Palestinian ABC’s

It must be difficult for those of you reading this blog to understand what I mean when I mention demolition orders and people’s inability to build. How can this be? Why is it so? How can it be that the Israeli army simply arrives and demolishes Palestinian homes and other property?

Life here in the West Bank is complex and difficult. But it is made slightly more understandable if at least you can comprehend the rules. You don’t necessarily have to agree with the rules, but at least you can begin to understand why things are as they are.

The Oslo Accords of the early 1990’s divided the West Bank of Palestine into areas A, B, and C. Each designated area reflects clearly defined but differing levels of civil and security control and responsibility assumed by both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. In Area A the Palestinian Authority has sole civil jurisdiction and security control, while Israel retains authority over movement in and out of the area. In Area B, the Palestinian Authority has civil authority and responsibility for public order, while Israel maintains security presence and overriding security responsibility. In Area C, the Palestinian Authority has restricted civil authority (eg education and welfare) while Israel has control over all security, planning and zoning in the area. Areas A and B mainly consist of Palestinian cities, while Area C is largely rural.

Building construction is allowed in Areas A and B, but the military authorities impose severe restrictions on Palestinian construction in Area C. Area C comprises 62% of the West Bank and includes all of the villages that our South Hebron Hills EAPPI Team 41 visits. Even though this is Palestinian land, less than 1% of Area C is available for Palestinian development. This makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians living on their own land in Area C to obtain building permits. Therefore, many are forced to build in defiance of military orders and face having their buildings leveled.

During the first half of 2011, Israeli authorities demolished 342 Palestinian owned structures in Area C. The demolitions included homes, animal shelters, and 20 rainwater collection facilities. Many of these structures were built with funding from foreign donors, including the European Union and USAID. In September of this year, two of the villages in our area experienced demolitions at the hands of the Israeli army (IDF). At Um al Kher, 2 homes and a communal toilet were demolished. At Khirbet Ghuwein al Fauqa, the electrical power lines and supporting towers coming in to the village were destroyed.

destroyed electical wire and transmission poles at Khirbet Ghuwein al Fauqa

A United Nations official told us that the supports for the power lines (the poles) had been held in place with cement and that this was interpreted by the Israelis to be an “infrastructure” project for which no permit was obtained, giving the army the authority to demolish it.

In December of 2010, part of the school in the village of Dkaika was demolished.

demolished school building at Dkaika

a child's painting found at the demolished Dkaika school building

A number of the villages that we regularly visit have outstanding orders for demolition of the entire village, or at least a large portion of the village. Demolitions that involve communal toilets, electrical access, water facilities, communal cooking facilities and schools have devastating implications for villages. Demolitions that involve houses have obvious devastating implications for families.  The human suffering resulting from these demolitions is immeasurable.

Currently, there are over 3000 outstanding demolition orders for Palestinian buildings, including demolition orders for 18 schools. Considerable time, energy and expense is spent on legal actions to oppose these demolition orders. For more information, please refer to the linkhttp://www.eappi.org/index.php?id=8070 and the Rabbis for Human Rights website at http://www.rhr.org.il.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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Wanton Disparity

This past Monday took me to a meeting at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, a modern Israeli city on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

The meeting went well. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a beautiful outdoor cafe.

Transport to and from TelAviv was via Egged, the Israeli bus company. Service was great. People were friendly and helpful. The bus terminal was a 7 storey building, with a multitude of shops and restaurants throughout. As is the case in many cities, the residential area around the bus terminal showed signs of decay, with a number of dilapidated buildings and little vegetation. A sign that yes, poverty exists in Israel as well.

The bus pulled out of the terminal. Suddenly, I realized that we were driving by all kinds of things I haven’t seen in awhile…..things that do not exist in the area of the West Bank that I am currently living.

Tel Aviv apartment complex

The bus was driving along a major road to get out of the city…..a black top road, smooth….no potholes. Fresh paint marked the lanes. Tall office buildings.. The ones we called “sky scrapers” when we were kids. Lots of them. Shiny glass. Black. Dark blue. Reflective as the late afternoon sun shone upon it. Modern apartment complexes, clusters of residential housing. Clean. Well maintained. Balconies. Plants. Beautiful flowers. Colour!!! Bright pinks, greens. Even some orange. A large stadium, used for basketball, with “Nokia Section 11, Nokia Section 12,”  signs marking the various seating sections. Along the roadside, for miles, were municipally maintained gardens with irrigation pipes running along the surface of the ground. Trees. Leaves. More colour. It was late in the afternoon, rush hour traffic. Late model cars. Shiny paint. Clean glass. Good looking tires. People heading home from work. The bus drove on. More pleasant looking apartments.

