray for peace.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Leading the Way With Sustainable Development

When I was in Palestine during the fall of 2011, working with the EAPPI South Hebron Hills team, our work took us to a number of very poor villages.  Living in tents without access to electricity or water (they are denied access to both the electrical and water systems by the Israeli authorities), and dependent upon the herding of their sheep and goats for a livelihood in an environment where grazing land continues to be under threat of diminished production due to drought and is increasingly being confiscated by the Israelis, the daily life of these villagers was a constant struggle.  The problems with drought, land confiscation and settler attacks on shepherds as they graze their sheep continue today.  Water issues are being gradually addressed through a variety of means. An exciting new development is the dramatic improvement in the quality of life that has come through the installation of solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity.

This has resulted from the hard work and vision of a group called Comet-ME.
Comet-ME is an Israeli-Palestinian non-.profit organization providing sustainable energy and clean water services to off-grid communities. They work to facilitate social and economic empowerment of some of the most marginalized communities in the West Bank through the construction of wind and solar systems,water solutions, capacity building and maintenance.

Their 2013 annual report (found at http://www.comet-me.org) describes their work.  “We work in an area of the South Hebron Hills called Massafer Yatta, home to several thousand Palestinian farmers and shepherds living in caves and tents. Often referred to as the ‘cave-dwellers’, they subsist on non-mechanized agriculture and herding. The region is arid (an average annual rainfall of less than 250mm) which makes survival a difficult task. Israeli military occupation makes matters even worse. Most of the region is defined as “Area C” in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, meaning that Israeli authorities possess full military and civil control. Area C constitutes 62% of West Bank territory and includes the only available land and agricultural reservoirs which are essential for the viability of Palestinian economy and statehood. The planning regime imposed by Israel in Area C severely discriminates against the Palestinian population. While Jewish settlements, some of which are considered illegal by the Israeli government, enjoy modern water, sewage access, roads and electricity,  the Palestinian communities adjacent to them lack these basic services because of a bureaucratic mechanism designed to prevent them from building infrastructure and to halt their socio-economic development. This planning regime is not simply a technical matter, but a product of Israeli political agenda. Israeli authorities are impeding infrastructure development as part of a larger policy aimed at pressuring rural Palestinian communities to leave Area C and move into Palestinian urban centers, thus securing Israeli demographic dominance in the only remaining open areas of the West Bank. The poverty and marginalization of these communities is therefore a product of the political situation more than geography or the economy. Our work is motivated by the desire to alleviate the unnecessary suffering imposed on these communities by conflict and political violence.”

Their work is based on three core principles:

1.  Working with communities. Viewing the communities as both the beneficiary and the partner, they invest in both direct and long term contact with the communities that involves meaningful community participation and ownership at all stages of the process.

2.  Utilize open source technology. All technological details  of their projects are available on the public domain.  Partnerships are shared with a global network of practitioners, including Engineers Without Borders and the UN Sustainable Energy For All practitioner network, allowing for the sharing of information and developments that will be of benefit both locally and internationally.

3.  Local sourcing of equipment and supplies wherever possible. Most of the installation equipment is sourced from local Palestinian suppliers.  Wind turbines are built in the Comet -ME Center located in a renovated house in the South Hebron Hills. They train local Palestinian electricians from nearby Hebron, who then train local community members in basic maintenance and diagnostics. This local knowledge base is then available for future development.

After following Comet-ME’s activities from afar, I was fortunate last week to be part of Comet-ME’s fifth anniversary celebrations, held at their Center in the South Hebron Hills.

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Opened in December, 2012, the Comet-ME  Center is totally environmentally friendly and energy independent, using green energy sources, consuming only self collected rainwater, and using non polluting olive refuse as a heating fuel.

People gathered outside the main building of the Center.

People gathered outside the main building of the Center.

Another view of the Center.

Another view of the Center. Notice the solar panels on the roof.

The center serves  as the organization’s base of operations, as a training and volunteer facility, workshop, warehouse, and development center for appropriate rural development technologies.  In short, it is a place where people can come together to work out concrete solutions that can then be implemented on the ground.

