Driving with Mr. Abet

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Abaed Al Rhmanhamed Alnawjah otherwise known by everyone in the Southern Hebron Hills as Abet, is our team driver, interpreter, local consultant and friend. Abet has been the team driver for EAPPI since a team was established here in Yatta some three years ago. To tell you about Abet it is essential to also talk about his past and his present including his family, for much of what he is about represents much of what we have encountered and the challenges the people face.  What he and his family represents is generosity and compassion under extremely difficult times and circumstances.

For those who can recall the Chipmunk songs of the sixties Abet’s name could have easily been Alvin. We share a driveway, actually a rocky divide between our placement and his house. To get his attention we quickly learned from the many people coming to do business with him is to call his name from our balcony, normally about three times, each time getting a little louder. Sooner or later he comes to his balcony and we can get on with the business at hand. Often it results in having a coffee, and for those who haven’t been treated to a coffee in Palestine it is normally served in a small glass, very strong and then maybe a half inch of coffee grounds left on the bottom.  In addition to working for EAPPI, Abet is an entrepreneur, selling honey, olive oil and olives from his residence in Susya.  Previously a volunteer with a local solar panel producer, Abet would like eventually like a career as an electrician.

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Abet with Incoming Group 54 and outgoing Group 53

We  share our back yard with his assortment of livestock including sheep and from time to time goats.  There is a wide assortment of birds including geese, turkeys and a variety chickens and the roosters.  In addition Abet is raising a variety of small birds including budgies and doves  for sale.  It was on first day in Yatta that I witnessed the compassion and caring nature of Abet in a small way when a small bird died in his hand.  He was very traumatized and saddened as he gently put the bird to rest.   This was certainly not the last time that Abet’s kindness has shows through for all to see.  To see him hold and talk to his three month old son Jud immediately demonstrates how fortunate Jud will be to have Abet there as a father to guide and protect him as he finds a way to live and enjoy life in Palestine.

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Abet with His Father his Son Jud (left) and Nasser’s daughter Daria (born the same day)

Abet does spend a great deal of his time at his residence in Susya. He shares his residence with his delightful wife , Susan, his three month old son Jud and his mother Zahreh.  His mother is a charming lady, always it seems on their balcony, working on a dress or other item, often made of the wool from their sheep.  Being the popular and generous individuals they are Abet and his wife are seldom without company, both family and also guests from around the world.  I am only beginning to comprehend the extent that Abet and his family give to and support the community.  Perhaps no one will ever truly know the extent that this family has supported the community in so very many ways.   The houses of Abet and his brothers are the source of constant traffic, the majority of which is seeking support and advice and which is generously given.

The extended Alnawjah family is perhaps 4000 people in total.  But to deal with Abet’s direct family, his father Mohamed has owned considerable property in the South Hebron Hills area, much of it he has given away to people in need.  Abet has four brothers and four sisters.  Speaking of the brothers that I have come to know and respect that they spend much of their waking time working for and volunteering for the people and towards a non-violent solution to end the Occupation of Palestine.   His brother Nasser  works for B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which in fact just was awarded the Stockholm Human Rights Award.    Nasser is constantly on the go as a director for the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee which coordinates the activities of a number of International Volunteers in the area and he is also a local contact for Rabbis for Human Rights.  Nasser told us recently that his dream to see peace and for his community of Susya to have normal houses, electricity and the benefits of a normal community.  We visited their community on a Muslim holiday recently when a cow was killed, butchered and immediately distributed to not only family but to many in the community in need.

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Nasser in Non-Violent Action

Abet was born in a cave in the community of Susya not far from Yatta.  In 1986 the Israeli Government forced all the residents to move from their houses and into tents a short distance away, declaring their home site to be an “Archeological Site”.  Subsequent to this a tourist attraction has been established on the sight they were forced to move from by the Israeli Government.  Myself and another EA visited the Tourist Attraction a couple of weeks ago and were informed that nobody has lived on this plot of land for over a thousand years since being abandoned by the Jewish community. We attempted unsuccessfully  to locate and photograph the family cave of the Alnawjah and where Abet was born, though we did find many caves that had obviously served in the distant past as a residence.  None of the reference material including two videos we watched in any way acknowledged the fact that Palestians had lived here for centuries up to 1986 when they were forced to leave.  There are many web sites offering varying views of the history of Susya.

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Cave Entrances and Cave similar to what Alnawjah's Family Had

Cave Entrances and Cave similar to what Alnawjah’s Family Had

There are in fact four Susya’s at the current time including the community the one Abet’s family have occupied since 1986, the Archeological Site and Tourist Attraction, a Israeli Settlement and outpost and an Israeli Army base.  The location where Abet’s family resides consists of an assortment of tents and other structures on cement pads and gravel floors, animal shelters, a small gift outlet and bee houses, fruit and olive trees and pasture land.  All of this site, the location where they were moved to after being forced to leave their homes is now under demolition orders and under the threat of imminent destruction by the Israeli Government.  When the Israeli Government issues and executes these demolition orders there is no support or options for the families impacted except by International agencies like the UN for example.   Where does the Israeli Government expect the displaced individuals to go, to poverty in Yatta for example, to immigrate to another country, who really knows.  This community is also the recipient of regular Israeli Settler harassment and assaults.  Land actions are required to control the constant effort by the settlers to expand the land, their illegal settlement and illegal outpost in order to occupy and to intimidate the Palestians like Abet’s family to vacate the land and their residences so that they can expand even further.

To visit the community and the families is almost a surreal experience.  Children, domestic birds and animals share the yards while the adults go about their errands and work.  This all under the constant surveillance of Israeli Army who stand watching from the hill and the Observation Tower across the valley and adjacent to the Israeli Settlement.   They have become accustomed to a dozen or more soldiers standing watching over them as they relax and share their residence, tea and bread with friends and visitors alike.  They are regular hosts to International delegations and returning friends alike, all of them made to feel very welcome and comfortable even under the circumstances.

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Abet’s Father, Mother & Guest

Abet and his family truly give their all for peace and for the betterment of the many in need.  They do this as kind and caring people, yes Muslims but I can’t help but think also in a way that Jesus taught us, to share and to give to even if it means doing without yourself.  It has again reminded me so much that kindness, generosity, the striving for Social Justice and Peace on earth transcends all religions, faiths and people.  In the end we all have to realize that we are all God’s children and need to find a way to work, play and live together, to enjoy our differences, not to use them for the purpose of hate and division.

Please help to end the Occupation and the oppression of Palestine and its people.  Abet and his family truly represent the spirit of the many people who I have the pleasure to share tea and bread with in their houses over the past three months.  They do deserve the peace that we all enjoy.

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Friends

As my time in Palestine draws closer to an end, so do my weekly posts. Next week will be my last and will feature our driver Abet. I have attempted to draft this message several times. There is still so much to say but somehow I want to capture what in my opinion is the most important to say now and what can be left for another day.

Since arriving in Palestine I have witnessed more hatred, racism and oppression than I have witnessed in my entire life. At the same time, I have experienced compassion, generosity and kindness perhaps unequalled in my life. Living in Palestine the vast majority of the compassion, generosity and kindness has come from the Palestinians, however I must say there have been occasions where Israelis have also been compassionate, generous and kind.

However a couple of negative incidents just to re-emphasize the need to bring this all to an end.

This past week three brothers of Mohammed Abu who is featured in the “True Grit” posting were shepherding on pasture that they own at Al Seefer when seven settlers from the neigbouring settlement of Mezadot Yehuda savagely attacked them. One of the brothers is hospitalized with a serious concussion.

Where does this hatred and racism come from? How can this all end now? I can honestly say that in my stay in Palestine I have not witnessed one incident of hatred or racism coming from a Palestinian.   I am not naïve enough to think that none exists, but I have not witnessed it.

I was with EAs interviewing the leaders of a Bedouin community in the Jordon Valley about the pending initiative by the Israeli Government to relocate forty Bedouin communities into small areas, destroying their way of life and no doubt relegating them and their descendants to a life on social assistance.   How can a way of life be destroyed and to what purpose?  It is a move that they will no doubt resist until their last breath. One of these leaders had hired an Israeli lawyer to fight their case. After being paid a large fee the lawyer left his practice to take a job with the Israeli Government. On informing his client that he could no longer assist because of his new role, he further stated that Palestinians were meant to be slaves anyway and that Israelis were meant to lead.

There is no simple solution, however to go back to the “Starfish Story”, we all can make a difference. We just have to try. By “we”, I mean not just the Government of Israel, but also Governments of all countries working together, the International business and Non-Profit community and you and me.

This is where I believe friendship, sharing and trusting plays a key role. Going back a hundred years all of the people in this region, regardless of faith or culture for the most part shared their lives in friendship, in good and bad times.   What changed? The Jewish people have suffered through years of persecution, oppression and the holocaust. Now the people of Palestine are suffering persecution, oppression and racism. Palestians have suffered for too long, sixty-six years, since the establishment of the Refugee Camps and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to neigbouring countries and forty-seven years since Israel began the occupation of Palestine.

Friends should be there in good times and bad, be willing to support you up but also to tell you when you are going down the wrong path. This is where I believe countries and world leaders who have declared themselves to be “best friends” with Israel should conduct an honest and thorough assessment of the situation in Palestine and then give Israel advice and support it needs to end the occupation, close the settlements and reconsider any concept of a state based on religion. It just cannot succeed and still be a democracy where all the residents are equal and have the same opportunities and privileges.   A country cannot claim be a democracy and yet have different levels of society based on religion or ethnic originality, where hate and racism are not only accepted but also supported by the Government.

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FRIENDS

Friends – Palestine will need friends to assist in training and setting up the infrastructure, administration and Governance if peace can be established and they are able to get their land back.

Friends – Both Israel and Palestine will need plenty of friends to establish the organizations, programs and networks necessary to start rebuilding the relationship that once existed amongst the various faiths and ethnicities, where kids can be kids regardless of who or where they come from, where adults can participate in service clubs and sporting organizations alongside people who are liked minded, not because they happen to come from the same faith.

