Nowhere Left to Go

“Nowhere Left to Go” is a film documenting the story of the Jahalin Bedouin, a group of Bedouin people who were displaced from their traditional lands in the Negev desert in 1951.  At that time, two elements of the Israeli Army (the Haganah and the Stern Gang) attacked the Bedouin people living in the Arad area of the Negev, killing 5 men and burning 15 tents.  The people fled the Negev with their sheep and goats, settling in the hills to the east of Jerusalem.  For 60 years, the Bedouin have lived a traditional life, living off the fruits of this land and garnering income from their sheep.  Seasonally, they would move their tents to new ground, moving to a cooler place close to water in the summer and to a warmer place in winter.  Since the 1967 Israeli military occupation began, they have faced increasing hardship as their land has been taken from them for settlement construction and grazing access for their livestock has been increasingly denied.  In most cases, they have been denied access to basic services such as water, electricity and sewage, even though the water, electrical and sewage infrastructure for nearby settlements passes through their land.  The building of the Separation Barrier and the Checkpoint and permit system has denied them access to the city of Jerusalem, their primary market to sell their produce.  They are unable to obtain work permits to work in Jerusalem, and since the building of a village school in 2009, they have been denied work permits to work on nearby settlements.

Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar, with 4 lane highway passing by and settlement electrical infrastructure in background

Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar, with 4 lane highway passing by and settlement electrical infrastructure in background

Khan al Ahmar Bedouin village in foreground, with Kfar Adumim settlement on hill in background

Khan al Ahmar Bedouin village in foreground, with Kfar Adumim settlement on hill in background

Today, the land they live on is wanted for expansion of the Israeli settlement Ma’ale Adumim, to create homes and the amenities of a modern city for Israeli people on what is clearly Palestinian land (as per the 1949 Green Line).  Given that it is illegal for Palestinians to enter settlements without a permit, the homes and amenities of this spreading city will remain inaccessible for these soon to be displaced Bedouin and their fellow Palestinians.

In November, 2011, an Israeli Civil Administration delegation visited the Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar.  They informed the Bedouin that plans were underway to transfer them from the Ma’ale Adumim area to Al-Jabal near Al Eizariya, the location of the Jerusalem municipal garbage dump.  This is the location other members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe were moved to in the 1990’s to enable a previous Ma’ale Adumim expansion.  However, following a High Court petition against the 2011 decision and broad international protests, the Civil Administration withdrew the plan.  It is now understood that the Bedouin will be forcibly displaced to the Jericho area in the near future.  Forcible displacement is in direct contravention of International Humanitarian Law, which clearly states “Individual or mass forcible transfers (…)of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” (Article 49 Geneva Convention IV).  According to Netta Amar-Shiff, a lawyer and International Humanitarian Law specialist with Diakonia, Article 49 has no exceptions.  It applies inside the occupied Palestinian territory and contravention of this law is considered a war crime.

A film documenting the story of the Jahalin Bedouin, “Nowhere Left to Go; the Jahalin Bedouin”, will be shown March 10 at the New York Peace Film Festival.  The mission of the film festival is to “present films from around the world that advance global peace…  We emphasize the advantages of peaceful solutions to international conflicts, and show the horrors and costs of war.”  (New York Peace Film Festival website http://co79316.wix.com/nypff.  March 10 will mark the first North American public screening of the film, which is narrated by Alice Walker and includes music from Roger Waters and The Dubliners.  Following the screening of the film at the festival, Eid Abu Khamis, community spokesperson for the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar and Angela Godfrey Goldstein, Advocacy Officer for the Bedouin Jahalin, will participate in a Question and Answer session.  While in New York, they are also scheduled to engage in briefings with UN officials.

Eid Abu Khamis, spokesperson for the Jahalin Bedouin

Eid Abu Khamis, spokesperson for the Jahalin Bedouin

To watch this excellent and informative 29 minute film, go to http://www.jahalin.org, or click here:

It provides an excellent documentary of the plight of the Bedouin people, while providing superb footage of both Bedouin life and life inside the Israeli only settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.  But beyond facts, you will find your heart moved by the deep, deep desire of these oppressed people to one day live in peace with their neighbours.  One day, the truth will set them free, and they will overcome the very real prison walls that currently surround them.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Advertisements

Rahed’s Story

This morning, our team were preparing to go out to visit a community center in Silwan when we received word of another home demolition in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina.  Our plans changed quickly, and soon we were in a taxi enroute to the latest demolition.  When we arrived the demolition was complete. The scene was another mass of rubble, with a few extended family members surveying the wreckage.   Apart from a television news crew, we were the first group to arrive.  After receiving details of the demolition, our team has contacted the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and UN OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) on the family’s behalf.

Today’s demolition destroyed the home of Rahed Abu Safa, a 33 year old Palestinian construction worker, his wife and 3 young children, ages 5 to 10 years old.  Up until a few months ago, they were an average young family, supporting themselves and living a typical life. Their house was a single storey family home, built without a building permit 12 or 13 years ago. (see previous post, “House Demolition” for information regarding why Palestinians living in East Jerusalem build homes without a building permit)  They obviously had cared for their yard, with landscaping  around the house and various trees planted.  For several years, the family have been paying a monthly fine for building without a permit.  Early last fall, the family found themselves unable to pay the fine.  Rahed was then arrested by the Israeli authorities and given a 9 month jail sentence.  He has currently served 4 months of this sentence and remains in jail, with another 5 months still to serve. While Rahed has been in prison, his wife and children have continued to live in their family home.  Yesterday, they went to have dinner and spend the evening with other family members, and ended up staying overnight.  This morning, the children went to school.  Around 9am, without prior warning, 5 carloads of Israeli police officers and 12-15 Israeli soldiers, as well as a bulldozer, arrived in front of the family home.  They broke through the closed gate to the house, destroying the gate and the cement drive way, before demolishing the family home.  According to relatives at the scene,  Rahed’s wife is understandably “ in shock. ”

Broken gate leading into the family's driveway.  Note bulldozer tracks in the grass.

Broken gate leading into the family’s driveway. Note bulldozer tracks in the grass.

Young trees planted in the yard.  In the background is the family's refrigerator, one of only a very few family possessions that neighbours were able to rescue prior to the demolition.

Young trees planted in the yard. In the background is the family’s refrigerator, one of only a very few family possessions that neighbours were able to rescue prior to the demolition.

Some of the rubble.

Some of the rubble.

Jerusalem EAPPI team member Olli (Finland) walks through the rubble of the Abu Safa family home.

Jerusalem EAPPI team member Olli (Finland) walks through the rubble of the Abu Safa family home.

Rahed’s cousin, Nasser Abu Saba, spoke to us of the difficulties the family face, and of the frustration Palestinians in general feel with the current system that makes it virtually impossible to obtain building permits on land that they own.  “This is a very difficult situation for our family right now but we have to be patient.  What else can we do?  This is our land.”  He also spoke of the desire of Palestinians to find peace with Israel, and of the frustration they feel with the ongoing conflict.  “We want to live with the 1967 borders.  We want to live In peace with Israel.  We need internationals to help us.”

Today, in an act of intentional, premeditated, state sanctioned violence, the lives of one young Palestinian family were irrevocably changed. According to International Humanitarian Law, “Destructions by the Occupying Power are forbidden unless absolutely necessary for military operations.” (Art 53, Geneva Convention IV, also Article 23(g) of Hague Regulations) Furthermore, “Extensive destruction and appropriation of property…not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully, and wantonly is a war crime (Article 147, Geneva Convention IV)

When will the world notice?

When will the world act?

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

House Demolition

Can you imagine heavy construction equipment arriving in front of your house, police officers telling you that you have only minutes to get your belongings out of your home, and then watching while your house is demolished in front of your eyes?  This is exactly what happened to the Castero family in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina this past Tuesday, Feb 5, 2013. Perhaps you have seen a picture in the international media of a screaming young boy returning “home” from school, only to find his home being destroyed by bulldozers and other demolition equipment.

While I was busy with other work Tuesday afternoon, my teammates were called to this house demolition.  When they arrived, the demolition was well in progress.  My teammates reported that it was a very upsetting event, with children and adults crying, some people screaming, news media personnel milling around, police trying to control the scene, and humanitarian workers gathering information and seeking to assist the family.  Through it all, the construction equipment continued to literally destroy the family’s 2 storey concrete home.

A you tube video of the demolition can be found here      

Two days later, I was one of the EA’s who went to check on the family.  As we drove to the neighbourhood, I mentally prepared myself for what we would find.  But nothing could prepare me for the scene in front of us.  It was awful.  It was beyond horrible – something you might expect from a natural disaster, a tornado perhaps. But this had been done by men and machines.  All that was left was a massive pile of rubble.

The rubble of the Castero family home.

The rubble of the Castero family home.

Young men were digging through the rubble in an attempt to locate the water pipes of the bathroom, hoping to access water.  A white tent stood on each side of the rubble.  As I tried to take in the scene, I realized that my stomach was heaving.  A young woman came up to speak with me.  I asked if this had been her family home.  Nodding her head, she quietly said “yes.”  Instinctively, I reached out to touch her, to place my hand on her shoulder.  My voice broke as I tried to say to her how sorry I was that this had happened.  She seemed to sense that in some way I felt the horror of this brutal act, that somehow I shared, in even a small way, the burden of her pain.  But this story isn’t about me….it’s about the ongoing horrors of this occupation, the ongoing suffering of innocent civilians.

The young woman is Iman, the oldest daughter of the Castero family, a very articulate 18 year old first year law student who speaks excellent English.  In a voice full of pain and emotion, she said, “Come, come and see what the Israeli’s have done to us.”  I followed her around to the side of the rubble.   She explained that the house had been a 10 year old, two storey concrete house (typical Arab style), built without a building permit.  A demolition order had been issued only days ago and they had been unable to stop it.  The Israeli authorities allowed less than 5 minutes for the family to get their belongings out of the house, and did not allow neighbours to help.  As a result, the majority of their household goods are buried under the rubble.

Some of the few family possessions saved from the demolition.

Some of the few family possessions saved from the demolition.

With the financial hardship brought about by this demolition, and no electricity, no water and only a tent for shelter, Iman now feels that she cannot go back to her law studies.

This house was home to Iman’s grandparents, their 3 sons and their families.  In total, this demolition has left 37 people homeless!  They have no access to water, no food, no clothes other than what they were wearing, and no bathroom facilities.  The ICRC (Red Cross) have supplied them with 2 tents and other agencies have contributed a small amount of food and water.  Neighbours are helping out as much as they can.

One of two tents provided for the family by ICRC.

One of two tents provided for the family by ICRC.

Apart from the obvious physical needs of the family, they also are suffering from considerable psychological trauma.  As well, the grandmother was taken to hospital during the demolition.

In the car on the way back to where we are staying, the outgoing EA explained that the house had indeed been built without a permit 10 years ago.  As a consequence of building without a permit, the family have been paying a monthly fine of 2000 NIS (approx. $650) for the last 5 years.  In total, they have paid approximately 120,000 NIS (approx. $40,000) in fines, but that did not stop Tuesday’s demolition.  They will now be required to pay all costs of the demolition, including the demolition equipment charges and operator costs, and costs for all police and Israeli authorities present that day.

Why would this family deliberately build their house without a building permit?

The simple answer is that building permits are issued by the Israeli’s.  They are virtually unobtainable for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.  Why is this so?

Following the 6 Day War of 1967, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank, in contravention of international law.  According to the UN OCHA, East Jerusalem Factsheet, Dec 2012, found at www.ochaopt.org, this annexation “is not recognized by the international community which considers East Jerusalem an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory, (oPt), (see UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 471, 476 and 478).”  In spite of this illegal annexation, the State of Israel now controls East Jerusalem.

The same UNOCHA, East Jerusalem Fact Sheet indicates that only 13% of East Jerusalem is now zoned for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up.  As a result, “at least 33% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, which are difficult to obtain, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement…Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished some 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian people need young, strong, courageous and articulate women like Iman to act on their behalf.  May she find the strength to continue with her law studies.

An Unexpected Gift

Warm greetings from Jerusalem!

Less than two weeks after having received a request from the United Church of Canada asking me to consider a second appointment to EAPPI, I find myself in Jerusalem, about to begin training with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) Group 47.   I have been assigned to the Jerusalem Team, and so this city will become home for the next three months.

While my heart will always be with the people of the South Hebron Hills, I am excited to be placed in Jerusalem and to have my heart expanded by the people I meet people here, as my new teammates and I provide nonviolent protective presence and the ministry of accompaniment to the people of this area.  As we are here, we will also learn more about the crucial issues in and around this city – issues of settlement expansion and home demolitions, issues of checkpoints and permits, issues of humanitarian injustices.  The area directly outside of East Jerusalem known as E1 is an area of particular importance.  It is a 12 square km area of Palestinian land, located between the Jerusalem municipal boundary and the large Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.  This is the area through which the main north south artery of the West Bank passes.  Announced plans for Israeli expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement would displace Bedouins living in E1, would cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem and the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part, effectively destroying any future possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.  This is the area that was recently in international news, as Palestinian protestors built the tent city of Bab al Shams there, only to have it quickly demolished by the Israeli army.  Obviously, with so many areas of tension, there will be considerable work for the Jerusalem team.  I feel deeply grateful to once again be entrusted with the privilege of serving with EAPPI, for the support of the United Church of Canada, and for the privilege of offering this form of ministry to those who are suffering under the weight of this brutal occupation.

Needless to say, the last two weeks have been full, as myself and my family discerned a response to this request, as I finished up work in Canada and prepared to leave for three months, as travel arrangements were made, as I hurriedly packed for this venture and prepared myself as best as I could for the demands that I know lay ahead.

One week ago, a short, but meaningful commissioning service became part of our regular joint United-Anglican worship in Clearwater.  I come to this work  very aware of the wonderful and amazing community of support that I am blessed with, a community that begins in Clearwater and spreads across our province, our country, and beyond through international friends, encouraging me and offering prayers of support for myself, for this work, and for peace for both the Palestinian and Israeli people.  For the ongoing support of this wonderful network of people, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Yesterday, after an 11 hour overnight flight from Toronto, the plane touched down in Tel Aviv.  This time, I was happy to be accompanied by another Canadian, New Brunswicker Steve Berube, who will serve with the Bethlehem Team.

As we drove to Jerusalem, Steve asked about a new development we were passing.  “Another new city” our Palestinian driver responded.  “Built on Palestinian land?” queried Steve.  “Yes” our driver quietly said.  The tiredness in his voice spoke volumes.  Oh, I thought.  It goes on…….Somehow my heart had hoped otherwise…..  As we drove along the highway, I couldn’t help but notice the fence running parallel to the road, with razor wire strung along the top of it.  Not a sight you see in Canada.  A little later, “the Wall,” discreetly finished so as to look less offensive to visitors.  The military lookout towers.  And the checkpoint with the soldier closely peering in as we passed by – our Palestinian driver acknowledging that our white skin made all the difference – had he had Arabs with him, he would have been stopped.  Past the immaculately kept homes and manicured yards of West Jerusalem into East Jerusalem with its more dilapidated looking buildings, clear evidence again of the disparity of occupation.

A warm smile, a handshake and a sincere “welcome back” from our hotel manager, the wonderful colour of the Old City, a friendly visit with a restaurant owner whose father spoke of the value of EAPPI, and introductions to some of our Group 47 who have begun to gather here from around the world.  I am feeling such deep gratitude for the privilege of being here.  It’s great to be back!  A welcome, if unexpected gift, to live this portion of the mosaic for peace journey.Image

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan