Tag Archives: Jerusalem

West Bank barrier separates families

The stories of five Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation are shared below. OCHA has compiled 50 stories here. I hope these stories reach the hearts of many Americans. Enough is enough. Fifty years of occupation is enough.

AMMAR MASAMIR

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Ammar Masamir from QUSRA | NABLUS

On 10 January 2013, armed settlers raided fields next to the village of Qusra, and clashed with local residents. Some settlers opened fire and Palestinians threw stones.

Israeli forces at the scene fired tear gas, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition towards Palestinians.

Some Palestinians were injured, and many trees were vandalized and damaged.

Ammar was 19 years old back then.

He was shot with live ammunition in his leg, and sustained three fractured bones.

❝I run a barber shop in Qusra and my father used to work in a settlement,❞ he told us shortly after the incident.

❝These were the only sources of income for my family, which includes eight people.

❝After the attack, my leg was operated on, and since then I can’t move. The doctors said that I need at least three months before I can start physiotherapy.

❝My father had to quit his job to keep the shop running. The incident directly worsened our economic situation.

KHADER RADAD

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Khader Radad from AZ ZAWIYA | SALFIT

About 35 per cent (8,000 dunums) of the agricultural land of Az Zawiya (population 5,768), all planted with olive trees, is located in the seam zone behind the Barrier and within Elkana settlement boundaries.

To access land in this area, Palestinian farmers must obtain a permit to cross the Barrier through the agricultural gate controlled by the Israeli army. They also need prior coordination to cross the fences surrounding the settlement.

Khader Raddad and his family own six dunums of land (20 olive trees) behind the Barrier, and 15 dunums (250 olive trees) on the Palestinian side of the Barrier. In September 2013, at least 320 olive trees belonging to Az Zawiya were completely burned in the seam zone.

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Az Zawiya village & Salfit governorate

❝The land is not ploughed and the grass is dry… throw a match and boom! All the trees are burnt,❞ said Khader.

OCHA has monitored the productivity of Khader’s olive trees since 2013 by testing 10 trees on each side of the Barrier.

In 2016, the 10 trees on the Palestinian side produced 150 kg of olives, while the ones on other side of the Barrier produced only 50 kg.

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Prior to the completion of the Barrier in 2004, Khader’s family was self-sufficient, but they now have to buy olive oil from the market to meet their needs.

AMAL AS SAMOUNI

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Amal as Samouni from AZ ZEITUN | GAZA

We met Amal  in 2012, in Gaza, when she was 11-years-old.

Three years earlier, during Israel’s offensive in 2009, soldiers ordered over 100 members her extended family into one house. A day later, the residence was hit by Israeli artillery shells and live ammunition. Twenty-seven family members were killed, including 11 children and six women, and 35 others were injured.

Amal was left with permanent sharpnel injuries and trauma.

❝I remember my brother and father and how they were killed in every moment… we were a happy family. Now I don’t feel happy anymore,❞ she told us.

❝For one year we lived with the parents of my mother… Then we lived in a storage room for a year and a half. It didn’t have a floor. For the last six months, we have been living where our old house used to be…

❝I want to have another doctor look at my situation, and to try everything possible to end my pain. I wish to travel not for amusement, but for medical treatment.

❝When I have a lot of pain I become nervous and angry. When I am sad I go to my aunt’s house to see my cousins, or I prepare my books for school

❝Before the war I excelled in school. Now my scores are not so good anymore.❞

AHMAD AYYAD

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Ahmad Ayyad from ABU DIS | JERUSALEM
Ahmad Ayyad, born in 1929, is a resident of Abu Dis, who in 2013 suffered from renal failure and is in need of regular kidney dialysis. The Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem would have been the most suitable medical centre for this treatment, as it is located only 3.4 km (2 miles) away from his home.
However, because of the West Bank Barrier separating his home from East Jerusalem, his family had take him to a medical centre in Beit Jala (Bethlehem governorate), which is located 40 minutes drive away, three times a week.
This journey is more difficult and costly for the patient and his family.
Recorded in 2014, this video was part of OCHA’s interactive map project, which marked the tenth anniversary to the West Bank Barrier by illustrating its impact on Palestinian communities in and around East Jerusalem.
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RAZAN 

We met Razan and her family in 2011 in their home, in a neighbourhood of Abu Dis which is separated from the rest of the community by the West Bank Barrier and can be freely accessed only through East Jerusalem.

