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Silwan

Yesterday I visited Silwan, the village located very close to the Old City of Jerusalem. 80 houses are inhabited by about 1000 people. The situation for all of them is critical. Israelis are taking the advantage of their relligion, according to which the area was a King David’s garden 2500 years ago, so as to evict all the inhabitants and create a park there. Once the inhabitants of the village gave their children paints and asked them to paint the walls of some houses. Most of the children painted the bulldozers, soldiers, destroyed houses and their suffering owners. This is how their childhood looks like.

Most of the families have received demolition orders from the municipality and now are waiting for the army and bulldozers to come and destroy everything, what they have managed to gain throughout their life. It might happen anytime as the orders are obeyed randomly and they never expire. That means that your children may go to the school and when they came back, they would see nothing but the ruins of the house they have grown up in. On the other hand, you might wait ten years for the demolition, but what kind of life is that? Home should be a place where you can find peace and safety and how can it be like that, if you are living in the constant fear of becoming homeless?

 Sometimes the soldiers come in the morning and tell you, that you have ten minutes to leave your home. How can you decide what to take with you in ten minutes? But you don’t have a choice, they have guns, they are Israelis, they follow ‘the rules’.

Some families can’t stand the pressure and decide to move out. Their houses straight away are taken by settlers and the demolition order expires as it only applies to Palestinians. Other are evicted and in those cases, settlers also take over the place.

According to the Israeli law, since 1967 (the annexation of East Jerusalem to the West Jerusalem) Palestinians need a permission to build the house in the East Jerusalem. Since 95% of applications are being refused, Palestinians decide to build without permits. 50% of houses have been considered as illegal and either have already received demolition orders or will receive them in the near future.

Israelis obey 100 house demolition orders a year, which means that almost in every three days one house is being demolished. In every three days, one family loses it’s memories, dreams, the place where children can grow up and old men can wait for their last days to come. Moreover, the municipality can’t afford so many demolitions and  it is the owner, who has to cover the costs, which means that instead of getting compensation, you have to pay for your own house to be destroyed.

There is no other name for such actions than etnic cleansing. Israeli policy is simple: more land with less Arabs. Expropriation, creating constant fear and destroying the only place where people can feel safe – their own home, is the fearfully effective tool to acheive this goal.

Everytime I hear about house demolition, I think about my father who built our house with his own hands, like most of the Palestinians, and try to imagine his reaction if one day he comes back from work/shop/church and sees his creation has been destroyed. But for me it is only the imagination, not the reality you have to cope with every third day.

‘Iron Wall’

If you have never heard about the Israeli occupation in Palestine and you don’t have a clue, what is the Apartheid Wall, illegal settlements, checkpoints, house demolition, land confiscation and so on, I recommend you to watch the documentary called ‘Iron Wall‘. On the other hand, if you are more or less familiar with the situation, but you still need to put the facts and dates together, I recommend you to watch the documentary called ‘Iron Wall’. Moreover, if you’ve already known it all and you want to tell your friends and family about what you’ve learnt, but you don’t know where and how to start, I recommend you to watch the documentary called ‘Iron Wall’ with them. You can find it on youtube/video.google.com. It lasts about 1,5 hour and gives a good summary of the latest history of the occupation, the current situation and possible future of Palestine. Just 1,5 hour of your free time and you become more aware and people around you might become more aware, without spending ages reading this blog;)

Soon after I arrived in Palestine for the second time I had a chance to learn the occupation the hard way. On my very first day Israelis cut off the electricity in Bethlehem’s  neighbourhood. In the shop i was told that they do that sometimes out of the blue, plunging all the area into darkness. The sight of illuminated Har Homa (illegal under national law Israeli settlement facing Bethlehem) was the obvious manifestation of Israeli superiority and it only increased Palestinians’ frustration.

Not only the electricity, but also water resources in the Palestinian Territory are limited, and controlled by the Israeli authority. Here are some numbers. Of the water available from the West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 73%, Palestinians 17% and 10% goes to illegal Israeli settlers.  Statistics show that per year, each Israeli consumes as much water as four Palestinians.

Wells are considered the most important source of water in Palestine. Yet,  many of them have been confiscated for Israeli use. Israeli authority not only does not allow new wells to be drilled, but also set quotas on how much water can be drawn by Palestinians from the existing wells. The second source of water, is Israeli Water Company Mekorot, which sells Palestinians their own share of water. During the summer, when water supplies are low, Mekorot closes the valves, which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as to preserve Israeli supplies. In real life it means that, while illegal settlers are swimming in their pools and watering their lawns, Palestinians don’t have enough water to drink or cook. One of my friend asked me today if I have a water at my place, as she doesn’t. I still have it,  just because I am lucky to live with a family that uses water from the tank.

Illegal settlements are built on the very source of water and settlers destroy Palestinians’ water supplies by polluting wells with sevage, perforating  water roof tanks, vanadalazing the connecting pipes, just to name a few.

The Apartheid Wall isolates Palestinians not only from their land, but also from many important underground wellsprings.

Expropriation Palestinian water for the use by Israeli citizens and illegal settlers and controlling the electricity in the Occupied Territories are just examples of numerous of violations of the interantional law. Since water and electricity are crucial for wellbeing, it’s  hard to belittle such violations in everyday live here in Palestine.

Olive picking part 2

Israeli soldier pushing Palestinian farmerYesterday I hoped I would have another chance to help local farmers with the olive harvest, but this time we weren’t that lucky.  The field, which we were trying to enter, is located in the ‘closed military zone’ under the  bridge connecting Road 60.  Unfortunately, most of the fertile areas in the Occupied Territories are declared military zones by Israel.

The owners, two sisters and one brother, of this field used to own 9 dunum of land  (1 dunam is equal to 10 acres) planted with olive trees.  Yet, the constrution of the poles of the bridge left them with no more than 2 dunum and like any land confiscation case, they never got any compensation. Olive trees were uprooted from the confiscated area and sold in Israel as wood. Even though the family still owns 2 dunum of  land, it  is beyond the fence with a barbed wire and a gate. The gate has been locked since 2005 and to enter their own land the farmers need a permission,  which they have been constantly denied. Since olives are their only source of income, last year they decided to bypass the locked gate and they climbed up the hills so as to pass the barbed wire on the top but they managed to pick only a few kilos of olives. This didn’t work this year as  the wire has been hightened.

The military zone is still inhabited by Palestinian families, but only some of them were lucky enough to get the key, the rest have to call the guard every time they need to get in or out. Cameras and other military sensors are all over the place so letting us in was too risky for the people, who own the key. Time was passing by and instead of picking olives we were waiting by the fence until two Israeli soldiers came. We were trying to persuade them to unlock the gate, but I guess the only expression they knew in English was ‘that’s the rule’.

The owner of the land, Adel Mustafa Srour (50) , got frustrated with their arrogance and started to shout in Arabic: ‘why am I not allowed to enter my own field? I just want to reap my harvest‘, which drove the soldiers completely mad. They started to pull Adel towards the car, while we were trying to verbally stop them. It didn’t work, they took him and sent him to the detention. Fortunately he got released after a couple of hours with no health impairment.

Anyway, soldiers’ reaction was completely out of proportion. Eleven international witnesses were watching it completely helpless while the soldiers were jerking, pushing and abusing an innocent man as if he was a real criminal.

What can an unarmed man do to soldiers? And can we still consider such treatment as following ‘the rules’ or  ‘for security reasons’ (the most common excuse in Israel)?

Olive Picking

Now when olive harvest time has come, many Palestinian farmers are trying to enter fields and do their duty. Even though, they own the cultivated land, they are constantly exposed to the harrasment from the Israeli soldiers. Last sunday to enable them to reap the harvest in peace, me and other six internationals went to the fields adjacent to the village called Umm Salamuna to pick up olives. While we were working, we saw Israeli soldiers passing by, but they didn’t take a risk of entering the fields and harrasing Palestinians in front of the international witnesses. Olives are one of the major crops cultivated in Palestine and for many farmers the only source of income. Picking olives is like a special kind of gathering and social event for country dwellers, they not only work but also rest, eat lunch, drink coffee, sing and chat on the fields. It was a great experience to be there with them and to meet with their pervasive hospitability and friendliness. And on the top of that to make the harvest of their own olives from their own fields possible for them.

Anyway, we heard the men joking and laughing while queueing for hours. Some naive person might say: ‘Oh, they are not angry, they actually enjoy it’. Obviously, they do no enjoy it, but they laugh and joke as a way to deal with the reality, as a way of release tension, anger, impatience, every possible feeling that can be accumulated during this long and frustrating time of waiting.

To cross the checkpoint, one has to pass three points of checks. The first: checking permissions, IDs and passports. The soldier girl that was sitting in the boot did not seem the nicest. She turned away many people and when we asked Patrick why it could be so, he said she might not have like the way they showed it or the way it was printed, or they were in the wrong lane, and so forth. What if she has a bad day, will she turn away all of them?! Continue Reading »

“Rabbi David Batsri called Arabs “a blight, a devil, a disaster… donkeys, and we have to ask ourselves why God didn’t create them to walk on all fours. Well, the answer is that they are needed to build and clean.” – a fragment of the article

Please read this article by an Israeli human rights activist and a Holocaust survivor about religious fundamentalism in Israel. I think it is very interesting. Just follow this link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/961/focus.htm.