They have destroyed my son

The scenes that have broken my heart most deeply since returning to the occupied Palestinian territory, have involved the anguish of mothers as they watch their children endure horrendous situations that result directly from the occupation.  One such situation occurred a few weeks ago at the Salem military court outside of Jenin.  EAPPI was there to accompany 8 young men, including one minor, who had been arrested and held since December.  2 young men were previously arrested on stone throwing and molotov cocktail charges and during interrogation had implicated these other 8.  They were appearing that day in court and had their cases remanded until April 4.

While waiting to enter the court, we were approached by a middle aged woman who spoke in halting English.  She asked if we could help her son.  Anguish and pain was written all over her face.  Her 16 year old son had been arrested from school 13 months prior.  His mother maintains his innocence and says that prior to his arrest he was a responsible young man and a good student with aspirations for post secondary education.  During his time in jail, he has been beaten by the authorities and held in solitary confinement.  Conditions in the jail are difficult, and he currently is being held in a room with 10 others.   They are not allowed outside for exercise and he is unable to sleep.  Family are allowed to visit for one hour twice a month, and the visits must be held through a window with conversation over a phone.  A psychological assessment has found that he has suffered significant psychological trauma as a result of his incarceration and recommended that he be released.  “They have destroyed my son,” she told us, over and over again.  He remains in jail.

EAPPI referred this case to Defence for Children International (DCI).  We are told that the boy has been charged and is serving jail time, but details beyond that are unobtainable.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, was quoted in The Guardian, 22 January 2012 “The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors.”  For a country that prides itself on being a democracy, the following information can only be disturbing.

DCI have published an April 2012 report “Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention” found at http://www.dci-palestine.org/category/publications.

Here is an excerpt from the report:  “This report is the culmination of four years’ work during which time sworn testimonies were collected from 311 children held in Israeli military detention.  The report focuses on the period of time between the child’s arrest and being brought before a military court for the first time.  The testimonies reveal that the majority of children are detained in the middle of the night in what are typically described as terrifying raids conducted by the army.  Most children have their hands painfully tied behind their backs and are blindfolded, before being taken away to an unknown location for interrogation.  The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation, threats as well as physical violence.  Hours later the children find themselves in an interrogation room alone, sleep deprived, bruised and scared.  Unlike Israeli children living in settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian children are not accompanied by a parent and are generally interrogated without the benefit of legal advice, or being informed of their right to silence.

The testimonies reveal that most children undergo a coercive interrogation, mixing verbal abuse, threats and physical violence, generally resulting in a confession.  The most common offence children confess to is throwing stones. The Report also finds that in 29 percent of cases, the children are either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.

Within eight days of their arrest, the children are brought in chains to a military court where, in most cases, they will see a lawyer and their parents for the first time.  Although many children maintain their innocence, in the end at least 90 percent will plead guilty, as this is the quickest way out of a system that denied children bail in 87 percent of cases.  Within days of their arrest, nearly two-thirds of the children are transferred to prisons inside Israel in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers.  The practical consequences of this is that many children receive either limited, or no family visits, due to freedom of movement restrictions and the time it takes to issue a permit to visit the prisons.

…..The Report finds that when the totality of evidence is considered, a pattern of systematic ill-treatment emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited.” (pg 7, Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI April 2012).

UNICEF released a report “Children in Israeli Military Detention” in February 2013, found at http://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_oPt_Children_in_Israeli_Military_Detention_Observations_and_Recommendations_-_6_March_2013.pdf

UNICEF concludes “Ill treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.  This conclusion is based on the repeated allegations about such treatment over the past 10 years and the volume, consistency and persistence of these allegations.  The review of cases documented through the monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave child rights violations, as well as interviews conducted by UNICEF with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers and Palestinian children, also support this conclusion.

The pattern of ill-treatment includes the arrests of children at their homes between midnight and 5:00am by heavily armed soldiers; the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties; physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints; lack of access to water, food, toilet facilities and medical care; interrogation using physical violence and threats; coerced confessions; and lack of access to lawyers or family members during interrogation.

Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children; denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences; and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel.  The incarceration isolates them from their families and interrupts their studies.

These practices are in violation of international law that protects all children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.” (pgs 13,14, Children in Israeli Military Detention, UNICEF, Feb 2013)

In January of 2012, 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  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/

One has to wonder, what are we supporting?  Are the people of Canada supportive of  the ill-treatment of children in Israel’s military court system?  Are they supportive of gross breaches in international law?  Are they supportive of “a pattern of systematic ill-treatment… much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture”  (p. 7, DCI  Report Bound Blindfolded and Convicted) of children?

Statistics indicate that the problem is worsening, rather than improving.  Just this week, DCI released their Feb 2013 detention bulletin, found at http://www.dci-palestine.org/sites/default/files/feb_2013_detention_bulletin_final_20mar2013.pd

In the month of February alone,  there were 236 Palestinian children imprisoned and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system,  the highest monthly total since October, 2010.  Of that number, 39 were between the ages of 12 and 15.

Applying the above evidence to Mr Regev’s definition of a democracy, Israel scores an absolute F.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to tell us hard facts about ourselves.  Who better to take on the “friend” role, than the government of Canada, Israel’s self-proclaimed best friend?  You can rest assured that this will only happen if enough Canadians pressure Mr Harper’s government to take action.  There has been far too much pain, too much torture, too much coercion, too much injustice at the hands of Israel’s flawed and corrupt military justice system.  The ongoing suffering of Palestinian children, and the despair and heartache of their families, is unconscionable.

