Hope in the Midst of Oppression

Trip Start Apr 01, 2013
Trip End Apr 11, 2013

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We got up in time to have breakfast at 8:00 but it was ready early. It was very similar to the last time we stayed at the Golden Gate but there were no hardboiled eggs.  Tarik picked us up where he had dropped us off the day before.  He drove us to OCHA which is the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  We arrived and were let into the courtyard and then into the building.  We waited for another group from Norway to arrive and the presentation began at about 9:30.  Catherine Cook gave us a power point presentation first on the Gaza Strip and then on The West Bank and East Jerusalem.  She spoke about how all of this is a man-made Protection Crisis and since it is man-made it can be resolved.

In Gaza there are 1.6 million Palestinians, 70% being refugees.  There are 4,500 persons/Sq. km and 54% are under the age of 18.  Israel controls the movement of people in and out as well as air space and sea space.  Before the closure of the Gaza Strip about 21,000 people moved in and out of Gaza every day, now there is an average of 167.  Many of  the Crossing Points have been closed so that there are only 3 or 4 open now.  There is a blockade so that exports and imports are highly affected.  Exports are almost completely banned.  Now some tomatoes, strawberries and fresh cut flowers are allowed to be exported but the number is miniscule and doesn't help the economy hardly at all.  Originally there was a list of what you could bring in but that is now a list of what you can’t bring in.  Originally there were about 600 tunnels and now there are 200-300.  80% of construction materials are brought in through the tunnels as they are banned because Israel fears the building of military sites.

There are  land and sea restrictions in Gaza.  You are allowed any closer than 300 meters from the wall that surrounds Gaza but farmers are allowed recently within 100 meters.  Fishermen used to fish out to 20 nautical miles but now are restricted to 3-6 miles.  In these waters the fish are less numerous and of less quality so the fishing industry is decimated.  In Gaza  there is 35% unemployment, 39% in poverty, 44% have food insecurity, and 80% are on some kind of food aid.  There is also a housing crisis, 71,000 housing units are needed as the population increases.  There are lots of social concerns with 3 families sharing an apartment with three bedrooms, one kitchen and bathroom.  250 schools are needed but they can’t get permits to build them.  Health care is widely unavailable.  90% of the piped water is unsafe to drink.  Each day there is only 4-12 hours of electricity and they don’t know when or for how long.  80-90 million cubic meters of raw sewage goes into the Mediterranean Sea every day.  There is also physical insecurity.  In the last year 2500 Palestinians have been killed and 9100 injured.  For Israelis, 50 have been killed and 1100 injured.  There is no safe haven for the Palestinians, they are arrested and held in administrative detention without charges and basic human rights.  There is a lack of respect for the laws that exist.  What is needed is to lift the blockade, provide for safe movement,  lift the restrictions on imports and exports, and protect civilians. "Keeping a large and dense population in unrelenting poverty is in nobody’s interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region."  Ban-ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN, Sept. 2012.

In the West Bank there are different problems but some of them are similar.  I’ll just mention a few things as this is getting long.  In addition to the Palestinians the West Bank also has Bedouins who suffer from the same restrictions.  The West Bank is divided into Areas A, B, and C.  Areas A & B has 40% of the area and 80% of the population.  The Palestinian Authority which is pretty much a puppet government, has some control in these areas.  The Israelis control Area C.  When you look at the map it looks like Swiss cheese at George W. Bush describes it.  The problem is that Areas A & B are the holes and Area C is the cheese.  So there are no contiguous areas for infrastructure like roads, water, electricity etc. except in Area C.

The physical restrictions on movement in the West Bank include 532 types of restrictions including:  checkpoints, earth mounds, road gates, earthen walls, trenches and road barriers.  The barrier wall separating the Palestinians from the Israelis is 60% complete, 8% in process and the rest is approved.  The barrier wall is 700 km long and 85% of it is in the West Bank.  Of the landowners in the West Bank only 20% still farm and 40% are denied access to their land.  The Israelis have declared much of the West Bank as Closed Military Zones and Nature Reserves.  In these two alone, is 24% of the land in the West Bank.  There are lots of displaced people, planning/building restrictions, lack of access to services like schools and hospitals, and water etc.  There is physical insecurity because of the military and the settlers.  There has been an 118% increase incidents from 2009-2012, 500 Palestinians killed, 11,000 injured, 250,000 are food vulnerable of which 76,000 are highly vulnerable.  90% of complaints from Palestinians are closed.  All of these statistics are gathered and verified by OCHA.

Next we went to B’Tselem which is an Israeli NGO working for peace with the Palestinians.  Our presenter was Noam and she told us that they do a lot of research and produce reports on all the aspects of the Palestinian problem.  They also do public outreach and international advocacy in the form of site visits, briefings, recommendations, crowd control issues and helping with the right to demonstrate.  They have an interactive website, a media presence, and online presence (facebook etc.).  They also deal with specific incidents and work for accountability.  They are also an information center on all the issues facing the Palestinians.

The most exciting project they told us about is their Video Project.  They have purchased over 200 video cameras which they give to those most harassed by the military and settlers and they teach them how to use them and what to film.  In fact, Atta’s camera came from them.  They have over 4000 hours of documentation.  This and people using smart phones for videoing helps the public see what is happening and helps with accountability,

When we left B’Tselem, Tarik took us to a fast food Shawarma Place.  The Shawarmas were very large and very good and came with the salad bar and French fries.  We were stuffed again when we finished. 

Next we headed for Sheik AlJawa (sp?) to pick up Angela our next guide.  She took us through the area where she lives which is very nice with lots of old villas.  Then we went through a neighbor where the settlers are trying to drive out the Palestinians.  We drove past a house where settlers came in the middle of the night and forcibly evicted the family living there, throwing a 2 year old and a 5 year old out the second story window.  She told us of an old, almost blind and deaf woman, 80, whom they are still trying to get out of the neighborhood.  Her grandson, I think, was riding his bike and Angela called out to him, Mohammed, who seemed about 12 or 13.  He came over to the car and talked with Angela.  He has been featured in a documentary about what is happening in his neighborhood.  Next, Angela took us to a Jewish Settlement and we drove through the streets and stopped where there was a great view of the Kidron Valley.  She got out her maps and started showing us the strategy for the taking over  East Jerusalem by the Settlements.  East Jerusalem is supposed to be for the Palestinians.  From our view of the valley we could see a huge pond with a huge fountain in it.  I kept thinking of all the Palestinians who do not even know when or if they are going to have water.  We drove into an industrial area where they hire Palestinians to do the dangerous/hazardous work of the industries there. 

Next we drove out of Jerusalem, I think about halfway to Jericho.  Our driver turned around and headed back to Jerusalem, then he stopped along the side of the road and told us to get out quickly as it is against the law to stop on a four lane highway.  We scrambled over the guardrail and entered a Bedouin Camp.  Angela works with the Bedouins and other groups for their human rights. She told us not to photograph the women. The Bedouin houses are made of wood and cardboard with corrugated tin roofs.  There were a couple of little girls who greeted us but they were rather shy.  We went to the home of Eid and his wife brought us tea.  As we drank our tea Eid spoke to us in Hebrew and Angela translated into English.  Eid spoke eloquently about the plight of the Bedouin.  They are being displaced by Closed Military Zones, Nature Reserves, and Settlements.  He spoke of not being allowed to build from stone and cement.  He spoke of the decimation of their herds from thousands to around 300 goats and no camels because of the killing of their animals and the lack of access to good grazing land. 

He spoke about the education of the children and how the Israelis tried to thwart their efforts to educate their children.  The children had to walk to Jerusalem or Jericho for school. His daughter used to not come home and he would have to search for her hiding in the hills for fear of the settlers. They were harassed and beaten by Israelis.  The parents got their children donkeys to ride and the settlers took them or abused them.  Some of the boys started playing hooky so they wouldn’t have to deal with the abuse.  So the Bedouins asked for their children to ride the bus that goes right by their village.  NO!  They asked to build their own school.  NO!  In the end they did build their own school, not of stone or wood which is scarce, but of discarded car tires, clay and straw.  It reminds me of the straw bale house at the Convent in Tiffin only it is stucco on the inside and outside. They had help from the international community and the school has grown from 5 teachers to 8 teachers for 95 students.  They still have trouble from the settlers coming in and breaking windows and doors.  Now all the doors are steel.  They have need of a laptop to teach technology and of course they need lots of other things too.  The school is really nice and surrounded by a locked fence.  By the end of our time the little girls were more friendly and we gave them some candy and trinkets.  Eid concluded his talk with us by telling us that the Bedouin of his village are all that is keeping the Israelis from having a solid corridor from Jerusalem to Jericho.  So he calls his village the Center of Peace for the West Bank.  Talik had parked at a rest area on the other side of the four lane highway, so we waited behind the guardrail for him to turn around and come get us

On the way back we stopped at the Mount of Olives.  It was too late to get into Gethsemane but we had a great view from the Mount of Olives.

Talik dropped us off near the Damascus Gate and we bid him and Angela goodbye.  We walked back to the Golden Gate and had a little time before supper.  For supper we walked out the Damascus gate and to a pizza place that is Paulette’s favorite.  We all ordered slices of pizza and got drinks.  As we ate we started processing all that we had seen and heard.  We talked for a long time and then had ice cream for dessert.  We headed back to the Hostel and got ready for bed.
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