Unresolved Issues

My time in Palestine ends in two weeks and I am now finalizing miscellaneous travel details, shopping for some gifts and packing.  I am also thinking and worrying about a number of unresolved issues related to my last 3 months of work in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem at Dusk

Bethlehem at Dusk (Dean/EAPPI)

Some of these unresolved issues include:

– the full closure of an agricultural road in the Municipality of Al Khadr. A great number of small farmers can no longer get their equipment to their land and planting season starts soon.  To date the government of Israel has yet provided a reason for the closure.

Closed agriculture road - no reason given to dozens of affected farmers

Closed agriculture road – no reason given to dozens of affected farmers

– the fate of a number of children/youth detained by force by the military in the middle of the night from their homes in the communities of Tuqu’, Husan and Al Ja’ba. By virtue of a “Military Order”, these individuals can be detained indefinitely without being charged with any offence.

Arresting children and youth in the middle of the night from their homes

Arresting children and youth in the middle of the night from their homes (supplied to EAPPI)

– the fate of a building owner in Husan whose business was recently demolished. The small carwash supported a family of eight.  The reason given by the government of Israel for the demolition was that the building did not have a building permit (notwithstanding the building is on Palestinian land).

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Demolition of a car wash and the end of a small business (Irene/EAPPI)

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Owner of demolished carwash – father of six and no means of supporting his family any more – fighting back tears and anger (Irene/EAPPI)

– the fate of a 10 year old boy hit by a settler’s car last week in front of the Tuqu’ Elementary School.  The settler car fled the scene.  Similar to numerous other Palestinians being hit by settler vehicles, the “investigation” was likely over before it started.

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Scene of settler hit and run of a Tuqu Village school boy (Dean/EAPPI)

– the fate of the school children from An Nu’man Village who live on the Israel side the separation wall but whose school is on the West Bank side of the wall.  As the government of Israel will not allow any non-village people and vehicles from entering the village, young children are forced to cross the checkpoint alone (subject to search, questioning and intimidation by the soldiers).

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An Nu’man – school children’s route to school through military checkpoint (EAPPI)

These few issues I have noted are not unique to the Bethlehem area – they continue to occur in literally every community in the West Bank.  There are 34 other Eccumenical Accompaniers scattered across the West Bank at present – each of them could add similar stories and issues.

As I head home, these unresolved issues will travel with me – I can only hope there is a successful closure to each of them soon.  I also carry with me some unanswered questions, hopes and resolves.  I question how certain countries in the world (including mine) continue to unequivocally support the government of Israel and refuse to take any proactive measures or actions to force them to change.  I hope that the United Nations someday becomes a body that truly represents the majority of the people of the world and is not neutralized by the few and powerful countries that are bestowed veto powers.  And finally, I return home with a resolve to advocate for those who are forced to endure the actions of the government of Israel – actions that have been deemed both illegal and contrary to humanitarian law.

Is the City of Ottawa linked to a 50 year old war crime in Palestine? Perhaps…

Canada Talks Israel/Palestine

Canada Park

The entrance to “Canada Park” in the Occupied West Bank. The park was built to cover up the remains of 3 Palestinian villages bulldozed by the Israeli army in 1967. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, that is a war crime. And the City of Ottawa appears to be complicit. Read why.

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A Tractor Arrested

Confiscation of a tractor is just one example of the daily grinding reality of living in susiya; a village in Area C in the south Hebron Hills.

Tractor being taken The tractor as it was being taken away. Photo EAPPI/I. Medcalf.

by Ineke, South Hebron Hills team

On 19 November 2014, the Israeli military stopped a villager from Susiya who was ploughing. His tractor was under arrest for aiding in the installation of water tanks the previous day. Apparently one of the water tanks was carried on the trailer attached to the tractor.

Why is this a crime you may ask?

