Changing the demography of Occupied East Jerusalem

 “All measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policies and practices of settling parts of it population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention….and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

United Nations Security Council Resolution 465 (Adopted 1 March 1980)

Wadi Al Joz is a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem about 10 minutes walk away from the flat where I lived when I was an Ecumenical Accompanier in East Jerusalem in last Autumn. It lies downhill just outside the walls of the Old City on an untarmacked road regularly taken by Israeli settlers en route to the Western Wall to pray. It joins up with an area identified as the Kidron Valley. There are 10 Palestinian houses along this part of the road built on land variously owned by a Wacf (a Muslim trust) or private Palestinian owners.

Areef with his family outside his house 2015

Areef with his family outside his house 2015

Areef Totanji had been living in Wadi al-Joz for 18 years as a tenant of a private landlord along with 15 members of his extended family including five children.  Areef is a quiet slightly nervy man. He is known locally as a healer. People who cannot afford conventional medicine come to him for advice.  He uses natural teas and other plants for illnesses: maramia (sage) and nana (mint) for stomach ailments; jowafa (guava) for coughs. He also believes he can cure people by passing his hands above the affected parts of peoples’ bodies without touching, to draw away the tension and pain.  He believes it is a gift and does not charge for his services.

We first visited him in early October. We had heard that his son, Mahmoud[1], had had his house demolished a couple of months earlier. We sat outside with Areef and drank the usual sweet tea while he told us the story. The tiny garden was neatly laid out with bright flowers and herbs. Several children hung around along with a number of well-fed cats.

Mahmoud’s house had only just been completed and he and his pregnant wife had not yet properly moved in.  It was only a four minute walk away from Areef’s house and Areef had actually been sleeping there with Mahmoud when the bulldozers arrived and reduced the house to rubble. Mahmoud was so distressed that he was hospitalised with a nervous condition.

 

Mahmoud's house demolished 18 August 2015

Mahmoud’s house demolished 18 August 2015

He had used all of his savings over several years to build the house and now it was all gone. He had been discharged but was still very upset and depressed.  He appeared briefly but then went indoors and did not join us. Instead his wife came out to show us their two month old baby daughter and passed her round to each of us for a cuddle.

 

When I went to say goodbye to Areef before I left Jerusalem last year he was very agitated. He had just received a court order to produce planning permission for his house within three months or the house would be demolished. There was no planning permission. The owners had not applied for any. It takes months, it is expensive and statistics show that nearly all planning applications from Palestinians in Jerusalem are rejected. He looked distraught. His last words to me in his meagre broken English were: ‘I don’t want to kill the Jew, but I don’t want the Jew to kill me.’

On 9th May 2016, Areef’s house was demolished.

Areef's house demolished 9 May 2016

Areef’s house demolished 9 May 2016

An EA, Johanna, serving in Jerusalem at the time wrote movingly about it at the time: she described that when she arrived Areef was beside himself, shouting. Soldiers prevented both them and the family approaching the house. They stood with Areef as the bulldozers destroyed his home. He told them soldiers had woken them at 4.00 a.m. As usual in such cases the family were told to dress and leave. Soldiers then removed the furniture. One of the soldiers said: “I don’t like doing this. I don’t like destroying people’s homes.” Areef pointed out that he was still in his slippers. He had not had time to find his shoes. Johanna described the mother cat, calling for her kittens, now buried under the rubble.

I tried to find Areef when I was in Jerusalem in October this year. I went to see the ruins of his house and enquired after the family but could not find anyone who knew where they had gone.  Someone told me that the family had been split up and were living with friends and relations somewhere near the Old City. Someone else told me that Areef himself was living in Mount Scopus, near the big Israeli Hadassah hospital but he could not give me a contact number.

I walked on down the track and called on another family living nearby. Nureddin Amro had had part of his house demolished in 2014. I wrote about the Amro family last year in my blog “Living under threat of demolition” which you can see here.  The Amros reported that they have not had any further notification of demolition but the police and army constantly patrol the area and linger outside their house. They find this very intimidating and are constantly on edge.

