RAMALLAH – The number of Palestinian administrative detainees held in Israeli jails without charge or trial has doubled within a year, Haaretz (Hebrew) newspaper reported Monday.
Since the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers in al-Khalil last summer, Israeli authorities notably intensified the use of administrative detention policy against Palestinians “due to the Military Advocate General’s decision to lower the requirements in such cases for holding people involved in terrorism.”
Israeli administrative detention order, based on a secret file which neither the detainee nor his lawyer are allowed to see, can be renewed more than once.
More than 1,000 administrative detainees were documented in 2003. The number had fallen significantly to 134 in August 2013, only to rise again to reach 473 in 2014 after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers.
There are currently 391 administrative detainees in Israeli jails … twice as many as were being held before the kidnapping process.
Susiya, a West Bank village under threat of demolition, has now made it into the pages of The New York Times news section, and we are permitted a view of how Israel wants us to see this disturbing story: All the fuss about Susiya is little more than the result of clever marketing on the part of the villagers.
Thus we find a story today by Diaa Hadid titled (in the online version) “How a Palestinian Hamlet of 340 Drew Global Attention.” This primes readers from the start to expect a tale of simple villagers who devised a winning media strategy, and it distracts from the real issue, which is nothing less than ethnic cleansing: Susiya is to be destroyed to make way for Jewish settlers.
High in her story Hadid writes, in a telling phrase, that “the cause of [this] tiny village” has become “outsized,” in other words overblown, as if Susiya, with its population of 300 or so, is not worth the fuss.
The village first got notice when “sympathetic” foreigners visited Susiya some 20 years ago and took up its cause, Hadid states. By that time the residents had been forced out of their original homes and were living near the centuries-old site that had belonged to their ancestors.
Jewish settlers had taken over the original village in 1986, she writes, and Israeli forces made them move on again them in 1990 “for unknown reasons.” They were expelled once more in 2001, according to Hadid, “as collective punishment over the shooting death of a Jewish settler.”
Her story omits a crucial detail: The authorities knew that the villagers were innocent of the killing but used the incident as an excuse to harass the Susiya residents once more. The Times account leaves the impression that a Susiya resident was responsible for the settler’s death.
Hadid quotes a staff member of B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, who notes that residents “have managed to place Susiya on the international agenda in ways that other villages have not managed to do,” and her story goes on to say that “years of advocacy appeared to pay off when Susiya’s residents began warning early this month that their village was under threat.”
As a result, the story reports, Susiya received visits from a European Union delegation, Israeli activists and American consular officials. Then, a week ago, the U.S. State Department mentioned Susiya in a press briefing and urged Israel to spare the village.
The Times story suggests that Susiya has received this backing because of its skill in winning attention, and by imposing this angle on the story, the newspaper is attempting to divert readers from the real issues at play: the fact that Israel’s treatment of the villagers is blatantly racist and defies the norms of international and humanitarian law.
Also missing is the context of occupation and dispossession that is crushing Susiya and other villages. Hadid fails to give any sense of this. She writes only that activists have used the village as a symbol of how Israel “has sought to maintain control over large parts of the occupied West Bank.”
We find the word “occupied” here, as usual in Times reporting, but it is devoid of meaning. Readers do not hear that the West Bank is Palestinian territory; that Israel is there as an invading military force; and that the settlements violate international law, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its own population into the foreign territory.
The Times story makes no reference to international law, but it does quote an Israeli military spokesman who says Susiya “was built illegally.” Thus Hadid emphasizes the pretext of legality Israel draws over its defiance of international norms while she ignores the flagrant breaches of the Geneva Convention and other standards.
Readers can pick up some revealing details in the story: the ousted villagers’ descriptions of sleeping outside “in the wild, in the rain,” the fact that they can no longer access two- thirds of their original land because of the settlers, the expectation that if Susiya goes, other vulnerable villages will also fall to Israel’s greed for Palestinian land.
But the story glosses over these details to present the Susiya’s case as above all a successful publicity effort. The Times would have us believe that the real story here is how the village became an “outsized” international cause, through “years of advocacy.”
Susiya is just one of many villages in Israel’s Negev and in the occupied West Bank where Israel is determined to ethnically cleanse certain areas of their indigenous inhabitants and install Jewish residents in their place. Times readers are finally learning about Susiya only because international attention has forced the newspaper to acknowledge the issue.
The village should have been known to readers long before now, just as they should also know of dozens more facing annihilation: Al Araqib, Umm Al Kher and Khirbet Yarza, to name just a few. In the South Hebron Hills alone, where Susiya is located, some 30 villages are faced with demolition.
