Tag Archives: West Bank
Autumn 2013 newletter
Exit policy – I wasn’t going to lie this time!
I decided that when crossing Allenby Bridge into Jordan for my flight back to the UK, if the Israeli border police asked me any questions, my reply was going to be, ‘I have been teaching English in Ramallah, is this a problem’? These last three months had again made me examine my fears and, and combined with Snowden’s whistle-blowing on the National Security Agency in the US, convinced me tha t- to be truly human, to dispense with spying, surveillance and fear of the ‘other’ – we have to be open, transparent and honest.
The 40 minute drive to the Bridge from Ramallah was so pleasant. The driver was a man I know who is from Aboud, a village close to Nabi Saleh, He took me by the back roads, pointing out villages I had never seen as we descended into the sandscape of the Jordan Valley. To get to the actual border crossing one has to change from the Palestinian taxi into an Israeli taxi and pay another £10 for a 10 minute ride. This Israeli driver was distinctly different…was it because I shook hands with the Palestinian driver? ‘Did I have a visa’? ‘Where had I been’? he repeatedly interrogated.
We passed through a checkpoint where I was asked if I had any weapons – this is a ‘usual’ question and, luckily, we quickly weren’t delayed getting to the terminal. After I had paid my exit tax, I turned around and was approached by a giantess of a woman, with clipboard, who asked me if I was a tourist. I just looked blankly at her and she repeated her question. Still getting no answer from me she explained that, as I had just come from Israel and she came from Ministry of Tourism, she would just like to ask me some questions. Protesting that I was in a hurry, I rushed off to the next booth for an exit visa stamp. Here the official explained that my visa had expired by one day but that was not a problem .. (I have become orientated to being on Palestinian time but, even so, being 24 hours late is stretching that somewhat).
And so I passed into Jordan, thinking “was that giantess really from the Shin Bet security organisation, doing a soft approach, or was it just my paranoid reaction”? I realised that I had just passed up my opportunity of being honest and transparent …I should have said, ‘No I haven’t come from Israel but the West Bank, there’s lots of tourism there in spite of being occupied’ ! The best intentions of mice and men, I have to count this as a trial run!
Prison PalestineMany Palestinians feel trapped as they don’t have the freedom to travel freely in their own state – to Gaza or Jerusalem – let alone the ‘outside’ as they frequently describe it. Some who have been in prison say they felt freer there than living in the West Bank.
Here are two examples of border hassle for West Bank Palestinians who I know, minor compared to outright rejection of a visa application, but illustrating how the occupation can harass and intimidate. Ziad, Director of Al Bireh Municipality where I had been volunteering, went to Jordan for two days, and on his return he was questioned for 4 hours at the Allenby crossing by Shin Bet because he had made a speech in Ramallah about Hugo Chavez. Ramallah/al Bireh had decided to name a street after Chavez and Ziad was inaugurating this. Apart from the harassment, how did they know what he had been doing? It doesn’t take too much analysis to work that out ….The second example is that of the two teachers who give me Arabic lessons. They decided to go to Sheik al Sharm resort area in Egypt for a week’s holiday. Not being able to go through Gaza (where they were born), they were forced to travel to Amman, Jordan, and then fly to Egypt. It would be so much easier for them to go across the Rafah border directly into Egypt, if only they could. But as Palestinians this is forbidden to them.
As a UK citizen, I am a privileged person, with rights and freedom to travel to countries the Britain once colonised or controlled. And I just hope that we can do something to help Palestinians get their freedom, their human rights, and the right to travel.
The Heat is On!
Hot and sweaty! I have had no water for over 24 hours – my neighbours have filled large bottles to help me and this morning I am amazed at the amount of water I use for a single person – loo flushing, washing up, teeth brushing – why did I use all those cups!? – must be a couple of gallons already and I haven’t washed my hair!!
For a few hours I am experiencing what some Palestinians endure for 4 days at a time. So I am suitably humbled, for I can call my landlady and she can phone the water company to solve it. OK they haven’t come yet but eventually they will…..in Palestinian time!
A clip from Al Haq’s recent 53 page report ‘Water for One People Only’* states:
‘Israel has renderer any reasonable access and use of water resources in the OPT practically impossible for the occupied population.’
Thirsting for Justice Campaign found that: **
– The average Israeli daily consumption per capita (300 litres) is about 4 times the Palestinian average (70 litres) which is well below the 100 litres recommended by the World Health Organisation. The average daily water consumption in the UK is 150 litres per person.
– Israel controls the aquifers underneath the West Bank extracting close to 90 % of their yearly sustainable yield and forbidding Palestinian access to the Jordan River.
– Some Palestinian communities live with as little as 20 litres of water per person a day. This is barely enough water for their basic needs.