From August 2004 up to the end of August 2016, 641 houses have been destroyed in East Jerusalem leaving 2,358 people homeless, 1,297 of them minorsThe reason given in most cases is that the buildings have been built without planning permission.  Planning permission is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain and the process long and expensive. Most Palestinians build without. A recent report featured by the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz reveals that only 7% of Jerusalem building permits go to Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The Israeli government’s position is that this whole area has been designated for a park and that these buildings will all be razed. It is part of a plan for Jerusalem to improve it and make it more beautiful. Virtually all of (mainly Palestinian) East Jerusalem has been zoned as “open green space,” meaning a Palestinian can own land but cannot build on it, the land being reserved for future urban development. All of Wadi Al Joz is in occupied East Jerusalem captured during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed by Israel in 1980. Annexation of conquered territory is illegal under international law. East Jerusalem remains occupied Palestinian territory and thus comes under the Fourth Geneva Convention which explicitly forbids destruction of property unless for reasons of military necessity.

The Jerusalem municipality reports that it would be necessary to build 1,500 new housing units per year to accommodate the natural growth of the Palestinian population in the city, but between 1967 and 2015 only 14,000 permits were approved, averaging 291 each year. According to the Israeli organisation, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, the official policy of the Israeli government is to maintain a 72%-28% majority of Jews over Arabs in Jerusalem (the actual ratio today is about 64%-36%).  Palestinians in Jerusalem do not have Israeli citizenship even if their families have lived there for generations. They only have permanent residency that can be revoked.

Several Israelis have spoken to me about the ‘demographic threat’[2]. Other than ultra-Orthodox families, Jewish families tend to be smaller than Palestinian ones. They are very frightened of being outnumbered by Palestinians. This deep seated fear drives a whole raft of discriminatory laws and practices.

On 9 November the Israeli administration destroyed a petrol station in Wadi al-Joz.  The destruction of Palestinian owned properties along this valley rolls inexorably on. Palestinians are slowly and steadily being driven out.

1] Areef’s name is in the public domain. I have changed his son’s name because it is not.

[2] An article in Haaretz in January 2013 forecast that by end of 2016 Arabs and Jews in the whole of Israel-Palestine will total around 6.5 million each. By 2020 Arabs will exceed that of Jews: 7.2 million Arabs compared to 6.9 million Jews.

I am no longer an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views expressed in this article are entirely my own.

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Rules of the Occupation – a rigged game

Hekmat’s land is on the outskirts of Kafr Qaduum near the gate by the illegal Israeli settlement of Qedumim [1].  We had come to help with his olive harvest because the family is very poor. Hekmat and his wife, Tamam are both children of refugees who fled here from Haifa in 1948 during what Israelis call ‘The War of Independence’ – Palestinians call it ‘the Nakba’ (disaster). Hekmat’s family had farmed citrus fruits on the outskirts of Haifa. After the fighting was over, the family were never allowed back.[2] An ongoing sense of dispossession passed to the next generation led Hekmat and Tamam to name their only daughter Haifa.

Haifa fell in love with my sunglasses

Haifa fell in love with my sunglasses

The family made good in Kafr Qaduum, worked hard and prospered until an unfortunate business venture left them almost destitute. They sold some of their land and now a major part of their income is from their olives. The olive harvest is problematic everywhere in the West Bank. Our group is only one of many who come to protect Palestinian farmers from being prevented from harvesting by Israeli settlers or soldiers. On 14 November, Rabbis for Human Rights issued a damning report on this year’s olive harvest in the Northern part of the West Bank.

Hekmat’s family owned their land before the Israeli occupation in 1967 and before Qedumim was built in 1977. Over the years, Qedumim has grown and settlers have erected a fence around it ‘for security’. Some of Hekmat’s land now straddles the fence. This brings a number of problems. He cannot visit his olive trees growing behind the fence without a permit. Permits are only issued during the olive harvest. This means he cannot look after his trees at any other time, water them, check for disease, prune, weed or manure the ground. The trees survive but yield less.

Hekmat

Hekmat

This year, permits to harvest inside the fence were delayed by the Jewish holidays of Sukkot and Yom Kippur. For an Israeli administrator, the delay was, perhaps, a small scheduling matter; for Palestinian farmers, however, it can mean the difference between a viable crop and one which is spoiled. If trees drop their olives before farmers can harvest them, the crop deteriorates.

