The Pope’s Mountain

Jabal Al Baba has an interesting history. In 1964, when Pope Paul VI visited the West Bank, then under temporary Jordanian rule, the late King Hussein gave him 170 dunums of land (around 42 acres) on the periphery of Jerusalem to build a church. Subsequently, the area was renamed Jabal Al Baba: the Pope’s Mountain. There is no letter ‘p’ in Arabic so Papa becomes Baba. The church building was begun but never continued.

The Bedouin village of Jabal Al Baba sits on this and adjacent land. Its inhabitants are all refugees, evicted from Ber Sheva in the Negev in what is now Israel when the State of Israel was established. It is home to 54 families comprising about 300 people. Bedouin are no longer migrating herding tribes. The villagers of Jabal Al Baba do still herd sheep but they have been settled here since 1948.  They graze their sheep, their main source of income, in the hills around where they live.

Pope's Mountain 12.10.15 Jabal Al Baba Photo EAPPI K (1)

The Bedouin village of Jabal Al Baba [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

Attallah, the village leader, is small and wiry with a quiet confidence. He welcomed us and showed us around the village. Under the laws of occupation, Israel has a duty of care towards the occupied population who are classified as ‘protected persons’. However, Jabal Al Baba is not connected up to either the water or electricity network. They receive both from the nearby Palestinian town of Al-Eizariya via a cable strung between poles across the valley and some fragile water pipes. The planned route of the Israeli separation barrier will cut off Jabal Al Baba from this town. A Palestinian mobile clinic visits them once a week. The Israeli government’s view is that this village shouldn’t be here.

Pope's Mountain 12.10.15 Jabal Al Baba Attallah with his son Photo EAPPI K.Cargin

Attallah with his son [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

In the 1980s, the Israeli government began to build the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, reserved exclusively for Jewish Israelis.  As with all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, Ma’ale Adumim is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

First, like most settlements, it started with caravans, but unlike in Jabal Al Baba, roads and infrastructure were quickly added by the developers. Gradually over the following 30 years a huge town has grown up.  Ma’ale Adumim now looks like a Mediterranean town anywhere. Driving through you can see wide boulevards and green verges with palm trees. At the entrance there is an artificial lake. They have swimming pools, schools and clinics. There has plainly been massive investment.

The establishment and expansion of Ma’ale Adumim has had a catastrophic effect on nearby Jabal Al Baba.  It has cut back their available grazing. Before the year 2000 they had about 3,000 animals. They now have 700 because that is all their reduced land will sustain.

But there is a further development threatening Jabal Al Baba. The village sits in the contentious E1 district, zoned for development of further illegal settlements to join Ma’ale Adumim to East Jerusalem. The E1 plans are highly strategic and politically sensitive. If the E1 settlement building is allowed to continue it will effectively cut the West Bank in two and cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Both of these things will make a two-state solution impossible.

Pope's Mountain 1 Maale Adumim

The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim overlooking Jabal Al Baba [Photo: EAPPI/S.Magnusson]

To make way for this expansion, the Israeli government plans to demolish the whole of Jabal Al Baba and move its people to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. Israel claims that this will improve their lives and connect them to public services. They will be given 50 dunums (around 12 acres) for the entire village, entirely unsuitable for a community which derives its income from keeping sheep. The area chosen for relocation is beside the city dump.

Under international law destruction of property and forcible transfer of protected persons is prohibited.  The Israeli government’s justification is that most of the buildings were built without planning permission. However, planning permission is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), reports that 97% of submitted applications by Palestinians for building between 2010 and 2013 were refused.

Attallah is highly articulate and has travelled widely to try to get justice for his people and fight against the Israeli government’s plans to demolish and forcibly transfer the village. On a recent visit to Europe, he visited the Vatican to remind them that they still own this piece of land and to request their help. The community’s own plans for developing Jabal Al Baba, where it is, include a school and community centre. He proudly showed us the beginnings of a guest house funded by the Vatican which he and his brother built and hope to run as a small business to support the community. He expects it to be demolished but says if it is, he will build it again.

Jabal Al Baba is a beautiful peaceful hillside. Most of the community were born here and lived here all their lives. They fervently hope that their children will be able to grow up here also.

Pope's Mountain 12.10.15. EAs visiting the bedouin community Jabal al Baba. Photo EAPPI. S. Magnusson

EAs visiting the Bedouin community of Jabal al Baba [Photo: EAPPI/S.Magnusson]

I have been sent 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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Women in Black

Keeping alive the possibility of dissent, every Friday, Women-in-Black hold a silent vigil on a roundabout at the junction of five roads in West Jerusalem. They wear black clothing in mourning for all victims of the conflict, hence the name. They hold placards in the shape of a hand with the message saying ‘Stop the Occupation’ variously in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Women in Black was formed by Israeli women in Jerusalem in 1988 following the outbreak of the First (non-violent) Intifada. They were responding to violations of human rights perpetrated by Israeli settlers and soldiers in Occupied Palestine. By now it is a world-wide movement. Last Friday we stood alongside them from noon until 1pm as EAs do each week.

20.10.15 Women in Black Photo EAPPI. K.Cargin

Women in Black Photo EAPPI/K.Cargin

The vitriol which is poured out on these women is startling. Cars honk and drivers make obscene hand gestures and shout insults. There is always a counter-demonstration on the opposite pavement with people waving Israeli flags and singing nationalist songs. Sometimes, people come up and shout in our faces. Sometimes they spit. The women remain still and silent.

Nomi said she has been coming here for 20 years. She told me that she does not buy anything from the West Bank because she does not want to support the illegal Israeli settlements because they are largely on stolen land. She worries that this may put Palestinians out of a job but does not want to contribute to the economy of the illegal settlements. She has also undertaken never to cross the Green Line. This is quite hard to achieve in Jerusalem because it is very often unclear where it is.

A woman passed me and said ‘Thank you for what you are doing’. She said it sotto voce. Another international beside me said that someone had said quietly to her: ‘I think what you are doing is really good. There are a lot of people in Israel who would agree with you but don’t dare to say it openly.’  Nomi remarked ‘There were a lot of people in Germany who didn’t agree with Hitler but they didn’t dare speak out either.’

Moshe Weiss is a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. He is 85 and sits bent over behind his Zimmer frame holding two placards. I asked him why he comes here every week. He answered ‘Because I don’t want to commit a holocaust on another people.’

Tamar who has been coming for 27 years says that she does it to keep alive the possibility of dissent. Ruth, in her eighties, comes round to collect money to fund the badges and publicity at the end of the vigil. She is one of the founder members. ‘Go home and tell your ‘f*****g’ governments to do something.’ she says, giggles and apologises for swearing.’


23.10.15 Counter demonstration at Women in Black. Photo EAPPI.K.Cargin

Counter demonstration at Women in Black. Photo EAPPI.K.Cargin

Judith, born and brought up in Tel Aviv, now living in Jerusalem and has been coming to this demonstration for about a year and a half.  I asked her the meaning of a sign held by a woman in the counter-demonstration. It says, “Long may the people of Israel live in the land of Israel”, she turned to me and said, “Does she think I don’t want that? I love Israel.” Judith sends her two young children to a mixed school for Palestinian and Israeli children. They are taught both in Arabic and Hebrew equally. She says it is expanding and that there are now two more schools opening up, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Haifa. “This is our future,” she says, “we seem to have lost the present.”

Dissent in Israel is becoming less and less possible. The women told me that many people who disagree with the present government are considering emigrating. Some with dual passports have already done so or left until things get better. The people who stay talk about being confused and divided.

Standing with these women I realise that I am fortunate not to understand the insults which are mostly in Hebrew. However, the Women in Black can. Admirably, they come here week after week, stand silently and take the abuse. Even after over 20 years, Tamar says it is upsetting.

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Nothing like an airport

Qalandia checkpoint outside East Jerusalem is a degrading place.

Qalandia Checkpoint [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

The Israeli government’s view is that it is reasonable to check people coming into Jerusalem and that we all consent to going through security at an airport. True, people queue up at airports, take off their belts, and put their belongings on a conveyor belt to be scanned. But there the resemblance ends.

Qalandia is one of two main checkpoints through from the occupied West Bank to occupied East Jerusalem. Rather than operating at a border, these are internal checkpoints, cutting off one part of occupied Palestine from another. More than 600 people each hour go through Qalandia in the early morning. Many of them have already travelled distances to get as far as the checkpoint.

The large shed leading to Qalandia checkpoint is dismal and dirty. The rubbish is sometimes swept up but the concrete floor looks unwashed. There are three water fountains, each with four jets. Out of a possible 12 jets only four actually work. There are two toilets, one for men and one for women. The men’s one has been locked since I started coming here three weeks ago. The women’s one has two cubicles with filthy toilets. The stench is appalling. The flushes don’t work and there is no water in them. There is no water in the one hand basin, indeed there are no taps or pipes.

There are usually about a hundred people waiting when we arrive to monitor the checkpoint at 4.30 a.m. They look as if they are construction workers. Their boots are coated with dust, sometimes they have paint splashes and their jeans are well worn. A minority are smarter but definitely no suits. Most only carry small black plastic bags with ‘hubus’ – flat bread for their lunch. Often they put their wallets and mobile phones into these bags because here there are only about three trays for their belongings at each scanner.

There are five booths where soldiers check people’s IDs and work permits. Today only four were open. To reach these, people have to go through one of three narrow cages, one person wide, which ends in a turnstile into a holding area. The large digital clock above the cages is permanently broken. There is also a ‘humanitarian lane’. This is for women who do not want to go through the cages with the men and also for people who are disabled in wheelchairs. In my three weeks of monitoring Qalandia it has taken at best an hour to get the soldiers to open it. Sometimes they do not open it at all.

(Photo 2: 22.10.15 People waiting at humanitarian lane Qalandia CP)

This morning, the crowd waiting to get to these cages extended out into the car park beyond. There were about 25 women standing at the humanitarian lane gate. A couple with a baby in a pushchair and two other small children gave up and went away. When this lane is not open, our task is to ring the humanitarian hotline, a number for the Israeli Civil Administration whose job it is to ensure checkpoints work efficiently. I rang the hotline three times to ask for the lane to be opened and also the fifth booth. On each occasion I was told that they would get someone to do it.

“They lie,” said a man beside me. Another said, “Thank you for coming to see how they treat us. They treat us like animals”. Over the next half hour I rang the Israeli District Commanding Officer (DCO) twice. He is senior to the person on the humanitarian hotline. The second time he said there was nothing he could do and put the phone down. All of this is in contravention of international law which requires Israel to respect the rights of an occupied population to move freely in the occupied territory, as enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

(Photo 3: 22.10.15 Qalandia CP People trying to enter the cages

“Sometimes the soldiers are sleeping on the floor,” said a woman who has been going through every day for three years. “Sometimes they are on their mobile phones,” said another. One woman told me that it could take her two hours to go what should be a 20 minute drive. In ordinary airports, people do not wait this long. Nor when they get to the booths do they find that their ticket has been invalidated without warning or explanation, as happens regularly with the permits Palestinians must present at these checkpoints. Palestinians who are turned away have to make their way back through the crowds from whence they came. People stand back and try to make way for them. They know that it could be any one of them, any day.

Men were jostling at the entrance to the cages, shouting and pointing to the gate to the humanitarian lane. By then people were becoming desperate to get to work. People have been known to lose their jobs for being late. By now it was taking nearly an hour to go through. Every time the turnstile opened people pushed and shoved and shouted. I went through with a group of women. It seemed that if we fell we would be trampled before anyone could get us out. The women standing with me were upset and frightened – one woman was close to tears.

One of them simply said to me, “They don’t care”.

Take action box 2

You can find out more information about the 96 fixed checkpoints currently located in the West Bank, including the 57 internal checkpoints located well within the West Bank, on the website of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

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The New Jerusalem

When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 this included East Jerusalem with its historical Old City. Yet even though East Jerusalem is recognised by the international community as part of occupied Palestine, any evidence of the ‘Green Line’ (the armistice line between Israel and occupied Palestine which runs through the city) has long since been obliterated as Israel continues its expanding annexation of Palestinian land.

The Jerusalem tramline runs along what was a narrow strip of no-man’s land. There are no checkpoints between West and East Jerusalem.

The grassy area is where the Jerusalem tram runs. Everything to the left of it is Palestine; everything to the right is Israel. Photo: EAPPI/K Cargin

Instead of the Green Line, Israel has re-drawn the lines of the Jerusalem city boundary by annexing a whole swathe of West Bank land taking in 30 Palestinian villages that were once on the periphery. The East Jerusalem city boundary moved from covering an area of three square kilometres to one of 64 square kilometres. Checkpoints from the West Bank control Palestinians coming in from outside this wider boundary.

jm 2

Israelis refer to this as the “unification” of Jerusalem. In 1967, it meant access to the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall, in the Old City which had been denied to them since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

For Palestinians it was rather different. One of the first things the occupying administration did was a census of the people living in East Jerusalem. The census took place in July 1967, one month after the war. Those people who had fled or who were otherwise not there when the census was done were not allowed back. At a stroke, 40,000 lost their right to live in Jerusalem. Those that were left were given a special blue ID – a residency permit, not Israeli citizenship. This is similar to that issued in other countries to foreign nationals residing in their countries. However, here it is applied to people who have lived in Jerusalem for generations.

Although the blue ID is called a ‘Permanent Residency Permit’ the holder has to repeatedly prove that Jerusalem is the centre of his or her life i.e. living and working in Jerusalem. They cannot vote in general elections or stand for the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).

Jerusalemites who leave for more than seven years lose their ID. They cannot pass their ID to a spouse or children. Jerusalemites who marry a Palestinian from the West Bank cannot move their spouse to live with them. The area where Palestinians are allowed to live is restricted and now very crowded as families grow down the generations. Houses are very expensive; many are terribly overcrowded. Some Jerusalemites I have met retain a small dwelling in East Jerusalem but actually live outside the city boundary. If they are caught they will lose their IDs and their right to work in Jerusalem.

Many Jerusalemites have an ID story. Some are sad tales like a man I met whose children are not allowed back because they stayed away too long after graduating abroad. He told me if he had known they would not be allowed back he would not have sent them away to be educated. Another man, with advanced cancer, told me he is paying his lawyer $20,000 to fast-track his application so he can return to the city of his birth after living in the U.S. for many years. His lawyer ‘knows people’ and apparently needs the money for bribes. He expects to get his ID within two months. A friend of his had to wait ten years.

The annexing of East Jerusalem has huge political consequences. More and more Jewish Israelis are moving into East Jerusalem in one way or another. In the Old City, Palestinians are being displaced, their houses either being demolished or taken over by settlers. Huge new settlement complexes, reserved for Jewish Israelis only, are being established all round the Old City. It is part of a strategic plan to change the demography of East Jerusalem to achieve a Jewish majority and make access from the West Bank exceedingly difficult. It will make it impossible for Jerusalem ever to be the shared capital of a Palestinian state and removes the possibility of a two-state solution.

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Nothing dramatic. Nothing unusual.

I chose to write about Khalil* because he is 29, the same age as my own son, James. Their experience could not be more different.

Khalil is a Palestinian living in Jayyus, a small town in the northern West Bank, where I served as an Ecumenical Accompanier two years ago. Khalil is tall and skinny and a passionate basket-ball player. He lives with several generations of his family in a complex of flats, all at different stages of completion. Khalil’s English is excellent and he is a computer whizz. He was always willing to come at a moment’s notice to help me out when I got stuck, which in my case, was quite often. He would never take any money.

Jayyus - main street

Jayyus – main street

When Israel began to build the separation barrier between Jayyus and its farmland, Khalil was one of those who joined the protests. He was arrested but not imprisoned. Nevertheless, for two years he was denied a permit to go through the barrier to his family’s land.  Khalil’s surname is different from that of his grandfather in whose name his family land is registered. It took two years and a lawyer to prove that he was indeed connected to the land which was now isolated from the village. Even then he was only granted a ‘seasonal permit’ for key times of the agricultural year.  For Khalil it was a difficult time. Other members of his family were also denied permits and the family income was seriously compromised by lack of access to their farm.  Khalil had to be pulled out of university in nearby Qalqilya.

Khalil’s response to being stuck in Jayyus was to put his talents to use. A family member lent him premises and he bought some computers and a photocopier and set up an internet café. It was a great success, particularly with school children who would come to his café to research or photocopy their homework. There were also computer games. It became a place where children hung out.

Then the Israeli military began to visit the village. This is not unusual in the West Bank. However, one of the results is that children throw stones and soldiers respond with tear gas and arrests. One day, soldiers came into his internet café and accused him of encouraging children to throw stones. Khalil smiled wryly when he was telling me this story. “I looked around at all the equipment in my café and the children using it and said, ‘Do I look like anyone who would encourage children to throw stones.’”

In the following weeks, the soldiers came into the village and parked up outside Khalil’s cafe. That was all it took. Nobody, least of all children, was going to come to his café and risk trouble with the soldiers. His business folded. This was years before I met him. He told me he still has the computers.

When I first met him he was still unemployed. There are few jobs. The occupation permeates everything. Restrictions on movement, on building, on access to land and water, the downward spiral of poverty and lack of access to external markets and have all combined to destroy the Palestinian economy. Jayyus suffered particularly because of the separation barrier and the loss of jobs in Israel. There are lots of unemployed young men who hang about in the square.

When I went back there in October, Khalil was one of the people I visited. He was always skinny but now he looked startlingly thin. He told me his story. He had gone at the invitation of friends to visit them in Sweden. His visa ran out and he was persuaded by two other Palestinian friends to go to Norway via an unofficial border crossing because it was easy to dodge the system and work in Norway without papers. Khalil went. It was a chance to earn some money.

It was a serious mistake. The system was not as easy to dodge as they thought. All three of them were caught and put in detention. In desperation, Khalil tried to claim asylum. That was an even bigger mistake. He plainly did not fit the criteria, particularly the one where you have to claim asylum in the country where you originally landed. Khalil stayed in detention for a month. He hated the food and didn’t eat it. I suspect he was also very depressed.  Shortly before I met up with him again in Jayyus he had been deported. Two policemen came with him on the plane back to Jordan and from there back to the border with Palestine. He was not allowed to stay even one night in Jordan. Now it is doubtful that he will be allowed to travel again.

I wondered at his desperation that he was prepared to leave his village, his family, all his friends, his sister to whom he is very close, and her new much-adored baby, his beloved basketball team ‘the best in the West Bank’ to go and take a menial job in Norway.

A bright, personable, thoroughly likeable young man, he could be any 29 year-old you might meet in this country.  I wonder what kind of a life he will be able to make for himself, now. He is only one of many. It is a very ordinary story about life under occupation. Nothing dramatic. Nothing unusual.

* Khalil is not his real name.

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

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The Black Road

It is impossible to write about Kafr Qaduum without mentioning the ‘Black Road’.

The Black Road

The Black Road

Kafr Qaduum is a small town dating back to the sixteenth century and lies to the west of the Qedumim settlement. This illegal Israeli settlement[1] was established in 1977, though the confiscation of land started almost immediately after the occupation in 1967 with an Israeli military base built on an existing Jordanian one. This was later civilianised and more land was occupied and added to it. It now has a population of approximately 4,000 people, roughly equivalent to the current population of Kafr Qaduum. The Israeli organisation ‘Peace Now’ which keeps a watch on settlement growth, states that roughly half of the land is privately owned Palestinian land. Land registration is a huge issue in Palestine as much of it was never registered. When I first went to Kafr Qaduum, the then leader of the local council told me that after the six-day war land which did not have the ‘tabo’ i.e registration of land dating from the Ottoman Empire was particularly targeted by the Israelis for confiscation. Owners were given a fortnight to claim their land. Many of those who had fled during the fighting did not hear of the instruction until it was too late. 11,000 out of a total of 19,000 square metres of Kafr Qaduum land is now under Israeli control. This expansion is still going on.

Qedumim settlement from the olives groves of Kafr Qaduum

Qedumim settlement from the olives groves of Kafr Qaduum

This was my third visit to Kafr Qaduum during the olive harvest to provide protective presence, usually for a week each time, once for only a day. The Qedumim settlement is classified by Peace Now as ‘ideological’, in other words, the settlers live here as a political act to claim this land for Israel. There has been a history of settler violence against Kafr Qaduum, ranging from desecration of their graveyard and destruction of property to actual violence against people. There have even been case of settlers occupying houses belonging to people of Kafr Qaduum.

The settlers are in control and are backed up by the Israeli army. Back in 2008 on my first olive picking trip I was turned out of an olive grove because settlers objected to us being too near the settlement.  The soldiers told me it was a closed military zone. I asked for the paperwork and was shown a document in Hebrew on which the ink was barely dry. I doubted its authenticity because such documents have to be issued from a central office, but I had no way of arguing.  Two years ago, as an Ecumenical Accompanier, I returned to that same olive grove at the request of Palestinian farmers, two of whom had been attacked and hospitalised the previous day. We had no trouble that day but I was shocked to see a whole additional block of houses had been built further down the hill and into the Palestinian olive groves.

On the west side, Qedumim has been built right down to the main road from Kafr Qaduum to Nablus, the central hub of the whole of the northern West Bank. The settlement has also taken some land on the other side of that road. In 2003, the Israeli army sealed off the road to Palestinians because it was now deemed to be too near the settlement. One could argue that the settlers feel unsafe but nobody compelled them to build quite so near an existing road. The result is that villagers from Kafr Qaduum cannot not go directly to nearby Nablus but have to go a detour of 14 kilometres along winding roads through another village, adding considerable time and expense to their journeys.

Many representations from the Kafr Qaduum council to have the road re-opened came to nothing. Three years ago, local people began to hold demonstrations every Friday after Mosque. These escalated and became quite celebrated. People come from other villages to join the demos. It usually ended in violence of some sort. Demonstrators throw stones and burn tyres; Israeli soldiers fire tear gas, sound bombs, flares, skunk[2] and latterly, live bullets.

Left over cannisters from tear gas, sound bombs, and bullet casings.

Left over cannisters from tear gas, sound bombs, and bullet casings in Abu Ramis’ grove.

I would not condone demonstrators throwing stones but they are unarmed and I would question the proportionality of the Israeli armed response. It is also a violation of international law, because as civilians in an occupied territory, the demonstrators are Protected Persons. Military necessity can legitimate the use of live ammunition, but not during a demonstration against unarmed protestors.

The amount of tear gas fired into Kafr Qaduum is a severe health risk. It is almost impossible to seal houses well enough to stop it filtering through. There have been serious incidents of people suffering from respiratory problems while in their homes. A number of children were hospitalised in December last year when tear gas entered their house while they were asleep in bed. An elderly man died in his house in January this year[3]. The road has become blackened from the remains of burning tyres and black dust from tear gas cannisters. The demonstrations have led to a wave of night incursions by the army and widespread arrests. Almost all families have members who have been in prison.

Abu Rani

Abu Rani

We began our week picking with Abu Rani whose groves start at the black road. His was a typical story. He has no source of livelihood other than his olives. There is no work in the area. His children will probably all leave; two have left already; one to work in Qalqilya and another to America. On Monday morning we could still smell the skunk from the previous Friday. All over the grove there were spent tear gas canisters, flares and bullet casings.(photo of cannisters etc.) He showed us burned out trees which had caught fire from flares fired in the grove and told us he had lost 30 trees. He was very nervous and very anxious when I tried to take photos. We were picking without permits. This was because permits are only granted for about three or four days per olive grove and his groves are too large to pick in that time. We were watched all day by Israeli soldiers in an army vehicle parked across the valley. We assumed they had noticed our presence on the surveillance cameras trained in our direction.  Abu Rani had visited his groves nearer the settlement the previous day to prepare how he would pick them and been turned away by settlement guards. Lack of access to olive groves eventually causes their degradation. If they are not tended during the year, weeds grow up, compete with the trees for water and yields suffer. I wondered how British or Irish farmers would survive in that environment and how they might feel.

Before I left, I heard from the Ecumenical Accompaniment programme that the road was going to be re-opened on a trial basis, with a manned checkpoint from the beginning of November for public vehicles only.  I wondered why it could not have been done earlier avoiding all that pain and misery. The reason given is that settlers have complained about the tear gas, which if the wind is in the wrong direction, also blows towards their houses. It’s a victory of sorts. Even better would be to open the road altogether so that the citizens of Kafr Qaduum would be able to use the road freely as they and their families have done for generations.

Post Script:

After I left my group accompanied farmers who had permits to visit their land closer to Qedumin and reported several incidents with soldiers and settlers. Here is an example of one of the Incident Report which they filed to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“Went with Maher and his wife to their land near the settler outpost again to finish 30 minutes picking.   Lieutenant , with three other soldiers, came to ‘greet’ us and wish us a good day and tell us we could start picking!   Packed up things and walked for an hour to their other land.  When we arrived three IDF soldiers were laughing at Maher and said we could not go into the grove.   Told us we could sit on the ground, but must not touch the trees.   Maher and other farmer who was already there, questioned why we had to go as we had picked in a similar area earlier in the morning, which they did not believe.   We continued to question and they told us it was ‘the law’.   We asked him to phone the Ltn, but instead he phoned his commander.  One of the young soldiers was rude and offensive to us and we told him it was not acceptable behaviour, we were older than him and he should respect us. We sat and had breakfast and the Commander who we had seen on Sunday came with the same settler security officer who immediately took pictures.   They told us it was a Closed Military Zone and we asked why suddenly and they said it was the law.   We were told that we could not stay, we had to leave because it was a Closed Military Zone.   We said that if we had to go we needed to be escorted back as we did not know the way.   She readily agreed,   Soldiers were conversing with her and we heard the word ‘propaganda’ used.   We finished breakfast and were then taken in the while settler security vehicle to the ‘gate’.  No conversation from the settler.” 

There is no law preventing people from harvesting their olive trees on their own land even if it is close to a settlement. The use of declaring an area to be a Closed Military Zone to prevent olive harvesting was specifically forbidden in an Israeli Court ruling in 2008.

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

[1] 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][2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_%28weapon%29

[3] http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/twilight-zone/.premium-1.567765

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‘Not a map for a community; more like a map for a graveyard’ (Jordan Valley I)

Abu Faisal is tall for a Bedouin.  Dressed in traditional robes, he welcomes us underneath a large awning to shade us from the sun.  This part of Palestine is well below sea level and even in October it is very hot. We have come as part of a fact-finding tour to the Jordan Valley arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniers in Jericho.  He is the Muktar or Mayor of Nuwei’ma, a village just north of Jericho.  He is keen to tell us about the plight of people living there.

Abu Faisal with the map for the proposed new town

Abu Faisal with the map for the proposed new town

Originally from the Negev, this Bedouin community was forced out in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. First they settled near Bethlehem but again they were moved on from there in 1967 and have been living here in the Jordan Valley ever since. 70% of them are registered refugees. Life has been getting more and more difficult for them with increasing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the area.

Their main source of income is from sheep and they make a living from selling meat and cheese. In traditional Bedouin custom, land is held in common, not registered to any individuals. Recent expansion of settlements has closed off land which they have grazed for over forty years. Originally land was appropriated for military bases.  This is allowed under international law. However, these bases were later civilianised and more and more land was taken to make room for Israeli settlers. This is specifically forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention[1], the law pertaining to the rights and obligations of occupation. “This has made our lives harder.” Abu Faisal explained. “The authorities have tried to displace us but we refused.” He told us about how settlers sometimes ‘kidnap’ animals which stray what they consider too close to the settlements and then demand a ransom for their return. “Sometimes more than the animal is worth.” “In other places,” he said, “settlers poison the grass near the settlements so that the animals die.”

With new technology, settlers have drilled much deeper wells so that the traditional wells have dried up. The Bedouin have been denied permission to re-drill their wells; Palestinians rarely getting planning permission to build anything, even a well, in ‘Area C’ [2].  Ninety-four per cent of planning applications are refused.  Nor are they allowed access to the Jordan River as they are considered ‘a security threat’.  Nor to water from it.

They also suffer from military manoeuvres. The whole area is regularly declared to be a ‘firing zone’ while the army carries out training. It is hard to believe that army manoeuvres using live ammunition can be planned in an area where people live. Then there are nature reserves being planned for the area. It is indeed exceedingly beautiful. But these nature reserves will cut down grazing land even further.

Now there is a new threat.  In September this year the Israeli Civil Administration began to step up efforts to implement plans for a forcible transfer of 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their homes on the Jerusalem periphery to new towns in the Jordan Valley.[3] Three communities are slated to be moved together into the Nuwei’ma area. The new town is to be built on the land of this existing village. The village is already pressurised and cannot possibly accommodate more people and animals. Nor do the Bedouin being transferred want to come. In order to facilitate the transfer, Israel has plans to demolish 500 Bedouin homes[4]. This whole operation is specifically forbidden under international law and constitutes a war crime[5].

The Israeli government has justified the plan by claiming that the residents do not have title over the land and that the transfer will improve their living conditions. However, Israel does not have title to the land either nor the right to decide for the people living here. This is Palestine not Israel. The present plans for forcible transfer do not improve their living conditions. The Palestinian Authority submitted alternative plans but these were rejected. “They weren’t exactly what we wanted but they would have been possible.” Abu Faisal said. “We want to have a plan for each community where they currently are or else to be allowed to go back to the Negev.” Judging by attempts also to ‘relocate’ Bedouin in the Negev in Israel under the ‘Prawar Plan’[6], this seems unlikely.

He showed us the map for the new town of Nuwei’ma. One glance would show that it could not be suitable for a Bedouin community. Bedouin communities are spread out in order to allow grazing for their animals. This map shows rows of houses side by side in streets and no space to house animals, let alone to graze them. “How are we to live?” asked Abu Faisal. “We will be forced to go into the nearest town and beg. This is not a map for a community. More like a map for a graveyard.”

Bedouin Village of Nuwei'ma

Bedouin Village of Nuwei’ma

This plan has a wider and more troubling aspect to it. The forcible transfer of Bedouin round Jerusalem will clear the way for Israel’s E1 settlement expansion master plan, approved by the Knesset in 1999 but halted due to international pressure. This will cut off Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank and link existing settlements near Jerusalem right across to the Jordan Valley. This effectively cuts the West Bank in two, thereby negating any possibility of a two state solution. Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal under international law. However, Israel has already announced tenders for 4,868 new housing units while advancing plans for an additional 8,938 new housing units in the area where these Bedouins live. Once completed, these units would house approximately 55,000 Israeli settlers. See: http://bit.ly/1r2WzqW

We said goodbye to Abu Faisal. As we left, his request to us was “Please tell your elected representatives in your countries so that they will stop this forcible transfer happening.” He paused and then said, “I would like to emphasise the word ‘forcible’.”

I would re-iterate that request. Please contact your MP, TD, MEP and anyone else with influence to try to stop this war crime. I have copied in a possible letter below, written by Amnesty International.

[1] 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] Oslo Accords 1994: As a temporary measure for five years only, pending complete withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the West Bank was divided into administrative areas A, B or C. Area A being under total Palestinian control; Area C under Israeli control; and Area B jointly controlled.

[3] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_communities_jerusalem_factsheet_september_2014_english.pdf

[4]  Fourth Geneva Convention: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” (Article 53)

[5] Fourth Geneva Convention: Forced transfer of protected persons is prohibited by Article 49, violation of which is a “grave breach” as per Article 147. Grave breaches are codified as war crimes under Article 8(2)(a)(vii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute but this does not alter the status of such acts in international law since the statute is codified as customary international law.

[6] http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.563497

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

Dear [MP/TD/],

I am writing to draw your attention to the attached statement signed on September 11 by 44 Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations. The statement urges world leaders to take immediate action to stop Israeli plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouin out of their communities in the central part of the occupied West Bank and into a designated township. I would be grateful if you could forward this email and the statement to the UK Foreign Secretary/Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, asking him to take all the necessary steps to ensure the six transfer plans are cancelled and that Palestinians can remain in and develop their communities. Such steps should include:

  • Applying immediate and effective pressure on Israel, at the highest political level, to cancel their Bedouin relocation plans. The United Nations Secretary-General has previously stated that the implementation of “relocation” plans may amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions, prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law. In their May 2012 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the EU and member states called on Israel to halt forced transfer in Area C and in their March 2014 EU HoMs report on Jerusalem, the EU and member states recommended that they monitor and respond appropriately to forced transfer of Bedouin communities in the E1. Additionally, both the US and the EU have condemned settlement expansion in the E1, warning that changes to the status-quo in the E1 present a risk to the two-state solution that they support.
  •  Calling for a freeze on all outstanding demolition orders in the E1 and the rest of Area C and for Palestinians to have access to a fair and representative planning system.In a February 2014 UN Secretary General report, the SG called on Israel to “cease the violations of Palestinians’ human rights resulting from discriminatory and unlawful planning policies, laws and practices. Israel has to, in compliance with international law, amend the planning legislation and processes in order, in particular, to ensure the security of tenure and the full participation of Palestinians. Israel must also refrain from implementing evictions and demolition orders based on discriminatory and illegal planning policies, laws and practices”.
  •  Continuing to pledge for and implement humanitarian and development programs for vulnerable communities in Area C, in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.International donors should ensure their aid is delivered in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law and that they take all necessary precautions to ensure that their aid efforts do not recognize violations or comply with the coercive environment facilitating the forced transfer of vulnerable communities in Area C.

I would be grateful if you could forward me any response you receive from the [Foreign Secretary/ Minister for Foreign Affairs]. I would also be grateful to receive a response from you regarding your views on the issue.

 

Yours sincerely,

Statement follows:

11 September 2014

World leaders must stop Israeli forced transfer of Palestinian Bedouins
44 Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations are urgently calling on world leaders to stop Israeli plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouins out of their communities in the central part of the occupied West Bank and into a designated township.
The organizations stressed that the international community must take all possible measures to ensure that individual and mass forcible transfer, which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, does not take place. The organizations said world leaders should immediately press Israel to cancel all transfer plans and allow Palestinians to remain in and develop their communities, warning that the transfer of Palestinian Bedouins from their current locations would free up land for Israeli settlement expansion in a way that could render the two-state solution unachievable.
The call comes as the Israeli government publicized this week six plans to move Palestinian Bedouins out of their communities around Jericho, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. The plans include moving Bedouins out of the politically sensitive area referred to as the Jerusalem Periphery or “E1,” where Israel has long-intended to demolish 23 Bedouin villages in order to expand and link settlements, established in violation of international law. Settlement expansion in this area would cut the West Bank in two, further disrupting movement and social and economic ties between major Palestinian cities and limiting the little access Palestinians in the West Bank have to Jerusalem.
All of the Palestinian Bedouin communities slated for transfer are located in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel maintains full civil and military control. There are already around 341,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 100 settlements throughout Area C. Although Area C is within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel only allows Palestinians to build on 1 percent of it. The lack of authority to build makes Palestinians vulnerable to home demolition, displacement, and forcible transfer and limits their ability to realize their rights to water, to adequate shelter, to education, health, and to livelihood.
In recent months, the government of Israel has used coercive tactics to heighten the pressure on Palestinian Bedouin communities, issuing eviction orders and demolishing homes and livelihood structures. Israel has also obstructed aid agencies from delivering assistance to these communities, including by seizing and destroying emergency shelters that international donors provided for families whose homes were demolished and confiscating a swing-set and a slide for a Bedouin school. Israel has already demolished more than 350 Palestinian homes or livelihood structures in Area C in 2014, while demolitions in the Jerusalem periphery and E1 area have hit a five-year high, displacing 170 Bedouins, 91 of whom are children.
“Being in constant danger of forcible transfer is not a healthy way of living. We are scared, we can’t build, we lack basic rights, but we don’t want to move to a township. If you ask me to move I would say no. I was born as a Bedouin, and we want to preserve our traditions. Israel is claiming they will create a better solution for us, I will tell you that’s not true, that transferring us will destroy our lifestyle and traditions. If they really want to create a better solution they can let us to go back to the Negev or stay where we are and receive services,” said Jameel Hamadeen, a 32-year-old resident of Sateh al Bahr, one of the Bedouin communities slated for demolition and transfer.
1. ActionAid  2. Action Against Hunger (ACF) 3. American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) 4. Alianza por la Solidaridad (APS) 5. Al Haq 6. Assamblea de Cooperacion por la Paz (ACPP) 7. Badil 8. CARE International 9. Christian Aid 10. Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) 11. DanChurchAid (DCA) 12. Diakonia 13. EAPPI UK and Ireland 14. EducAid 15. Grassroots Jerusalem 16. Handicap International (HI) 17. Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, Palestine & Jordan 18. HEKS 19. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions 20. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 21. International Learning Centers (ILC) 22. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) 23. Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC) 24. Ma’an Development Center 25. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP – UK) 26. medico international 27. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) 28. Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) 29. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) 30. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) 31. Oxfam 32. PAX 33. PNGO 34. Quakers in Britain 35. Rebuilding Alliance 36. Save the Children 37. The Civic Coalition for Palestinians Rights in Jerusalem 38. The Jahalin Association – Nabi Samwel 39. The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation 40. The Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden 41. The YMCA Rehabilitation Program 42. War Child 43. WeEffect 44. World Vision Jerusalem- West Bank- Gaza

 

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