Elad Oran, one of the co-founders of the organization, led us on a tour of the facilities and explained their work.

Comet-ME co founder Elad Oran (far right) leading a tour of the facility. This picture was taken inside one of the two caves on the property.

Comet-ME co founder Elad Oran (far right) leading a tour of the facility. This picture was taken inside one of the two caves on the property.

He began by explaining that the building, cistern and 2 caves are a rented facility, an indication of the deep trust shared between the land owner and themselves as Jewish Israelis.  It is the only building in the region without a demolition order on it, although there is a demolition order on the outside porch and the wind turbine.

To date, Comet-ME has built 20 wind and solar energy systems in separate villages in the area, providing electricity for approximately 2000 people.  Unfortunately, the Israelis have placed demolition or stop work orders on 16 of these systems, leading the primary German funders to refuse to fund further installations. They are now dealing with the legal work involved in fighting these orders.

The wind turbines are built in the center’s workshop.  The blades are hand carved wood.

Wind turbine at Comet-ME Center.

Wind turbine at Comet-ME Center.

The solar panels are purchased, carrying a 30 year guarantee.  They need to be cleaned and have their angle adjusted manually four  times per year in order to maximize sun reception.

Elad explained that the average Israeli family uses 10-15 kwatt hours per day of electricity.  The South Hebron Hills installations provide 2.5-3.0 kwatt hours per day per family, meaning that families have to priorize their energy consumption.  High use energy appliances such as electric kettles and space heaters would use too much energy and need to be avoided.  In terms of priorities, families first choose illumination, followed by the charging of cell phones (the only means of communication), and then TV and radio use.

The electrification of the villages has produced significant improvements in the quality of life.  Cave homes that previously were dark in the winter by 3pm can now be lit, allowing students to more easily complete their homework and family members to do other tasks.  Much of the family income is generated from the sale of products from the goats and sheep.  Women used to spend 5-6 hours per day churning butter.  Now, with an electric butter churner, the task is complete in 45 minutes.  Comet-ME has been able to subsidize the purchase of energy efficient refrigerators, allowing for the safe keeping of the various farm products, safer storage of foodstuffs for the family, and the safe keeping of medications for family members and livestock.  As well, families are now able to have a washing machine, making family laundry an easier task.

All of this, using 100% sustainable energy.  In an area of ongoing conflict, it is an encouraging example of Israelis and Palestinians working together at the community level to bring positive change.  Together, they are living out one of Comet-ME’s foundational principles, that joint concrete work can reestablish hope and solidarity even in the harshest moments.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom

Jan

Could You Learn Here?

As I explained in a previous post, “Transforming with Colour, Brightness and Joy,” there are ongoing tensions and hostilities within the Old City of Hebron.  This  violence takes a toll on everyone, but it seems that young children are particularly vulnerable to the ongoing cycle of trauma that they live under.

We were called this week to the Khadija Bint Khuwayled School, a Palestinian Grades 1-4 boys school of 275 students, located in the heart of the Old City.  It proved to be a school unlike any other I have ever been in, a school that felt more like a prison than a learning institution.

We passsed through 2 checkpoints to get there, the last one very close to the school property. Upon arrival, we met with the Headmaster (principal) in his office, and then had a tour of the building and school grounds.

Checkpoint on the street outside the Khadija Bint Khywayled School.

Checkpoint on the street outside the Khadija Bint Khywayled School.

The Headmaster explained that they are having an ongoing problem with Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and sound bombs into the school grounds and building.  This has been happening a minimum of 3 times per week for the last several weeks, taking an obvious toll on both students and staff, and definitely hampering learning.  He admitted that a small number of students (3% or less of the student population) have thrown stones at the soldiers, but he said that the soldiers inflame the situation by their very presence, sometimes going as far as hiding behind the school wall.  Once a single stone is thrown, they respond with the tear gas and sound bombs.  He described one recent situation that happened at dismissal time.  He stationed the teachers at approximately 50 foot intervals from the door of the school to the school gate and on towards the checkpoint, and then released the students grade by grade.  Once one group of students were safely through,  they would release the next grade.  After about 2/3 of the students were out, a soldier appeared.  One child threw one stone, and the army responded by tear gassing the schoolyard and the school.  The school staff then kept the remaining 1/3 of the students in the building until the tear gas dissipated.  In his desk drawer, the Headmaster keeps a bottle of perfume to revive both students and staff who have fainted from the tear gas.