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Razan from ABU DIS | EAST JERUSALEM SIDE OF THE BARRIER — In this picture, Razan is seen next to her twin brother, Anan (photo by JC Tordai, 2010)

❝In our neighbourhood,❞ her mother Salam told us, ❝there are four families of West Bank ID holders who, after the Wall was built, are stuck on the Jerusalem side without Jerusalem ID cards or permits to stay in Jerusalem.

Razan’s father is one of those ‘West-Bankers’ whom Israel does not recognize as Jerusalem residents and therefore need permits to stay in Jerusalem.

In the absence of such a permit, in 2010, he had to leave and reside on the other side of the Barrier.

Razan and her siblings lived without their father for more than six months.

The children have a hard time separated from their father. Every time they say a prayer, they ask God to give their father a permit to bring him back to them.

❝However, I can’t risk my or the children’s status [Jerusalem residents] by moving to the [other side] to live with him.❞

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The occupation must end NOW!

Fifty years, 2 or 3 generations of Palestinians have lived under Israeli military occupation. I fear that the children grow up thinking “this life is normal.” Below are the stories of 5 Palestinians shared from the 50 stories that OCHA compiled here. We must end this occupation. Now!

MASA’AD ABU GADDAIEEN 

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Masa’ad abu Gaddaieen from BEIT LAHIA, GAZA

We met Masa’ad in 2015, a few months after the 2014 escalation in Gaza. He was 46 years old, unemployed, but years of hard work in the agricultural sector had enabled him to save some money that he invested in the construction of his home.

In Gaza you are not safe at home. My family and I have been displaced twice in two years. The first time was during the Israeli military operation in November 2012, and the second time as a result of the recent conflict.❞

When the Israeli military ground operation began, the family left their home and took shelter in one of the UNRWA schools, where the situation was very difficult.

❝We managed to visit our home during the temporary ceasefire 25 days into the hostilities. We found our home and around 95 other homes in the area completely destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.

❝We were shocked and helpless; it was all gone, everything we had struggled to build. I have worked all my life to have a house of my own, and then the Israeli bulldozers came and destroyed it in seconds.❞

After the end of the hostilities, Masa’ad and his family had to relocate to another UNRWA shelter in Ar Remal area, where they stayed for 15 days before moving to a shelter in Beach camp, where some of the family still live.

❝The long stay and situation inside the shelter has become a great strain on my family and I have no money to rent an apartment. The economic situation is very difficult. We erected a makeshift shelter from plastic and fabric near our destroyed home.❞

When we met him, some members of his family felt more comfortable staying in the makeshift shelter despite the winter season and the exposure to harsh weather conditions.

❝We are waiting for UNRWA assistance to be able to rent an apartment temporarily, but we have heard that UNRWA has no money to help us. All I hope for is that our home will be reconstructed very soon so we can return to a life of dignity.❞

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.

ABEER AN NEMNEM 

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Abeer an Nemnem from SHATA REFUGEE CAMP | GAZA

❝We live a very miserable life in Gaza. My husband is unemployed due to health problems and I work in a kindergarten for NIS300 [US$83] a month.

❝We are a family with 10 children, most of whom go to school except the youngest. We struggle every day to meet our children’s growing needs and to put food on their plates.

❝In addition, we have to cope with problems beyond our control, such as electricity cuts, water shortages and lack of cooking gas.

❝The shortage of cooking gas is every mother’s nightmare. If we run out of gas, we have to wait for more than three weeks to get our gas cylinder refilled.

❝We cannot afford a backup cylinder as we are too poor. During these three weeks, I sometimes use a small gas cylinder to light the house for food preparation during electricity cuts.

❝When the small cylinder runs out, I try to time preparing the food with the electricity cuts schedule, using an unsafe electric cooking stove to prepare simple meals such as fried potatoes or eggs or boiling milk for the children.

❝The stove is not safe because of the poor electricity supply and because it is low on the ground and I’m always afraid one of the children will knock it over and burn themselves.

❝It often happens that the children wake up at night during electricity cuts and I cannot even prepare milk for them.

