JERUSALEM JOURNAL - 24th February 2007
Arrival in Jerusalem
I have been in Jerusalem for just over a week now, and I have to say that at times, it feels quite surreal walking along the ancient streets.
East Jerusalem was actually rather tense as we arrived, due to the excavation work going on outside the al Aqsa Mosque. There is some concern that the work being carried is deliberately aimed at undermining the foundations of the mosque, though the Israeli government has stated that the work is only being carried out for the purpose of safety.
Altogether, 26 Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who have arrived in Jerusalem to form the new group of EAs. It is very international group with 9 different countries represented, including South Africa, Poland, Sweden, and Canada. We have been split into 6 teams â€“ which will be based in Hebron, Bethlehem, Yanoun, Jayyous, Tulkarem, and Jerusalem.
I will be part of the Jerusalem group for the next three months, in a group with five other EAs. Our team has been spending the last few days with the current Jerusalem team, hearing about their work and meeting some of the key partners that we will be working with in the coming months.
Meal with Israeli Peace Movement
On Tuesday (20th February) night we had a meal with representatives from various Israeli peace groups â€“ which proved to be a fascinating evening.
The Israeli peace movement are often dismissed as, "traitors" and "self-haters", but that is certainly not how they came across. Indeed, they stressed how much they loved their country of Israel, but also how important it was for Israelis and Palestinians to work together to end the occupation.
One of the organisations we heard about was the Parents Circle â€“ Families Forum (PCFF) which consists of more than 500 bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. Part of the PCFF's work involves school visits, during which both Palestinian and Israeli members of the forum jointly share their own personal stories and discuss their belief in reconciliation and conflict resolution with school pupils. Importantly, during the school visits the Palestinian and Israeli speakers refer to each other as "brother" or "sister". It was great to hear that more than 1000 visits were made last year to both Palestinian and Israeli schools, with the number of visits set to increase this year.
Shu'fat refugee camp
On Wednesday (21st February) we visited Shu'fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, which was built in 1966 in order to provide better shelter for refugees who were living in poor conditions within the Old City in Jerusalem. In 1966 around 3000 people transferred to this camp. Today there are around 28,000 Palestinians living in the camp - which has an area mass of 1 square km!
Although the camp is located within the borders of Jerusalem municipality, it receives no services from the Israeli authorities. The United National Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) has been left to provide health, education, sanitation and other services for the refugees.
In the camp, we visited a youth and adult education centre, where women were learning embroidery (making lovely purses, cushion covers and other things), and children were getting involved in arts/crafts and music. It was amazing walking into the centre - the warm, positive atmosphere was somehow not what I had expected after entering the camp through the checkpoint and seeing the desperate living conditions.
We officially take over from the current team in Jerusalem on Wednesday (28th). Our activities will include supporting the work of the youth and adult education centre in Shu'fat camp, monitoring a number of checkpoints around Eastern Jerusalem, supporting and accompanying Israeli peace organisations like Rabbis for Human Rights, and many other activities which I will try my best to share with you over the coming months.
For more information on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) please visit www.quaker.org.uk/eappi
JERUSALEM JOURNAL 10th March 2007
I have now been in my placement in Jerusalem (at the Augusta Victoria Hospital, Mount of Olives) for ten days as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA). In the last week, the work of the Jerusalem EA team has included: English lessons with the Jaholine Bedouin and children in Shu'fat refugee camp (while we were in Shu'fat camp on Tuesday 6 th March, Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas at children in the camp who were playing to close to the fence surrounding Shu'fat); accompanying the Augusta Victoria Hospital ambulance into the West Bank to collect patients; attending the 'Women in Black' demonstration in West Jerusalem; monitoring four checkpoints in East Jerusalem; attending a march on International Womens' Day at Qalandiya (during which sound grenades were thrown at the female demonstrators by the Israeli army); and rebuilding demolished homes near Hebron with the Israeli peace organisation Rabbis for Human Rights.
One of the main roles that all six teams of EAs (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jayyous, Yanoun, Tulkarem) have is to monitor checkpoints around the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are currently more than 500 checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical obstacles inside the West Bank that obstruct the freedom of movement of the Palestinians. The Israeli government justifies these restrictions on the grounds of security, to prevent Palestinians from attacking Israeli citizens in Israel and in the West Bank, where around 400,000 Israelis have settled contrary to International Humanitarian Law.
One of the first checkpoints I visited was the Al Ram checkpoint (pictured) in northern East Jerusalem. We (four members of the Jerusalem team of EAs) arrived at the checkpoint just before 7am to monitor school children passing through the area. The expressions on the faces of those coming through the checkpoint said a lot. Adults, trying to pass the checkpoint on their way to work looked embarrassed, frustrated, and humiliated. We noticed one middle-aged woman who was having a lot of difficulty getting past the Israeli soldiers. It had looked like one of the soldiers had been ready to let the woman pass through, but another soldier had intervened and had turned the woman back. When I asked the young soldier why he was not letting the woman through, he said it was because her name did not appear on the list that he had been given by his superiors. However, bizarrely, the same woman was then allowed through the checkpoint about 30 minutes later.
At the same checkpoint we also witnessed two men being detained in steel cargo containers before being turned back by soldiers, and another man who was made to stand facing a wall for 10 minutes before being allowed through. In the midst of all of this, children passed through the checkpoint on their way to school, with some of them stopped and questioned.
Qalandiya (pictured) and Hazeytim checkpoints, which we have also been monitoring in East Jerusalem, are very different to Al Ram. They are known as 'terminals', and are fairly large constructions. Those wishing to pass through these checkpoints have to queue at a first turnstile, before being allowed through to another turnstile with metal detector, and then finally passing through a third turnstile to exit.
Each of the turnstiles is controlled electronically by a soldier who lets people know the turnstile is operational by switching on a green light above the turnstile. I have observed on numerous occasions the green light for turnstiles being 'played' with by the soldiers â€“ the green light being 'flickered' on and off as people try to get through. As you might imagine, it can take people a long time to get through these checkpoints. We timed how long it took one women with a baby to get through the terminal at Hazeytim â€“ exactly 50 minutes.
A schoolteacher who was not allowed to pass the Al Ram checkpoint commented to us, "this is our daily reality, the soldiers work to delay us, we are suffering a lot. The whole world needs to know what is happening here."
(You can download a version with pictures, 300kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal 24th March
Greetings to you all from Jerusalem, a city which in the last two weeks has seen both glorious sunshine and snow! The Jerusalem Team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) has been busy over the last fortnight with our work including: English lessons with the Jaholine Bedouin and children in Shuâ€™fat refugee camp (once again we witnessed teargas being fired into Shuâ€™fat camp); discussions with students from Hebrew University who are making Aliyah (under Israel's â€˜Law of Returnâ€™ any Jewish person has the legal right to immigrate and settle in Israel); accompanying the Augusta Victoria Hospital ambulance into Hebron; participating in the â€˜Women in Blackâ€™ demonstration in West Jerusalem; monitoring four checkpoints in East Jerusalem; making a presentation on the Ecumenical Accompanier programme to a Swedish government delegation; participating in the International Palestinian Peace Bike Race; and making a solidarity visit to the village of Al-Nu'eman.
Al-Nuâ€™eman is small village (around 25 houses) in south-east Jerusalem. The village has been caught on the Jerusalem side of the separation wall that Israel has been building for the last four years, however the Palestinian residents of the village have not been given Jerusalem IDs, and are therefore considered by the Israeli authorities to be living in their own village illegally.
Life for the villagers has been becoming more and more difficult. Villagers feel that they are under siege. All traffic in and out of the village has to pass through one entrance, which is for residents only â€“ their families and friends are not allowed to enter. Plans have been developed to build a goods terminal and a road through the village to service nearby Israeli settlements.
The residents of Al-Nuâ€™eman have now turned to the courts, and in May this year their case will be heard in the Israeli High Court. They are arguing that either the separation wall be moved so that Al-Nuâ€™eman is on the West Bank side, or the villagers are granted Jerusalem IDs. You can find out more about Al-Nu'eman and how you can support the villagers at: http://al-nueman.tripod.com
On Friday 23rd of March we (Jerusalem and Bethlehem EAs) joined more than 300 cyclists from Palestine, Israel, and all around the world for the International Palestinian Bike race from Ramallah to Jericho.
I had been pleased to hear that the 50 kilometers from Ramallah to Jericho was mainly downhill, and was really able to enjoy whizzing down the roads as we left Ramallah. However our enjoyment was quickly brought to a halt, just about 25 minutes after passing the start line. We had only covered about 4 - 5 kilometers when all the cyclists were stopped at Jaba checkpoint (south of Ramallah). We were literally pushed back by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and police, and one cyclist was even detained for a while.
The Ecumenical Accompanier programme had been asked to provide a protective presence to the cyclists, so when we were stopped at Jaba we approached the IDF to find out what was going on. The soldiers at the checkpoint simply stated that they were following orders, and could not let us pass.
Freedom of movement, guaranteed under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is severely restricted throughout the occupied Palestinian territory through the system of barriers, checkpoints and road-blocks which successive Israeli governments have established.
Take, for example the city of Nablus (northern West Bank), which I visited last Sunday on a day off work. No Palestinian man, aged between 18 and 25 can leave Nablus at all. When I left the city with another EA it took us more than an hour to pass through Huwarre checkpoint on the southern edge of the city, with my bag and clothes thoroughly searched. As we travelled on public transport back to Jerusalem we had to negotiate three more checkpoints before we finally arrived back.
As the cyclists were turned away from Jaba Checkpoint, and the International Palestinian Peace Bike Race was brought to a premature end, one man commented to me, â€œthere is no such thing as freedom of movement in Palestine, at least not for Palestiniansâ€
(You can download a version with pictures, 300kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal - 31st March
The last seven days have been very hectic for the Jerusalem Ecumenical Accompanier team - I donâ€™t have enough space in this little newsletter to tell you half the things we have been doing.
If I rewind to the start of the week we visited 17 year old Fadi Shqerat in his home in Sawahre (East Jerusalem) to hear what had happened to him last month. The following is Fadiâ€™s own testimony:
â€œOn the 12th of February I had been leaving school when I saw Israeli Border police chasing other pupils from my school. Not knowing what was happening I decided to hide. However, a soldier must have seen me and pushed me up against a wall. After falling to the ground I found that I had four soldiers around me, and they started to beat me with their guns.â€
Fadi was taken to a police building where an ambulance was called for him. He spent ten days in hospital receiving treatment for the broken leg that he had sustained in the attack by the soldiers. Fadiâ€™s father was kept waiting at the police station for an hour and half before he was told that his son had actually been taken to hospital, and he was not permitted to talk to Fadi during the ten days he was in hospital.
Fadi is now back at home recovering from his injuries. The police have accused him of throwing stones at soldiers, something which he strenuously denies, and have placed him under house arrest. The Shqerat family are now planning on taking a legal case against the Israeli Defence Forces for the soldiersâ€™ attack on Fadi.
On Thursday (29th) morning we were monitoring Al Ram checkpoint in north East Jerusalem. We have been going to this checkpoint at 7am â€“ which when school children start crossing through. At 7:55am I noticed a soldier with an â€œattack-dogâ€ start running across the checkpoint and up towards an area with trees, just beside the checkpoint.
I ran after the soldier and witnessed him releasing his dog in the direction of middle-aged woman and man that were 40 â€“ 50 yards ahead of him. Immediately after he released his dog the soldier also raised his weapon towards the man and woman, as if he was preparing to shoot.
The â€œattack dogâ€ jumped towards the woman and grabbed hold of her arm, pulling her screaming to the ground. The soldier approached the man and woman still with his gun aimed at them, and then pulled the dog away from the woman. After another soldier had arrived on the scene the middle-aged woman (who was approximately 40 years old) and man were led down to the checkpoint. As I followed them back down to the checkpoint I observed that the woman was limping, possibly from when she had hit the ground, after the dog had jumped at her.
The soldiers at the checkpoint prevented me from talking to the woman, who was extremely upset. One person who passed through the checkpoint told me that the woman had requested medical treatment, but I saw no obvious medical treatment being administered to her during the three hours she was held at the checkpoint.
Later on at the same checkpoint we witnessed a young man being stopped not far away from where the middle-aged woman had been attacked earlier by the dog. This time the soldier (a different soldier) simply ran up towards the young man and took hold of him â€“ there was no weapon raised by the soldier or dog used. None of the soldiers responded to my question as to why the dog was used to stop the middle-aged woman.
One of the soldiers did come across the checkpoint to speak to me and said, â€œI donâ€™t agree with using the dogs on peopleâ€. It is however very concerning that we have heard of other reports in the last few weeks of â€œattack-dogsâ€ being used at checkpoints by soldiers.
(You can download a version with pictures, 250kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal 6th April 2007
Easter greetings from Jerusalem. As you might imagine the city has been very busy over the last week. It has been quite an experience attending some of the special events that have been held in and around the city, such as the Palm Sunday procession last week from the Mount of Olives down to the Old City. I lost count of the number of different languages that I heard people speaking. I wonder though how many of the visitors who come to Jerusalem actually see what is happening beyond the Old City and all the famous religious sites.
As I may have mentioned before the Ecumenical Accompanier Programme has six placements â€“ Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jayyous, Yanoun and Tulkarem. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are able to visit some of the other placements during their 3 month stay to allow them to see what life is like outside their own placement. This week I spent three days working with the EA team in the rural placement of Jayyous - which was quite a change from the busyness of Jerusalem.
Jayyous, a fairly large village of around 3,000 people, lies forty miles north of Jerusalem. The scenery travelling up the West Bank to Jayyous is beautiful, and the village itself is surrounded on one side by terraced olive groves, that reminded me of visits to some of the Greek islands. To the west of Jayyous lies the fertile land that farmers from the village have been farming for generations. The well-irrigated land suits perfectly the growing of citrus, fig, apricot, and almond trees.
Israelâ€™s 703km long separation barrier, which was completed in this part of the West Bank in 2003 cuts off the farmers of Jayyous from this land. Unlike other parts of the West Bank where the separation barrier stands as a 8 meter high concrete wall, around Jayyous the barrier takes the form of 50 yards wide â€˜clear zoneâ€™ made up of two anti-tank ditches, two razor-wire fences, and in the centre a four-metre high electronic detection steel fence.
To the north of Jayyous the separation barrier lies on the Green Line (that was established in 1949 between Israel and what is now the occupied Palestinian territory), but the barrier then comes in off the Green Line and encloses approximately 3,000 acres of Palestinian farmland to the West of Jayyous.
Access gates have been built into the separation barrier, and farmers with permits are allowed to pass through these gates to work their land. However, often requests for permits are rejected, and even with valid permits it can still be difficult for farmers to reach their land, not to mention that the positioning of the gates means that often they have to travel unnecessarily long distances.
A mile further north from Jayyous lies the village of Falamya. Here the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have recently constructed a new gate in the separation barrier. The Falamya gate is more complex than the two gates at Jayyous, it even includes a steel turnstile (like the turnstiles at some of the big checkpoints around Jerusalem) and farmers in Falamya have had to learn how to get their sheep through this turnstile one by one!
As I worked with the Jayyous EA team monitoring the south and north gates at Jayyous I could see how frustrating it was for the farmers to go through the daily procedure of: waiting for the gate to open (the south gate only opens in the morning for 15 minutes, between 7:30am â€“ 7:45am); showing their permits to the soldiers; being questioned; having their donkey or tractor searched - before finally being allowed through to get on to their land.
(You can download a version with pictures, 250kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal â€“ 21 April 2007
It has been a very busy fortnight for the Jerusalem Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) team. Last Wednesday we were contacted by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) requesting our presence at the site of a house that Israeli authorities were preparing to demolish in East Jerusalem.
The site actually turned out to be directly opposite the walls of the Old City, and on the road up to the Mount of Olives. It was a little strange having tourists mingling around the area â€“ oblivious to what was going on just yards away.
We arrived to find the house surrounded by Israeli soldiers and police, with the family (including young children) being held outside their house. Six engineers were waiting with pneumatic drills, to begin the demolition. All the familyâ€™s belongings had been unceremoniously dumped outside the house by the army, with items of furniture clearly broken. We asked if we could speak to the family, but we were not allowed access to the house.
Half an hour after we had arrived, the owner of the house brought a receipt from the local post office for 30,000 shekels that he had paid to reprieve the house from demolition. After studying the receipt the army and police left, and we were finally able to go and talk to the family.
It was sad walking through the empty house, seeing the odd shoe and plastic bag lying on the floor. The family were understandably very distressed, the wife of the owner looked like she was in shock as she wondered round her empty home. She told us that she was dreading her older children returning from school and seeing all their things piled up outside the house.
As we talked with the family, some of them disappeared, coming back a few minutes later with orange juice that they offered to us to drink. That the family were still thinking about the hospitality that they should offer to visitors in the midst to all that was going on, seemed quite amazing.
According to ICAHD, since 1967 Israel has demolished 12,000 Palestinian homes - leaving 70,000 people without a home. For more information on the work of ICAHD, including their latest report on house demolitions in East Jerusalem see: www.icahd.org/eng/
This week we attended an International Peace Conference in Bilâ€™in (18 â€“ 20th April), which included speakers from Northern Ireland, France, Italy, Israel and Palestine.
Bilâ€™in is a small village of around 1,800 people just outside Ramallah. The Israeli government has taken nearly 60% of Bil'inâ€™s land for the construction of settlements and the separation barrier - in the process destroying more than 1000 olives trees belonging to the villagers, which in turn has destroyed the livelihoods of many of the villagers.
Yesterday, on the final day of the conference we were all invited to attend the weekly non-violent demonstration that takes place in the village.
Around 300 demonstrators â€“ made up of Palestinians, Israeliâ€™s and internationals (including our group of five EAs), joined together with new Palestinian Authority Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Al Ahmed, in walking from the centre of the village to the separation barrier.
Although it was a completely peaceful demonstration (with many children taking part), Israeli soldiers who had gathered at the separation barrier decided to fire teargas, rubber bullets, and water canon. I witnessed teargas canisters being fired directly at people, in addition to being fired into the air. I saw three demonstrators, including one young woman, being injured, and we later heard that 24 people had been hurt. The response from the Israeli soldiers seemed completely excessive and unnecessary.
For more information on Bilâ€™in, see www.bilin-village.org
(You can download a version with pictures, 350kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal â€“ 28th April 2007
This week I spent a few days working with the Hebron team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs).
It took me about an hour and half to get to Hebron - getting a bus from East Jerusalem to Bethlehem, then another bus south to Hebron. The EAs use public transport, i.e. buses, whenever we go anywhere â€“ experiencing checkpoints and other restrictions on freedom of movement as Palestinians experience them every day.
The city of Hebron is home to around 150,000 Palestinians and between 400 - 500 Israeli settlers who live around the Old City area of Hebron, guarded by 2000 Israeli soldiers and a ring of checkpoints.
One of the main roles for the team of EAs in Hebron is the â€˜school-runâ€™ for the Cordoba School which is located is the Tel Rumeid area of Hebron, close to two Israeli settlements. Pupils and staff have to negotiate a checkpoint before walking a along the deserted Shuhada street (which other than for the school children and staff is closed to non-Jewish pedestrians), and then up some steep steps and along a short path to the school (a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that the Israeli Defence Forces are now investigating whether they have intentionally closed Shuhada street for the last six years - see http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/849690.html).
An Israeli settlement sits just across the street from the school and pupils and staff attending the Cordoba School have been attacked on many occasions by the settlers â€“ meaning that many children are now too scared to attend the school. As I talked to teachers and pupils at the school I could clearly see Israeli settlers walking on the street outside openly carrying machine guns! The school headmistress told me how grateful she was for the protective presence that the EAs provide, and said there would be less children at the school, and the children would not be as confident at the school if it were not for the EAs presence.
The school children were clearly very happy to see us at the school. A teacher told me the horrifying story of one of the small boys who had came over to shake my hand, and ask me my name. The ten-year boy had been attacked by one of the Israeli settlers two years ago. The settler had grabbed the boy, forced a handful of stones into his mouth, and then shoved his face into a wall â€“ breaking many of his teeth.
Just opposite the Cordoba School, on one of the metal door leading into a house, it had been written - â€œGas the Arabs!â€
After the â€˜school runâ€™ we walked around the Old City area of Hebron, and it seemed like just about every corner we walked around there was a checkpoint, military post, or some soldiers. I watched four middle-aged men (whom we later found out were teachers) being stopped in the middle of the street by an Israeli soldier who took their IDs and ordered them to stand in a corner while he checked their details. Twelve minutes later the soldier returned the IDs to the men and they were ushered away, allowed to get on with their lives again.
Living conditions looked extremely poor around the Old City. Since the start of the second Intifada in 2000, Palestinians here have been put under 15 months in total of curfew (during curfew they are only allowed out of their houses for a few hours). Many of the shops around the Old City have been forced to close. The Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, estimates that in the last six years, between 2000 - 2500 shops and businesses have been closed in the area. Walking down the market of the Old City area it actually felt like being in prison, with a steel net over the top of the street to protect people from rubbish, and rocks which are thrown by settlers (see picture below).
***STOP PRESS*** In my journal letter last week I reported that 24 people had been injured when Israeli soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters at Bilâ€™in with teargas and rubber bullets. At the time of writing my journal I had been unaware that the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mairead Maguire, had actually been shot in the leg by a rubber bullet.
(You can download a version with pictures, 370kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal â€“ 5th May 2007
The new group of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) have now arrived in Jerusalem and are being prepared for taking over from the current teams. So this week in the Jerusalem team we have been rushing around trying to fit in as much as possible, with our time here now drawing to a close.
On Thursday this week we (myself and a Norwegian EA) travelled up the West Bank to the tiny village of Yanoun with the Israeli organisation Rabbis for Human Rights. Yanoun also happens to be the location of one of the EA teams, and it was nice to link up with the team there for the day.
Our reason for going to Yanoun was to accompany local farmers there who have been trying to plough their land, but have been prevented from doing so, and are often attacked by illegal Israeli settlers who have outposts overlooking the Yanoun (around 400,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank contrary to International Humanitarian Law).
We accompanied the farmers to their land, and they started ploughing their fields. After only being there around 30 minutes some Israeli army vehicles passed us, shortly followed by a settlerâ€™s jeep. Shortly afterwards the army vehicles arrived back together with the settlerâ€™s vehicle. After the soldiers had a conversation with the settler (who was carrying a machine gun) we were approached and told that the area we were in was a â€œclosed military zoneâ€ for the day, and therefore we would have to leave immediately or be arrested. This order seemed a little strange, as we knew that Rabbis for Human Rights had checked in the morning with the local Israeli army that it was ok for us to be there. It appeared that it was the settler who was giving the orders to the army, though when asked the soldiers denied this was the case.
With the soldiers becoming increasingly angry we realised we would have to move away from the area. It was however very difficult leaving the farmers, who were just trying to get on and work their land. The farmers told us that the settlers would come down and stop them from working as soon as were away, yet they also thanked us for our brief presence with them as they ploughed.