Following our discussion in his office, the Headmaster took us on a school tour.  Conditions were appalling – by far the worst I have ever seen. The school building itself is dirty and in a state of absolute disrepair.

A typical hallway and classroom doors.

A typical hallway and classroom doors.

The entire facility is dingy and drab, with small and significantly overcrowded classrooms.

One of,the school classrooms.

One of the school classrooms.

The exterior of the building was no better.

An exterior wall of the school.

An exterior wall of the school.

School bathrooms, located behind the building.

School bathrooms, located behind the building.

The school grounds were cramped, with nowhere for the children to play and no playground equipment or toys for them to play with.

Headmaster pointing out schoolyard deficiencies. This is part of the children's play area.

Headmaster pointing out schoolyard deficiencies. This is part of the children’s play area.

The rest of the school playground, completely devoid of any playground equipment or toys for these 6,7,8 and 9 year old boys.

The rest of the school playground, completely devoid of any playground equipment or toys for these 6,7,8 and 9 year old boys.

While the physical environment was deplorable, it was also disconcerting to recognize the social environment that prevails in this school.  The headmaster, the staff, and many of the students all spoke loudly to one another, frequently yelling louder and louder.

As I thought of the physical and social environment of the school, I realized the impact years and years and years of living in such a hostile environment has had on these people.  The staff are well intentioned and genuinely seemed concerned about the welfare of the students, but they are people who regularly live with trauma related to violence from both settlers and soldiers.  The current issues of tear gas and sound bombs are yet another chapter in an ongoing cycle of violence.

In the Palestinian education system, the Ministry of Education supplies school furnishings,supplies and staff, while the municipality is responsible for the school building.  Unfortunately, the municipality does not have sufficient funds to upgrade dilapidated buildings.  For this reason, the Hebron International Resources Network (HIRN) will work to secure funding and organize an update to the facility.  The first steps towards this upgrade were taken this week when we met with a potential funder.  Others will be needed.   It is the beginning of a long process towards rehabilitating the school into a more learning conducive facility for these vulnerable students.  Senior government officials are working to communicate with the army and come to an agreement that will end the tear gas and sound bomb attacks.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Update

The Israeli demolition bulldozers did not arrive in the village these last 2 days and so the houses are still standing.  While this is a relief, the villagers remain anxious that demolitions are pending and know that it could happen at any moment.  It remains a difficult time for them.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Occupation reality

Life under military occupation is never easy.  By it’s very definition, one party suppresses another with armed might.  It is dehumanizing, cold, and cruel.

On Sunday afternoon, I visited a young friend living in a vulnerable village in the rural West Bank.  It was a happy sharing of friendship.  Since we had last seen each other she had married and now has an infant child. Her husband was away at work.  She was excited to introduce me to her infant son and showed me through their small, basic home.  As we visited, she gave me her baby to hold and we looked at her wedding pictures.   When it was time to leave, we made tentative plans for me to return, and she was insistent that I come at mealtime, so that she could cook for me and we could share a meal together.  It all seemed pretty normal, as if for a moment we could forget the harsh realities of life under occupation.

But not for long.  Tonight we visited again, this time under very different circumstances.  Today, this young family received very strong indications that their home will be demolished by the Israeli forces tomorrow. Why?  I chose not to ask that question, as I knew the answer.  The house was built without a building permit, a permit that is required by the Israeli authorities but which the Israelis do not grant to at least 99% of Palestinian applicants living in the rural (Area C) part of the West Bank.  Unable to obtain the required permit and desperate for housing, families build without.