Tel Aviv roadside view

More roadside trees, shrubs, flowering bushes. Shopping plazas. Car dealerships. Tire shops. Up on the right…a multi storey movie theatre!! Parking lots, paved parking lots, with lines marking parking places. Bus shelters for people to wait in. Off in the distance construction cranes. Building is happening! Now we’re on a 4 lane road, with a median. More plants, irrigated plants, in the median gardens. Above us, lanes of traffic flow off onto another road. An overpass! A park. Children playing. A playground structure…..climbing toys. Landscaped trees, shrubs, green grass. A little girl, about 8 years old, intently balancing on her pink roller skates as she moves along the sidewalk…..a sidewalk!

How do I reconcile this reality, with the reality of the Yatta area of the West Bank?

a typical South Hebron Hills road to a village

 

A reality that includes narrow roads and numerous potholes. Many roads that are barely passable. Paint to mark traffic lanes? Non-existant. Paved parking lots? Also non-existant. Basic garbage pick-up?  Not available in Yatta.  All garbage is burned in community dumpsters.  Older model cars with the “well used” look abound – cars with windows that don’t quite close, scrapes, dints, and dull paint, exhaust systems that smell like they have seen a better day. Some farmers still deliver their produce to market in either a horse or donkey drawn cart – the same cart that can also be used as a mode of family transport.  The reality of water shortages means few plants, few trees. No entertainment facilities, no public parks, no playgrounds, no public gardens, no manicured lawns. Buildings that look worn, often with broken glass. An intercity transit system consisting of well used mini-vans that run when they are full.  No scheduled service, no bus shelters. People stand waiting on the side of the road until one arrives. New construction is limited to certain areas, and prohibited in over half of the West Bank (unless you can get a non-obtainable permit)  A community water system would be nice, but instead each house is equipped with water tanks on the roof and a gravity pressure system.  You conserve what you can and when the water runs out, you order more.  There is also no community sewage system.

one of the main streets in Yatta

Before 1948, Jews, Christians and Muslims shared this Holy Land. Now it is splintered and divided. Since the 1967 war, Israel has occupied the West Bank. This occupation is in direct contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed Nov 22, 1967, calling for “the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; termination of all declarations of a situation of belligerency; and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” (page 26, A Basic Background Resource to the Current Context of Israel and Palestine: An Historical, Political and Human Rights Overview, 2010: UK:Ireland Quaker Peace and Social Witness) This was reaffirmed Oct 22, 1973 by UN Security Council Resolution 338. Other international laws, including those of the 4th Geneva Convention (governing rights of civilians under times of occupation) are also frequently disregarded. These laws are binding on Israel according to the international community, but yet they are ignored and world nations choose to turn a blind eye to what is happening here.

For sure, disparities between measures of quality of life between Tel Aviv and the West Bank can be attributed in part to a number of factors, including climate, soil conditions, personal preference and culture. However, the reality of the occupation and it’s effects on Palestinian life here cannot be disputed. Why do we as a world community ignore the West Bank? Why do we as a world community ignore international law and continue to allow the State of Israel to perpetrate the illegalities it has practiced with this occupation for over 40 years? Why do we apply international law to some nations but not to others? Why are some of the world’s citizens more valued than others? Why do we tolerate such wanton disregard for the basic human rights of a dispossessed people? Why do we choose to look the other way to needless human suffering?

WHY?

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

How’s This For Your Morning Routine?

“Open,” says the soldier loudly and sharply, his M-16 machine gun pointed downward with his hand clearly next to the trigger.  It’s 5:40am at the Bethlehem checkpoint. Faces are pressed against the turnstile of the humanitarian line. ID’s are held upright, ready to be checked. The regular line, located perpendicular to the humanitarian line, has been stopped. Apparently the humanitarian line is about to open.

The entrance to the Bethlehem checkpoint alleyway. The line was backed up almost to the opening, with men lined up inside two or three abreast.