Internationals are rarely allowed to accompany farmers inside the fence, and farmers are almost never given permits for enough days to finish the harvest. Our task therefore was to complete the harvest outside the fence to free Hekmat for when the permits came through.

Although land outside the fence supposedly needs no permit, there are still problems with access. Not long after we arrived in the morning an Israeli settler drove past. Then Israeli soldiers appeared and came up the bank towards us. We were next to Tamam, so we asked her what she would like us to do. She looked frightened and told us to leave but by then the soldiers were beside us asking us what we were doing. A discussion followed and finally the soldiers said: “We won’t stop you but we will stay here in case anything happens.” And so they did. At one point there were six soldiers watching us. There were only seven of us, most of us women of a certain age. Hekmat told us that they would have almost certainly been evicted from their grove if we had not been with them. I have seen it happen in previous years.

In what other context, would it be acceptable to drive a fence across privately owned land and deny access to that land’s rightful owners?[3] In what other context, would farmers be questioned by armed soldiers before being ‘allowed’ to be on their own land? In almost 50 years, the rules of the occupation have become ‘normal’.

However, preventing access is not the only way in which the occupation contrives to prise Palestinians from their land. Israeli settlers often damage trees, either by burning them or cutting them down. Two days before I arrived in Kafr Qaduum to join my group, settlers burned about 25 trees in a nearby grove. Hekmat’s son, Asset, told us how he saw the smoke and ran to try to put out the fire. He saw settlers run from the burning grove towards the settlement. He also saw Israeli Border Police from the settlement watch, but do nothing. Border Police see their remit as protecting the illegal settlers. Settlers repeatedly damage Palestinian property with impunity. Standing Idly By, a report by the Israeli human rights organisation, Yesh Din, indicates the level of inaction by the Israeli Army and Border Police in cases brought by Palestinians against Israeli settlers.

Kafr Qaduum Olive Grove burned on 13 October 2016

Kafr Qaduum Olive Grove burned on 13 October 2016

There are wider issues in the area round Kafr Qaduum. The proposed route of the Israeli Separation Barrier (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice [4]) snakes deep into the West Bank round Qedumim creating a large settlement block known as ‘the Qedumim Finger’ which links illegal settlements  to each other and to Israel.  This barrier will exclude Kafr Qaduum and other Palestinian villages but take in large swathes of their land. It has not yet been built but shows clearly in the plans, below:

UNOCHA - Qalqiliya, 2012

The Israeli official position is that their actions are entirely to protect settlers. From the perspective of Palestinians who live near settlements right across the West Bank, this response rings hollow. If the rules of the occupation make Palestinian use of their land very difficult and the profit low, farmers may have to give up and seek work elsewhere. Land left untended for three consecutive years can be confiscated by the state under the Ottoman Absentee Land Law (1865)[5]. It can then be absorbed into the settlement.

It’s a rigged game.

 

International Law:

[1] All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49: ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

[2] The Right of Return for refugees after a war is a principle of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights

[3] United Nations Unviversal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13) ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.’

[4] The International Court of Justice (2004) – ‘The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.

[5] The Ottoman Absentee Land Law (1865) states that if land is left uncultivated for three consecutive years it is forfeit to the state. The Israeli administration has used it widely to acquire land across the West Bank.

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Silent occupation, land grab and the myth of the ‘security’ fence

Jayyus, is a West Bank village six kilometres east of the Green Line, the 1948 internationally recognised Israeli border with Occupied Palestine.

Main Street Jayyus

In 2002, the illegal Israeli settlement of Zufin[1], occupying some of the village’s most fertile land was illegally set up inside the occupied West Bank, between Jayyus village and the “Green Line”,. The Israeli Government claimed that a separation fence[2] which followed was built ‘for security’ and its route was chosen to allow for ‘natural expansion’ of this settlement.  The fence was built right next to the village, dividing the villagers from 80% of their land and five of their six major wells.

Land between the Green Line and the fence is known as the ‘seam zone’. Access to this land is regulated by the Israeli army through agricultural gates requiring a permit which can be refused without explanation. Jayyus went from being ‘the breadbasket’ of the surrounding villages to a village severely impoverished and dependent on different forms of outside help. After much protest and agitation by the villagers, the fence was re-routed in 2013 to return some land and one of the original six wells to the village side of the fence. The story of their struggle to regain their land continues.