Susiya lies in Area C. This means that the village and its residents are under full Israeli administrative and military control. Residents need a building permit for any new structure – toilet, animal pen, house addition and also a water tank. If there is no permit, the it gets demolished or confiscated. Permits though are…

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Eight Reasons Why I am Concerned about Palestine

In one month I will be returning home from my stay in Palestine.  The last two months have passed quickly and it seems I have just just started to form deeper relationships with the people I work with and serve in and around Bethlehem.  As I prepare to leave, I think about what I have come to understand and what I still do not understand (which is a lot).  With my experiences and knowledge gained here, I have a number of concerns that will be going home with me.  I share them as follows:

1. The occupation is illegal and contravenes humanitarian laws.  Most of the countries of the world accept this position but do little to force Israel to accept and correct it – this concerns me a lot.

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United Nations – Geneva

2. The occupation impacts children.  I can only imagine the fear the children feel when their houses are raided in the middle of the night by soldiers wearing balaclavas, their anxiety in having to cross military checkpoints twice a day to attend school (body x-rays and backpack searches), the terror of being both harassed and assaulted by fanatical settlers, etc.  These are things no child should have to experience. We would not accept this treatment to our children or our neighbour’s children so why would we accept it for Palestinian children.  I am concerned that too few people in the world are willing to say this is unacceptable and it has to stop.

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Tuqu School – Soldiers on School Path (photo by D. Reidt)

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Tuqu Village – Night Raid of Houses (supplied photo)

3. This occupation has been responsible for thousands of deaths and countless injuries.  I am concerned that there could be more.

4.  Many countries (including mine) provide financial aid to communities in the West Bank.  What is not known to many is that the government of Israel has plans to relocate/eliminate some of these same communities.  I am concerned that my tax dollars may be used for some good project that may only have a life of a few years.

5. The issue of access to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem could well have a de-stabilizing affect in Palestine/Israel, mid-eastern countries and the rest of the world.  Restrictions or limitations on access to pray at this historic mosque have the potential to ignite protests and violence in a number of countries in the mid-east as well as having a global impact.  I am concerned that the current political agenda of the government of Israel could cause such serious problems.

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Al Aqsa Mosque – Jerusalem

6. The government of Israel is currently planning to create a state specifically for “Jews”.  This is an affront to the term “democracy”.  This plan has been likened to the previous apartheid state in South Africa and can be described as nothing other than racist.  I am concerned that the government of Israel will proceed with this plan while countries such as mine stand idly by.

7. Currently, Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel are treated as second class citizens by the government of Israel.  The key countries that have generally been providing unequivocal support to Israel (i.e. USA, Canada and Australia) need to remember their own histories as it relates to the treatment of the indigenous people of their lands.  The Israeli government has a master plan to relocate 12,500 Bedouins to a piece of land outside Jericho. Not only will the Bedouins lose their livelihoods because they won’t be able to raise their animals but they will also lose their social structure and their culture. This sounds very similar to our own history with aboriginal people in Canada. In Canada, we are still struggling to “right the wrongs” that we committed in our past.  With this history in mind, I am concerned that my government is supporting a government that continues with similar practices?

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Truth and Reconcilliation Commission of Canada (file photo)

8. Much of the world was complicit (or did not object) when the state of Israel was formed without regard for those that were already living in the land.  The accepted view in 1948 was that Palestine was a “land without a people” and that Jews were a “people without a land”.  In hindsight, this was just plain wrong and could have been handled so much better.  As global citizens, we need to accept our responsibility for the current situation. One of the key ways we can do that is to object to the Israeli government’s violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law.  I am concerned that there will be too few such objections in the global community.

These are my concerns.  My hope is that you share some or all of these concerns and that our collective voices will soon be heard.

Terror in St. Albert

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Tuqu night raid and arrests (supplied to EAPPI)

I remember going to bed at about 11 pm in our house on Andrew Crescent in peaceful St. Albert, Alberta and drifting into my nightly dreams. My dream that night was that the United States was disputing the location of the border between Alberta and Montana and wanted to push it to the north for some reason.

