Sorry, it has been awhile since the last entry. The last days in Jerusalem were a whirlwind. We were wrapping up, attempting to tidy things up for the next team, saying our good-byes, and then the unexpected happened, the hijacking of the Flotilla off of Gaza. The flight home was (thankfully) uneventful. But I would like to thank Delta for employing crabby flight attendants. At the Portland airport, I was greeted by my peeps, people who supported me from day one. Check out this good looking crew.
And when I got home, like a good parent, I shoved a camera in my cat’s faces. I missed them sooooo much. These are my boys, Mookie and Fritz.
So now starts the next leg of the journey. What to do with this amazing experience? Well, it’s not over. Even though it’s required by EAPPI to share this experience, it seems immoral not to do so. This blog will continue, and one idea is to include more information regarding the people and agencies we met in Jerusalem. The world needs to meet these people. So look for those entries in the near future.
As for now, I’m still in the process of reorienting myself to Portland life. I miss my Jerusalem friends. I miss my teammates. I miss Jerusalem. But this is a perfect time to thank everyone who provided support, thoughts and prayers. And thank you for reading this blog. Imagine what role you all played! It means more than I can describe.
It’s back to life in Portland. Let’s continue fighting for peace and justice in the Holy Land.
P.S. In case you need more pictures of my cats, check these out.
It’s 4pm, and I’m back again.
A Muslim woman, who speaks only Arabic, approaches me. A kind man offers to translate between us. She presents medical papers regarding her daughter who is inpatient in a Tel Aviv hospital. The mother is in the West Bank attempting to obtain the proper paperwork to enter Israel to see her daughter. She started this journey at 10am, waited in lines to be told she needed to be in different lines and finally ended up at Qalandiya. Once at Qalandiya, she learns the permit line was closed. She pauses and then starts crying.
I tell her I’m going to make calls. The mission is clear: help this woman get her permit to see her daughter in Tel Aviv. We move to the side, and my first call is to the humanitarian hotline. After being disconnected several times, I’m ultimately transferred to the Deputy Commanding Officer, the head guy, of Qalandiya. To my utter amazement, he was polite and even-tempered. He listened and advised me what needed to happen next, which was send her to another location (the next town over) to pick up the permit. Strangely enough he didn’t have the phone or address of this new place.
Plan B: call my boss, Pauline.
Pauline is amazing! Within 5 minutes, Pauline learned the permit was ready. I pass the phone back to the mother, and as she listens to Pauline, I see her whole body relax. Pauline was also able to provide the address and phone number to the mother. The mother gives the phone back to me, and in perfect English says “Thank you.” At the risk of breaking cultural norms, I give her a hug. She held me so tight. Language didn’t matter at that moment. Since arriving here in Palestine, there have been several occasions where I’ve felt completely helpless and ineffective. But in a short 45 minutes, I like to think my efforts made a difference.
So I tell you this story for several reasons.
*This is why EA’s go to checkpoints
*All this mother wanted to do was see her daughter in the hospital, and she hit many obstacles.
*If you really think about it, why is there a humanitarian hotline? (I view it as an admittance of a flawed system.)
*Imagine yourself in this mother’s place. How would you feel?
*This woman’s experience is common.
The next day I asked someone from the main office to follow up with the mother. It was learned the mother in fact did get the permit. Unfortunately the permit is for three days only, and her daughter is in the hospital for 14 days. And the mother asks, “What to do?”
Here’s what I can do! I can tell her story, share her humanness with the world. Because when you think about it, she’s just like you and me. This story will be part of my advocacy when I return to the States. This is what I can do!
One of our responsibilities is to monitor checkpoints. Qalandiya is the main checkpoint between Ramallah (the West Bank) and Jerusalem. Approximately 3,000 pass through between 4am-8am everyday. We monitor checkpoints for human rights violations, harassment from the guards, etc. Supposedly with the presence of internationals, ideally there should be a decrease in unpredictable behavior from the guards.
There are 3 security forces to contend with, the police (who oversees daily operations), the army (who check ID’s) and a private security force (to protect the police). Mind you the security forces are separated (by glass and barbed wire) from the people. The military staffs a humanitarian hotline which is set up to receive reports of problems crossing the checkpoint. In theory the humanitarian hotline is implemented to help.
Since this is my blog and I’m sharing my experiences, let me be frank. I hate checkpoints. They’re inhumane, cold, damp and evil places. These are evil human inventions used to humiliate, restrict movement and exert control over another people. These are confusing and unpredictable places. It’s difficult monitoring these places and seeing how guards (human beings) treat Palestinians (also human beings).
