Embarking on a CPT delegation was about trying to get a feel for their work and asking myself if I could imagine being part of a CPT team.
Daily logs were kept by several members of the delegation and I have used these, as well as my own notes, to write this summary. I hope that the group feel this is an accurate representation of our time in Israel and Palestine. In writing this, I hope the reader will gain some useful insights and feel inspired to join a delegation and go and see for themselves.
This delegation was well organised and a thoughtful itinerary was led by Amy Yoder McLoughlin from Pennsylvania. We were a group of 13, mostly American, one Canadian, my partner Owen and I, age range from 20yrs to 76yrs. The first half of the delegation was based at a hostel in the Arab quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. The pace of the delegation began gently as we attempted to acclimatise to the heat and increased as we had a full and intense itinerary to complete.
We volunteered for daily tasks, note taking, photography, cooking and group care. My reflection was the poem, ‘I Will Not Die and Unlived Life’ by Dawna Markova, I recommend her book.
Our first visit was to Sabeel, a Christian Liberation Theology Centre where we met one of the founders, Cedar, born in Haifa in 1935. Sabeel’s meaning is ‘a spring of water along the way’. Cedar shared her personal story. She was part of a whole generation that were educated by a culturally and politically disconnected system, she learned English and not Arabic. She recalled how people of different ethnicities and faiths, lived together until the human Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. Her family were amongst 700,000 – 900,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled or fled in fear, from their homes in the areas that became the state of Israel. From Haifa, people fled to Lebanon on boats and others to Nazareth whilst the Zionist militia shot at their backs. This, she described as an Identity Nakba.
She explained how, once the conflict began, she and many other Palestinian Christians began to experience a Theological Nakba, losing their Christian identity. Realising that the theology delivered by the missionaries that the Palestinians had no part in the promised land, was imported from a western dominated perspective. Realising just how skewed that interpretation had been, she returned to her faith. Cedar shared how she has subsequently learned to read the bible through Palestinian eyes and not through the eyes with which she had been taught.
The four principles of Sabeel are: 1/ Stand up for justice without picking up the sword 2/ Rise above the ways of the world but never abandon the poor 3/ Seek the humanity of the oppressor
4/ Be loyal to your faith without adhering to strict and narrow religions.
We shared communion and lunch together. I was struck by her passion and the power of her personal stories. I also learnt that there are many different Jewish sects within Judaism.
Military Court Watch
After lunch we heard from Gerard Horton, a Lawyer with Military Court Watch (MCW) and his wife (?name) who supports affected families. MCW monitor the treatment of children in Israeli military detention. He talked about the objectives of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank being that of intimidation and shared examples of regular night raids and how there are around 1400 night arrests each year. He shared facts and figures that demonstrate the disproportionate response from the military, to children throwing stones. How the children are taken from their beds at night, into administrative detention, outside the judicial process and can be held for up to 18 months without access to parents and lawyers. 74% of youth captured are interned in Israel which is a war crime. Confessions are written in Hebrew and there’s a 95% conviction rate. This has a devastating impact on children’s emotional welfare, their education, family relationships and subsequent ostracism from the community as they are now under suspicion of being an informant. Destroying the family structure means no organised resistance. Divide the community, break their spirit. The YMCA offers family counselling but resources are very limited.
Lifta & Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
The next day, we met Tamar, a Jewish tour guide. Tamar was born in Germany, but came to study history in Israel and later converted to Judaism. We were taken to Lifta, a village in Jerusalem, abandoned when people were driven out and feared for their lives during the Nakba. We saw many derelict houses where people had once lived in peace. We walked through the village, surrounded by lush trees, almonds, plums, figs, dates, olives, cacti. People tried to return to the village but the Israeli military vandalised the homes to prevent them. Tamar read a first person account from the book; ‘One Country’ about life in Lifta before the Nakba. This was incredibly powerful as we had just walked through the village and suddenly, I could imagine people inhabiting this place, living with mutual respect towards the people in neighbouring villages and this made the terror of the Nakba all the more shocking. I would recommend reading at least the introduction to this book.
