Tag Archives: West Bank

Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

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OCHA is a Truth Teller

This is the last in a series of blog posts sharing the stories of Palestinians who are living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. OCHA compiled 50 stories which can all be found here.

I divided them and shared five stories at a time because I hoped more Americans would take the time to read them if they were highlighted in smaller doses. (And honestly, I wanted to read each story more closely which this resharing allowed me to do.)

Congress and President Trump have been threatening to reduce funding to the United Nations in recent weeks because they claim the UN is biased against Israel. Telling the truth may not win popularity contests, but the work and the words of the UN need to continue.  These stories published by OCHA are the truth.

I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is … to tell the truth.

HOWARD ZINN, Marx in Soho

THE TARKYAKI FAMILY 

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THE Tarkyaki Family from EAST JERUSALEM (Photos by JC-Tordai, 2010)

 

The family home of Amjad and Asma’ Taryaki and their three children was demolished in 2009.

Shortly after, Amjad told us: ❝On 12 October 2009, at 7:30 in the morning, while my wife was taking the children to school and I was still sleeping, the Border Police woke me up and ordered me to get out.

❝When my wife came back and saw all the police and the bulldozer she knew what was happening.

❝The police wouldn’t let her enter the yard and she started panicking, thinking that I was sleeping while our house was being demolished.

❝She knew that the pills I take for my heart condition make me fall into a very deep sleep. She tried to call me but the police had confiscated my mobile phone…

❝[W]e had an emotional breakdown. The hardest thing was to protect our children. The youngest of them, Tasneem, wet her pants while watching the demolition.

❝Our son, when he came back from school, was asking about his chocolate which was buried in the rubble. He is having a very hard time recovering from the shock and I’m afraid he’ll lose this school year…

❝[W]e put up a tent in the yard and spent a month and a half there, but as winter was approaching it got very cold.❞

Amjad added: ❝One night we decided we couldn’t go on like this any longer and took the children to my brother. Since then, we’ve been going from relative to relative, and sometimes we split the family up as we can’t all fit into one house.

❝My wife was suffering from the lack of privacy and, as there were constantly a lot of people around her, she always had to wear her hijab.

❝The rubble from the demolition is still here, but getting a bulldozer to remove it requires a permit, and is very costly. Next to our house there is a little wooden stable where my brother keeps his horse. The police didn’t demolish that. I feel that animals are treated better than human beings.

❝Three months ago, we decided to build a small wooden room on the site where our house was located. We’ve put some mattresses and a little TV there.

❝This Saturday we’ll bring some of the furniture that survived the demolition from my wife’s sister’s house. We’re also building a little bathroom next to the room. Our cooking stove is outside but mostly our families provide us with food.

❝If our new shelter is demolished, we will build it again. We have nowhere else to go and no money to rent anywhere else.❞

KAREEM

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Kareem from NABI SALEH | RAMALLAH

In Febriary 2011, we met Kareem, then an 11-year-old boy, and heard from him about his arrest by the Israeli Police.

I was standing with a group of children near the gas station at the entrance to An Nabi Saleh. An Israeli police vehicle drove by and I threw a stone at it.

❝The vehicle stopped and several special police jumped out, chased us and took me into custody. A woman from our village tried to protect me, but the police shoved her to the ground. 

❝I was taken first to the military tower at the entrance of An Nabi Saleh, where the police forces kicked me in my leg and arm and my hands were bound behind my back with plastic ties.

❝Next, I was taken to Hallamish settlement and then transported to an interrogation centre about 45 minutes from my house, at Geva Binyamin settlement. There, I was taken to an interrogation room.

❝The interrogator asked me if I threw stones and I said ‘yes,’ and I told them why; ‘you arrested my 14-year-old brother in the middle of the night this week and now I have no one to play with. I was angry, so I threw a stone,’

❝Next, they showed me pictures of boys and asked me to identify them. I told them I don’t know these boys; they aren’t from our village.

❝The whole interrogation lasted around 15 minutes, but I spent another two hours waiting after the interrogation until my father came and picked me up. No one from my family was with me during the process.❞

AMNEH 

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Amneh from BIR NABALA / TEL AL ‘ADASSA | JERUSALEM

Bir Nabala / Tel al ‘Adassa is a small Bedouin community whose members have lived between Ramallah and Jerusalem for decades, after being displaced from what became Israel and then within the West Bank.

Since the mid-1990s, they have been settled just inside the Israeli-declared municipal boundary of Jerusalem.

Notwithstanding the proximity, since they hold West Bank ID cards, Israel considers their presence within the Jerusalem municipal boundary illegal, unless they obtain special permits.

By 2007, the Israeli authorities completed the construction of a Barrier in the area, with the stated aim of preventing attacks on Israelis. This has left the community on the “Jerusalem” side of the Barrier, physically separated from their service centre of Bir Nabala and the rest of the West Bank, and unable to legally enter East Jerusalem.

We met Amneh, then a 45-year-old member of the community, in 2013. ❝After the Barrier was completed in 2007,❞ she told us, ❝our living conditions deteriorated and our life turned upside down. We were isolated, stuck between two places, Ramallah and Jerusalem, able to go to neither.

❝The separation was difficult on everyone. All the while, we suffered harassment and intimidation from the Israeli authorities to leave our community.❞

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Forced displacement of the Tel al ‘Adassa Bedouin community (August 2013)

On top of the access restrictions, the community has also faced multiple incident of demolitions, due to lack of Israeli-issued building permits.

By 2013, all families left and went to live on the ‘West Bank’ side.

The community dispersed into two separate locations. Amneh described the events that led to their departure:

❝We had demolition orders for our structures and fines as well. After finally demolishing all of our structures, the Israelis threatened that if we do not move to the other side of the Barrier in the West Bank, we will be fined huge amounts of money and risk arrest.

❝To be honest, we just are not able to pay any fines. We have no money. I have two sons in the university and I still have not been able to cover their tuition. Any money I have, should go to them first, and not to the Israeli authorities.

❝So we decided to move, in hopes that we will find better living conditions and no longer be faced with the Israeli authorities’ intimidation.❞

❝Is this our destiny?❞ she asked. ❝Is it my fate to live in uncertainty, without even a hope of living in dignity and with respect?

AHMAD DIWAN

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Ahmad Diwan from BEIT IJZA | BIDDU ENCLAVE | JERUSALEM

We met Ahmad Jubran Diwan, also known by the name of Abu Al ‘Abed, in 2012, to hear from him – as head of Beit Ijza village council – about the farmers in his community, who own agricultural lands that are isolated following the construction of the Barrier.

❝The Barrier on Beit Ijza lands was erected in 2004, […] buried 340 dunums (85 akres) under its route, and isolated 860 dunums (215 akres) behind it,❞ Ahmad said, adding that the land was planted with many kinds of fruits and vegetables, including olives, grapes, almonds and tomatos.

❝This area was the ‘food basket’ of the region❞, he said, ❝feeding Jerusalem and its suburbs. This is a sample of grapes planted behind the Barrier, where the farmers cannot access. They cannot harvest these crops and they are eaten by boars, animals and birds.

❝Grape, olive and fig trees – the harvest season of which is now – demand daily visits, just like a spoiled baby in his mother’s bossom, who needs to be fed every hour or when she cries. We need to access our land every day, without any hindrance.❞

MUHAMMAD ABDEL AZIZ  
muhammad-abdel

Muhammad Abdel Aziz from QARYUT | NABLUS

A rough, winding uphill road leads to Palestinian olive grove in a remote and isolated area of Qaryut village, close to Eli settlement.

In this grove, dozens of ancient olive trees were cut down on 9 October 2012.

 Shortly after, we visited Muhammad, on his land, to hear from him on how this affected his family.

❝These trees are centuries old. I inherited them from my father who inherited them from my grandfather. It is the only source of livelihood. We have no more fallow fields to plant with wheat and barley etc. This tree is our sole source of livelihood.

❝A few days before the harvest some days ago, settlers came and, as you can see, cut down the trees; and those behind as well, which are hundreds of years old.

❝It is the settlers who came down from that settlement, close to us, a few hundred metres from here. They cut down no less than 140 trees.

❝Two days after they had cut down the trees, they came and poured gasoline on the trees, and also burned down trees in an area a little further down, nearby.