I believe this situation can be rectified but we just can’t sit back and claim the responsibility to clear it up is any one agency, Government or person. It requires all of us to care, to speak up and to act where possible as a friend to both Israel and Palestine. They both deserve to have a state, secure from the threat of neigbouring countries and instead confident in knowing their neighbours are friends who can be trusted and relied upon.

There are a couple of excellent sources of books on the Israel/Palestine situation in Jerusalem. I have supported them pretty well since being here and read enough to know that there is an endless amount of information available. There are authorities with varying options and solutions but none-the-less lots to stimulate one’s mind. l will never be an authority on the situation but what I can speak about with authority is what I have experienced and witnessed. One book I just picked up but have not had the time read is “Palestinian – Israeli Impasse – Exploring Alternative Solutions to the Palestine Israeli Conflict” written by Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a respected author, speaker and Editor for Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs PASSIA).

You might consider checking out the web sites for: The Educational Bookshop @ www.EducationalBookshop.com and PASSIA @ http://www.passia.org .

You might also check out the many web sites on “Friendship”. You may be surprised in what you find and what you can apply to your everyday life. I know I have.

Please join the many people and organizations around the world who are trying to help resolve the Palestinian situation, trying to help create a “Just Peace” for both Israel and Palestine and for the people who call these areas their home, they are just people like you and I. Let us try to give them the life that most of us enjoy.

God Bless all his children

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Positive Reflections

You may very well ask after last week’s rather depressing message how could anyone possibly find anything good to pass along.  Perhaps it was with this goal in mind of finding some positive aspects to the circumstances that exist in Palestine that allowed me through the week to truly appreciate many things that I otherwise might have overlooked or dismissed.

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Regardless of the situation, regardless of the location, nature and all her glory was always there to offer up all of her elements for us to enjoy and admire.  This is indeed a very rugged country, a country where Jesus and his disciples once walked but also where Abraham and Mohammed also once walked.  Walking over the hills, stepping around and between boulders on the rocky and steep slopes you watch for any signs of life including being on the look-out for poisonous snakes and spiders.  Often you are treated to a gazelle bounding away quickly and silently.  More often it is the vegetation, the prickly cactus that grab your ankles and footwear as you step through it, the many kinds of cactus, the barely which not only feed the wild animals, serve as the fodder for the shepherds’ sheep and goats and provide the main ingredient for their homemade bread.

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Having walked the various hills and valley’s for the over two months now I have come to appreciate what nature has to offer, reminding me of the lessons I learned while attending the Moosehide Gathering of First Nations back in my home Yukon Territory.  The First Nations have much to teach us about respecting all of nature.  Walking the hills of South Hebron Hills, not only has helped in shedding some of the weight I must find a way to lose, but has also reminded me of the incredible opportunities that abound in the Yukon to enjoy nature that I have been taking for granted and not enjoying.  Here which I am sure no matter where one lives or travels nature offers up many incredible portraits that can be saved digitally or in ones memory to enjoy for many years to come.

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On Thursday night we again visited a small community located in the Masafer Yatta, the Firing Zone where virtually every village is under siege, threatened with all of the challenges I mentioned in prior message yet they are forever welcoming, opening up their homes to complete strangers from around the world.  As I lie on the mat on the floor of this cave that provides this family room for sleeping, eating and entertainment I couldn’t help but reminded of igloos I have slept in the past.  The rounded walls tapering to the peak where a small vent is cut to allow for ventilation.  The walls are much rougher than that of an igloo, the uneven surface both the result of nature and many years of being inhabited by man.  One can look out the open doorway to see the facing hills and glimpse of sky standing on top of the hills.  The resident’s two guard dogs are doing their job all night, forever chasing predators far away from the penned livestock of sheep and a variety of domestic birds.

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I went outside around three in the morning to take in the serenity, to enjoy the full moon and many stars.   The sound of wild dogs and possibly hyenas could be heard in the distance in every direction offset by also far away shepherd’s dogs chasing away these animals looking for an easy meal.  Occasionally the un-named guard dogs, referred to by their owners as just “the dogs” return.  One of the dogs has remained quite distant and cautious of me even after the numerous visits and overnight stays.  One however, almost pure golden Labrador retriever has made friends and stands beside me, leaning into my legs wanting a head rub, as I sit on a rock taking in the night, reminding me very much of my dog waiting for me at home.

Overhead the sky was almost clear, only the occasional wispy cloud being moved along quickly and out of sight over the horizon of the night sky.  Off to the east and south however, towards Jordon, Syria and Egypt the skies were much more foreboding, with a constant lighting display that stretched for many miles and offering some much needed rain.  On the 8th of October we had received a light shower, the first rain of any form that I have experienced since arrival in Palestine.  This rain serves as the only source of water for several of the villages we visited, collecting the water in cisterns to use for domestic use, water their livestock, water their crops.

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As I enjoyed perhaps not all, but much of what nature has to offer in Palestine I could not help but reflect on the spirit and generosity of everyone we have met.  Reminded how much these people, regardless of their day to day struggles, and perhaps some by necessity, but nonetheless how much they also truly admire the beautiful sunset, how they know which cactus offers a cure for muscle pain, how they can maximize the barren terrain not only to feed their livestock but to feed themselves by for example making bred out of the wild barley.  It has reminded me of the Inuit who live in the most extreme of climates in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in Canada and who have been able to survive for centuries by respecting and using what nature has to offer.

Visiting one small community early in the week we were sitting in another cave that serve as the main residence for this family.  I should mention at this time that the individual we were talking to has three wives currently and I say currently because he had two others but things didn’t quite work out.  During the meeting he got into a conversation with Abet, our driver and interpreter about religion, which were translated as he went on to us.  He was telling the various stories as he has been taught as a Muslim, which corresponded to what we as Christians have read as part of the Old Testament.  I made me wonder why, when all the main religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have so much t share why there has been so much blood shed in struggles between them over the past centuries.

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This has all re-awakened my awareness in what nature has to offer when I return home and that I absolutely have to commit to enjoying and appreciating what I truly have been taking for granted.

It was about mid-week before I also realized in Canada that they will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming Sunday.  It has reminded me of all that I have to be thankful for including the love of my family, friends and of course my dog and cat.  I know in reading this my family will not be convinced that I am anxious to return to enjoy the many physical assets I am fortunate to have, like a large screen TV and a great truck, but surprisingly that even though I indeed enjoy these luxuries again, it is the love of my family and friends, the enjoyment of nature, the strive to get in better shape to enjoy nature that I count as my blessings.  I also count what we don’t have as blessings, the many forms of oppression and occupations that I have addressed before, the wide spread poverty, the freedom to move and enjoy life away from constant surveillance.

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Palestine which perhaps explains why I am sure every time  saw a turkey wandering around a villager’s yard this week it seemed to be quite content and confident.   I can appreciate the feeling.

May God bless all nature and the inhabitants that enjoy the endless beauty offered for our enjoyment and amazement.

A very special Thanksgiving to all Canadians, particularly my wife, children and grandchildren.

 

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Help Wanted

How can we work together to make this Occupation come to an end. A few of you may decide to take up the torch and become an advocate to help bring this terrible human tragedy that has lasted since 1967 to an end. Others of you can simply help me for example by providing me some much needed guidance as my stay in Palestine draws nearer to an end and my next challenge of trying to influence those who can help make a difference do so. When we talk of the Occupation it doesn’t include the other equally appalling situation of individuals and their descendants being housed in Refugee Camps since 1948/49 when their entire communities were destroyed by Israeli forces and they were shipped to these camps supposedly as an interim arrangement. How can we help bring all this to an end without appearing to be anti-Semitic, racist or in any manner promoting hatred? How can I do this as a Christian, following the teachings of Jesus through a message of love that will have sufficient weight to influence media, politicians and economic leaders to step forward and say to the Government of Israel ‘enough is enough” and help resolve this tragedy for the best of everyone involved where ever they reside, whatever their faith is or if they just believe in social justice, peace and a good life for all.

What are the right words to express the situation, sadness, disgust, anguish or just heartbreaking? What do you suggest?

In suggesting an end to this situation I leave the much more difficult questions to much more wiser individuals than I could ever profess to be. This is truly a very complex situation with many of the issues going back before the time of Christ. There has to be a way to end this in a just way. In a world where we take relatively quickly action against Russia for their activities in Ukraine, we seeming let this Occupation go on for decades despite countless United Nations Resolutions to put an end to it. A solution has to be found where we actually have in place a just peace for all.

During the time of making the decision to participate in Palestine and Israel as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) I wrestled long and hard to ensure myself that this mission could be done without returning with hate or any hint racism. I am confident in my mind I am accomplishing this. Hate had played a large of my life up to a few years ago when I woke up to the reality that this hate was not only consuming myself but affecting every aspect of my life with family and friends. Hate that I harbored for not only other individuals but for myself and the many years that alcohol played to large of factor in my life and to the many friends, associates and family it is now impossible to make amends to. But life has to move on and I realize it is rather simplistic to suggest, but all parties involved in Israel and Palestine (including Gaza), have to move forward, putting the past in the past and dealing with the future now. There has been too much hate, too much misery, too much oppression, too much fear and not enough trust and love. This is not to imply that Palestians should be asked to stay with the status quo, far be it, they need their lives, homes, dignity and economy restored. They require hope and a future.

What I cannot describe is the feelings that I have day to day when everywhere one goes one is under constant observation of the ever present Army Towers. The other day as I returning with another EA from an overnight visitation to communities in the Fire Zone, the Masafer Yatta. I was checked and questioned as we walked along the road awaiting for our ride, three times by four fully armed soldiers in their passing armored vehicle, all in a space of a half hour. My feelings were not of anger or fear, but wondering what normal Palestians life is like to experience this for every day of their lives, to be checked for no apparent reason. Then one starts looking at the seemingly endless forms of oppression that come with living being occupied by a Military Force. The road closures, the check points and travel restrictions which are impossible to avoid on a daily basis. The ever present Separation Wall, the Demolitions, the constant erosion of property to the benefit of the fully state supported illegal settlements and outposts. The virtual inability (less than 1%) of Palestians to get building permits, permits for cisterns, connect electricity, or to have any stability in their lives. When you can stand in Palestian community that the residents have lived or owned for many generations if not centuries, know that every structure in the settlement has a demolition order outstanding, see the power lines run just feet from their property line to the illegal settlements and outposts yet this community has no electricity except through solar panels donated by the support of another International organization, a gravel trail to the community compared to paved roads to the illegal outposts and settlements overlooking the community, and many more issues.  Many communities don’t even have electricity in any form, water or the basics to live.  This not to mention the terrible loss of life, the injuries and psychological damage being done to all including the very youngest and most innocent in the community. For a comprehensive list of maps and information publications please check out the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestian Territory at www.ochaopt,org .