Let me share one such morning.
At the end of our shift, three gentlemen approach us. They tell their story. They are from Gaza. They recently received medical treatment (in Nablus) and were discharged. They’re attempting to leave the West Bank to go through Israel to finally get back to Gaza. When they entered the checkpoint, the soldiers, without any explanations, took their medical permits. Basically this left them stranded at the checkpoint. All they wanted to do was get back to Gaza. After making several phone calls including to the humanitarian hotline and as advised by hotline staff, we attempt to speak to the Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO) of Qalandiya. It’s a police operation. He’s the top boss on duty. How hard can it be?
The closest to human contact is the ID booth. This is the most likely spot you’ll find someone who speaks English. You walk through an x-ray machine towards a glass window (This is also the spot where you show your ID.) I walk up to the window and see a young woman solider. She is known to be loud, a yeller and mean.
(K=Kathy and S=soldier)
K: “What’s the DCO’s name?”
S: “Why do you want to know?”
K: “I’m trying to help men get back to Gaza.”
S: (She launches into a rant about two women.)
K: “What’s the DCO’s name?”
S: “I don’t know it.”
K: “You don’t know you’re bosses name? What’s your name?”
S: (covering up her name tag) “You can’t have it. It’s against the rules. Why do you want it?”
K: “I’m trying to help some men get back to Gaza.”
We go back and forth for a bit, and all the while she’s becoming increasingly defensive and loud. And may I add, she had perfectly good English. Then a Palestinian man behind me said, “Madam, please, there’s a line. Never mind. Just go.” I leave the checkpoint area to try and find my teammate. (As soon as I cleared the checkpoint, I saw the same man. As he walked past me, he said “Sorry.”)
To make a long story short, the men eventually passed the checkpoint. My teammate had better luck helping them through the Qalandiya maze. And this was a normal day at Qalandiya.
But wait! I still have to do a spot check at Qalandiya later today.
Every Wednesday we go to Jahalin Bedouin Camp in Al Azarriya to practice English conversation with a group of teenage girls. This community of Bedouins were first evicted from their traditional environment in 1975 to make room for Ma’ale Adumim settlement. Currently next to Ma’ale Adumim is Qeder settlement, and Jahalin residents once again have received eviction orders. This time they are forced to move to allow Ma’ale Adumim and Qeder merge with each other. Despite living under these conditions, these girls are energetic, eager to learn and very bright. Many talk about becoming pharmacists, lawyers and journalists.
This particular Wednesday we prepared two activities. They are fast learners and usually speed through the assignments. Generally competitive with each other, we developed an assignment where they’d have to work in teams. The first assignment was to practice sentence structure. Each team was given a handful of words (including all parts of speech). They were to make sentences out of the miscellaneous words. It was fascinating not only to watch how they work well in teams but their creativity. At one point, a team needed a verb, and no verbs were left in the pile. One girl just picked up a blank piece of paper and wrote the verb name needed. Solution found! They were focused and determined to use as many words as possible. As each team read their sentences out loud, the girls spontaneously clapped for each other. It was a neat experience watching their teamwork, how they problem solved and then celebrated each other’s accomplishments.
The second assignment focused on listening comprehension. Normally full of energy, the girls needed an assignment that allowed them to move a lot. We had six energetic teenage girls, their teacher, Maryam and her sister, Amani, and three EA’s sitting facing each other in a circle. Then an instruction was given, and if this applied to you, you were to change seats. For example:
“Everyone with brown eyes change seats.”
“Everyone with red shoes change seats.”
“If you’re younger than 17 years old, change seats.”
Everyone was laughing. And all the girls participated (giving instructions). Even the shy girls seemed to be enjoying themselves. This was a good assignment for those who felt timid with their English. And with the previous assignment, they showed off their creativity and spunk (“Everyone with freckles change seats” and “Everyone with blue eyes change seats”). At the end of class, Maryam, with a big grin, thanked us and said, “The girls really appreciated this.” It was a neat experience for the EAs too.
My teammate Peter and I stepped into the West Jerusalem post office to take care of simple business. We were wearing our EAPPI vests, and the staff asked us if we were journalists. We said we were “church tourists.” After soliciting money for different items, including donating money for cancer, He said, “Tell all your friends about Israel. First security, then peace.” He smiled, gave us the thumbs up sign and wished us a good day.
We met Rima, a nice lady and an advocate at the Palestinian Counseling Center (PCC), an agency focussing on the mental health needs of the most vulnerable in Palestine. Established in 1983 by educators, psychologists and sociologists, the early years were slow. People were hesitant to reach out for support. Rima states this has changed for the better. The community trusts and respects PCC, and now PCC has grown offering a wide variety of services, including individual and group support, in three locations.
The topic soon turned from what services are provided to advocacy. We had a lengthy discussion regarding mental health issues and the occupation. Rima works in the Lobbying and Advocacy department at PCC. Rima stressed it was important to look at the context, and in this case, it’s the occupation. PCC conducted a research project on the impact of house demolitions. You can find the results on their website: “BROKEN HOMES: Addressing the Impact of House Demolitions on Palestinian Children & Families” at http://www.pccjer.org/images/publications/pdf/brokenhomes_en.pdf.
Why are houses demolished? (pg 12.)
The Israeli authorities give a variety of reasons.
-“clearing operations” (i.e. mass demolitions)
-lack of building permits
-punishment against accused militants
(Please refer to “Broken Homes” on the website. More specific information is given, including percentages of each category.)
What happens when a house is demolished? (pg 13.)
“Once a home is demolished, the family loses both the house as a financial asset and often the property inside it; in addition it is liable for the costs of the house demolition which can run up to tens of thousands of dollars. To avoid these costs, Palestinians subject to administrative house demolitions may “opt” to undertake the demolition of their own home and pay a smaller fine in a deal with authorities. It is not known how many Palestinians choose this route.”
How many people are affected? Many Palestinians live with their extended families or in close proximity of each other. Demolitions that are defined to a specific area can affect multi family members. This would affect a person’s emotional, psychological and social support as well.
I’d encourage you to look at the study (http://www.pccjer.org/images/publications/pdf/brokenhomes_en.pdf). If you like statistics, it has statistics. It covers what happens on the day of the demolition (what people experience) but also what occurs afterwards, including feelings of displacement and insecurity, lack of resources (emotional, social and psychological), limited to no legal recourses, the economic hardship and of course the continuation of the occupation. A big part of the study focuses on the effects on children. Not only do parents have to deal with their own issues but how the trauma affects their children. Parents report (in their children) increased anxiety and depression, concentration difficulties, violent behaviors and social problems.
A good portion of the study focuses on international humanitarian and human rights laws (pages 16-17.)
Fourth Geneva Convention
Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited; Pillage is prohibited; Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
1. Every human being shall have the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or place of habitual residence.
2. The prohibition of arbitrary displacement includes displacement:
(a) When it is based on policies of apartheid, “ethnic cleansing” or similar practices aimed at/or resulting in altering the ethnic, religious or racial composition of the affected population;
(b) In situations of armed conflict, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand;
(c) In cases of large-scale development projects, which are not justified by compelling and overriding public interests;
(d) In cases of disasters, unless the safety and health of those affected requires their evacuation; and
(e) When it is used as a collective punishment.
3. Displacement shall last no longer than required by the circumstances.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will…
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health…States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development…
3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity…
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
1. States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child…
4. In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.
Israel is in clear and constant violation of these humanitarian and human rights laws. Not much more to say than that. With the threat of house demolitions starting up again in East Jerusalem, I’m genuinely afraid of the consequences. It’s not as simple as just knocking down a house. We’re dealing with human beings. And I’m thankful and inspired by people like Rima who work for peace and justice within this challenging environment. Under such circumstances it’s natural to withdrawal. But to move forward and try to build for the future, these are the people and stories that need to be told.
What Rima asked of us was to get the word out, to share our experiences with family and friends and talk to our government officials. I can do that. So I share this with you. Think about what it would be like if your home was demolished? How many more house demolitions have to occur for people to take notice of this occupation?
FYI~International Humanitarian Law – Treaties & Documents
“The simplest way to get rid of the violence is to get rid of the non violent people.”
Five of us EA’s took a tour in the city of Hebron with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli peace organization. Hebron is a historic place but also filled with stories of violence. These settlers are known for their violence. They have even attacked the Israeli army. Check out Breaking the Silence’s website: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/index_e.asp. It was a very interesting and weird tour.
The above quote is from Yehuda, our guide. He elaborates further. The police in Hebron don’t want trouble. If the settlers see outsiders, like other jews and internationals, they’ll get upset and start making problems. The police won’t deal with the real issue, the illegal and violent settlers, but take the easy route by telling the non violent people, “who have a legal right to be here,” to go. While driving to Hebron, we were given lots of information. This was helpful because this is what our tour looked like……
The police escorted us throughout the tour. They continually interrupted Yehuda, telling him where he could/couldn’t go and what he could/couldn’t say. The last straw was when we stopped at a particular Palestinian home. Yehuda attempted to tell their story. Just then the police chief himself approached Yehuda, telling him to stop. Yehuda’s response, “I have a legal right to be here; I am doing nothing wrong.” He was warned he’d be detained but continued talking. The police detained him. He was taken to the police station. Our tour was soon cut short. The tour group returned to the bus, and we waited for Yehuda. He eventually joined us. He was quiet but you could see the steam coming out of his ears. All he said was he’d see them in court, which was a very American thing to say.
