Three Months in Palestine

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This Time It’s Personal

Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?  Where is the civil rights?  American Jews stood with the African American community during the civil rights struggle in the United Sates calling all of us to see the injustices occurring and demanding that all are treated fairly and equally under United States laws.  No separate water fountains, no separate entrances, no separate schools, no  separate housing — to name a few!  Separate but equal is not equal!  

So how does one understand what is occurring in Israel today?  Where is the equality and justice for all?  

This year alone there have been 557 structure demolitions.  1,006 people have been displaced.  Since 2000, 12,191 demotions.  International law agrees on the role of an occupying power.  Israeli Committee Against Home Demotions writes:

It is widely agreed that international human rights law (IHRL) must be referenced in order to flesh out the notion of population welfare, and to delineate and set restraints on the occupying power’s actions. In particular IHL experts refer to the rights to health, education, food and housing, enshrined inter alia in in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Art. 25(1)); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 (Art. 11); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (Art. 17); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1969 (Art. 5(e)(iii)); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990 (Arts. 16, 27).  ICAHD   http://www.icahd.org/international-laws-and-house-demolition

How does this occur?  If a Palestinian lives in Area C, they reside under Israeli Military Authority.  Palestinians have lived under occupation for three generations.  Families have grown, additional housing is needed.  Palestinian families often own properties on the edge of villages.  For many families the logical response is to build a home on family land.  But Israel rarely gives permission to expand or build a home.  In recent years, knowing the possible consequences, have chosen to build homes on their family lands in Area C without permits.

The following is a current story about a Palestinian family Joyce met during our three months in Palestine.  

The Moqbel family is a family of eleven. The father works hard as a baker.  He begins his work at 2 am preparing pita bread.  His teenage son works with him.  His son was arrested for throwing stones (actually was working with his father at the time) and spent time in the Israeli youth detention center.  With an arrest record and his options now limited, he saw no reason to continue his education and joined his dad at the bakery. 

The family has for 20 years lived in the crowded conditions of the grandfather ‘s home.  This year the extended family and friends worked together to build this home for the family.  It is carefully crafted and built with much love and care.  I visited the family in September and they were thrilled with their home.

Prior to my visit, five homes in this area had received demolition orders.  A lawyer was hired.  The families with the orders thought the Israeli Military Court would hand down a decision in October.  Since October, several additional homes have received orders.

On November 27th, 2012, Israeli Military Court ruled that on December 27th, 2012 the new Moqbel home will be demolished.

What is the crime?  Yes, they built without a permit.  Yes, the home is built on family land.  Yes, they want their family to have a home, not a room to live in.  Why do the Israelis do this?  

The Moqbel home is close to Jala, an illegal settlement! Between their home and en illegal settlement is a narrow road for farmers to access their fields and terraced fertile fields owned by Palestinian farmers. There is no logical explanation.  The home is not threatening the illegal settlement. 

The United States government needs to understand what is occurring. Home ownership is a key American value.  Why do we stand by and permit the Israeli military to demolish 557 structures this year, an increase over last year?

Email or call your Congress persons today.  Demand that Israel end structure (home, animal, cistern) demolitions and settlement construction. The blanket approval of Israeli conduct must end in 2012!  

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Home in Oak Park

On December 5 we arrived home, after our three month trip.  We have thankful hearts.  Thankful for a joyous reception home by our grandchildren and their parents.  Thankful for a safe and healthy trip.  Thankful for our own, warm bed.  Thankful for all the people that supported and encouraged us.  Thankful for the vision and commitment that makes  the  EAPPI program possible.  Thankful we have so many Palestinian & EAPPI friends - we miss them already…

We had no trouble going through Ben Gurion Airport (many EA folks get hassled, by way of saying “don’t plan to come back.”).  A stop in DC allowed for good visits to the offices of Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Danny Davis.  Then, on to debrief with Steve Weaver, Middle East Representative for Church World Service, in Lancaster, PA.  And a stop to see Joyce’s mother & brother in NJ.

We’ll likely write a bit more from time to time as we re-invent our lives in the US.  If you’ve read the blog, we’d love to hear from you.  jj.cassel@sbcglobal.net.  

We also are looking for opportunities to share our story.  We plan to meet with the Church of the Brethren General Board in April and will present an Insight session at the CoB Annual Conference in July.  We welcome opportunities for us to speak about our experience—small group of friends or larger groups.  Telling the story of our Palestinian sisters and brothers is an important part of the mission of EAPPI.

Thanks.

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Joyce & John were hosted at Thanksgiving by two Palestinian families - Ameen & Ameena Jebreen of Tuqu’ and Jamal & Saddiyeh Moqbel of Beit Ummar.  Great food and good fun for all.

