Over the last 4 weeks there have been a number of disturbing incidences in the South Hebron Hills.
January 15: 17 year old Amal Hamamdeh appeared in military court at the prison base of Ofer, near Jerusalem, facing charges stemming from the Nov 24 demolition of a mosque and 5 other buildings (including the family home) in Umm Fagarah. She is charged with throwing water and spitting at a soldier and swearing at the security forces. Amal was arrested as she was about to pass a water bottle to her cousin Sausan Hamamdeh after Sausan had been either tear gassed or pepper sprayed at close range by one of the soldiers at the demolition (see previous blog posts dated Nov27, Dec 1 and Dec 23). Later, while being transported to the Kiryat Arba police station, Amal was sexually harassed by one of the soldiers sitting with her in the army jeep. At the police station, interrogators had her confess to throwing water at a soldier during the demolition. Amal’s next court appearance is Feb 5 (results to follow). To date, the family has had to borrow over 20,000NIS (approx $6500 Cdn) to cover Sausan and Amal’s legal fees and court costs.
January 20: Two young boys aged 11 and 13 from the village of Jinba were injured by the explosion of a military device while grazing their flocks on Palestinian owned land. Both sustained non life threatening but serious leg injuries requiring surgery. The village of Jinba lies close to the Green Line and close to an Israeli military training area called “Firing Area 918.”
January 25: Israeli Defense Forces bulldozers arrived at the village of Um al Kher and demolished 2 homes. One belonged to an elderly couple. The owner became ill after being pushed by soldiers. The second house belonged to a 45 year old widow named Miyaser and her 8 children. Their house was first demolished by the Israeli authorities in October of 2008. It was replaced with a mud and stone house built by her extended family. Last week it too was left in ruins by the Israeli army bulldozers. Activists from the Israeli group Taayush have built a small tin house for her and her family. While almost all of the buildings in Um al Kher have demolition permits against them, there were no demolition permits for these 2 houses. Nonetheless, they were demolished. As the bulldozers did their demolition work, bulldozers in the background were working to expand the neighbouring Karmel settlement. (settlements are illegal under International Humanitarian Law.)
February 3: On the morning of Feb 3 a group of settlers from two settlements entered the Palestinian village of At Tuwani escorted by 4 IDF (Israeli Defense Force) vehicles. Some of these settlers were armed. They marched to an archaeological site in the centre of the village, walking on Palestinian fields and destroying an olive tree enroute. Soldiers kept the Palestinians away. Some of the settlers prayed at the archaeological site while others provoked the Palestinians. None of the Palestinians responded violently.
February 7: Nine Israeli soldiers broke into a house at 1am in the village of Al Karmil, South Hebron Hills. They stayed in the house until 11:00 am. The family of the house, two parents and their children between the ages of 1 to 4, were forced into a room while the soldiers took over the rest of the house and placed guards on the roof.The soldiers helped themselves to tea and coffee and used the family’s electric radiator. After leaving the house at 11 o’clock, they established a checkpoint between Al Karmil and the road leading to At Tuwani at 11:40. At 12:30 they took away the roadblock and went back into Al Karmil to go through the village and out the other side where they stayed in a house under construction.
February 15: Israeli demolition crews pulled into 2 South Hebron Hills villages, creating yet more destruction and pain. In the first village, 1 home was demolished (occupants were not allowed to retrieve any of their belongings prior to the demolition) along with 2 cisterns and 4 animal sheds. 15 lambs died as they were not released from their pen prior to the demolition. Details of the 2nd village’s demolition are not yet available. The same day, demolition crews pulled into 2 villages in the Jordan Valley, leaving 33 people homeless. This is winter now in Palestine and conditions are harsh.
Two weeks ago, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty traveled to Palestine and Israel. During his visit Mr Baird repeatedly stated “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/bairds-israel-visit-comes-with-a-personal-mission/article2320658/ He said that “the state of Israel embodies principles that Canada values and respects” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/article2320300.ece and that our government “believes so passionately in Israel’s right not only to exist, but to exist as a Jewish state and to live in peace and security.” He also stated “In this region [the Middle East] today there is only one liberal democracy, only one place that values and respects democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And that is our ally [Israel],” he told the Jerusalem Post. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/baird-sticks-to-party-line-israels-likud-party/article2326345/
At times, I wonder if I am home. The Canada I love is a multicultural, officially bilingual country whose constitution upholds all citizens equally. We include, rather than exclude. According to our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Our fundamental freedoms include those of “conscience and religion.” Under the Equality Rights section of the Charter, it states “Every individual is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” ( all Charter quotes taken from http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/const/const1982.html#freedoms.)
Each one of the incidents in the South Hebron Hills – incidents that are absolute assaults on the humanity of Palestinians – are a direct result of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Not one of these people can possibly be conceived as a security threat to the State of Israel. These, and a multitude of other atrocities deliberately designed to hurt and punish the Palestinian people while enabling Israel to take more and more Palestinian land, are carried out on a daily basis throughout Palestine by the Israeli authorities. Given the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms respect for “the rule of law,” I am left to wonder why Canada supports an Israeli government that clearly contravenes International Humanitarian Law (including the Geneva Conventions), that clearly ignores multiple UN Resolutions, and has repeatedly done so for over 40 years! Given that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly upholds equality of all races, religions, national and ethnic origins, how can we support the concept of a fully “Jewish state” that would clearly give privilege and freedoms to some and not to others based on race, religion and national and ethnic origin? Should our government not uphold the values of the Canadian people as entrenched in our Constitution and profess these values to the rest of the world?
Make no mistake about it. Our government knows exactly what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. They are aware of the contraventions of international law perpetrated on a daily basis by the Israeli government. Myself and my Canadian colleagues before me have repeatedly shared what we have witnessed with officials of both the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Canadian Consulate in Ramallah. Numerous human rights and peace organizations have spoken out against the human rights abuses the Israelis routinely perpetrate against the Palestinian people. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs regularly circulates updated reports of demolitions, impediments to Palestinian travel, settler harassment, etc on their website http://www.ochaopt.org. Why does our government choose to ignore these truths?
Of course the Israeli people are entitled to secure their nation and to define it as they wish. But should Canada be overtly supportive of a government that perpetrates actions that so violently harm an illegally occupied people? Should we support a state whose laws include some but exclude others? Should we support a state that is in the process of building a security barrier (in places a wall three times the height of the Berlin Wall) that does not follow the international boundary but rather cuts regularly into Palestinian territory, to the extent that it is 670km long when the total length of the green line boundary is only 315km? Even a previous Israel Prime Minister has conceded that the Wall was not built for security purposes, but rather to demarcate the physical border of the State of Israel.
And what about water? Amnesty International revealed the extent to which Israel’s discriminatory water policies and practices are denying Palestinians their right to access to water in a 2009 report. They stated that average Israeli water consumption per person is 300L/day, while Palestinian average consumption is 70L/day and in some places as low as 20L/day. “Some 180,000-200,000 Palestinians living in rural communities have no access to running water and the Israeli army often prevents them from even collecting rainwater. In contrast, Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank in violation of international law, have intensive-irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/israel-rations-palestinians-trickle-water-20091027 Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills are not allowed to drill wells, while neighbouring settlers dig at will. In the Jordan Valley, Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells deep enough to reach water, while neighbouring settlers can dig as deep as they like. Is this not a clear separation of rights based on ethnicity? Every time I turn on a tap, I think of my Palestinian friends, many of whom are existing on 20L/day or less. I think of the young, 18 year old woman living in Um al Kher, a village that frequently experiences water shortages when the neighbouring settlement chooses to shut off their meager water supply (as they did in the heat of September to punish the villagers for Palestine’s application for statehood at the UN). Settlement industrial chicken and cattle facilities continue to consume copious quantities of water while the Palestinian villagers receive none. On one hot afternoon I offered to share my water with her. She declined, stating that she would not drink, that she would simply think of this most recent water shortage as a fast. Her courage moved me deeply. For water is not optional. Water is the very substance of life.
And then there’s the ongoing issues of illegal Israeli settlement expansion, building demolitions and restriction of movement. Statistics show that both settlement expansion and building demolitions experienced new highs in 2011. Settlement expansions are built on Palestinian land, thereby taking land from the Palestinians – land that they have owned for generations and use for agricultural purposes (olive, fruit and nut production, crop production, livestock grazing land). Demolitions of houses, livestock facilities, infrastructure (eg power lines into a village), schools and mosques beat down an already exhausted people. Restriction of movement through the more than 500 checkpoints within the occupied territories separate farmers from their land and limit Palestinian access to employment, places of worship, schools, hospitals and visits with family.
None of these realities show me that the state of Israel “values and respects democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Mr Baird, the evidence is to the contrary. These are far from the “principles that Canada values and respects.” As do all nations, the State of Israel has the right to exist and the right to secure it’s borders. But it does not have the right to flaunt international law with impunity. It does not have the right to occupy Palestine. It does not have the right to build permanent settlements on occupied land. It does not have the right to wreak havoc and suffering on the lives of innocent civilians.
Violence is deplorable at all levels. After years of oppression at the hands of the occupation, Palestinians at times have lashed out violently. While this may be understandable at some level, it cannot be condoned and must be condemned. The Palestinian people desire peace. They are exhausted by this occupation and simply want for it all to end. They do not want more violence and instead profess nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Just as acts of terrorism at the hands of extremists is deplorable, so too is structural violence played out by the state upon an occupied people. We, in Canada, cannot condemn one level of violence without condemning all violence.
As a citizen of Canada, I expect my government to uphold the foundations that this country was built upon, both at home and abroad. Playing a political game that separates winners and losers based on ethnicity and religion is abhorrent to our Canadian values. Blatantly supporting an oppressive regime with a long history of ignoring International Humanitarian Law and numerous UN resolutions is equally abhorrent and lowers Canada’s reputation on the world stage for fairness, decency and respect for the law. For any peace agreement to be possible, it must be based on justice, addressing the sources of the conflict. The Canadian people, our Israeli friends, and our Palestinian friends would be far better served by a Canadian government that put aside obvious political agendas and instead acted impartially, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. A true friend would hold both parties accountable for their actions and insist upon a just peace for all in the Holy Land.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,