As our team relayed this to the EA staff, all he said “Oh, that’s common.” Something I hear frequently here, “The abnormal is normal here.” Yehuda was also trying to show this. So it’s better to take the easy route? How is attempting to quiet the non violent really going to help? The abnormal doesn’t need to be normal.
Yes, I recommend the tour. And talk to Yehuda; he’s a nice guy.
After a long day, I walked into my room and was surprised to see Spanky, one of the 8 guesthouse (feline) residents. He has figured out how to open the screen. Look at him! He’s so peaceful there. As soon as I saw him, all the racing thoughts and worries of the day just disappeared. So thank you, Spanky, for reminding me it’s the simple things in life that keep you going: peace, quiet and a good pillow.
“Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.” (George Orwell, 1984)
Let’s start with a couple of questions.
1. Have you heard of Silwan?
2. What does King David have to do with the current Palestine and Israeli conflict?
Several of us EA’s took a most amazing tour. In fact it has been one of the most memorable experiences of this trip. It was led by an archeologist, Yonathan Mizrachi, who helped explain the conflict in a new way.
By the end of this blog, hopefully you’ll have the answers. First we’ll look at the organization who put on the tour. Then we’ll look at Silwan and then the connection between past and present. The following information is taken from ”Archeology in Jerusalem: Past and Present” at http://www.alt-arch.org/index.php
As stated on their website:
“Emek Shaveh” is a new non-profit association of archaeologists, local residents and human rights activists working to change the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that archaeology can be used as a bridge between peoples and cultures and that it has the power to influence the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that can benefit the future of all the peoples in this region.
Silwan (check out the interactive map at http://www.alt-arch.org/map.php)
“A densely populated Palestinian village near the Old City of Jerusalem, southeast of the Temple Mount/Haram el Sharif. The village, which has grown into a large residential quarter, was annexed by Israel in 1967, and its Palestinian inhabitants are considered residents, but not citizens, of Israel. About forty thousand Palestinians and four hundred Jewish settlers live in the village.”
Silwan is a hot spot as well. On April 25th, 2010, the Hebron settlers asked and were given permission to demonstrate in the Silwan neighborhood. They wanted to show support to the Silwan settlers. Sound crazy? Here’s more. In the last two weeks there have been nightly arrests of young people. A scare tactic commonly implemented is to arrest children as young as 12 years old. And when you look at their families, you’ll start seeing patterns. The parents are community activists and vocal about human rights abuses. This is harassment and intended to intimidate and push the Palestinians out of their homes. We’ve come to know several of the community leaders, and in my humble opinion, they are not terrorists. Quit the contrary. They remind me of the important basics, including communication, family and working together. In later reports, I’ll introduce you to some of those amazing people.
In the early 1990s, a settler organization by the name of Elad (a Hebrew acronym for: To the City of David) began to plot its takeover of Silwan. Elad realizes and capitalizes on the influence of archeology. Elad funds this current archeological dig in Silwan. Elad also has the full backing of the Jerusalem Municipality, the National Park Authority, the Israel Land Administration, and the Jerusalem Police.
Yonathan Mizrachi, our guide, is from Emek Shaveh. He is an archeologist with lots of experience. It was a most interesting tour. If you’re in the area, I strongly suggest taking it. This is an alternative tour and not the state sponsored, one-sided tour you’d get if you called City of David directly. Below are highlights that stick out for me.
1. Through archeology, there is no evidence King David walked these lands.
2. Archeology doesn’t prove or disprove the Bible.
3. A person can’t say “This past belongs to me.” The past belongs to the people of that time. They had their own culture, language, values, etc. Archeology looks at a “picture” of that time.
4. Archeology is no reason to take homes and destroy lives.
Bottom line: The municipality of Israel gave 88 homes demolition orders. Right now there are excavations in the Silwan neighborhood. The government wants to build ”City of David,” a garden in the supposed spot where King David walked. It is using archeology as a means to take control of the land and push it’s agenda. The people in Silwan live in constant fear of harassment not only from the police but the settlers. And any day now the house demolitions could start.
There’s also a story in the Bible of small David taking down the giant beast with just a sling shot.
Sheikh Jarrah is a hot spot. This has been said before and will be said again. Our team is in agreement; we need to increase our presence in this neighborhood. The settlers need to see we are observing them and standing in solidarity with the Palestinians. Historically the presence of internationals meant a decrease in harassment of the settlers toward the Palestinians. With this group of teenage, ultra orthodox settlers, no, this is not the case. To add complexity, 28 Palestinian families have received eviction notices. Three families have been forced out of their homes, and settlers moved in within a couple of hours. The bottom line is the settlers want the Palestinians out of the neighborhood and will act in unbelievable ways to achieve this goal. (See previous blog entries describing these settler’s behavior.)
As previously stated, half of the Al Kurd house is illegally occupied by settlers. The settlers occupy the front of the house. The Al Kurds live in the back. There is a courtyard in the front. (There is a court case pending regarding who has legal rights to the courtyard. At this point, the police are saying it’s the Al Kurds. The settlers are not to step foot into the courtyard.) Recently the Rachel Corrie Foundation furnished the Al Kurd family with a playground set for the kids. It’s placed in the courtyard. The only entrance is the front gate. Everyone (settlers, police, internationals, the Al Kurds family) uses the same front gate. As you can see from the pictures, these are small quarters.
Independence Day at the Al Kurds house.
Tensions have been high for the last couple of weeks. The Palestinian resident’s naturally figured there’d be trouble on Israel’s Independence Day (IDD.) (IDD is the national holiday commemorating declaration of independence in 1948.) They requested reinforcements, which came in the way of Palestinians, internationals (including EA’s) and Israeli peace activists. Even though nothing visibly was happening, you could sense the electricity in the air. But it’s hard to describe. You know something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t pinpoint anything concrete.
This is where words fail me. How do you describe tension? You can describe the behaviors and actions that make people tense. But how to paint a picture where you, the reader, can feel what it’s like in this place?
Here are a couple of examples.
It’s afternoon time, and the settler boys are attempting to ignite a grill in their corner of the yard. By now there are about 20 settlers on the porch and more inside. What do ultra orthodox, misdirected boys eat? Hotdogs in a pita. With full bellies, they start singing in Hebrew. Four Israeli peace activists start playing the drums. Yes, drums (three snare drums and one base). The Palestinian side erupts in cheers; people are grinning and clapping. The drumming drowns out the singing. The singing stops and everyone intently watches the drummers.
People settle down and resume their normal routines. The music moves out into the street. All the while, settlers come in and out of the gate, congregating on their side of the porch. More and more (settlers) have cameras and are taking pictures of everyone. My teammate, Ronja, was sitting quietly watching the scene. A settler walked up to her, put the camera right in her face, took and picture and walked away. Other settlers had video cameras and just scanned the Palestinian side of the yard. Then several of the Palestinians start videotaping the settlers. This irritates the settlers, and they demand “Don’t film me” and “Turn off your camera.” Oh, how could I forget; the Israeli peace activists had video cameras too. The settlers continued yelling in Hebrew at them. No fist fights yet but the crowd moves out into the street. The next thing you know it’s a show down of video cameras. Everyone is videotaping everyone else. There are people nose to nose arguing. This type of commotion draws attention. All types of people were coming out of the woodwork to watch this spectacle.
Just as fast as it erupted, it dies down. People separate. The settlers go to their side of the porch. The Palestinians scatter. Some of the Israelis continue verbal jabs at each other. Every other person is on their phone talking.
And what I’m about to describe is the most amazing part. The show of unity towards the Palestinian residents was truly remarkable. Our team stayed another four hours and in that time, there was a steady flow of people coming in solidarity. Many Israeli peace activists came, and more importantly stayed. They just quietly watched the settlers. When the settlers attempted to provoke them, hardly anyone said a response. No activist instigated anything with the settlers. Several different branches of the UN came by too. There were lawyers. Strangely enough the police never came. They probably wouldn’t have been helpful anyway. When the police come, usually it’s a Palestinian whose arrested. Our team left when it was quiet but later learned it was a bad night (continuous harassment all through the night.) Several of the Palestinians said they saw the settlers drinking and taking drugs which further fueled the fire.
This was a hard blog to write. English is my native language, and I can’t find the words to describe this surreal scene. It’s difficult to describe how it affected me. The electricity is in the air, and you just wait to see if the next spark starts the fire. One thing I’ll take with me is how the supporters just kept coming and standing with the Palestinians. And the drummers played almost the entire time. And finally the Palestinians themselves showed determination. It amazes me how they respond to this absurdity, not with fists but with determination and community.