Tonight,  I met her husband for the first time – a kind and gentle natured young man who warmly welcomed me into their home.  The baby was asleep in his cradle.  Sitting in the living room, we visited and drank tea.  He spoke of the difficulties a house demolition would bring upon their family, particularly with the winter season fast approaching.  And yet, he said, other Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, are facing serious difficulties as well.  I was moved by their courage.

She asked if I would come tomorrow if their house is demolished.  I assured her that I would do my best to get there.

International volunteers are staying in the village tonight.

This is life under occupation.

Peace,Salaam, Shalom

Jan

Transforming With Colour, Brightness, and Joy

During my time in Palestine, I am volunteering for 3 1/2 weeks with the Hebron International Resource Network (HIRN).  HIRN was started in 2011 and is run entirely by a dedicated group of both Palestinian and international volunteers. The objectives of the organization are to increase cooperation and collaboration amongst members of Palestinian society; promote and support education for Palestinian children through initiatives aimed at improving educational facilities and environment; and providing various forms of assistance to the most vulnerable households and communities in the West Bank.  The organization works out of the HIRN Center in Hebron, where housing is available for volunteers.  Projects are funded through the generosity of donors from around the world.

I arrived in Hebron on Friday of last week, and our first project was to work with British artist Mark Sands on a mural for the Shuhada Street kindergarten.  A nice idea, but why is this important?

To understand the significance of this project, it is important to understand a bit about the neighbourhood the school is situated in – a neighbourhood unlike any other.

Hebron (population 190,000) is the largest city in the southern West Bank.  As such, it is a traditional commercial and manufacturing centre for the region.  It is also a historic holy city to Jews, Muslims and Christians as it is believed to be the burial site of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Historically, the city has long been home to a small but vibrant Jewish community living alongside the primarily Palestinian Muslim population.  However, things began to change in the 1920’s when tensions between the two groups escalated and violence ensued.   In 1968 (following the 1967 war and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank), the first Israeli settlers arrived in Hebron.

In 1997, the city was divided into two administrative sections: H1 and H2.  H1, an area consisting of 18 square kilometres, is home to the majority of the city’s population and is under full Palestinian control.   H2, an area of 4.3 square kilometres, is home to 35,000 Palestinian residents and 800 Israeli settlers (many from the U.S.) living in 4 Israeli settlements (considered illegal under International law).   There are also several hundred Israeli soldiers based in H2 whose primary role is to protect the (illegal) Israeli settlers.  H2 is under full Israeli military control and encompasses the entire Old City of Hebron, which was once a thriving market area and the centre of Palestinian commerce and trade.

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Closed Shuhada Street, with Checkpoint 56 at the far end.  These buildings would traditionally have a business on the main level, with the residential areas above.  Many of these homes are now vacant and vandalized.

Closed Shuhada Street businesses.

Closed Shuhada Street businesses.

A closed up Shuhada Street business. The army have welded the doors shut.

A closed Shuhada Street business. The army have welded the doors shut.

The vacant Shuhada Street, once a bustling market.

Another view of the vacant Shuhada Street, once a bustling Palestinian market.

Today, Palestinians are restricted from vehicular travel on several streets in the Old City,  and some streets are prohibited for Palestinian pedestrian movement.  The Israeli authorities currently deploy 120 physical objects to segregate the Old City from the remainder of the city, including 18 permanently staffed checkpoints.  The bustling market has dried up, as 512 Palestinian businesses have been closed down by Israeli military orders and at least 1100 others have shut down due to restricted access for customers and suppliers.  In the Old City, these access restrictions, as well as systematic harassment from Israeli settlers and at times harassment from Israeli forces, has led to the displacement of thousand of Palestinians and the resultant abandonment of over 1000 homes (40% of residences).  Those remaining residents face serious challenges in accessing basic services, including schools, emergency health services, water and sanitation.  Many children  undergo daily searches at checkpoints and require international protective presence to protect them from settler harassment enroute to school.  Acts of settler violence against Palestinians in the Old City include vandalism, property damage, verbal abuse and physical violence done with virtual impunity, as there are serious gaps in the enforcement of the rule of law on Israeli settlers involved in violence and intimidation against the Palestinians.  The large majority of complaints about settler violence filed in recent years have been closed by the Israeli Police without indictment. (Information taken from “The Humanitarian  Impact of Israeli Settlements in Hebron City, November 2013, found at http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_hebron_h2_factshe.et_november_2013_english.pdf  and the Norwegian Refugee Council report “Driven Out The Continuing Forced Displacement of Palestinian Esidents from Hebron’s Old City, July 2013)

