torsdag 25. november 2010

"Who can stop this??"

The soldiers from the Israeli Army came to the community Abu Al Ajaj in Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley in 20 jeeps and with 2 bulldozers around 6 in the morning and bulldozed three sheep sheds and one living unit housing a family of 11 members. 

Bulldozed living unit 

Yesterday morning I woke up a quarter to 7 when my colleague Rosmarie's telephone rang. She answered the phone in the living room but I could still hear the voice in the other end from my bed: - There is a house demolition going on in the Jordan Valley! Can you come quickly? I jumped out of bed and put my clothes on, grabbed my EAPPI-vest where I always carry my phones, camera, notebook, pencil, passport, money - well, in short, all I need for such a mission.

We were met with a sorry sight. The soldiers had already finished their job and had left, and there were residues from the demolished buildings all over the places. Some men from the village were still pulling out wounded lambs from the remains of the sheep sheds. Angry and distressed people were walking about.

Wounded lambs

Pulling out lambs
We walked over to the remains of the living unit and spoke with Sadie Adnan, the mother of the family that had their home bulldozed. She has a husband and 9 children. She told us that when the soldiers came they just said that they are coming to demolish their house and commanded them to get outside. The soldiers did not let their neighbours help them carry out their belongings so the family just managed to save some of their belongings before they bulldozed the house. The neighbours who tried to help were beaten and arrested.

Sadie Adnan 
The electricity was cut and several of their water barrels were also run over. - And now we do not have any water! We told the soldiers that this is water for us and our animals, but they did not care, she said. Around 50 sheep and 60 - 70 lambs were in their shelter when it was demolished.

Bulldozed sheep shed
They got the demolition order a month ago. Her family has lived here for many years; all her 9 children were born here. - I will stay here, I will die here, she said and added that they will immediately start to rebuild their units and stay with neighbours in the meantime.

A lamb in the residues
We asked the Mayor of Jiftlik, who along with much media, a representative from the Palestinian Authoritiy and the Israeli Civil Administration, had come to the place. He told us that around 150 people live in this community and altogether they own about 10,000 sheep. On the question why the house of exactly this family was demolished the Mayor said that this family was just picked at random, and that next time some other family's units will be demolished, and the army do not give them any warning, they just turn up with their bulldozers.

- The Palestinians who live here have no documentation of their ownership of the land. The land belongs collectively to Jiftlik, the Mayor explains. The Army had been there also before, in 2008 they demolished two living units and 3 sheep sheds. The soldiers had said that this is Israeli land and that the Palestinians must leave. The villagers have later rebuilt the houses. It was not always like this. The mayor goes on telling us that - before 1980 we were in good terms with the Israeli settlers living the Massu'a settlement, we were good neighbours and were visiting each other. However, with the new generation of settlers everything has changed. Now they are not friendly anymore, they want to take our land in order to expand their settlement.

Emptied water barrels
The Governor of Jericho is also very upset by what happened this day and says that the settlers are pushing the army to demolish and that the Israeli commander in this area is not willing to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority at any level. He goes on callling the Israeli regime an apartheid regime, - which is very clear here, he says. - On one side of the road you have the masters, the Massu'a settlers, and on the other side the slaves who are the villagers. The settlers have their electricity lines above our heads and their water pipes under our ground.

- Who will end this, he shouts.

And this morning we were informed that Israeli forces have demolished another 7 structures in Khirbet Yarza in Tubas, Jordan Valley, displacing 2 families of 11 people. 

The palmtrees of the Massu'a settlement across the road to the Abu Al Ajaj village

mandag 22. november 2010

Lost lands - "Where are the powerful states? Where is the UN Security Council? Why don't they do anything?"

Two days ago we met Abu Rasheed, an elderly man of 85, in the village of Yasouf. All his land has been stolen from him by Israeli settlers from the Tapuah settlement.

Abu Rasheed, 85 years
He tells a rather sad story about land that has been taken from him little by little by the settlement every year since 1978, when the settlement was founded.
- In the old days you did not have to register your land. Everybody knew who owned how much and what land, Abu Rasheed explains us. Hence he and most other land owners do not have documentation of their property. He owned 60 - 70 dunums (1 dunum equals 1,000 sqm) of land, all olive groves.To-day he has only the land around his house, all the rest has been taken by the settlement. Now you can see settlers' caravans on Rasheed's land and the olive trees are no longer cared for.

Settlement structures
 When we ask him why he did not protest and why he let the settlers take his land just like that, he argues that he has protested several times to the Israeli authorities.
- But what good does it do? The Israeli autorities represent the very same people who are stealing my land, so I never got any support from them, he adds.

Abu Rasheed has been attacked by Israeli settlers on three occasions, the last time only 3 years ago, when he was already an old man. On that day he saw 40 - 50 settlers who were picking his olives and he called the Israeli police. As the police did not show up, as they often do not on such occasions, Abu Rasheed with four friends and one British woman who happened to be in the village, approached the settlers. The settlers were wearing guns and started shooting warning shots at them to scare them away. As Abu Rasheed and his friends continued approaching them, the settlers attacked them and hit Abu Rasheed in the head with a stick and they took the British woman's camera and bags.

Tapuah settlement
Abu Rasheed also tells us about some of the methods that are being used by the settlers to grab land. They let their goats and sheep eat the olives and destroy the trees close to the settlement. Then the settlers claim that the trees are not worth anything and they can take over the land. They often also let wild boars into the fields to destroy the ground and the crops. The villagers cannot kill these animals since they are not allowed to carry weapons, as opposed to the settlers. The road that goes through Abu Rasheed's land is also taken over by settlers, so now the villagers have to take a long detour to get to their land.

The road which is taken over by the settlers
We ask him about the future - and what he thinks will happen. He looks tired and says that he is too old and does not have any future, but he hopes for his children and grand children that they one day will live in peace in Palestine. With a sad look in his face he adds that: - it is sad to see that the olive trees you planted as a young man, and have nurtured and cared for all your life, are now dying with me.

He ends our conversation with the questions: - Where are the powerful states? Where is the UN Security Council? Why don't they do anything?

torsdag 18. november 2010

Checkpoint duty.....

The alarm clock goes off at 03.20 and I am about to go on my first checkpoint duty. My colleague in Tulkarem and I get quietly out of bed so as not to wake our two still sleeping teammates. It is pitch dark outside as we walk up to the taxi station. We had ordered the taxi the evening before so the driver was waiting for us. When we got to the checkpoint area a quarter to 4 the salesmen with the market stalls were already there selling tea, coffee, sweets and fruit.

The queue-up "cages"
I am on a placement visit to colleagues in Tulkarem, a town in the north western West Bank. One of the duties of the Tulkarem team is to be present at the Taybe checkpoint and count men and women waiting to go through and to register any human rights violations. We are also counting those people who for some reason are returned and ask them why they cannot go through. There may be several reasons. Some of them are; fingerprints may not match those on the computer, the work permit may be creased at edges and they cannot read it on the scanner or the employer has cancelled his permit without informing the worker - or they just do not know why they were refused to let through.
The data we register is reported to UNOCHA, ICRC and various human rights organisations (i.a. Machsom Watch and Btselem) . They want the data logged as witness reports.
My teammate Johan and two salesmen in the checkpoint area
The Taybe checkpoint normally opens at 04.00. On an ordinary morning you will see hundreds of Palestinians who work in Israel queuing up in the narrow cages from around 03.00. This morning was the third morning of Eid, so when we arrived not more than about 40 men and 2 women were waiting in the cages in front of the turnstiles leading into the checkpoint. Inside the checkpoint the people are cautiously controlled, led through a metal detector, a fingerprint machine, and a verification of their work permit.
The turnstiles in the entrance of the checkpoint
I saw one woman crouching in the front and the line of men sitting and standing behind in the cage mumbling, smoking and drinking tea. On the Israeli side of the checkpoint I saw the employers' busses waiting to take the people to work. We arrived 15 minutes before the checkpoint was to open. At 04.10 it had still not opened and we decided to call the Humanitarian Hot Line (HHL). The HHL is operated by Israeli army staff, and they may often help to sort out problems when checkpoints are not opening on time. They promised to find out about the late opening. After 10 more minutes the checkpoint still was not opened and we called the HHL again. This time they told us it will not open till 06.00 due to the Eid holiday. So we walked off to one of the stalls and had some tea - and then suddenly the checkpoint opened and people rushed towards the turnstiles.

Waiting to come through
It did not take too long before the comparatively small queue of people were through. This morning everything went relatively smoothly, however, my Tulkarem teammates tell me that on ordinary mornings chaos is routine.

Nevertheless, it made a huge impact on me to see these people in such a humiliating situation having to queue up in these narrow cages for hours not getting any information as to when the checkpoint will open. As I walked home I could not rid that picture from my mind - and I feel humbly impressed by the patience of these people who every morning have to wait hours only to get to work.

tirsdag 16. november 2010

- Peace has become an empty word. A meeting with a brave Israeli woman

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Nomika Zion, a co-founder of the grassroots group "Other Voice". The group is comprised of citizens living in Sderot and the surrounding Gaza region. The group has no political aspirations, but call for creative action that will bring about a long-term and real solution to the region and will take the civilians out of the circle of violence.
Included in the program as Ecumenical Accompanier is a midterm week where we travel in Israel and meet and speak with people "on the other side" of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Sderot is only about 3 kilometers away from Gaza. Since 2001 more than 7,000 Qassam rockets have been launched from Gaza on Sderot.The period from 2006 up until the war in 2008 was especially difficult when as many as 60 rockets per day - any time of the day - and for months kept falling over the village. Today about 20,000 people are living in Sderot. 1/5 of the population has left during the conflict and about 100 small businesses have closed - it is a difficult economic situation.

- We are all victims of shock and anxiety, we are all traumatized and our defense system is gradually getting weaker, says Nomika. She talks about how it is to live under a constant threat of rocket attacks, that when the siren goes off you have around 10 seconds to find shelter, and what a difficult situation this is when you are driving your own and neighbours' children to school - who should you shelter first? Nomika lets us know that presently 90% of all houses are protected and have shelters. There are shielded windows of schools, all new schools are made of concrete and fully protected, all bus stations are made of concrete and protected, children's playgrounds likewise.
-The government have spent millions of dollars shielding the town, money that should have been invested in a peaceful solution of the conflict, they should rather have addressed the basic reasons why rockets are being launched, says Nomika.

Nomika Zion
She tells us about her community that used to be inhabited by tolerant people. Nomika is shocked at the way people have changed in the past years. Previously, before the war, people in Sderot often did their shopping in Gaza. Now people are more extreme towards the people in Gaza - even the leftists have changed. - Everything changed with the first intifada, she says, -people have lost their abillity to see the Palestinians as human beings because of the ongoing conflict, - and when you lose your emphaty you also lose a part of your humanity, she adds.

A playground in Sderot

The caterpillar is also a concrete shelter
The caterpillar inside where the children play and seek shelter

In January 2008 she and some friends of her decided they wanted to raise another voice - and the group "Other Voice" was born . They wanted to open a human channel to people in Gaza and to exchange experiences. They started to talk with people from Gaza on the phone. - They gave us another dimension on what was happening in Gaza, Nomika said.

From 19. June till 4. November 2008 there was a ceasefire by Hamas. In this period "Other Voice" intended to speak with members of Hamas and try and establish a relation with them. They also wrote a petition to leading Israeli politicians urging them to solve the conflict in a non-violent way, and try and get out of - the vicious circle of revenge, as Nomika put it. This 5-month period was a recovery for the people of Sderot, however, the political leaders wasted this time and the hostilities broke out again early November and rockets were once again launched at Sderot. - This was the most traumatic time of my life. Sderot was almost empty. I felt like a civilian soldier - I lived in a war zone, says Nomika, and continued - we have conducted our life from one war to another, in 48 - 67 - 73 - 82 - 84...... War pollutes our souls. Nobody comes back from a war without mental damage. I do not use the word "peace" anymore. This word has become an empty word, an enemy. I rather use "long term or short term understanding".

The school is made of concrete and had several concrete shelters in the schoolyard
Nomika says that the atmosphere in Sderot during the last war on Gaza was really awful. There was celebration in the streets when Gaza was bombed, people were glorifying the war. One of her neighbours even said that - the music of war is the most beautiful music I have ever heard, while Gaza was bombed 24 hours. The messages and voices in the media were also war propaganda.
-The journalists did not ask questions, they were rather the army's spokesmen, Nomika says, - we should ask questions about what was happening!

The bus stops are also a concrete shelter
Then Nomika wrote a "War diary from Sderot", which she later changed into "Not in my name not for my security", since the Israelis kept on saying that the war on Gaza was for the Israelis' security. She received a lot of support from people all over the world, and her article was translated overnight into 20 languages. In Sderot half of the population supported the war. One of her neighbours said to her - I feel ashamed of you, and Nomika found that difficult to take, however, she underlines that, - I can take social isolation, but I cannot stand any more fear (for rockets). My civil obligation is to speak up - and I realized I was not the only voice, but it gets more and more difficult to raise another voice in Israel, she continues.

The Qassam rocket assaults have been fewer after the war, but only 3 km away 1,5 million people are fighting for survival, and it seems that nobody cares anymore. - As if we have become numb, says Nomika. She is very pessimistic with regard to the future. She thinks that during the current Israeli extremely right wing government and the extreme Hamas the conflict will not find its solution. - I believe in a political solution, but the present politicians are not able to move forward. We can still create a dialogue though, and that is some kind of hope, she says. Her wish is that the international community puts pressure on the Israeli government and Hamas to force them to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Nomika also tells us that the "Other Voice" has managed to build good relations with the Israeli Army so that now some of their friends from Gaza may visit Israel. In February 2011 the "Other Voice" plan a "Gaza/Sderot conference" where they hope to see academics from Gaza and arrange workshops on various topics. - This is my hope for the future, says Nomika.

Gaza - picture taken from Sderot - so close and yet so far away

lørdag 6. november 2010

"How can I live with people who killed my brother?"

The entrance of Balata
Balata refugee camp on a sunny day early in November. We meet with our contact person Mohammad, a young man who has lived in the camp all his life. The refugee camp was established in 1948 and 25,000 people are living on 1,5 km2. It really is overcrowded and most of the streets are less than 1 meter wide. It is only the "main" street that is of a "normal" width. I feel a tinge of claustrophobia when walking through the camp. Mohammad leads the way and tells us that people here come from towns like Jaffa, Haifa, Akko - and from villages, like himself. "People hope to return one day - and maybe I can also go home one day and get my rights as a human being back" he says.
Narrow streets of Balata

Mohammed says that a lot changed inside him in 2006 when Israeli soldiers shot and killed his 15 year old brother while he was drinking tea with a friend. He no longer thinks he can live with the Israelis in peace. "If I go back and live in peace, it will only be one the surface. How can I live with people who killed my brother? Palestine is for Palestinians - Israelis have to leave and choose another place to live. So the right answer is - no way - I cannot live with the Israelis" he says passionately.

Murel outside Balata

We ask his personal opinion of the future of Palestine. He is convinced that nothing will change, the changes are only on paper, and hence gives us the impression that he does not believe in the future. Mohammed is the head of Balatah cultural centre. This centre has a lot of activities for children; ia. English and French classes, internet courses, football and basketball teams. "Working here", he says, "keeps me busy. I want to develop this centre for the children - I just want them to have a better life".

Boys of Balata

 "Tell the truth - tell what you see" he answers when we want to know what the internationals can do best to support him and the Balata residents.

Salesman in Balata

"With the one-state solution the Israeli settlers will be our neighbours"

"The establishment of a two-state solution is not an effective solution" was Father Ibrahim's answer to our question of what will be the future of Palestine and Israel.

Two team mates and I had made an appointment with the minister of the Anglican Church in Nablus to interview him about the general situation for Christians in Nablus and hopefully get some answers to why Christians are leaving Nablus in such big numbers. However, what was closest to his heart at that moment was to convey his opinion on the future of his homeland. He strongly believes in a one-state solution and goes on speaking of the wisdom of King Solomon and the two mothers who claim the one son. Solomon suggests that the child be cut in two and the true mother, preferring to give up her child rather than to see him butchered, asks Solomon to give her baby to the false mother. Solomon then of course understood who was the real mother.

St. Philips Church in Nablus

In Father Ibrahim's argumentation Palestine is the son and himself and many of his alike are the true mother. Palestine is too small to be divided, it has no natural borders. Palestine must be one country where all peoples can live in peace with each other. "The Zionists are putting up limits, but we have to look beyond these limits" he continues and quotes again from the Bible - "open your eyes and you will see miracles". Father Ibrahim firmly believes in this - "read the Bible and think - do not put up limits".

According to the Father there are five major problems: The Israeli settlements, borders, access to water, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem. "With one state, all these problems will disappear because the settlers become neighbours, borders are settled, water is for everyone, refugees can live where they like and Jerusalem will be for all the people".

How to achieve all this? It is a big challenge, he says. Fundamentalists on both sides will not join him, he knows. Besides, politicians are apt to go for the least complicated option, which is the two-state solution. The Father holds that the logic of nature is difficult. God created the world in a certain system, so if you for instance want to change the way of the flow of a river, this is possible by using force, but as soon as the force weakens, the river will go back to its natural course. The same with Palestine; you can change anything by force, but nature will win in the end because the force will not last forever.

So we need to take one step at the time, the Father continues. The first step, he says, is education - all, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze - must learn the beauty of diversity. "When you use more colours the picture is more beautiful. All parties in the society must accept that we are different and learn to respect this fact".

The two-state solution may be the first choice, but Father Ibrahim is convinced that the wisdom of King Solomon will prevail in the end - and that Palestine one day will be one country for all peoples to live in peace.

Before we leave him, we ask him about the reason for Christians leaving Nablus. The major reason for Christians emigrating, he says, is the occupation - or rather - the consequences of the occupation: unemployment and financial insecurity. The Western media will have it that the Christians are leaving due to muslim fundamentalism. That is not the right picture, the Father stresses. "We can live in peace with the Muslims, we have no real religious problems."

Father Ibrahim has no plans of emigrating. He will continue telling his people that the occupation will end one day - and remind them that this is the holy land and that it is important that the Christians remain here. He wants to convince them that if they work hard here, they can also thrive. "We can make the future with our own hands, but we need to stay together and in harmony with our neighbours". People will not find paradise anywhere else, he believes, they need to make their paradise here.

Father Ibrahim