It’s even worse when my children have to go to school without breakfast or even a cup of milk or tea. The same thing happens when they come back from school – no food if there is no gas or electricity.

❝Our house is small; I cannot build a wood stove to prepare food for the children to reduce the risks from the electric stove. My children are exposed to danger every time we run out of gas, but what can I do?❞    (Her testimony was collected in April 2014.)

SALEM

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Salem from UMM AL KHAIR | HEBRON

Five-year-old Salem became homeless on 6  April 2016. 

It happened when Israeli authorities destroyed six homes in his community.

The demolitions that day displaced a total of 34 Palestinians, among them 12 children.

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Between 2011 and 2016, structures in Umm al Khair were demolished on nine occasions.

Demolitions like these occur on the grounds that the structures lack Israeli-issued building permits, but these are almost impossible to obtain.

UM ‘AHED AL AJLA 

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Um ‘Ahed al Ajla from GAZA

During the 2014 escalation of hostilities in Gaza, Um ‘Ahed Al Ajla sought shelter with her extended family on the top floor of a construction site.

However, the neighbourhood they settled in was also hit in Israeli attacks and her family had to take refuge again in another area, before having to relocate for a third time after their shelter was hit.

❝Our life is all running and flight,❞ she said.

After the ceasefire, the family stayed in buildings that lacked the most basic facilities or sanitation and hygiene facilities, relying on makeshift washrooms. The female members of the family lacked privacy.

Drinking water (desalinated) was not available in the building and had to be bought from private vendors at distribution points in the neighbourhood.

Her family had no choice but to make daily trips to fetch fresh water from 300 metres away in jerry cans.

❝Sometimes we stay the whole day long without a drop to drink. Water is the basis for everything and we don’t have it,❞ she said.

For most of their domestic needs such as cooking, cleaning and bathing, the family used saline water from the municipality, which was available sporadically and only for a few hours per day.

The dire sanitation and hygiene conditions and the lack of clean water had caused several health problems and the youngest family members suffered from skin problems.

ALA’ ZAWAHRI 

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Ala’ Zawahri from UM AL ASAFIR, JERUSALEM (Photos by Patrick Zoll, 2012)

The construction of the West Bank Barrier has left about 1,500 West Bank ID card holders on the ‘Jerusalem’ side.

One such community is Um Al Asafir, where residents face access restrictions to their health and other services which are located on the ‘West Bank’ side of the Barrier.

We met Ala’ Zawahri, who has mental and physical disabilities, in 2010, when she was eight years old.

Living in a house trapped between Har Homa settlement and the Barrier, her parents have to make an arduous journey to Bethlehem or to Beit Sahur to obtain medical services for their daughter.

❝Just last week, ❞ her mother told us, ❝we needed to bring Ala’ to the doctor. She cannot speak, but when she cries, we know something is wrong, because usually she is very quiet.

When she was little, we could drive to Bethlehem or Beit Sahur in less than 15 minutes. That was before the Barrier was built just outside our home. Now we have to find a taxi driver who actually comes here, to drive us to Gilo checkpoint.

❝We then cross on foot carrying Ala’ in our arms. Then we take another taxi to the clinic or hospital. All together 45 shekels one way. Most of the time, this takes one to one-and-a half hours.

❝Ala’ cannot eat by herself, she cannot even sit up. Most of the time she just lies quietly on her couch. She needs constant care and the doctor says that she will need it all her life.

❝Here, where we live, there is no care for Ala’ at all, no doctor, no mobile clinic. Nobody supports us in taking care of her. About 100 metres from here, in the Israeli settlement, there is everything. But we are not allowed to go there. We have West Bank ID cards, although we live on the Jerusalem side of the Barrier.

❝We have repeatedly tried to register Ala’ for health insurance, but without success. Fifty-three members of our family live here in Um Al Asafir – nobody has health insurance…

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Ala’ with her mother, 2010

❝A friendly doctor in Bethlehem used to treat Ala’ for free❞ her mother added. ❝But he died. Now we not only have to pay for transport and medicine, but for doctors’ visits too. All in all, over 500 shekels since last year.

❝We have six other children. They are older and live with relatives in Beit Sahur on the other side of the Barrier in order to go to school and university easily.

❝From the hill outside our house we can see where they stay – but in order to visit their handicapped sister Ala’, they need to make the long journey through the checkpoint.

