Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Shooting Back" Makes a Difference

In my July 26 post, I wrote about a project innaugurated by B'tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights. Today in The Guardian, there is an article about how effective these videos have become in proving and prosecuting settlers' and Israeli soldiers' violence against Palestinians. Read the article and watch a short video about "Shooting Back," which demonstrates the power this new use of media is having in Israeli-Palestinian relations:

Hooray for NYT coverage of yesterday's shooting!

Well, I take it back - I was wrong! And pleasantly surprised! Later yesterday, the New York Times yesterday did report on the boy's death in Ni'ilin (which they spell Naalin, which is how we deal with Arabic words - they are spelled phonetically and can therefore be spelled a myriad of ways and hard to "find"). You can read their story:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

House Demolition, Palestinian Boy Shot - Today's News You Probably Won't See in the American Press

Today in the news--another house demolition story. There are many ways to demolish Palestinians' homes....sometimes it's a bulldozer (the home behind Augusta Victoria Hospital, bulldozed in late May), sometimes it's moving into someone's "abandoned" home (Ein Hod), sometimes it's settling in Arab Hebron and forcing the closure of the markets. Today it's squatters in the East Jerusalem home of Palestinian couple, Mohammed and Fawziya Khurd. The story, reported today, begins:

JERUSALEM // It must be the smallest Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories: just half a house. But Palestinian officials and Israeli human rights groups are concerned that it represents the first stage of a plan to eradicate the historical neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, cutting off one of the main routes by which Palestinians reach the Old City and its holy sites. Read more:

OTHER NEWS WE AREN'T LIKELY TO SEE in the American press: a 12-year-old boy was killed today by Israeli Defense Forces in Ni'ilin, a West Bank Arab village that has been trying to stop the construction of Israel's security wall on their village lands. Ahmad Husam Yousef Mousa was shot with a live bullet while he was sitting under a tree after the demonstration in Ni'ilin against the building of the wall: Or read another story about the 12-year-old boy's death:

Confrontations between Ni'ilin villagers and IDF soldiers have been escalating recently. During last Friday's demonstration against the wall: "Seven hundred people gathered at around 11 am this morning and held Friday prayers on the lands on the edge of the village which have been destroyed to make way for construction of the Wall. As the villagers prayed, two military jeeps approached and began to disrupt the gathering and provoke the worshippers...." Read more:

On Saturday, July 5, I wrote about our visit to Jayyus (although I misspelled it at the time), where the security wall cuts off the Jayyus farmers from their olive groves, about how happy they were to have us visit and simplify their passage through the checkpoint. Today there is a report that Israel will move the wall so that they will have unobstructed access to their fields.....most of their land, that is. The court decision has a benefit--giving them better access to their olive groves. But it also has a down side: the wall is still being built on their land and the new wall will have no gates, so that land (about 4 kilometers wide) is lost to them forever, destined to become part of the nearby Israeli settlement of Zufim, a new addition to the settlement, which they are calling North Zufim. Read about it:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

June 17, B'tselem - "Shooting Back"

When we visited B’tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights, we met Anat, a young Israeli woman who had never met a Palestinian—never known that Palestinians were treated badly by her government—until she went abroad to study. She came back to Israel and now works for B’tselem, monitoring human rights, hoping to make a difference in the lives of Palestinians.

Anat’s organization, B’tselem, has a new project that has made the news several times lately. In January, 2007, they began a project called “shooting back,” which has given video cameras to Palestinians living in high conflict areas, especially those living near military bases or sites of frequent incursions by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces—the Israeli Army), or areas where settlers frequently attack and harass Palestinians. Over 100 cameras have been distributed and footage shot by these cameras is seen on the web and has been aired on major news shows in Israel and internationally.

“Shooting Back” is making a difference. Video footage of an IDF soldier shooting a blindfolded Palestinian detainee at close range with a rubber bullet prompted an investigation by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On July 7, the detainee had been protesting the Israeli construction of a security wall in the Palestinian village of Ni’lin in the West Bank.