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Tuqu night raid and arrests (supplied to EAPPI)

At about midnight, the dream included a loud blast outside my front door – someone had tossed a sound bomb at the house.  Looking out the window,  I saw about 30 military vehicles and close to 200 soldiers on the street.  People on the crescent were venturing outside to see what was going on – the soldiers yelled at us to shut up and get back inside.  Looking out my window I spotted Braden, my neighbor’s 14 year old son, being led from his house to a truck out front.  Braden was crying, blindfolded and had his hands cuffed behind his back with a zip tie – his wrists are already bleeding as they were bound too tight. I looked down the street the other direction and saw Brody, another neighbor’s 15 year old kid, similarly being led out of his house – his parents were following behind pleading with the soldiers.  All the soldiers had their faces either painted or covered with balaclavas.  The soldiers provided the parents with no explanation of the charges, did not allow the parents to accompany their children and did not provide any details as to where their children were being taken.  In an open doorway across the street, I saw two very young children crying – they did not understand what was going as their siblings were forcibly being taken away, why their parents were in obvious fear and why their house was being trashed by soldiers.

This scene continued around the crescent until about 6:00 am when the military finally left with a total of 11 arrested children.

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Tuqu night raid and arrests (supplied to EAPPI)

I awaken and find myself in my bed in Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine.  It was not a dream – it was real. Instead of Andrew Crescent in St Albert, the event occurred on December 3, 2014 in the Alomor section in the Village of Tuqu’.  The American soldiers (thankfully not interested in our southern prairie real estate) are in fact an Israeli contingent of about 200 police, border police and soldiers.  The 11 youth are real as are the accepted international laws that should prevent an abuse such as this.  While Israel treats its own children in the juvenile court system, for the past 47 years they have treated Palestinian children under military law.  This is a “fluid” system of laws that can be created, modified and generally manipulated to suit the needs and desires of the military simply by issuing a “Military Order”.

The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation, threats as well as physical violence.  Hours later the children find themselves in an interrogation room, sleep deprived and scared.”  

“Most children undergo coercive interrogation, mixing verbal abuse, threats, and physical violence, generally resulting in a confession.  The most common offence children confess to is throwing stones……in most cases, the children are either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.” (Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, Children held in military detention – Defence for Children International

The Israeli government and the majority of the international media typically use the term “terrorism” for the select stories of violence against Israel that are fed to the world.  Unfortunately, a story of the arrest of 11 Palestinian children is not considered “news” by either Israel or the international media so most in the world will never learn of this horrible practice.

What and who then defines terrorism?  Is the event I just shared not an act of terrorism?  At worst, some these children/youth may have thrown stones at some soldiers or the local settlers – both who are illegally occupying Palestinian land and who simply should not be anywhere near the Village of Tuqu’.  The local civilian settlers can openly carry assault weapons (and use them with all but full immunity from the justice system) and soldiers can and do use sound bombs, tear gas and live ammunition as they feel fit against Palestinian children. Is this not terrorism?

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Flying checkpoint at Tuqu Village (EAPPI)

After our interview with some of the witnesses in Tuqu’, our departing taxi was stopped at a “flying” checkpoint nearby.  As one young soldier demanded that our driver translate to English an Arabic message that was on a printed leaflet, the other soldier had an assault rifle levelled at me. The written message generally advised that this checkpoint and inconvenience  was to “protect the community against terrorists”…….

As I stared up the barrel of the soldier’s Tavor assault rifle, my understanding of who was responsible for the terror remained firm.

 

The Future of Christians (and Christianity?) in the Holy Land

This last week has been an active one in the headlines as it relates to what Israel might look like in the future and who will have a voice in this self-proclaimed democratic society.  Based on these recent headlines, several questions come to mind.  “Where will the local Christians will “fit” into the government’s desire for a uniquely Jewish state” and, “How will this uniquely Jewish state impact Christianity in general?” I ask these questions as I reflect on my last six weeks of living and experiencing life in the West Bank and specifically, Bethlehem.  I have also been reflecting on my 2012 visit where I had the opportunity to travel most of the West Bank and physically see many of the holy sites that are described in the Bible.

Many opponents of the current Israeli occupation are rightfully trying to enlighten the world that the conflict is a political conflict as opposed to  religious conflict.  “Commentators and politicians would have us believe it’s an intractable  conflict between religious  extremists, but a look behind the headlines makes it clear the violence is a matter of politics not faith, of land not God, of resources not ideologies.  It’s about injustice, not religion” (American Muslims for Palestine/Jewish Voice for Peace /Friends of Sabeel – North America).  On many occasions I have heard a the same synopsis of the cause of the problems here in that “it’s all about the occupation!”

