Tag Archives: Bethlehem

The best documented occupation … Palestine

As I’ve read through the 50 stories of Palestinians who have lived under military occupation for 50 years (each carefully compiled by OCHA), I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be the best documented Occupation in the history of international law. The evidence is meticulously preserved.

Why haven’t the politicians and world leaders been able to force an end to this occupation? (Books have been written in response to that question.) The short answer, the status quo benefits the State of Israel, and the U.S. helps Israel maintain the status quo.

All 50 stories can be found on OCHA’s website here along with the reports and additional documentation.  I’ve divided the 50 stories into groups of 5 to share them over time, hoping that Americans will spend the time to read each story if they’re presented in smaller bits.

MAHMOUD KA’ABNEH

Mahmoud

Mahmoud Ka’abneh from EIN AL HILWA | JORDAN VALLEY

When the Israeli authorities appeared at the Um al Jamal area of Ein al Hilwa (Jordan Valley) on 30 January 2014, they told residents to evacuate their homes as they were slated for demolition, said 43-year-old resident, Mahmoud Ka’abneh.

However, he added, little time was given to them to collect their belongings from inside the structures.

Mahmoud, a father of 10 children, said he pleaded with the authorities to leave at least one animal pen for the newborn sheep standing, to no avail.

That day, 36 structures belonging to a dozen Palestinian families were demolished, displacing 66 people.

When the community rebuilt one structure, Israeli forces returned and destroyed it.

Mahmoud told us that the authorities kept monitoring the area to ensure that no one rebuilds.

ein-al-hilwa

YUSEF ALI KADOS

Yusef

YUSEF ALI KADOS from Burin with his grandson

In July 2011, an EAPPI team met Yusef, to hear from him about multiple incidents where his trees had been set on fire, reportedly by settlers.

Yusef’s family has lived in Burin for generations. For thirty years he worked as a primary school teacher, and raised ten children.

Between 2000 and 2010, his olive trees were set on fire on three occasions, following which he was left with only the 45-50 trees that are planted in front of his house.

❝For ten years now,❞ he said, ❝we have been suffering from settlers burning the trees. We have also been attacked when we try to harvest the olives.

❝When the trouble started ten years ago, we went to harvest the olives and we were told by the settlement security not to come there anymore.

❝When the olive trees were burned this last time [a few days before the meeting took place], I sent my son to see because I am too old. He told me afterwards that everything was gone, destroyed…

Burin

Burin (Photo by Patrick Zoll, 2010)

❝The army supports and provides cover for the settlers. We want them to arrest the settlers. They see the settlers and know what they are doing. If one of us hits a settler then we will be arrested, if a settler hits one of us nothing is done. To defend yourself you must stay silent.

❝I have not made any official complaints. The village council has taken the names of all of those who lost trees and report this to the agricultural ministry in Nablus in the hope of compensation.

❝These trees provided extra income for the family. We could produce 40-50 jerry cans (18L each) of oil, which we could then sell.

❝Every year, there is less oil produced as more and more trees are burnt. These trees took 60 years to grow, if we plant new ones it would take 10 to 15 years to have them mature enough for harvesting. But we cannot plant again because the land is so near the private settlement road.

Trees for me are life. I am 77 years old. I planted these trees myself in 1952. After school, I would go straight to the olive trees before I would go home.

❝It pains us in our hearts to see the trees destroyed. The earth is the life of the farmer. My blood is boiling with anger because I see my land burning and I can do nothing.❞

MANAL SUBAIR 

Manal 2

Manal Subair from AL ATTATRA TENT CAMP | GAZA

We met Manal in a tent camp, in 2009, a few months after the “Cast Lead” offensive. She was 35 years old back then.

A year before, she still lived in a large house with many rooms and modern conveniences.

During the hostilities, she left her home after leaflets were dropped by the Israeli military warning people to leave the area.

The family took no possessions from their home except white flags that they waved as they walked to an UNWRA school to seek refuge. At the time, the family expected to return home shortly.

Once at the school, she had to use flip chart paper that she found in a classroom as makeshift blankets to cover her children: ❝I had nothing for my daughter, who was five months at the time,❞ she told us, ❝and I could not keep her warm.❞ The following day, food and blankets were distributed.

She heard stories of widespread damage to houses in her community, and she gradually gave up hope of returning to a house that was still standing: ❝We are grateful to UNWRA for providing us with food and water, but the conditions were very cramped and it was not home. We just yearned for home.❞

As soon as military forces had left the area, the family returned to their home to find that it had been flattened to the ground by rubble from a neighbouring apartment building that had been directly hit by an Israeli military strike. The blacksmith business of Manal’s husband was completely destroyed.

She then took her children to stay at her sister’s house. She registered with the local authorities and, two weeks after the ceasefire agreement, was told that she had been allocated a tent in the new tent camp in Al Attatra, several kilometres from her home.

Restrictions on the import of goods, including basic construction materials, imposed by Israel as part of its blockade, have complicated, delayed and, in some cases prevented reconstruction and repair of destroyed or severely damaged homes.

In other cases, where goods are available, families lack the financial resources to purchase them due to the poor economic situation in Gaza caused largely by the years-long blockade.

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School in Beit Lahia destroyed during the “Cast Lead” offensive (Photo by JCTordai, April 2009)

The family received financial assistance from UNWRA and the local authorities, and continued to reside in the tent camp, in very difficult conditions:

❝The first tent leaked and it was very cold, it was later replaced with a better tent, but it gets very hot and is full of flies.❞

The camp had temporary, pre-fabricated bathrooms, one for women and one for men, and water supply was sporadic.

For a while, her nine-year-old son continued attending the same school, but the distance proved a challenge. Manal told us that he also suffered from bedwetting and exhibited other psychological problems. His school work suffered, his grades were lower and he was disconnected from his friends.

When we talked to Manal, she no longer saw her friends and neighbours. Her social network and support system had broken down and she believed that she no longer had an existence.

❝My day starts with me hoping it will finish. I am worried and I don’t know what the future will bring.❞

She and her family were on the UNRWA shelter caseload list to have their house rebuilt. However, due to the ongoing blockade of construction materials, there had been no reconstruction by the time we met.

SA’EED AS’AD 

Saeed
Sa’eed As’ad from KHALLET SAKARIYA | BETHLEHEM

Sa’eed is the owner of a plant nursery near Bethlehem, in Area C.

On 8 September 2015, Israeli authorities demolished his business and confiscated most of the saplings and flowers.

The nursery lacked Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

About a year before the incident the Israeli autorities handed to him a ‘stop work’ order for the nursery.

As a consequence of the incident, 17 people, including nine children, from Sa’eed’s family and his sons’ families, suffered great financial losses.

This was their main source of income.

ZAKIA ABU ALYA

Zakia

Zakia abu Alya from AL MUGHAYYIR | RAMALLAH

❝This land was our only source of income. We worked hard on it, my husband, our sons, and I. We planted olive trees, almonds, figs. After 20 years of hard work, when it was time for our investment to pay off, the outpost was established and we began to suffer from recurrent losses.❞

These were the words of Zakia, when we met her in 2013.

Her village, Al Mughayyir, has faced humanitarian impacts as a result of the establishment of a nearby settelement outpost in 1998.

Palestinian families whose agricultural land is in the vicinity of the outpost have been subject to violent attacks by Israeli settlers when accessing their plots.

Attacks have included physical assault and the damage to trees and property.

The Israeli army has also imposed restrictions on the access of Palestinians to some of the agricultural and grazing lands in the vicinity of the outpost.

 

 

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The impact of the 50-year occupation today, with US support.

This is the third in a series of posts that share the stories of Palestinians who have lived under occupation for 50 years. The stories were compiled by OCHA and all of them are available here.

I’m reposting these stories (five at a time) because I am alarmed that members of Congress and most Americans don’t understand the impact of Israel’s 50-year brutal occupation, largely financed and supported by American taxpayers.  We bear a lion’s share of the responsibility for the conditions in the occupied territories because the U.S. government shields Israel from any accountability. Maintaining the status quo and the horrid conditions is easier for the government of Israel than ending the occupation.

Fatma Saudi

Fatma Saudi

Fatma Saudi from ASH SHUJA’IYEH, GAZA CITY

Restrictions on the import of goods, including basic construction materials, imposed by Israel as part of its blockade, have complicated, delayed and, in some cases prevented reconstruction and repair of destroyed or severely damaged homes.

In other cases, where goods are available, families lack the financial resources to purchase them due to the poor economic situation in Gaza caused largely by the years-long blockade.

Fatma Saudi, 58, a widow and mother of eight, is from one of the worst affected areas in the 2014 hostilities. Her home was severely damaged and the family was displaced for more than six months.

After the ceasefire, she stayed with her three unmarried sons in two pre-fabricated housing units. Living conditions were crowded and extremely cold, so they spend most of their time outside.

One of Fatma’s sons, Nour Din, now 15 years old, has Downs’ Syndrome and attends a special school.

When we met them in 2015, he was still searching through the rubble every day for his laptop, which he lost when their home was hit.

Fatma was afraid that Nour would be exposed to explosive remnants of war as the area was still full of rubble from the hostilities.

During the winter storm in January 2015, it was unbearable to stay in the pre-fabricated housing unit.

Fatma suffered from severe back pains and was badly in need of an operation. She and her children relocated temporarily to her mother’s house.

❝We really need materials to cover the outside area between the two rooms of the caravan, to keep the children safe and offer a little privacy. The situation here is very, very difficult,❞ she said.

❝They told us to evacuate the home as it is uninhabitable and potentially dangerous, but we have nowhere else to go and no money to rent so what can we do?❞ said her brother Abdallah, who was still living in the damaged home.

Fatma points to the skeleton of a building 50 metres away: ❝That was our home,❞ she says quietly.

Khadra

Khadra

Khadra from AL FAWWAR, HEBRON

At times, the Israeli authorities increase their access restrictions inside the West Bank by erecting additional closures and checkpoints.

For example, following a decision adopted on 14 October 2015 by the Israeli Security Cabinet to address a wave of Palestinian violence, Israeli forces installed nearly a hundred new obstacles across the West Bank.

Most of these obstacles (57 per cent as of the end of 2015) were installed in the Hebron governorate, where many of the violent incidents took place.

Al Fawwar refugee camp, to the south of Hebron city and home to over 8,300 people, was severely hit by access restrictions following the installation of a gate closing the main route leading to Hebron city.

Hebron map closures

Hebron closures

This junction was the scene of a number of stabbing and ramming attacks or alleged attacks.

Khadra, a mother of seven, suffers from kidney failure which impairs her mobility.

The closure restricted her ability to attend Hebron hospital, where she receives dialysis three times a week.

When these restrictions were imposed, she had to travel via Yatta, which takes about one hour longer than the regular route, in a special taxi that costs about NIS 240 ($60) per day.

The precarious state of the alternative route was a concern: ❝on one of the trips back from a dialysis session, I began bleeding due to bumps in the road and had to be treated at the camp clinic,❞ Khadra recalls. However, she pointed out that ❝despite the occupation and the closures, I still love life.❞

The gate on the main entrance to al Fawwar camp has since then been opened.

Imad Abu Shamsiyeh

Imad

Imad Abu Shamsiyeh from H2 | HEBRON CITY

Imad is a Palestinian resident of Tel Rumeida, near the settlements of Hebron city, and an activist with Human Rights Defenders, documenting human rights violations with his video camera. His home is located between two Israeli checkpoints, each a two-minute walk from his house.

On 24 March 2016, he filmed an Israeli soldier killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant who had already been shot and injured after stabbing another soldier at one of these checkpoints, following which a trial was held and the second shooter was convicted of manslaughter.

