Passports and Pollution

Passports and Pollution – A visit to Sebastia
Sebastia is famous for its magnificent greenery and for being a very important archeological site, with historic Greek and Roman remains. According to Christian tradition, this is where the body of John the Baptist was buried and, during the Crusades, a cathedral was built over his tomb. Years later, Muslims returning to the area under the rule of Salah al-Din transformed the cathedral into a mosque.The town also contains Herodian, medieval and Byzantine relics and ruins situated among the olive groves, making it an ideal destination for Palestinian visitors and tourists alike. Or does it? Seefoot note below*
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My Visit
I spent a wonderful afternoon, including lunch of course, with Ahmed and family. Hot and sunny it was, but the view from his garden was clouded by a dust storm that must have brewed up from Jordan. Ahmed was full of stories and anecdotes but the one that struck me most was about his grandfather’s passport. Issued in 1939 by Britain, as his grandfather was the Muktar, village leader, his passport declared he could travel anywhere in the world except to those countries opposed to the UK! Now his grandson Ahmed cannot even visit England; his visa was turned down this year although he was asked to come on a cultural friendship exchange by Hanwell Friends of Sebastia. Interestingly the old passport contains English, Palestinian and Hebrew headings. I left together with a present of a Roman coin Ahmed had found in his garden amongst some remnants of Roman columns
 
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Settlements – ecological disaster zones
Of course every village is affected by the Occupation in some way and, idyllic as it is, Sebastia is no exception. Nearby Shavei Shomron settlers constantly uproot olive trees but in February the town became increasingly threatened when they started pumping their sewage waste onto the village fields their settlement overlooks.Sebastia’s residents said the raw sewage flowed onto their fields causing substantial damage to crops as well as their apricot and olive trees. In addition to threatening the town’s agriculture and environment, the wastewater (which flows from a pipe around the settlement and creates puddles leading down to the fields) would also eventually affect tourism to the archeological sites.

Activism Works! – A combined effort of resistance followed.

After repeated appeals to authorities, the villagers formed a committee to deal with the sewage dumping problem. They organised a series of demonstrations to garner support and news coverage for their plight.

Three peaceful demonstrations took place over two months, attended by Palestinians, Israelis and international observers who walked towards the settlement and its sewage pipe carrying placards. They were met en route by Israeli troops who attempted to disperse them using tear gas. Lobbying of MPs and letters to the UK Consul in Jerusalem added to the pressure. Ultimately, their voices were heard and the sewage was turned off on April 3rd just before the fourth demonstration was due to take place.

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Ahmed with hand made placard – the shit out of here!

*Unlike the town itself (in Area B, which the Oslo Accords place under the joint control of the Palestinian Authority and Israel), the major archaeological site on the hilltop is part of Area C, meaning it’s under Israeli jurisdiction. The obvious ramifications of this to locals is that Israeli citizens can visit the site, but not the village, which means interaction with Palestinians is limited and tourist dollars hardly ever trickle down to local businesses. It also means that the only history Israeli tourists are exposed to is that of ancient times — one that precludes the presence of Palestinians throughout Christian and Muslim periods.

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