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Al Masara Summer Camp July 2012

Al Masara is a Palestinian village located south-west of BethlehemCity.  Al Masara is one of several villages which has been cut from its traditional land due to land confiscations, the expansion of the Gush Etzion settlement block and the planned construction of the apartheid wall which is due to commence at the end of this year.  The wall will also result in Al Masara residents being denied access to Road 60; the primary road through Bethlehem.  While construction of the wall has temporarily halted due to Israeli budgetary restrictions, Al Masara continues its struggle against the wall and the illegal Israeli occupation.

Each year the village runs a children’s summer camp called Children Without Borders.  During this summer camp children participate in activities including sports, art, capoeira, games, computer skills and dance.

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I would like to thank Nottingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign for donating a significant amount towards the children’s summer camp this year, these funds made it possible for the summer camp to purchase art materials and take the children on a trip to the swimming pool. 

It is important for the children to have a summer camp as it gives them opportunity to learn new skills in a fun and structured way.  The children also have the chance to practice their English with the International volunteers and learn about different cultures.  Living in a small, traditional village in the West Bank, many of the children have never visited other places in Palestine apart from Bethlehem.  When I asked some of the children which place they would most like to visit, they all said Jerusalem.  These children, the majority of whom have the West Bank ID, are prevented from visiting Jerusalem due the Israeli’s not allowing them to cross to the other side of the wall, restricting their freedom of movement.  Many of the children long and dream to visit Al-Aqsa mosque.

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Al Masara Demonstration

Al Masara is a village south of Bethlehem.  Al Masara is surrounded by the Gush Etzion settlements and the route of the wall is projected to be built at the end of this year close to the village, annexing part of its land.

Today’s demonstration was in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoner, Mahmoud Sarsak.  The demonstration commenced at 1pm from the middle of the village and the people, Palestinians and internationals, began walking towards the entrance to the village. Many children also attended, waving Palestinian flags and beating drums.

The soldiers were already waiting in formation, blocking the road and confronted the demonstrators with guns and shields.  The people attempted to peacefully walk through the soldiers to access the road but they would not let them pass.  As the people tried to walk around the soldiers they continued to prevent them from passing. Some demonstrators tried to outrun the soldiers to reach the road but they chased after them and again remained in formation to prevent access.

Finally the demonstrators attempted to take another route however the soldiers again made it impossible to continue.  This resulted in a standoff at the entrance to the village with the soldiers lined up with their guns and shields facing the peaceful demonstrators.  There were many Palestinians, internationals and small children waving flags, playing drums and chanting in solidarity against the occupation.

While the soldiers tried to intimidate the people with cameras and filming, some demonstrators tried to question the soldiers as to why they were making obstacle for the demonstrators.  One American soldier responded with ‘because it’s what is right.’ Several settlers passing in their cars also stopped to observe and silently support the soldiers.

After several speeches explaining the situation of Al Masara and calling for peace to be made, more tanks arrived and the people brought the demonstration to a close and returned to the village.

Jalazone Refugee Camp

Today my friend Khaled, who I met at capoeira, showed me round Jalazone Camp where he lives.  Jalazone is home to around 40,000 refugees who fled their homes after the Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948.

Many of the refugees, including Khaled’s family, were from Beit Nabala which is now part of Israel.  The older generations of Khaled’s family own the land that Ben Gurion airport is now built on, but they had to flee it due to the war.

The land the camp is built on has been leased by UNRWA for 99 years.  At first the camp was 0.5km but it has now expanded to be around 1km.

The camp started as tents and the refugees were told this was a temporary solution until they could return!  Soon after this concrete structures started to be built.  Building began as one room for each family.  Homes are built upwards due to space restrictions and expanding families.  When a family member gets married and has children another room will be built for the new family.

I saw many children playing in the streets.  Some children here throw stones, but they don’t mean this in an aggressive way, they simply want to play but don’t know how to communicate this.

There are two community centres in the camp.  Here there is a play room for the children, library, computer room and also space for music lessons.

On the edge of the camp are the two UNRWA schools.  One boys school and one girls school.  There are around 1400 children in one school! That’s about 55 children per class with one teacher.  Children can only attend school either in the morning or afternoon due to the amount of students.

Nearby is the settlement of Bet El; the second biggest settlement in the West Bank.

Ethnic Cleansing in Hebron

What I saw today would shock any normal human being.  The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is nowhere more visible than in Hebron.

The Israeli’s have made Palestinians suffer by restricting movement, creating checkpoints, closing streets and markets, setting curfews, welding shut entrances to homes and businesses and conducting random searches.

This caused the economy of the old city to collapse which drove almost all Palestinians from this area to leave their homes and businesses.  Jewish settlements now dominate the heart of the city.

The Israelis justification for this being ‘security’, to protect the Jewish settlers.

To me this is blatant apartheid; treating Palestinians legally and physically differently based on their ethnicity.

Our tour took us down a street lined with market stalls which is now overlooked by settlers who have moved into the abandoned homes of Palestinians.  A wire net has been put up to protect Palestinians from settlers who throw rocks, knives and even pour acid over Palestinians walking down the street.

Hebron is split into two parts. H1; under Palestinian control and H2; under Israeli control.  There are streets that are open to settler traffic but only Palestinian pedestrians. Some streets are completely closed to Palestinians. Shuhada Street has been closed to Palestinians for the past 16 years.

It was once the main street running through the city centre, now all Palestinian shops are shuttered.  The Israeli military ordered them closed due to security concerns, meaning more than 1800 Palestinians lost their livelihoods.

Palestinians are only allowed to walk on the right side of this street.

The centre of the old city is a ghost town.

We walk down a street which is closed to Palestinians.  As we walk towards the Palestinian area a soldier shouts at us in Hebrew and three Israeli girls shout to us “thats the Arab side… you don’t wanna go there!”

As we watch some Jewish children playing outside the settlement of Beit Hadassah a Jewish settler child tells the Israeli soldier to get a Palestinian who is merely standing nearby, to move.

We carry along up some steps and along a path walking towards Qurtoba School, we see graffiti vandalised on a school door which demonstrates the racial hatred engrained into the settlers.

‘GAS THE ARABS’

I was reluctant to photograph this, but wanted to show the true reality.

As we are walking up a hill towards a Palestinian community centre we pass 4 Israeli soldiers who are escorting 2 Israeli settler teenage girls as they walk through the Palestinian area.

Once we reach the community centre we are told the story and significance behind it.  The community centre is the last building the Israelis need to claim in order to expand their settlement.  But the Palestinians and internationals have struggled against this and succeeded; the solidarity behind this building means they will never let it be taken.

This is a place for the children to enjoy playing.

Finally snow in Ramallah!

After being told on numerous occasions to expect snow and waking up to be disappointed, at 8am this morning it finally started snowing here in Ramallah and I did not want to miss the opportunity to get outside in the snow!

Although it didn’t last long… by the time the rest of the flat woke up a few hours later it had melted!

 

Since work had been cancelled we took the opportunity to go for breakfast at Jasmine 🙂

 

What Occupation Looks Like

Today I had my first trip out into the field to see the reality of the occupation and its affects. I went out to the field with the environmental department.  The purpose was to visit Beit Duqqo to conduct an environmental impact survey with the village councillor on the impact of the wall upon the community so this information can later be used for advocacy.

Beit Duqqo is part of the ‘Biddu enclave’, which is an expanse of land that consists of seven villages encircled by the wall.

In order to get here we travelled on the ‘fabric of life’ road.  This road has been built to connect these communities to Ramallah rather than Jerusalem.  The road is surrounded by the wall on both sides and partly runs as a tunnel under the route 443 which is the main route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; Palestinians are not allowed to use the majority of this road.

‘fabric of life’ road

Upon approaching the village, looking over the valley I could see the Givat Ze’ev settlement which is located on the Israeli side of the wall.  Israeli settlements are considered illegal by the international community under international law.  International humanitarian law prohibits an occupying power from transferring citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory under the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 49.

Givat Ze’ev settlement

We interviewed one of the board members of the village council.  The questionnaire covered issues of land lost due to the wall, the number of olive, almond and grape trees now in the seam zone, sewage disposal implications and legal action.  It was evident that the community has suffered from the wall in terms of being cut off from their farming land and having to apply for permits to access their land which was once their livelihood.  Many farmers still cultivate their land, but this is merely as an extra in their free time, they can no longer rely on their land as their main source of income.  They also have issues with sewage from the nearby settlements flooding their land.

The agricultural gate which is open for land owners with permits only during March and November at 7am and 5pm for only half an hour.

This is Israel’s strategy; forcing Palestinians off their land by making access to their land difficult so they have to rely on other sources of income.

After we left Beit Duqqo we visited Bir Nabala.  The Bir Nabala enclave is surrounded by the wall on four sides, meaning that they are now cut off from Jerusalem.  In Bir Nabala, since construction of the wall, more than half of one thousand commercial centres have closed.  I witnessed this when we visited the once industrial part of the community which is now almost completely deserted.  Businesses were forced to close due to construction of the wall and most flats in this area are now uninhabited.

Bir Nabala

We saw a ladder which West Bank ID holders use to illegally climb the wall to get into Jerusalem.

Imagine, once being able to freely travel to Jerusalem for work, social or family reasons, then one day having your livelihood taken away by a wall blocking your way.

We also saw where some Bedouins had settled; positioned between the wall and a rubbish dump.  Their sheep freely graze in the sewage and rubbish.  Why would they choose to settle here one may ask? Maybe they hope this is a spot of land they will not have taken away from them due to its position.

Bedouins

What I witnessed today was only a small sample of the effect the wall has had upon once thriving Palestinian communities.  It was a disheartening yet insightful experience.

Everyone laughs in the same language

Today, one of our work colleagues kindly accompanied us on a trip to Bethlehem.

We visited the church of the nativity, Basilica and Grotto of the Nativity.  According to tradition, the grotto of the Nativity is the place where Christ was born of the virgin Mary.

The Grotto of the Nativity – The star marks the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

After this we visited Dheisheh refugee camp.  It wasn’t what I had expected a refugee camp would look like.  It was more like a poverty stricken village with concrete built structures, many of which are not connected to the public sewerage system.  There are at least 14,000 people living here.  It is a home for the people who fled from their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

There is lots of graffiti art on the walls many with Handala in them.  This is the drawing of an artist named Naji Al-Ali.

“Handala was born ten years old, and he will always be ten years old. At that age, I left my homeland, and when he returns, Handala will still be ten, and then he will start growing up. The laws of nature do not apply to him. He is unique. Things will become normal again when the homeland returns.”  —Naji Al-Ali

On July 22, 1987, in London, Naji Al-Ali was assassinated as he walked towards the offices of Al-Qabas newspaper.

Whilst in Bethlehem we went to witness the reality of the apartheid wall.  It is a wall built by the Israelis which is over 700km long and around 85% of which is constructed inside the west bank.  It is being used to ilegally annex Palestinians land.  In 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the wall and its associated permit regime illegal under International Law.

It is an 8 metre high concrete structure.  It is covered in grafitti art from around the world, which shows the widespread support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

This is one quote by a girl from India which stuck out for me…