This last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government prepared a controversial bill that others in the government say “risks undermining the country’s democratic character”.  His opponents, including some of his cabinet ministers, said “the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not its minorities” and, rights groups condemned it as “racist”.  In essence, Netanyahu has confirmed that there would be differential rights for Israeli Jews and other minorities (notably, the Arab Israelis – both Muslim and Christian).  If successful, this political move would formalize segregation based on religious lines.  Since its founding in 1948, “Israel’s very existence and promise – fully embraced by the United States and the world of nations – has been based on the ideal of democracy for all of its people” (New York Times, November 24, 2014).

Nov. 12/2014 burning of al-Mughayyir mosque - a settler "price tag" act of retaliation....no report if any investigation into crime by the government of Israel

Nov. 12/2014 burning of al-Mughayyir mosque – a settler “price tag” act of retaliation (terrorism??)….no report of any investigation into crime by the government of Israel

It is clear to many that this move by the government fits into a greater plan of making Jerusalem truly a Jewish city, free of the presence of both Muslims and Christians.  Still other would suggest that the government is planning for a “one state” solution to the current conflict – a state that in the strongest sense could be defined as an apartheid state with the ratification of current “anti-democratic” and “racist” bills.  Some would say that this plan is under-way at present as evidenced by myself with the on-going massive demolition of Arab homes homes in East Jerusalem and religious restrictions imposed at the Al Aqsa mosque. Should Jerusalem someday become free of Christians and Muslims, the City of Bethlehem could become physically isolated from Jerusalem. This, coupled with the active and massive expansion of the Gush Etzion block of settlements to the south of Bethlehem (all on confiscated West Bank lands), could eventually see the total encircling and isolation of Bethlehem by Israel and the merging of it into the City of Jerusalem.

....pondering the future of Christianity at the Old City of Jerusalem (EAPPI archive photo) '

….pondering the future of Christianity at the Old City of Jerusalem (EAPPI archive photo) 

 

Is it possible these two cities might someday become “Jewish” cities or a single Jewish city?  Would truly Jewish cities need historical Muslim mosques and Christian churches, or could they be removed or burned off of the landscape?  If Israel totally alienates themselves from other countries that have strong Christian communities, could access to this Holy Land and the various Holy sites be a thing of the past?

 

This morning, I participated in a small service that celebrated the first week of advent. A participant at the service shared a reflection on the urgency to the season of lent.  She shared with the group “Living in Bethlehem, I feel this urgency more deeply than ever before.  Between the holy sites and the very unholy sights of continued injustice, I hear people crying out for liberation and redemption”.

So, as a Christian and someone who is living in this land of injustice I too feel a sense of urgency. This urgency is related to ending the continuing injustices experienced by people who are already live politically as second class citizens.  With the new laws being proposed, this segment of the population will struggle to survive let alone maintain their identity.  If their identity includes being a Christian (which I happen to share with them), I also feel a sense of urgency in saving this identity as well as the holy sites associated with it.

My hope is that Christians around the world also share this sense of urgency

 

 

 

 

 

The Israeli Voice of Opposition

There is a key distinction that needs to be made between the term “government of Israel” and “Israelis”.  In my previous blogs, I have tried to be consistent in making that distinction.

In a well functioning democracy, there will be a ruling government as well as an effective opposition that represents those voices whose views and opinions are not the same as that  of the government.  For those countries that do not have an effective or well functioning opposition, there is no doubt a need for some form of pubic opposition or resistance to the positions and policies of the ruling government.  One can argue that Israel is one such country given that there appears no effective and formal voice of opposition that can call the ruling government to task for such blatant “wrongs” as violating international laws and not respecting basic human rights.

As it relates to the current Palestinian occupation and all the wrongs associated with it, there exists a portion of the Israeli population that recognizes and respects the difference between right and wrong.  These people are working hard to right some of these wrongs and in doing so no doubt pay a personal price.  They risk being labelled as “traitors” or “not one of us” by some in their communities and most definitely by their government.  I applaud these people and their various organizations and would like to acknowledge at least a few of the ones that I have had some association or contact with.