One of the videos documents the struggles of the Abu- Aisha family in Hebron. We also heard about their ordeal when we visited the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. The Abu-Aisha family lives on a dead-end street. Across the street from their home a new Israeli settlement was established in 1986. The settlers live on one side of the street, the Arab Abu-Aisha family on the other. The settlers come to Hebron, a traditional Arab community, hoping to make it more and more a Jewish city. Sometimes the boys throw stones at the house, intimidating the family, who cannot come and go when they wish because of the violence and intimidation. Because of the harassment from the settlers, the Abu-Aisha family has installed wired mesh, a sort of cage, around their home. Soldiers patrol the street, to keep the Arabs and the Jews apart. Sometimes this means closing streets, like the main Arab market of Shuhada Street, where shops are shuttered and Jewish stars of David spray-painted on the doors. 14-year-old Fida' Abu 'Ayesha uses her camera as a form of protection, and as a way of documenting her reality. Videos of her family’s struggles have been seen on web sites and television around the world. “Shooting back” has made it impossible for Israel to deny or diminish the harassment she faces every day. You can see her videos and others on B’tselem’s web site:

Anat told us that B’tselem means “in the image of.” The Hebrew words are found in the creation story in Genesis 1.27, "And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him." B’tselem’s name refers the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights." The workers and volunteers who do the work of B’tselem are doing the ordinary work of protecting the dignity and human rights of all—Palestinian and Jew, in ordinary places like Hebron.

MSNBC aired a story about “Shooting Back” on their news show this week. You can see the segment:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wow - two posts in one day. It's been hard to concentrate today because of the bulldozer attack. Here is a letter I sent to the editor of The Denver Post:

I read again with horror that a construction vehicle was used to terrorize citizens of Jerusalem. This is the second attack since I returned in June from a trip to Israel and Palestine to meet with peace groups. In a sad irony, the “construction truck” weapon used in the attack bears an uncanny resemblance to the bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, where 300 homes have been demolished by bulldozers since 2004. We saw many such homes. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions reports that an additional 22,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have demolition orders because they are built without permits. When Palestinians apply for permits, they are rarely granted, but Palestinians build anyway because they need a place to live. Today’s story contrasts sharply with your June 1 article announcing plans for 900 new homes in East Jerusalem—homes for Israeli citizens, apparently with permits, in traditionally Palestinian East Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents cannot get permits. This in no way excuses the violence, but it helps explain the despair of many Palestinians who never know when the bulldozers will come to destroy their homes. Let’s end the use of bulldozers as weapons—on all sides.

I also just received news from Sam Bahour in Ramallah, who points out that the bulldozer story is not the only story of violence in Jerusalem today. Two Palestinian workers were severely beaten while they were shopping for construction supplies. As they ran from a mob of about 100 Haredim, thought to be yeshiva students, they found shelter with a Jewish family that was sitting shiva in their garden. The young men then threatened the family. The Palestinians escaped and were treated for their injuries at the hospital. Read more in the Jerusalem Post:

The Ever-present Threat of Bulldozers

Today I am saddened to read about a new attack in Jerusalem. This is the second attack since I have returned from a two-week trip to Israel and Palestine to meet with peace groups and hear about their work. The bulldozer is an unlikely weapon from our Western viewpoint, but bulldozers are all too familiar to most Palestinians. Bulldozers play an important part in the harassment and terror Palestinians experience every day.

These two incidents have received a great deal of publicity worldwide, but I doubt that anyone in the media reported the bulldozer attack we were witnesses to the day we visited Augusta Victoria Hospital, a Lutheran health care facility in East Jerusalem. After he talked to us about the work Lutherans are doing to provide health care for the poor—especially Palestinians in the West Bank—hospital administrator Mark Brown took us on a short walk through the grounds of the hospital, a beautiful wooded area at the top of the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. He wanted to show us the home of a neighbor which had been bulldozed three weeks earlier.

We looked down the other side of the hill from the hospital and saw a pile of concrete rubble—it looked like the house below had been attacked. The concrete walls were now piles of debris, the water tank bashed in, rebar and electrical wiring everywhere poking up out of the mess. At the back of the family’s property were their beds, made up with sheets and pillows and blankets, sitting out in the open, next to some shelves and tables, a fan, and some cushions. They had reclaimed some of the wood and metal, including some metal window frames and their front door, stacking it to the side of their yard. And they had already started rebuilding—there were two walls with a tarp over the top, looking like a makeshift kitchen.

As we stood there looking out over the Arab settlements east of Jerusalem, where the two bulldozer attackers lived, Mark Brown told us what happened on the morning this house was leveled. At 8:00 the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers (IDF) knocked on the door as the family was eating breakfast and told them the house would be demolished at 10:00 am because it had been built illegally, without a permit. They had two hours to get their belongings out.

At 10:00 the bulldozer showed up and demolished the house.

Since 2004, Israel has leveled more than 300 homes in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, citing a lack of building permits. ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) reports that tens of thousands of Palestinian families live with demolition orders on their homes, some 22,000 in East Jerusalem alone, where fully a third of Palestinian homes face demolition at any time. In June, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert approved 884 new Israeli settlement units in East Jerusalem. See

As with every devastating event we witnessed on our trip, this one has a hopeful side too. This week volunteers from all over the world, participating in ICAHD’s summer work camp, are rebuilding a house in Anata, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where many homes have been demolished. See pictures of their work: ; Day 1:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ein Hod - more of the story

I've been doing more research on Ein Hod/Ein Hawd (the Arabic spelling). It turns out there has been quite a lot written about this village over the years the al-Hija family has been struggling to reclaim a village for themselves.

To read more about Ein Hod, see the story, 500 Dunam on the Moon: The Arabs who remained in the vicinity of their village eventually became workers on the kibbutzim and in the artists' colony. Another story from IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, details more of the history:

The villagers trace their ancestry to Emir Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija, a high-ranking officer in the army of the fabled Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). Emir Abu al-Hija, whose title was Isfahslar (Generalissimo), was commander of the Kurdish force that took part in (fellow Kurd) Salah al-Din's conquest (1187-93) of the Crusader kingdom. Jewish author Meron Benvenisti writes about the displacement of Arabs as Jews settled the land that was to become Israel in Sacred Landscape, The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948, translated by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta. Read more about Ein Hod in chapter 5 of the book online: Benvenisti learned about this area as he traveled with his father, a renowned geographer, as he redrew the map of Palestine, transforming the land by changing the Arab names to Hebrew names, one way of claiming the land for Israel.

In 1964 the Jewish National Fund planted trees in the area, which is administered by the Carmel National Park Authority ( When my children were in preschool at the Jewish Community Center in Denver, we used to collect money every June for planting trees in Israel - "reclaiming the desert," they said. I never realized that, while some of these projects did make the land more livable, many of these trees were planted on land that belonged to other people whose families had lived there for hundreds of years. I never knew that some of this land was stolen from Arabs families like the al-Hijas, who had lived there for hundreds of years. The Jewish National Fund still today is in the business of reclaiming land for Israel, solidifying Israel's hold on the land. I wonder how much of the land still being reclaimed is also disputed. Read about the work of the Jewish national Fund, which began in 1901 with a project to raise money for land in Ottoman Empire occupied Palestine. This had been a dream of Theodore Hertzl, the visionary and leader of the movement to establish a Jewish state:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Story of Two Ein Hods

If you google Ein Hod, you find an artists’colony in Israel, near the Mediterranean Sea, with galleries, art workshops, guided tours, restaurants and a map showing you how to get there for a day of relaxation. Our bus, enroute to Ein Hod, didn’t stop here however. We had an appointment to meet with the mayor of Ein Hod, Muhammed Abu al-Haija, who does not live in the quaint artists’ village. He and his family and all of the other residents fled this village in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war.

When the war ended, the Israel authorities did not permit them to return to the village, so, rather than go to the Jenin refugee camp, Muhammed al-Haija’s grandfather and 35 other families trekked up the hill to their farmland and lived in their olive groves and the fields where they grazed their sheep. They built houses to live in, but, because the new village at the top of the hill was “unrecognized” by the Israeli authorities, they could not get access to electricity or water. The Israelis bulldozed some of their homes because they were built without permits. Although the Arab villagers were Israeli citizens and paid taxes, the Israeli government would not build a road to their village because it was not on the map. When they petitioned the government for recognition, they were told that it was too small, it was classified “agricultural land” and that they could not build there; they were called “squatters.” Finally, after many years spent in Israeli government offices, contacting officials, organizing with other unrecognized villages and holding protests in Jerusalem, upper Ein Hod was finally recognized in 1992, and their village address could be listed on their Israeli identity cards.

It took fifteen more years, but in 2007 they were finally connected to the electric grid. They built a kindergarten and an elementary school., and they built a road with money they withheld from their taxes, so that their children could ride the bus to the high school in Haifa. And finally they were permitted to install a water system. They still cannot use their cemetery, but they have built a new one at the top of the hill.

One hundred other Arab villages are still waiting for recognition.

The ultimate insult was when Iaraelis “discovered” the “abandoned” village of Ein Hod at the bottom of the hill. Artists moved into the empty buildings, even turning their mosque into a restaurant for tourists. The artists sit and paint under the beautiful olive trees which were planted by the Arab villagers hundreds of years ago.

With the electricity, Mayor al-Haija has built his own restaurant in the village at the top of the hill. It has a patio with beautiful gardens and ancient olive trees and people like our tour group come there for delicious hummus and roast lamb. Mayor al-Haija told us that he worked hard for many years to get recognition for his village and then fighting for electricity, water and roads. Now he is tired and he says it is up to the next generation. Only two houses currently have electricity—the others await permits. Their houses can be bulldozed at any time because they still do not have permits to build.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 9, 2008 - stories from the women of Machsom Watch

On this trip our group was honored to meet with many dedicated Israelis and Palestinians who are working hard to create conditions for peace between Israel and Palestine. On June 20, We met with Hannah from Machsom Watch, who told us that Machsom is often said to mean “checkpoint.” But at a checkpoint, people come and then they move on. At Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, people come and they are not permitted to go. A better translation of machsom is “barrier.”

The barrier can be a 30-foot high wall, as in many of the cities in the West Bank, like Bethlehem. In other places the barrier may be a gate, a ditch, a fence with barbed wire or an electric fence. It can be an Israeli-only road, built through the West Bank to allow Israeli settlers access to their settlements. These are all ways of preventing movement of Palestinians. The issue is freedom of movement.

Hannah is one of the 500 Israeli women who go daily, in pairs, to 40 of the checkpoints in Jerusalem and the West Bank and help people move on. Israel has a total of 563 checkpoints throughout the country. These women monitor and document what they see; they answer calls for help from Palestinians unable to pass through, even when they have papers.

There are no written rules for what is needed to pass through a checkpoint. The soldiers no longer hit or abuse Palestinians; if they do, they will be punished. So what is seen at a checkpoint looks normal. In Bethlehem there are even gardens and a welcome banner at the checkpoint. It looks like a humane way to treat people. Israel claims that they have a humane occupation. But Hannah pointed out that it violates every chapter of the Geneva Accord, an unofficial agreement drawn up by Israeli and Palestinian leaders who wanted to draft a proposal that would replace the Oslo Accords as the basis for an official peace agreement. The Geneva Accord was drafted in Geneva, Switzerland, and signed in October, 2003. (More information: and ). The Geneva Accord supports full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397.

She told us that she got involved with Machsom Watch because she feels that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands corrupts Israeli society. She does it for her grandchildren, although she did not do this work when her husband was living; he and her children do not agree with the work she is now doing.

Often soldiers at the checkpoint do not accept the permits Palestinians bring. One man tried to bring his amputated leg through a checkpoint. Hannah explained that for Muslims, as for Jews, it is important to bury body parts and he was bringing it home to bury it after his surgery. The man had a permit, but the soldier denied him passage because he did not have a permit for the leg. Hannah was called to help facilitate his passage. During the ten hours this man spent at the checkpoint, a doctor was summoned to examine the leg and verify that it was a leg and not a bomb, a permit was obtained for the leg and the man was finally permitted to pass. She told us that this is not unusual; it is everyday life for Palestinians.

An Arab farmer from a small village outside of Nablus was transporting milk and cheese from his farm to be sold in Nablus (these are both Palestinian areas, according to the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and Palestine in 1993). The farmer had a permit for himself and for the truck, but the soldier said that he also needed a permit for the goods—“the milk does not have a permit.” He finally loaded his milk and cheese onto another truck at the checkpoint because that driver had a permit for goods. The milk and cheese were loaded back onto his truck and he proceeded to the next checkpoint, where the same thing happened. He delivered the milk, but by the time he got to where the cheese was to be delivered, late in the day, the cheese was warm and spoiled. He had to throw it away.

Jabar is an Arab village in the “seam zone,” the land between Israel’s security wall and the Green Line (1948 border between Israel and the West Bank). This means that children must pass through a checkpoint every day on their way to school. The gate opens for a half hour in the morning, at noon and in the afternoon. The children stand for up to two hours in the heat or the rain, until the gate opens. Soldiers holding automatic rifles check their school bags and let them pass. If a child is late for school, he cannot get through and misses a day of school.

These are only a few of the things Hannah has seen in her work as an observer with Machsom Watch, but she is convinced that her work is important, that she is helping to make Israel a more humane place, that she is making a difference, not only in the lives of Palestinians, but in the lives of Israelis, who are also dehumanized by what happens at the checkpoints. In Israel, all Jews and Druse (not Palestinians)—men (three years) and women (two years)—serve in the army when they turn 18. This means that everyone has participated in this system and they have children and grandchildren who are still standing at checkpoints holding power over who passes and who does not.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

July 5, 2008 - The Road Map to Peace

As I packed my suitcase for this trip, I thought about recent visits by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to Israel. She was promoting the "Road Map," a peace initiative begun in 2003, that offers a plan for creating a two-state solution to the conflict - two independent states, Israel and Palestine, existing side-by-side. I thought this was a hopeful sign. All that needed to be determined was the boundaries. It sounded so logical and practical as I put pajamas and toothpaste and sunscreen in my bag.

Until I visited Jayyus. Standing in this village at the top of a hill north of Jerusalem, I looked out over the land, the "road map" starkly visible below. This Arab village, like many throughout the country, stands at the top of a hill. The 300 families that live in the village earn their living by farming - mostly the olive groves in the valley surrounding the village, land they have inherited from their fathers and grandfathers. They had constructed irrigation systems which allowed them to produce vegetables and citrus fruit, figs, apricots, loquats, mangoes and almonds. There are also thousands of olive trees on these farmlands.

The road map I see as I stand at the top of the hill in Jayyus shows a winding road - wide, new, well-maintained, wide shoulders. This road is not for the villagers to use to get to their farms or to the market, to facilitate trade for the Palestinians. This road, flanked on both sides by a six-foot wire fence topped with barbed wire, is the security barrier, part of the system of walls and fences Israel is building to keep terrorists out.

The picture says it all - the road here is the wall - the separation barrier between Palestinian lands and Israeli settlements. Remember, all this land is within the West Bank as marked by the 1948 Green Line. The road snakes around the hilltop, between the village on the hilltop and the villagers' olive groves below. The wider road in the picture is the separation barrier; the smaller road is the road the villagers must take to cross the separation barrier to get to their farms. Where the two intersect is the checkpoint the farmers must pass through - the one that is open an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Further along there is another checkpoint that is open 7 am - 7 pm.

That's the one we visited. Our bus pulled up to the checkpoint and we got out. The soldiers told us we could not cross the road to the olive groves, so we stood at the checkpoint and watched the farmers come through. There were three groups of farmers waiting in line. The soldiers waved the farmers through, and, as they drove past us, the men on their tractors cheered and waved. They shouted to our guide that we should come again tomorrow - this was the easiest crossing they had had.

Americans. Standing in an olive grove belonging to the farmers. WE had made their lives easier for a few minutes? Our tiny blue passports carry more weight than hundreds of years of living on this land, farming it, raising children, making a life? Our blue passports make their lives easier.....on their own farmland?

Jayyus sits at the top of a hill and as our bus climbed up to the village, another "hill" came into view on our left. This hill, unlike the dry, tan dirt of this semi-arid region, was black....and square. An odd bit of geography. Our guide explained that this is the dump for the nearby Israeli settlements. The settlements are 2-10 miles away, but his is their garbage dump, a few hundred yards below the village of Jayyus.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 2, 2008 - Return

This morning I awoke to the NPR news announcement of the bulldozer attack on an Egged bus and other vehicles in Jerusalem this morning. Shock. How can this be happening when there is still a glimmer of hope for a ceasefire in Gaza? I don't know.

Jerusalem is a divided city - East and West - divided along the "green line," the dividing line between Israel and its neighbors, established in 1949 when the state of Israel was created. The line continues to be a dividing line, even after Israel took the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. East Jerusalem is primarily Palestinian; West Jerusalem is Israeli. Last week we visited the offices of Sabeel in East Jerusalem, where there was construction down the middle of the street - a new light rail being built through this East Jerusalem neighborhood. Improving the transportation system in this traffic-clogged city - you might say, great improvement for all residents. However, there will be no stations/stops in East Jerusalem. This portion of the system is being built to transport residents of Maale Addumin, an Isreali settlement still being built in the West Bank - a middle class neighborhood with parks and playgrounds, good schools - and low prices for homes, subsidized by the Israeli government. The light rail will carry these residents through the Arab areas of East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem. So, although the rails run down the middle of their street, the residents of East Jerusalem will not be able to ride it.

The bulldozer operator who killed three people and wounded 40 or more today was a construction worker on the light rail. I don't have any idea what motivated him to do such an awful thing - to kill people riding on a bus or mothers and children in their cars. There is no justification for his murderous act. But the path of the light rail is a small part of the reality of the world he lived in and there seems to be little justification for what goes on in his world either. It is reported that he had a criminal record, but I wonder what his criminal acts were. Abdul-Iatif's brother-in-law is in prison - a criminal according to Israeli justice - and he does not even know what he is accused of.