 

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#GoingtoGaza – February 2016

In February, I traveled from Amman, Jordan to Jericho in the West Bank, and then to Jerusalem and ended on a kibbutz in southern Israel. I didn’t make it through the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza. I’ve been on this journey to return to Gaza for more than 500 days. Since the Israeli border security have taken an interest in my blog, in an effort at full transparency, my daily journal entries for the month of February are republished below.

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Lora and Anjon from Bangladesh

Day #518 – Thinking a lot today about the accident of birth. Human souls can be born in Bangladesh, in Amman, in Cairo, in Gaza and in Albuquerque. Each soul is given the same spark of life but planted in different gardens with very different opportunities. The differences would be so wonderful if only we all lived by the Golden Rule: “Treat others as I wish they would treat me.”  The world seems to have forgotten the Golden Rule.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #518 (again) – SCREAMING! Can anyone hear me?  When I arrived in Jordan, the US Embassy in Amman told me that they have nothing to do with the procedures to cross Erez into Gaza. They advised me to check with Israel. Today, an American carrying an invitation from Gaza tried to cross Erez. The Israeli military turned him away and told him he must first have approval from the US Embassy to travel to Gaza. Truly Machiavellian!  The governments of Israel, Egypt and the US are all playing us for SUCKERS! They just keep sending us in circles hoping we will give up. BULLSHIT!  #GoingtoGaza

Day #519 – Past midnight in Amman, Jordan and I can’t sleep. Late afternoon in Iowa.  That might explain it. I can #FeeltheBern half way around the planet. #GoingtoGaza

Day #520 – A good friend questions my “objectivity” about Israel-Palestine, and “holding firm opinions” and “not brokering disagreement.” I agree that I have firm opinions but I think I’m a good listener and willing to modify my opinions based on the facts. I don’t think anyone is objective – although it’s a noble goal, especially for judges and journalists. But my friend says it’s hard to give me “honest feedback” because I turn it around into an “abstract discussion of objectivity” and “deflect” the criticism. I’m having a tough time figuring out what to do with this information. #GoingtoGaza

Day #521 – I visited the Syrian Women’s Center in Amman. The goal is to help Syrian women learn skills to become self-sufficient and earn some $$ — cooking, sewing, hairdressing. Women learn to sew on a sewing machine and then the machine is theirs to keep.  They bring the clothes they make at home to the Center which buys them and turns around to sell them in Amman to support the Center. The refugees prefer this arrangement rather than handouts or gifts from donors. Self-respect and pride! The Center also has an after school program for 75 Syrian orphans. One of the volunteers at the Center has an Uncle living in . . . Gallup, New Mexico!  Again, I’m reminded how small this world is and how interconnected we are with one another. #GoingtoGaza

Day #522 – Jews, Christians, Muslims — it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the One, as long as you act in a way that is consistent with the teachings of your religion. There are too many Jews, Christians and Muslims who wear their faith on their sleeve for the world to see, but fail the test. Treat your neighbor as you wish they would treat you. #GoingtoGaza

Day #523 – Palestinians are on Amman TV tonight. The news includes extensive reporting about the violence in the West Bank and interviews Palestinians, not Israelis. Later, a singing talent contest includes a Palestinian boy from Beirut who has never visited Palestine. Even though I don’t understand much of the Arabic, it’s clear the Palestinians are not going to forget the Nakba and they’re not going away. Israel and Israelis had better wake-up.  #GoingtoGaza

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Star of David painted on the road in Amman, Jordan

Day #524 – Pondering the Star of David I saw painted on the street pavement in Amman yesterday. Clearly a sign of hatred and disdain towards the State of Israel. Israelis may not like the message but they really should listen to the messenger.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #525 – Watched a movie with my friend in Amman called “Face Off” starring Nicholas Cage and John Travolta.  The plot involves an FBI agent and a bad criminal surgically switching their faces and identities.  Wonder what would happen if Netanyahu and Abbas switched their identities so the world was fooled? That would shake-up the status quo!  #GoingtoGaza

Day #526 – Sometimes a writer’s pen can strike the perfect prose — as in “the convenient rapture of Orwellian realities.” I read this today and it has stuck with me. Thanks to Noura Erakat who was writing about Israel’s argument of “Legitimate self-defense” when it’s bombing the shit out of a defenseless civilian population in Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

