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After just over 10 years of supporting the cause for justice and self determination for Palestinians, I have gotten somewhat used to being called an anti-Semite by the fanatical supporters of the Zionist State of Israel. It is the most crass and obvious ploy imaginable to get any criticism of the Zionist State shut down. And this most disingenuous strategy has been clearly admitted to even by members of the Israeli Knesset.

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Picking the difference between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel is really quite simple. To put it plainly, anti-Semites just hate Jews and everything about them, period. They hate Jewish anything. Jewish language, Jewish culture, Jewish religion. They hate Zionists, religious Zionists, Orthodox, Reform or liberal Judaism. They hate Jewish scientists, Jewish musicians, Jewish politicians, Jewish doctors, Jewish plumbers! They hate any mathematical, scientific, philosophical or political contributions made by Jews. They hate the Old Testament, the Torah and the Talmud. For anti-Semites, Jews can do no right, no good. They either want them to disappear, die or go live altogether somewhere where no one else needs to see them! They believe that most, if not all wars, are started by Jews and think that there exists a world-wide conspiracy of Jews to dominate the world. Many Christians believe that the anti-Christ mentioned in the book of Revelation will be Jewish. Are you starting to get the picture? And of course, they hate Israel. Their hatred of Israel has nothing to do with the human rights of Palestinians. They would hate Israel regardless of whether or not the creation of the Zionist State upset or dispossessed anyone in any way. They would hate and criticise every policy issued from the Knesset regardless of the topic, whether it involved the treatment of Palestinians, its policies on climate change, gay and lesbian rights or abortion rights. Anti-Semites, strangely, both deny the Holocaust and believe that the Jews got what they deserved in the Holocaust that they deny even occurred! Anti-Semitism is totally irrational and evil.

In the 10 years that I have been involved in this issue I have never been to a single Palestine solidarity rally or meeting that didn’t entirely focus on one issue and one issue alone. And that issue is, of course, the treatment of Palestinians (be they Christian, Muslim or otherwise) by the Zionist State of Israel. No other criticism of Israel or Jews in general, is ever made. If I believed, as many Israelis do, that the survival of the entire Jewish people absolutely depends on the existence of Israel, then I would be forced to support the Israeli State. As it is, I don’t remotely believe in such an obviously false concept.

Israel, funnily enough, although it has now got incredibly right-wing political leaders, is quite a liberal and progressive country. For Jews that is. Israel has about 20,000 legal abortions every year (which is about the same number per capita as my country, Australia), and is a self-declared beacon for gay and lesbian rights. Israel doesn’t have same sex marriage legislation like Australia, but it does recognise the same sex marriages of Israelis that were performed outside of Israel. It recognises such couples as having full adoption rights in Israel. Israel has universal health care and government subsidised tertiary education. Even the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is an advocate of Global Climate Change due to human agency and proudly boasts Israel’s development of Green technology. Netanyahu has declared that global warming is as bigger threat to the world as any other security issue. Israel, historically, has had a strong labour Union movement. It has had strip clubs and brothels and drug traffickers as well, just like most western countries. At the moment, Israeli feminist groups are trying to shut down strip clubs and brothels.

The crazy thing is that the Christian Right-wing, particularly of the English-speaking countries, pretty much despises most of these ideas as “godless, liberal or left wing” ideology, while at the same time unconditionally supporting the Zionist State in its project to take all of historic Palestine without allowing self-determination of Palestinians. When countries like Australia, England, Canada and the U.S. indulge in these policies, cries of Godlessness and imminent judgement from God can be heard from nearly every conservative Christian pulpit. But Israel gets a free pass on these issues even though on top of this the State of Israel’s state sanctioned ideology, Zionism, denies outright the divinity of Christ as being a valid belief for any truly Jewish citizen of Israel to indulge in!

And if that wasn’t enough to make your head spin, most Muslim countries in the world agree with the Religious Christian right on nearly all of the values or ideas mentioned above yet the Religious right feel totally entitled to demonise such countries day and night!

Anti-Semitism comes in many forms and degrees, just like any type of bigotry or racism. For my part, I will state my beliefs on the record here for all to see and later quote.

I believe in the right of Jews and Arabs to live in Israel/Palestine with self-determination, safety and security. I do not believe that Israel is the state that represents all Jews, nor do I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of all Jews. I believe that Zionism is a secular movement whose goal is to change the traditional Jewish identity from a religious identity centred on the Torah, to a national identity like the nation states of Europe. Many Jews, both religious and otherwise, do not support or identify with the State of Israel. Criticism of the treatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel, nor anti-Zionism in general, is not anti-Semitism. For sure, anti-Semites would nearly always end up being anti-Zionists as well but the logic simply doesn’t go the other way around. It is no more anti-Semitic to criticise the State of Israel for its policies in regard to Palestinians as it is anti-Asian to criticise the Communist Government of China. Anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, Christa-phobia, Homo-phobia, all belong in the dustbin of history.

I believe that Jews and Arabs (Christian, Muslim or secular) have a long history of mutual cooperation and respect for each other in the Holy Land before the Zionist era as Albert Einstein noted:

“There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done to us, we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs” (cited in Jerome, 2009, p.70).

The real home of anti-Semitism is in Christian Europe, not the Middle East.

