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.

image

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

The Injustice of Nationality Based Justice

On March 28, I posted a blog “They Have Destroyed My Son.”  In it, I wrote about the issue of Palestinian child detention.  It is an issue that continues to pull at my heart.  Simply put, children must be treated with compassion and respect.  Common decency calls for fair and just treatment of all juvenile detainees, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or any other separating factors.  Inherent in our understanding of democracy is our understanding of justice.  For what is a justice system, if its mandate of justice is not adhered to for all parties?

Prior to having the privilege of living and working in Jerusalem, I did not understand the differences between Israeli civil law that applies to all Israeli citizens and to Palestinians living in Jerusalem, and Israeli military law that is applied to Palestinians living in the West Bank.  The reality is that in the West Bank there are two sets of laws – one for Israeli’s and one for Palestinians.  The one and only criteria that determines which law is applied to an individual living in the West Bank is that person’s nationality.  If you are one of the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and holding a West Bank ID card, you are prosecuted through the Israeli military court system.  If you are one of the 500,000 or so Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank, you are prosecuted through the Israeli civil law system. 

During my time here, I have heard a number of concerns raised about military law and its highly punitive nature.  While this writing will attempt to explain military law in general, it will focus on the application of military law towards children and illustrate the differences between Israeli penal law and military law. 

“Since the occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, Palestinians have been charged with offences under Israeli military law and tried in military courts.  It is estimated that 726,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained under these orders during the past 44 years.” (UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, found in Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI, 2012, pg15, found at   http://www.dci-palestine.org/category/publications)

“The authority of Israel to establish military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in which to prosecute local civilian residents is found in international humanitarian law, otherwise known as the laws of war.  Generally speaking, a local population living under military occupation should continue to be bound by their own penal laws and tried in their own courts.  However, local laws may be repealed or suspended by the occupying power “in cases where they constitute a threat to its security” and replaced with military orders enforced in “properly constituted, non-political military courts.” However, it is important to note that this authority rests on an underlying principle that military occupation must be temporary in nature, and cannot be legally maintained indefinitely.”( Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI, pg 16)

Clearly, Israel does have the right under international humanitarian law to impose military law, although the convenient ignoring of “temporary in nature” may well invalidate this right.  “However, applicable international human rights and humanitarian law nevertheless restricts the jurisdiction of such courts and guarantees certain fundamental fair trail rights.  Furthermore, it is doubtful whether the use of military courts to try civilians can ever satisfy the requirements under international human rights law to a trial before an independent and impartial tribunal, particularly in the circumstances of a prolonged military occupation that is now of questionable legality.” (Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI, pg 15)

“Military law was imposed on Palestinians immediately on cessation of hostilities in June 1967, with the issuance of a military order empowering the Israeli area commander with full legislative, executive and judicial authority over the West Bank.  Acting on this authority, over the past 44 years, successive Israeli military commanders in the West Bank have issued nearly 1700 orders.  Contrary to basic democratic principles, the local Palestinian population has no say whatsoever in how this legislative, executive, or judicial authority is exercised.  These orders relate to a range of issues, including the authority to arrest and imprison Palestinians for “security offences,” such as: causing death, personal injury or property damage, public order offences; weapon and explosive offences; and organizing and participating in protests.” (Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI, pg.16)

So what does all of this mean?  What are the differences between Israeli civil law and Israeli military law?   For illustration purposes, let’s imagine that two children in the West Bank become involved in a disagreement.  They are the same age.  One is an Israeli child living in an illegal settlement.  The other is a Palestinian child living in a village his or her family have lived in for generations.  Each child picks up a few stones and hurls them at the other.  No one is hurt.  The army arrive.  In all likelihood, the Israeli child is set free as stone throwing is not an offence under Israeli penal law.  It would only be a problem if an injury or property damage to an Israeli had resulted from the stone throwing.  If the child were to commit a more serious act, their parents would be issued a summons for the child to appear at the police station the next day.  They would then begin the process of dealing with the charges through the Israeli civil law.  However, stone throwing is an offense under Israeli military law and so the Palestinian child will either be arrested at the time, or he will be allowed to go free for the moment, only to be arrested at a later date.  The likely scenario is that a group of soldiers will arrive at his home sometime during the middle of the night, barge into the house and arrest him.    