Day #527 – Read a report today that Netanyahu plans to surround the entire State of Israel with a fence to keep the ‘carnivorous animals’ in neighboring countries out. I think he’s building his very own prison to keep the Zionists in.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #528 – Can Gaza be a Livable Community? That’s the $10 million question. And the one I’ve been pondering for awhile. #GoingtoGaza

Day #529 – Do you know who Ash Carter is? I didn’t know until a Jordanian friend pointed him out to me on TV news in Amman. Hint: It was a long segment about Daesh. I’m certainly feeling humbled. #GoingtoGaza

Day #530 – One of the most frustrating experiences about traveling abroad is watching TV news while images of tanks & the military dominate the screen for 15-30 minutes but I can’t understand the Arabic except for Daesh “this” and Daesh “that”.   #GoingtoGaza

Day #531 – My desire to travel and see “the world” began when I was a child, continued as a young adult, through middle age, and was constantly postponed because I never had time, never had $$, and never had the courage I thought I needed. Still no $$, a wavering courage, and plenty of time = the 3 perfect ingredients for experiencing “the world” in a much more meaningful way.  #GoingtoGaza

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Day #532 – After 5 hours (about 3.5 hours of questions) I finally was given permission to enter Palestine – Israel. My notoriety preceded me … my name was flagged in the computer at the border with Jordan. And the Israeli security officials were aware of my blog … WHY GAZA?  Thankful to all the friends who helped me and my red suitcase get to the West Bank. #GoingtoGaza

Day #533 – My first full day in Jericho; visited the waqf office and learned about the Islamic legal system of perpetual trusts. Cannot sell Waqf land. My host keeps the TV turned on to the recitation of the Qur’an when she’s away from home. #GoingtoGaza

12748143_10208766190218001_4289558625012703185_oVisiting 3 sisters who are Catholics and have lived together their whole lives in Jericho

Day #534 – We are one! Three elderly spinster sisters living together in Jericho are Catholics but obviously feel at home in a Muslim-majority community. The caretaker at the small mosque shows me his hand and fingers. He tells me that just like the 3 joints in each finger, the 3 religions are attached as one. The hand works because all 3 joints work together. Same with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. #GoingtoGaza

Day #535 – Time slows considerably. There is time for sitting with neighbors, with friends, with family and drinking coffee, tea and sharing stories, lessons, and gossip. Making time for each other might be the key to their resilience. Their sumud. I’m learning to slow myself down and just listen. I learn a lot even without understanding Arabic.  Ramallah, on the other hand, is full of youthful frenetic energy. And everywhere in the West Bank I see construction. The Palestinians are building. The Israelis are building. And I think all of the Holy Land is under construction. I wonder what it will look like when (if) it’s ever completed. #GoingtoGaza

The next generation in Jericho, Palestine

Day #536 – Friday is the day focused on the family in Palestine. I spent the day sitting and listening to lots of conversations in Arabic, wondering if there will ever be a breakthrough when I understand the language. Babies can pick up the language. Why not me? #GoingtoGaza

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The Grand Mufti of Jericho taught himself how to stitch while he was in Israel’s prison for 6 years.

Day #537 – Saturday we visited extended family and I saw old photographs on the wall that reminded me of my ex-husband’s family in Maxwell, New Mexico. The big difference: extended family in the US can hop in the car, bus, train, plane and visit each other.  Not in Palestine.  I have friends in Gaza who haven’t received permission from Israel to visit family in Jericho for many, many years. So I’m taking photos to share with them.  #GoingtoGaza

The Israeli checkpoint between West Bank into Jerusalem & the Old City

Day #538 – Today I traveled from Jericho to Jerusalem, as the crow flies maybe 25 km, but it’s not easy. Two cars, one taxi, a tram and much walking, I finally made it to Ecce Homo Pilgrim House in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Listening to the Muezzin Call to Prayer followed by many bells calling Christians to pray. What is everyone praying for in this militarized city that looks like a prison when you cross the border control?  Everyone I’ve asked (Palestinian – Israeli) says they believe the situation is going to get worse.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #539 – Always need a Plan B. Today it is raining and chilly in Jerusalem – not good for walking through the Old City as I had hoped. So I’m going to sit inside the warm Ecce Homo Pilgrim House and read and write. Listening to the Call to Prayer, the bells ringing for the noon mass and the Israeli jets flying overhead. Life is about being flexible and going with the flow.  #GoingtoGaza

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Laila and Lora with the red suitcase of books headed to Gaza

Day #540 – The red suitcase full of books made it to Gaza yesterday. Al-hamdulillah. I wish I was with the suitcase. Friends from Gaza are asking me to take a picture of Al Aqsa. A Jewish friend from Australia is posting exuberant messages on FB about raffling off free tickets to Israel.   Jerusalem is a special place for so many people. I think it’s easier to travel from Australia to Jerusalem (13,707 km) than it is from Gaza to Jerusalem (97.2 km). #GoingtoGaza

Day #541 – Visited the Town of Abu Ghosh today near Jerusalem. An Arab town with a very interesting history. My friend introduced me to a number of interesting people in the community. Perhaps the one who struck me the most was a young Palestinian Christian woman from the Galilee who is a mother of 3 young children, married to an American Jew. Both are lawyers. They’ve decided to leave Israel and move to DC this summer because they believe the situation in Israel is too dangerous for them to raise a family. #GoingtoGaza

Day #542 – Rode the light rail around Jerusalem today to see different parts of the city.  General impressions: guns and uniforms everywhere; motorized bikes are the rage with both the young and the old; the Jews and the Muslims inhabit very different parts of the City for the most part; and everyone I spoke with (Muslim and Jew) felt “the situation” will not get better.  Bibi and the country’s leaders are not instilling hope. I wonder if the IDF “regrets” the loss of life in Gaza as the Irgun did with the 92 people they killed 70 years ago at the King David Hotel?  #GoingtoGaza

Children in Jerusalem are growing up with mixed signals 

Day #543 – Going on a 4-hour tour today in East Jerusalem organized by Ir Amim. I wish my Zionist friends and family could join me. When they visit Israel, I feel they are protected from the truth in their bubbles of denial, but I understand that denial better now. Even some progressive-leftist American-Israeli Jews prefer to avoid the “discomfort of discussion.” I want to yell – “What about the discomfort of death and dying under occupation?” #GoingtoGaza

Day #544 – Watched “Inherit the Wind” tonight with an Israeli friend who lives on a Kibbutz. The 1960 film is about the true story of the 1920s Scopes Monkey Trial where a young teacher was put on trial by God-fearing ignorant bigots for teaching about Darwin’s theory of evolution.  My friend and I noted the similarities between the USA of 1920s, the USA of today, and Israel today. Freedom of thought and critical thinking skills seem to be dangerous commodities. #GoingtoGaza

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Day #545 – Walked around this kibbutz in southern Israel surrounded by two barbed wire fences. My Kibbutz friend shared a poem with me. It’s called “Walls”.

Man is

a great wall builder

The Berlin Wall

The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem

But the wall

most impregnable

Has a moat

flowing with fright

around his heart

 

A wall without Windows

for the spirit to breeze through

 

A wall

without a door

for love to walk in.

-Oswald Mtshali, Soweto poet

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And Lora’s poem:

Walls or bridges?

Walls divide, bridges connect

Walls despair, bridges aspire

Walls close, bridges open

Walls inhabit the small minds of the rejectionists,

Bridges fill the creative dreams of the future.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #546 – Some friends are asking why I was so bummed out about my visit to Jerusalem.  I suppose part of the reason is because I got so close to Gaza but still didn’t get permission to enter. I’m also shocked with the level of denial that is so pervasive in the City. I would expect the orthodox and conservative religious Jews to turn a blind eye to the injustices in their midst because they are the privileged beneficiaries of the occupation. But even the self-identified left and progressive Jews prefer to avoid a critical discussion. They tell me they have no hope. And some prefer to leave Israel rather than try to change the horrid situation from the inside.  #GoingtoGaza

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“Greater Jerusalem”

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Ancient olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane

I spent 6 days in Jerusalem, not enough time to get to meet the people and organizations I wanted to network with and certainly not enough time to acquaint myself with “the situation” here, but enough time to leave me feeling very depressed about the future.

Everyone I spoke with in the city, including cab drivers, transit riders, store clerks, clergy and religious leaders, retired Jewish women my age, long-time Israeli-Americans who raised their children in Jerusalem, a tour leader, and a Palestinian resident who is a 3rd generation resident of the Old City, EVERYONE told me in so many words that life is very difficult now and they don’t have hope that “the situation” is going to get any better in the future.

My next question was “Why no hope?” 12783646_10208806070174975_2794744035196101163_o

Some laid the blame squarely on Bibi and his government. Others said the blame was shared by both Bibi and Abbas. A couple mentioned the complicity of the U.S. and the international community for allowing “the situation” to deteriorate to this extreme and not forcing Israel to change course. Greater Jerusalem Eng 2015Although I’ve read and seen photos of “Greater Jerusalem” and the high security wall snaking through the landscape, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw and heard on my last day in Jerusalem. I joined a 4-hour study tour conducted by Ir Amim which focused on planning and development policies in the “Greater Jerusalem” area.

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While the Jewish owner received a permit to construct this large building with a 135% floor area ratio, his Palestinian neighbor was denied a permit to add rooms onto his house because the zoning regulations only allowed him 35% FAR.

As a city planner who entered the profession 35 years ago in the United States with the noble goal of creating safe, just and sustainble communities, I felt personally devastated that the planning profession in Israel has been co-opted in such a brutal and disgusting fashion. The land use and development facts and figures shared on the Ir Amim tour are damning evidence of the politicians using the planning profession as their private whores. Read: Trapped by Planning: Israeli Policy, Planning and Development in the Palestinian Neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (2014) to get a clear picture of “the situation” on the ground from a planning context.

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The “security wall” snaking through “Greater Jerusalem”

Israeli planners are proficient at preparing plans for Jewish settlements but have failed to make any plans to meet the growth and natural expansion of Arab communities within “Greater Jerusalem.” Building permits fly out the window for Israelis (nearly 51,000 since 1967) while it’s nearly impossible for a Palestinian to get a building permit from City Hall (less than 4,000 issued since 1967).
In 2008, the Palestinians in “Greater Jerusalem” finally said “enough is enough” and hired architects, planners and lawyers to prepare community plans for the Arab communities. They submitted 190 town plans but only 125 building permits have been issued in response to these plans.

The YMCA in Jerusalem shares a hopeful message but I wonder how it resonates with the majority of people in Jerusalem, both Jews and Arabs.

One-third of the population of Jerusalem is Palestinian but only 12% of the city budget goes to Palestinian neighborhoods. That’s why I saw playgrounds and parks, sidewalks and recycling, schools and community centers in well-maintained Jewish neighborhoods, while the Palestinian neighborhoods nextdoor have no sidewalks, potholes in the streets, overflowing trash dumps, not enough classrooms so parents are now paying their neighbors to educate their children, and certainly no community centers or clinics. If I was a planner in Jerusalem, I might resort to guerilla tactics to upset the status quo at city hall.  

This Palestinian shopkeeper in the Old City showed me his family tree written in Arabic. His family’s heritage and long history in Jerusalem are under attack and he doesn’t have any hope for the future. I left the city with a very heavy heart, not sure if I’ll ever be able to return but not sure I ever want to. 12419121_10208801757827169_2958263323955961121_o

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Jerusalem in the U.S. Supreme Court

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Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky will not have “Israel” listed as his place of birth on his U.S. passport, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8, 2015. (Zivotofsky v. Kerry, No. 13-628) He was born in Jerusalem in 2002 to American parents who made the request that Israel be officially listed on their son’s passport, but the U.S. Embassy refused and listed Menachem’s place of birth as Jerusalem because it’s been a long-standing policy of our government not to recognize any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Justice Kennedy — author of the 6-3 opinion — noted:

Jerusalem’s political standing has long been, and remains, one of the most sensitive issues in American foreign policy, and indeed it is one of the most delicate issues in current international affairs. In 1948, President Truman formally recognized Israel in a signed statement of “recognition.” See Statement by the President Announcing Recognition of the State of Israel, Public Papers of the Presidents, May 14, 1948, p. 258 (1964). That statement did not recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Over the last 60 years, various actors have sought to assert full or partial sovereignty over the city, including Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Yet, in contrast to a consistent policy of formal recognition of Israel, neither President Truman nor any later United States President has issued an official statement or declaration acknowledging any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Instead, the Executive Branch has maintained that “‘the status of Jerusalem . . . should be decided not unilaterally but in consultation with all concerned.’” United Nations Gen. Assembly Official Records, 5th Emergency Sess., 1554th Plenary Meetings, United Nations Doc. No. 1 A⁄PV.1554, p. 10 (July 14, 1967); see, e.g., Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations Gen. Assembly (Sept. 21, 2011), 2011 Daily Comp. of Pres. Doc. No. 00661, p. 4 (“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them,” including “Jerusalem”).

Congress tried to force the issue by passing Section 214, titled “United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel,” which required the Secretary of State to heed the wishes of families who requested their children’s place of birth be listed as Israel, rather than Jerusalem, on their passports. President George W. Bush signed the law but warned that if it was more than just advisory, it would impermissibly interfere with the President’s constitutional authority regarding recognition of foreign states.

The law has never been enforced.

Then in stepped the Zivotofsky family who challenged the U.S. Embassy’s decision, while holding up Section 214 in their defense. Their arguments failed in the lower courts but that didn’t dissuade them.

Finally Justice Kennedy put the issue to rest. The court ruled Section 214 is unconstitutional. The decision is worth reading, available here.

Kennedy made it clear that the court was addressing only 2 questions and the Justices had no business interfering in foreign affairs.

First, the court decided that the President has the exclusive power to grant formal recognition to a foreign sovereign; and second, Congress couldn’t command the President and his Secretary to contradict the earlier recognition.

Before reaching the question of [Section 214’s] constitutionality, the Court for the first time in history ruled that the president has the exclusive power to decide what other foreign nations the United States will formally recognize for nation-to-nation dealings, and that Congress may not force the president to make a different choice about that. In fact, most of Justice Kennedy’s thirty-page opinion was devoted to that core question about the Constitution’s distribution of foreign policy powers.

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Naturally, the Palestinians are pleased with the decision, and the Mayor of Jerusalem …. not so much.

I’m left wondering if Zivotofsky v. Kerry opens the door on another related issue.  In November, Sweden became the 135th member of the United Nations to recognize the State of Palestine.  It’s about time the United States joined the community of nations.

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Deir Yassin Remembered

Sixty-five years ago (April 9, 1948) Jewish forces occupied the village of Deir Yassin on the hill west of Jerusalem. “They burst into the village and sprayed the houses with machine-gun fire, killing many of the inhabitants. The remaining villagers were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of women were raped and then killed.” [The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by historian Ilan Pappe.]

Map of Deir Yassin showing the plan of attack.

Map of Deir Yassin showing the plan of attack.

Ilan Pappe continues: “Fahim Zaydan, who was twelve years old at the time, recalled how he saw his family murdered in front of his eyes:

They took us out one after the other; shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him — carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breastfeeding her — they shot her too.

Zaydan himself was shot, too, while standing in a row of children the Jewish soldiers had lined up against a wall, which they had then sprayed with bullets, ‘just for the fun of it’, before they left. He was lucky to survive his wounds.”   [The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by historian Ilan Pappe.]

Deniers claim that the atrocities at Deir Yassin were fabricated to lure the Arab neighbors into a battle with Israel.  Just like Holocaust deniers, there are nuts in every part of the world with perverse agendas.

But Deir Yassin is remembered by many Palestinians on April 9, and there will be no peace in this region until Israel acknowledges the horrific trauma it caused in 1948 to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by their deliberate expulsion, murder and dispossession of their homes and land.

One suggestion, an easy step, would be for Israel to place a plaque near the entrance to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remembering the Deir Yassin massacre.

 The Holocaust museum [in Jerusalem] is beautiful and the message “never to forget man’s inhumanity to man” is timeless. The children’s museum is particularly heart wrenching; in a dark room filled with candles and mirrors the names of Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust are read along with their places of birth. Even the most callous person is brought to tears. Upon exiting this portion of the museum a visitor is facing north and looking directly at Deir Yassin. There are no markers, no plaques, no memorials, and no mention from any tour guide. But for those who know what they are looking at, the irony is breathtaking.

Their wounds are fresh, and their memories are clear.  Time will not erase the massacre at Deir Yassin.

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