Today (Saturday) we accompanied Palestinians and Israelis to the separation barrier around the village of Al-Nuâ€™eman (it should be noted that in 2004 the International Court of Justice advised that Israelâ€™s â€˜separation barrierâ€™ is illegal and a violation of International Humanitarian Law).
You may recall from a previous journal entry that the small village of Al-Nuâ€™eman lies south-east of Jerusalem. The village has been cut off from the West Bank by the separation barrier, with the village being left on the Jerusalem side â€“ yet the Israeli government has refused to recognise the village as part of Jerusalem and says the people are living in their own homes illegally. Only those living in the village are allowed to enter, meaning families and friends have been cut off.
Around a hundred people (Palestinians, Israeli peace activists, and internationals) reached the separation barrier, and the Palestinians desperately tried to poke their fingers through the fence to make physical contact with family and friends who had gathered on the other side.
Although the gathering (which included at least one woman with a baby) was completely peaceful the Israeli army opted to throw sound grenades at us. Palestinians, Israelis and the international then carried out the symbolic action of throwing bundles of wool and paper-streamers over the metal and barbed wire barrier â€“ colourfully connecting both sides.
After some rushed conversations between people talking through the barrier, including ourselves in the Jerusalem team talking to the Bethlehem team of EAs, we left the barrier under the watch of around 20 soldiers carrying sounds grenades and teargas canisters.
(You can download a version with pictures, 370kb pdf file)
Jerusalem Journal â€“ 12th May 2007
Well the new team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) have now taken over, and I will be leaving Jerusalem in a couple of days. It has been quite difficult saying goodbye to Israeli and Palestinian friends that we have made during the last three months. Our last visit to the Youth Centre in Shufat Refugee camp, which we have been visiting every week, was particularly hard.
I had thought that this last journal letter would be a reflective piece on my three months here in Jerusalem, however events this week, as we prepared to hand over to the new team of EAs, got the better of that idea.
Both of the pictures in this journal letter are taken from almost exactly the same position, in the Wadi Joze area of East Jerusalem, at the bottom hill that leads up to where we have been living on the Mount of Olives. The first picture, which was taken on Tuesday 1st of May, shows a centre for Autistic and Special needs children. The second picture, taken one week later on Tuesday 8th May, shows the centre completely demolished.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) had warned us a few weeks ago that the childrenâ€™s centre was going to be demolished by Israeli authorities. So, last week we had made a visit to see the centre and meet some of the staff.
The centre hosted children for two week special stays, and was also afternoon day-care centre for children. The building had undergone various alterations and renovations to make it suitable for children with special needs.
A week after our visit to the centre we were called by one of the members of staff we had met, and told that two Israeli army bulldozers had just destroyed their centre.
As we arrived at the site we were met by shocked staff and local residents who told us that Israeli soldiers and police had arrived just after 5am, had broken the door of the centre down and entered with dogs. A soldier carried one physically disabled child out from the centre, before the bulldozers began to destroy the building. One local resident living beside the centre who complained about the way the soldiers and police were behaving was beaten by a soldier with his rifle butt, and arrested.
The centre was demolished because it was built without the necessary documents or permits. However after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 they have very rarely given any permits to Palestinians to build any kind of structures. According to ICAHD, since 1967 Israel has demolished almost 12,000 Palestinian homes, leaving some 70,000 without shelter and traumatised.
On a reflective noteâ€¦ what does the future look like here in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territory? One of my colleagues in the Jerusalem team of EAs, who comes from Durban, has reminded me more than once that the apartheid system in South African ended rather unexpectedly and quicker than most people there could have imagined. Could the occupation of Palestine and the human rights violations that accompany it, end as quickly as the apartheid system fell in South Africa?
As I draw to the end of my time working in Jerusalem it seems difficult to believe this could happen - when you see the separation barrier (or as Palestinians describe it, the â€œApartheid Wallâ€) still being built, when in only three months you see checkpoints that each day humiliate Palestinians being fortified, or when you stand in the rubble of what used to be a centre for autistic and special needs children.
(You can download a version with photographs, pdf file 330kb)