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Machsom Watch photo

Machsom Watch – is a volunteer organization of Israeli women that oppose the occupation, the appropriation of Palestine and the denial of Palestinian human rights.  They monitor checkpoints/agriculture gates, the military courts and Palestinian villages.  One of their aims is to influence public opinion in Israel on the conditions faced by Palestinians, conditions that in their words, “corrode the fabric of Israeli society and the values of democracy”.  A seasoned member of Machsom Watch is Hanna Barag.  Hanna cautioned those who monitor the checkpoints by suggesting “the checkpoint/gate process, like much in the West Bank, is not logical – leave your logical minds at home” and, that in general “the settlers run the country and set the agenda for the government.”

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Rabbis for Human Rights illustration

Rabbis for Human Rights – is made up of over 100 members – all Israelis and all ordained Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Rabbis.  Their work “expresses the view that as Jews, we are obligated to protest every injustice enacted against any other person, a view based on the belief that men and women were created in God’s image”.  They believe that it is their obligation to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and that it is their role to pressure state institutions to fix these injustices.  In 2012, I met a Rabbi for Human Rights who was working with and supporting a Bedouin community that was being pressured by the government of Israel to “pack up and move” to support further settlement construction.

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Photo from Women in Black

  Women in Black – is a women’s anti-war movement formed in Jerusalem in 1988.  Responding to what they consider serious violations by Israeli soldiers, the women hold a vigil every Friday in West Jerusalem, wearing black clothing in mourning for all victims of the conflict.

My wife, Debbie, participates in these weekly vigils and recently  told of one such  Friday  where the participants received slurs/obscenities and had an empty deodorant can thrown at them.

Illustration by Breaking the Silence

Illustration by Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence – is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories (ie. West Bank) .  They “endeavour to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.”

 

Photo from Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Photo from Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – is a human rights and peace organization established to end Israel’s occupation over Palestine.  It takes its main focus, as its vehicle for resistance, Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.  In my visit to the organization in 2012, a young lady noted “Opposition of any kind to the actions of the government is labeled as anti-semitic.  My grandmother, who experienced the Holocaust, would be very angry to hear that term used to defend these house demolitions.”

 

B’tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (ie. West Bank) was established by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists and Knesset members in 1989.  They endeavour to document and  educate the Israeli public and policy-makers about human rights violations, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public and help create a human rights culture in Israel.

It is the people that make up these groups and organizations that I feel a connection with and for which I have great respect. May their work continue to provide a strong voice of opposition and resistance to the government of Israel – Inshallah.

The Art of Confiscating Land

Confiscate:  To confiscate means to take away for security or legal reasons.  It implies an act by an authority upon one of less power.

The art of land confiscation by the Israeli government from the Palestinians cannot possibly be described in a short blog.  The legal system created to support this confiscation is a collection of various systems – Israeli, Jordanian and Ottoman.  The particular system cited to defend a particular confiscation is generally the system that best supports the government’s case.  The legal system in place allows for the confiscation of land primarily for the creation of settlements which, in recent years, have become to be known as “facts on the ground”.  It is these settlements that are quickly making a two-state solution to the occupation less and less possible.  It is this system that displaces farmers whose families have made a living off of their small plots of land for generations.  (For an example of the Israeli government’s taking of land for “security and legal” reasons, have a look at Uprooted: A Tale of Palestinian Farmers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyFHlB9nu0E

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The Olive Tree – a symbol of peace and a way of life being lost

An equitable partition of the land between Israel and Palestine is one option available to end the current occupation and hopefully result in peace in this part of the world. Various partition plans have been proposed since 1948, all of which have been unsuccessful to date.  Israel will offer that the Palestinians will not recognize the state of Israel (notwithstanding that Israel will not recognize the state of Palestine either).  Palestine can rightly respond that the negotiating table is not level and that they are being asked to accept a “peace” agreement instead of an agreement for a “just peace”. In the absence of an agreement, the Palestinians have been steadily losing land since 1967 by an on-going shifting  of the pre-1967 partition (Green Line) line eastward into the West Bank.  In addition to a partition line that is slowly shifting eastward, there has been a significant loss of land fully within the West Bank. This land is being confiscated by Israel with no compensation and is primarily for the construction of new hilltop settlements.

Loss of Palestinian Land over Time

Loss of Palestinian Land over Time

Some of the tactics utilized to justify or defend this confiscation are as follows: Requisition Order – used for the establishment of military facilities. (The owner is reportedly compensated for their land in this situation. Expropriation of Absentees Land –  Land which has not cultivated for a period of three years can also be confiscated.  This tactic is often against refugees who have been driven from their property/home during previous conflicts and who are prohibited by the Israeli government from re-entering the West Bank (ie. it is difficult to cultivate your land when you are not allowed to be there).  In such cases, and in accordance with international law, the government is to “hold” this land in trust for its owners and neither rent or sell it to settlers – another law that is not being respected. Closed Zones – lands that the military can designate for military training purposes at their will,  These designated lands are deemed “special security zones” which are typically  400 – 1000 meter additional strips around the outside of the  developed area of the settlements.  So, we have settlements on confiscated lands as well as additional illegal “safety” zone around the illegal settlements. Declaratiom of State Land  – this tactic allows for confiscation of land not registered prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967 and lands viewed as “government property” based on the previous Jordanian land taxation system. The declaration of hundreds of dunums as state land facilitated Israel’s establishment of the vast majority of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

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Threatened Palestinian farmland in the foreground and a Zionist settlement in the background – on confiscated land

The above tactics have been a total success to date in the  confiscation of land – for the purposes of constructing the settlements and making the lives of the Palestinians as miserable as possible.

Omar Hajajla – the battle to keep his land continues….

I had an opportunity recently to visit and interview Omar Hajajla, whose house and plot of land are located in the village of Al Walaja.  The government Israel has been after his land (for the expansion of the Har Gilo Settlement) for years. In late October, Omar just received his second demolition order for his house but due to very complete land ownership documentation, he remains hopeful that demolition won’t happen.  Omar asks, “Why should I have to pay for what Hitler did?” and, states defiantly, ” I will not leave”.  All the power to you Omar! An August 24, 2014, notice for a massive 4000 dunum confiscation (approximately 1000 acres) to the west of Bethlehem was announced.  This has left hundreds of affected landowners fearful and distraught about their future. As I stand on a hillside looking westward to the Greenline and the 4000 dunams to be confiscated (located directly on the east side of the Green Line, I have to question “Why couldn’t this land be provided by the empty forest land on the west side of the Green Line and in Israel?”

When I first set eyes on the barrier wall being constructed by the Israeli government, my engineer mind started calculating the construction costs of such a large project.  In my mind, the “hard” costs (concrete, steel, gates, security cameras, road realignments, utilities, etc.) will run into the hundreds of millions when the estimated 700 km of wall is completed. Many civil type projects also come with “soft” costs in the form of property acquisition costs, compensation for lost land/homes/businesses/income, legal costs and engineering.  These types of costs are generally difficult to estimate. However, for this project it has become apparent that the soft costs are quite easy to determine. The majority of these costs can safely be estimated at or near zero – the impacted Palestinians have been forced to absorb them.

So, we have a project with monetary costs that will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Can you imagine what could be possible with this amount of money?  How about schools, hospitals, basic infrastructure, lacking social programs, alternative energy programs, water supply, sewage treatment, diversification of the economy, tourism development and so on – for both Palestinians and Israelis.

The Israeli government would suggest that the monetary cost of this wall is offset by the “benefit” of a reduction in the number of “terrorist” acts.  While this statement may appear logical to some on first take, one has to consider a few additional facts. The initial sections of the wall were built near the end of the Second Intifada (during which violent acts were undertaken by all sides) had ended and was accompanied by a major increase in ground security measures and weary combatants. So, was the reduction in these violent acts a result of the wall or, as a result of conditions not related to the physical wall itself?

The international community has been quite clear on the construction of the wall.  The International Court of Justice in 2004 ruled “Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall”.  It further asserted that “the construction of the wall and it’s associated regime are contrary to international law.”

A 2005 United Nations report stated “It is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the barrier.  The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities.  In addition, plans for the barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences.  This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future will be impacted…… the land between the barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently home for 49,000 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns.”  Some 10 years later, the negative impacts related to the continued construction of the wall have grown dramatically.

4:00 am Crossing of Wall at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

4:00 am Crossing of Wall at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

Barrier Wall - Bethlehem

Barrier Wall – Bethlehem

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Bethlehem Wall/Pope Francis Prayer Site

The government of Canada does recognize the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to be “occupied territory” and considers the wall to be contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  It officially opposes the barrier, the expropriations and demolition of houses and economic infrastructure preceding its construction. Unfortunately, the government of Canada is mostly silent when these positions are not respected.  It is easy to take the “politically correct” position on paper but quite another thing to insist that they be respected on the ground by the government of Israel.  Are Canadians seen in the international community as a nation who is comfortable “picking and choosing” which international laws should be respected and which ones can be dismissed?   If so, this is heavy price to pay for which I am held accountable as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Children and Non-Violent Resistance

My thoughts this week have been on children and what it must be like to grow up in an occupied land.  I grew up in a world that was mostly free of fear and violence.  My childhood was what I would hope for children everywhere and included safety, protection and the right to simply “be a kid”.

The world in Palestine is a different place.  While parents and communities here attempt attempt to raise and provide for their children like my parents did, they are forced to do so in an occupied land – one full of soldiers, guns, riot gear, restrictions on movement, tear gas, skunk water, rubber bullets, etc, etc, etc.  Notwithstanding the physical dangers to children in such a world, these kids will develop and mature psychologically  in an environment filled with mistrust, anxiety, fear, violence and to a degree, hate.

I have had the recent opportunity to meet a man named Hasan Breijieh who lives in the village of Al Ma’sara which is just a few km to the south of Bethlehem.  Al Ma’sara is faced with a problem that many Palestinian communities around Bethlehem face – the confiscation of Palestinian land for the expansion of the adjacent hilltop “settlements” around them.  These settlements breach international humanitarian law and their very existence violates Palestinian human rights in the form of right to property, equality, a decent standard of living and freedom of movement.  Some of the inhabitants of these settlements, known simply as “settlers”, can be exceptionally violent and dangerous.  The sad fact on the ground is that the military defends and supports even the worst of actions by the settlers, which are typically at the expense of the Palestinians.

Hasan has been carrying out a small non-violent demonstration for about six years now – every Friday at 12:30.  At about noon, the Israeli soldiers “roll into town” like clockwork to deal with this demonstration.  About a dozen soldiers stand across the village road entrance and form a human “fence” with the requisite semi-automatic rifles at hand.  As if on cue, Hasan and about 10 kids/young teenagers march up the street carrying a couple of Palestinian flags.  When they  meet the road-blocking soldiers, they stop face to face.  A kid moves to the left in an attempt to  squeeze between two soldiers – the soldiers shuffle in unison to the left to block the pathway.  The kid then moves back to the right towards a newly opened breach in the soldiers line – the soldiers quickly shuffle to the right to block this opening.  The routine looks much like a “keystone cops” film and goes on for about an hour with Hasan all the while chastising the very young soldiers with “Why are you here?” and “You have no right to be here!”.  If the soldiers were allowed to speak, their official response provided from their superiors would be that they are here for “security”.  In this case, the security threat is a young girl with a pony-tail, a pink top and an adorable smile.

Al Ma'sara Demonstration

Al Ma’sara Demonstration

J Neslein - Kids at Al Ma'sara demonstration - Al Ma'sara - 241014

The serious side of this protest is not lost on me.  The concept of non-violent resistance has been used effectively in previous conflicts and struggles around the world.  Many are now thinking that this form of protest may play a role in ending the occupation in Palestine as well. However, this work will take time.  The Israeli military has no current way of responding to this form of resistance – their world is one of superiority and brute force.  Many of the young men in Palestine will also need time to accept this form of resistance as their world is one of either accepting the occupying force/violence or responding to it.  The general Palestinian population can quite rightly say that they have struggled and continue to suffer to an intolerable degree – how can they be expected to wait for this potential means of ending the occupation that comes with no guarantee?  Additionally, non-violent protest does not make for catchy headlines whereas violent protest does.

The clear hope and reward in such wait would be with the children of today and their children. The hope and desire is that some day, children in Palestine will have the opportunity be able to grow up in an environmnent where they feel unthreatened and safe and doing what kids should be doing at their age – that is simply “being a kid”.