Let’s assume for a moment that for some unknown reason, the army decided to make a very rare arrest of an Israeli in the West Bank.  How would these two children be treated by the two separate justice systems of Israel?

The Israeli settler child will be treated according to Israeli civilian law.  The Palestinian child will be treated according to Israeli military law.

Both legal systems set the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 12 years, and both systems decree the age of majority to be 18 years. 

During interrogation, neither one has the right to have a lawyer present, although the Israeli child is entitled to have a parent present while the Palestinian is not.  The Israeli child has a partial right to have the interrogation session(s) audio-visually recorded, while the Palestinian is not.

Depending upon age, the maximum period of detention before being brought before a judge will be 12 -24 hours for the Israeli child, and 24-48 hours for the Palestinian.  Prior to April 2, 2013, this period for the Palestinian child would have been 4 days.

The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer for the Israeli child is 48 hours and for the Palestinian child it is 90 days!  In actual fact, the vast majority of Palestinian children only meet their lawyer for the first time when they see them in court.

The maximum period of detention without charge for the Israeli child is 40 days and for the Palestinian child it is 188 days.

The maximum period of time between charge and trial for the Israeli child is 6 months, whereas for the Palestinian child it is 2 years.

In 20% of Israeli child cases, bail is denied, meaning that 80 % of Israeli child detainees are granted bail.  It’s quite the opposite situation for Palestinian children, for whom bail is denied in 87% of cases.

There is also a huge difference between the two legal systems in the sentencing of children.  Custodial sentences are imposed on only 6.5% of Israeli child cases, whereas 90% of Palestinian children receive custodial sentences.    (all figures taken from “Rights of Palestinian and Israeli children: Comparative table, DCI pg 61, updated March 2013)

What seems glaringly obvious from these figures are the differences in the rights offered to child detainees and the periods of detention that an Israeli and a Palestinian child face under the two separate legal systems.

What happens to a Palestinian child once they are arrested?  What do they have to face as they move through the military law system?

“The Israeli military detention system consists of a network of military bases, interrogation and detention centres and police stations in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and in Israel.  Palestinians, predominantly from the West Bank, are initially taken to one of these facilities for questioning and temporary detention.  Some of these facilities are inside settlements in the West Bank.  Palestinians, including children, remain at these facilities while awaiting sentencing by the military courts, or are transferred to prisons, most of which are located inside Israel, where they wait to be sentenced, or to serve out their prison terms.  It should be noted that the transfer of Palestinian detainees, including children, to temporary detention facilities and prisons inside Israel violates Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers.” (Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI, pg 15) Detention within Israel also makes it extremely difficult for Palestinian children to see their families.  Given the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face, it is often difficult for family members to obtain the appropriate permits to allow them to enter Israel.  As well, many of them find the financial cost of travel to Israel to be a burden.  For these reasons, Palestinian child detainees are often isolated from their families for long periods of time.

I had the privilege of meeting this week with an official from Defense for Children International (DCI).  He explained to us what usually happens to a Palestinian child who is arrested. 

Over half of the child arrests occur between the hours of midnight and 5am from their homes.  79% of the detained children show some form of physical abuse within the first 48 hours after their arrest.  The Israeli army has no obligation to explain why the children are detained or where they are taken.  Usually, they are blindfolded with their hands tied, and forced to sit on the metal floor of an army jeep while they are moved between police stations, interrogation centres and prison, with little if any access to food, water or toilet facilities for several hours.

If the child fails to cooperate with the interrogation, they often are given solitary confinement.  There have been 68 cases of solitary confinement of children since 2008, with 21 cases in 2012 and 7 so far this year.  Periods of solitary confinement vary from 2-29 days, with the average length of solitary confinement of children in Dec 2012 being 15 days.  When in solitary confinement, the only person the child sees is the interrogator.  The cell, containing a filthy mattress, is small and dimly lit with a light that remains on 24 hours a day.  Food, which the young boys report is often inedible, is passed through an opening in the door.  Conditions could easily be defined as deplorable.

The Israeli child, if arrested at all, proceeds through the Israeli penal law system with considerable supports, and spends little, if any time in detention. 

