In November 2016 I joined an ETT study tour of Palestine/Israel. We had the opportunity to meet human rights organisations and people who are resisting the occupation in the West Bank (Occupied Palestinian Territories) and Israel in support of the Palestinians in their quest for freedom.
These are some highlights.
The “Separation Wall” across our hotel in Bethlehem
Greater Jerusalem and the Matrix of Control
Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) explaining the Matrix of Control that Israeli maintains over Palestinians in Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock with the Mount of Olives in the background
We met Jeff Halper at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem who took us around the Old City. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967 after the 6 day war and incorporated Palestinians in the new municipal boundaries. The Palestinians were not granted Israeli citizenship but are “residents”.
Palestinians are one third of the populations and pay 50% of the taxes and benefit from 11% of the municipal budget. Orthodox Jews do not pay taxes.
East Jerusalem from the Promenade
We went to the Western Wall (which used to be called the Wailing Wall). To create the plaza 350 homes were cleared overnight by the Israeli army during the six day war in 1967 (when Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank). If Israeli plans to expand the settlement area go ahead, it will split the West Bank in half and undermine the viability of a future Palestinian state.
The Western Wall
The Separation Wall and checkpoints are part of a system of control
The Separation Wall in Abu Dis
It was shocking to see the contrast between areas lived in by Palestinians and the settlements that are encroaching. A road leading to a settlement on a hill has all the civic infrastructure and amenities provided by the administration, like pavements, for example. But the pavements end where the Palestinian neighbourhood starts. This is apartheid of municipal services and infrastructure.
A message of solidarity from Italy on the separation wall in Bethlehem
Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem
Bethlehem’s Checkpoint 300, above, is the checkpoint where we met Palestinians with permits leaving for work to Jerusalem. They queue for hours and around 6am they go through a narrow corridor and a turnstile. This is a daily experience of humiliation and injustice.
House demolitions and settlements
Salim in front of the house that ICAHD rebuilt for the Fadad’s family
We met with Salim Shawamreh who showed us the growing Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, which has expropriated land from the Palestinian town of Anata, which is partly within the Jerusalem municipal boundary.
The settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev
Salim and his family had their home demolished by Israel six times. In 2016 Israel demolished 986 Palestinian structures, displacing 1,501 people. We were hosted by Hajaj Fadad whose home was rebuilt by ICAHD in 2015.
We also met with Atta Jaber and his family in the Bekka Valley, who had their house demolished by Israel twice (and rebuilt twice) and has faced ongoing land expropriation by settlers. He spoke of the daily violence and property destruction by settlers, who act with complete impunity.
Atta Jaber and his family outside their home
Below, the Kiryat Arba settlement (pop: 7,000) is directly across from Atta Jaber’s house and farm.
Leafy street in Ma’ale Adumim
Ma’ale Adumim is an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. It is a city of 50,000 in the middle of the West Bank with leafy, quiet roads has three Olympic-size swimming pools in a sports complex. It serves as a commuter suburb for Israelis who work in Jerusalem.
A view of an artificial lake below Ma’ale Adumim
Aida Refugee camp
Entrance to the camp
Aida Refugee Camp was established by the UN in 1950; it is home for 5,500 refugees who were expelled by Israeli forces in 1948. Refugee camps are “training ground” for military training exercises. The Israeli Defence Force invade the camp in the middle of the night and the day searching houses. In 2004 Israel started building the apartheid wall, with watchtowers and cameras and demonstrations followed.
Graffiti in Aida Refugee camp
Education under occupation: Bethlehem University
The Catholic University founded by the de la Salle brothers. 48% of students come from Jerusalem. Students are from different backgrounds: Muslim and Christian – 75% Muslim. The occupation impacts of on students’ life. Once there were protests at Rachel’s Tomb and Israeli reacted with teargas which came over into classrooms. Green card vs blue card: green card holders are free to move from Palestinian territories and Israel. Blue card holders are limited in their movement and cannot go into Jerusalem. One visitor, a minister of education, compared Palestine to Swiss cheese: the Israelis get the cheese, the Palestinians get the holes. Father Mark, from Brisbane. Students pay 40% if they can afford it. $400 is the average wage.
The students we met at Bethlehem University
Badil Resource Centre
Lubna Shomali with Powerpoint screen
Lubna Shomali from Badil gave a Powerpoint presentation for an understanding about refugees, their right of return and why this is one of the three key issues for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Badil is a human rights organisation with special consultative status with UN since 2006.
Palestinians are the largest and longest standing refugee population in the world.
YMCA Rehabilitation Centre, Beit Sahour
Met with Nader Abu Amsha, Director. The organisation works with the disabled, traumatised and tortured with a holistic approach and thorough assessment toward a a rehabilitation programme. It has gained international acclaim for its work and provided training courses in trauma counselling in Peru, Colombia, Kosovo.