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November 20-22, 2012. oPT

We are both well. John was caught in the middle between IDF and Palestinians but found sanctuary in the InterContinental Hotel in Bethlehem.  The street was full of tear gas, and the hotel’s few visitors sat in a fancy lobby with tearful eyes.  After some time, John exited out a back gate and was able to make his way beyond the 5 block war zone. And, of course, the hotel ATM which brought him into the area turned out to be not working…

Joyce was in the Old City with a teammate showing 2 members of the new team Shuhada Street.  As we sat drinking Arabic coffee we learned of stone throwing at various points in the old city.  We had planned to leave through checkpoint 56, but it was closed. Fortunately the mosque checkpoint was open and we made our way through the back alleys of the Old City - luckily, Joyce had been on 2 tours of this area recently.  When we arrived to the area of violence, several Palestinian men grabbed my hand and showed me the way to the taxis.  My other team mates choose to stay and photograph the violence between IDF and protesters.

Joyce and her team mate Anne had days off starting and had planned to leave in the evening for Bethlehem.  But with violence escalating in Hebron, we packed our bags and fortunately found a service through the kindness of a taxi driver and went on to Bethlehem Inn.  (Where Joyce & John could trade stories and support).

The next day,  Ameen, the coffee man at checkpoint 300, invited us for lunch at his home in Tuqu’.  Very true to Palestinian hospitality, Ameen wanted to show Joyce some of the sites in the area.  We visited Herodian — the summer palace of Herod III and then through the most amazing countryside to  Mar Saba Monastery in the desert.  We returned to his home for a delicious freshly butchered chicken dinner and a tour of his lands.  (not sure how we are going to re-adjust to American processed food).

Ameen then delivered us to our good friends, Moqbels, in  Beit Ummer.  The gates to the city were closed but they found us a way in.  Jamal and Saddiyeh and their 5 children welcomed us to their home.  Saddiyeh is the most amazing cook.  Together we watched Palestinian television channels in Arabic.  The pictures of Gaza were terrifying.  Saddiyeh has a good friend living in Gaza and they keep in close touch through the crisis.  The sight of babies being carried to the hospital brought reality too close to home, tears flowed.  The Moqbols have children 2,  6, 11, 15, 17. 

Announcement of the cease fire brought relief to the family. But on Thursday the sight of Hamas and Fatah flags flying together brought them joy. 

With all this occurring, Moqbels wanted us to enjoy Thanksgiving with them.  So Saddiyeh and Jamal made a special Palestinian meal for us to savor after the children returned from school.  We then spent the day much as we would have in the United States—going for a walk, playing games, conversation and even an Arabic lesson for Joyce.  Moqbels repeatedly say that we are their Palestinian family.  And that’s exactly how we feel.

Things feel calmer, but there is a tension in the air.  Soldiers are very prevalent on the streets.  Shops are closed in East Jerusalem and the Old City. 

 We pray for justice and and end to the occupation.  We also give thanks to the Palestinians who provided John and I with safety and the families who have welcomed us into their homes.  We have learned much here, but we especially hope the openness and hospitality will remain with us…. Inshallah.  

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November 19

The sun rises over a troubled land 

Pre dawn planes fly over Hebron 

Bombs drop over Gaza 

Family of 12 dies. 

 /

Al Jabari in process of negotiating a cease fire  

is assassinated. 

International cease fire talks now under way 

How does this make sense? 

Youth in Hebron throw stones 

15, 16, 17, 18 years of living under occupation 

Frustration, rage—a stone releases the agony. 

 /

IDF responds with tear gas, sound bombs,  

skunk water. 

Young man is hit in the head with a canister 

Now in the hospital on life support.  

 /

The world stands by 

As Israel violates international law. 

As Palestinians wake up each morning 

Wondering will my family be safe, 

Will a bulldozer demolish my home, community cistern, 

And or an animal shelter? 

 /

This land, the birth place of Judaism, Christianity  

And Islam. 

The religions of justice, peace, and reconciliation 

When will the caring, civil rights for all return… 

 /

Palestinians say il-hamdulillah ( Thanks be to God) 

Israelis say Hallelujah.    

 /

The children climb the steps to the school  

Enjoying each other and laughing… 

Hope, yes! 

But today it is very difficult to envision.  

 /

Inshallah!!!    

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Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

Living in Bethlehem for 3 months, John could not resist        a blog with this title.  So…

Bethlehem is part of the “Christian Triangle:” Bethlehem, Beit Sahur, Beit Jala.  These used to be some of the few majority Christian towns in Palestine – no more.  The Christian population is down to less than 20%.  However, more than 40 Christian congregations continue to worship in the area.  Greek Orthodox is traditionally the largest group, being the original Christians in Palestine.

In recent years large numbers of the Christian community have left.  The Western media often portrays this as a problem with their Muslim neighbors.  Not true.  Life is just so bad under occupation – everyone at least thinks or dreams about leaving.  And Christians tend to have more international family connections and resources to act on the impulse.  Some Christians express an admirable commitment to stay, but many give up in desperation.  Occupation falls on all Palestinians – no one is exempt, including Palestinians Christians.