I still hear and feel the anguish of the young boy’s mother.  “They have destroyed my son.”  Her words and her pain continue to haunt me.

How does one respond?

Maybe it’s time to call our MP’s and demand that Canada pressure Israel to  “respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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The human costs of settler violence

Throughout a number of western countries, there is an increasing dialogue on Israeli settlements.  For an explanation of the legality of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and an explanation of settlements and settlers, please see March 4 blog posting “Settlements and Settlers.”  As citizens of Canada and elsewhere engage in this discussion,  an important part of the discussion is the reality of settler violence.  What does this term really mean?  And what impact does it have on the lives of the residents of the West Bank?

As with other scenarios of violence, it’s important to understand how the various parties come to the conflict and how they are armed.  When it comes to incidents of settler violence, the Palestinians are usually trying to go about their daily business – go to school, work in their fields, live in their homes, etc.  They are unarmed, and if attacked can use only stones to protect themselves. Israeli settlers come to these altercations to attack Palestinian property and people, and do so armed with guns, fire starting tools, and rocks.  Israeli soldiers get involved, and come armed with machine guns, rubber bullets, tear gas and a foul smelling liquid called skunk water that is sprayed at groups of people and apparently sticks to the skin, with the odour lasting for several days.

Under International Humanitarian Law, one of the duties of the occupying power is to protect the occupied population, including maintaining public order and safely ( Article 43Hague Regulation, found at http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebART/195%E2%80%93200053?OpenDocument ).  However, in actual practice, the Israeli army almost always works to defend the settler population in clashes with the Palestinians, regardless of the circumstances leading to the clash.  This means that the Palestinians injured in these clashes are often injured by well-armed settlers and by the weapons used by the Israeli army.  Palestinians seek to defend themselves with what they have available, usually only rocks.

How significant a problem is settler violence?

“Since 2007 the number and severity of attacks has risen sharply, in the form of arson attacks, offensive graffiti on mosques and churches, physical assault and in some cases, murder.  Human rights organizations say attacks rose by 315% between 2007 and 2011.  Meanwhile, Palestinian violence against settlers significantly decreased.”  (EAPPI Factsheet 2012 No. 1, found at http://eappi.org/en/resources/factsheets.html)

In terms of personal death and injury, there were “3 Palestinians killed and 183 injured by Israeli settlers in 2011, with a further 1 Palestinian killed and 125 others injured by Israeli soldiers during clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.” http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settler_violence_FactSheet_October_2011_english.pdf.

In 2012, “ one Palestinian was killed and approximately 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements, including demonstrations…” ( UN OCHA Factsheet “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies Update December 2012”, found at www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf) .

When you include numbers showing property damage,  “Figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) record 353 settler violence incidents against Palestinians and their property in 2012, compared to 49 such attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians.  This is a ration of 7:1.” (EAPPI Factsheet 2013 No.1, found at http://eappi.org/en/resources/factsheets.html)

Whatever way you look at it, there are a number of Palestinian lives and property at risk as a result of settler violence and army involvement in these clashes.

It would be reasonable to think that in the democracy that Israeli proclaims itself to be, those who commit such violent crimes would be held accountable for their actions.  Not so.  The facts speak to the contrary.  “Only ten percent of 781 investigations conducted by Israeli police into incidents of settler violence between 2005 and 2011 resulted in indictments.” ( UN OCHA Factsheet December 2012)

What do these numbers mean in human terms, to the lives of real people who live with this problem every day of their lives?

There are countless examples of Palestinians living in justifiable fear for their safety.  On a regular basis, EAPPI and other international organizations provide a protective presence for school children walking to school, children who are at risk of being attacked by settlers.   We provide a protective  presence for farmers as they go to their fields, both for seeding and for harvest.  We intentionally visit Bedouin and other villages on Saturdays, the Jewish holy day when the incidence of settler attacks are usually highest.  But we can’t be everywhere, all of the time.   In our work, we regularly hear of incidents of settlers harassing and attacking Palestinian people who are simply trying to live their lives in as normal a way as possible.  The violence is leaving them physically wounded (and sometimes killed), and it is having a significant economic impact as their personal property (homes, livestock shelters, olive trees, etc are damaged and destroyed), and as they find themselves unable to work their fields, harvest their produce, attend school, and carry out  other regular daily activities.

Here is an example of one Palestinian village that has experienced harassment from both the army and neighbouring settlers.  The agricultural village of Qusra lies in the north central part of the West Bank, 28 km southeast  of Nablus.  For the approximately 4700 people who live in Qusra, settler violence is an ongoing and significant problem.  There have been a number of incidents of settlers stopping residents from working their land, considerable property has been damaged, and there have been a number of injuries incurred.  It is clear to the villagers that the settlers want to take over their land.  Residents report that there have been increasing problems for a number of years, but that things are definitely getting worse.

This past New Year’s eve, settlers arrived around midnight and uprooted 250 olive trees.  Villagers report that the vandals were assisted by soldiers who lit parachute flares over the trees.  The next morning, settlers stoned the home of an elderly woman and trashed a tractor parked outside.  Later in the day, clashes between angry villagers and settlers reportedly resulted in 5 people being hospitalized with another approximately 20 people treated for tear gas inhalation.  15 people were reportedly injured by rubber bullets (tear gas and rubber bullets are used by the army).  In the afternoon, a Red Crescent vehicle was attacked by stones from settlers, with the windows broken and the driver sustaining numerous injuries to his head.  (http://mondoweiss.net/2013/01/settlers-attack-village.html)

In February, there were problems again.

On Feb 14, at around 1:30am, soldiers went to the home of the mayor of Qusra.  8 soldiers, including an intelligence officer, broke into his house and questioned him for one and a half hours.  Before leaving, they instructed him, as the village mayor, to stop the villagers from going out to work in their fields.

On Feb 20, the army arrived and demolished 33 electrical poles leading into the eastern portion of the village, leaving that section of the village without electricity.  These demolitions were said to be carried out because the poles had been built without building permits. This destruction led to clashes between approximately 200 youth from the village, 12 army jeeps and approximately 50 soldiers.  A number of minor injuries were sustained by the youth from rubber bullets and tear gas, and 2 youths required hospitalization.  EA’s who were called to the scene witnessed large amounts of tear gas being fired at the youths, and a number of times the tear gas canisters were fired directly at individuals.  Tear gas canisters are intended to be used as a measure of crowd control and are designed to be shot in the air above groups of people.  When shot directly at an individual, they can cause significant injury.  From this incident, one 15 year old Palestinian was arrested, but was released two days later after the family paid bail of 3500 NIS (approximately $1200).

About 1:00am on the morning of February 21st, settlers arrived in the village on foot and by car.  Four vehicles were totally burned and a fifth vehicle had its tires slashed and all windows broken.

Qusra woman standing beside one of four cars burned in a recent settler attack.  (EAPPI photo)

Qusra woman standing beside one of four cars burned in a recent settler attack. (EAPPI photo)

For more details, see “Photo:  Cars torched in Qusra, West Bank” found at http://eappiblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/photo-cars-torched-in-qusra/.

On the afternoon of Saturday, Feb 23, things got even worse.  At about 1:00pm, 26 year old Hilmi Hassan left his wife and young daughter at home as he set out to drive his sister home.  While enroute, he received a phone call saying that there was a house fire in the village.  He dropped off his sister at her home and headed towards the site of the fire to offer help, picking up a friend along the way.  When they arrived, they found that the house was not on fire.  Hilmi and his friend got out of the car and found evidence of a previous fire, with charred remains and broken glass outside the house.  Hilmi was eager to get home.  However, just as he was about to get back in his car, his cell phone rang.  Standing beside his car, Hilmi answered his phone.  He heard something, and looked up to see approximately 20 soldiers and settlers running towards them.  The settler’s faces were masked.  One or more of the settlers started shooting, and Hilmi was shot in the abdomen.  An elderly woman running from the scene fell and broke her leg, and a young boy was shot just below the eye with a rubber bullet. (Hilmi Hassan verbal report to EAPPI, March 12, 2013)

The Ma’an news media report of this incident can be found at http://maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=568188

According to Hilmi, after he was shot he was taken by private car to a hospital in the nearby village of Aqraba.  From there, he was moved again by private car,  to a highway junction where he met an ambulance that took him to a hospital in the city of Nablus.  He had sustained a major, life threatening injury and was bleeding profusely.  Doctors in Nablus were unable to provide the necessary care.  With his condition very grave, it was decided to bring in an Israeli doctor from Jerusalem (an extremely rare happening) to provide emergency care.  The Israeli doctor was transported to Nablus and was able to stabilize Hilmi sufficiently for the Israeli’s to airlift him by helicopter to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, where lifesaving abdominal surgery was performed.  See “Report:  Israeli doctor secretly enters Nablus to treat Palestinian man” found at http://maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=569801.

26 year old Hilmi Hassan, recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital from a life threatening abdominal gunshot wound, perpetrated by an attacking settler.

26 year old Hilmi Hassan, recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital from a life threatening abdominal gunshot wound, perpetrated by an attacking settler.

Approximately two weeks after his initial surgery, Hilmi underwent a second surgery to control further bleeding.  He continues his recuperation in the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. Given the Israeli permit system restricting entry to Jerusalem, Hilmi can only have 2 members of his family visiting at a time.  Throughout this ordeal, his pregnant wife has remained at his side, accompanied by one other alternating family member.  He has missed his young daughter Roneen immensely, and was thrilled to see a photograph of her, taken by EA’s when we visited his family in Qusra after the attack.  Thankful that Hilmi is alive, he and his family look forward to returning home where Hilmi can continue his convalescence, and to being reunited with Roneen as they prepare for the birth of their second child.  There will be no assistance to cover lost wages incurred in this cruel and needless act of violence, but family will help out as they can.  To the best of their knowledge, there have been no arrests in this case.

In various visits with Hilmi and his family, they have always warmly welcomed EA’s.  We have never detected any hint of bitterness about his situation, but there is sadness about what has happened and significant concern for the future if the violence continues.  With the cooperation of Hilmi and his family, we have filed a report of this incident that will go to various international organizations.

Doctors have told Hilmi that the bullet he was shot with fragmented inside his abdomen, breaking into eleven separate pieces.  Bullets with this property are referred to as expanding bullets, or are known colloquially as “dum dum” bullets.  According to http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dumdum%20bullet,  dum dum bullets are “A bullet with deep user-made cuts in the tip. The cuts help the dumdum bullet fragment into chunks on impact, causing severe injuries and bleeding on a scale normal bullets would be incapable of.”

The use of expanding bullets is in direct contravention of International Humanitarian Law.  (See Declaration (IV,3) concerning Expanding Bullets. The Hague, 29 July 1899, at http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/f1f1fb8410212aebc125641e0036317c)

As with other cases of violence perpetrated by settlers, it is also clear that the International Humanitarian Law’s Principle of Distinction has been broken.  “The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against military objectives. Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects.” (Rule 7, The Principle of Distinction Between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives) found at http://www.icrc.org/customaryihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter2_rule7.

Furthermore, “Civilians (and their properties) are immune from attack and should never be the target of attack.  Violation of the principles constitutes a war crime.” (Diakonia International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Resource Centre in Israel and the occupied Palestinain territory, 12 February 2013, EAPPI).

The people of Qusra have suffered for far too long from settler violence.  Settler violence has   limited their access to their farmland (and therefore limited access to their livelihood) and it has significantly damaged their property.  Without a doubt, their well-being has been jeopardized and the violence has led to numerous significant injuries.  Now, settler violence has very nearly cost Hilmi Hassan his life.

As EA’s, we hear regularly of other Palestinian communities who suffer from this same problem.  Unfortunately, the people of Qusra are not alone in their suffering. This kind of violence happens frequently across the West Bank, as well as in Jerusalem.

What will it take for the people of Qusra, and other Palestinian communities, to live their lives free of violence from nearby settlers?  At what point will those responsible for this violence be held accountable for their actions?

Human rights groups have documented and reported incidences of settler violence for years.    However, in spite of all of this documentation, nothing changes.  “The failure to respect international law, along with the lack of adequate law enforcement vis-à-vis settler violence and takeover of land has led to a state of (settler) impunity, which encourages further violence and undermines the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians.”  (UN OCHA Factsheet December 2012)

As Palestinians report and as statistics prove,  the situation is getting worse.  The State of Israel has obviously chosen to ignore these gross human rights violations, and in fact is encouraging further settlement expansion.  As western countries debate the issues of Israeli settlements, settler violence must be an important element of the discussion.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

When life hands you lemons

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” could well be the motto of the Beit Doqu Development Society.  From humble beginnings in 1988, the organization has developed to offer a multitude of services for its 2000 village residents.

EAPPI met with the Ikrina Rayan, the director of the Beit Doqu Development Society in early March, to learn more about the village, to learn some of their challenges, and to explore opportunities for ways that EAPPI may assist the villagers.

Mr Ikrina Rayan, director of the Beit Doqu Development Society.

Mr Ikrina Rayan, director of the Beit Doqu Development Society.

Beit Doqu is a small agricultural village of about 2000 inhabitants, nestled among terraced hills and scenic valleys, northwest of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Beautifully terraced land in the Beit Doqu area.

Beautifully terraced land in the Beit Doqu area.

In days gone by, the village enjoyed prosperity from its agricultural exports to the Gulf States and its close proximity to Jerusalem.  However, the Israeli closure policy in the West Bank that began in the mid 1990’s have led to a severe restriction of movement, impeding exports and access to jobs and resulting in the diminishment of the village economy. In addition, the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements, the building of the road network to support the settlements, and the building of the Separation Barrier have all resulted in the loss of  large tracts of agricultural land, resulting in a loss of income, as well as further impeding villagers ability to reach their workplace, schools and medical services.

Beit Doqu Development Society is a non-profit charitable organization that was started by young people from the village in 1988 to provide cultural¸ social, agricultural and health services in the community.  The goals of the organization are to create new job opportunities, assist in the development of local infrastructure, and work in the field of childhood development.

Although Beit Doqu is located only 13km from the Old City, the journey to get there was lengthy.  Given the presence of the Separation Barrier and the need to pass through the Qalandiya checkpoint, a direct route was impossible and so the trip took almost one hour.  As we drew closer to the village, the rich agricultural potential of the land became obvious.

Agricultural area near Beit Doqu.

Agricultural area near Beit Doqu.

Mr Rayan welcomed us warmly to his office, and began to tell us about the village and the area.  With the Separation Barrier surrounding the area on 3 sides, there is now only 1 road into the village.  For the last 3 or 4 months, the Israeli army has been holding flying checkpoints (checkpoints without permanent infrastructure that consist of army vehicles stopping all passersby and checking ID) along this road on a twice daily basis, morning and afternoon.  With these flying checkpoints creating delays of 1-3 hours and with no option for an alternate route, village residents are frustrated that they are late for work, school and appointments.  These checkpoints do not involve crossing the Separation Barrier, but rather are blocking travel within the West Bank.

Another major issue of late has been the arrest of young men ages 18-24.  These men are being charged with alleged offences dating back 10 years or more, including the usual charge of stone throwing.  The men are usually beaten while in interrogation until they eventually confess. They are commonly held in detention for weeks to months, must go through military court, are fined 4000-6000 NIS ($1500-$2000 Canadian) and then released.  Since January of 2012, 64 young men have been arrested.  The cumulative fines, combined with lost wages from time served in detention, have created economic hardship within the village.

There are only 2 farmers from the village with land on the other side of the barrier.  Both are unable to go to that land as they have been blacklisted by the Israeli’s, making it impossible for them to get permits to access their land. Other farmers from surrounding communities who have land on the other side of the barrier must apply for permits to go to their land (which may or may not be granted), and then cross to their land at agricultural gates that are open certain times of the day during certain times of the year.  Their inability to access their land on a regular basis has led to a diminished productivity of the land.  This, in combination with the fact that many of the farmers have been unable to get permits for harvest has led many of them to give that land up as it is not economically viable to continue to farm it.

Another challenge has been the selling of the produce.  Traditionally, farmers harvest their fruit and vegetables in the early morning, taking it directly to market.  With the limited hours of the agricultural gate, farmers with permits could enter their fields in the morning but then the gate was closed until it was opened again in the late afternoon, making it impossible to get the harvested produce to market that day.  The next day, the produce had diminished in quality and did not sell well at market.  This is an area where the Development Society has been able to help.  They were able to build refrigeration and processing facilities, and now buy the produce directly from the farmers, hire local people to do the processing, and market the final product in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The Development Society also seeks to enhance the status and role of women through their Women’s Center, which was established in 1996.  In 2010, they partnered with the Jerusalem based fair trade organization Sunbala, and began a jewellery making project.  The project aims to provide an income generating opportunity for young women from the village while helping to preserve the traditional artisan heritage of Palestine.  While touring through the facility, we saw many of the beautiful jewellery pieces the women have created.  Their works are sold through Sunbala, at outlets in Jerusalem.

One of the major issues facing villagers has been a lack of water.  Each house has a rainwater cistern, and additional water is purchased through the Israeli water company Mekerot. Villagers were finding that the Mekerot water supply was fine during the winter months but that it was unreliable during the summer.  During the months of April through to the end of November, Mekerot was shutting the water off totally for all but one day every 2 weeks, and for that one day the water pressure was very weak.  Through a partnership with the Japanese government, the Development Society was able to oversee a project that installed an additional 80 water cisterns, each holding 1000 cubic metres of water, in the village.  These cisterns collect rainwater during the winter months that is used later for household consumption.  An additional 60 water cisterns have been installed for field use, enabling the villagers to grow higher valued crops that require more water (eg. tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peppers), leading to an enhanced village economy.

Water cistern project.

Water cistern project.

The Beit Doqu Development Society are exemplary in their work to assist residents deal with the burdens imposed by the Israeli occupation.  It is, however, a difficult and tiring journey for villagers to walk.   Towards the end of our discussions, Mr Rayan  said rather wearily, “You have been working for years, but on the ground there is no change.  People are losing hope.”  He expressed a reality that we see all too often.  The weight and burden of this occupation is wearing people down.  46 years of oppression has taken a toll.  It is unavoidable.

After some discussion, the only role Mr  Rayan could see EAPPI having was to supplement the presence of other organizations such as ICRC, OCHA and UNDP at the agricultural gate during the harvest season in June, July and early August.  He felt similar assistance would be helpful in October for the olive harvest.  We have passed on this request to the EAPPI office, and hope that future Jerusalem teams will be able to assist in this way.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Eid Abu Khamis visits New York Peace Film Festival

When we visited Jahalin Bedouin spokesperson Eid Abu Khamis two weeks ago at his Khan al Ahmar home just outside Jerusalem, he was looking forward to attending the New York Peace Film Festival for the first North American screening of the film “Nowhere Left to Go,” scheduled for March 10.  This film is a documentary about the plight of the Bedouin people as they struggle to remain on Palestinian land that Israel wants to take for the purpose of building more illegal settlement units. (see Feb 25 blog posting “Nowhere Left to Go” to view the film and to learn more of the story of the Bedouin people, and March 4 blog posting “Settlements and Settlers” for an explanation of Israeli settlements and their illegality according to International Humanitarian Law)

Abu Khamis was excited about the upcoming trip to New York, and excited about a visit with his brother who lives in the United States.  Most importantly, though, he was eager to explain to the people at the film festival and to people at the UN (where briefings were scheduled after the film festival) about the dire situation facing his people.  It is anticipated that the Bedouin will be involuntarily displaced (in contravention of International Humanitarian Law) as they are pushed off of their land and moved to an area outside of Jericho, perhaps as soon as this coming June.  The Bedouin view this move as unacceptable because moving them there will push other Palestinians off of their land, something they feel is unjust to those currently living there, and because they will be unable to take their animals with them.  The Bedouin lifestyle is one in which livestock are an essential part of life.  For generations, their people have garnered their income through the fruits of their livestock – selling the milk, cheese, yogurt, meat and wool from their sheep, goats, and camels.  Their social structure and indeed, their lives, have centered around the care and movement of their animals as they travel the hills of the Judean desert in search of grass and water.

There are pressures the world over on semi nomadic people.  What makes the Jahalin Bedouin situation unique is the weight of the Israeli military occupation.  With the occupation comes the reality that change is being deliberately forced upon them by a hostile government, a government that denies them the basics of life while working to push them off of their land, bringing about unwanted change without respect for their cultural and social needs.

2 days after visiting Abu Khamis,  we were surprised to bump into him in the Old City of Jerusalem.  He had come that day for an interview at the American Consulate office in Jerusalem.  The interview was a requirement to obtain a visa to visit the United States.  It might not seem unusual to see Abu Khamis in Jerusalem, until you understand that in order to get to Jerusalem, he was required to obtain a special permit to enter the city, a permit that itself is difficult to obtain.  Prior to 1993, Palestinians living in the West Bank had free access to their capital city of Jerusalem, but in that year the Israeli’s restricted access to Jerusalem with the establishment of 12 military checkpoints at entry points around the city.  From that point on, all Palestinians living in the West Bank have been prohibited from visiting Jerusalem without a special permit that must be applied for in advance and must prove a definable reason (medical appointment, visiting or accompanying an ill relative, consular office appointment, etc) for the visit.  Usually, these permits are valid for only 24 hours.  Magnetic ID cards make it possible for the Israeli’s to follow the movement of any individual Palestinian.  Penalties for staying longer than the permit is issued can involve arrest and jail time.  For these reasons, this was Abu Khamis’ first visit to Jerusalem in 10 years, even though he only lives a few kilometres outside the city.

Later that week, Abu Khamis received word from the Americans that his application for a visa to visit the United States had been denied.  Apparently, he did not meet the criteria for a visa. Part of the official reason for his denial was that his application was a few days short of the required minimum, although he knew of others for whom this requirement had been waived in the past. His understanding was that he was viewed as a high risk to remain in the United States as an illegal immigrant and was therefore ineligible for a visa because he does not hold assets of $10,000 cash, or own a registered house, or own land. The fact that he would be leaving his wife and children at home was not viewed as sufficient proof of his desire to return to Palestine.  He was, understandably, disappointed.  It was decided that the Jahalin Bedouin Advocacy Officer, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, would go alone to the Film Festival.

As we spoke with Abu Khamis the following day, his disappointment was evident.  While grateful that Angela would be going on their behalf, he spoke of his own desire to speak, to bring his voice for his people to those in New York.  It seemed unjust that politics and bureaucratic decisions would prevent his voice from being heard.  We discussed the possibility of skype from his Bedouin home in Khan al Ahmar, but that would not be possible as skype requires reasonably fast internet speed, something that is not accessible there.  We considered offering him the use of our home in Jerusalem, but we knew he could not get a permit to travel there. It became clear that the only answer was to find skype facilities within access of Abu Khamis.

Through the efforts of many who worked together in a spirit of cooperation, EAPPI Jerusalem Team 47 was able to coordinate an opportunity for Abu Khamis to participate via skype in the Question and Answer period following the screening of “Nowhere Left to Go.”    Heartfelt thanks to the people of the New York Peace Film Festival, Jahalin Bedouin Advocacy Officer Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, our taxi driver and translator Firhas Salah,  and to Gavan Kelly from the legal rights organization Addameer,  who so generously provided skype facilities in Ramallah at 7:30pm local time on a Sunday evening.  Through their efforts, Abu Khamis was able to speak his story and the story of his people.  He was able to ask civil society around the world to stand up for justice, and to ask them to support the Bedouin people through pressuring their governments to pressure Israel for justice for the Bedouin.  He was able to ask to be allowed to live a normal life – for his children to have the right to education, and for him to have the right to the opportunity for employment. He invited people from around the world to come to Khan al Ahmar to visit his family and to experience the reality of the Bedouin people. He was given a voice.

Eid Abu Khamis, speaking via skype to the New York Peace Film Festival, March 10, 2013

Eid Abu Khamis, speaking via skype to the New York Peace Film Festival, March 10, 2013

Will he speak alone, or will others stand with him and let their voices be heard?

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

In our brokenness

In the brokenness of this world,

we come to God.

In this place some call the Holy Land

…… we find hatred and despair

…….we find the pain of the oppressed and the pain of the oppressor

…….we find institutional and structural cruelty

…….we find hurting people.

For all people, everywhere and anywhere, who suffer from the pain of our collective and personal brokenness, this prayer is offered.

It was sung today as a hymn at St Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem.

“We lay our broken world

in sorrow at your feet,

haunted by hunger, war and fear,

oppressed by power and hate.

Here human life seems less

than profit, might and pride,

though to unite us all in you,

you lived and loved and died.

We bring our broken towns,

our neighbours hurt and bruised;

you show us how old pain and wounds

for new life can be used.

We bring our broken loves,

friends parted, families torn;

then in your life and death we see

that love must be reborn.

We bring our broken selves,

confused and closed and tired;

then through your gift of healing grace

new purpose is inspired.

Come Spirit, on us breathe,

with life and strength anew;

find in us love, and hope, and trust,

and lift us up to You.”

Anna Briggs, from “This is the day”

Wild Goose Publications.

Church Hymnary, 4th Ed.

Canterbury Press, 2005.  Hymn 721

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

School Threat Assessment in Urif

The concept of school security took on a whole new twist last week when we visited a boys secondary school in the picturesque north central West Bank community of Urif.

Urif is, located half way up a very large hill.  It is accessed along narrow winding roads that climb upwards until well past the community.  Olive groves and pink blossomed almond trees surround the village.  Green fields dot the landscape. Looking out across the valley, one can see the Mediterranean Sea on a clear day.   The school is located on the upper outside edge of the village.  Visible on the hilltop adjacent to the school is the nearby Israeli settlement of Yizhar Huwwara.

EA Tora (Norway) with school officials on the school roof.  Notice the nearby settlement just up the hill.

EA Tora (Norway) with school officials on the school roof. Notice the nearby settlement of Yizhar Huwwara just up the hill.

When we arrived at the school, we were warmly welcomed into the Headmaster’s office and immediately offered traditional Palestinian hospitality….a small cup of black Arabic coffee, followed up with a small glass of sweetened tea.

The school is a boys secondary school of 202 students, aged 13-18 years.   It is a relatively modern building, with the headmaster’s office having the usual technology common in most schools – telephones,  computer, copying machine and fax machine.  Sitting prominently on a shelf just behind his desk are several sports trophies  won at various Nablus area competitions.  The Headmaster, Nabiya al-Najar, spoke to us in Arabic, with our driver and the school English teacher translating.  Mr al-Najar’s care and concern for his students was evident.

Urif Boys Secondary School Headmaster Nabiya al-Najar

Urif Boys Secondary School Headmaster Nabiya al-Najar

Quickly, however, we soon learned of the school’s major problem.  Settlers from the nearby settlement of Yizhar Huwwara have been increasingly attacking both the village and the school, as well as the students.  Mr al-Najar explained that the settlers are taking more and more land from the villagers, and are preventing farmers from going to their fields for sprig planting.  Olive and almond tress have been destroyed.  The community mosque was set ablaze 2 1/2 months ago.  The school and students have suffered numerous attacks, which occur most frequently as students are being dismissed from school.   Settlers, including men, women and children from the neighbouring settlement, have been attacking the building and the students, swearing at staff and students, and throwing stones that break windows and damage school equipment.
Metal window screen damaged by settler rocks.

Metal window screen damaged by settler rocks.

School water tanks that were previously damaged by settler rocks, now protected by a newly constructed cement barrier wall.

School water tanks that were previously damaged by settler rocks, now protected by a newly constructed cement barrier wall.

On a school tour, students told us of hiding under their desks to avoid  stones thrown by the settlers.  If students respond in any way, the Israeli soldiers promptly arrive and fire tear gas and sound bombs either immediately outside the building, or directly into the building.   Over the last several months, more than 300 tear gas canisters have been collected from the school building and the school grounds, as well as several sound bombs and flares.

bags of tear gas canisters collected from school building and school grounds

Bags of tear gas canisters collected from school building and school grounds

used tear gas canisters

used tear gas canisters

from left to right:  unexploded tear gas, used flare, used sound bomb, all collected from the school building and school grounds

from left to right: unexploded tear gas, used flare, used sound bomb, all collected from the school building and school grounds

There have been numerous students injured in these attacks, including 2 students who were rendered unconscious last year when tear gas was fired immediately outside their classroom window.  At times, the school has had to evacuate the students out of the building due to tear gas.  Attendance has been affected as students are afraid to come to school because they are afraid of attacks while at school.  On some mornings, soldiers position themselves between the school and the students’ homes, leaving students afraid to pass the soldiers on their walk to school.

On Feb 5 of this year, students were dismissed early as one teacher was absent.  As they were walking home, an Israeli army jeep containing at least 10 soldiers began to follow the students.  They turned back towards the school and were chased into the building by the soldiers.  The army officer demanded that the headmaster give him the students, threatening to tear gas and sound bomb the building if he failed to do so.  The headmaster refused.  The soldiers took the headmaster’s ID and held him for 3 hours, threatening to arrest him.  Eventually, the District Commanding Officer was summoned and the soldiers released Mr al-Najada, returning  his ID to him.

Understandably, all of this violence has had a detrimental effect on student learning.  In addition to the attendance issues, students find it difficult to fully concentrate in class as they worry about the possibility of another attack.  School staff worry about the psychological trauma these attacks have caused.

Several needs were identified.  The headmaster asked for monitoring of the school.  EAPPI will work to assist them with this and will investigate the possibility of providing protective presence on an intermittent basis.  Mr al-Najada also asked for tear gas masks for teachers so that they can help to evacuate students and for stretchers to carry out tear gassed students, both of which EAPPI will try to help him locate.  He also identified a need to film what is happening, and a need for psychological assistance for the students.  NGO’s that provide these services were suggested to him.

As we left the school, Grade 11 students were busy using the spent tear gas canisters in a creative endeavour -writing the word “Palestine” in Arabic on the school grounds.

students writing of the word "Palestine" in Arabic, using used tear gas canisters collected at the school

Students writing of the word “Palestine” in Arabic, using used tear gas canisters collected at the school

It’s their way of transforming horror into art, and of bringing light into darkness through creative, nonviolent resistance.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

Settlements and Settlers

What is meant by the terms “settlements” and “settlers” in the occupied Palestinian territory?  Are they a problem?  Why does this issue matter?

street corner in Israeli settlement Ma'ale Adumim

street corner in Israeli settlement Ma’ale Adumim

In any discussion of the Israeli settlement issue, it is important to understand what these terms mean.  In a very basic way, Israeli settlements are communities of Israeli citizens that are located in occupied Palestinian territory, in either the West Bank or in East Jerusalem, and settlers are the Israeli citizens who live in the settlements.  During the occupation, (ie since 1967) “with the political, military and financial support of the Israeli government, settlers have built settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.  These lands were seized or expropriated from Palestinians by military orders….The settlements were recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Interior even though they are illegal under international law ” ( pg 39, A Basic Background Resource to the Current Context of Israel and Palestine: an Historical, Political and Human Rights Review, EAPPI 2010)

International law is clear.  “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” (Article 49, Geneva Convention IV)  “This has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Security Council.” ( UN OCHA Factsheet “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies Update December 2012”, found at www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf)  The United Nations Security Council Resolution 446, 22 March 1979 was strongly worded: “… the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”  Furthermore, according to Diakonia International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Resource Centre in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, “land seizure for settlements is illegal.” (www.diakonia.se/ihl).

The State of Israel takes a different position on this matter.  According to Diakonia, the Israeli position is that “the West Bank is not occupied territory.  The Geneva Conventions are not applicable, and even if they were, Article 49 does not prohibit voluntary, and individual, transfer.”  As such, Israel continues to build new settlement units, with settlement growth mushrooming across the West Bank. According to the UN OCHA Factsheet “Since 1967, Israel has established about 150 settlements (residential and others) in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; and in addition there were 100 “outposts” erected by settlers without official authorization… In 2011, settler population was estimated at over 520,000, with an average rate of growth over the past ten years of 5.3%, as compared to 1.8% for the Israeli population as a whole.”

near Israeli settlement development near Beit Doqu

new Israeli settlement development near Beit Doqu, West Bank

In terms of land usage, “in total 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.”  (UN OCHA Fact Sheet).  Following “a threefold increase in the number of new settler housing units which were issued for tender in 2012, compared to 2011 (Peace Now); on 30 November, the Israeli authorities announced plans to build 3,000 new settlement units in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank” (UN OCHA Fact Sheet).  With these kinds of statistics, you can easily see why settlements and settlement expansion are viewed as a problem by the Palestinian people.  As more and more land is taken for settlement expansion and supporting services, less land is available for Palestinian development and livelihoods.  This leads to crowded and cramped housing, insufficient infrastructure, diminished incomes, and the resultant displacement of families.

But the problems don’t end there. “Approximately 540 internal checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical obstacles impede Palestinian movement within the West Bank; these obstacles exist primarily to protect settlers and facilitate their movement, including to and from Israel.” (UN OCHA Fact Sheet)  These obstacles take up considerable time out of a Palestinian’s day when things run smoothly, can totally impede Palestinian movement when things are not running smoothly, can be a health hazard when Palestinians are stopped at checkpoints from pursuing medical treatment, and are a source of ongoing frustration for Palestinians as they attempt to go about their daily affairs.

Inequitable water distribution is another significant issue.  While the average Palestinian level of water consumption is approximately 70L/day, well below the World Health Organization’s recommended 100 L/day (Thirsting for Justice, Palestinian rights to water and sanitation, http://www.thirstingforjustice.org), Israeli settlers in the West Bank consume approximately six times the water used by Palestinians in the West Bank.(UN OCHA Fact Sheet)

Settler violence, apparent settler impunity, and the unequal application of law, creates other serious problems. “In 2012, one Palestinian was killed and approximately 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements, including demonstrations….Only ten percent of 781 investigations conducted by Israeli police into incidents of settler violence between 2005 and 2011 resulted in indictments (Yesh Din)…The failure to respect international law, along with the lack of adequate law enforcement vis-à-vis settler violence and takeover of land has led to a state of (settler) impunity, which encourages further violence and undermines the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians. Those (Palestinians) demonstrating against settlement expansion or access restrictions imposed for the benefit of settlements (including the Barrier) are regularly subject to arrest or injury by Israeli forces.”  (UN OCHA Fact Sheet)

Furthermore, there are two sets of laws for people living in the West Bank.  Israeli civil law applies to Israeli citizens, and the much harsher Israeli military law governs Palestinians. “Israeli civil law is de facto applied to all settlers and settlements across the occupied West Bank, while Israeli military law is applied to Palestinians…As a result, two separate legal systems and sets of rights are applied by the same authority in the same area depending on the national origin of the persons, thereby discriminating against Palestinians.” (UN OCHA Fact Sheet)  This inequitable application of law dependent upon national origin can only be described as a blatant form of discrimination and a grave human rights concern.

As settlement growth continues, there is mounting concern about the increasing fragmentation of the West Bank.  In particular, announced plans to add 3000 housing units (as noted above) and supporting services to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, located east of East Jerusalem, are raising particular concerns.  The primary north south access route between the north and south West Bank passes through this area.  Settlement construction in this location would limit access from the north part of the West Bank to the south part,  would limit access to Palestinian East Jerusalem, and would create a settlement wedge extending from Palestinian East Jerusalem through almost to the Dead Sea.  This would effectively split the West Bank into two sections.  This split, in combination with the access limitations, is felt to jeopardize the future possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Through the settlement endeavour, Israel is increasingly populating the  Palestinian West Bank with more and more Israeli citizens.  As they do so, they take more and more Palestinian resources and create more and more hardship for the Palestinian people.  The settlers come in direct contravention of international humanitarian law.  They come not as equals, but as colonizers.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

One Bullet…

15 year old Udai Sarham was walking outside a Bethlehem restaurant last Sunday evening about 8pm. The restaurant is located about 200 metres from the Separation Barrier and Checkpoint 300, where a demonstration was being held that night. Udai was not involved with the demonstration.  Witnesses report that from a distance of about 20 metres, Udai was gunned down by an Israeli army masked sniper, leaving him with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Soldiers then dragged Udai behind a wall.  An Israeli soldier used Udai’s cell phone to call the last number Udai had called on his phone, telling the friend who answered to “Bring your guns and come down here.”  The perplexed friend had no idea why someone would call from Udai’s phone and say that and so did not respond.  After Udai lay on the ground for approximately 30 minutes, the Israeli soldiers called for a Palestinian ambulance which arrived and took Udai to the nearest hospital.  Doctors there were unable to treat him and he was transferred to Jerusalem, where surgery was performed.

Udai has sustained a massive head injury.  His prognosis remains unclear, but no doubt his life will be irrevocably altered by this single act of violence.

Worried family members gathered yesterday at the Jerusalem hospital.  In the waiting room adjacent to the ICU where Udai is being cared for, they willingly spoke with EA’s, asking us to please publicize this shooting.  A friend of the family, a council member for the Municipality of Bethlehem, spoke glowingly of the fine person Udai is.  He spoke of Udai’s willingness to volunteer with community projects, and of how this past Christmas he had been very instrumental in helping to decorate the community and erect the large Bethlehem Christmas tree.  Udai and his family are members of the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, the church that is built over the place where it is believed that Jesus was born.

Some of the group expressed anger that such an incident could happen.  Others spoke of their hope that this young man will fully recover despite the doctor’s lack of optimism for Udai’s outlook. His mother appeared drawn and exhausted and seemed to find it difficult to comprehend what has happened.

Family members believe that the Israeli human rights groups B’T Selem and Physicians for Human Rights Israel are working on the case.  EA’s have filed an incident report with EAPPI and that information will be shared with the UN.  We will continue to do what we can to support the Sarham family. To the family’s knowledge, there have been no charges laid against any soldier.

Today is Udai’s 16th birthday.

This incident has left many hearts deeply troubled. Let us pray for this young man, for his family and friends, for those who wonder where it is safe to walk in this troubled land, and for the soldier who lined up Udai in the crosshairs of his gun and pulled the trigger.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan