Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Issawiya: One More Village Victim of Israel's Takeover--Issawiya, East Jerusalem 112410

Last week I attended a tour in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. The meetingcalled by the Follow –up committee to expose to the public the situation on Issawiya. Hani Isawi and Sheikh Riad Isawi, of the Issawiya Follow-Up Committee, spoke about the history of the village and recent events in Issawiya and Jerusalem at large.

Over the past few weeks, Israeli military and police forces have entered Issawiya numerous times,demolishing structures, detaining residents and setting up flying checkpoints to target drivers and demand payment of outstanding municipal taxes and other bills.

Image Courtesy of AIC

Issawiya is located 2.5 km east of the Green Line and 3 km northeast of Jerusalem’s Old City. The village, located in the shadows of Hebrew University, straddles the Jerusalem border, situated between Mount Scopus, numerous Jewish settlements, the Ring Road and two Israeli military outposts.

In 2006, Issawiya had a population of approximately 12,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Together with the neighbouring Shuafat and the Shuafat refugee camp, Issawiya's land area (together known as the village of Issawiya) is 5,489 dunams.

Here are the issues exposed at the meeting and village tour:
- Annexation and division: Immediately after the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, Israel
divided Issawiya by illegally annexing 3,000 dunams to the Municipality of Jerusalem while designating the village’s remaining 7,000 dunams as being outside of the city and part of the occupied West Bank.

- Confiscation for settlement building: In 1968, the Israeli government confiscated 400 of the 3,000 East Jerusalem dunams of Issawiya land to build the settlement of Givat Shapira (French Hill). This strategic settlement connected Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, located on Mt. Scopus, with the rest of West Jerusalem.

- Designation of "green areas" as tool of control: Additionally, Israel designated 2,000 of Issawiya’s remaining dunams as “green areas” on which construction is prohibited.

- The reality today is thus that the 12,000 residents of Issawiya, can legally build on only 600 dunams of their own land.

- Confiscation for road construction: The Ring Road, built to link Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem to each other and to West Jerusalem, was constructed on Issawiya’s land. 310 dunums of village land have also been used for Israeli by-pass roads (numbers 437, 60 and 1) that extend for a total length of 10 km, breaking up the village cluster and separating the village from its agricultural lands.

- E1 settlement bloc: A portion of Issawiya’s land in the West Bank has been slated by Israel for construction of the E1 settlement bloc. The development of this illegal settlement has been placed on hold due to consistent international pressure.

Israeli human rights violations in Issawiya, July 2010-present:

- Death: On 24 September, 18 month-old Mohammed Abu Sneneh died from tear gas inhalation, after Israeli police officers fired large amounts of the gas at protesters in the village.
- Demolitions: Israel has demolished at least 16 structures and homes in Issawiya since July 2010 to date, including livelihood-related and residential buildings.
- Harm to environment: Over 440 trees have been uprooted.
- Raids, detentions, closures, roadblocks: In October-November 2010, Israeli police and soldiers raided Issawiya at least 8 times, detaining some 10 residents, setting up road blocks in the village entrance and targeting residents for allegedly unpaid municipal taxes and utilities.

The facts were taken from several articles from the Alternate Information Center and the tour sponsored by AIC. More information about the situation in Issawiya can be found on AIC website.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Beit Ommar: Bitter and Sweet, 112110, Beit Ommar, West Bank

I just wanted to write some impressions and what happened after yesterday's demonstration in Karmei Tzur. After it was over and we returned back home, we ate together. We were tired and frustrated since we had 6 people arrested by the Israeli soldiers, especially the Palestinian kid, who I learned that was 14 years old. We now needed to wait until they were released. We didn't know how long they were going to be detained, we just knew from a couple of days before that the people arrested previously were detained for 7 hours and later released. So, that's what we were hoping for .We knew they took them to the Karmei Tzur settlement and later into the Qyriat Arbaa settlement.

I was so tired from running so much, trying not to get harmed by any tear gas or sound bombs. I just wanted to go to sleep, but I knew that it was going to be a long night. We watched the protest in the local news, and waited without any news from the people arrested. Later I went with the two Israeli girls in their car to Beit Sahour to sit in a cafe and relax a little bit, there we met the rest of the internationals. Me and the two girls were stopped by the PA police in the entrance to Bethlehem, so they pretended they were tourists and not Israelis. They were not supposed to be there. On the same day we were close to be arrested by both the Israeli army and the PA!!!

Later in the night, we received a call that the guys were soon to be released. Mohammed the little kid was not going to be released because the soldiers claimed that he threw stones, which was not true!!! It was around 11:30 pm, so I drove with Moussa to the Qyriat Arbaa settlement, so when they were released we were there waiting for their call. We waited, and waited... first in the gas station, and then we moved to the entrance of the settlement. We were very tired and frustrated that we didn't get any news. I decided to take a nap, but it was impossible, as there were cars constantly going in and out of the settlement, and I was just too anxious that the soldier in the entrance could come and ask us what were we doing there. Plus there were other soldiers patrolling in military vehicles. The fact that I was with a Palestinian made things not so favorable for us. I can imagine what I was going to say to the soldier: "I am just waiting for my friends that are coming soon". He would reply,"Where do they live, and me: they are just doing something in the police station and they will be right back!" (Big Smile!!!!)

After two hours we decided that we were in a potentially vulnerable situation and returned to Beit Ommar. It was like 1:30 am and we were really exhausted. The second we got to Beit Ommar, you guessed it; they called! We returned back to the settlement and brought them home. At which point it was around 2:30 am. Eric, our 82 year old roommate and brother in the struggle was awake waiting for the guys! He refused to go to sleep until the others were safe home.

Tygh, our roommate from Holland, who was one of the arrested, was eating a half shawwarma that was on the fridge! He started to check the footage of the demo while eating his shawwarma. At some point I saw Eric eating some of the shawwarma. I thought that Tygh was finished with it! Before I went to sleep, Tygh said: "I think Eric stole my shawwarma." I thought to myself: "Yes I saw him eating some of it", I smiled and said to Tygh: "Yes, maybe he thought you were finished". So, this is how a day deep into the Palestinian struggle looks like.Bitter and sweet, with its ups and downs, some days I feel so powerful, I can change the world and some others, so little and insignificant, but I guess that that's why it is called a STRUGGLE!!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

OUR Struggle for the Land--112010, Beit Ommar, West Bank

I am now in Beit Ommar, on the southern West Bank, between Bethlehem and Hebron. I came here to spend my last week on the West Bank before leaving the country. I am staying and volunteering with the Palestine Solidarity Project, a Palestinian project dedicated to opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through non-violent direct action. It was founded in the village of Beit Ommar in the Southern West Bank during the Summer of 2006. I was here last January and learned about their situation and the non-violent resistance to their land's occupation. Beit Ommar and the adjacent Saffa valley have recently witnessed a tide of suppression by Israeli soldiers.

Today there was a peaceful demonstration against Karmei Tsur, an illegal Israeli settlement built on Beit Ommar land. Five people were arrested including one 8-year-old Palestinian boy, two internationals volunteering with P.S.P., and three Israeli solidarity activists were arrested by Israeli Forces during

Around two dozen Israeli soldiers and border police blocked the path of the demonstrators, we sat on the ground, chanted against the occupation, and made speeches on the injustice of denying Palestinians access to their own land.

After half an hour of peaceful demonstration, one of the soldiers, apparently the commander, lost its patience when a group of small kids, who were not scared or intimidated by the Israeli soldiers, moved closer to confront them. The soldier pushed one of the kids and the hell got loose.

The protesters came to the front to defend the kid and the soldiers responded by trying to arrest demonstrators. Later they started firing sound bombs to disperse the crowd.

I was previously trained on what will was likely to happen, so I knew what to expect, but still was very confused and was running and trying to cover my ears to protect myself from the bombs. Everything happened really fast and now I try to reconstruct things but I can't really tell what came before and what after. I know that we tried to reach the small kid to prevent the soldiers from arresting him and they were holding me and other girl and didn't let us get to him. He was about 8-10 years. It was really scary, especially, the sound bombs, because I felt that they were going to hit me. So I was running as fast as I could away from them, but also looking back to see that I was running in the right direction.

We came back to face the soldiers and stand in solidarity with those arrested. We were then repeatedly shot with tear gas and chased up the road to the village.

Last Thursday, November 18th, thirteen Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists were arrested accompanying farmers to their land in the Saffa valley, near the illegal Bat Ayn settlement. Tomorro,w I am going to accompany the farmers to Saffa, and I will get to experience one more day deep into the struggle

Friday, November 12, 2010

Waiting for Justice in Elarakib--Part II, Elarakib, Israel--073110

This post is a continuation of the story of the Elokbi tribe of Elarakib. It is about my experience spending the night with the people of Elarakib after the first demolition of the village in July 27th. As I was editing this post, three months later, the village was already demolished for the fifth time, as per Al Jazeera.

The Bedouine hospitality is amazing, they don’t even have a roof on their heads and yet they offered us tea, coffee, and one man was walking with a box of tomatoes and also bread. I had a tomato! The kids from the village were painting a big banner with the village’s name. I stood by one of the girls that was painting and showed her how to put some color on her hand and print it on the big banner; next, she had like 20 hands on the banner. I was so excited to see all the kids having fun that I started to paint also, but I put more paint into myself than on the actual banner.

Warda and other kid painting the big banner

After all the speeches and a hot afternoon cracking, the buses were ready to leave the village, but me and my friend Rachel decided to stay the night. We wanted to be an international presence in the village in case the government decided to appear again, which they had promised. Everybody was worried, offering water and food to keep for our stay. To our surprise, after everyone left, the guys were serving ice cream, which is a very unlikely dessert to have in the desert, but which we were craving for, so we were very, very happy, like two little girls. Then we chilled out a little on the tent and our hosts brought some tea. We were just talking and watching all the dynamics in the destroyed village.

Having ice-cream in the desert after all were gone....so nice!

Later one of the men came and invited us to eat. The men were sitting by a big plate of chicken, salad, olives fries. There was plenty of food. After that we were chatting and the kids were playing chess besides us. Then one of the men suggested that we go with the women into the other tent. It was hard to read the customs, as we had never been among the Bedouines before. So we did. There were some children with the women. I asked one of the girls if she wanted to draw. And she nodded, so I gave her my notebook and a pen. Her name was Warda, she was the girl I showed how to paint her hand in the banner before. Then another one came, Safa’. They also wanted to use my camera to take pictures of each other and the things around the village. After that we went into one of the ruined houses, there, the girls were looking for things under the rubble. They found a lipstick, some perfume bottles, and a bottle of sunscreen.

Safa' and Warda wandering on the rubble of a demolished house

Me and sweet Safa'

I forgot to mention that after the people that came for the visit left, we were walking around the village and we found a kid in a bicycle looking to a big pile of furniture and different stuff. It was stuff either that was saved before the evictions or maybe stuff that was donated for the families. He found a pink bottle and started to spray his bicycle as if it were WD-40 for the wheels. He had a wound on his head. There was a man from the village that was showing us the construction that was going on, he told us that the kids had had an accident recently where the car he was in had flipped upside down. Two guys from Anarchist Against the Wall where talking to the same man in Hebrew. The man was explaining what happened when the soldiers came.

Back to the girls in the rubbish, they were climbing the remnants of a demolished house. Warda was wearing the red lipstick she just found while she was writing a name in the shattered mirror. The name was Nari, I asked who Nari was and she replied that it was the woman that lived in that house. After playing for a while, I told them to climb down; I was worried that they could get hurt.

Playing with the camera on the rubble, who is worst, me or them....

We went back into the big tent, this time two new girls joined us, Bayan and Ana3am. They were very outgoing and were talking to me in Arabic and explaining everything carefully to make sure I understood. They asked everything about me, my family, they also asked me if I was a journalist. I could only understand Ana3am only after Bayan patiently explained things to me more than once, of course in Arabic. Anam said that she livd with her grandmother and that her mother lived in Jordan. After a long conversation, and three more girls that joined, we went to the kitchen tent. The women were cooking and we stayed there ans listened to some music on my phone and played with the kids all night.

After some time we ate and people started to leave the village. We went to an improvised toilet which was a box with a hole in the floor, it was pitch black (Reminder: we were in the middle of the desert), so I was using my phone, hoping not to drop it in the hole. When it was time to sleep, Bayan, one of the girls insisted to sleep with us. All the other children had left. So when we were going to turn the lights off, which were powered by a generator, Bayam didn’t want the lights off and she started to cry, she was afraid of all the insects, ants, flies and some other visitors t including 5 or 6 geese that came to our ten. So we were attempting to sleep for at least 2-3 hours without success. She was so scared and couldn’t keep her eyes closed. After several attempts to sleep, we decided to leave Bayan and move to the other big tent, the one we were during the day, away from all the species of insects from the desert. It was around 3 o'clock in the morning. In the end I don’t know if she slept, but I doubt it. We were so tired that we just wanted to sleep.

In the morning, Sheikh al Turi woke us up speaking in Hebrew, I think he thought we are jewish activists…..and when I asked what he was saying, he was kind of frustrated that we didn’t understand him, and I said, (bil arabiyya- in Arabic) and then he repeated in his deep voice, what he was asking was if we needed something or if we wanted to eat. There was no-one in the village, just a couple of people. We went into the kitchen and Bayan’s grandma prepared breakfast for us and one of the older kids that spoke English sat with us. By the end of breakfast, people started to arrive, among them Bayan’s mom and sister and they brought supplies for the day and started daily cleaning. Nothing seemed to be unusual, just the fact that when you looked around, there were destroyed houses all around you. The big kid said that if everyone works together they can build a house in 5 days. They put up a structure in a couple of hours, so I think they are not worried about the reconstruction, they just want to live in their land, which the Israeli government wants to convert in the Ambassador’s park. We saw a sign on the highway, when one of the Bedouines from the village was giving us a ride to the bus stop.

The land they received was smaller than the one they had, their farming land was reduced and they only allowed the men older than 40 years to farm the land. Now, since they refused to leave this land, they live in an unrecognized village, this means no services provided by the state, no trash collection, no schools, no water, nothing, so on top of that, the government has the right to destroy everything???? That, despite the court has yet to give its final decision in this case. I can’t believe that the government can do this to their own citizens just because they are Bedouines (Palestinians). Isn’t it the government’s duty to protect their children and ensure its security and welfare? Then what kind of government from a developed western country comes like a thief, when people is sleeping and destroy their homes and leave the most vulnerable (women and children) homeless so they can reforest the desert????

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting for Justice--The demolition of Elarakib Village--073110, Elarakib, Israel

View of the destroyed village as we entered

This is a post that I thought I had published--but I didn't--from my visit to Elarakib last July when it was first demolished. Last article on Al Jazeera talked about the fifth demolition......

I wanted to visit the unrecognized villages on the Negev since I first came to Israel. I heard about them when one of its Bedoiun representatives came to the Tree of Life conference last Fall in CT. Then the (un)expected happened, and the news that the village of Elarakib had been demolished,were all over the media, so I wanted to go and help as I could, reconstruction or just being there for people to know that they were not left alone. The weekend of my birthday, I joined a delegation leaving from Jerusalem that went to the Bedouin village of Elarakib, located in the Negev desert. The village was completely demolished by the government earlier this week. About 160 thousand Bedouin citizens of the State of Israel currently live in the Negev. Over 80,000 of them live in 45 unrecognized villages with populations ranging from 500 to 5,000 residents, which Elarakib is one of them. These villages do not belong to any regional council, and their residents do not have any water, electricity or sewage infrastructure, paved roads, garbage disposal, etc. Many of these villages have no clinics, schools or kindergartens.

Safa'a, one of the girls playing in the rubble of one of the demolished houses in Elarakib

The men of the village work all day to put up structures to put families back under a roof on theri land in Elarakib

Reports said that around 1500 soldiers came into the village early in the morning, when everyone was sleeping. That represents a ratio of 5:1 soldiers to Bedouines. I was very sad to see all that but happy to be there in solidarity. Our bus, from Jerusalem was full of people that brought water and supplies. The people from the village welcomed us and were very happy that we were there. In the same tent that we were received, there was a display of pictures from the day of the demolition. The local people showed us around the village and explained the situation that they face now, which dates from the creation of the state of Israel. There is a court dispute over who owns the land. The Israeli government claims that the land does not belong to the Bedouines, that it was confiscated land, but the question is from whom? You guessed right, from the Bedouines.

The man that was showing us the destruction of the village said that when his son woke up, to the sound of bulldozers, he asked why they were destroying his house. How can a father respond to a question like this? He paused and replied that they did it, “so we can build a better home”. He kept explaining that the Israelis just want to keep the land only to declare it state land, because according to Israeli law if a land is declared a green area, it cannot be claimed for anything else.

This was how it looked the first time when the village was demolished in July 2010

This is an extract from a book that I found on the rubble of one of the demolished houses in the village. The book is called “Waiting for Justice: A document of the story of the Elokbi tribe in Israel”.

Representatives of the military government had been coming every morning with summons ordering the sheikh to come to the governor’s office in Beer Sheva or to his office near Elarakib. For four months, in all these meetings the military governor cajoles the sheikh to abandon his dwellings and go somewhere else.

The sheikh asked, “Why should we be displaced, since we have become citizens of the state of Israel? We are on our land, and this is why we remained under Israeli rule!” His honor picked up his pipe and announces with a smile as he blew smoke in every direction: “Your region is needed for military exercises for the next six months and afterwards you can return to it. There are no grounds on which you can oppose this order”. The military governor acceded to the sheikh’s request and has one of his representatives scribble a note to the effect that the Elokbi tribe will receive a large tract of land which they can farm during the current year until they are returned to their own land. The substitute lands they received actually belonged to other Bedouin farmers.

Days and months passed and the impending disaster was becoming real. Members of the tribe and its sheikhs were sure they would have to evacuate their lands. Indeed on November 11, 1951, army trucks move the tribe from the Elarakib region to the Hura region. The Hura region was defined as “Sayag”, an area that cannot be entered or left without permission of the military government.

Historical Background

Up till 1948, the Elokbi tribe lived in two areas: Zhilikha and Elarakib. The land possessed and farmed by the Elokbi tribe who remained and became Israeli citizens was approximately 19,000 dunams. The tribe lived on these lands from time immemorial, dwelling either in tents or in stone houses. Both the Turkish rule and the British Mandate recognized their ownership of the land

From 1948-1951, the Bedouin lives the life of Israeli citizens, farming their land, raising sheep, goats, cattle and camels. Those owning land were requested to pay taxes and they did so. The state even recognized the authority of the tribal court that was convened in the home of the Sheikh Suleiman Elokbi, as an heir to the mandatory Beer Sheva tribal court.

In reality the “promise” given by the representatives of the military government turned out to be a trick:

a) The land the tribe receive in Hura was much smaller than what it was uprooted from Elarakib
b) The alternative land, which was supposedly given to the Elokbi tribe in Hura, actually belonged to other local Bedouin farmers, which made it impossible for them to make use of it.
c) Living conditions in Hura were much worse than in Elarakib. For example, formerly, they had a school; here, there was none. The tribe’s children did not go to school at all from 1951 until 1966. There was no water supply in Hura, thus they had to endure years of water shortage.
d) The return to Elarakib, which was supposed to take place within six months, has been blocked until this very day, and the tribe still lives in Hura, denied all services, in an area allocated by the military government.

In 1954, the sheikh returned to his home in Elarakib, he was arrested and his house totally demolished by the military government, nothing has changed since then, as the same story repeats itself in 2010.

When the Israeli came to Elarakib, despite the demolition orders where for the homes, they destroyed trees, water cisterns and animal houses, even they warned the family that they will confiscate expensive electronic equipment that the families could not take out of the homes, because of the demolition short time notice (sometimes they gave families about 15 minutes to leave the home). The Bedouines we talked to said that they didn’t care about the houses because they could be rebuilt, but what they cared more were the trees. They destroyed trees that were planted 10 years before, when the previous demolitions were carried in the village. After the tour, we sat in the big tent all together, and some of the village elders and representatives were talking about the struggle of the Bedouines in the Negev. One member of the Arab Islamic Party spoke and he said that the struggle is not only about the Bedouines, but is everyone struggle’s, because as he said, here, we never know who is going to be next.

This story sounds familiar, right? It’s the same Palestinians struggle, all over Israel, a story of discrimination, racism, injustice and misery. And this is the story of ONE village! We haven’t heard the story of the more than forty other unrecognized villages that struggle to survive in the Negev desert, but go unnoticed to the rest of the world.

Elarakib Sheikh Sayah Al Touri addressed and thanked the people for coming and suporting Elarakib

In a mesage from Sheikh Sayah after he was prohibited from entering the village he said:
The Bedouins are citizens of Israel. We want to live in dignity; we are not intruders. These lands are not state lands. These lands are the lands of the tribes in al-Arakib, and those calling us "invaders" should answer the following question: Did the State of Israel bring along all these lands with it when it was founded, or were these lands here before its establishment?

I will split the post, and continue the story on the next post, because otherwise it would be extremely long. This was just a background and history of the Elokbi tribe’s struggle to “stand for their right to live as free and equal citizens, to farm their land earn their livelihood and build their homes without fear; to be full partners in the drawing up of plans and policy that determines their future.”

Children paiting a big banner with the name of the village in Arabic