The Shuhada Street kindergarten is located in the heart of H2.  The settlers in the area are known to be right wing extremists who have carried out physical attacks on the Palestinian residents, as well as their national and international supporters. This reality, in combination with the extensive presence of Israeli soldiers, creates a difficult and hostile environment for children. You cannot help but see the marks of psychological trauma etched in the faces of these young children, and observe this trauma acted out in their behaviour.

The local primary school does not include a kindergarten. In September of 2013, after extensive community consultations and in collaboration with other local organizations, the Hebron International Resource Network (HIRN) was able to lease a house and transform it into the Shuhada Street Kindergarten, thereby providing’ free early childhood education for thirty energetic four and five year olds, and the only children’s recreational facility in the community.  It gives them a safe place to learn and to play, away from the frequent conflict and violence enacted against them. HIRN contributed funds towards the house renovation, the purchase of toys, teacher salaries, and the installation of artificial grass.  This week, HIRN volunteers, assisted by the school custodian and various children, were able to brighten the building with a colourful mural.

The exterior of the Shuhada Street kindergarten prior to the new mural.

The exterior of the Shuhada Street kindergarten prior to the new mural.

School playground.at the kindergarten.

School playground.at the kindergarten.

British artist Mark Sands preparing the paints on the first day.

British artist Mark Sands preparing the paints on the first day.

A neighbourhood girl who proved to be an enthusiastic painter.

A neighbourhood girl who proved to be an enthusiastic painter.

Kindergarten student placing her hand print on the mural.

Kindergarten student placing her hand print on the mural. When she wasn’t helping out, she loved to sing the song and do the actions to “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

 

With a little  help from friends...

With a little help from friends…

The new mural.

The new mural.

Another view of the ew mural.

Another view of the new mural.

 

The finished mural from above.

The finished mural from above.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Another Chapter

Life has an interesting way of unfolding.  Sometimes we plan for and anticipate an event, only to find that life situations change and our best laid plans go for nought.  Then, much to our surprise, another door opens unveiling a wonderfully exciting opportunity.

And so I find myself in Palestine.

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, with Church of All Nations and Garden of Gethsemane in foreground

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, with Church of All Nations and Garden of Gethsemane in foreground

First off was a visit to Bethlehem to see the young boy who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in February of 2013 as he and his brother were returning home (see March 2, 2013 post “One Bullet).  Our Jerusalem EAPPI team accompanied him and his family through the initial weeks of his hospitalization.  Sadly, today at 17, hemiplegic, with memory deficits and the bullet still in his head (doctors fear further damage should they remove it), he is not doing well.  His family struggle to care for him and struggle to pay for the multiple extra expenses that are incurred by this life altering injury.  There is no compensation from Israel to help with any of these costs, even though he clearly was an innocent young man who was intentionally shot at close range by an Israeli soldier.  During my time here, I will attempt to explore options for assistance for this family.

The next day was a visit to Bedouin friends east of Jerusalem.Refugees to the area in the early 1950’s, they now find themselves facing a forced displacement against their will.  Israel announced plans in September to move approximately 7000 Bedouin living east of Jerusalem to an area outside of Jericho, a move that would be disastrous for their livelihoods, culture, and traditional lifestyle.  This move would be in direct contravention of International law, and has been condemned by 45 international humanitarian organizations and a number of governments.  Nevertheless, Israel wants this Palestinian land for further settlement expansion and they seem intent on taking it.  For an explanation of the implications of this move for the Bedouin people, please read a concise address given by Jameel Hamadin Jahalin to the Belgian foreign minister in December, 2013, found at http://www.jahalin.org.  The United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI) has written a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that he stand against this move and I encourage you to send a copy to your own MP.  The letter can be found at http://www.unjppi.org.