Hebron International Resources Network
We met with Hamed Qawasmeh who explained that HIRN works with vulnerable communities in Area C. A school for girls was built with funds from abroad. Hamed gave us a guided tour of the Old City.
In the middle of Hebron’s Old City there are Israeli settlements, which cause tension and violence. 600 extreme religious settlers are guarded by 1,800 Israeli soldiers and this presence severely restricts the movement of Palestinians and has destroyed the economy and life of the old city. One of the main connecting streets, Shehadeh Street, is completely closed to Palestinians. Almost every single business is closed and there are virtually no tourists around.
Boarded up shop
Israeli settlers live above this street in the Palestinian market. The mesh was put in place to protect Palestinians and stop rubbish and other things thrown down by settlers from above.
Michael in front of the entrance to Canada Park
Canada Park is one of the most popular leisure spots for Israelis on the site of three Palestinian villages demolished in 1967 and illegal located inside the West Bank. The park was created by the Jewish National Fund and paid for with $15 million in charitable donations from Canadian Jews. The creation of the park prevented refugees from returning to their homes.
Tel-Aviv and Jaffa are renowned for their beaches. In 1948 the Israeli army destroyed much of the city and expelled 96% of its inhabitants to Lebanon and Gaza.
During the 1948 war Israel destroyed more than 530 Palestinian villages and towns. Overall, 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes, never allowed to return. 15 May 1948 is commemorated as the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” by the Palestinians.
Umar al-Ghubari from Zochrot (Remembering in Hebrew) told us the history of the Nakba.
Umar al-Ghubari showing a photo of Jaffa before it was razed to the ground
and after it was destroyed by the Israeli Army
People leaving Jaffa on boats
The Galilee and Nazareth
Nazareth, the Arab capital of Israel
Nazareth Ilit is a settlement that was built overlooking Nazareth with the hope that it would ‘swamp’ Arab Nazareth with immigrants from the old Soviet Union. They had an ‘absorption centre’ to integrate new arrivals into Israeli society. Many immigrants have now left and have sold some of the houses to Palestinians from Nazareth.
Nazareth Old Town
Remembering the Nakba in Nazareth Old Town
These are the ruins of the large Palestinian village of Saffuriya, demolished when the state of Israel was established in 1948. To prevent refugees from returning, the area was declared a ‘close military zone’ and the Jewish National Fund planted a forest over the rubble to erase the proof that there were people living there. Nearby there is a kibbutz named” Zippori” which is exclusively Jewish.
Ruined Saffuriya village
“To exist is to resist” in the Jordan Valley
The Jordan Valley is in Area C, and is under total Israeli military control. It comprises 30% of the West Bank. The population is made up of 56,000 Palestinians and 10,000 Israeli settlers in 38 settlements, which have access to 86% of farmland and who monopolise and control access to water. Israel encourages settlers to move to the Jordan Valley, the settlers receive financial and military support. It is illegal for an occupying power to transfer its people to an occupied territory under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Photo of welcome to Yitav settlement
Much of the area has also been classified as either nature reserves (20%) or closed military firing zones (56%) further dispossessing and restricting access for the local population. 70% of exports of dates to Europe are produced in illegal Jordan Valley settlements. Israel’s export of fruit and vegetables exceed $125 million per year
The Jordan Valley Solidarity is a grassroots movement of community groups and farmers coops resisting Israel’s ‘creeping ethnic cleansing’ in preparation for total annexation.
The Round house
This dry water canal is prevented from carrying water to Palestinian villages due to Israel’s monopolisation of the water supply.
In contrast, this water pump station provides water exclusively to Israeli settlements.
Israeli water pumping station
In the town of Al’Auja, one week before we arrived, Israel had destroyed six Palestinian structures and the foundations of 22 other buildings. Because in Area C Palestinians are not allowed to build any structures without a permit (virtually impossible to obtain) most buildings are built illegally and therefore at risk of demolition.
Destroyed Palestinian homes
Our group joined the weekly vigil of Women in Black, founded by Israeli women calling for the end of the Occupation
Thank you to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the many people for their hospitality and welcome and for sharing with us their personal experiences of how the occupation (and resistance to it) affects their lives.
For further information, here are some of the organisations we met – check them out:
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) – http://www.icahd.org
Zochrot (“remembering” in Hebrew) – http://www.zochrot.org
Jordan Valley Solidarity – jordanvalleysolidarity.org
Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights – http://www.badil.org
Military Court Watch – militarycourtwatch.org
Jonathan Cook (British journalist based in Nazareth) http://www.jkcook.net
YMCA Rehabilitation Centre – http://www.ej-ymca.org