I had the benefit earlier this week of sitting in on a presentation with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that includes around 160 Rabbis hosting a wide range of humanitarian, legal, educational and advocacy programs.   Rabbi Yehiel Gremimann pointed out that the Torah states quite clearly that the land is God’s land and should be available for all his children unconditionally. Referring to the Settlers destroying the Palestine’s olive trees, crops, property and their violence targeting the shepherds that this too is wrong as written in the Torah. I encourage you to have a look at their web sites for more details of their programs and campaign to end the occupation of Palestine: info@rhr.israel.net or www.rhr.org.co.il. Rabbis for Human Rights have one clear objective, to end the Occupation of Palestine.

There are of course some ultraorthodox Jews that would like to have all of the land King David had in biblical times to be the current Israel, a land where the Jewish people would be the majority if not the only residents. I can certainly understand this (doesn’t mean I agree with) but not at the expense of the population that already there at the time the decision was made to form the state of Israel and the fact that the Palestians were and still are still the majority population.   Certainly some come to experience the euphoria of developing a frontier, of helping build the new Promised Land without realizing or comprehending or just plain ignoring the true impact on the people who have lived here for many centuries.   It has been promoted by many academics and historians on recent events in Israel and Palestine that it has indeed been the objective of the Israeli Governments since 1967 if not earlier to carry out this dream of a Jewish State either through forced evacuation of the resident Palestians and emigration of Jewish people from around the world approx. (400,000 presently) or by simply creating a state where any non-Jewish residents of Israel would the same freedoms and opportunities as their Jewish neighbours but none the less never afforded the same rights or stature in the state, a two class system. From my observations since being in Palestine this certainly seems to be the logical reason behind many of the oppressive actions taken by the Israel Government and the every growing numbers of illegal settlements and outposts. There is no question of the Government of Israel’s intention by one way or another to have all Palestians residing in Area “C” moved totally out of this area.

When I see the Settlers harassing their neighbours, when I see the soldiers preforming their oppressive duties I still can’t help but think that these soldiers and settlers are normal human beings, with families, hopes and dreams. What has happened to show such signs of hate and distain for fellow human beings is beyond me. What has been accomplished by the newly emigrated Jewish Settlers in the illegal Settlements and Outposts, all with the full support of the Israeli Government is certainly impressive, if it were not for it all being illegal by International Law and at the expense of the Palestians who have owned the land. In fact these Illegal settlements and outposts and the protective buffers that surround them account for 70% of all the very best of Palestian land and resources.   When one takes into consideration military sites and protected areas you can well imagine how little land and resources are actually left for the Palestians. One can only imagine if the level of support and equal opportunities were afforded the Palestians as they are for the Settlers and Israeli population in general how rich and prosperous this land and all of its people would be. I of course by virtue where I have been located have benefited from meeting many very caring and generous Palestians. I can also say that with a very limited exposure I have met some very kind and caring Israelis. There are many great programs attempting to bring these people together.   More of these programs are needed.

I am not blind to the many atrocities that have been done in the past by both sides in this dispute. I personally cannot condone any form of violence, whether it by Israel in the act of defense or by the Palestinians for the many reasons that they can no doubt justify. One cannot ignore the disproportionate force that Israel forces utilize on any level perceived threat. But to quote Michel Warschawski in his excellent book “On the Border” “it is clear that not only are attacks on civilians, be they bombs launched from a fighter plane or a bomb placed under a bus, morally unacceptable”.

In many ways one can fully appreciate the paranoia and fear Jewish have of the outside world having suffered some of the worst if not the worst persecutions and discriminations in the history of mankind. On the other hand to build a society on separating yourself from the rest of society in a bunker mentality, breeds mistrust and alienation from your neighbours. To build a society where the treatment of Palestians is similar to some extent to what they themselves have endured over the years. I have seen this paranoia on a much smaller scale when certain professions focus their entire working and social life around that of the people they work with and those excluded become “the others”.   Many years ago the people of this land lived and socialized together, be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim.   Hopefully in the future people of Israel and Palestine will be saying “remember the years when we didn’t socialize or are able to friends like now”.

I need some advice on how to effectively tell what I have witnessed and experienced, to tell what I have learned.   This Occupation has to end now for the mutually benefit of the future for both the people of Israel and Palestian.

Any and all positive suggestions are very encouraged and welcomed.

To end on a lighter tone I am including some photos of our furry and feathered friends that we have encountered so far.

God bless all of the people in this fascinating land and pray for the much needed Just Peace.

 

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Find the Gazelle

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Herd of Camels

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Infant Camel

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True Grit

Mahmoud is one of the few residents of the village of “A Seefer”, lying on the fringe of the 918 Firing Zone in the South Hebron Hills.  I have met Mahmoud Abu Qbeita a few times and when I think about his life and his determination despite circumstances the strongest of us would find unbearable I can’t help but think of John Wayne and True Grit or perhaps Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Named Sue” and how life is going to be tough. Mahmoud is solid, weathered and the look of someone who has worked on the land all his life, which indeed he has.

Mahmoud has resided in A Seefer all of his life. His father inherited the property he lives on from his grandfather. He has Turkish land deeds, considered perhaps the amongst the strongest legal documents in Palestine to prove ownership of property. But life isn’t easy by any means growing up and raising a family in A Seefer.

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MAHMOUD’S SON SHOWING FATHER’S SPIRIT

A Seefer is a very small community inside the “Seam”. The “Seam” is land located between the unofficial border of Israel called the Green Line and the “Separation Wall”. This wall, which in some places like Bethlehem is in fact a wall much higher than the “Berlin Wall”, solid concrete and virtually impenetrable. In other locations like A Seefer the wall is in fact a tall fence topped with razor wire. This wall was build initially as a security barrier to protect the Israeli citizens from Palestian terrorists. In actuality a major portion of the wall has been build in Palestian property encompassing much of the Palestian fertile land and water resources. The wall has never been completed with the end of one section of this wall or fence being located at the Beit Yatir Check Point. The residences of A Seefer in order to legally enter their small community are required to go through this Beit Yatir Check Point which is staffed by Border Police, all former Israeli Army members.

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ROAD LEADING TO SETTLEMENT WHICH LIES TO RIGHT AND ACROSS THE TOP OF THE SMALL VILLAGE OF A SEEFER

I have gone through this Check Point several times and I can assure you that each time I go through it doesn’t get any more enjoyable. As part of our role as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs)in the West Bank we escort A Seefer school children through the Check Point on their way back from attending the only school in their area located in the nearby community of Imneizel. Each time that the children enter from going to school they undergo a physical check. Kindergarten children up to age 16 years of age are all subject to daily searches of the back packs. When we are present the children are processed fairly fast, however we are informed when we are not present it may take the young children up to a half hour to go through. Any children over sixteen years of age are subjected a more rigorous examination and are often delayed for long periods of time. No Palestian who doesn’t live in A Seefer are allowed through the Check Point ever.

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 BEIT YATIR CHECK POINT – Photo by J. Zucali

Having walked through three times taking from 20 minutes to 30 minutes each time to go through even though there were no other people on any of these occasions being processed. We are of course recognized and are wearing our EA clearly marked and identified vests but have to turn over our Passport and Visa before going to another building where we go through a more thorough check. All our documents etc. are checked for explosives. On the other side of the Check Point are Israeli Settlements that almost surround the small community of A Seefer. That is all. The one time that another EA and myself drove through with Mahmoud after having interviewed him right outside of the Check Point it took one hour to be processed. Mahmoud had only driven through, stopped for the interview in plain site of the guards and drove back after the interview. Mahmoud did say that normally if we had not been with him it takes two hours for him to be processed. Each time his car is thoroughly searched inside of an enclosed building.

Mahmoud’s ancestors came from an area called Quaryeitin, (means two villages), which was destroyed in 1948. At its peak there has been 10 – 12 families residing in this small community. When asked if he has ever considered leaving, Mahmoud stated “God forbids even now my kids want to stay in A Seefer even if we have to live in a cave. I am hoping to God that we install in them the love of the land and that we are not going to leave this land”

Living in A Seefer brings many difficulties. They can’t of course have friends and relatives over for visits. Mahmoud is particularly concerned for his daughters who he feels may have significant difficulty in being courted and eventually to be married. His son, who would like to get married will also have major obstacles in his attempts to obtain the necessary papers and permits for any future wife to go through the Check Point and reside with him. Mahmoud sais “Social isolation is a very difficult life, very isolated, nobody can visit”

There are other challenges living in this community pertaining to the Check Point. He is only allowed to bring small portions of food supplies through at one time, sufficient for only a day or two. He often cuts through his farm land where there is no fence or wall after crossing after driving back gravel roads in order to bring larger supplies of food home. He requires permits to live in the community, permits to purchase a vehicle, permits for every aspect of his life. Permits that are often delayed or refused for no reason. There are demolition orders outstanding on many structures in the community now. A mobile toilet and animal shelter were demolished a couple of years ago.

They are subjected to frequent vandalism, rock throwing etc. from the nearby settlements and outpost. The Settlers use the army to prohibit the shepherds from A Seefer from accessing their own pastures, often resulting in the shepherds being detained for hours before being released. Sheep have even been stolen from his children when they have been shepherding. The Army conducts frequent night searches in the village in hope of catching people perhaps trying to sneak into Israel through the many gaps in the fence.