Two days.  Two slices of life and suffering under occupation.

The prophet Amos wrote in Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a mighty river, righteousness like a never ending stream.”  Centuries later, we sing the words of an African American spiritual ” Justice shall flow like a mighty river, justice shall flow like a mighty river, justice shall flow like a mighty river, justice like a river one of these days.”

May it be so.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Settlements – The Time to Act is Now

More than anything else, the one thing that absolutely astonished me upon my arrival here in February was the rapid settlement growth that has taken place over the last 15 months.  The changes are blatantly obvious.  Existing settlements have expanded and numerous new ones are sprouting up on the hillsides. It is an undeniable reality.  Ariel Sharon’s famous words “Grab every hilltop; what we take will remain ours” are becoming truer by the moment. (found at http://www.palestine-primer.com/Palestine_Primer/Maps_%26_the_Land.html)  If the Israeli’s are intent on creating “facts on the ground,” they are succeeding.  As the current political stalemate continues, settlement building continues – putting up more and more Israeli housing units and supporting structures (shopping areas, roads, water and electrical infrastructure)  as well as businesses and factories, on Palestinian land.

What do expanding settlements mean for Palestinian people?  Obviously, there is a loss of land.  In the West Bank, settlement growth continues to overtake the countryside, separating Palestinian villages from their neighbours and gobbling up prime agricultural land.  The contiguity of the West Bank is severely jeopardized, and people often speak of the West Bank as being divided up like a piece of Swiss cheese.

Here in East Jerusalem, in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, there are ongoing court battles over homes the Israeli’s want to take over.  Just last week, we visited with a man who had half of his house taken over by settlers in 2009.  Now, an American settler who has been in the country for 12 years, lives in the front portion of this man’s house while the man and his family live in the back portion of the building.

Mohammed al Kurd, standing outside his family's home in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  Israeli settlers took over the front part of their house, leaving the family to live in the back.

Mohammed al Kurd, standing outside his family’s home in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli settlers took over the front part of their house, leaving the family to live in the back.

On Thursday, we stood on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, looking out over what had been Palestinian land.  Across the hilltops was one settlement after another.

Vast settlement expansion outside of Bethlehem.

Vast settlement expansion outside of Bethlehem.

On Saturday, we visited the community of Al Khalayleh, located a few kilometres north-west of Jerusalem.  The community is surrounded on 4 sides by Israeli settlements.  As we stood on the hillside, among the ruins of a Bedouin village that was demolished just before Christmas and the people moved to the Jordan Valley, we looked over at the nearby settlement encroaching further and further onto Palestinian land.  It was like looking at several layers of a multi-layered cake, as each row of housing progressed further down the hill.

Settlement expansion moving down the hillside, near Al Khalayleh, outside Jerusalem.

Settlement expansion moving down the hillside, near Al Khalayleh, outside Jerusalem.

That afternoon, we visited the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar, located a few miles outside of Jerusalem.  The building of the nearby neighbouring settlement, K’Far Adummim, located only a short distance away from the village on the nearby hilltop, began in the 1980’s.  Progressively, they have taken more and more land from the Bedouin, making it impossible for the Bedouin to graze their goat and sheep herds. In the 1990’s, the villagers had approximately 1600 head of goats and sheep, with 25 camels.  Today, with little access to grazing land and livestock feed prices at 2000 NIS/ton, villagers can only feed about 140 head of sheep and goats and no camels.   Furthermore, with the building of their school in 2009, the neighbouring settlers then blacklisted anyone from the 5 villages the school serves from employment on the settlements.  Now, the Bedouin face imminent displacement against their will, in a move that will free up their land for further settlement expansion.

K'far Adummim settlement, located on a hilltop and encroaching upon the grazing land of Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar.

K’far Adummim settlement, located on a hilltop and encroaching upon the grazing land of Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar.

These are a few of the very real effects of Israeli settlement development and growth in the occupied Palestinian territory.  What is happening is that Palestinian people are losing more and more land to these settlements.  It is being taken from them, and they have no say in the matter.  As the land goes, so too goes much of their livelihood, given that the land being taken in the rural areas is agricultural land.  In Jerusalem, people are literally pushed out of their homes, while Israeli’s move in.

Settlements are in direct contravention of International Law, which could not be clearer.  “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” (Article 49, Geneva Convention IV)  “This has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Security Council.” ( UN OCHA Factsheet “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies Update December 2012”, found at www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf)  All world bodies have spoken.  The United Nations Security Council Resolution 446, of 22 March 1979 was strongly worded: “… the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”…  “Land seizure for settlements is illegal.” (www.diakonia.se/ihl).

But still it goes on.  As the world stands idly by, Israel continues to illegally move its citizens into the occupied Palestinian territories.  And not only that, the residents of settlements are given far greater privileges and services than Palestinians are allowed, and all too often are violent towards the Palestinians. (see previous blog postings)  It is a profound injustice.

This past week, Israeli human rights group Yesh Din published a new report “The Road to Dispossession:  A Case Study- The Outpost of Adei-Ad” found at http://www.yesh-din.org/postview.asp?postid=254.   Outposts are the initial buildings of a future settlement.  In the report, they identify how “the observation of a single outpost helps understand the general phenomenon and the method of the outposts as a means to take over Palestinian land.”  This is a highly recommended report that will help the reader understand the Israeli settlement enterprise and their effects on the Palestinian and Israeli populations.

The United Church of Canada’s General Council 41 met last August and passed a resolution regarding the Israel-Palestine situation.  Part of the resolution dealt with economic action against settlement products, given that these settlements are illegal.

In Feb 2013, Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the United Church of Canada, wrote to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird asking for legislation requiring that settlement made products be labeled as such.  In the letter, she wrote “The United Church is deeply concerned about the impact of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We, with many others, see the existence and expansion of the settlements as making the creation of a viable Palestinian state increasingly unlikely. As stated on your government’s Foreign Affairs web site, “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.” As Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon recently said, “All settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.”  She went on to say “The settlements are supported by an economic infrastructure that includes the export of products made in the settlements to Canada. These products are not distinguishable from products made within the 1967 internationally recognized borders of Israel.”  As such, she requested “that the government introduce guidelines for retailers that would encourage them to label goods from the settlements differently from products made in Israel. Both the U.K. and Denmark have introduced such guidelines, which are also now being considered by other governments.”  (for a full copy of the letter to Minister Baird, go to http://www.united-church.ca/files/getinvolved/takeaction/130308_letter.pdf

This is a request consistent with action taken by other nations, including Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland and several others.

 (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/european-union-start-labeling-products-settlements.html?utm_source&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=6991#ixzz2RE0Rf71R)

Part of the General Council 41resolution reads as follows: “Call on United Church members to take concrete actions to support the end of the occupation by:
a. directing the Executive of the General Council to give high priority to establishing a church-wide campaign of education and economic action directed against one or more settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories;”


The General Council Executive will be meeting during the first week of May.  Part of their agenda will be to discuss two options regarding the timing of implementation of the decisions of the 41st General Council concerning Israel and Palestine. The agenda for this meeting can be found at
http://www.united-church.ca/files/general-council/gce/2013/gce_1305_workbook.pdf, with relevant information on pages 87-92.  GCE will be voting on two options:

Option A calls for the Palestine/Israel Education and Economic Action Campaign to be activated beginning spring 2013.
Option B proposes that the launch of the campaign be deferred until further direction from the Executive to allow more time for “study, prayerful discernment and personal action by the members of the church”.