Tamar guided us through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in West Jerusalem. She was incredibly knowledgable and explained in detail the horrific plight of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s and 40s as the Nazi regime sought to remove the Jewish people from the land through violence and terror. I can see that similar aspects of this sad history are being repeated today by the Israeli regime towards the Palestinians.
We attended a Shabbat service at a re-constructionist synagogue and I was able to join in the singing with a transliterated hymnal.
By the end of this day, I was experiencing sensory overload. We had been given so much information and stories to process.
Bedouin Village – Al-Araqib
Amos Gvirtz, another Jewish tour guide, introduced us to Sheikh Sayah Al Tur, the elder of a Bedouin community in the Negev desert in the village of Al-Araqib. Amos has a written a book, ‘Don’t Say We Didn’t Know’. The Bedouin belong to tribes and historically moved with their animals for grazing but the Sheikh told us that this way of life ended when the Suez Canal was built. We learnt that on the eve of 1948 there were over 65,000 Bedouins on 400,000 – 900,000 acres. In the 1948 war, the Bedouins were expelled from the Negev, until the war ended in 1959. Today, they are being forced to live in towns. We heard personal stories from the Sheikh about how the village has been demolished 122 times since 2010 and how, each time, they took refuge in the graveyard. The village has existed in this location since 1905, but it is considered an ‘unrecognised’ village and has been removed from the map. Of the 210,000 Bedouin in the Negev, half live in unrecognised villages, without electricity or gas, despite having Israeli ID, whilst the settlements expand and have total control of the natural resources, even though the Bedouin pay taxes to the same government. The unrecognised villages often have a chemical factory or a rubbish dump located nearby and this has caused health issues particularly with miscarriages and birth defects.
The Bedouin are a persecuted minority. Their way of life has been destroyed by the occupation because their land has been confiscated despite having documentation from the Ottoman era.
During our journey, I was saddened to be shown an area called the Ambassador Forest (funded by the Jewish National Fund JNF) as part of ‘Making the Desert Bloom’, an ‘environmental project’. Beneath the forest lays a Palestinian village that was destroyed. Planting a forest is a common way of covering up the evidence that Palestinian people used to live there. I was also saddened to learn that the ‘God Channel’ supports this practice by contributing funds to ‘Making the Desert Bloom’. I wondered if my friends at home who watch this channel were aware of this practice and how they would feel if they saw the reality of what was actually happening.
I was struck by the scandal and injustice of the unequal distribution of available resources. Israel is a wealthy, resource rich state and yet the Bedouin are forced to live in 3rd world conditions, denied access to electricity, water, gas and yet expected to contribute both their labour and taxes. Lifestyle destroyed by the Israeli state and being squashed out of existence.
I was struck by the resilience of the people and the local champions we met but wondered about the people we didn’t meet, those that struggle to find any purpose to their existence. I found this day disturbing.
Redeemer Lutheran Church
We attended a service at The Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. The Rev. Carrie Berlinger-Smith is a friend of our delegation leader Amy and she led a very welcoming, connected service. She offered an alternative narrative to the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman and how he ‘seemed’ to slight her pleas for help. The sermon connected this story with the recent demonstration by White Supremacists in Charlottesville USA. Carrie cited Musa Dube, a South African feminist, who claimed we should not be surprised as the woman’s plea is the plea of all oppressed minorities. Carrie said, “Jesus changed that day and expanded his horizons”.
After the service, we met Mordechai Vanunu, a man imprisoned for 18 years for revealing Israel’s nuclear programme. He has been free for 13years but is forbidden to leave Israel.
We met Fairuz Sharqawi of Grassroots, a civil society organisation mapping Palestinian life and politics in Jerusalem. They map the parts of Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem that have been excluded from the official maps. As part of an extensive tour, we stood at Jabalpur El Mukabar, a good viewpoint for the Old City, West and East Jerusalem. We learned about the devious legalistic techniques for driving Palestinians out of East Jerusalem. Israel’s target population demographic for Jerusalem is a 70/30 split.
Rather bizarrely, a group of armed, Orthodox Jews arrived on segways, as if on que, and attempted to intimidate Fayrouz by talking and listening in, then challenging her as to whether she had a permit (which she does) but she remained calm, informing them it was, ‘none of their business’ and carried on. She is a brave and impressive woman. I felt really angry with the aggressive intimidation and the way Fayrouz was spoken to. All I could do, was stand with my back to the aggressors.
We visited Ma’ale Adumin, a settlement in the West Bank, 7k from Jerusalem. This settlement is considered illegal by the international community. The settlement is inhabited by economic migrants in search for a better standard of living, from America and other European countries (Ashkenazi Jews). They benefit from subsidised utilities, good transport links and as they go about ‘normal’ life, are believed to be quite unaware of the oppression across the valley. This reminds me of life back home in the UK when people living in affluent suburbs can be completely unaware of the impoverished living conditions in the adjacent neighbour. People choose not to see it and live within the comfort of their own bubble. The difference in the UK is that there is no physical wall or check points.
The wall has various names; ‘security fence’ ‘apartheid wall’ ‘separation barrier’ or ‘expansion wall’. The function of the wall is not, as is popularly believe, for Israel’s security, but rather to expel Palestinians and to expand Israeli territory. It’s existence is there to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians so that they eventually give up and leave.
There were some strong emotions shared during the end of day check in after seeing the vistas of the occupation with our own eyes. Brenda led us in a hopeful song ‘Bring a New World into Being’.
Stop the Wall
Wall building started in 2002 and is now 760km. It is not just a wall, but a system of walls, creating ghettos where communities are walled in and ghost towns where people have left because living there became untenable. The north, middle and south of the West Bank are separated by the wall. The wall is not just one long line, but it twists and turns, cutting one village off from another, family members cannot visit one another, farmland is inaccessible, people cant get to work, children cant get to school without taking huge detours. If a Palestinian wants to go beyond the wall, they have to apply for a permit from Israel and pass through a military check point. The permits are difficult to obtain. There are 34-38 check points. In contrast, there is 14,000km of apartheid roads directly connecting the settlements.
We had a tour of ‘the wall’ in Ramallah. Our guide, was Jamal Juma from an organisation called Stop The Wall, whose primary objectives are to organise committees and village meetings and bring media attention to the wall. I was struck by the power of ‘the wall’ and its visually oppressive presence. It’s one thing seeing ‘the wall’, but another, living with it. ‘The wall’, means, isolation, destruction and apartheid. I just cant imagine what that must be like.
We visited a home that is in the middle of a settlement. The 70 year old owners land was confiscated and the house was to be demolished. The owner delayed the demolition by going to court so a high wire fence was erected around the house and a gate that the military controlled, effectively caging him in. The man who lived there, refused to be intimidated by the settlers, even though he was beaten and jailed, he would just sit outside his house and refuse to be intimidated. The old gentleman has since died, but the rest of the family gather at their fathers house to keep up their fathers fight against the occupation.
Palestinians being forced out of Jerusalem, go to Ramallah. The Palestinians are denied permits to build houses but as they have nowhere else to live, they build and then the homes are demolished. We saw 33 houses that had been bulldozed. There is no logic but it is quite clear where the power lays.
The organisation is an NGO and the offices are regularly raided and workers arrested following non-violent demonstrations against the wall.
In 1989, Sharon visited South Africa and came back saying that he had found the solution for Palestinians. You cant load people into trucks and drive them to borders, but you can create conditions to convince them to leave on their own.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Sahar Vardi is the Israeli coordinator from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Middle East Regional Office. She works with Israelis who want to be conscientious objectors to mandatory army service.
Sahar shared her personal experiences and gave a thorough explanation about the constructed narratives feeding the Israeli mindset that completely normalises the use of weapons. Protect the Jews and therefore protect Israel. There are an abundance of weapons on Israeli streets. It also means there are a lot of murders. Soldiers on leave during summer months can be seen sun bathing whilst at the same time carry a M16 rifle. There are over 300,000 licenses for armed private security guards (settlement police) for a population of 8 million and that doesn’t include the civilian licenses. No soldier asks why a 15 year old Palestinian child might want to kill you when he knows he is going to die. Or why Palestinian children throw stones and risk being killed. These actions will be there as long as the occupation exists. Militarism is at the core of the states existence. It is a default and no one asks why.
The Israelis see guns as being there for safety and not as a threat, whereas in the wider world, they are generally seen as a threat. Palestinians see guns as a threat and that they are there to be used against them.
In kindergarten, the counting worksheets have the numbers as military symbols for example, 1 gun, 2 planes, 3 IDF symbols. The sword and olive branch is the symbol of the Israeli military. As education progresses, maths problems are about the military. There is also an ‘adopt a grave’ of a soldier program for children.
During 11th grade there is ‘military week’ and children complete basic military training. The entrance to schools have plaques with names of past students who dies in the military. The military is normalised and death in the military is normalised.
Less than half of the eligible population doesn’t do military service. This is because there are exemptions such as being ultra orthodox which accounts for around 30%, religious women, women with children, Palestinians citizens of Israel and the wealthy, upper classes, criminals, drug users and those from poor families if the enlisted is the main breadwinner. About 15% do not complete their military service due to mental health issues.There are financial incentives for teachers to increase student enlistment rates. There are plaques in schools for those past students who have died in the military. The soldiers are paid $200 per month which is 1/8 of the minimum wage. It’s just the next thing to do after high school.
There is a stigma if you do not complete military service and this can impact your future employment opportunities. The military has social stratification and it is usual for the Border Police and check points, to be young brown males, the Druze and Bedouin, who are marginalised groups in Israeli society. The higher classes often avoid military service but are in demand by the military and are designated to low risk jobs. The enlistment rate from marginalised groups is low and yet they have higher mortality rates. If you enter the military with left wing tendencies, you will not be posted to the border patrol as you are more likely to ‘break the silence’ about the oppression, you will be tracked to wire-tapping Hezbollah terrorists.
The military industrial complex is one of the top 10 exporters of military hardware in the world – GDP it is number one. There is no regulation on the export of arms to guard against human rights violations and no framework for a human rights embargo. However they have stopped selling to South Sudan and acknowledge AFSC in that decision. Their hardware is marketed as ‘battle proven’. The hardware isn’t necessarily manufactured in Israel, but rather, just has to have been used by them and this increases the weapons value. The USA gives military aid with the condition that they purchase 75% USA manufactured weapons.
AFSC creat space for discussion around whether young people want to serve in the military and amplify the voices of those who chose not to. They also support them with the process and also those who are imprisoned for refusing to serve. Conscientious objection status is hard to get. Out of 54,000 recruits a year, only 10-12 get conscientious objector status. They also support those have psychological issues, drug dependency and other substance misuse issues. Sahar was imprisoned for three months because she refused to serve but thought that was better than two years in the military.
Wi’am Centre Bethlehem
We met Director Zoughbi Alzoughbi and his son Tarick Zoughbi. This organisation is a Christian conflict resolution transformation centre. It’s aim is to make the best society they can whitest also advocating in the larger conflict. They practice Sulha conflict mediation.
Zoughbi explained how the occupation has left Palestinians with a lack of control and that societies revert back to more traditional, honour and shame based, patriarchal rules and norms. Wi’am aim to counteract this trend by creating a process of mediation involving both men and women. Their work incorporates the principles of non violence, allowing people to question for themselves and addressing wrongs rather than seeking revenge, thereby being restorative and not punitive.
We could see the wall from the Wi’am centre and learnt that the wall is 80-85% complete. The idea for the wall started in 1986. The first suicide bomb was in 1993. The Israeli government comes up with ideas and then comes up with security justifications. The wall is five times as long as the Berlin Wall and twice as high and is 80% on Palestinian land. Bethlehem lost its agricultural lands. They have run out of water five times in Bethlehem so far in 2017. Israel takes the water from the West Bank and then sells it back to them.
On top of the wall facing the Wi’am building is a skunk water pipe. The army first tested the pipe on children attending the Wi’am summer camp, spraying them with the skunk water. They then had to use water in scarce supply to clean off the smell. We were shown many rubber bullets, tear gas canniseters and sound grenades littered around the building.
Tarick explained how he is a US citizen because his mother was born in the US but he is forbidden to go through Israel to get to the US. He must go through Jordan. He was educated at a Quaker college in the US.
They believe that in order to transform the Israel/Palestine into something else, there needs to be a humanising of the other and to end the demonisation of both sides. Not all Israelis are occupiers and not all Palestinians are terrorists. We are all human beings, loaded with stereotypes. We need to be progressive, open minded and mix brains and religion.
Lajee Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem
We walked through a graveyard in the shadow of the wall in order to get to the refugee camp. The graveyard was littered with tear gas cannisters and rubber bullets and we were aware of being watched from the towers above.
Lajee means refugee in Arabic and the centre was founded by 11 young people from the camp who wanted to serve the community, in 2000. The centre is supported by the Mennonite Central Committee. They work with new generations of Palestinians as they continue their ongoing struggle for justice and rights for Palestine and its people. They provide the refugee youth with cultural, educational, social and development opportunities.
Aida Refugee Camp comprises of refugees from 27 different villages between Jerusalem and Hebron and was established in 1950 by the UN. There are 5700 people in .071 sq miles and they share four bathrooms.
Israel controls 83% of the water and they sometimes go for days and weeks without running water. The longest was 72 days. Meanwhile the neighbouring settlement of Gilo, has unlimited water and some swimming pools. They have regular power cuts lasting several hours despite paying the expected amount each month. There is no medical help and no clinic.
They suffer daily harassment from the army, especially male children, by using tear gas and rubber coated bullets as well as live ammunition and house searches. Unemployment is 40% because people cant get to their previous jobs in Jerusalem or their land, because of the wall and its very difficult to get a permit. An alternative economy has developed. Children throw stones at guards to feel they are doing something. Soldiers raid during the night, break down doors, wreck houses, and arrest young boys. The soldiers themselves are often 18 years old and their first action is often to shoot. The camp is used as a training ground for new soldiers.
We watched a film together, ‘We Have a Dream to Live Safe’ made by the young people at the centre which shows the army terrorising the camp. I reflected on the difference between my children’s life and life for the young people in the camp. There is no comparison between what these young people have to endure on a daily basis and the lifestyle of my children’s upbringing and yet the children look just like mine did at that age.
We heard stories of children being shot whilst playing in the streets and how just three weeks prior to our visit, soldiers invaded the Lajee centre just to frighten the children. We saw the new garden, playground and outdoor theatre. When the theatre was completed, soldiers threw tear gas on it and it caught fire. There is now a net above for protection.
The second half of the delegation was in Hebron. This was the part of the journey that I was particularly drawn to as I wanted to see the CPT in action and the base they operated from. The team does specific work in Hebron and in the South Hebron Hills.
A city where Palestinian citizens are constantly monitored by hundreds of soldiers from the rooftops as well as many street patrols and check points. There are approximately 800 ideological settlers living in enclaves in the Hebron region and 200,000 Palestinians. 80% of the ideological settlers are Americans and a significant minority from France. Settlers are under Israeli civil law whilst Palestinians are under military law. Soldiers have jurisdiction over settlers. We visited homes and heard difficult stories about the reality of life under occupation.
We accompanied the CPT team on check point monitoring as children slowly pass through the turnstiles on their way to school. Each child, some as young as three have their school bags searched for stones, making them late, whilst settlers walk or jog past armed with M16 guns. These CPT duties are carried out daily to document any harassment by soldiers and settlers. I was struck by how immaculately turned out the children were and how innocently some would stand on the turnstile as it spun round, as though on a roundabout.
We assisted with mosque watch, counting people as they go to the mosque for Friday prayers, witnessing Palestinians being subjected to dehumanising, aggressive bag and body searches. Numbers attending Friday prayers is decreasing but its no wonder, with 2-3 checkpoints to get through and men aged between 25-35 being denied access. They often gather to pray, just outside the checkpoint.
We visited a glass and ceramics factory and a shoe factory where some people bought souvenirs. Afterwards we observed the weekly ‘Settler Tour’ of the Old City. These are often led by David Wilber, ideological settler and activist, who has written a book called ‘Breaking the Lies’. The soldiers outnumbered the settlers and the tour stops in front of Palestinian homes and explains how they used to be Jewish homes.
Hebron Defence Committee
We visited Hisham Sharabati’s home, coordinator of the Hebron Defence Committee (HDC) and a field worker for the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq. He spent six months in prison for a nonviolent protest. The organisation mainly focuses on documentation. When settlers throw rocks at Palestinian homes. In order to file a complaint, he has to go to the police station in Jaffra, one of the settlements, but no one speaks Arabic and nothing is done. HDC have started, ‘Project shoot Back’ which installs CCT cameras to Palestinian homes to document attacks. Settlers have cut his electricity and water, attacked the people who came to repair it. They have burnt his cars (9 so far) which he has to park outside the check point. They enter his garden and eat the grapes from the vines whilst the police stand and watch. The stories are endless but with the same theme of harassment, intimidation and terror.
He explained how many roads are not accessible to Palestinians and even ambulances are not permitted in some locations. The ambulance took five hours to get through three checkpoints to attend to his wife in labour. This makes life incredibly difficult for people, but that’s the idea. Water collection and containing is a real issue. If someone runs out of water, it has to be carried on foot, through the streets, on a long detour.
He explained how in the early 80’s, the military forced people out of the central market area, once a bustling and thriving area of apartments, shops and stalls and now, Shuhada Street is empty and silent. The UN opposes Israel’s actions here. The law is designated in a racist way in this place. Families are now leaving simply because of the difficult living conditions that have been created. There is a market area with nets overhead to protect the Palestinians from the rubbish being thrown at them from the settlers who occupy the apartments overlooking them. Unfortunately, foul effluence cannot be contained by a net. There are high fences around schools to protect children from stones thrown by settlers
We heard the story of ‘the ladder lady’, how each morning and afternoon, she puts down a homemade ladder from a rooftop of the Old City to let 20-30 children get our of the Old City so that they can go to school. This was because the military had erected gates to prevent them leaving their street. This story is documented by Arthur Gish in his book, Hebron Journal, Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking.
Hebron International Resources Network (HIRN)
It felt an honour to meet Hamed Qawasmeh, the Director of HIRN. Hamed is a friend of my colleague Mike in the UK and I had heard a lot of good things about this man. Hamed had also spotted Owen and I cycling up the Wadi Al Nar in December 2016 (apparently I was walking!). We met at a primary School on Tel Rumeida behind a gate controlled by a guard. Nearby is Cordoba school which is larger and has 152 secondary age students. HIRN, serves the needy, those most adversely affected by the occupation. They build schools and support spaces where children can be educated. We heard that the previous day, a new school, in the South Hebron Hills, built through HIRN, was demolished by Israeli forces, just hours before the children’s first day of school, which makes three schools in the last 10 days. This is only part of the trauma of living under the occupation. This seems a particularly cruel act and very difficult to comprehend the mindset of what motivates a government to do such cruel things.
He explained that life under the occupation in Hebron is incredibly difficult. Israel have not brought trucks in to move people out, but instead make life so difficult that people move away. Many children go to schools set up in houses and funding for HIRN schools comes through charitable donations from the USA. Teachers salaries are covered by the UN and an Australian NGO. Hamid’s fundraising activities have seen him doing bungee jumps and swimming with sharks in America as well as running the Bethlehem marathon and many 10k runs.
Hebron Rehabilitation Committee
Only brief notes for this visit. Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world, after Jericho. There are some settlements in the middle of the city instead of the outskirts. This is because of the proximity to the Ibrahimi mosque and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Pioneer, ideological settlers arrived in 1968 and occupied a hotel close to the centre and then they were given a former military base by the Israeli government. Solder is generally support the settlers. Settlers carry heavy arms.
We saw photographs of the bustling Shuhada Street next to completely empty ones and peoples front doors locked shut. Many shops were closed by military order and the rest closed through economic oppression.
The check points and walls deprive people access to their homes.
The Rehabilitation Committee refurbishes and renovates old, hazardous buildings for Palestinians in need of housing. They carry out road works and help with infrastructure. They carry out legal work for Palestinians in the International Court of Justice.
Bedouin Village Visits
al-Tuani and Operation Dove
This village is located in the South Hebron Hills and the people here experience house demolitions almost on a weekly basis. The land belongs to the state and has been declared a firing zone. The people of this village are committed to non violent resistance and have some hope as they have been permitted to build a school and now have electricity.
Operation Dove is an Italian peace organisation who have had a permanent presence in the village for four years. In 2004 one of their volunteers and a US volunteer were badly attacked by settlers from the nearby Ma’on settlement. This attracted much media attention. The Israeli government gave the children a military escort to the Palestinian children as they go to school but they don’t always show up and the volunteers continue to accompany the children and carry cameras. The village tries to have a dialogue with the soldiers and recognises them as 18-20 year old human beings. The soldiers have sometimes shared how they don’t want to be there. They have not found it possible to have dialogue with the settlers. There are numerous stories of the villages crops and livestock being destroyed and poisoned. Operation Dove cooperates with Israeli activists who are mostly ex-settlers and have served in the military who now support justice, rather than the state.
We had lunch at this village and bought Zatar, a dry mixture of thyme, sesame seeds and spices.
A village in the South Hebron Hills. We visited the Naqwali family in this ‘unrecognised’ village. This, along with 27 other ‘unrecognised’ villages have lived on this land since Ottoman times. In 2001, Susiya, document by CPT, was completely demolished and their animals killed.
The South Hebron Hills are a desert and water is scarce. The villagers have to pay for water and it is very expensive. According to international law, Israel cannot restrict their access to water. However, Israeli water pipes run through the villages but because they are ‘unrecognised’ they are prevented from accessing it.
Regavim is a settler organisation that has accused the people in Susiya of stealing state land, despite them having documents. They use unlicensed drones to watch the village. The people of Susiya lived on this land, a long time prior to the settlement being built and the settlement is illegal under international law. We heard many stories of the difficulties encountered, multiple demolitions of tents being re-erected following storms in 2014, ongoing demolition orders, water and cars being confiscated. The judge who authorises the demolitions, lives in the settlement and therefore it is impossible for the Palestinians to trust the law. International pressure in the UK, US and Europe has had a positive effect but this pressure must be maintained.
Um al Khair
We camped out overnight at this village which lays in the shadow of a settlement. It was the same stories of multiple home demolitions. This small rural community raise goats and grow thyme. We met an impressive young man called Tariq who had a maturity beyond his young age of 21. Tariq was incredibly articulate, spoke excellent English and was able to communicate very clearly the issues faced by his community. He shared how his brother was beaten by a settler whilst he was herding his goats. Apparently he went too close to the settlers fence and he now has severe brain damage and is unable to function as an adult. His mother was also beaten and her donkey stolen. The village bread oven was also destroyed several times and they now have to buy bread which is a lot more expensive.
Whilst Tariq was talking, his cousin Eid arrived home from Berlin. Eid is an artist and creates sculptures and mini vehicles out of the demolished homes in the area. He has exhibited with Ai Weiwei. What was interesting was that Eid is a friend of my colleague Ed back in the UK. Ed had told me about Eid and how on one of his visits to Palestine, he had collaborated on a mural at a school in the South Hebron Hills. I never thought for a moment that I would actually get to meet Eid!
On our way back to Jerusalem, we had lunch at ROOTS, a grassroots, nonviolent organisation that seeks to work in a transformational way through dialogue and humanising the other. We listened to an American Rabbi who now lives in Israel and a Palestinian man. The Rabbi seemed to do the bulk of the talking about how he listens to the other and there seemed to be a certain irony in this. We were warmly welcomed and served a delicious lunch.
The walls, barriers and check points are there, not for security, but to control and make the lives of the Palestinian people as difficult as possible so that they no longer want to live there.
The apartheid state is visible providing settlers with privilege and protection by the Israeli military whereas the Palestinians are subjected to conscious cruelty, control and victimisation.
Every person and community was different, but certain traits linked them all: hospitality, openness and sumud (steadfast perseverance). Everywhere we went, security and oppression continually curbed freedom and dissent. Being particularly apparent in Hebron the location for the second week,
Sometimes, I felt angry and confused as I tried to make sense of the dehumanising oppressive regime that people are subjected to. There is no sense to be made of this degradation. There is nothing normal about the level of control inflicted upon the Palestinian people.