Bethlehem is a beautiful and appealing city, with the Nativity Church and Manger Square at its center.  The “Shepherd’s Fields,” of course, are nearby.  Bethlehem hosts a excellent University, run by the LaSalle order of the Roman Catholic Church.  The larger Bethlehem District comprises about 40 villages in all.

Traditionally, the city’s economy was driven by tourism.  Daily, busses arrive bringing visitors from all over the world:  Europe, Korea, US, Russia, Kenya and many more.  But the Separation Barrier and occupation have cut Bethlehem off from its lifeline.  Tourism is but a fraction of what it used to be.  And much of the current economic gain goes to tour groups in Israel who take the major profit from the day trips to Bethlehem.

Tourists are not sure they want to travel to the West Bank.  Yet, Israel has worked hard to make it pleasant for day trips.  Tour buses are “certified” in Jerusalem and pass through the “car gate” as if it means nothing.  They go to Manger Square, wait in line to see the birthplace of Jesus, have lunch at a tourist restaurant, shop for souvenirs and head back to Jerusalem.

Literally thousands of tourists arrive every day (remember we live by the car gate and see all the traffic) and unless they are very astute, these tourists never understand where they are or what occupation means.  They do not see the 35% unemployment, they do not see the workers who arise at 4am to pass the checkpoint, they do not realize their simple and painless trip through the car gate is impossible for most Bethlehemites and Bethlehem cars.

When you know what’s going on in Bethlehem, your heart is not filled with Christmas joy and peace.  Your heart is broken.  As a Christian, it is painful to see the birthplace of the Prince of Peace defiled by the Separation Barrier and a brutal occupation.

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A Family Lives Daily under Occupation

What does it mean for a family to live under occupation?  Occupation falls not just on the poor, or the farmers, or the shopkeepers.  Occupation in oPT affects everyone; no one is immune.

The Zaroo family is one of the large Palestinian families in Hebron.  They have lived here for generations.  First their land was taken for expansion of Kiryat Arba settlement, then for the Israeli-only road.  Can you imagine having land taken to build a road on which you cannot drive?  International law states that an occupying power may not take land from the occupied.  United Nations Security Council Resolution, 448 (March 22, 1979) reaffirms article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention: “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

So how does this happen?  Most recently Edmund Levy, former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, concluded in a 89 page (July 2012) report on legality of settlements that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not occupation, and thus the Israeli settlements are legal under international law, and recommends state approval for unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts.  No occupation, no violation!

This family has a large compound for Rashid, his 2 brothers and all their families.  Rashid had a jacuzzi business but the Chinese built jacuzzis for less and he was forced to close his shops.  Rashid says the Chinese quality is poor and the tubs will need to be replaced after a few years.

Anne and I first met Rashid while he was examining his buildings, which date from the Ottoman Empire, 1880s.  During the winter of 2012, there was a heavy snowstorm and the walls fell apart; now piles of stones lay in basement caves.    Rashid would like to rebuild his apartments but.. Israelis will not permit him to use a truck or car to bring supplies to this location (Israeli only road in city limits of Hebron).  Supplies need to come by cart.  Some days he receives permission for workers to work all day, some days permission for half of a day, some days a couple of hours, others not at all.  These properties are also included in some of the 38 military orders that have been issued in H2.  Hebron Rehabilitation Committee lawyers are attempting to understand the implications of these orders.  They will be going to each site with a representative of Department of Civil Administration for further explanation.  There will be a week for response by HRC. 

The family has farmed their land for generations.  In the early 1970s, the patriarch planted a field a olive trees.  Today, these 40-year-old trees are very productive. Last year 200 trees were destroyed, this year, three forty-year olive trees and one apricot tree were cut at their base.  This occurred while the family was celebrating the return of family members from Mecca.  In the morning, Uncle Shekel went to walk the sheep and found the trees.

The compound is is bordered by Kiryat Arba on one side, outpost trailers on another, and Rte 60 (Israeli-only road) on the third.  The land is fertile and located at a critical juncture. 

This is a large, prestigious family whose greatest desire is to live on their land peacefully, provide employment for themselves and others in the community.  Rashid sees his power as his movie B’Tselem camera.  As we talked, his B’Tselem camera rested on his lap.

So, whats going on?  That is the difficult question. There are easy answers:  acquire more fertile ground, eliminate Palestinian leadership, have Palestinians leave oPT … But are they theanswers???  It is hard to say.  One wonders about the long-term plan?

It certainty looks like the Israeli government and military have a clear plan to remove Palestinians from their land. In South Hebron Hills - a firing zone; in the Jordan Valley— joint military procedures involving USA armed forces and Israeli military; and in-between the north and south - daily demolitions of homes, cisterns, farm structures, and/or commercial buildings.  All this is clearly against International law.  When will the countries of the world confront what is occurring?  When will they demand that Israel abide by international law?