Removing the Check Point would be the single best thing that could be done to improve the life of those living in A Seefer according to Mahmoud. When one looks at what exactly is being accomplished by having this Check Point located here, other than to perhaps protect the residents of the Settlements from some unknown threat, you have to wonder about what is the point of it, including the major costs that coming with having it here at one of the ends of the Separation Wall.

Talking to Mahmoud you cannot help but be impressed with his resolve, his spirit and his determination despite what seem to be insurmountable challenges and impossible living circumstances. He is staying put, this is his land, he wants to ensure his family has the opportunity to love and respect the land as much as he obviously does. I have sat and enjoyed his hospitality and tea under the canvassed covered shelter that serves many purposes, but on that very hot day permitted me to sit back, enjoy the breeze and shade and perhaps for a moment truly appreciate why he is so passionate about his land, his home.

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Mid-Term

Sunday the 14th until Saturday 20th of September was the scheduled Mid-Term break for Group 53, the current EAs in Palestine and including our Team South Hebron Hills (SHH).  It is a time scheduled for providing updates and new information as well as an opportunity to take a break.

In our absence there are a couple of incidents worth noting.  One of the shepherds we had been providing protective presence for right up until we left was attacked on his pasture by two Settlers.  They also attempted to scatter the shepherd’s sheep.  The two Settlers then attacked two volunteers from an Italian humanitarian organization “Operation Dove”, who were providing the same protective presence that we normally do.  Their video cameras were taken, and one smashed by the Settlers.  Afterwards the two volunteers and the shepherd were taken to the Police Station, subsequently being released five hours later without charges.  They had been accused by the Settlers of throwing rocks at them, which they had not done.  To our knowledge no action has been taken to date against the Settlers involved.

A second incident that occurred while we were away involved eight sheep belonging to two Palestine shepherds being struck by a vehicle on a highway that connects eight Israeli Settlement killing six sheep and injuring two.  The police were summons to investigate.  Nothing further to report at this time.  Appreciation to Operation dove for the information on this incident and the assistance they have provided in our absence.

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EAPPI Office in Old Jerusalem

For me the most compelling presenter was Michel Warschawski, co-fonder of “Yesh Gvul” which translated has three options for meanings; 1) There is a Border, 2) There is a limit, 3) Enough is Enough.   He was born in 1949 in Strasbourg, France, the son of a Rabbi .   Warschawski emigrated to Israel at 16 year old in 1965 and has led an active life as a leading Jewish activist against the occupation of Palestine.  I took seven pages of notes of his presentation which I will make available to anyone that interested once I have had time to transcribe them.  There are many sites to visit on his intriguing life on the web site which I won’t begin to list.

A representative of EWASH gave an overview of the critical water situation in Palestine due to Israeli diversion and control of all the water in the Palestine Territory.  I have a power point presentation that I upon request I will email.

We also had a presentation from Shay Davidovich, a former soldier with the Israeli Army and co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”.  This organization has recruited many former Israeli soldiers who tour and give presentations of the atrocities committed by many in the Israeli Army and the Settlers.   He is also involved with the web site “+972” which exposes many issues from the Israeli movement to end the occupation and to tell the real stories on the occupation and oppression of Palestine.  One has to really appreciate how courageous Davidovich is to have spoken up realizing that he could destroy his relationship with his family, friends and former comrades in the army, only because he knew what was happening was totally wrong and had o be exposed.

We also travelled to Haifa where we visited the Dheisheh Refugee Camp where we given a tour and treated to a very entertaining dance and musical performance performed by a camp’s youth Drama and Choir group.  These youth later joined us for a traditional dinner which certainly capped off the evening.  This refugee camp is actually similar in size, history and overall appearance to Fawwar Refugee Camp in the South Hebron Hills area which has been talked about in previous articles in the blog.

 

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Dheisheh Refugee Camp

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Haifa

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Path along crest of hill at Stella Maris Resort

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A visit in the morning to the Baladna Centre, an Association for Arab Youth in Israel located in downtown Haifa in the morning finished off the morning explaining many of the International award winning programs that they have created and are running.  I certainly encourage you to visit their web site at http://www.momken.org for full information of this inspiring organization.

On the return trip to Jerusalem we toured Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom, a community founded in the early 1970’s to show that Jews and Arabs could live together.  Again I direct you to their Web site at http://nswas.org.  This “Oasis for Peace” currently consisting 50 families, 50/50 split Jewish and Arabian offers many programs in the pursuit of peace for particularly youth but are branching into programs for adults.  They expect to soon offer a Masters Degree program for Peace.  A truly beautiful and tranquil haven for peace.

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We also attended a Friday evening service at Kehillat Kol Haneshama, a congregation associated with the Israeli movement for progressive Judaism http://www.kolhaneshama.   We were certainly made to feel welcome by the Rabbi and the congregation.

We have now returned to work where in the first couple of days it has been relatively quite.  We provided 4 hours of protective presence to a community that had received information of a pending encroachment by nearby Settlers.  Although many were observed around the perimeter, only one Settler Shepherd with his flock of sheep actually intruded onto the Palestine community’s property.

So all in all that was the highlights of our mid-term week break.

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 A little of the Beauty that we got to Appreciate on the Break

 

Mixed Bag

I thought for this week’s blog I would take you with me for the highlights and I suppose you could say the lowlights of the week.  Sunday afternoon I headed off to Jerusalem for two days of Placement Visitation (working) and a day off (my first).  Upon arrival in Jerusalem I accompanied two EAs to Notre Dame Cathedral.  I suggest you check out their web site at: http://www.nortredamecentre.org to see what a spectacular site this is.  After walking through the wine and cheese restaurant we took in the incredible view from their roof top dining room.  We then attended an inspiring service led by a Mexican Father with the subject of his sermon being on praying for Peace.  Walking to the Jerusalem Team’s living quarters we passed by a tree alive with chirping wild parakeets, something you don’t see everyday where I live.

Monday morning started with a 7AM brisk walk through Old Jerusalem to check on the gates an generally assess the situation.  School kids in the uniforms were making their way through the narrow streets, laughing and gleefully off to start a new day.  Shop keepers were busy setting up, cleaning and getting ready for what they hoped would be a productive day ahead.  We checked a number of the gates including the North, the Lions and the Damascus gate before making our way to the Haram esh Sharif, where some of the finest Islamic buildings are located like the 8th Century El-Aqsa mosque and the spectacular Dome of the Rock.  A truly inspiring site early in the morning, people scattered around the large plateau quietly praying, making their way to a mosque or having an intimate conversation.  Off to the side school children offer inspiration of their own with their laughing and talking as they play in advance to entering the schools off to the side of this truly incredible location.

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In the afternoon we are off a couple of demolitions where there appears to be no logic or rational to explain why this took place.  At one site a livestock barn was destroyed killing all of the chickens that were in their pens inside.  The owners did get their larger animals out in time.  Their metal shop was destroyed complete with some very expensive tools.  Around the corner a bus used as an office on a recently purchased property that was being landscaped to improve its appearance was totally destroyed.  There were no demolition orders in place, none given and nor was there any explanation.  They both owned their properties outright.

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On the way back from the demolition site I was shown the property of a man who is forced to live alone and without his family, totally trapped, unable to leave for any reason what so ever.   He has a large piece of property with fruit and olive trees.  This property has been in his family for generations, however the Government has designated the land “For Future Development”  There is one access road that runs past his house.  A barricade has been placed on the road on each side of his property.  Access through one end can be gained through a Check Point.  He can not leave the property for fear of damage being done by nearby Settlers.  There is a very large Settlement high up on a bank overlooking his property.  No other properties are affected by this roadblock and there has been no reason given for it being in place.  On he surface there appears absolutely no justification for this blockade.

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That night I went downtown to grab something to eat however I had to return an hour later having spent the entire hour pretty well surrounded by rioters and riot police, complete with their horses.  I tried many back roads and alleys only always have one or both of the groups going by me in both directions.  Burning dumpsters, rocks, paint, ambulances and plenty of media.  Fortunately I was of no interest to either side that particular evening.  The riot happened because of the death of a 16 year old boy who had died earlier in the week after suffering an injury during a confrontation with the Israeli Army two weeks earlier.   Earlier that day when we passed the dead boy’s home which was surrounded by family, media, police and friends.  We caught the site of what has got to be one of the youngest “rock throwers” posing for the various media just outside of the family’s home.

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The next day we monitored a check point, one a lot more civilized and much more humanly run than the one in our area.  Another tour of old Jerusalem and I was off for a day.  A lot of walking in some pretty hot weather required quite a few breaks.  One stop I made was the Austrian Hospice in Old Jerusalem.  An oasis in the middle of all the hustle of the vendors etc. where under the shade of many trees,and surrounded by beautiful flowers I enjoyed some great Austrian coffee and fresh apple strudel.  An other interesting place to rest and east is the old Jerusalem Hotel where in a restaurant with loose rock floor, parakeets singing in the foliage above the open ceiling you can enjoy a good old fashioned hamburger.  In a scene almost our of Casablanca, people sit around reading, enjoying others company or like many taking advantage of several large water pipes supplied by the restaurant to use one of the many exotic tobaccos that they have available.  And no, because I quit smoking on one of my daughter’s birthday in 1999, I did not try this.

Coming back to Yatta on Thursday myself and another EA had to go to the Fire Zone, where we walked in and down the side of a mountain in order to provide protective presence to a family who had experienced issues with settlers the day before.  We ended up spending overnight with the families teenage boys, a couple of Italian volunteers with an organization called “Operation Dove”.  A very pleasant night with no unexpected guests.  We slept in the family cave the is complete with solar supplied electricity with sufficient energy to power lights, a fridge and television.  The boys prepared a great traditional Bedouin meal for supper.   The stars were out in full bloom, the moon just past being full and the only sounds were crickets and the occasional bark from the owners two dogs chasing unwanted animals.  In the morning we walked back up the mountain, seeing a gazelle just cross our path.  We walked most of the way back to our flat, stopping to see shepherds on our way.

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Which brings me wrapping this up for now.  We have more duties tomorrow before going off to Jerusalem and Haifa on Sunday for our mid-term break and more training mixed in with a bit of relaxation.