This naturally affects the farmers, their lives, their livelihoods, as these trees are their only source of subsistence.❞

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Khirbet Khamis – living in an open air prison

This is the ninth of ten blog posts focused on the stories compiled by OCHA of 50 Palestinians living under 50 years of Occupation.  The entire 50 stories can be found at OCHA’s website here.  Each story tells of a personal hardship which exemplifies life under Israeli occupation.  The story about Khirbet Khamis in this batch strikes me especially hard. I can’t imagine the degrading and dehumanizing existence that these families have been forced to live under. The Occupation must end, with or without Israel’s consent.

FAT-HALLAH ABU RIDAH

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Fat-Hallah abu Ridah from QARYUT, NABLUS

Since the early 1980s the village has lost much of its land for the construction of an Israeli settlement.

The residents have suffered from regular attacks by Israeli settlers. These incidents have severely undermined their physical security and livelihoods.

Between January and September 2011, OCHA recorded a total of 16 incidents resulting in casualties or property damage, perpetrated in the village by Israeli settlers.

Fat-hallah is a farmer who sustained damages in a settler attack on 6 October 2011. When we met him shortly after, he told us:

❝I consider these 80 damaged trees to be like my children. My wife and I planted them 15 years ago, and have been raising them together with our children.

❝My wife and my daughter used to carry the water on their heads and walk over 300 metres in order to irrigate these trees, while myself and the children spent over three years collecting stones from the land to build these small stone walls all around in order to protect the land.

❝We have always tried to protect our land and our trees, but this time they came at night.

“The Israeli forces restrict our movements in the village in order to protect the settlers while they damage our land.

❝This is the fifth time this has happened; around twenty days ago, the settlers shot me in my leg with live ammunition, and also hit my two sons.❞

 

MUFEED SHARABATI

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Mufeed Sharabati from H2 | HEBRON

We met Mufeed, then 47 years old, father of five, in 2013. He lives in an old three story house located in Ash Shuhada Street, with his brother, also father of five, and his mother.

This street was once the main commercial artery of Hebron city, and a densely populated residential area.

In 1994, following the killing of 29 Palestinians by an Israeli settler, the Israeli authorities closed it for Palestinian traffic; later, following the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, most of the street was closed for Palestinian pedestrian movement as well, and hundreds of shops were shut down.

The Israeli authorities justified these restrictions as a means of protecting Israelis living in settlements along the street, which contravene international law.

❝Our life in Shuhada Street is almost like living in a prison,❞ Mufeed told us. ❝Every time we enter or exit the street we have to pass through a checkpoint, and have our belongings checked.

❝Our children are deprived of all aspects of childhood. They are not free to play down the street with a ball or ride a bike because most times they get harassed by settlers.

❝Israeli forces invade our house anytime they want; each time something wrong happens down the street near the house, our children are accused of it, and they get interrogated.

❝When there is a health emergency, for the ambulance to get here it needs prior coordination. We feel so isolated, our friends and relatives don’t visit us because it’s difficult for them to get here.

❝Nothing is normal here, but at the end of the day this is my home, I inherited from my father, it means so much to me, I was born here, all my life and memories are here, and I will not leave here except when I die.❞

 

SABRIN NASASRA

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Sabrin Nasasra from KHIRBET TANA | NABLUS (Sabrin is seen on the left, with her sister, Farah)

On 23 March 2016, Sabrin and her family became homeless. 

It happened when Israeli authorities destroyed 53 structures in the Palestinian community of Khirbet Tana, in one of the largest incidents since OCHA began systematically tracking demolitions in 2009.

The targeted structures included 22 homes, resulting in the displacement of 87 people, among them 35 children and 22 women. The picture above was taken after that demolition incident.

On 3 January 2017, Sabrin and her family lost their home again, a tent that was erected as a shelter following the previous demolition.

The picture below was taken following that demolition, where Israeli authorities demolished 49 structures including 30 structures that had been donated to the families.

This second incident displaced eight families of fifty members, including 22 children, and otherwise affected ten families of 72 members, including 35 children.

Khirbet Tana is located in an Israeli-declared firing zone. All the families there have faced demolition at least once during 2016, when the Israeli authorities carried out a series of four demolitions between February and April.

All in all, OCHA has documented 13 demolition incidents between 2010 and January 2017 in Khirbet Tana.