Turnstiles

Turnstiles at Bab az Zawiya checkpoint

Reaching Imad’s house is like entering a cage. The main entrance to the house is blocked by a concrete wall, slabs, erected during the second intifada and running for about 50 metres with only one opening that is less than a metre wide.

A military watch tower and a CCTV camera facing his home were put in place nearby after the incident. The house itself is surrounded by metal net fences and the outdoor patio has a net ceiling that was introduced following intense settler attacks, including the throwing of firebombs and large stones.

❝Since filming the extra-judicial killing … life has been unsafe and the family has been torn apart. We’ve been subject to settler violence and threats, as well as harassment from the army.

❝For four months, the army, citing safety reasons, prevented us from using the main entrance to enter or exit the house. Molotov firebombs were thrown at my house and we had to sleep outside of the city for a few nights. Fearing for my older sons’ lives, I had to send them to Al ‘Eizariyia. They’re only 15 and 17 years old.

  Taha al Ju’beh 

Taha

Taha al Ju’beh from AL ISSAWIYA, EAST JERUSALEM

At times, the Israeli authorities increase their access restrictions inside the West Bank by erecting additional closures and checkpoints.

For example, following a decision adopted on 14 October 2015 by the Israeli Security Cabinet to address a wave of Palestinian violence, Israeli forces began to block some of the main routes to and from Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

Within a week, a total of 41 obstacles had been deployed, comprising 23 cement blocks, one earth mound and 17 checkpoints.

Isawiya

‘Isawiya, photo by JC Tordai, 2010

Taha Al Ju’beh, then eight-year-old, suffers from muscle atrophy and depends on an electric wheelchair and a respirator; the latter is powered by a battery that lasts for slightly more than an hour.

As a result of the closures, the travel time to the school in West Jerusalem, where he receives treatment on a daily basis, nearly doubled: from one to two hours.

This required him to rely on an extra-battery to be changed during the journey.

The restrictions imposed in October 2015 affected the freedom of movement of nine Palestinian neighbourhoods, with an estimated population of 138,000, or over 40 per cent of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population.

This figure does not include residents of municipal areas located behind the Barrier who must cross pre-existing checkpoints to access other parts of Jerusalem.

Issa Ash Shatleh  

Issa

Issa Ash Shatleh from BEIT JALA | BETHLEHEM

On the morning of 17 August 2015, Issa Ash Shatleh was informed by a neighbour that the Israeli authorities were uprooting his olive trees.

Some 30 olive trees, the majority of them hundreds of years old, were uprooted to make way for the route of the Barrier in the Cremisan area.

❝Each of these olive trees can yield 16 kilograms of good olive oil, enough for me and my four brothers. But it is more than the monetary value. These trees are hundreds of years old, planted by my ancestors. I have so many memories of both good and bad times associated with them since I was a boy.❞

Although the trees were replanted by the Israeli authorities, Issa complains, ❝Look how close together they are. Some of them have been replanted on my neighbour’s land.

Asked if they will survive and bear fruit in the forthcoming olive harvest, he shrugs.

Issa’s land lies under the bridge that forms part of the rerouting of Road 60 in 1994 to enable settlers to travel between Jerusalem and Hebron and bypass Bethlehem. Part of his land was used by the excavators and bulldozers and trees were damaged. He also lost some trees in 2008 when another section of the Barrier was built in the area.

Issa says that he did not receive official notification from the Israeli authorities to inform him that his land was being requisitioned to build the Barrier.

He also expressed concern about the proposed gate system that the Israeli authorities claim will guarantee him access to land soon to be isolated by the Barrier, given the experience of farmers in the rest of the West Bank.

❝This Wall is contrary to international law,❞ he insists, citing the International Court of Justice advisory opinion. He points to the nearby Gilo and Har Gilo settlements. ❝It’s all about the settlements.❞

Beit Jala Barrier

Beit Jala Barrier

Statement by the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, on the 50th Anniversary of Israel’s Occupation available here.

This week marks 50 years since the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. For humanitarians this is the most long-standing protection crisis in the UN’s history.

It should be obvious, but it bears repeating, that Occupation is ugly. Living under foreign military rule for years on end, generates despair, suffocates initiative and leaves generations in a kind of political and economic limbo.

Israel’s occupation is backed by force. Accompanying that ever-present security apparatus have been deliberate policies that have isolated Palestinian communities from each other, ruptured social cohesion, profoundly limited economic activity and deprived many of their basic rights – of movement, of expression, of access to health and much more. In too many cases, these policies have violated international humanitarian law as well as the human rights instruments to which Israel is a party.

One direct result of these policies has been the creation of chronic humanitarian needs among Palestinians. In 2017, nearly half of the 4.8 million Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) will need humanitarian aid of one kind or another.

Many of them require food assistance to compensate for lost livelihoods, others legal aid, and others still, will need water, healthcare or shelter. In a ‘normal’ year – ie. one without a conflict in Gaza – around US$1 billion is allocated from scarce global resources to support the various humanitarian operations underway in the oPt.

Neither the occupation, nor its impact, is static of course. Coping mechanisms are increasingly depleted. The worst impacts are felt by those most vulnerable – children, single mothers, the elderly and disabled. And humanitarians themselves face increasing obstacles in their efforts to mitigate the impacts of occupation, whether it be in increased movement restrictions, the exhaustion of legal processes, the confiscation of our aid, or understandable donor fatigue. As each year passes, the situation deteriorates inexorably, with profound consequences for Palestinians and potentially Israelis as well.

From a humanitarian perspective, 50 years of occupation represents a gross failure of leadership by many – local and international, Israeli and Palestinian. Too many innocent civilians – Palestinian and Israeli alike – are paying for this abject failure to address the underlying causes of the world’s longest-running protection crisis.

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Will Pope Francis shine a light on Palestine?

For a Christian …… attending Christmas Eve Mass is no big deal …… unless you happen to be in Gaza, right?  I found myself sitting with maybe 100-200 Palestinians in the Holy Family Church in Gaza on December 24, 2012.  My photos are here.

This simple fact struck many of my friends as very odd considering I was living in the heart of the Gaza Strip which is overwhelmingly a Muslim population with a Mosque on every corner.

There also seemed to be a subtle message of surprise that Hamas would be so tolerant of Christians celebrating their faith in their midst. One American friend asked me if I was nervous attending church in Gaza. “No!”

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Each parishioner came to the front to touch or kiss the baby Jesus.

One of the many misconceptions some Americans have about Gaza (and I suspect with Muslim countries generally) is that Muslims are intolerant of other religions and traditions. The Western mainstream media has fallen victim to, and perpetuated, that particular stereotype I’m afraid.

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There are about 1,500 Christians living in Gaza, and I witnessed no fear or threats of intimidation against any Christians while I was there.

Now that Pope Francis is visiting Bethlehem in the West Bank this weekend (May 24, 2014), Israeli authorities have agreed to let about 650 Palestinian Christians out of Gaza (through the Erez border crossing in the north) to travel to Bethlehem for this very special occasion.

Mapquest estimates this trip is about 70 miles and should take about 1 hour and 40 minutes.  The reality I suspect is that it took weeks of administrative hoopla to get permission from the Israeli authorities, and then it took hours waiting at the Erez checkpoint, and then it took several more hours by armed convoy traveling by bus to Bethlehem.

1948

One might think this news proves that Israel is a benevolent Occupier, until one reads that only people over the age of 35 are allowed to travel and many more requests were rejected. If nothing else, this treatment should convince the editors at The New York Times that Israel occupies Gaza, a fact the paper of record for the USA won’t admit.

Baby Jesus in his cradle in Gaza.

Baby Jesus in his cradle in Gaza.

Holy Family Church of Gaza

Holy Family Church of Gaza

So the Palestinians in Gaza have recorded a brief message to Pope Francis.

I hope the Pope’s visit will shine an international light on the Middle East and on the injustices of the occupation.

 

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