I spent three months in Jayyus as an Ecumenical Accompanier in 2012 and returning there with my German team-mate Juliane in October this year, the visible changes were striking. On the surface, Jayyus is becoming a thriving place again. In 2012, the main street was almost empty. Shops were locked shut. Only Ibrahim kept a shop at our end of the village. A year ago, he took over the next-door space doubled his trading area. He used to say ‘Ibrahim has everything’. Now, he almost has.  Up the street, too, there are more grocery stores and several more clothes shops, where before there was just one. There is even a beauty salon.

This increase in commercial activity follows the re-routing of the military fence to allow the village access to more of its agricultural land. We drove down to the “liberated” fields with Abu Azzam, our erstwhile landlord and village leader. The farms have been transformed. Land has been reclaimed, ploughed and planted after years of neglect by farmers who were denied permits to go through the gates. The terrain is hardly recognisable. Olive saplings now grow where parts of the fence used to be. There is a machine by the site of the former Falamia agricultural gate to dry za’atar (herbs) in commercial quantities.

One young man told us that the army had not been in the village for the previous month. Reflecting, our informant then corrected himself and said that actually there had been one night-time house search and ‘something got broken’. But there were no arrests. This was said as if that search had been a small matter. It was. Night searches often resulted in almost everything been broken.  Arrests, particularly of children, though not frequent were a real fear.

On the dark side, the struggle for Jayyus land and water continues. The occupation is now largely silent. The rerouting of the fence has returned some land but twice as much still remains on the other side of the fence.  The illegal settlement, Zufin, is expanding apace. A whole new row of houses have been built at the foot of the hill. More privately owned Palestinian land has been taken.[3]

Though many farmers have permits to access their land behind the fence, some have not.  One man told me he has 100 olive trees behind the fence. He cannot get a permit to harvest them because he was imprisoned during the protests of 2002 when the fence was being built. He has to pay people to harvest his crop in order to protect his land from being seized under the Ottoman Land Law.[3] For all Jayyus’ apparent prosperity, people still struggle with the daily reality of their land being fenced off, the lack of access to adequate amounts of water. There are still many very poor people in the village.

Abu Azzam is now in Lunch on the farmhis mid 70s and not in the best of health.  We spent a happy day with him on his land, picking clementines and being seriously over-fed by his wife, Siham. Abu Azzam, a spirited fighter and champion of the struggle of the villagers, recounts his own story. He is currently involved in three legal cases against the Israelis Administration.

Firstly, the battle for water. The released well now provides water to the village at a reasonable price because it runs on an electric pump. However, though villagers have access to the wells on the other side of the fence, they have been denied permission to lay electric cables to run pumps on these wells. One of the wells is now running with a diesel driven pump but this makes the water twice as expensive, bumping up the costs of produce. Abu Azzam recently met with the local army general to propose using Israeli electricity which he feels might get approval, as an Israeli company would benefit.

Blue marker on Abu Azzam's landSecondly, he has been informed that part of his land is now Israeli state land. Blue markers appeared on stones on his land to indicate the claim. He says this is a case of mistaken identification of a plot on the ground. The plot number quoted is 2km away from his land.  Verbal exchanges with the local general were to no avail so he went to the Israeli court to prove it. The judge refused to re-open the file. His lawyer advised him to make a fresh application to re-register all this part of his land – then they would have to open file. He has a Jordanian map (from 1948), a British Mandate map (from 1918) and a previous Israeli court decision for a licence to lay water-pipes all proving the land is his. The process is long and expensive. Nevertheless, like farmers everywhere Abu Azzam is determined not to lose his land.

The third case is about the part of his land still isolated behind the fence. He learned by accident last year that a substantial piece of his land next to the Israeli military camp had been registered as Israeli state land. ‘Apparently, grandchildren of the, now deceased, Palestinian owner of some adjacent land, now living in Kuwait, sold their land to the Israelis but sold an incorrect amount.’   Abu Azzam’s face darkened as he told me the story. Collaboration with the enemy is always painful, particularly the sale of precious land. Each sale of land to the Israelis endangers the land next to it which can be seized ‘for security’.  In this case, the land “sold” included pieces belonging not just to Abu Azzam, but to three other Palestinians as well.  Once again, he has to go to court to prove his ownership. His feelings are not only directed to the Israelis, he expressed anger as well that the Palestinian authority did nothing to stop the sale.The fence dividing Jayyus from the remainder of its land

The village council has always argued that the fence should be moved to the Green Line. All the ‘seam zone’ land near Jayyus belongs to Jayyusi farmers who have farmed it for generations. Indeed, some farmers used to own land beyond the Green Line, but lost it when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

The Israeli Government claims that the fence is for security. This assertion seems doubtful.  You don’t have to be in Jayyus for long for people to tell you gleefully that there is yet another hole in the fence where people regularly go through to work in Israel.  I have witnessed this myself (see my blog, ‘Jayyus one year on’) and watched Israeli soldiers see it too.  The Bank of Israel Annual Report for 2014 lists 33,000 Palestinians working in Israel without permits. If they can by-pass the fence, surely others with sinister intent could do so also.

Uninformed Israelis may take comfort in the notion that the fence protects their security, but this appears to be at best a pretense. The Fence is a mechanism for land-grab. More insidiously, it helps feed the perception that all Palestinians are dangerous and need to be fenced off.

Jayyus provides a microcosm of how the occupation tightens its grip. Palestinian ownership of land they have held for centuries is being systematically undermined right across the West Bank. Field by field, well by well, carried out “legally”, mostly silently, and frequently without the knowledge of the rightful owners until it is too late. Anyone less tenacious than Abu Azzam might have given up.  You need a big heart and iron resolve to continue to battle against daily stealthy oppression.  Abu Azzam has both in good measure: during the time I have known him, his determination in the struggle for Jayyus land has in no way diminished. 

A day's harvest

Our day’s harvest

[1] The International Court of Justice (2004) – ‘The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.

[2] Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 147): ‘appropriation of property…not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully, and wantonly… is a war crime.’

[3] The Ottoman Land Law 1865 states that if land is left uncultivated for three consecutive years it is forfeit to the state. It does not mention a situation in which the owner is denied access to his land.

[i] The Fourth Geneva Convention, (Article 49) ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

I am no longer an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views expressed in this blog are entirely mine.

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Al-Khalayleh – the village that became a prison

Abu Jafar led us to a large tent, the community centre for the village. Al Khalayleh is situated in the ‘Seam Zone’ north east of Jerusalem, the area caught between the Israeli separation barrier, which in places has encroached onto Palestinian land, and the ‘green line’, the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine. The barrier has split the village, leaving the 700 inhabitants of Al Khalayleh on the Israeli side cut off from their community and families of Al Jib on the other side. The village is surrounded by four illegal Israeli settlements, Givat Ze’ev, Givon (new and old) and Har Smoel, all of which are expanding. 

2.12.15. Al Khalayleh looking towards settlement Givat Ze'ev Photo EAPPI. K.Cargin

Looking towards the settlement of Givat Ze’ev from Al Khalayleh [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

The village is surrounded by the Israeli separation barrier with some areas falling inside the Jerusalem municipal boundary and some areas outside. Therefore, some villagers have Jerusalem IDs and some West Bank IDs. The situation is different for the different ID holders. All villagers have to go through a checkpoint to get to their homes but those with a Jerusalem ID have more freedom of movement and can go into Israel. Abu Jafar has lived in Al Khalayleh all his life and has a West Bank ID. He can only go into the West Bank and to do that he has to go through a checkpoint. As he talks he builds up a picture of what life in the village is like for West Bank ID Palestinians since the building of the barrier here and the installation of checkpoints.

No new people can move in to Al Khalayleh unless they marry someone who lives there already. Even then only men are allowed to bring their wives there; women cannot bring their husbands. It hardly matters. They are not allowed to build new houses, so when young people marry they usually move away. For Palestinians, whose culture rests on close family ties, this is a great hardship. Elderly parents and others who are old or infirm are absorbed into extended families. But here this entire safety net is removed.

Villagers from Al Khalayleh can visit people in the West Bank, but people from the West Bank cannot visit them without a permit. Shopping is also a problem. It is okay to bring in groceries but not an item of furniture, a bottle of calor gas or a washing machine. Abu Jafar keeps a number of birds and animals and found that bulk animal feed also needs a permit. It takes a minimum of two hours to get a permit but it can take days. All of this is against Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states we all have the right to move freely within our own country, to leave it and to return.

The village is without basic services, no schools, no buses or a Post Office. Doctors from the Palestinian Medical Relief Service come once a week and hold a clinic in a container on Abu Jafar’s land. If people are seriously ill and have to go to hospital they have to get an Israeli ambulance to the checkpoint and then a Palestinian one from the checkpoint to a hospital in Ramallah. Children have to go through the checkpoint to go to school. Sometimes the soldiers search their school bags which makes them late.

2.12.15.Abu Jafar in front of clinic in Al Khalayleh Photo EAPPI. K.Cargin

Abu Jafar in front of the clinic on his land in Al Khalayleh [Photo: EAPPI./K.Cargin]

Many of the houses were built before the beginning of the occupation in 1967. Those built after 1967 were usually built without planning permission (which is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain) and are therefore very vulnerable. Every few months or so another house or shop gets a demolition order. Abu Jafar mentions in passing that neither the container for the clinic nor the tent in which we sit have planning permission and could be demolished at any time. It is clear to Abu Jafar that the long-term plan is to remove all Palestinians from the enclave.

I asked him if he would consider leaving. He replied, ‘You cannot just leave your home, your family, your land and go somewhere else. Where would I go?’ I asked Abu Jafar what gave him hope. There was a long silence while he struggled to find an answer. Then he changed the subject.

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Al Aqsa – what’s all the fuss about

The Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount 37 acre compound is in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. The compound contains the Al-Qibali Mosque, the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam where thousands of Muslims worship every day. There are also three schools – a kindergarten, and Al-Aqsa boys and girls schools with over 500 enrolled pupils.

30.09.15 Dome of the Rock.Photo EAPPI K.Cargin

A view of the Haram Al Sharif with the golden Dome of the Rock [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

The Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) is one of the retaining walls of this compound. Jews consider it the remaining foundation wall of the Second Temple compound which was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE, so they call it the Temple Mount. It is their most important and significant holy site with large numbers of Jews worshipping at the wall daily.

25.11.2015 Western Wall Plaza with Dome of the Rock above. Photo EAPPI K.Cargin

The Western Wall Plaza with the Dome of the Rock above [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the Haram Al Sharif without interruption and legally through a body called a Waqf which operates like a trust. It remained in place before and throughout the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and Jordanian rule in the middle of the 20th century. After the 1967 War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, of which the Old City of Jerusalem is part, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan left the Waqf in control, with Jewish and Muslim worshippers separated on the site, to avoid what he feared could be a major conflagration with the Arab and Islamic world. This division of Muslim and Jewish worshippers is called the ‘status quo’ and this, and the Waqf, continue to be overseen by Jordan. Interference with this status quo is hugely provocative. Both the first and second intifadas and the current violence started with incursions into the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount compound by Jewish worshippers.

Haram Al Sharif is hugely significant for Palestinian Muslims. Where people have lost rights to land and self-determination it is for many a symbol of Palestine itself. For Muslims, it is the one place in Jerusalem where they are not under the eye of occupying forces. A man said to one of my team, “Now they are trying to take the Al Aqsa from us, so we will have nothing.” Another man said to me, “In Israel, we are looked down on as Arabs. We don’t belong. In the Al Aqsa compound we are free to be Muslims”. Another man, born and brought up in the Old City, said that the compound represented his childhood, with weekly family picnics. There is very little free space in the Old City.

28.9.15 Al Aqsa mosque  Photo EAPPI H.Griffiths

The Al Aqsa mosque [Photo: EAPPI/H.Griffiths]

Although the compound is controlled by the Waqf, its eight gates are controlled by armed Israeli authorities. Daily gate monitoring by EAs of access for Muslims in the last few months indicate there have been many and various restrictions and sometimes complete closure, all of which have caused problems.

Muslims see an Israeli Jewish viewpoint to demolish the Dome of the Rock and the mosques in order to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple becoming alarmingly mainstream, even among views within or close to the present government. In July 2010, the government-owned Knesset media channel ran a public opinion poll which showed that 49% of Israelis want the Temple to be rebuilt. In July 2014, the Third Temple Institute which aims to see Israel rebuild the Third Temple on the Temple Mount published a video depicting this. Muslims fear that incursions of extremist Jews combined with archaeological tunnelling under the compound is a covert way of achieving that goal.

10.12.15 Settlers coming into Al Aqsa Betancourt..JPG

Settlers coming into the Al Aqsa compound [EAPPI/Betancourt]

A Palestinian shopkeeper told me of a more immediate fear, that the Al Aqsa compound will be divided and there will be certain times for Jews and other times for Muslims. The Ibrahami Mosque in Hebron sets a precedent for this with treatment for worshippers going to pray differing for each community: Muslims are scanned for metal but Jews openly carry guns through. In such circumstances, Muslims do not feel safe.

Middle East Monitor reports evidence of increasing attempts by Jewish extremists to change the status quo.  During the Jewish festivals when Israeli forces entered the compound to secure it for groups of Jewish visitors (sometimes including extremists) they cleared it of Muslim worshippers. During clashes Israeli soldiers fired sound grenades, rubber bullets and pepper gas resulting in damage to the Al-Qibali mosque.

Some Jewish Israelis I met have pointed out to me that this site is also sacred to Jews. No one would deny this, but the status quo was drawn up to be as fair as possible to give each community a place to worship and to keep the peace. In a future time, when the occupation is ended, the state of Palestine is recognised and Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Muslims have equality and justice, sharing the site might be a possibility. But in the present climate, there is very little hope that this could be done peacefully.

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Shoot to kill

Every morning, Ecumenical Accompaniers based in East Jerusalem walk through the walled Old City to check that Muslims have access to worship on the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

On Sunday November 29, 2015 just before 8.00 am, we were stopped at the entrance to the Old City itself as there had been an alleged stabbing and fatal shooting near Damascus Gate, one of the main gates into the Old City. The Israeli military were preventing people going down Al Wad Street and there was some minor shouting and shoving. Eventually, we saw in the distance a trolley stretcher being loaded up and the man’s body being wheeled away. Someone hosed down the street.

29.11.15 body of man shot in Old City being taken away. Photo EAPPI.K.Cargin

The body of a man shot in Old City being taken away, 29/11/2015 [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

29.11.15 Damascus gate ambulance waiting. Photo EAPPI.K.Cargin

An ambulance waiting at the Damascus Gate, 29/11/2015 [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

We heard later from a shopkeeper near one of the gates to the Al Aqsa compound that a 38 year-old man from Nablus attempted to stab a member of the border police on Al Wad Street inside the Old City. He added, “They don’t arrest people any more. They just shoot them”.

This morning doing the same walk, a man I often come across told me that there had been a fatal shooting last night in Silwan, a district of East Jerusalem not far from the Old City. Before I could stop him he showed me a photo on his phone of the young man with a gunshot wound in the middle of the chest. The amount of blood may suggest he had not died instantly. My informant didn’t know why the young man had been shot and press reports are unclear. There were clashes in the area including stone throwing and Israeli military sources report petrol bombs being thrown. However, a local organisation with whom we work reported the area in which the young man was shot appears to have been relatively quiet.

The Israeli military have been using live rounds against Palestinian demonstrators for some years. Their marksmen are accurate. Until recently people were shot in the leg; aiming to kill was relatively rare though not unknown. Since the last wave of violence which began in September, shooting to kill has become the norm. Worryingly, this practice appears to have the support of the general Jewish Israeli population. A report releasedthis month by the Israeli Democracy Institute, an Israeli think tank, indicated that 93% of the public believe the Israeli military is handling the situation well. Jewish Israelis may feel safer that anyone thought to be a potential ‘terrorist’ has been shot dead, but without arrest, charge and trial, the truth and therefore the level of real threat cannot be ascertained.

The current situation exacerbates fear but it also feeds mistrust. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is widespread belief amongst Palestinians we meet that many of the reports of knife attacks are untrue. There are videos on social media that show people being shot with no evidence of knives. A man said to me, “If there is any trouble they always say that it is the Palestinian’s fault”. His friend added, “If you do something or if you don’t do something they still kill you”.

Human rights groups and some press question the lack of arrests and trials for alleged attackers. Al Jazeera ran a story on it in October. The same month, nine Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations signed a joint statement published by B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights NGO. It quotes several high profile Israeli police and politicians declaring their support for a shoot to kill policy. The statement calls on them to deal with the causes of the violence instead: “The Israeli government should act to end the reality of ongoing and daily oppression faced by some four million people who live without hope of any change in the situation, without any horizon for the end of occupation, and without prospects for a life of liberty and dignity”.

Shooting to kill is only allowed where a threat to life cannot be prevented in any other way. Israel has a duty to protect its citizens including against a wave of knife crime. However, many of the videos show that whether or not the attacker had a knife, the attackers could have been disabled and arrested rather than killed.

Take action box 2

Palestine Briefing, a parliamentary newsletter and briefing service which members of the public can subscribe to, has summarised the UK government’s latest response to the continuing violence, including the killing of Palestinian suspects. You can read their summary here.

Please write to your MP (in the UK) or TD (in Ireland) asking them to read the joint statement published by B’Tselem and raise the issue with the UK and Irish governments.

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Living under threat of demolition

On March 31, 2015, Nureddin Amro’s whole family planned to go on a picnic to Tel Aviv. The children were very excited and looking forward to it. The household consists of Nureddin, his 80-year-old mother Zoubeidah, his wife Nabeha, and their three children. Also living with them is his brother Sharif with his wife and four children. Nureddin, Sharif and Zoubeidah are all blind.

At 5.30 that morning, they were woken by a large number of soldiers who announced that they were going to demolish part of the house. They didn’t say which part. Nureddin challenged them and said there had been no warning or paperwork. The soldier gave him a piece of paper. Nureddin, being blind, passed it to his wife to read. She was puzzled and said, “This paper is blank”.  The soldier snatched it back.

Nureddin asked for time till sunrise so that they could prepare but the soldiers ignored the request and gave the go-ahead to the demolition crew. The children were frightened and crying as they watched the bulldozers demolish their kitchen which was the room where they watched television and did their homework. The crew also destroyed two outhouses which housed their chickens and their rabbits. In the process, the bulldozers damaged the sewage pipes, electricity cables and their garden, knocking down the perimeter wall which protected their house from the road. Nureddin described it as a criminal act.

Nureddin, Nabeha and their children. {Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

Nureddin, Nabeha and their children outside their demolished home [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

The children are still very nervous and cry at night when they hear noises. They think it is the bulldozers again, coming back to destroy the rest of their home. For two months they were reluctant to go to school in case the house wouldn’t be there when they came back.

The Amro family are not the only ones in this position. All the houses along this piece of land are likely to be demolished to make way for a nature park as part of the Israeli government’s master plan for Jerusalem. Some have already received demolition papers, others not. For some of them, the given reason is that they have been built without planning permission. All houses built since the Israeli occupation started in 1967 need planning permission – though this, for Palestinians, is almost impossible to get. However, Nureddin’s house does not have a demolition order because the house was built before 1967 and they have lived in it for forty years as protected tenants of the Waqf, a Muslim trust. To date, seven months later his lawyer has not received an explanation for why this partial demolition took place. All such demolition is against international law relating to occupied territory which clearly forbids destruction of property except for military necessity.

Since 1967 Israel has demolished 2,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem,500 of these since August 2004. Though the ostensible reason, in this area, is to beautify the city for the benefit of all its inhabitants, these demolitions serve government policy to reduce the ratio of Palestinians to Jewish-Israelis living in East Jerusalem. This is specifically against Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids forcible transfer of protected persons, and violates UN Resolution 465 on changing the demography of occupied East Jerusalem .

Nureddin is the breadwinner for all the family. He is headmaster of the Siraj al-Quds school for blind and partially sighted children in East Jerusalem, about 15 minutes’ walk from their home. He is passionate about the opportunities it offers for the poorest and most disadvantaged children in the city.

So what will happen to Nureddin and his family? Palestinians who have their houses demolished are not rehoused. It is unlikely that he will be able to rent anywhere else in Jerusalem. The restrictions on houses available to Palestinians have made housing in Jerusalem prohibitively expensive. It would be almost impossible to find somewhere for an extended family of twelve. If he leaves Jerusalem he will lose his job and the family will be destitute. When I pose this question to Nureddin, he replies he has nowhere to go. He says he will rebuild his house or live in a tent where his house now stands.

 

I have been send by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of QPSW or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt teresap@quaker.org.uk for permission. Thank you.

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