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Khirbet Tana, following a demolition incident, 3 January 2017

 

MOHAMMAD AL QUNBAR

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Mohammad al Qunbar from SURKHI QUNBAR | EAST JERUSALEM

Surkhi Qunbar is a small neighborhood, located on the ‘Jerusalem’ side of the West Bank Barrier.

It takes its name from two families that were cut off by the Barrier from the remainder of the neighborhood of As Sawahira Ash Sharqiya.

While it is located in an area which was unilaterally annexed to Israel, not all of its residents have been given Jerusalem ID cards.

Some carry West Bank ID cards and can only ‘legally’ reside in their own homes if they have special Israeli-issued staying permits.

 

Community members cannot freely access the rest of East Jerusalem, and are also severely restricted from accessing the rest of the West Bank.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FUAD JABO

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Fuad Jabo from KHIRBET KHAMIS | BETHLEHEM

❝Our lives have become so complicated, and we are under enormous pressure, psychological, financial and social.❞

Now home to a few dozens, Khirbet Khamis was among several communities that were incorporated into the Jerusalem municipal boundary and unilaterally annexed to Israel.

However, unlike the vast majority of Palestinians in the annexed areas, Khirbet Khamis’ residents were issued West Bank, instead of Jerusalem, ID cards. As a result, under Israeli law, they are considered “illegal residents” in their own homes.

Khirbet Khamis has become an ❝open air prison❞ for its residents, says Fuad Jado, a 55-year-old father of five.

Our lives have become so complicated, and we are under enormous pressure… We are not allowed to work in Israel although our community has been illegally annexed and we are now cut off from the rest of the West Bank on the Jerusalem side of the Wall.

❝This has changed all our lives. Our children, for example, have to cross checkpoints daily to get to their school.
❝While there are no shops in the community we are limited in the quantity of food we can bring in from Bethlehem, especially dairy products.

Sometimes the soldiers throw them away if they think the quantities exceed our daily consumption; other times we do it ourselves to avoid waiting for permission to enter.

❝What are we supposed to do? They don’t allow us to shop in Jerusalem, so we sometimes have no choice but to rely on friends from Jerusalem to buy things for us or risk going to Jerusalem markets ourselves.❞

khirbet-khamis-map-1400x986

Based on a publication on dislocated communities focusing on the case of Khirbet Khamis | November 2013.

 

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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.

az-zawiya-map

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

ahmad-ayyad
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.
ahmad2

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.

Razan

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 

masaad

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 

Abeer

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

Salem

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 

ala-zawahri

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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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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The West Bank and International Humanitarian Law on the Eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Six-Day War

By Theodor Meron (The American Society of International Law, 2017)

Judge Meron’s 19-page article is available here to download.

Rarely does a jurist have the opportunity to render a legal opinion twice on the very same case or controversy fifty years apart.

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron was 37 when he was appointed the Legal Adviser of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly after the Six-Day War. He was asked to address some of the international legal implications that followed from that war.

He opined on September 14, 1967 that “the establishment of civilian settlements in the occupied West Bank and other conquered territories violates the Fourth Geneva Convention related to the protection of victims of war and, specifically, its prohibition on settlements (Article 49(6)).” This prohibition is categorical, he wrote, and “not conditioned on the motives or purposes of the transfer, and is aimed at preventing colonization of conquered territory by citizens of the conquering state.”

In March 2017, his opinion has not changed. Given the inexorable demographic change in the West Bank over the past fifty years; the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 2334 on December 23, 2016; John Kerry’s unprecedented speech delivered on December 28, 2016; and Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of the “shameful UN resolution” — Judge Meron felt compelled to speak up again in support of international law and its requirements and application to the settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Judge Meron’s career is noteworthy and worth recounting here because his opinion carries weight, except with Israeli leaders.

Meron

Theodor Meron – President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Judge and President of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals; Judge and Past President of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; former Judge of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Charles L. Denison Professor Emeritus and Judicial Fellow, New York University School of Law; Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, since 2014; past Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal; past Honorary President of the American Society of International Law.

Settlements in the Occupied West Bank

What is the scope of the problem? The Palestinian president says there will be no negotiations until Israel ends the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli prime minister says the Palestinians must come to the bargaining table with no preconditions, but he demands that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There have been no negotiations since 2010.