Palestinians have been lining up at the Bethlehem checkpoint since around 2am. Pieces of cardboard litter the stark cement floor, cardboard they have been sleeping on while waiting for the checkpoint gates to open at 4am. As they wait, as they catch a few more moments of sleep, they do so in the alleyway to the first gate. It’s an alleyway that reminds me of a cattle loading chute, except of course for the fence that encloses it. It measures 116 paces long. We arrive just before 4 and make our way through the crowd of men to the first gate, to the front of the line – a line consisting of workers, primarily construction labourers about to head to work for the day. Construction is allowed in Israel, but not in many parts of the West Bank. Like people everywhere, people here go where the jobs are. They go into Israel to work. However, because they are Palestinian, they must stay in Palestine to live. With the separation wall dividing Bethlehem from it’s neighbours, this is the only way out.

Bethlehem checkpoint alleyway, approximately 30 yards from the first turnstile

It’s  the beginning of a long day….a day that will see men put in a full day’s work before eventually returning home around 6pm. Our EAPPI vests signify that we are there for humanitarian purposes and so they willingly allow us to move ahead. We offer smiles and greetings of “sabah al kheer” (“good morning” in Arabic). They return the greeting, either in Arabic or a warm “Good morning” offered in English.  Part way through the line we give an EAPPI brochure to one man, asking him to return it to us when he sees us inside. Smiling, he willingly complies.

The gate opens and we begin our way through the checkpoint. We wait at the first turnstile until it is unlocked and opened. It is illegal to take pictures inside of checkpoints and so all descriptions that follow are approximations.  This turnstile, as are the others we will encounter, is constructed of a steel centre post with 4 rows of 2 foot long steel horizontal bars, mounted at 90 degree angles around the post, and extending at approximately 4 inch intervals from the floor up about 8 feet. The entire area is enclosed by a floor to ceiling steel fence.  The turnstile lock is opened and closed by a soldier sitting inside an enclosed booth equipped with a loudspeaker.

We pass through the main gate turnstile and stand in front of the booth, holding our passports up for the soldier to see.  “Show me your picture” barks the soldier through the loudspeaker.  I feel myself reel back,  aware of a sense of intimidation and fear.  I am showing my picture. What more does she want?  I hold my passport closer to the window.  She nods, and we carry on.

We move outside, through an open area that is enclosed by a tall fence, and into another building where we walk down a long U-shaped ramp into the area referred to as the “terminal.”  Stark and barren looking, the “terminal” is divided into 3 sections, each approximately 40 feet long and lit by 3 large, round fluorescent lights.  We are in a hallway, approximately 15 feet wide, from which emerge 3 closed doors to the right.  Through each of these doors is another turnstile. Overhead, and extending as far as the eye can see, is a walkway used by soldiers (armed with M-16 machine guns) as they patrol the area.  For some reason, the soldiers weren’t visible this day, but my colleague assures me that this is unusual. The “terminal” has a cold feel to it, reminiscent of pictures I have seen of large prisons.  I shudder as I look around.

My colleague and I stand aside from the line, watching the scene. Only one of the doorways is open.  The line grows and we call the Humanitarian Hotline, politely asking them to please open another door.  The line continues to grow and we call again.  Still nothing.  Tension grows as the line lengthens.  Several minutes later we politely make a third phone call.  The doors remain closed.  We wonder why.

Off to one side, we notice a group of men kneeling in prayer.  I am amazed.  In this hostile place of intimidation, these men have faithfully gathered to pray.  It feels like a gift.  Like an acknowledgement that there is more to life than the fear, the harassment and the darkness that is found inside this stark, sterile “terminal.”  It is 5am.  Suddenly, the other two doors are opened.  There is a mini-stampede to the newly opened doors.  Amidst the commotion, the men kneeling in prayer continue to pray.

We watch for a few more minutes. The man with the EAPPI brochure arrives in the “terminal.”  Seeing us, he hurries over to hand back the brochure.  It has taken him 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach this point.

I decide to continue through the checkpoint.  I line up and enter through one of the doors.  The line moves slowly.  I come to the turnstile.  It is locked.  Annoyed, I wait for it to open, my hands pressed against the bars.  About 30 seconds later, the overhead green light comes on and the turnstile opens.  Three or four people (including myself) pass through before the turnstile is locked again.  We quickly come to an x-ray machine similar to those found at airports, through which all personal items must pass.  As my vest and water bottle are x-rayed, I walk through a metal detector.  It remains silent.  Relieved that it has not buzzed, I collect my belongings.  My relief is short lived.  A voice is yelling at me.  An angry sounding voice.  I don’t know where it’s coming from – maybe a loudspeaker somewhere?  I don’t know what I have done wrong.  I turn around and see a soldier sitting in a glass encased office angrily gesturing towards me.  He wants to see my passport.  Rattled, I fumble through my vest until I find it.  I show it to him and he motions me to move forward.  I do, and walk ahead into a large room decorated with Israeli tourist posters.  One in particular catches my eye. “Israel…where it’s vacation time all year round.”  I watch as the workers pass through a final turnstile before approaching the exit booth.  There, they are fingerprinted.   They must show their work permit and once again, their ID.  If there is a problem with any of these three things (eg. callused hands that alter a previously taken fingerprint), access is denied and they must return to Bethlehem and begin the long process of resolving the problem.  If all is fine, they walk out of the checkpoint and board buses to take them to work.  I exit the “terminal” before the final turnstile and return to Bethlehem, passing through a door and walking along a sidewalk bordered by a 10-12 foot high steel fence.

I return to the outside of the initial gate area.  By now, it’s close to 6am.  People continue to line up. Working men make up the regular line.  The humanitarian line is reserved for women, the sick, children, and those over 55.  Both lines are crowded.  A colleague tells me that the decision to open these initial turnstiles is dependent upon the length of line waiting for the metal detector inside the terminal.  The soldiers then seem to decide whether the regular line or the humanitarian line will be opened.  Bodies press on all sides against the fences.  Faces press against each locked turnstile.  Arms are held upright, displaying ID.  It’s hard to be patient when you’ve been waiting for hours.  Inside the turnstiles stands a police officer armed with a handgun and a soldier armed with an M-16 machine gun.  They shout instructions to the crowd in both lines.  Once a turnstile from one of the lines opens, the people show their ID to either the soldier in the booth or the two guarding the turnstiles.  Those with any problem with their ID are turned away.  As they leave the checkpoint, they pass by two private security guards, each armed with M-16’s.  Those whose ID is satisfactory pass through the same gate watched by the same 2 armed security guards, before making their way outside, down the ramps, and into the “terminal” building.  Once there, they too will line up, potentially under the watchful eyes of patrolling armed soldiers, waiting for the turnstiles to open admitting them to the metal detector, x-ray machine and a further ID check.  From there, they will proceed to wait in line for the final turnstile and their final ID check, fingerprinting and permit check.  After that, it’s off to work.

The separation wall as it passes through Bethlehem, dividing neighbour from neighbour. Note the guard tower in the upper left corner. There are several guard towers along the wall. The checkpoint is the only way to cross the wall.

One of the roles of EAPPI is to provide international observation and presence at the checkpoints.  We offer humanitarian assistance to those who are experiencing difficulties, helping them to access appropriate help.  We also count the number of people using the checkpoint, providing an unbiased report to human rights groups.  Approximately 2500 people passed through the Bethlehem checkpoint this particular morning, all before 7am.  They will do this each working day.

A Cry for Peace from a Place of Occupation

Our team traveled to Bethlehem on Sunday night, about a 2 hour journey by public transit.  We went to show solidarity with the Palestinian Christian church by attending a concert at the Church of St Catherine.

The famous Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world.  It is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus.  Adjoining the Church of the Nativity is the Church of St Catherine, a gothic style Roman Catholic Church that served as the location of Sunday night’s concert.

Manger Square, Bethlehem, with the Church of the Nativity in the background. October 9, 2011.

We arrived in Bethlehem around 5pm, in time to get an iced coffee at “Stars and Bucks” – a local coffee shop that achieves full marks for clever marketing.  We walked up to Manger Square, the area outside the two churches, and went into the Church of the Nativity.  The line to get down to the grotto, the area reputed to be the “exact” birth place of Jesus, was long with an abundance of tour groups.  We decided not to wait and left the church to meander around the neighbouring streets in search of a quick bite of supper before the 6pm concert.

The concert “Exultate Deo” was performed by a German choir, the “Trierer Konzert Chor”, with assistance from the local “Olive Branches Bethlehem” choir.  The program consisted of several numbers sang in either Latin or German that took us through the various stages of the life of the Messiah –  from the annunciation, through the birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  The sound of the music as it resonated through this historical church was beyond description.  To hear the story of Jesus, the Christ, sung with such clarity and beauty in Bethlehem, the place of His birth, was a deeply spiritual experience.

German choir, "Trierer KonzertChor" performing in the Church of St Catherine, Bethlehem, October 9, 2011

The closing number, accompanied by the magnificent pipe organ,  was “Da Pacem, Domine”, a prayer for peace.   Never have I felt the poignancy of a prayer for peace more so than I did that night.  Amidst the occupation of this “Holy Land”, amidst the pain of suffering caused by violence, fear, distrust, self righteousness and absolute hatred, rang out a prayer for peace.  I thought of the people of the South Hebron Hills, the people we meet on a daily basis whose lives are so detrimentally affected by this occupation.  I thought of the those who perpetrate violence against them and of the effect this must have on their souls.  I realized there were tears running down my face, and with the choir my heart joined in the prayer, translated into English as  “Lord grant us peace, we pray to thee.  May wars and conflict cease, Lord.  Show us thy love, grant us thy peace.  Lord, guide your people, guide us.  We cry out for peace, O Lord.  Inspire peace makers, they shall see God, O Lord.”   In the name of Jesus, the one whose life we celebrated this evening, the one who stood so clearly for justice, for peace and for nonviolence, we pray.  Amen

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

A Ray of Hope

Khirbet Shuweika School, home to 236 Gr 1-10 students, with white school bus parked at the door

Amidst the pain of a hurting people, a pain that often feels overwhelming, came an unexpected ray of hope.  It felt as welcome as sunshine after days of rain, as welcome as a warm spring day after the cold of a Canadian prairie winter.

We spent a couple of hours this week visiting the school at Khirbet Shuweika.  The school headmaster, Jafar al Salamin, had invited us there after our meeting at the olive grove incident last week.

We pulled up to the white two storey building and were immediately welcomed into the headmaster’s office (which also served as the school office).  There were chairs to sit on, curtains on the window, and electricity.  The headmaster was conferring with 2 others in the room, both of whom were using computers.  Someone went to bring the senior years english teacher to join us for the meeting.  Other teachers stopped in for a quick visit during recess.   Coffee and tea were served and we began what proved to be a meaningful discussion with a variety of school personnel.

Initial conversation focused around the situation here in Palestine, with specific reference to the situation in Khirbet Shuweika.  We heard of settler harassment of villagers….not only the destruction of the olive trees, but also stories of settlers stealing sheep from shepherds while out grazing in the fields, stories of settlers visiting the school late at night and the villagers concerns around that, and stories of their sense of fear when army vehicles pull into the school parking lot during the school day carrying armed soldiers who “watch” the children for spans of 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  The villagers, the teachers and the children have learned over time to fear the Israeli soldiers due to their active support of the settlers and due to the soldiers past history of abuse towards the villagers.

But we also heard of their hopes and their aspirations for peace.  With passion in his voice, Jabar said to us  “We love people. We want to have our freedom.  We want our students to live in peace.”

But again, we returned to the sense of fear that is always present.   One of those in the room spoke of what it is like to live as a parent in this place of violence.   “I am afraid my son will be shot.”   We shuddered, understanding that these fears are real.  Given the actions of the settlers and the actions of the soldiers, Palestinian people live their lives in a climate of fear.

Conversation then changed to the school.

Khirbet Shuweika school is the school home of 236 Gr 1-10 students.  Many of the students live in the community while others are bussed in from surrounding villages.  Gr 1-4 students take all of their classes with one teacher, except for english, which is taught at the primary level by a teacher who rotates through the single graded classes.  From Grades 5-10, students study from teachers specializing in a given subject.   The regular courses of math, science, geography, technology (computer skills), arabic language, english, etc are taught by a teacher holding a university degree with either a major or a minor in the subject he or she is teaching.  Each teacher teaches five 40 minute periods per day with anywhere between 40 and 80 minutes per day for prep time.  There is one 30 minute break per day  and 5 minutes between classes.  Upon graduation from Grade 10 the students move on to a school in another village to obtain their grades 11 and 12.  University studies are encouraged.

In this building, education is taken seriously.  Emphasis is clearly placed on student learning.  “These students are our future” explained the headmaster.  “We tell them that even at the young age they must study so that they can go on to be doctors, lawyers, teachers….whatever they want.”

As we toured the school, visiting each classroom, the classes seemed organized and the students were busy working.   An annual  budget of $2500 for school supplies barely covers the essentials.  Additional supplies sent by UNICEF (channeled to them through the Palestinian Educational Authority) have been gratefully received.   However, such a meagre budget does not provide for any investment in technology.  As a result, computer skills for the entire school are taught on two very old computers.  Internet is not available but they are optimistic that once a phone system is installed within the next year they will be able to access the internet and augment student learning through that medium. Hopefully, these two old computers will hold together and be up to the task.

Jabar al Salamin, headmaster of Khirbet Shuweika school, standing with EA's Matti (L) and Bosse (R) beside the school's 2 computers

Thinking of the tents that many of these students live in I asked about homework, inquiring whether or not the students take home work to do in the off hours?  “Yes” he said, “they take home some work.  But not too much…..They need to play football, to watch movies….  They still need time to be children.”

They still need time to be children.  In an environment troubled by violence, pain and fear, the school headmaster acknowledges and affirms the need for his students to be children.   To play….to explore….to laugh. The need for children to be children.

Khirbet Shuweika school is making a positive difference in the lives of the children and the families they serve.   It is a school that is striving to maximize student learning.  It is a school that is striving to prepare students for the 21st century.  As they do so, they provide a ray of hope for themselves, for our world, and for our shared future.

ROADBLOCKS

In Canada, we usually talk of roadblocks symbolically.  When we are trying to do something and for whatever reason it doesn’t happen, we refer to the problem as a roadblock.

Not so here in the West Bank.  A roadblock really is a roadblock.  It comes in different forms, but it actively and effectively blocks the road.

On Thursday, after going to Khirbet Shuweika where the olive grove destruction had occurred, we hurried away to get to the checkpoint at Beit Yatir.  Twice a week (and more often if time permits), we accompany school children through the Beit Yatir checkpoint.  These children attend a Palestinian school within easy walking distance of their home but live in what is called the “seam zone.” This is an area of Palestinian territory that exists between the “Green Line,” the Israel/Palestine border that was put in place in 1949 after the war that followed the formation of the state of Israel, and a border that the Israeli’s have single handedly chosen to make inside Palestinian territory.  An equivalent “seam zone” would exist in our part of southern Manitoba if the Americans were to unilaterally decide that the international border should be along #3 Highway.  Any land between #3 Highway and the current Canada/US border would be the “seam zone”  and would be subject to American jurisdiction.  Those of us living there would be forced to live under American law against our will.  Every time we left that area for any reason (and returned)….trips for groceries, medical care, other services or visits with family and friends living outside the seam zone, we would need to pass through an American checkpoint and be subject to whatever demands the American authorities placed upon us.

These Palestinian children (ranging in age from approximately 6-17) must pass through the Israeli checkpoint going to and from school.  On their return trip they are subjected to having their ID checked.  If they do not have it with them or if it is inadequate in any way, they can be denied access to return home.  All school bags and anything else they are carrying are run through an x-ray machine and each child must walk through a metal detector.  This happens every school day.  There have been reports of significant harassment and abuse towards these children as they go through the checkpoint and their families have asked for our protective presence to accompany them.  This is one of our priority tasks.  We left the olive grove incident intent on arriving at Beit Yatir in time to accompany them through the checkpoint.

As we arrived at the main road we noticed our first roadblock of the day – Israeli army vehicles and Israeli police.  Sure enough, they pulled us over.  Our 4 international passports took only a few minutes to check  but they spent several minutes checking our Palestinian driver’s ID.

Israel army and Israeli police vehicles

We carried on, determined to arrive at the school before the children were dismissed for the day.  It was not to be.  In order to get to the school we needed to travel on another main road.   We tried 5 different roads to access the main road, but EACH access point was blocked by either rocks or a 30 inch pile of shale and gravel, or a combination of the two. Finally, on the sixth road we found a way through, only to arrive late at the school and find the children gone.  We drove up to the checkpoint and could not see any sign of the children.  There was nothing more we could do and so we left.

Friday we went out to the nearby village of Susiya to spend the night.  The village has had difficulty with settler harassment, particularly on Friday nights (the Jewish Sabbath), and have found that an EAPPI protective presence is helpful. As we left Yatta we were shocked to find that the Israeli army had locked the gate to the road we needed to turn onto. This necessitated a return to Yatta and the taking of an alternate route across almost impassable roads.  A trip that normally takes 15-20 minutes now took over an hour.  The gate was still closed when we returned home on Saturday, requiring yet another slow and bumpy trip to bypass the roadblock.

locked gate between Yatta and Susiya, Sept 30, 2011

Roadblocks in the occupied Palestinian Territory are anything but a figure of speech.  Frequently utilized by the occupation forces  under the guise of “security,”  they instead serve as a tool utilized to intimidate, to harass, and to wear down the Palestinian people.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,
Jan