The Palestinian child proceeds through the Israeli military court system, with its documented abuses and extensive periods of incarceration.  (for further documentation of abuses, see March 28 blog posting “They have destroyed my son.”) The usual penalty for stone throwing ranges from 6 months to 2 years, but it certainly can be longer.  While maximum penalties for stone throwing are seldom imposed, it is worth noting that under military law, the maximum sentence  for stone throwing at a solitary object (a military installation, the Separation Barrier, etc) is 10 years, and the maximum sentence for stone throwing at a moving object ( a vehicle, a person) is 20 years.  If an injury is incurred as the result of the stone throwing, the charge can be elevated to attempted murder, with even greater sentences.

Israeli military law appears to hold only a negligible regard for the welfare and care of the children that enter its system.  The concept of justice for ALL seems to have been put aside.  Civilized systems of justice accord fair and just treatment to the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of society. Given the realities faced by Palestinian children in the Israeli military law system, there is a distinct shortage of fairness, of justice, of care and of concern for their well- being.  It is, at best, an extremely punitive system that lacks respect for basic democratic principles, while violating International Humanitarian Law.

The comparison and contrast of justice offered to an Israeli child and a Palestinian child shows a distinct inequality that is determined solely by nationality.  I know what I call it.  What do you?  

 

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Security???

One of our roles as Ecumenical Accompaniers is to monitor human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Part of that work involves working at checkpoints.  Our Jerusalem team is at Qalandiya checkpoint three mornings a week from 4:30 to 7:30 am. Qalandiya is a large checkpoint located between Ramallah and East Jerusalem.  This means that it is situated well into the occupied Palestinian territory, several km away from the Green Line, the Israeli-Palestinian international boundary that the world accepted in 1949 and has supported through various UN resolutions in the years since then.  It literally is a checkpoint between a Palestinian location and another Palestinian location.

Buses and Israeli licensed vehicles pass through the vehicle portion of the checkpoint, through an area that looks very much like the major border crossings points between Canada and the United States.  Soldiers and armed security staff check vehicles and ID permits of those passing through.

Pedestrian traffic moves through the walking terminal.  For people coming through the checkpoint from the Ramallah side, the checkpoint building begins with what amounts to a large drafty shed that serves as a waiting area.  From this waiting area, people enter one of three long narrow cages, approximately 25 metres long and slightly more than shoulder width wide.  Narrowly spaced metal bars form the walls and roof of these cages.  At the far end of each cage is a locked turnstile.  This, and all subsequent turnstiles, are opened and closed electronically by security staff located inside booths in an unknown location inside the terminal building. When you enter the cage, you do not know if, or when, the turnstile will open.

Once people pass through the turnstile, they walk to one of five gates, where they wait again for a second turnstile to open.  After passing through the second turnstile, they are required to show their ID and pass through a metal detector.  All personal belongings are sent through an x-ray machine.  Men must remove their belts and people are often required to remove their shoes. The concrete floor is always dirty and in wet weather, muddy.

After collecting belongings, people then must wait again until another turnstile is opened.  After that, it’s a walk through a long corridor until exiting the building through a final turnstile.

Residents of the West Bank carry West Bank ID.   This means that they can only pass through to the Jerusalem side if they have a proper permit, issued for specific employment or for a specific medical appointment, religious reason, or other humanitarian reason. West Bank residents are allowed to pass through “four of the sixteen checkpoints functioning along the Barrier in the Jerusalem periphery…and are allowed to cross these checkpoints only on foot.”   (http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_movement_and_access_report_september_2012_english.pdf) One of these four checkpoints is Qalandiya.  If people are onboard a bus, they must get off the bus and physically walk through the checkpoint.  West Bank licensed vehicles are also not allowed through the checkpoint.

When EAPPI  monitors Qalandiya checkpoint, one EA works on the Ramallah side, monitoring how many gates are open, how quickly the lines are moving, assisting people who are turned back to receive appropriate help, monitoring when the humanitarian gate is open and how many people use it, and warmly greeting those who pass through.  The second EA stands just outside the final gate on the Jerusalem side, counting the number of men, women and children who are exiting the checkpoint.  Four or five times during the course of the morning, we measure the length of time it takes for workers to pass though the checkpoint.  To do this, we write the time on a piece of paper and ask an individual to hand it to the EA on the Jerusalem side who then records the length of time it took for the individual to pass through. The information we gather is reported weekly to our office, who in turn forward it on to the UN and other relevant agencies.

The checkpoint is primarily used early in the morning by workers passing through on their way to work in Jerusalem and by students going to school. The vast majority of them are men.  On average, somewhere between 1600 and 2000 people pass through between the hours of 4:30 and 7:30, but on any given day approximately 15,000 people in total pass through Qalandiya. (http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_movement_and_access_report_september_2012_english.pdf)    The average time it took to pass through the checkpoint on Sunday ranged from 25 – 35 minutes, about average for most Sundays, although it can take as little as 10 minutes and as long as an hour or more.  Some days things seem to run smoothly, and other days there is congestion and frustration.  There seems to be no pattern to how it goes.

At 6am, the Humanitarian gate is supposed to open.  This is a gate that is intended to make passage through the checkpoint easier for those who are elderly, for the ill, for children, and for those with small children.  Using the Humanitarian gate avoids going through the cages, although users are still required to show appropriate ID, personally pass through the metal detector and have personal possessions pass through the x-ray machine.

This past Sunday morning, things were running slowly at the checkpoint.  Average times to pass through were higher than usual.  The Humanitarian gate had not opened by 6:15, and so I called the Humanitarian Hotline to request it be opened.  It opened at 6:16, and then 8 times thereafter until 6:50, allowing approximately 95 people to pass through.

At around 7:15, a man who was obviously quite ill arrived at the Humanitarian gate, accompanied by a woman and a younger man.  The ill man appeared to be weak and required assistance to walk.  They stood at the Humanitarian gate, waiting for the soldier and security personnel to come and open it.

Nothing happened.  At 7:20, I called the Humanitarian Hotline, requesting that the Humanitarian gate be opened.  A fence separates the waiting area from the locked booth where a soldier seems to monitor the checkpoint. I positioned myself behind the fence, looking in the window at the soldier in the booth, trying to attract her attention. Eventually she saw me, and as I motioned to her that there were people who needed to use the Humanitarian gate, she responded with angry gestures.  I continued to point towards the people who were waiting.  The ill man was in obvious distress.  The soldier walked to the door of the booth and began speaking to the young man accompanying him, who was trying unsuccessfully to explain that they needed the gate to be opened.  I walked towards the family and said to the soldier “Would you please open the Humanitarian gate?  This man is ill and cannot walk.”

“Don’t you tell me what to do!” barked the soldier.

“I am not telling you what to do.  I am asking you to please open the Humanitarian gate.  This man is ill and cannot walk,”  I calmly responded.

“Don’t you tell me what to do!” she again yelled at me.

Calmly and patiently, I once again said “I am simply asking you to please open the Humanitarian gate.  This man is ill and cannot walk”

Yelling yet again, she said “What are you doing here?  I see you writing something, what are you writing?  Why are you here?  Go, go to your home.  Don’t tell me what to do!”   With that, she turned back into the soldier’s booth and closed the door.

The family and I looked at one another.  I shrugged my shoulders and said “It doesn’t look like she’s going to open the Humanitarian gate.”  They agreed.  After generously thanking me, they walked over to the one cage that had no queue and entered.

They stood in the cage for a few minutes, but the turnstile there did not open.  With the ill man becoming weaker by the moment, they left the cage and went to sit on a bench in the waiting area.  By this time, I was caught in a line in another cage and could not exit.  The ill man looked exhausted and his family were obviously despairing of what to do next.

After eventually passing through the turnstile, I entered the area between the first turnstile and the gates and called the Humanitarian Hotline for the third time that morning.  It was now 7:40am, and once again I requested that the Humanitarian gate be opened.  Shortly thereafter, two security personnel arrived and walked into the booth to speak with the soldier.  After a brief discussion, they left the booth and walked out into the fenced area but did not appear to be doing anything.  Through the fence, I called out to them, asking that that Humanitarian gate be opened for the ill man and his family.  They refused, saying that he would have to pass through the regular cages.

With no other choice, the family once again moved towards the cages.  Seeing the difficulties they were experiencing, the crowd parted to let them through and they moved quickly through the cage to the turnstile.  One they had passed through the turnstile, the crowd again allowed them to move ahead at the next gate, and they proceeded through the gate, the ID check, the metal detector and the x-ray of their belongings.  Eventually my teammate noted them leaving the checkpoint at 7:50am, 40 minutes after they had first arrived at the Humanitarian gate.

Earlier that morning, two members of a self- identified right wing Israeli group arrived at Qalandiya, accompanied by a cameraman.  They stayed for about 20 minutes on the Ramallah side, speaking primarily to the soldiers.  One of them asked what I was doing there.  I briefly explained that the work of EAPPI includes monitoring human rights abuses.  He replied by saying that his group is also there to address human rights abuses at the checkpoint.  When I suggested that the checkpoint in and of itself is an abuse of the Palestinians’ human rights, he argued that the checkpoints are essential for security.

Is this ill man a security threat to the State of Israel?

Is this ill man a security threat to the State of Israel?

One has to wonder if security truly is the issue here, or is that simply a guise for control, domination, harassment and outright cruelty?   Are these checkpoints really about security?  If so, why is it that Gisha, the Israeli legal center for freedom of movement acknowledged last year that “approximately 60,000 Palestinians from the West Bank – half with permits, half without – enter Israel every day for work?”  (http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/for-palestinian-workers-the-enemy-is-the-hope/)  It would seem that if anyone really was intent on terrorist activities, it would be possible to enter Israel illegally.

Around 5am that morning, an older Palestinian man came up to me as I observed the situation in the waiting area.  “Thank you for coming and being with our people” he said.  “I am 70 years old.  I was born in Jerusalem. I live on this side (Ramallah side).  I cannot come to Jerusalem without a permit.”  Sighing as he looked up to the sky, he concluded with “I pray to the God.”

So too, do I.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

The Kindness of a Stranger

Holy Week is often an emotional time for the Christian community as we remember the last week of Jesus’ life, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his betrayal by humanity and his ultimate death.  Here in Jerusalem, the Holy City of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, one is always aware of the intensity in which the three Abrahamic faith traditions are lived out.  Holy Week in Jerusalem is a major event, with Christian pilgrims from around the world arriving to remember the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus in the place where it all happened 2000 years ago.

Each person comes to this place bearing the joys and the sorrows of our lives.  We bring our hearts to the cross of Jesus.

And so it was that Maundy Thursday coincided with the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

Amidst the ongoing intensity that is so much a part of this place, and amidst the heightened intensity of Holy Week and of all that Holy Week means, I remembered my mother, a woman who gave me the gifts of life, of love and of exemplary faith.  In life, in death, and in life beyond death, Mum’s loving and inspiring presence abides.   And yet, in my own humanity, my heart aches as I miss her physical presence.

For reasons I do not completely understand, I wanted to mark this occasion in some way.  We were on a bus, on the way back from a Maundy Thursday communion service at Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology centre.  Fighting back tears, I decided to stop at the local florist and buy a rose.  Composing myself, I walked into the shop and asked the florist for the price of a rose.  Assured that I had enough money in my pocket to cover the cost, I said that I would like to buy one single long stemmed rose.  He showed me their vast assortment of roses, and I chose one particular pink and white rose – without a doubt the most beautiful rose I have ever seen.  I gently lifted it out of the pail of water in which it was housed and gave it to the man.  He took it in his hands and ever so carefully wrapped the tender rose, before returning it to me.  I reached out to pay him and he shook his head.  With a smile, he said “Halas,” the Arabic word for “it is enough.”  Through my emotion, I could not comprehend what he was saying, and so I attempted to pay him again.  “No, no,” he said, “It is free.”  Overwhelmed with my own grief, overwhelmed with this unexpected act of kindness from a stranger, and overwhelmed with the multiple paradoxes of this moment in this time and place, I murmured a word of thanks.  Cradling the rose in my hands, I left the store.

On the walk home to our placement house, I looked at that most beautiful rose and thought of my mother.  I thought of the Christian pilgrims who move from holy site to holy site, on what for them is the “pilgrimage of a lifetime.”  I thought of Jesus and the way he lived his life, reaching out and living God’s love to all he met, regardless of the personal cost.  And I thought of the kindness of a stranger, a man who recognized that this rose was not simply a table decoration, but a symbol of a great and enduring love that transcends even death.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan