Monthly Archives: October 2012

Qalqiliya Demolition

On October 24th we visited a site where two structures had been demolished the previous day just outside of the city of Qalqiliya. When we reached the neighbourhood we saw two shed-like structures in rubble. We spoke with Hanni who operates the Al-Hasamis’ well just across the street about what happened. He told us that six Israeli military jeeps and one bulldozer with approximately 30 soldiers showed up at 8:30 am on October 23rd and demolished the buildings.

We asked to meet with the owner of one of the buildings. Mahmoud Sasa came to the site with his two young sons. Mahmoud has planted olive and citrus trees on his plot of land. The building was a place where the family would come for picnics in their garden outside of the city. It was also a place used to store all their gardening tools when they come to work the land.

Mahmoud in front of his building that was demolished

Mahmoud’s son climbs through the rubble and recovers two glass teacups. We asked him how he explained such a situation to his young sons. Mahmoud replied, “I told my sons, what can we do? Israel is strong and Palestine is weak.”

When we asked whether he would rebuild the shed, he answered: “I will rebuild it two, three, four times if I have to.”

Building in the occupied Palestinian territory is complicated to say the least. After the Oslo accords, the territory were divided into Area A, B and C. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. Israel controls civil and security responsibilities in Area C. It is very difficult to obtain building permits in Area C (which consists of over 60% of the West Bank). People build and expand their homes out of necessity (natural growth) without permits. Then they are usually issued a warning or “stop work order” from Israel at which point they would apply for the permit though they are rarely granted. After this point, if someone is issued a demolition order it is a long legal process to contest this decision and people often don’t win their case.

Mahmoud said he never saw a demolition order for his building. According to Hanni, the owner of the second building that was destroyed had received a demolition order some months previous. There is a third structure on the street that they believe is under threat of demolition. The owner of the building is currently in Canada.

For more information please see UN OCHA fact sheet on Area C: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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A tale of two backhoe loaders

On October 10th while monitoring the northern agricultural gate near Jayyous, my teammate and I observed a Palestinian man arrive driving a backhoe loader. The man was not allowed to cross the gate with his machinery. We were told he did not have the necessary permits for the backhoe loader to cross the gate.On the other side of  the barrier lies the majority of the Jayyousis’ land. Being that there are many stones in the land here I imagine it takes a lot of effort on the part of the farmers to clear the land for agriculture. Such equipment would be useful in this work but there are many restrictions on what the locals can take to their land because of “security reasons.”

Backhoe loader at North Gate, Jayyous

The next day, we visited Fahime and Abu Zuhdi in Azzun Atma where the separation wall is being re-routed through their farmland. The wall does not follow the border of Israel but encloses an illegal Israeli settlement built in the West Bank. I was surprised to see that since our last visit in early September, an additional 1 kilometer has already been constructed. Fahime lead us through her fields to the construction site while she wept at the sight of it all. The irrigation pipes have been dug up and cut to make way for the wall. Several square kilometers full of olive trees will be enclosed on the other side of the wall. The family does not know if a gate will be constructed so they can access their land in the future.

The separation barrier being constructed on Fahime & Abu Zuhdi’s farm

While we walked with her, two men with guns appeared. They said they are the security guards to protect the equipment. One man in a backhoe loader worked busily clearing rocks to make way for the concrete wall. I was stunned by their efficiency and speed in building the wall and struck by the irony that a backhoe loader was allowed to build a wall illegally while local farmers struggle through a bureaucratic permit system to bring needed equipment to work their own lands.

Security guards with guns approach us on Fahime’s farm

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Through the eyes of a child

At the Habla elementary school for boys, the Headmaster took us into a classroom where we saw a hand-drawn poster on the wall. There were many works of art on the walls but this poster in particular drew our attention. It was drawn by Saleem (in Grade 5) and his brother. It wasn’t an assignment from school just a project that he wanted to make on his own at home. It depicts what he can see around his town. We asked to meet Saleem. I asked him to point out where his school and house are on the map.

Saleem shows us his house in this depiction of his town and surroundings

I was moved by his sketch of daily life in this region. He has drawn his town, the separation barrier, a checkpoint, and an illegal settlement on the other side of the barrier. I was so impressed by the details of his drawing. Children absorb all that they see and hear. For Saleem, he sees soldiers checking Palestinian people’s identity cards when they want to cross the barrier to go to their farmland. He sees the Israeli Army uprooting olive trees clearing a path to make the barrier.

Saleem’s drawing of an agricultural gate and separation barrier

Saleem’s drawing of bulldozers uprooting olive trees

This week, we went to an exhibition at the An-Najah National University in Nablus called “Palestine Through My Eyes.” It was a beautiful exhibit of photographs taken by children. Organized by Medicines du Monde, they offered a photography workshop for children from the Nablus area. The children then went out and took pictures of their daily lives. The best photographs were selected and the children created captions for their work. Their words and images are heartfelt, honest, moving and poetic.

Prayer

Jesus said, “let the children come to me for theirs is the kin-don of God.”

Loving God, help us to recognize and honour the gifts that children bring to us,

in their resilience and their fragility.

We are blessed by their presence in our lives.

We pray for children who are regularly exposed to violence.

Protect and support them.

Make us steadfast in our commitment to respect and uphold

the rights and dignity of children.

Teach us to learn from the youngest members of our families and societies,

and see through their eyes both the beauty and pain of the world.

Amen

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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Giving thanks for the olive harvest

The ancient Psalmist says,

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”

— Psalm 52:8

It is harvest time! At home we decorate the altar of the church with pumpkins, gourds, and corn as a reminder to give thanks for the fruit of the land and all that God has provided for us. At St. Philip’s Episcopal church in Nablus (in the northern West Bank) the congregation also celebrated thanksgiving on the same Sunday we do in Canada. They decorated their sanctuary with a basket of bananas, pomegranate, figs, apples, cucumbers and peaches. A group of us from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel (EAPPI) met with Fr. Ibrahim and the congregants after the service and were invited to eat the delicious fruit from the harvest of this land.

Fr. Ibrahim at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Nablus on Thanksgiving Sunday

As part of our work with the EAPPI we accompany local people in their land during the olive harvest season which usually starts in early October. Two of our neighbours here in the village of Jayyous, Noor and Mai, are still waiting for permits from the Israeli authorities that will allow them to cross the separation barrier to access their land and olive trees. Mai who is now in her mid-twenties explains, “I haven’t been to our land in ten years since the wall was first built. I am afraid to go there and be searched by the soldiers at the checkpoint.”

Mai and her brother have been waiting for two months since they applied for the permits. Their father is the only member of the family who has received a permit so far. Picking olives is hard work and requires all members of the family to participate to get the olives harvested on time. Like them, many others are still waiting for permits to access their land. According to the Jayyous municipality, 280 permits have been requested and only 24 have been issued as of October 3rd.

“I can’t imagine waking up in the morning without olive oil at the breakfast table. Olives are a part of our way of life,” says one of our Palestinian contacts, Abdulkarim, working for an Israeli human rights organization called B’Tselem. In a recent conversation he had with the Palestinian authorities (DCL) on this matter there are over 1’900 Palestinians still waiting for their permits in the Qalqiliya district alone and only 150 issued by the Israeli authorities so far.

Sisters, Rawan and Sally, picking olives

Some Palestinians may only be granted one week to access their trees and pick olives if their land is situated near to an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Land around many of these settlements has been seized and are considered security zones thereby preventing or restricting Palestinians from accessing their trees. In our work as Ecumenical Accompaniers, we are cooperating with B’Tselem to coordinate which communities need protective presence during this harvest season. Sometimes families face aggression and harassment from Israeli settlers in the West Bank while they are harvesting their olives. We will go to accompany the most vulnerable families and communities in the northern West Bank to show our support and hopefully deter such incidences of violence from occurring.

Helping to sort olives with Ruba

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Incursions: “This is normal”

This evening I asked my teammates, “what is the actual definition of an incursion?” I looked it up online and this is what I found:

in·cur·sion

   [in-kur-zhuhn, -shuhn]  noun

1. a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory,especially a sudden one; raid: The bandits made brief incursions on the village.

Army moving on in Jayyous September 27 (photo by J. Moeller)

Last week there was an incursion in Jayyous (I was travelling to Jerusalem at the time). My teammates were here and witnessed Israeli soldiers and military vehicles enter the village. Children came into the streets and threw some stones at the direction of the military vehicles. The soldiers responded immediately by shooting tear gas at the people and in many places around the village. Jayyous is a small residential area so the tear gas spread quickly.  The soldiers entered one home and left shortly afterward. No one was arrested or taken away from the home.
These are incidences that occur regularly here. So far there has only been one incursion during our time but there is a long history of the Israeli military presence here which has an effect on the people. One of our local contacts, a young woman in her twenties, is afraid to sleep in her own home at night when her husband is out of town for work so she sleeps at her parent’s house. My teammates recounted how the villagers who saw them in the streets during the incursion gave them crushed onions to help them breath through the clouds of tear gas. They told them, “Don’t be scared. This is normal.”

Israeli army shoots tear gas throughout Jayyous village (photo K. Cargin)

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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House invasion and arrest in Azzun: “They come and terrorize the people”

On October 3rd our team received a call from Hassan at the Azzun Municipality informing us that  twenty-year old Mohammed had been arrested and his family’s home invaded by the Israeli military. We were invited to visit the family. Located in the northwest of the West Bank, Azzun is a small town of about 10’000 Palestinians. This week five young men and boys have been arrested from Azzun. In the three weeks we have lived in this region as Ecumenical Accompaniers we have been informed of over ten arrests from this town.

The Israeli military entered the family’s home at three o’clock in the morning. We visited their home later that morning and were greeted at the front door by the father, Zahran,

“They came and destroyed everything,” he explained.

We were led around the house. He showed us his truck that he uses to transport vegetables to sell in the market. The hood was open and we could see that the motor had been gutted. In a shed next to the house we could see sacks of olives, recently harvested by the family, sliced open and dumped on the floor

We were taken inside the house and shown two bedrooms where the wardrobes were pushed over, broken and all the clothes thrown around on the floor. I felt as though I was visiting a site that had just been affected by an earthquake. I saw some women, neighbours and relatives, gathered in the living room consoling one another and talking. One of them who spoke English approached my colleague and I. After we introduced ourselves, I leaned my head into the doorway of a bedroom just adjacent to the living room. Again there were clothes and personal items strewn all over the floor.

Soldiers damage property in a family’s home in Azzun

“Whose room is this?” I asked

“This is where the little sister of Mohammed sleeps. She’s not here. She went to school this morning,” replied the woman.

“How is she doing?” I asked

“She is so scared. The soldiers went into her room and did this. She was crying a lot.”

From three until five thirty in the morning, fifty Israeli soldiers entered this family’s home. Many of the soldiers wore black masks and were accompanied by dogs. They rounded up the entire family and ordered them to stay in the living room while they ransacked the house and arrested twenty-year old Mohammed. During that time, the little brother of Mohammed, a school-aged child was not permitted to use the toilet during the entire operation. Another brother closer to Mohammed’s age, Ramsi, was punched and beaten by the soldiers.

The young man who was arrested

We were invited into the living room and were offered tea. The family members were clearly shaken and tired. As we sat and talked an elderly woman entered the room with a walker and a cane. Fatima, the seventy-five year old grandmother of Mohammed, explained that when the soldiers entered the house, they hit her on the head and pushed her. I walked beside her and leaned over her shoulder to show her the photo she had just permitted me to take of her. I pointed to the henna on her hands and she saw that I also had some on henna flowers painted on mine. She clasped my hand in both of her warm hands and said, “welcome, welcome.” What if this were my grandmother? I could not imagine anyone treating this elderly woman with such aggression.

Fatima, age 75, was hit in the head and pushed when 50 Israeli soldiers entered her family’s home at 3am

“They come and terrorize the people. This is not normal. But you know for many families this may not be the first time they experience something like this. It could be the second or third. They come to punish and humiliate us,” explained the neighbour whose home had also been invaded by the soldiers that morning.

Like many cases in Azzun, the boys or young men are arrested without charges. Often the families don’t know why their sons are arrested or if they will be detained for a few weeks or put in prison for several years. Many of those arrested also go to prison without a trial. This is one of the realities of the occupation where martial law determines the treatment of Palestinian civilians. I think about the importance of home after this visit to Azzun. I pray for the children who are woken abruptly in the middle of the night to the sight of masked soldiers with guns in their bedrooms. It is not a nightmare. They are not sleeping. This is the reality for many Palestinians living under occupation who suffer military incursions and house invasions.

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

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