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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our team in the classroom in Azzun Atma.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Abu Wael from the village of Far’arta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

On the morning of Friday 31st October, my EAPPI team mate Emmi, from Finland, and I travelled north of our home base in Jayyus with our driver and mentor, Abed, to monitor an agricultural gate near the small village of Zeita.

We got there at 7:00am,the rain was pouring down. We decided to stay in the car for a while, hoping that the rain might ease up. We looked down towards the gate and saw two women sitting in the pouring rain, one with a dirty plastic sheet pulled over her and the other just sitting in the rain getting saturated. The gate is meant to open at 7:00am to let these women get into the Seam Zone to pick olives or other vegetables from the many greenhouses just a few hundred metres from the gate.

But the gate wasn’t going to open at 7:00am today, nor had it done so for many months. For some reason the soldiers didn’t feel that this gate was a high priority and they had been turning up pretty much anytime they felt like from 7:00am to 8:30am. Anyone wanting to get through the gate just had to make sure they got there early just in case the soldiers actually came on time, opening and closing the gate before you got there. On this occasion it meant sitting in the rain while you got wet to your underwear. No shelter is provided and the women sit on old discarded plastic buckets and bottles to stop themselves from sitting directly in the mud.

Women at Zeita Gate (3) C.Nielsen 01.11.2014

A small group of Palestinian women waiting to get into the Seam Zone to do a days work.

Life is hard for these women and though their smiles to us and each other shone brightly, many of them looked much older than they probably were. My Arabic is very poor but my team mate Emmi can communicate reasonably well with most people here. We tried to speak to one lady who asked our names and where we were from.

I wanted to know if she had any children so I put my hand out parallel to the ground but at a very short height hoping that she would understand that I was referring to her children. As soon as I did this she started crying. Emmi was able to find out that this woman was married with one child but her husband had died a few years ago, leaving her to live with her 27 year old son. Our driver, Abed, was also able to discover that her son had gone to a demonstration in the refugee camp in the nearby town of Tulkarm, and had been shot dead by the Israeli military and now the woman lives alone. She wakes up in the night afraid and on her own and now only darkness seems to fill her life.

As Abed told us this, tears started to well up in Emmi’s eyes and when the woman saw this she immediately reached into her pocket and handed a chocolate bar to Emmi saying “ Al Ham du Lilah!”, “Al Ham du Lilah!” meaning “Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God!” in order to comfort her.

Before we knew it we were being served tea, coffee and chocolate by all the women who had gradually gathered to get through the gate. One of them said she liked my fishing hat that I wear all the time. It is a dark blue, broad brimmed hat with a logo showing Fowlers Bay Eco Park – my all-time favourite fishing spot back home! It was so funny that they liked it that I gave it to them and pretty soon everyone was cracking up with laughter as they passed it around trying it on!

And this is the picture I keep getting here in the West Bank. People being forced to live under sorrow and oppression but never failing to be hospitable and share in the funny side of life.

Eventually the soldiers arrived and opened the gate. About 15 women and a few young boys passed through in order to do a day’s work. Working in the Seam Zone is problematic at the best of times. Suhad Hashem, from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), told us that getting medical help if you are in the Seam Zone is very difficult because ambulances are not allowed into the Seam Zone unless they go through the long process of the checkpoints. If you are in an emergency, then the ambulance must stop at the checkpoint and the person must be brought to the checkpoint from the other side where they have been injured, then go through the checkpoint and be loaded on to the ambulance and taken to hospital. A person injured or sick in the Seam Zone cannot be treated in Israel where better medical facilities are common.

There are stories of people dying in emergencies because they can’t get through the checkpoints quickly enough but a far greater problem is that people miss appointments and don’t get the medication they need in time to prevent their conditions getting worse, ultimately even leading to them dying prematurely of preventable causes.

If the state of Israel respected International Law, then these women would be better looked after, but as it is, vulnerable people like them are at the mercy of a system that is indifferent to their plight, just the opposite of what a nation that says it cares about human rights would be doing without having to have International monitors visit them to protect the people who need it most.

Life in the Seam Zone is tough, but that is just one part of the story of the Occupation.

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.

All UN member nations, including Israel, are signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention. This convention outlined the treatment of the civilian population of an occupied state by an occupying state. My interpretation is that basically an occupying state must virtually take on the role of a normal government of the occupied state. In other words, if say, my home country, Australia, was occupied by Japan, as was nearly the case in the Second World War, then the Japanese occupying force would have to assume the role of the Australian government in all the areas that the Australian government would normally need to take on. The difference being that while the government is normally elected and tolerated quite well, even by those who didn’t vote for it, an occupying power is considered a hostile entity and has the competing role of maintaining the security of the occupying forces themselves from the occupied population.

The role of the occupying forces is not small, or inexpensive if it wants to maintain an occupation and stay within the limits of International Law. It must, as a minimum requirement, protect the rights of the occupied people just as if they were a normally elected government and try to satisfy the security needs of the occupying force as well. This is indeed a difficult task, but that is just the point. International Law is not there to make an occupation easy. An occupation that satisfies the minimum requirements of International Law would put an immense strain on the resources of the government of the occupying force and it is supposed to. In this way, International Law is trying to deter an occupation from continuing for an extended period of time. Put simply, if you can’t afford to maintain an occupation and satisfy the requirements of International Law, then get out of the country and end the occupation!

Over the last two weeks I have seen how, in numerous instances, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza violates International Law in grievous ways, all over the territories it occupies.

The question is, “How does Israel justify all these obvious violations of International Law?” The answer that Israel offers is that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply in this case because these conventions are meant to be applied between states, and the West Bank and Gaza have never had proper Palestinian governances and hence cannot be considered as a state. That is, Israel is not occupying the West Bank and Gaza in a manner that would invoked the Fourth Geneva Convention. It needs to be said that no country, the US included, accepts this answer. This is clearly a matter of semantics that completely misses the point of the conventions.

But even if the Israeli answer is correct, and it has indeed found a loop hole in International Law, then what can we say about the attitude of the Israeli state? In my mind, if any state is actively looking for a loop hole in International Law that enables it to opt out if its obligations to uphold human dignity and human rights like any reasonable government should, then that government was never terribly interested in the concept of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the first place.
Regardless of whether or not the Israeli argument on this point is correct, they have lost the moral argument at the very least. The testimony of my own eyes over even the last two weeks has only confirmed this point to me.

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 mentioned before, the Seam Zone is that region of Palestine that exists between the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice Line) and the Separation Barrier. Many Palestinians who live on the West Bank side of the barrier either work or have land in the Seam Zone. These people need permits to enter the Seam Zone and many of them also go to work in Israel. To get a permit is not easy and we have met many Palestinians, here in Jayyus, and elsewhere, who need to get across into the Seam Zone but cannot for a variety of seemingly strange reasons. More about this in the next post. A different category of persons altogether are Palestinians that actually live in the Seam Zone. According to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) report in 2014, over 11,000 Palestinians live in the Seam Zone. This of course does not include the approximately 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem that live between the barrier and the Green Line.

Palestinians living in the Seam Zone are extremely vulnerable as they are effectively living in Israel but without Israeli citizenship, and are very often in close proximity to settlements. This also means that building permits, while extremely difficult to obtain in area C, are impossible to get in the Seam Zone. Last Thursday, 30th October, I had the privilege of accompanying the Palestinian Medical Relief Society’s (PMRS) mobile clinic (based in Qalqiliya) on its rounds through some villages in the Seam Zone. The mobile clinic’s van was accompanied by a car with two Dutch activists and a Palestinian driver. Both vehicles had yellow number plates (as opposed to the green number plates that West Bank Palestinians have) and so they had a chance of getting into the Seam Zone.

We had to pass through the Jaljoulia checkpoint to get to the villages we needed to visit, and this took about 30 minutes. Our belongings were X rayed, phones checked for traces of explosives and our passports scrutinized three times. The vehicles were checked using mirrors to look underneath and all compartments were thoroughly searched. The first village we visited was an unauthorized Bedouin village called Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi. Unauthorized means that the village did not exist before 1948. As such, the Israeli military does not allow the village to build any infrastructure such as roads, electricity or water supply. About 300 people live in this little village, the land being purchased from people living in the village of Habla, just on the other side of the barrier. The people of this village are in a better position than many in the Seam Zone as they can prove their ownership of the land. This does not stop the Israeli military from demolishing any new structures even as small as animal enclosures if they find out that any have been newly constructed. The people of this village have managed to get electric power from the village of Habla and have constructed an infant/primary school for their kids despite that their first attempt was demolished by the Israeli military. When looking at the village one would think that the village was very poor but Suhad Hashem, PR officer for the clinic, said that the villagers don’t want donations, they want their freedom and their rights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                       Mobile Medical Clinic in Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi

The next village we visited was Arab Abu Farda (also Bedouin). This village was in much worse shape than the other village as it had no power and no running water. The French government constructed a large water tank but the Israeli military has prevented it from being filled. The villagers have to buy water from outside the village at an expensive price. The village has a high infant mortality rate and upon even visiting the village for a short time, one feels that the health problems in the village would be significant. Both villages have the shadow of demolitions hanging over them and their future is extremely uncertain. These Bedouins originally lived in the Negev before 1948 but were expelled into the West Bank after 1948 and ultimately they were moved up to the place they now reside. In both of these villages I was continually touched in my heart by the generosity and warmth of these people despite their difficult circumstances.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                       Bedouin Kids and the mobile clinic in Arab Abu Farda

After visiting the villages our driver took us up to see the Israeli settlement called Alfe Menashe which stands on top of the hill overlooking the valley where the Bedouin villages lie. As we stood looking out from a scenic lookout in the settlement, a softly spoken middle aged women from Alfe Menashe came and asked what we were doing. When we told her where we had been she said that she thought that these Bedouin people could live better and that the problem was that they were lazy. When queried about house demolitions she said that it wasn’t true, such things didn’t happen. All the while during this experience I couldn’t help thinking about the idea that the measure of a society is determined by how that society treats its most vulnerable members. That hardly counts in some ways in this case because Israel doesn’t consider such people to be members of their society. International Law says otherwise. As an occupying power, the Israeli Government has a moral and legal responsibility to protect the rights of these people, that is, their rights to education, a healthy life, safe housing, freedom of movement and legal and political rights. How Israel convinces itself that such obligations are not theirs, is another story.

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.

My apologies to readers of this blog for my long absence in posting on this blog. I am going to make up for it in the following weeks as I am participating in a program with the World Council of Churches in the West Bank (see disclaimer at the bottom of this blog). I will be here for 3 months, living in the small rural village of Jayyus in a typical house in the village but with 4 other internationals participating in the program.

During our initial orientation and training for the program, we listened to a talk by a young ex soldier named Shay Davidovich.
Shay grew up in the Ariel settlement which is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and is situated in the Seam Zone in what is known as the Ariel finger. The Seam Zone is that area in Palestine that lies between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line) and the term “finger” refers to the Seam Zone region that pokes into the West Bank like a finger, ending with the Ariel settlement at the tip.

Shay grew up in an Israeli family that had no particular interest in the issue of the Palestinians and after high school graduation he joined the Israeli military and was stationed in the West Bank. Fairly quickly into his service in the West Bank, Shay started to question his role and it’s relationship to the narratives that he had been taught as a student about the West Bank and Israel’s role in that region. This led to a gradual process of disillusionment that Shay related to us, and this process culminated in his joining the movement known as Breaking the Silence. This group consists of ex Israeli soldiers who have chosen to speak out openly about the things that they experienced as soldiers in the West Bank.

Amongst a number of other disturbing facts, Shay related a particular story of how Israeli soldiers in the West Bank are instructed as to how to conduct an arrest on Palestinian civilians. One might assume that new soldiers get involved in mock role plays using other soldiers as arrestees and arrestors, but at least in Shays case, you would be wrong.

According to Shay, soldiers are taught how to arrest Palestinians by choosing a Palestinian family that is known by Israeli intelligence to have had absolutely no connection to violence or violent demonstrations. The idea being that this would bring the risk level of new soldiers learning arrest procedures getting hurt, down to a minimum. I guess that sounds sensible to some. The soldiers would then go to the village where the family lives, in the middle of the night, usually between midnight and 5am, and carry out the arrest. The person arrested, usually the father or an older male, would be blind folded and hand cuffed (hands behind the back) and taken away without explanation. A day or two later the person would be restored to their family, once again, without explanation. The family would have no idea that this was a mock arrest. Given that Palestinians are routinely arrested and receive prison sentences of up to two or three years for, what would seem to my mind, fairly minor offences that many Palestinians believe that these arrests are just excuses made up by the Israelis to harass and control them, the upset that these mock arrests cause the families can not be underestimated.

Shay told us that as a soldier, he was instructed that the military’s job was to control the Palestinian population and that the main way to do this was to continually let them “feel your presence”. This meant that Palestinians must continually be let know who is boss and that it is the Israeli military that make the rules to achieve this goal of control.

Shay showed us a short film, that was actually made by the Israeli military, allegedly to teach Israeli soldiers how to achieve this goal of “letting them feel your presence” in the context of checkpoint duty. The video showed disturbing scenes of Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian civilians at crowded checkpoints, even while the Palestinians had their hands tied behind their backs. This video somehow made its way to Israeli television and a public outcry ensued. The soldier who in particular was shown to be handing out the most abusive treatment was court martialed and given a prison sentence. A petition, signed by 60 members of the convicted soldiers unit, said that the soldier accused was being used as a scapegoat and that this type of incident was common place and that all superior officers in charge were aware of the situation and know that it was standard procedure.

The Fourth Geneva convention, of which Israel, as well as all UN member nations are a signatory to, states clearly the responsibilities of an occupying power towards civilians of that occupied people. It states clearly that while security concerns are an issue for an occupying power, that these concerns can not be used as a continual excuse to abuse an occupied population and hence absolve the occupier of their moral and legal duty to protect and provide safety for the occupied population.

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

Order My Book

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 80 other followers

Share this page

Bookmark and Share
June 2020
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930