2016-mena-israel-overviewmap

Today there are nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerualem. There are 127 government-sanctioned Israeli settlements (not including East Jerusalem and Hebron), and approximately 100 “settlement outposts”. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the annual growth rate for the settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2015 was more than two times higher than that of the overall population in Israel: 4.1% and 2% percent, respectively.  Translated: there are more Israelis today moving to Palestine than to the State of Israel.

Check out this segment on NPR from December 2016 about the settlements.

The Jewish settlements were illegal in 1967 and they remain illegal today.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949 to protect civilians in a war zone, is considered the “gold standard of humanitarian law.” While 196 countries have signed on, the United Nations concluded in 1993 that the Geneva Conventions had passed into customary law and therefore everyone is bound by them.

What does the Fourth Geneva Convention require of the occupying power (Israel) towards the protected persons (Palestinians) in the territories it occupies?

  1. No collective punishment (article 33) – including no pillage, intimidation, or terrorism. Collective punishment is considered a war crime.
  2. May not forcibly deport protected persons or transfer part of its own civilian population into the occupied territory (article 49).
  3. Must facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children (article 50).
  4. No destruction of property belonging to the protected persons or to public authorities (article 53).
  5. Maintain the public health and hygiene along with the medical facilities in the occupied territories (article 56).

Nakba refugees

Despite clear and strong opinions from the International Court of Justice, supported by a score of Security Council resolutions, the International Red Cross, and a rare consensus of the international community on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories, the State of Israel has built a 50-year record of parsing the Fourth Geneva Convention, applying provisions it likes while rejecting others. “This opacity is made worse,” Judge Meron writes, “by the reluctance of Israel to divulge in public the list of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s humanitarian provisions which it is prepared to apply.”

Disrespect for international law is, alas, not unusual in the affairs of states. It is rare, however, that disrespect of an international convention would have such a direct impact on the elimination of any realistice prospects for reconciliation, not to mention peace. And it is rarer still that such disrespect of internatioal law should subsist given the number of pronouncements on the matter.

Israeli leaders rejected Meron’s opinion in 1967 and, undoubtedly, reject it today. They hinge their position on the argument that the territories are not occupied because conquered territory only becomes occupied territory when it belongs to a legitimate sovereign that was ousted. This theory disputes the status of Jordan as such a sovereign of the West Bank in 1967 which, in the opinion of Israel makes the Geneva Convention inapplicable de jure. The government has simply decided, in the absence of an international obligation to do so, to act de facto in accordance with the humanitarian provisions of the Convention.

Judge Meron rejects this argument summarily, asking “what would prevent every conquering state from contesting the sovereignty of every defeated state, even where no legitimate doubts about the sovereignty arise?” In a nutshell, the status of the lands conquered in the Six Day War has no bearing on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israel, as the conquering power.

While the Fourth Geneva Convention bestows rights on the “protected persons” (Palestinians in this case), the Hague Convention No. IV establishes responsibilities on the occupying power, and Israel’s Supreme Court has recognized the applicability of the Hague Convention No. IV as customary law to the West Bank.

There is the requirement to respect private property (Article 46), and the property of municipalities, and that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, and arts and sciences. (Article 56). The occupying power must also safeguard and administer the real estate in accordance with the rules of usufruct.

With the construction of the “security wall” encroaching on Palestinian lands, and a record number of housing demolitions in the West Bank in 2016, the reasonable question Palestinians and the rest of the world might ask is “Who is going to hold the State of Israel accountable for its violations of international law?”

12794787_10208838393703043_5184863994902971158_o Judge Meron concludes his 2017 opinion:

Those of us who are committed to international law, and particularly to respect for international humanitarian law and the principles embodied therein, cannot remain silent when faced with such denials or self-serving interpretations.

But if the continuation of the settlement project on the West Bank has met with practically universal rejection by the international community, it is not just because of its illegality under the Fourth Geneva Convention or under international humanitarian law more generally. Nor is it only because, by preventing the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian territory, the settlement project frustrates any prospect of serious negotiations aimed at a two-state solution, and thus of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is also because of the growing perception that individual Palestinians’ human rights, as well as their rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, are being violated and that the colonization of territories populated by other people can no longer be accepted in our time.

 

 

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