But even now the Times can’t just tell the story of a village nearly helpless under the weight of Israeli might, a community faced with extinction after centuries of living on the land. Instead we find an effort to play down the tragedy, to present it as an overblown cause, not really worth our concern.
The New York Times has finally done the right thing and informed readers of Israel’s plan to destroy an entire village in the West Bank. This is good to see, but the move exposes a significant fault line in the newspaper: The foreign desk and Jerusalem bureau have been the gatekeepers here, avoiding their responsibilities in reporting the story.
The piece appears on the op-ed page under the byline of one of the threatened villagers—Nasser Nawaja, community organizer and a researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. It’s a good article, summarizing the sad history of Susiya and the resistance to Israel’s plan, which comes from local and international supporters.
Nawaja’s article includes a quote from U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby made during a press briefing last week. Kirby was clearly prepared to address the issue and ask Israel to back off. This in itself should have prompted the news section of the paper to address the story, but the Times remained silent. (See TimesWarp 7-20-15.)
Until today the only mention of Susiya’s plight came in a Reuters story that the Times published earlier this week without posting it on the Middle East or World pages. Readers had no way to find it unless they specifically searched for it, by typing in the key word “Susiya,” for instance.
The story of Susiya and its struggle to survive has been reported in news outlets since 2013. The United Nations and other groups, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, have issued statements and press releases on Susiya; the European Union, and now the State Department, have spoken out; but none of this prompted the Times to do what good journalism demands and assign a reporter to the story.
The Times’ treatment of Susiya is reminiscent of a similar story, which emerged during the attacks on Gaza in 2012: In one day Israel targeted and killed three journalists traveling in marked cars, but the Times article describing events that day simply said that “a bomb” had killed two men, even though an officer confirmed the army’s responsibility.
Times readers learned the full story only when columnist David Carr wrote of the journalists’ deaths days later in the Business section. He titled his piece “Using War As a Cover to Target Journalists,” and he did the reporting that was missing in the news section. (See TimesWarp 2-17-15.)
Carr gave the details of the killings, and quoted the lieutenant colonel who affirmed the attacks on the journalists. He then wrote, “So it has come to this: killing members of the media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as ‘relevance to terror activity.’”
When Carr died earlier this year, the Times was filled with tributes to his work, but none of the articles mentioned this fine moment of his career. The story of the assassinated journalists never again emerged in the newspaper.
Susiya may have a different fate, however. Now that its name has appeared in the back pages of the newspaper, we may find that the story flickers to life in the news section as well. All things are possible, even in the Times.
This summer marks the twentieth year of Christian Peacemaker Team’s presence in Palestine. While that does not seem to be a reason to celebrate, we do feel we should mark the occasion.
JERUSALEM – A 55-year-old Palestinian lost an eye after he was hit by a sponge-tipped bullet while seeking shelter from clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths in Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem Sunday.
Video footage caught on a surveillance camera in a grocery shop showed the moment Nafiz Dmeiri sought refuge from the clashes inside the shop and was shot in the face.
He was evacuated to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem in West Jerusalem.
An Israeli human rights group, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a statement that Dmeiri is deaf and mute, has one child and works at a tailor shop.
The statement called on Israeli police to stop using “black sponge bullets during riot dispersal.”
Dmeiri was one of two Palestinians injured during the clashes that broke out after “undercover” Israeli forces raided a clothing store inside the camp to make an arrest.
A Fatah spokesman in the camp, Thaer Fasfous, told Ma’an that Israeli forces had opened fire on local residents “indiscriminately,” hitting Dmeiri in the eye and another man in the upper body.
According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, sponge-tipped bullets “are made of 40-mm-diameter plastic with a sponge tip intended to reduce the bodily injury it causes.”
They were introduced after the use of rubber-coated steel bullets was prohibited within Israel, and are commonly used in occupied East Jerusalem, though rarely in the West Bank.
B’Tselem said that sponge-tipped bullets, “if used according to the safety regulations, (are) less dangerous than a rubber-coated metal bullet.”
However, the group said it had documented a number of instances where “police officers have fired sponge rounds unlawfully, in blatant violation of the regulations, resulting in injury to Palestinians… (and) in the loss of an eye in at least one case.”
Q-Press media center for Jerusalem and al-Aqsa affairs today said that the planning and construction committee in occupied Jerusalem, last week, has approved the construction of a huge project on land of the Ma’man Allah historic Islamic cemetery, on which an Israeli school has already been built. The land will also be used for settlement housing, a hotel and a shopping center.
Haaretz newspaper said, according to the PNN, that Israeli occupation authorities pushed to execute the project on the land even though it is Islamic Waqf (property) that cannot be seized.