Of these two options, Option A is by far the best option to address the above mentioned portion of the resolution.  It is imperative that we act now.  It is essential that we act with substance. To wait is to stand by watching, while more and more settlement expansion and growth continues.  I cannot emphasize enough how quickly settlement construction is occurring. 

Our Jerusalem team met last week with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights.  In his comments to us, Rabbi Ascherman quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, who said “in a democracy, some are guilty but all are responsible.”  His words ring true.  While the actions of others may not be our actions, in a democracy we all share the responsibility for what is happening.  As such, and following the ways, the words and the actions of Jesus, we are called to do our part to work towards justice.   

I ardently encourage our General Council Executive to vote in favour of immediate implementation of the Palestine/Israel Education and Economic Action Campaign, as outlined in Option A. Time is of the essence. We cannot delay any longer.  Aware of this profound injustice, we as Christian people must act.   I also strongly urge all United Church members to lobby their General Council Executive representatives to vote for Option A.   Please, please contact your representatives and make your voice is heard.  For a listing of who your representatives are, go to
http://www.unjppi.org/newsletters.html   and click on “Write to Conference GCE reps.” The time for discussion and debate is long since passed.  General Council 41 were clear in their decision and their call for action.  Now is the time to act!!

 

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Memorandum from Israel: Olive Trees Are a Security Threat

The soldiers laughed.

An old woman cried.

The Israeli army bulldozer went about its work today, demolishing over 100 olive trees, all less than 10 years old, in Susiya, South Hebron Hills.

Army vehicles gathered near olive grove demolition site, Susiya, South Hebron Hills.

Army vehicles gather near olive grove demolition site, Susiya, South Hebron Hills.

The soldiers continued to laugh.

“Halas” they said (“enough”), as the old woman cried. She screamed at the bulldozer to stop.

The soldiers laughed some more.

Apparently, in an army manual somewhere, it reads to “hand the locals a glass of water.”  And so the soldier handed a glass of water to the woman.  Angrily, she threw it on the ground.

The soldiers laughed some more.

The trees had been planted and cared for by the woman and many of the village children.

All that's left after the Israeli army destroyed the olive trees in this terraced grove.

All that’s left after the Israeli army destroyed the olive trees in this terraced grove.

The army’s stated reason for demolition of these trees:  they posed a “security threat” to the settlers living in the archaeological site adjacent to the terraced grove.

The army had demolished the woman’s home years earlier, located very close to this grove.  The State of Israel had pushed off the inhabitants of this land from their homes in the 1980’s and declared the place an “archaeological site.”

Standing amidst his mature olive trees in the neighbouring grove, an old man named Issa, watched.  One never knows where the bulldozers will go next.

Issa watching the demolition of the neighbouring olive grove.

Issa watching the demolition of the neighbouring olive grove.

Two or three of his young trees were demolished today.  Sadly, he showed them to us.

One of Issa's young trees, demolished today by the Israeli army.

One of Issa’s young trees, demolished today by the Israeli army.

Issa holding the branches from one of his destroyed trees.

Issa holding the branches from one of his destroyed trees.

I know this man.  He remembered me.  We had provided protective presence for him while picking olives during the olive harvest of October 2011.  He offered to make me tea today,  once the bulldozers left.

When the damage was done, the bulldozer dumped its final  load of demolished trees into a trailer.

Bulldozer leaving the grove to dump its final load of destroyed trees.

Bulldozer leaving the grove to dump its final load of destroyed trees.

Following an army jeep, the bulldozer then pulled out of the grove, driving through Issa’s mature grove.

Bulldozer and army jeeps leaving the olive grove.

Bulldozer and army jeeps leaving the olive grove.

It was followed by the truck pulling the trailer of olive tree remains, and more army jeeps.

Trailer load of destroyed olive trees leaving grove.

Trailer load of destroyed olive trees leaving grove.

Nervously, we watched.  Would they stop and demolish these mature trees?  Not today.

All vehicles left the field, and the bulldozer was loaded onto a flatbed trailer.

This was one of four demolitions across the West Bank today.  All demolitions are related to people’s livelihood.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan