Um Fagarah girls’ court update

The two young girls from Um Fagarah who were arrested at the time of the demolitions in their village and held for several days before being released on bail,  have had their day in court.  Ultimately, charges against Amal were dropped and Sausan, with a plea bargain,  was given a sentence equal to her time spent in jail, a 1 month suspended sentence and a 3000NIS (approx $1000 Cdn) fine.

We interviewed both girls approximately 3 weeks ago after their release on bail.  They spoke of difficult conditions in the Israeli jails….both were handcuffed and double blindfolded for an entire day and a half and were not offered bathroom facilities during this time, they were both moved several times from one penal institution to another, the food was inedible, one of the rooms they were held in for several days was unbearably cold, and one girl was kicked in the stomach by a soldier during a transfer.

Below are excerpts from a letter written by Ehud Krinis of the Villages Group:

“My colleague Dani Alexandrovitch and I came to Ofer  army camp in Monday 19.12.11 to attend the court proceeding regarding Sausan Hamamdah from Mufaqara (Umm Faqara). As could have been expected, it resulted in a   plea bargain. Under the present circumstances (whereby police investigators   managed to have Sausan confess assaulting a soldier, on her first arrest day   at Kiryat Arba), this conclusion achieved by attorney Neri Haramati is considered a good one for the defendant.

Following Sausan’s contestation, the plea bargain – agreed upon by the defense and prosecution and adopted by the judge – does not include the claim that she was warned in Arabic by the soldiers during the event itself. Prior to the court proceeding, at the initiative of attorney   Haramati, another allegation was removed from the plea bargain – the claim that Sausan tried to pick up a second ‘stone-rock’ against the soldiers before   they arrested her.  The two allegations were made by the prosecution and   accepted by the military judge at her remand on 29.11.11.

Finally the judge’s verdict includes the three   following items:

1. a jail sentence of 8 days, concurrent with the time Sausan was held in custody at the end of last month.

2. suspended jail sentence of one month for the next two years

3. a 3,000 NIS fine.

As for Amal Hamamdah, arrested along with Sausan on 24.11.11, attorney Haramati informed no charges would be pressed against her so she would not have to attend to the court today 21.12.11 as previously required.

Response to our appeal in our last update, when we called for donations for Sausan and Amal’s legal expenses, has been good. About twenty donors have helped us significantly to cover the costs of the court proceedings against the two detainees. Our efforts are not over: At the initiative of women activists of “Beit Ha’am” on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Blvd. who visited Sausan and Amal at Mufaqara last week, a benefit and solidarity evening is planned for next week.”

An extended report on this story, written by Assaf Oron of the Villages Group,  is available at:

http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/update-about-sausan-and-amal-2-palestinian-girls-arrested-for-trying-to-prevent-their-homes-demolition/

If you are interested in learning more, the above report is well worth reading.

Obviously, both girls are now free.  But both underwent humiliation, discomfort and considerable anxiety as a result of these trumped up charges against them.  In the end, several buildings in their village were intentionally demolished (including Sausan’s family home) by the Israeli military machine.  Sausan’s mother’s leg is still healing.  Neither girl committed any crime but Sausan now has a criminal record.  The whole incident has cost this family plenty, in terms of human heartache and in the costs associated with lawyers, fines, travel to and from Jerusalem, etc.  Justice has not been served, but the anguish of ongoing jail time has been averted.  Let us pray that healing can occur and that these girls can move on with their lives.

The Villages Group is an Israeli human rights group who regularly visit Palestinians in their homes and offer what help they can to them.  When I asked one of them why they do what they do, she told me that they have to do what is right.  She also said “they (the Israeli government) can tell me lots of things, but they cannot tell me who I can be friends with.”  More information about the Villages Group can be found at http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/about

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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Dkaika TV news report

You may remember that one of my previous posts talked about the village of Dkaika. It is a community in the extreme southern portion of the West Bank that has demolition orders on virtually the entire village.  Totally appalled by the potential for such intentional and devastating harm to innocent people, we promised to advocate on behalf of the village.  This past Monday, EAPPI organized a press tour to Dkaika.  One of the press reports from this tour can be found  at http://www.presstv.ir/detail/216713.html   Included in the report is a television news report. It is well worth the time to download the video and see the village and the people of Dkaika.

Many thanks to all who contributed towards organizing this press tour.  Advocacy on behalf of the people of Dkaika WILL continue!

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

An Unexpected Gift

I have learned a multitude of lessons from my Palestinian friends – many of which I am probably not yet conscious of. But there is one lesson that was distinctly personal….one that caused me to step back and look at myself, and to see myself with new eyes.

It has to do with being a Hajji.

When we first arrived in Yatta, it didn’t take long to notice that just about every “old” woman was referred to as a Hajji. I thought it was just a nice term to refer to old women (who, of course, were much older than me….or at least looked it).

Until one day Abed, our young, 25 year old driver (and friend), referred to me as a Hajji. Now that was a different story!!

My western culture that idolizes youth at all costs clicked into high gear. Aghast at the very thought of such a thing, I steamed silently to myself. What do you mean….me a Hajji?? Of course not. I am not old. I am fit….I can go up and down the mountain to Jinba. I can powerwalk up and down the hills of Yatta. I cross country ski at home. I canoe and swim in the summertime. I have some grey hair….but just a bit…..Some wrinkles….but not THAT many….. a grandson, yes. But he’s just a baby. How could Abed say such a thing? What was he thinking??? Does he not realize how offensive this is??

But then, I watched, and I listened, and I learned….

On one occasion, we visited a young mother to discuss educational goals and aspirations for her small, remote village. The young mother and myself shared a significant level of trust and we had a deep, open and honest discussion that day. As we were leaving, I bent down to say goodbye to her precious three year old daughter, a child I was very fond of. The beautiful child kissed me on both cheeks and took my hand and kissed it. Her mother explained that this was a sign of appreciation, affection and respect especially reserved for an older woman, a Hajji.

Another time, I had the privilege of attending an Eid celebration of sacrifice, a religious ritual of great significance to Muslims. Present and overseeing the whole event was the family matriarch, the Hajji. The family brought her over to where we were standing to introduce her to us, the international guests. She then took a place of honour, sitting on a chair overlooking the sacrificial ritual that was taking place. You could not help but notice that as each guest arrived to join the Eid celebration they first greeted the Hajji, kissing her on both cheeks and bowing to kiss her hand. It was only after greeting her, that they spoke to and visited with other family and guests.

the family matriarch, the Hajji, overseeing the ritual of the Eid sacrifice, joined by myself and a young child

Over months, I watched our neighbour’s family, observing the high place of honour they hold for their mother. At 65, she is mother to 9 living children, ranging in age from 25 to late 40’s. She is an integral part of her children’s lives and their family’s lives. Their love is evident. They spend time together. They laugh together. They enjoy her company. They respect her immensely.

our neighbour....a precious Hajji friend

I learned that in Palestinian circles, age is something that is talked about. It is not considered rude to ask a person how old they are. It is simply a fact of life, a point of interest. They wonder why we westerners are reticent to discuss age.

I learned that the hardships of the Occupation lead people to age quickly. On average, the Palestinian people look older for their age than westerners do and their life expectancy is correspondingly lower. Years of suffering, less than adequate nutrition, the struggle for water, lack of access to medical care….they all take a toll.

I noticed that products such as hair dye, age defying anti wrinkle creams, and the like are available in Palestine, but are much less evident than in North America. Poverty no doubt plays a role in making these products inaccessible to the majority of women, but it seemed that if that were not the case, these products would still be deemed unnecessary.

I learned that the word Hajji comes from the phrase “the Haj” …the Muslim journey to Mecca that every Muslim is to make once in their lifetime. Strictly speaking, a Hajji is a woman who has made the journey to Mecca, who carries the deep spirituality that is gained from a lifetime of living and the experience of the journey to Mecca. But in every day circles, the word Hajji is a fond term of respect, appreciation and endearment for an older woman – an acknowledgement of the wisdom that life well lived brings.

From my Palestinian friends, I learned to look at myself from a new perspective. I learned how insidiously our culture affects our thoughts, our expectations and our attitudes towards both ourselves and others – even when we think it doesn’t. I learned to look more closely at our western culture’s adulation of youth and it’s costly impacts upon the self image of middle aged and older women, and to more fully discard that shallow and empty view of life. I learned to recognize and appreciate myself and others in a new way. To accept what is and to celebrate the fulness of what is with joy.

I learned to love hearing the workers at the checkpoint greet me with a warm and enthusiastic “Good morning, Hajji!!”

And I loved hearing Abed greet me as Hajji and refer to me as Hajji. What an absolute gift he has taught me.

Thank you Abed. Thank you Palestine.

Peace,Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

A Letter to Tony Blair from a community with pending demolitions

The following post was written by my friend and colleague, Marthie Momberg.  Marthie was a member of the EAPPI Yanoun Team 41.  Living in Yanoun from early September to early December, they served the surrounding area and the Jordan Valley.  Canadian Thom Davies is a member of EAPPI Yanoun team 42 and will be there until February.  Marthie’s post serves to further illustrate the grave injustices imposed upon the Palestinian people and the pain of intentional demolitions at the hands of the Israelis.  Please access Marthie’s blog directly at http://marthiemombergblog.wordpress.com/ for updates on this story and to learn more about the situation in the Jordan Valley.

On Thursday November 10 2011, the Israeli authorities handed over demolition orders that target 17 structures and will affect 72 people, including women and children, in Al Hadidiya, in the Jordan Valley.

These orders were not handed over personally, but simply left in a shelter on Abu Saker’s farm.  None of the orders contain ID numbers. The community is assisted by a lawyer.  They have papers from the Ottoman period (thus before the Jordanian and the British reigns) to show that they live on their own land.

Al Hadidiya comprises 112 permanent inhabitants plus some 130 further inhabitants who left the area during the winter season as Israeli forces have destroyed their homes already.

Many of the families have already suffered several home and property demolition in clear violation of international law and human rights, all the while settlements in the same area are state subsidized and their mainly agricultural produce – a result of a war crime – is still allowed into European markets.

While the international community discusses Palestinian statehood, on the ground Israel is continuing the ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine with a further displacement push in the Jordan Valley.

A double message: a warning of a firing zone (i.e. Palestinians who enter may be shot) and on the side, a trail marker (if you’re an Israeli, go ahead and enjoy nature). There are many of these in the Jordan Valley.

Al Hadidiya is a Bedouin community of some 112 permanent inhabitants and some 130 further inhabitants that during the two cold winter months return back to villages near Tubas as Israeli forces have destroyed their homes already and they have not found the necessary means to build shelters that can protect them from the winter cold.

On Thursday November 10, the Israeli authorities served the community nine new demolition orders that target 17 structures and will affect 72 people , including women and children.

The new Yanoun team (Group 42) discussing the demolition orders with Abu Saker on his farm.

Since 1998, the Israeli occupation authorities have implemented a systematic and continuous drive to permanently expel the Palestinians residents of the Jordan Valley from their lands. Most of the people in Al Hadidiya have had already their homes destroyed more than five times. Animal shelters and other property is regularly destroyed.

As the Palestinian residents are not allowed access the water from the pipes the Israeli water company Mekorot manages for the use of the settlements, and the digging of wells is prohibited, water has to be brought from a natural spring in the area. Especially in the summer months, Israeli authorities confiscate the water tanks in which the water is transported and stored.

Long, high earth banks created by Israelis prohibit Palestinians to reach their own land in the Jordan Valley.

The people in Al Hadidiya are entirely dependent on rearing animals as they do not have sufficient water for agriculture. In the nearby Jewish-only settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot, agricultural produce is farmed using hi-tech methods and with an abundance of water. Much of this agricultural produce is exported to European supermarkets by Israeli agricultural export companies including Bickel, Mehadrin and Arava.

The Occupation authorities justify their demolition and expulsion order with the fact that the area has been designated a military zone since the 1970s. The 600 people of the communities of Mak’oul, Samra, Hadidiye and Humsa that have been living and grazing their cattle in the 300 000 dunums of the northern Jordan Valley for generations state that the area is not even used as a military zone.

The entrance to Abu Saker’s farm has been blocked by inhabitants from the illegal settlement Roi, and he now has to use a 15 minute detour through the veldt to reach his home.


Abu Saker (60) on his farm in Al Hadidiya

We will not leave (again)

(Afrikaans hieronder)

Rialb-Abu Saker (60) greeted us energetically, his wiry figure in black against the pastel shades of the untilled land like a pen on a pale page.  It was around noon and blisteringly hot in Al Hadidya in the Jordan Valley, Palestine.

Rialb-Abu Saker’s demolished house
Rialb-Abu Saker’s current house

Abu Saker farms with sheep and plants oats and wheat in the winter when it rains. We climbed the rocky hill behind the house. On the other side of the hill, beyond the dry dust beneath our feet, lay a lush green strip of land with permanent structures – Roi, an Israeli settlement.

Water is precious and scarce in the Jordan Valley. Illegal Israeli settlers are allocated by far the greater portion of the water (45 million cubic metres per annum for 64,000 people at subsided rates, compared to the unsubsidised 31 million cubic metres allocated to the 56,000 Palestinians in the valley in 2008).

We silently looked at the green stretch.  As we made our way back down to the home built of canvas and reeds and other portable materials, the Israeli military base on the opposite hill caught my eye. Abu Saker’s previous home was demolished by the Israeli Defence Force while he had taken his wife to hospital for the birth of their youngest child.

Abu Saker’s farm in the foreground, with the illegal Israeli settlement Roi in the background.

We asked about the green strip on the other side of the hill:

“They are stealing our water.  They plant flowers in the settlement and we don’t have water to drink.  The Israeli politics is to move us – should I then live in the air?

Our message to the world is to look at us as human beings.  I am not a political person or a negotiator, but I need to feed my family. My message is for them to look at us as people who want our children to be educated.  I now need to drive a 35-40 km detour each day when I take my children to school because they closed my gate.  This means that our children are in the village while we are here and we cannot take care of our children and their school work.

My message to Great Britain is to stop helping the Israelis.  They have helped them since 1916 until now and this is why the Israelis continue to break the law.  My second message is for the United States of America.  The tax payers in the USA should know that they support the Israelis to fight us. My message for the Israelis is you cannot take our land. We will not leave our homes like those who left their properties in 1948. Not all Israelis are the same and our aims are supported by many organisations and individuals in Israel and in other parts of the world.

We hope that this awareness of our humanity will grow. We want to live in peace with the Jews and Christians. Peace and love is the essence of all three our religious traditions. The current Israeli politics cannot last forever. We hope the situation will change because people all over the world appreciate us.  We want a peaceful solution.  If things are not changed in a peaceful way, then I have no solution for our children.

But we need a true state and freedom.  It should be democratic and by election.  Then we should have a school building here and not just a tent which is too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Then a letter to Tony Blair will not be necessary. But if we are a state and we still have no water, and if the soldiers continue to demolish water wells without permits as in An Nassariya, it will mean nothing.  We need to have a proper infrastructure.

Abu Sakr wrote a letter to Tony Blair to ask for a proper school building and us, the Yanoun EAPPI team 41, will deliver this letter to the Office of the Quartet in Jerusalem, as well as a copy to the British Consulate in Jerusalem.

Tuesday 29 November 2011: Abu Saker signs his letter for Tony Blair.
Marthie receiving the signed letter.
The letter was delivered by Team 41 in early December.

(For more, see Marthie’s post on water issues in the  Jordan Valley)

2nd Update on Terrorism: Israel in Action

Our team visited the village of Um Fagarah 2 weeks ago. We met with the families who had suffered the demolition of their homes, with the mother who is recovering from a broken leg sustained during the demolitions, and with both girls who had been arrested.   Both girls had recently been released from prison and are awaiting court appearances.  Both are charged with “attacking a soldier.” Amel, the 17 year old, will appear in court Dec 21 to face charges related to throwing water on a soldier, and Sausan will appear in court Dec 19  to face charges of holding a stone with the intent of throwing it at a soldier. Representatives from Machsom Watch were present in the court room for the bail hearings for these girls.

Following the girls’ court appearances I will post further  information.

In the meantime, please hold these girls and their families in your prayers.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

The Embodiment of Hope

Anne Lamott, in “Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life” writes:  ‘Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”

We have seen a lot of darkness during our time here in Palestine. The Occupation is a darkness that deliberately attempts to drain and squeeze the very life out of the Palestinian people. But they are a resilient people. The way they live their lives models resilience and models non violent resistance to the oppression they face. They know that when all around you is darkness, it is important to find that ray of light in the night sky that will lead us to the morning.  They know the way of living in hope.

Let me introduce you to some of the many people I have met here in Palestine -people who have taught me important lessons about hope.  Some of them are Palestinians, some are Israeli, some are from other lands. They are all people who live their lives making a difference. They are people who do not give up. They are people who live in hope, who live the message of hope.

working on the new Imneizil School bathrooms

The people who are working on the new bathrooms at the Imneizil School.  There is a stop work order on this project, but construction continues.  Why? They need the bathrooms.

Hanna Barag, Machsom Watch

Hanna Barag is a 76 year old grandmother living in Jerusalem.  She has, for the past 11 years, volunteered her time working long hours day and night with Machsom Watch (http://www.machsomwatch.org/en).  This group was established in 2001 by Israeli women peace activists.  They oppose the Occupation and denial of the Palestinians’ right to free movement in their land.  They conduct daily observations at IDF checkpoints throughout the West Bank and publish them on the Machsom Watch web site.  They also send their observations to public officials to influence Israeli and international public opinion to end the Occupation – an occupation that they believe is destructive to both the Israeli and the Palestinian societies.  As well, they work diligently to assist individual Palestinians at checkpoints.

Mousa Najada (L), Headmaster of Dkaika school and his brother Sulaiman Najada (R), English teacher at Dkaika school

Both Mousa and Sulaiman teach at the Dkaika school, a grade 1-6 school of 45 students in the desert community of Dkaika.  There are demolition orders on over 70 structures in the community, including 2/3 of the school.  Both men aspire towards the goal of excellence in education and despite the stress that the demolition orders have brought to the community, they continue to focus on student learning.  Students in this school do not have running water or electricity, but they do have teachers and leaders who care.  It was an absolute joy to have the privilege of sitting in Sulaiman’s classroom in this remote village and hear his students speak English with remarkable comprehension and pronounciation!

Diana Anani, Humanitarian Affairs Analyst, UN OCHA

Hamed Qawasmeh, Human Rights Officer, UN OCHR

Diana and Hamed work from the UN offices in Hebron.  Both work long hours and are here for the long haul, 365 days of the year. Their commitment and their dedication to helping those who are suffering is exemplary.  When we come across a problem that we need help with, they’re the one’s we call.  The last time I saw her, I asked Diana what we, as EA’s returning to our home countries, can do to help.  Her answer was clear.  “The occupation must end.  You can spread the word of what is happening here to everyone you see, to people you are in contact with.  This cannot go on.”  I promised her that I will do my best.

YY's home in a remote village in the South Hebron Hills

YY is a young woman who has asked that neither her name nor her picture be used. She lives in a tent in a remote village in the South Hebron Hills, living a simple but hard working rural lifestyle that involves herding sheep, making  cheese and bread, growing what food they can, and caring for family. Well educated, she is a leader in her community, a woman of courage and vision who is sure of her values and somehow finds a way to blend traditional ways with modern life.

Alica, EA (South Africa)

Marthie, EA (South Africa), at work in the Jordan Valley

Alicia and Marthie are very good friends.  They reside in distant parts of South African.  Both are old enough to remember living through the time of Apartheid in South Africa. Watching them walk arm in arm down a street in Haifa, Israel, simply enjoying their time together and the gift of friendship that they share, left me with a real sense of hope for the people of Palestine. If South Africa can overcome Apartheid, Palestine and Israel will one day overcome this Occupation.

Asaf, a volunteer with Israeli human rights group Ta'ayush

Ta’ayush (http://www.taayush.org/?page_id=49) is a ” grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to  break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true  Arab-Jewish partnership. ”  Every weekend throughout the year, groups of Ta’ayush volunteers drive out from Jerusalem to provide a “human shield” to the people of the South Hebron Hills.  They provide protective presence and assist with a variety of projects in the villages.  It takes immense courage to live with conscience, especially when living with conscience calls you, as an Israeli, to actively support the rights of your Palestinian neighbours.

Eid Sulaiman, Um al Kher

Eid and his family live in the Bedouin village of Um al Kher.  On our first visit to their village in September, Eid spoke to us passionately about the need for peace between Israel and Palestine and of his hope, his desire and his belief that it should happen nonviolently.  Over our time here, he has continued to stand clearly for those values, despite difficult circumstances and Israeli provocation.  He and his family stand as strong advocates for the Palestinian people, the villager’s way of life and the principles of nonviolence.

new mosque under construction in Um Fagarah

The people of Um Fagarah.  Thursday, November 24, the Israeli army demolition crew arrived in their village and demolished a number of buildings, including the community mosque.  The next day was Friday, the Muslim holy day, and on that day people from neigbouring villages came to pray with them. Construction on a new mosque began later that day, only one day after the demolition.  The Israeli’s arrived the next week with a stop work order on the mosque.  Construction continues.

Abed Nuwaj'ah

Abed is our EAPPI South Hebron Hills team driver and translator.  He is a young man with a huge heart, a love for rural life and farming, and a deep belief in the rights of the Palestinian people and their need for the Occupation to end.  He knows the wisdom of finding joy in the simple things of life and brings happiness and laughter to those around him. Every day’s a good day when it starts with Abed saying “W’Allah, W’Allah, double good morning Hajji!

There are, of course, many others to add to this list of people who bring hope to this troubled land.  The list goes on and on and on.  But the most important ones are the everyday Palestinians….the people who have lived with the hardships this Occupation has brought upon them for the last 44 years.  That’s a long time to get up in the morning with hope in your heart and a smile on your face.  But they do it, day after day after day.

One of the tea sets found in every Palestinian home

They find a way to smile and carry on.  They find a way to welcome the visitor with amazing hospitality.  They find a way to share a simple glass of tea and to enjoy good conversation with friends and family.  They live life in spite of the Occupation.  And they live in hope that one day the Occupation will end.

One day, the sun will shine on a new Palestine and a new Israel and it will be a place of justice, a place of  peace and a place of equality for all its citizens.

“Hope is a star that shines in the night,
leading us on till the morning is bright.

[Refrain:]
When God is a child
there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first
and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.”

Hymn #7, Voices United: The Hymn and Worship Book of the United Church of Canada

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Update on Terrorism: Israel in Action

Two You Tube videos of last Thursday’s demolitions have now become available online.  If you would like to see them, here are the links.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w71Wr8IIC0s  (from the Villager’s Group)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILiVe1WPafA ( from Operation Dove)

The Villager’s Group is an Israeli human rights group.  Operation Dove is an Italian peace and human rights NGO that maintains a continuous presence in At Tuwani, a village close to Um Fagarah.

As of Wednesday, both girls were still held under arrest in a Jerusalem jail.  According to Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis’ for Human Rights, “Occupation law allows Palestinians to be held for 96 hours without being brought in front of a judge, and that can be extended for another 96 hours.”

Demolitions throughout the West Bank continue,, with at least one demolition in the Jordan Valley and  one demolition near Bethlehem over the last few days.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan