Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Wild Boar and settlement sewage (10th December ’06)
His uncle is in bed, unable to move, with a broken back. On their first day harvesting he was viciously attacked by a wild boar. The releasing of wild boar into Palestinian land by the Israeli army, Israeli "nature guards" and Israeli settlers causes serious injury as well as vast destruction to crops and trees. Naturally Palestinians are scared of these animals and it is another deterrent and obstacle to them safely accessing their land. It does not stop with wild boar, snakes have also been released.
My friends family had some ancient olive trees (around 1000 years old) which were burnt by the Israeli army. Apparently the trees were "too close" to the settlement. These ancient trees are not only part of the history and fabric of Palestinian society, but yield vast amounts of olives.
A farmer from the nearby village Azzun Atma called early one morning, distraught. The bulldozers had arrived on his land. Azzun Atma is a few kilometers inside the Green Line. It is one of the Palestinian villages which has ended up on the "wrong side" of the Wall, existing in limbo. There were 2 ways into the village, one is impassable because of a long term road block (a huge mound of earth and rubble), the other is controlled by a permanent checkpoint, which closes at 10pm every night. These "seam zone" villages have severely limited access to services. Someone needing emergency medical treatment at night faces a perilous situation of trying to get the checkpoint opened "out of hours".
The Apartheid Wall to the East of the village is complete, effectively cutting off easy access to the rest of Palestine and leaving Azzun Atma on the "Israeli side" of the Wall. The construction work that is now underway is a Wall which will completely encircle the village, further isolating it. The existence of the illegal Israeli settlements are responsible for the route of the Wall and the imprisoning of Azzun Atma.
The farmer had a small "victory". He managed to negotiate the path of the Wall back nearer to the planned route, instead of the extra 15 meters inside his land which the bulldozers had already begun to churn up and destroy. Internationals sat in solidarity on the farmers land as he negotiated.
IWPS also went to a neighbouring village, Kifl Haris, where land and trees are being destroyed because of raw sewage that is coming from Ariel settlement. Ariel is a massive settlement, with a population of approximately 18,000 people. Clearly they have the technical knowledge and financial ability to resolve this. What the Settlers lack is the will.
Raw sewage, dumping rubbish next to Palestinian villages, releasing wild boar, not giving building permits... all these are tactics to bring about a "voluntary" expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
Struggling Under Occupation (3rd December ’06)
Many things enrage and sadden me about this incredibly common occurrence. I will never get used to a child handing me a rubber bullet, picked off the street in the wake of the army's departure. I am getting used to a shift that has occurred in me, where I experience relief that it is only a rubber bullet.
A car screeched to a stop. We jumped in and were driven high speed through the back roads to the next village. The army was operating a flying checkpoint, preventing the injured man from reaching hospital. My fear was far outweighed by my outrage. After negotiation, a lot of phone calls and precious time the army left.
Army incursions, flying checkpoints, harassment, intimidation, threats....none of these things are new, but they certainly seem more prevalent at the moment.
The rest of the past week has been consumed with work around threatened house demolitions. It is a depressing story. In the villages in Salfeet district alone we have heard of at least 100 houses who have demolition papers. According to the Israeli army the houses are 'illegal', built without the permission of Israel, even though they have the agreement of their village municipality. The pattern of demolition seems to be following the planned route of the Apartheid Wall.
Yesterday we were in the village of Burquin, where there are more than 50 houses under threat. The journey to the village is broken by a road block; huge boulders and rubble make the road impassable except on foot. Besides the damn inconvenience of it, Palestinians, already trying to exist in a struggling economy, have the added expense of broken journeys. An elderly woman squeezing through the gap in the rock, struggling to negotiate her bags is another image of Occupation. Barkan, an Israeli industrial settlement, along with a settler only road, dominate the landscape around the village of Bruqin.
A couple of days ago we returned to the village of Hajja, where we witnessed several house demolitions last week. I do not speak Arabic but it was clear the family we visited were still devastated by what had happened. A woman stared blankly into the distance and spoke with a quiet, flat voice. As we sat outside their house drinking strong Arabic coffee a depressing uncertainty hung in the air. Their home will be demolished, what they do not know is when. Their extended family lost one house last week and will certainly face the same again. The enormity of such situations is hard to internalise. It is the little things, like seeing a blue plastic baby bath hung up in the bathroom, or a rose bush in flower, which brings it closer. On the hill behind me was the remains of the agricultural demolition, huge pieces of mangled corrugated iron strewn across the landscape. And in the distance the illegal Israeli settlement Qedumin, whose existence determines the route of the Wall in this area. The Occupation of Palestinian land by the army and Israeli settlements is stark. To see photos and video of the demolition go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UHAcun3qaU For more information about demolitions go to www.btselem.org (buildings) or www.icahd.org
Modern day Bethlehem is a far cry from the scenes of Christmas cards. Life is controlled by the Apartheid Wall and checkpoints. Martyr pictures cover the walls of the narrow streets and alleys of Dheisheh refugee camp, many killed by the Israeli army simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I witnessed not only huge suffering and struggles, but also the energy and vitality of young kindergarten children in the refugee camp. My heart simultaneously breaks and bursts with happiness as I think of those bright, beautiful, radiant children. Some of them will not make it. Some will not survive the bullets of the Israeli army. All of them will be humiliated by the army, and many will be arrested.
We visited a school in Al Khadr, near Bethlehem. It is one of many schools whose life and safety has been completely disrupted since the construction of the Apartheid Wall begun. The Israeli army bulldozed one wall of the playground, and now position themselves close to the classrooms, harassing, threatening and intimidating the children. The army frequently enters the school, breaks windows and disturbs the education of these boys. Last year the Occupying army killed two students in the school itself.
Five or six schools in that district alone face similar problems. In Anata there have been several occasions of students and teachers being attacked with tear gassed and rubber bullets whilst they are in the school. The Wall has been built through their playground. In the village of Sarra, near Nablus, the army has been throwing sound bombs as the children leave school. International presence has, for the time being, deterred the army from returning.
We picked our way through the rubble of a bombed out Palestinian house in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. From the remains of the second floor you see a snap shot of the Occupation. On top of the hill opposite, Gilo, an illegal Israeli settlement; to the right the Apartheid Wall under construction; below us a Settler only road; and under that a tunnel for Palestinians to use.
As an international solidarity worker the thing that makes it all bearable is the incredible spirit of the Palestinian people. To be with people who retain even a shred of hope and resilience in this situation is incredible.
I have been back in Palestine for a week. Although the violence and tension is less than in the early years of the Intifada, the oppressive control of Palestinian life is worse than ever. People are losing hope.
Despite this, I feel so fortunate to be here during the olive harvest and have been welcomed with incredible generosity and open heartedness. I have climbed olive trees and experienced the beauty of harvesting; feeling ripe olives running through my fingers, and hearing them fall like huge drops of rain on the tarpaulin below. Resting in the shade of the olive groves I have shared much laughter and amazing picnics with Palestinian families, who despite hardship, danger and suffering retain their humanity and infectious sparkle.
The olive harvest is a crucial time of year and is part of the very fabric of Palestinian society. Many farmers have suffered huge land loss and with this, mounting poverty. Land has been confiscated to build the Apartheid Wall, to expand Israeli settlements (whose very existence is illegal under International Law) and to construct “settler only” roads. Many farmers have land which is virtually inaccessible, falling behind the Wall, and have to negotiate a punitive system of permits and locked agricultural gates. Internationals offer accompaniment to farmers who are in danger, from both the Israeli Army and armed Israeli settlers. We stand in solidarity in the struggle to preserve land and livelihood.
I have been working in the village of Aw Zawiya, in Salfit district, central West Bank. The Apartheid Wall is already complete on one side of the village, resulting in massive land loss. Over the coming months Az Zawiya will be imprisoned on a further two sides. Many Palestinian villages are being strangled by “Ariel finger” which cuts deep into the West Bank, forming a “land corridor” between Ariel settlement and Tel Aviv.
The village of Aw Zawiya will become isolated into an enclave, along with the villages of Rafat and Deir Ballut, inaccessible to currently neighbouring villages. The army can easily control the one road in to the village - a tunnel running under a "settler only" road. Anyone who has any doubts about whether Apartheid is really happening need only take a look at the segregated road system.
The main problems the farmers from Aw Zawiya face are from Israeli settlers. Although the settlements in that area are not particularly radical, the gun is commonplace. Whilst accompanying one family we were forced to walk for 100 meters through a dark, claustrophobic drain which ran under the ”settler only” road. Shortly after emerging from the drain we met the army, controlling a small break in the Wall. An elderly man, alone and trying to reach a hospital appointment, was turned away. He did not have the "right" ID. In fact he was trying to save time and money, taking a short cut along a route that would have been possible before the Wall was built. Internationals negotiated for 2 hours with the army to be able to join the Palestinian family we were accompanying, whose land was dangerously close to a settlement.
Another family we accompanied have land which now lies within an Israeli settlement. They had to pass through the agricultural gate at Mas'ha village in order to harvest their olives. Permits to reach this land are only given during limited periods during the year, and only to older people. The gate is opened and closed once a day, and does not allow for a full days work. Palestinians have no choice or control over when they go to their land.
We also harvested with a family from the village of Haris. Their land was overgrown and the trees had not been pruned, a result of the farmer being unable to safely access his fields. Revava settlement was built on their land, and their remaining trees (from the 500 which were cut down) are very close to the settlement. Revava is becoming increasingly radicalised, and there are growing numbers of attacks, intimidation and threats made towards Palestinian farmers. The first morning we were met by armed settlement "security", who made veiled threats to shoot if we did not leave. They were joined by the Israeli army. Throughout the 2 days we had many more visits from both the army and "security", but the harvesting continued. More than in other places we could feel our international presence making a difference. This, of course, is only possible because of deep seated racism.
In a village near Nablus, another group of Internationals accompanied a family to their land which now has an Israeli watchtower built on it. They had not stepped foot in these groves for 6 years, for fear of being shot. International accompaniment not only increases the feeling of safety for the farmers, but can make a concrete difference in negotiations with the army.
Recently I accompanied a family to their land in the village of Orif, near Nablus. The day before they had been stoned by settlers; one man needed medical treatment. In Occupied Palestine the parameters change. I feel relief that it was rocks and not bullets. There have been many times when Palestinians have been threatened by armed settlers, and occasions when this has resulted in serious injury or death.
The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in June this year that Palestinians have a right to property, and a right to enter and work their land. The army and police are legally obligated to take action to protect Palestinian farmers and their property from attack. This ruling is a victory for the recognition of Palestinian rights. What remains to be seen is its effects on the ground. There have been several occasions this year when it has made a difference, when adequate army protection was given to farmers to protect them from settler attacks. There is still a long, long way to go before farmers have free and safe access to their land. In the mean time Internationals continue to offer accompaniment, armed with our international privilege, our cameras, our phones and a copy of the High Court decision.
Buying Palestinian olive oil is a concrete act of solidarity www.zaytoun.org
To join the olive harvest next autumn go to www.iwps-pal.org, www.palsolidarity.org www.zaytoun.org, www.rhr.israel.net