Israeli occupation is still going on with the project with complete knowledge that there are existing graves underneath the land.
The newspaper added that the Israeli plan includes building 192 settlement units, a hotel and a shopping center. The project was initiated by Eiden company, which follows the Israeli Jerusalem municipality.
To its part, Al-Aqsa foundation for Waqf and heritage said that the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem, through this project, was continuing to Judaize the Islamic cemetery, violating all the laws and conventions which ban desecrating sanctuaries under any occupation.
Israeli authorities have targeted the cemetery for years. They have established different projects including parks, hotels, schools and shopping centers on the land, violating even the rights of the dead.
The Israeli Minister of the Interior was given 30 days by the Supreme Court on Monday to reach a final decision on the possible deportation from East Jerusalem of three Palestinian lawmakers and a former Palestinian Authority Jerusalem affairs minister.
Monday’s hearing was a follow-up to a previous hearing in the same court on May 5, 2015 that discussed the possibility of revoking the Jerusalem residency rights of officials Muhammad Abu Teir, Ahmad Attun, Muhammad Tutah and Khalid Abu Arafeh.
While Abu Arefeh formerly served as the PA’s minister of Jerusalem affairs, the other three are members of Palestine’s parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council.
All four live in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has been threatening to deport the lawmakers and former minister since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.
The pretext for the ruling is disloyalty to the Israeli state, the lawmakers said last year.
The four were initially detained along with other lawmakers and, after their release, Israeli police seized their identity documents.
The permanent residency status of 107 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem was revoked in 2014, adding to the 14,309 revoked by Israel since 1967.
Ahmad Sub Laban, a settlement affairs researcher, told Ma’an that 25 dunams (6 acres) of land from Shufat and al-Issawiya has been allocated to the the settlement area to establish a commercial zone.
Palestinian residents of Shufat had been trying to obtain licenses to build on the land which was confiscated, but were denied permission by Israel’s Jerusalem municipality.
Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem suffer from a chronic lack of services and severe unemployment as a result of Israeli municipal policies which allocate few resources to the community.
Over 75 percent of Palestinians, and 82 percent of children, live below the poverty line in East Jerusalem, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Only 14 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian residential construction, ACRI says, while one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since 1967 to build illegal Jewish-only settlements.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, ordered that 600 dunums of Palestinian lands in al-Issawiya, in northern Occupied Jerusalem, be temporarily confiscated allegedly for gardening purposes, Peace Now reported afternoon Saturday.
The misappropriation order was issued using a special municipal law that allows the municipality to exploit an empty lot for public uses for five years in cases where the owner does not develop it. Al- Issawiya locals found the orders spread out in their fields.
The lands in question have been targeted by the Israeli occupation authorities in recent years, when a plan to declare them a National Park was promoted in order to create an Israeli dominated continuity between Occupied Jerusalem and the area of E1. The park is also meant to block the potential development of the adjacent neighborhoods of al-Issawiya and al-Tur.
It is required according to the law that the land owners refuse or choose not to make use of the tracts. When the owner wants to use his or her private property they are allowed to do so in accordance with the approved construction plans, Peace Now further stated.
In the case of al-Issawiya, the owners wish to make use of their lands. One month ago, the municipality uprooted trees that were planted by the Palestinians under the pretext of unlicensed cultivation. Thus, it seems now very hard to explain why a Gardening Use Order is required in such case when the owners wish to do the farming on their own.
According to analysts, it seems that in order to bypass the need to declare the lands as National Park, the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to take over the lands through other illegal means.
Peace Now added that the goal of the Israeli authorities is to prevent any potential Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem by taking over and blocking the lands necessary for the future development of a viable Palestinian state. The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority seem so obsessed with creating an Israeli dominated corridor in the area, making use of the law only as a pretext for a political agenda.
I had a fairly good idea of the kind of things I would see when I went, but wanted to take a closer look at what I think is an unfair and asymmetrical situation. I don’t stand against Jews or Israelis. I stand against racism, violence, oppression and ignorance, and all of those things, I think, are here.
During my time in the West Bank, I lived and worked with a Palestinian farmer who runs a Permaculture Project in a small village called Marda. I wanted to see for myself what life was like for Palestinians living under occupation and how Permaculture could help.
Knowledge is everything and with that in mind I’m sharing everything I saw, heard, thought and felt in the time I was there.
Below are excerpts from Tom Blanx’s blog. Read the full blog here.
For those who haven’t been, Israel’s not the easiest of places to get in and out of. And if you plan on checking out the occupied territories you’ll need to be a bit creative with the truth. Despite my polite passport note from the queen, I decided not to reveal how freely I would be passing while on my travels as it would have most likely landed me straight back on British soil. This had happened to previous volunteers so the NGO I had organised the trip with had suggested that I lie.
With the help of Murad, my Palestinian friend and his friend, an Israeli who will remain anonymous, I pretended I was traveling to help and learn on a farm in the south. I probably could have said I was there for a beach holiday or Christian visit too, but a bag full of work boots and full length clothing might have been a giveaway. Murad told me to just remain calm and answer all questions confidently but it was a nerve racking and intimidating experience. Much more than I remember it being when I was 18 coming here. In the end I think I got in by inadvertently playing dumb.
Getting into the West Bank was more straight forward. I got on a bus from Tel Aviv bus station all the way to Ari’el (An illegal settlement, next to Marda). There are no stops or checkpoints for settlers (on the way in) so all I had to do was get off before the bus turned into the settlement where Murad was waiting for me and I was in. A better understanding of his instructions, some Hebrew and useful geographical knowledge and I probably wouldn’t have ended up bang in the middle of the Ari’el in the isolating situation of looking for a Palestinian village. I haphazardly navigated my way out of on foot and was an hour late – not the look I was going for, but I guess he was going to find out what I’m about sooner or later.
Marda is in the Salfit district which is biggest producer of olive oil in Palestine. The village is effectively a ghetto, with reinforced steel gates at each end for when the army want to shut it down and a high metal fence and barbed wire around it, although some of these had been damaged and removed. There used to be resistance here, but like in lots of the rest of Palestine, occupation has become normalized. These days the village is quiet and peaceful. People work and children go to school, cats wander around the place looking for food and donkeys everywhere sound like they’re dying. The village sits directly under the hilltop Ari’el settlement, the 4th biggest in the West Bank. Murad said he used to play there with his friends when he was young before Zionists confiscated and destroyed 9000 dunams of it, in the late 70s to build luxury homes, streets and a university for Israelis and Jewish immigrants. The juxtaposition of the two towns, is a powerful thing to see and its something that you can’t help but see, every day.
As I arrived in Marda another volunteer was leaving. Her name was Judy, a 60 year old American woman from Australia travelling by herself. I wouldn’t normally mention someone’s age or circumstances but I think its significant as many people think the West Bank is too dangerous to travel to and that women could be more vulnerable here. Neither are true. It was her 5th visit to Marda so I wanted to get as much information out of her as I could in the 30 minutes she had left. She gave me the dos and don’ts about living in Marda, how to be with Murad and told me to explore as much as I could of Palestine “You can’t charaterise Palestine on what you see in just Marda as much as you can’t charaterise the US on what you see in Miami”
Straight away I felt at ease with Murad. From our first Skype conversation, to meeting him an hour late after getting lost, I felt welcome and at home. Chilled and pragmatic, straight talking and funny are the best words I can think of to describe him. Everywhere we went there was banter. Banter with friends, banter with strangers. Sometimes he sounds like he is angry when he’s talking in Arabic but then he laughs and I know he’s not. Judy said his bark is worse than his bite and I now know what she means. “C’mon man!… what you doing man?!”… “Why you sayin sorry all the time man” still echo round my head.
Murads family have lived in Marda for generations spanning centuries. His wider family numbers in the 100s. His immediate family is his his wife, Ghada, daughters Sara, Halla and Tooleen, his youngest – son Khalid, his Mother, Twin brother, older brother, three sisters and their families. I think I can count the number of people in my family with my fingers!
The old house he grew up in has itself been in the family for 300 years. His Mother and twin, Hazim live there now and on my first night, he took me to meet them. We ate dinner, looked at our phones (There’s no escaping it!!!) and then I helped Murad download a Lionel Richie “hello” ringtone he wanted for when Ghada called him. I asked him what other music he liked and he said “none”. “But you like Lionel Richie though?” No. just that song.” Then I reconfigured his answer and decline buttons so he could, in his words, hang up in peoples face.
When violence broke out in the second intifada (literally translated as uprising), Murad decided to leave Palestine. With his Palestinian passport, he traveled to America and spent time working in Chicago and Tennessee. In 2006, he returned to inherit his Father’s land and with some basic knowledge of permaculture from a previous project, he started Marda Permaculture farm.
The Permaculture farm
The farm is 2 1/4 dunams in size. A duman is about 1 square km. The farm has Bees and produces large quantities of honey each year, 5 kilos of which is exported to customers in Qatar. He has chickens and pigeons (with their own cob-built houses) for eggs and meat and and plans on getting some goats and a cow.
The farm is Murad’s livelihood, but its more than that. The farm is his way of fighting the occupation. By growing his own food and providing his own income, he doesn’t need to buy expensive food and water or look for work abroad or in Israel. Permaculuture gives him good health, independence and empowerment.
The farm is a centre for students, activists and volunteers and Murad hopes his model will raise awareness of Permaculture in Palestine and begin to change local peoples attitudes towards farming.
I did most of my exploring with Murad. I only did my own thing a couple of times. Once when I went to Jerusalem with Gaie (another volunteer who helped at the farm for a few days) and another time when we split up in Rammalah and I went to see qalandia. But we always left Marda together. Murad wasn’t into the idea of me travelling by myself in case I got mistaken for a settler or deported for being a friend of Palestine. They’re weren’t any bus stops in Marda so unless you hail a passing taxi or sherut you hitch a ride to somewhere you can get a bus. The nearest place to us was Zattara Junction (Tappuah junction for Israelis). From here you can go in three directions north to nablus, east to jericho and south to Rammalah. It used to be checkpoint but some of these have eased off in recent years. There’s still a large military presence here though. Lots of Israelis use the junction so cars are still stopped, IDs are still checked and people are still harassed. We saw one guy in his early 20s being checked out by two soldiers wanting to know where he had been, where he was going, and why he needed to go there.
As we make our way to the bus stop to Rammalah we have to go through the rigmarole of crossing the side of the road we need to the central reservation, avoiding Israeli only bus stop which Palestinans are not allowed to be near, to then cross back 50m further along where the anybody else bus stop is. You keep your head down here as you feel the eyes of soldiers and settlers weigh down on you. You’re at the mercy of the army here, they have done and can do anything they want to you here. This a cold violence that all Palestinans have to go through on a daily basis.
Nablus and Tulkarem
This was the first place outside Marda that I explored. It used to be an important junction on the Old Silk Road and was a strong resistance town in the years following the occupation. Nowadays, its very normalised – the occupation. Like the rest of the country, people are just trying to make enough money to survive. Food and drinks, shops and markets are everywhere. Women are covered up, some even more than in Marda wearing full burkhas which you can also see displayed in shop windows. Lots of women whiten their faces here too. Looks really strange sometimes. On the hilltop behind the city is the largest refugee camp in Palestine – 30,000 refugees packed into ¼ of a sq km. Like the one outside Rammalah they resemble Rio’s hillside favelas. Beautiful backdrop and ugly consequence all at the same time. As we ate a shrawma outside we saw men putting flags up in the main square and cars driving round honking their horns. They were celebrating the release of a young man who had been put in jail by the Israelis. I don’t know who he was or what he had been jailed for but I’m guessing it was for a while and his release was a small victory.
A little bit further on is Tulkarem This is where we met Murad’s friend Fayez, and where I saw the wall for the first time. Like Murad, Fayez also runs a farm in a village just outside Tulkarem called Irtah. His story is amazing: resilience and steadfastness in effect. In a nutshell… Occupation forces tried to confiscate his land to use as a military post; some of the first sections of the segregation wall were built across 20 dunams of his land; he resisted the land confiscation and repeated attacks on him and his crops and was imprisoned, leaving his wife Muna, to manage the farm; 12 chemical factories considered hazardous to Israeli public health were relocated to the other side of the wall, one right next to his farm*; he thus grew more aware of the health impacts of fertilisers and pesticides and made the switch to organic production. Now his and Muna’s farm, famous for popular resistance attracts solidarity activists and volunteers from all over the world.
*Factory chimneys are used when the wind blows east into Palestine, and not when into Israel.
At his home we sat and drank zamzam with his family. Zam zam is holy water welled from the zam zam well in Mecca. They told me the story of zamzam, debating over the specifics but I’m struggling to make sense of my notes so here’s a simple kids version of the origin of zamzam I found online:
“This is the story of the ZamZam water. The water well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al Haram in Mecca. It was a miraculously generated source of water from Allah, which began thousands of years ago when prophet Ismael (PBUH) the son of prophet Abraham and Hajar (the wife of prophet Abraham, May Allah be pleased with her) were thirsty and alone in the dessert.In this area there is very little water if any at all in some places. According to our tradition, Hajar (May Allah be pleased with her) was a very devout mother and wife. When she was separated from her Husband prophet Abraham (PBUH), she was left alone in the dessert, by herself with her small son Ishmael (PBUH). Prophet Abraham made a prayer for his young family as he left them behind and Allah provided the means of sustenance for them. Hagar (May Allah be pleased with her) ran seven times back and forth in the scorching heat between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, in desperation because her son cried as it was very hot and they did not have even a drop of water to drink. Allah provided a Miracle and the ZamZam well was born.”
Fayez’s son “carried” 20L of this water back from his hajj pilgrimage so it goes without saying that I felt really honoured be offered it. It’s meant to contain healing powers so you drink it in 3 sips and wish for good health. I drank mine to my Mum.
Tony Blair has a multi million penthouse apartment that he rents for free in East Jerusalem. I saw it – Murads not even allowed to come to Jerusalem. No one who lives in the West Bank is, unless they own one of the hard to get permits I mentioned earlier. It’s like me needing permission to visit London.
Jerusalem (East) is as you would expect it to be – tourists, religious places of interest, sight seeing, crap selling blah. The tourism and globalism here makes it more relaxed in its attitudes to drinking and clothing, despite the religious significance of the city. In the old town/holy basin which is a busy Palestinian neighbourhood, Israeli settlers live in homes above the market taken from Palestinians now flagged up and fenced off. Below mesh is in place to stop settlers throwing waste down on the Palestinian’s markets there are Israeli homes.
We tried to get to the Al Aqsa mosque and dome on the rock but it was Muslims only after 4pm and being white and non Muslim looking we were turned away by Israeli police. They control who goes in and out here. It was interesting and maybe kind of nice to see Israelis help enforce the Muslim only after 4pm rule. Was also good to see some soldiers and locals getting on. Saw another soldier help a blind man into the square too which was nice. In the rush to cry dehumanization you can easily find yourself guilty of doing the same thing.
Jenin was the furthest town I visited. We had to time our trip around the weather as it gets hotter here. Its in the agricultural north and took about an hour and a half of mountainous driving from Marda to get there although Jenin itself is mostly flat. Didn’t really get a chance to explore Jenin properly it was more of a meet this guy here meet that guy there day but one thing that was noticeable was the absence of anything Israel.
Unlike all the other places Id been to there was no army, no flags, no settlements. This might be because of its unbroken horizontalness as I’m pretty sure most settlements are built strategically on hilltops. Outside the hustling bustling town of markets shops and car-shop after car-shop after car-shop is industrial landscape with factories and fields growing tobacco fruits and vegetables. More mass production than organic production here.
Despite a deep connection with the land, it gets treated badly by many Palestinians, Israelis too. In many parts of the West Bank, streets and fields are scattered with rubbish. There’s refuse collection once a week in Marda but that’s just to collect landfill waste from peoples houses. Outside though, pedestrians, drivers, kids playing, even farmers, just chuck their empty packets on the ground. Many animals are treated badly: birds caged in small spaces to be sold as meat; donkeys toiling in the insane heat carrying people and heavy loads; dead puppies (clearly not treated well) left next to bins in the street, I could go on. On our way to the farm one day we saw that one donkey had given birth. Murad helped the new donkey to its feet and pushed her closer towards her mother which was tied up to a nearby tree but just out of reach. The next day we saw the same donkey, working, but not the infant. As another mouth to feed and a distraction to his working donkey, the owner, an old guy, chucked the new jenny away. This upset Murad, more out of waste than sentiment, but Murad cares. He understands the important roles animals have. I learnt this early on when some children visited us at the farm and one of them was trying to squash a bug. Murad stopped him and while I couldn’t hear what he actually said, it was clear Murad was telling the boy that he needed those bugs.
Then there’s Israel, the self titled environmentalists, chucking all kind of restrictions and protection laws onto Palestinians in the name of preservation whilst committing all kinds of environmental rights violations: sucking Palestinian land dry of water and selling it back to them at full price; allowing settlements to dump huge quantities of sewage into neighbouring Palestinian fields and villages, damaging buildings, soil and water supplies; poisoning waterways and soil with toxic chemicals; uprooting 1,000s of olive trees, trees that are peoples livelihood, trees that have stood since the Romans were here!; building over ancient springs and vital sources of water, affecting ecosystems and land irrigation; and then the walls and border gates affecting the migration patterns of an array of species.
I’d never been to a Muslim country before so my head naturally started to fill itself with assumptions and preconceptions of how things were or would be. I knew from the advice the volunteer program gave me, that Marda was a conservative village: No shorts, no singlets (LOL), no drinking, no drugs, and no approaching strange women romantically. I paraphrase but these were all suggested guidelines – Who’s been coming here??
Marda is a conservative village, traditional too – women cover themselves in public and sometimes socialise separately but everyone was friendly and interactive. If my Arabic spanned further than the “Hello, How are you? I’m fine, thank you” at its peak, I may have broken down even more social barriers. Word to the wise: Don’t go in for a handshake with women you’ve just met as you’ll be left hanging.
Despite the occupation and the harassment and intimidation that comes with it, everybody seemed upbeat. There’s a real togetherness here and its so much more chill than it looks and sounds from in the west. There’s lots of joking. Murad likes to take the piss out of people especially people that he likes. There’s one old guy we used to see and Murad always tries to tickle him.
It sounds like a stupid and obvious thing to say but Palestinians really love their children, especially young ones, almost as if preserving their innocence is everything. From about 7-12 boys go through a seen but not heard phase then at 13+ they’re targets for playful clips round the ear and downsizing banter. They have a lot of freedom in Marda. Children as young as 6 walk to and from school through the village, they go to the shops to buy groceries and play outside unsupervised. On paper it sounds like slack parenting but its not. The community polices itself. Everyone knows everyone and when children step out of line or get cheeky the nearest adult will call them up on it. I’d describe it as a golden age if the circumstances didn’t make it sound so ridiculous.
Murads not the type to push agendas. I wanted a Palestinian perspective on Israel, the occupation, and all the other things that go with it, so I was going to have to ask. Judy ,who I met briefly when I arrived in Marda told me “Don’t ask questions unless you’re ready to accept the context.” I wasn’t completely sure what this meant but I bided my time and began to write down some questions for Murad which I could ask him when we’d got to know each other better. In my spare time I started to plan a positive article about cooperating through collaborating. This had stemmed from seeing how Murad and his Israeli friend had been working together to sneak volunteers into Marda, but with one question my idea, or at least, my inspiration, was blown out of the water. “Do lots of Israelis come here to help?”
“Yes, but I don’t like it. It makes me look bad.” Murad doesn’t pull punches, he tells it as he sees it and when a group of Israeli peace activists came to work on the farm and found this out. He told me how they had asked him what they could do to help the Palestinian cause and in one word, he said, “leave”. “It sounds harsh, but this is a man who has been fired at, arrested, imprisoned, watched as his family’s land was turned into a lavish city for Israelis and Jewish immigrants, which has brought violence right to his door.
“These people say they are for peace but if they really were they would leave Israel. Who built your house?” he asked them. “The person who built your house is living in a tent and you talk about peace?”
Talk leads onto the testimonies of soldiers in, ‘Breaking the silence’. “Breaking the Silence are bastards! They kill innocent men women and children and then feel bad and say sorry? Fuck you’re sorry!” None of this is said in a raised or angry tone of voice. Murad, like lots of other Palestinians, thinks he’s been sold out. Sold out by Israel, sold out by America, sold out by Britain, sold out by Arab states and sold out by their own leaders. I try to explain that propaganda can make people do the worst kind of things but it sounds empty as I say it.
“The world doesn’t care. If it did, Palestinians would have justice.”
In the whole time I was in Palestine and Israel the only times I ever felt threatened, nervous or insecure was near Israeli police and soldiers. 15 years ago I was in Tower Records in Tel Aviv and 2 young soldiers stood next to me looking through CDs while on duty. It was strange then and it is strange now. In Israel, everywhere soldiers are on the move. Its like scouts but with guns. It’s like something out of the Paul Verhoven film, Starship Troopers. Beautiful, fresh faced, young men and women, IDF issue Tavor assault rifle in one hand and smartphones in the other, all “doing their part!, knowing their foe!, guaranteeing citizenship!” because at the end of the day, “its us or them”
The idea that an 18 year old with a gun has the power to harass and disrespect civilians often much older and wiser than them leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
For me, military service here is more about protecting a lie than protecting citizens. Imagine a reality where young men and women are indoctrinated with the idea that they are defending their country when all they’re really doing is supporting a decades long colonisation project. It almost doesn’t seem real. Almost.
About 5 days in, I was smoking a cigarette on the roof when I heard a gravel moving noise coming from the hill behind my house. The street lights made it difficult to see what it was but I could just about make out a group of large figures making their way down this track. It looked like humans, big humans, on all fours, coming down the hill!! I was scared! The settlement was just up the hill and I’d heard stories of past incursions and still new to this unfamiliar and relatively (to me) troubled place, my imagination and stupidity got the better of me. Reality checked eventually and I concluded they weren’t humans. I still didn’t know what they were though, so I didn’t move or make a sound and just watched as these night monsters marched on by.
The next morning I tell murad what happened… And in his most blasé voice tells me, “That’s the pigs man…. They come and destroy everything in a few minutes!”
So I looked it up. It’s not just in marda. Apparently all over the West Bank wild pigs have been wrecking crops and trees and sometimes attacking people, all since around 2004. People claim they were introduced after the last intifada. One guy even told me he heard a truck load of them had been seen being unloaded in some fields. It’s a wild claim, but in a place where pollution is directed towards specific communities, raw sewage is dumped into village’s water supply and Settler children are marched through villages abusing locals, it becomes more believable. I can only speculate as why pigs. Agitation? Disrespect? One guy joked that Islam should introduce a temporary fatwah so that people could eat the pigs and turn the problem into a solution.
“In 2004 there were no pigs in Palestine! Now there are pigs! They don’t fly in!”
Murad showed me some of the damage they had done to his corn field. To protect his farm he put up a barbed wire fence but it was only when he attached tyres to the fence that they stopped getting in.
I became obsessed by this thing! I really wanted to see the pigs again, I set my alarm to wake me up at all hours, but I never saw them. There were some near encounters. We just missed them on the way to work one day when some builders sent them running down the hill throwing stones at them
A law was passed to protect the pigs so farmers are not allowed to kill them. It would take a bullet to the head to do it apparently which would be pretty hard as you’re not allowed weapons of any description in Palestine.
On the way back its the same bus back to Tel Aviv. After speaking to other internationals I was prepping myself for a grilling at the airport. I wasn’t expecting to be removed from the bus by armed officers in plain clothes. And I wasn’t prepared to explain why I was in the West Bank on a settler bus and not where I said I would be in Israel proper. People told me to answer questions confidently, honestly and vaguely. A lot of officials I dealt with had a mediocre knowledge of place names so this helps with the vague answering. You might get through that but you’ve probably been flagged for more security checks. And if you have it’s a tough run in til the fight home. At check in and security your bags will be emptied, their contents swabbed and analysed, your body searched and scanned and your skill at answering repetitive questions tested.
And when you collect your bag from Gatwick airport luggage hall you’ll even find a courtesy note inside explaining that someone’s had another good look through your gear and put everything back as they found it. ‘Come back anytime’ ain’t the vibe I’m getting.
I plan on going back for olive harvest this year but won’t hold my breath on getting in. If one trip is that suspicious, another is probably smoking gun territory.
Protest commemorating one year anniversary of the killing of Mohammad Abu Khdeir met with military violence
Ramallah – On July 2, 2015, in honor of the first anniversary of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, Palestinian activists with international supporters blocked a settlers-only road leading to the illegal Adam settlement. Demonstrators cited this road as the road that the murderers took in their search for a Palestinian victim. Journalists, Palestinian and international activists, suffered from pepper spray burns and several were hospitalized.
“This is the first in a week of demonstrations for Muhammad Abu Khdeir. One of the murderers, Yosef Haim Ben-David, is from the Adam settlement. This is why the demonstration was held at this settlers-only entrance,” said Abdullah Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in.
Demonstrators blocked the road to settler traffic in both directions until the Israeli Army and Border Police dispersed the non-violent demonstrators and journalists by pepper-spraying indiscriminately. Three Palestinian activists, four journalists, and two International ISM volunteers were pepper sprayed in the eyes and mouth by a masked Army officer. An ISM co-founder as well as journalists from Roya TV Channel, Reuters, and Palestine TV were severely pepper sprayed in the eyes requiring hospitalization.
The soldiers threw sound percussion grenades at demonstrators and chased people. In addition to the pepper spray, they shoved journalists and Palestinian activists to the ground.
After the soldiers and border police chased the demonstrators off the road and down a hill, they continued to throw percussion grenades even as the demonstrators stood at a distance waiting to find fellow demonstrators.
Israeli forces have detained 550 Palestinians, including women and children, in the occupied West Bank since the beginning of 2015.
The detainees, who were arrested in the southern city of al-Khalil (Hebron), included seven women and 105 teenagers, Amjad Najjar, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) in al-Khalil, said on Thursday.
The Palestinian official added that 225 of the detainees received sentences through the Israeli practice of the so-called administrative detention, under which Palestinians are kept behind bars without charge or trial for months or even years.
According to Najjar, 78 Palestinian patients “who faced a real life threat as a result of detention” were among the inmates in Israeli jails, where they receive no “medical treatment.”
He noted that Israeli forces treat the Palestinian detainees in a “savage and inhuman way during detention.”
The PPS report pointed out that many of those detained during the six-month period were from the town of Beit Ummar, where over 60 residents, mostly minors, were arrested between January and March.
Earlier reports by the PPS showed that Israel detained 383 Palestinians across the West Bank in December 2014.
Over 7,000 Palestinians are reportedly incarcerated in 17 Israeli prisons and detention camps.