I believe that the best solution to the issue is the creation of one state, call it Israel if you must, that is a state for all its citizens equally. Neither a Jewish state, nor an Arab state. A democratic state much like the one dreamed of by Zionists like Albert Einstein and millions of Palestinians and Jews throughout the world.

CRAIG NIELSEN

February, 2020

 

Six years ago I began work as a secondary school teacher in a small country town of about 3,000 people in South Australia. It’s probably pretty safe to say that the major fear of most new teachers is that of behaviour management of the students in class.

Fortunately most of the students at my school are pretty good. But there are a few exceptions! One young boy, let’s call him Frank, to protect the guilty, was a challenging case to say the least.

Frank’s behaviour was fairly brazen. He seemed to have no fear of getting into trouble even when caught in breach of some of our most important rules in a grievous fashion. After only a few weeks I discovered where this brazen attitude to breaking school rules came from. The fact was that Frank’s mother would always “back” Frank in any dispute. Frank could do no wrong in his mother’s eyes regardless of the often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Frank’s mum was extremely vigorous in her son’s defence and often threatened to have the entire schools behaviour management policy and procedures audited by the government (a threat that often strikes fear into most schools as it requires so much extra work to be done by the school to show that it is following proper procedures with all students).

With Frank having his mum ready to “back him in” regardless of whatever he did, Frank’s behaviour deteriorated to a point where he was openly hated by the rest of the students in the school as they were frequently a victim of his vicious bullying and harassment of anyone he pleased to or deemed to be in his way.

A mountain of paperwork was accrued during Franks stay at school that detailed his poor behaviour. This mountain grew and grew as Frank’s behaviour issues were never resolved. As well as this, Frank’s mum took this ever growing mountain of paperwork as clear evidence that Frank was being singled out and picked on by all staff. It was a mass conspiracy involving everyone, even the new teachers who had no history with Frank to bias their view of him.

The obvious point of all this, in my view, is the parallel with this example and the Zionist State of Israel with it’s nearly 60 year history of criticism by countries all over the world.

During my 3 month stay in the West Bank and Israel as part of my EA, I heard many Jewish people affirming to me that Israel is always being “picked on” and that it receives far more criticism than any other country in the world and is treated like a rogue state like North Korea. The really interesting thing is that this view of criticism of Israel is shared by many liberal Zionists and even Israelis in groups like Machsom Watch and others who do a wonderful job of trying to stand up for Palestinian rights.

I must admit that when I heard members of Machsom Watch echoing this view of criticism of Israel, I had to really check myself and ask if indeed they had a point. They also reacted very strongly against the idea that Israel was a racist country and in fact claimed that Israel lead the world in combatting racism in all its forms.

But in the end, much to the dismay of my very good friends in groups like Machsom Watch, I had to firmly disagree with them. I do not believe that Zionist Israel is picked on or criticized out of proportion to its faults and failings, as all countries inevitably do have.

When you analyse criticism of Israel, two things very much stand out above all others.

  1. Virtually all criticism, if not absolutely all, from the international community via bodies like the United Nations and various human rights groups, relates to one issue and one issue alone. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
  1. The Israel-Palestine issue has not been resolved for over 60 years of conflict.

Claims that criticism of Zionist Israel is based in and motivated by anti-Semitism are very difficult to maintain in the light of the above indisputable facts.

Anyone who has sat through the nauseating criticism of Jewish people by Nazis and other anti-Semites will immediately recognize that in the eyes of anti-Semites, Jewish people or Israel as a Nation, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and that every aspect of their lives and communities deserves the harshest criticism and vilification.

As a peace activist who has spent a reasonable amount of time in Israel and the occupied territories, I can attest to many admirable qualities of Jewish people, just as I can about any group or race of people you might like to mention. The nation of Israel itself has rightly won the admiration of the rest of the world in numerous areas just as my home country of Australia has. Over the last ten years that I have been involved with this issue, I have never heard anything like a universal condemnation of Israeli society in all its many facets by advocates of Palestinian rights. Criticism always centres on the same issue: the unresolved issue of the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people. If this issue was resolved tomorrow, criticism of Israel would dwindle to insignificance very rapidly. But while the conflict remains unresolved and Israel clearly acts in a manner that is contrary to International Law, as has been acknowledged by authorities on this topic for decades, criticism of Zionist Israel will continue to pile up as it did for Frank in my high school example.

It has been my consistent experience that criticism of Israel can, and does, occur in a context completely devoid of anti-Semitism. Even criticism of Zionism itself centres on its colonialist aspirations, reflecting the tenets of International Law which deem colonialism as illegal.

Zionist Israel has never been treated like rogue states such as North Korea, Iran or Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Those countries, as well as many others who have been in regular breach of International Law, have come under sanctions of all descriptions, from the international community as well as direct military action being taken against them.

But when has Israel ever been treated like this? They have avoided all consequences of breaking international law due to the intervention of the U.S. just as Frank’s mum’s intervention protected him and empowered him in his poor attitude and behaviour.

In the end, those who protect and empower anyone to oppress and dispossess others is not acting in anyone’s best interest and a “use-by date” can be clearly seen on the structures of their power and oppression.

CRAIG NIELSEN

I can still very clearly remember when, in my early twenties, I had a job in a factory making stainless steel and Aluminium cookware. We started work at 6:30am each day and finished at about 3:30pm. The shed that we worked in was freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. The work was boring, repetitive, dirty and very labor intensive.

At that time I was sharing a two bedroom flat with two other friends and for some reason, that I don’t remember, I had to sleep on the floor every night. I had to get up at 4:00am in the morning to catch two buses across town to get to work on time. It wasn’t fun!

So while I was monitoring the infamous checkpoint at Qalandya, I couldn’t help but think back to those days. That morning we got to the checkpoint at 4:30am and my team mate Peggy, stood on the exit side of the checkpoint to count people as they came out, and I went to the entry side to monitor things as people lined up to enter the checkpoint. Even at 4:30am, the checkpoint was crowded with people trying to get to work in Jerusalem.

The Qalandya checkpoint basically separates the Palestinian town of Ramallah (and hence the whole of the northern West Bank) from Jerusalem. The checkpoint itself consists of a large shed where people line up in what can only be called cattle shutes, which lead to turnstiles at the end of each shute. The opening and closing of these turnstiles are controlled by Israeli soldiers who sit in a main control room. On the other side of these turnstiles are five booths, each with its own turnstile controlled by soldiers in each booth.Once you get past this set of turnstile,s you must show your ID papers to the soldiers on duty, place your belongings on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed and walk through the metal detector. If the soldiers at the window of the booth are satisfied with your ID card and permit and everything else, you may pass through the checkpoint and go into Jerusalem. On a goodish day this can take 20 to 30 minutes.

Qalandya

      Qalandya checkpoint.

On the day that I was monitoring the checkpoint, all 5 booths were open but for some reason the lines were moving slowly. By about 5:10am the lines from all three shutes were so long that they extended way outside the shed into the car park behind the checkpoint. As time passed by, the people in line became agitated with the soldiers and some made gestures to me wanting me to do what I could to get things moving faster. I made a few phone calls to the Humanitarian Hotline and Machsom Watch but nothing seemed to be changing so far as the time to process people was taking.

Many of these Palestinians are day workers in Jerusalem and are desperate to get to their places of work since many of the companies they work for simply take the first lot of workers that arrive on time and forget about the rest. So being first off the ranks is very important for many people even at this early hour. The employers in Jerusalem seem to have no interest in improving conditions at the checkpoint in order to speed things up and get people to work on time. Buses on the exit side of the checkpoint taking the workers to their places of work in Jerusalem don’t wait for stragglers.

By about 6:10am some people, in absolute desperation, started trying to push in at the front of the line near the end of the cattle shutes. This created a “panic” of people in the line and suddenly about 100 workers stampeded the opening of the three shutes! It was chaos as all order broke down. Many people gave up and just sat down inside the shed and waited. Some knelt down and started praying, but for at least 50 or 60 people, they continued to try and push and shove their way into the openings of the cattle shutes in order to go through the checkpoint.

Some Palestinian people next to me blamed the soldiers for causing this chaos, saying that the soldiers were, in their opinion, deliberately holding the lines up so as to incite the workers. Whether the soldiers were in fact doing just that, is debatable, but anyone can see that such a system, in the context of the occupation. will be doomed to failure and cause a huge amount of tension and malice between the two groups.

The situation continued like this for over an hour and I have to admit that I felt quite scared at times. I could not imagine having to face the prospect of this every morning in order to get to work. A number of Palestinian men told me that they had to miss work a number of times because this sort of chaos had ensued at the checkpoint. It only increases their sense of desperation to get to work the next day.

One struggles to find a rational reason for why this checkpoint is the way it is. Israelis will often tell you it is necessary because of the suicide bombers of years gone by. I struggle with that explanation as there are a number of worker checkpoints from the West Bank to Israel that can cope with far more than twice the amount of people getting through the gates of Qalandya.  I have monitored some of those gates myself. So far as security goes, everyone knows that many hundreds of Palestinians get across into Israel from the West Bank “illegally”, every day.

No, to me it seems that it looks like the Israeli government just doesn’t want Palestinians in Jerusalem. This checkpoint is just part of a system that gives a clear message to Arabs in the West Bank. That message is…”Stay Out of Jerusalem!”

International Law states that Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank are protected persons. at Qalandya, it doesn’t look like it!

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

During our mid-term orientation for the program in Palestine/Israel, I had the privilege of visiting, what I believe is, the most inspiring and exciting place I have encountered in my stay here until now.

Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom is a village in Israel, about 40 kilometres west of Jerusalem, consisting of about 100 families, of both Palestinian and Jewish Israelis who have chosen to live together as an example of how Jews and Arabs can live with one another in peace and mutual respect without compromising their own identity, be it religious or secular. “Wahat al Salam” is Arabic for Oasis of Peace, the Hebrew equivalent being “Neve Shalom”, hence the name of the village.

The following information about the community is taken from their literature, and some is from what I was told during my visit there about 2 weeks ago.

The village is situated an equal distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and was founded in the 1970’s on land originally leased from the adjacent Latrun Monastery. It is hoped that eventually the village will contain about 140 homes. The village is democratically governed and owned by its members and the community is not affiliated with any political party or movement.

The vision of the community is expressed through various activities and programs that it runs.

Bilingual, Binational Schooling

  1. Equal participation by Jews and Palestinians in the administration and teaching.
  2. Providing a natural ongoing framework that enables the day-to-day meeting between children of the two peoples.
  3. Use of both Hebrew and Arabic in teaching all of the children.
  4. Nurturing each child’s identity by imparting knowledge of his/her culture and tradition while inculcating respectful familiarity with the culture and identity of the other people.

The School for Peace

  1. Encounter workshops on the conflict for Jewish and Palestinian youth in Israel.
  2. Encounter workshops, in-service training and seminars for adult groups, including teachers, journalists, lawyers, social workers and university students.
  3. Encounter workshops between citizens of Israel and Palestine together with Palestinian NGO’s.
  4. Facilitator training courses.
  5. Yearly graduates’ courses in cooperation with 4 Israeli Universities.
  6. Courses for empowerment of Jewish and Arab women.
  7. Training courses (in its working methods) for persons from abroad.
  8. Encounters for raising awareness towards intergroup conflicts within Arab and Jewish society.

Our guide in the village told us a lot about the encounter group sessions in the School for Peace which last for 3 days and all participants stay in the village for this period. The workshops begin with an all group session, with a facilitator, where all participants are encouraged to vent their feelings to the each other about the conflict. These sessions get extremely heated with a lot of screaming and yelling as you could imagine! This sessions pretty much fills the first day and at the end of the session the participants are given their rooms for the night. The facilitator chooses whom bunks with whom so that people are sleeping in the same room with an “adversary”, so to speak! This causes some consternation, but people accept the situation they are presented with. The next day’s session involves a role reversal whereby people must advocate for the exact opposite position that they took the day before. We were told that not all people come out believing the same thing, but everybody comes out a changed person! Of all the workshops that they have conducted of this nature, no one has every left a workshop before its completion. Some 45,000 young people have completed a similar workshop.

Doumia-Sakinah (The Pluralistic Spiritual Centre)

  1. Programs focus on open inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and the advancement of peace.

Youth Club – Nadi al-Shabibah Moadon Noar

  1. The objectives of the youth club are to foster and sustain interpersonal connections.
  2. To encourage voluntary community involvement.
  3. To increase awareness on issues of Palestinian-Jewish relations and social justice.

Humanitarian Aid.

  1. Operates a program to provide humanitarian relief (usually but not exclusively medical) for Palestinian villagers affected by the ongoing conflict.

Volunteer Program.

The village has a framework that makes it possible to live and work in the village for a few months in exchange for living expenses. For details about conditions and how to apply, see the following email or website  volunteering@nswas.org or www.nswas.org/rubrique7.html

Hospitality

The village has a hotel with in season swimming pool that is open for guests and participants in the programs.

Visit Programs

For one day visiting groups there is introductory presentations and videos.

Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom has friendship associations in a number of countries but not yet in Australia. I am planning to set up an “Australian Friends of Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom Association” when I get home. If anyone would like to be part of this work to support this wonderful organization which shows to the world an example of how peace is possible in this region, then please contact me via this blog and we can arrange a meeting back in Australia.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

One of our teams regular tasks has been to monitor the checkpoint that leads into the village of Azzun Atma. This little village is in the rather peculiar position of being totally entrapped by the separation barrier. The only way into the village is via a military checkpoint that is guarded 24 hours a day by soldiers in full battle uniform. The village has two schools; each containing about 300 students. Many of the students live outside the village and hence have to pass through the military checkpoint. International Law states that these protected persons are not allowed to be searched or stopped on their way to school. When we have been present to monitor the checkpoint we have never seen a student stopped and searched, yet the principal of one of the schools told us that this has occurred a number of times when we have not been present at the checkpoint.

As a teacher, I know how easily young students can be intimidated by older students and adults at school, let alone fully armed soldiers! Yet these young children seem undeterred by such naked displays of power. All of our teams have noticed the very high importance placed on education in Palestinian society and Azzun Atma is no exception.

The ridiculous nature of the separation barrier is also highlighted in the example of Azzun Atma. People living or working in Azzun Atma that pass into the village from outside, are searched for weapons 24/7. But why? The people going across the checkpoint are moving from West Bank territory to West Bank territory. Who are the Israeli military trying to protect? Is it the settlement that lies just to the western side of the village? The 5m high concrete wall is meant to do that right? That’s what the Israeli government claims is the purpose of the barrier; to protect Israelis from Palestinians. Apparently the barrier isn’t sufficient to fulfill its purpose in Azzun Atma. There apparently needs to be a further checkpoint to accomplish this. Also, the settlement buildings are extremely close to the larger mixed school and often waste sewage water from the settlement flows into the school yard!

A few weeks ago we decided to visit one the schools in Azzun Atma to do an activity with a class of grade 4 students. We got the kids to simply draw some pictures of their life in Azzun Atma for us. They really got into it with one little girl saying that this was the happiest day in her life! Some of the students drew pictures of the checkpoint with the gun toting soldiers but most drew “happy” pictures of their family, school and the houses they live in. This “normal” type of drawing spoke to us of the resilience of these children who are well aware of the difficulties that the occupation poses to them and their families. It was an incredibly uplifting experience for our team and we plan to do the same activity with a Bedouin school in the Seam Zone near Qalqilya.

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One of the schools is Azzun Atma. Note the separation barrier with the settlement houses in the background.

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Our team in the classroom in Azzun Atma.

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A student from Azzun Atma school feeling pretty happy about her drawing!

Teachers in these schools who live outside of Azzun Atma face constant difficulties in getting to work on time due to being held up by the soldiers at the checkpoint and have more than once been trapped in Azzun Atma overnight when the military have closed the checkpoint for periods of up to 24 hours. For this reason the schools in Azzun Atma have a higher turnover of teachers than usual.

We have been told that the checkpoint will be taken away soon to allow constant access to all who need to go into this little village. But for many the damage has been done in the sense that it has already messed with their lives far more than they have wanted. As you can imagine, this hardly endears these children to the Israeli Military. The Principal of one of the schools told us that they have a lot of issues with violent behavior amongst the young boys of the school. It hardly surprised us.

Many people back in Australia believe that Palestinian children are somehow taught to hate Israelis right from the get go. They claim that Palestinian school text books teach racist attitudes towards Jewish people and the State of Israel. But this simply is not the case. Since 1993, all Palestinian school text books are screened by the Palestinian Authority who in turn are screened by the Israeli Government. No screening of how Israeli text books portray Palestinians occurs in Israeli schools.

You don’t have to teach Palestinian children to hate the occupation any more than you need to teach people to hate being beaten up and humiliated. It just comes naturally.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

It is generally claimed that there are between 550,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank of Palestine in 2014. Since the earliest days of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the number of settlers in the West Bank has only ever increased, even during peace negotiations or even during the unilateral withdrawal by Israel of Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.

These settlers are generally divided into two categories: ideological and economic. The term, economic settler, refers to those settlers that have chosen to live in the West Bank because of the great economic benefits that the State Of Israel confers to such people. This group consists of some 85% of all settlers and one could postulate that the vast majority of them would not be inclined to live in the West Bank had not the state of Israel made the prospect of such a move into “enemy territory” so enticing.

The other 15% of settlers fall into the ideological category and are a vastly different group of people to deal with. Many Israelis find this group of settlers to be offensive and are often embarrassed at the violence and racism that often accompanies the behavior of these highly motivated Zionists.

The experience of my fellow EA’s of ideological settlers has completely vindicated the view of these Israelis as violent, religious, gentile hating fanatics. All of my colleagues have related that they feel a sense of dread and even fear for their safety/lives when these types of settlers arrive on the scene. Ideological settlers are possessed by a fanatic belief in their entitlement to all of the land of Palestine/Israel and they see Palestinians as a disease upon the land that must be cleansed in order to redeem the land and make way for the coming of the Messiah. Their religious zeal is centered on possessing the land rather than obeying the ethical and moral teachings of the Torah that emphasize social justice and mercy to the “alien” in the land.

My experience of ideological settlers has thankfully been limited to the stories told to us by various Palestinian farmers in the West Bank who have the misfortune of living near settlements like Gilad, near the Palestinian village of Far’arta.

One such farmer is Abu Wael, who lives in his house on a hilltop in the village of Far’ata. We visited his house a few weeks ago to hear his story and offer him some moral support. Abu Wael has had many dunams of land confiscated by the settlement of Gilad which contains some of the most extreme ideological settlers in the West Bank. He told of his many encounters with settlers coming onto his land while he has been working; threatening to kill him and his family if they did not leave the land at once. Abu Wael often called the military to come and protect him but found, like many other Palestinians, that the military seemed more intent on “protecting” these settlers rather than the people who were most powerless and vulnerable. He told us how one day his son was in the fields with him when settlers came down and started arguing with Abu Wael and his son. One of the settlers struck Abu Wael’s son, fracturing his skull. Though there were numerous witnesses to this event, no charges were ever brought against the settler and the threats of violence and intimidation continue.

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Abu Wael from the village of Far’arta

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Abu Wael’s son. Brutally beaten by settlers.

This is but one of the many incidents that we have heard from eye witnesses while in the Jayyus area. So far during our stay in the West Bank, there have been 48 recorded instances of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians that have resulted in personal injury or damage to property according to OCHA’s weekly protection of civilians report. No arrests have been made.

With the State of Israel and the Western media very recently fixated on the actions of some 5,000 Hamas militants who are locked up in Gaza, no attention is paid to the nearly 35,000 ideological settlers who run free in the West Bank. These settler groups include people like Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 people in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, while they were praying, in 1994, in an act that triggered Hamas to engage in suicide attacks on Israeli civilians in order to try and even the score. A cold shiver goes up my spine when I see the increasing power in Israeli politics being wielded by Zionists who are seen as heroes by the ideological settler movement,

It has been overwhelmingly my experience, while here in the West Bank, that Palestinians reject this type of extremism and believe that the majority of Israelis, like them, want peace. They reject the Israeli Government stance that Hamas, with it’s so called rejection of the right of the State of Israel to exist, is a barrier to a two state solution. If a Palestinian state with ’67 borders, no settlements in the West Bank allowed and East Jerusalem as its capital, was offered by Israel, ALL Palestinians would accept it and if Hamas continued to resist such an offer, it would simply be political suicide for them as Palestinians would ignore them by the million.

I still passionately believe that peace and justice is possible in this region. We just need the will to make it happen.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

The Government of Australia pretty much tows the Israeli Government line that Israel has no partner for peace because of the alleged Palestinian refusal to refrain from violence/terrorism. The notion that Palestinian violence/terrorism might stop if Israel stopped oppressing Palestinians is not seriously considered. Maybe if more members of the Australian Government (and people) understood the facts on the ground, this attitude might change.

A case in point is that of house demolitions. Although the Israeli military has reinstated the practice of demolishing the homes of terrorism suspects and their relatives (against International Law), the vast majority of demolitions have nothing to do with acts of violence from Palestinians. These demolitions are a result of the planning and zoning policies of the Israeli Military, who govern the West Bank. There have been nearly 25,000 house demolitions in the West Bank since 1967 and over 90% of them have nothing to do with punitive measures against terrorism. All house demolitions in the West Bank by the Israeli Military are just as illegal under International Law (4th Geneva Convention) as the Israeli settlements that Israel is so determined to build.

These zoning and planning policies are chiefly devised to facilitate the construction of Israeli settlements and the accompanying infrastructure. As the Mayor of Bruqin told us, “They (the settlers) get houses and settlements, we (the Palestinians) get demolitions!”. Allowances made in the policies for the expansion and development of Palestinian housing and infrastructure are grossly inadequate. Nearly 70% of the West Bank is designated area C, for Israeli settlements and areas that come under full Israeli control. Palestinian homes and structures in area C are extremely vulnerable to demolition orders and building permits are virtually impossible to get even if the building is to be done on land that a Palestinian can prove is their own.

Obtaining a building permit is extremely expensive and statistics show that there is a 97% rejection rate of building permits in the West Bank. To even get the proper documentation together, which includes a very expensive land survey, for the application, can cost tens of thousands of shekels. Sometimes the cost of the application is more than the cost of the construction of the structure itself. These factors combined leave Palestinians with little choice but to build without a proper permit, hence leaving themselves open to demolition orders.

Another problem seems to be that the exact location for area C seems to be very hard to assertain. Area A, under full Palestinian control (in theory anyway), is for the highly concentrated areas of Palestinian population, like the towns of Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah, Qalqiliya and so on. Area B is for slightly less built up areas with area C taking up all the rest of the space. The only contiguous zone is that of area C. Area A and B comprise some 227 enclaves of Palestinian population “swimming” in an ocean of Area C. Yet we have been shown a hospital and main road right down the centre of Tulkarm which is designated area C.

Structures most vulnerable to demolition orders are those closest to the separation barrier, Israeli settlements, settlement roads and military zones. But this is not always the case. We discovered this when we went to the village of Hajja last week after hearing that six new demolition orders had been given by the Israeli Military. Amongst the buildings set to be destroyed was a furniture factory in the middle of the village which employs 45 people and a banquet hall. As well as this, there included a number of beautiful houses all of which were not within 10 kilometres of any type of Israeli settlement or settlement infrastructure. The logic seems hard to follow.

Wedding Venue under demolition order in Hajah (2)

Banquet Hall in Hajja, soon to be demolished.

Factory under demolition order in Hajah (3)

Furniture factory in the middle of Hajja, also soon to be demolished.

According to sources that I have been talking to over the last few weeks, it is virtually impossible to stop the demolition of a structure once it is ordered. Generally the best that can be done is to delay the demolition. It must be remembered that the cost of the demolition falls on the people whose structure is demolished. The only way to avoid this cost is, for the people owning the structure, to do the demolition themselves. We know of a case, in the village of Farun, where a man had been slowly building his dream home for his family for some 20 years. He started building the home before the separation barrier was even started and on the day that he finished building his house and was ready to move in, the house was demolished by the Israeli Military because it was too close to the barrier. I have seen many Palestinian houses closer to the barrier than the one in Farun that have no demolition order on them.

Since our EA team has been in the West Bank (5 weeks), there has been 84 structure demolitions displacing some 247 persons, according to OCHA’s protected persons weekly reports. With the housing situation already in crises due to land confiscation, poor planning and zoning policies and the desperate state of the Palestinian economy, these people are left in a desperate situation to say the least.

A recent increase in the number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem, along with threats by right wing settler groups to blow up the Al Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and added to that the deaths of 6 Palestinians and injuries to nearly 600 others ( all in the last 5 weeks), all add up to a massive level of incitement by the Israeli Government that goes largely unreported in the western media.

Ordinary Palestinians keep asking me how it is that any country can take Israeli Government statements about the Israeli desire for peace seriously, when they continue to maintain this “status quo” of violence, land theft and dispossession. I struggle to give them an answer that makes any sense.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

“Let me tell you something my friend…”, said Abhul Kareem, a longtime field worker with B’Tselem, “ …if you resist the occupation, you will get arrested!”.

Abdul Kareem’s response was prompted by my question relating to the reason for the arrest of a particular person that he had just been talking about. Abdul’s facial expression was strained, but trying to hide his frustration with a question that he had obviously been asked many times before by foreigners who don’t understand what life in the occupation is really like.

In my country, Australia, if someone has been arrested, then they have likely committed some type of criminal offense, be it minor or serious. The experience of being arrested or confined in prison is a relatively rare event (in terms of population) and not something people are usually very proud of and hence it is a fact not greatly advertised.

Over here in Palestine, things are different. As I have been travelling up and down the West Bank, I have found it difficult to find many males above about 20 years of age who have not been arrested or imprisoned. Never, in any case of meeting such person’s here, would I have guessed that any of them had experienced such things. At home, things are different. Having had more experience with the prison system back in Australia than I would have liked, I think I can generally guess (but of course not always) when someone has had a prison experience/background without asking them the details.

So I took this comment from Abdul Kareem on board when I visited a “Prisoners Sit In” that is held in front of the offices of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) in the village of Tulkarm on the north western side of the occupied West Bank. This small protest is attended by family members of Palestinians who have been arrested and are currently serving prison sentences of up to 20 years.

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A long wait for justice.

On arriving at the protest, I casually walked up to the people sitting there, holding up photos of their loved ones, and asked if anyone spoke English. Upon finding an interpreter, I knelt down and started trying to get details of the people’s family members who were in prison. One of my team mates was trying to take a picture of the people at the protest and without thinking he called out, “Smile!” Immediately one of the parents at the sit in called back, “Why should we smile?”, “What for?”. It was a heart breaking moment.

The first person I interviewed had a son, Mohamed Khateeb, who had been in prison for 12 years. He is now 31years old. He was sentenced to 21 years prison and was initially arrested in the middle of the night. According to his father, the trial was a joke, the lawyer did nothing to defend Mohamed. The family believes that the court’s decision was made before the trial even started. Mohamed is being held in a prison inside Israel (contravening International Law which states that a person cannot be sent to a prison outside his/her country for an offense committed in their own country). Being in Israel means that his family cannot visit Mohamed or even write to him. Some of Mohamed’s other relatives have managed to visit him but only once a year. The family mostly gets news about Mohamed when other prisoners are released who have been inside with him. As I went down the line of family members I started to realize that the same picture was being painted each time. Their sons had been arrested in the night, had been given long prison sentences by courts that were a joke in so far as justice was concerned and were all sent to prison inside Israel, preventing any type of regular contact with family members. All of the parents and family members believed that the harshness of sentencing depends very much on the political situation at the time. When Palestine tried to petition for member status in the UN, for example, the sentences handed out to people like Mohamed, were longer than normal. The courts that they attend are all military courts regardless of the offense committed. Israelis in the West Bank do not come under the jurisdiction of such courts. As Israelis they come under Israeli Civil Law. Civil Law has much higher levels of evidence needed to obtain a guilty verdict than Military Law.

The interviews became a bit too much for me to bare after a while and I had to stop. None of these families deserved the agony they were going through. The relatives of bank robbers and murders get better treatment in my country and none of these young men had committed crimes like that. Believe me, if they had done so, they would have gotten life imprisonment or be dead and their parents would have had the dignity to admit as much and accept the consequences. The truth is that these young men had all been active in demonstrations and other non-violent forms of resistance. The more effective or more articulate you are in your resistance activism, the more likely you are to be arrested and given a prison sentence.

The parents and family members of these men are not fools. They know how their sons and daughters are portrayed in the Western Media. They know that they will be judged as terrorists, especially by people in countries like Australia, that support the Israeli Government so strongly. Their lonely vigil and cry for justice will fall on many deaf ears in the Western World.

In the end, all I could do was to ask the interpreter to tell the people that I was sorry for the injustice that is tearing their families apart and that I promised to tell their stories and advocate for them when I get back to Australia. Upon hearing this their faces light up with smiles of gratitude. They know that I can do nothing to get their loved ones out of prison, but I guess that when other people acknowledge their pain and sense of injustice and believe in their goodness and decency, it gives a reason for these people to smile, even when otherwise they can find no reason to be happy on such an occasion.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

 As I said in the previous post, the agricultural gate near the village of Qaffin, gave us some problems that are unique to the occupation. The thousands of workers and land owners who have land, or work on the land, in the Seam Zone, cannot just walk up to the gate that leads to their land and cross over and get to work. In order to be allowed to cross, one needs a permit for that particular gate.

Gaining a permit can be extremely difficult , if not impossible, for many who need to go through the gates and into the Seam Zone. The bureaucracy that the Israeli government has created to handle the permit system is completely invisible to the Palestinian people. All in all there are some 110 different types of permits that Palestinians may, or may not need, at some time to live their lives in anything like a normal fashion.

When a Palestinian worker obtains a permit to cross over into Israel via one of the checkpoints that go into the Zionist state, he/she does not actually own that permit. Their employer does. As such, the employer can cancel the permit at any time they feel like, and the worker will suddenly find themselves not being allowed to pass through the checkpoint the next day with no explanation. This happens on a regular basis.

Many Palestinians, (over 300,000 of them) find themselves on the so called “blacklist”. A person can be on this list without the slightest idea why. Sometimes it can be because a relative has been arrested during a demonstration or was caught working illegally in Israel, even if that was many years ago. Sometimes it is simply stated that you have security issues and that is that. Many Palestinians hire lawyers to try to get themselves off the “blacklist” and end up spending large amounts of money for no result. A huge black market in forged permits also exists with people on both sides of the conflict acting illegally and making large profits in the process.

Permits to agricultural gates can be hard to obtain because they require proof of ownership of the land and this can be difficult due to the fact that this part of the world has been occupied by foreign powers many times in the past. Having exactly the right paperwork to prove ownership of the land can be very difficult and can, as we shall see later, cause enormous problems when people want to build houses or extensions to their house to accommodate a growing family unit on what is their own land.

Even if a person is able to get a valid permit for the right gate, the story is not over, as we discovered when we visited the Qaffin gate on the 14th of November. We had heard that a number of people were not being allowed to pass through this gate, with no good reason given, and we went to investigate to see if anything could be done.

When we got to the gate, we did in fact see a number of people not being allowed to pass due to the rather belligerent behavior of one particular female soldier who seemed to be in charge. This is part of the difficulty that Palestinians face at checkpoints and agricultural gates. Being allowed to pass, or not allowed to pass, can depend on the mood of the soldiers manning the gate. In this case, after asking one of the young soldiers, who spoke English, why the people had been sent back, he told me that it was because their clothes had been either too dirty or too clean. One person could not pass through because they had three packs of cigarettes on him and this was deemed enough of a reason to not allow the man through, depriving him of a day’s work and the money he would earn for his family. Another man was not allowed to pass through because he was wearing two pairs of pants! Believe me, it gets cold at these gates at 6:00am during a Palestinian winter, but this was no excuse according to this Israeli soldier.

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Soliders at Qaffin Gate.

A heated argument started between the soldiers and the mayor of the village who came down to the gate to see what could be done. A few of the soldiers started raising their weapons in an aggressive manner, though I doubt whether they had any real intent to shoot. We made phone calls to various people in the Israeli civil administration to see if they could help and we took the details of the men and sent them to an Israeli organization called Machsom Watch (see Machsomwatch.org). This is a group of Israeli women who specialize in dealing with the huge Israeli bureaucracy that handles the permit system. They advocate and fight for the rights of Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers. A courageous group of women, some of whom are married to the very men who administer the permit system itself! Good people to have on your side if you ever need them.

A couple of days later the female soldier was removed from the gate, but within a week we found another soldier giving ordinary Palestinian workers a hard time. Apparently the security needs of Israel mean that every Palestinian is considered  a terrorist. International Law demands that these agricultural workers be treated as protected persons but the only thing that the occupation protects is the real or imagined security needs of settlers and soldiers in the occupied territories. This, I have now witnessed with my own eyes.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

P1120012

Armoured vehicles enter the village.

Soldiers in Jayyus 0411

Soldiers question people in Jayyus

Last Tuesday, 4th of November, I was taking a short nap around 2pm back at our EA house in Jayyus. As usual, we had a very early start that day, getting up at around 5:00am to travel to an agricultural gate in the north-eastern part of the West Bank near the village of Qaffin. We had been hard at it until we got back at about 1:00pm due to some very annoying problems that arose at this gate. More on this in a later post.

So at about 2:00pm I was woken from my slumber by a phone call from one of my team mates, Zoe, from Canada. I answered the phone, still half asleep, and to the best of my ability all I heard was that the rest of the team were outside the house on the street having cake! That sounded pretty good so I staggered out of the large iron gate at the front of our house only to discover a complete lack of anything remotely like cake. Some of the young boys in the village were yelling excitedly and after a minute or so I realized that what was getting them excited was the fact that five armoured vehicles, full of Israeli soldiers in full battle dress, all carrying automatic weapons, had entered the main street of Jayyus and were going up and down the street questioning people and asking for their ID’s.

This had not happened in the village for at least a month, and as I looked down the main street I could see a number of my team mates talking to Israeli soldiers. The Israelis told my team mates to get off the street and just as they started to do this, some of the young kids in the village began throwing stones at the soldiers. The soldiers immediately responded with tear gas and sound bombs and the whole cat and mouse game between the young boys in the village and the soldiers began. My team mates and I ducked into one of the nearby shops in the main street and watched from a distance. After about 15 minutes of this “game”, the Israelis got in their vehicles and as they drove passed us, one of the soldiers sitting in the front of the armoured car politely waved to me as he went by. I thought that this gesture was somewhat incongruous with the mood of the afternoon, but about 10 seconds later I realized that this gesture was one more of ridicule, rather than hospitality. The reason being that at that very moment, the tear gas came onto us and its effects were immediate and extremely painful. In what was literally a moment of blind haste, we ran to our house in a mad rush to get some onions to cut up and breathe in, to stop the effects of the tear gas. After a few minutes, we felt better and were able to gather ourselves and return to the house, but with no cake!

The point of this ridiculous exercise was lost on me until I consulted some of the older members of the village. According to the older and wiser citizens of Jayyus, this action by the Israelis was deliberately done to provoke a stone throwing incident. There is no other explanation. The soldiers know that this is the response that they always get when entering a village like this. It has been going on for decades. The soldiers made no arrests before or after the stones had been thrown. So why would they provoke such an incident? The best answer that the people of Jayyus have is that the Israeli military do this in order to gain intelligence about which persons in the village are the most likely to be engaged in demonstrations or other acts of resistance against the occupation. With this information they can make arrests in the future and target individuals who the Israelis think they may have a chance to turn into a “collaborator.”

Our driver, Abed, informed us that this incursion was child’s play when compared to what used to happen in the years during the second intifada. He said that in those years the Israelis would come into the village and put tear gas directly into people’s homes, cars and even the Mosque. Having got just a relatively small dose of this gas, I can hardly imagine the effect on the young and the elderly, who cannot move as quickly as others can, when being caught in an enclosed space with a cloud of gas. Abed said that after once having tear gas thrown directly into his car, he could not use it for two days, even after washing it several times.

Another tactic that Abed related was how the soldiers opened fire on the black water tanks that are so conspicuous on the tops of Palestinian homes. If the tank was hit near the bottom, then the tank would be rendered useless. In one incursion the Israeli military destroyed 100 water tanks. Abed said that he has been gassed so many times in his home village of Jayyus that he has permanent breathing problems.

All these events are just one more part of the huge picture of negative effects of the occupation that are just part of daily life in the West Bank and Gaza. This is a world that still seems unbelievable to me even as I am here, embedded in the occupation myself. I’m just grateful that I don’t have to live in it permanently. I wish no one did.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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