– Communities depending on tankered water pay up to 4 times more for every litre than those connected to the network, adding strain to their income.
– About half a million Israelis live in illegal settlements located beside thirsty Palestinian communities. They have unrestricted access to water, well-watered lawns and swimming pools
Coupled with that is the destruction by settlers and the Israeli army of wells and water cisterns.
Political Hot Air!
The heat is on as well for the next round of peace talks, apparently Al Quds newspaper doubt if they are going to take place. Where does this leave the Palestinians? Ziad the director of the Al Bireh municipality and one of my students, is really worried if they don’t happen because right now more building is authorised in the settlements and the ‘judaization’ of East Jerusalem proceeds apace. If there are no talks this could make way for the complete annexation of the West Bank.
Or will this be the igniting of the 3rd Intifada? Some think it will only take a spark to make this happen; in this place of uncertainty it is difficult to predict.
My water 30 hour ‘drought’, was evenutally solved, not by the water company, but by two neighbours – one a Professor at Al Quds university the other a lawyer – so if you can’t get a plumber call in the academia!
“What do you think, are we sleeping?”, he asked. I replied, obliquely, that there were some pockets of resistance but nothing is unified over the West Bank. It was a short ride so I didn’t find out his opinion.
I am sure if you do not step outside the Ramallah city boundaries, it is easy to think that the West Bank is calm and peaceful. No army incursions, no violent clashes between teenage boys and soldiers, no resistance to the occupation apart from smallish demonstrations like the one marking Obama’s visit .
In Hastingsas a small bunch of activists we are used to the majority of people not engaging in our peace issues. Are the inhabitants in the Ramallah suburb where I am staying of a similar mindset tin spite of everything that has happened from the Nakba onwards? The people people around seem to have good jobs – most of the cars are smarter than mine (not too difficult I hear some of you say). Trees line the pavements, flowers are carefully tended, 10 minutes away there are bars which could be in London or Paris. So in Ramallah it is easy to think you are in a pop-up European city that has sprung up from nowhere. Is this the face of ‘normalisation’ ? Well, Ramallah is only 22 kilometres away from Bethlehem, where in Aida Camp there is a different story to be told.
Last year I was inspired by the cultural resistance in the Aida Refugee Camp, found in the Al Arowwad and Lajee youth centres. But for some of of the young people this is not enough. They vent their frustrations by focusing on the watch tower and the Wall that invades their space.
The day of my visit the camp was calm, but this is not always so as the following events show.
Last Monday, April 8, Mohammed Al-Azza, a Palestinian cameraman was shot in the face. Monday, Israeli soldiers entered Aida Refugee Camp through a gate in the separation wall dividing Rachel’s Tomb from Bethlehem. There were no clashes at the time, and their presence in the camp was not provoked. He was merely photographing the soldiers from the second-floor balcony of the Lajee Center, where he has long volunteered in the media unit. He was eager to use the centre’s new camera, a Canon 600D with a 50-250mm zoom lens.*
The back story – making a hole in the wall
This January, several youths decided to take action against the Wall. They chose a spot near the guard tower from which the army frequently fire and which was already weakened by the continuous burning of tyres. They drilled a hole using a electric hand drill, and after two nights the hole was large enough for them to pass through. On January 15 two did.
Salah Ajarma, the director of the Lajee Centre said the idea to make a hole in the wall came from an activist identified only as “Ali Wall,” who began a campaign against the barrier in Aida camp shortly after its completion in 2006. His dream was to make a hole and go to the other side to play in the field.
(The Palestine Monitor spoke with several witnesses to the drilling and saw a video of the youths drilling the hole. Photos taken after the drilling was done show a hole several feet high and perhaps a foot wide, large enough for children to pass through.)
“The purpose of the hole was not to launch attacks on Israel or otherwise endanger the Zionist state’s security”, Ajarma said. “The hole was drilled by the camp’s residents out of a simple and universal desire for freedom”.
“They don’t want the wall close to them, they don’t want the towers, they don’t want to see the Israeli army in the camp… That’s how they feel. Like if we open a hole, [there’s the belief that] we can reach every space, we can reach Jerusalem, or we can go to have a picnic or to have barbecue on the other side of the Wall. Because that’s what children want. They don’t want walls, they don’t want towers, they don’t want bullets. They want a free area and free space for them”.
The killing of Saleh
Frequent army incursions occurred after the drilling of the hole and, on January 18, 16 year old Saleh Elamareen, who eyewitnesses say was merely standing near the Lajee Centre, was shot in the head. He subsequently died in hospital.
Aida camp is witnessing a brutal crackdown on its young residents. The youth are the beacons of change in every society as they represent the future. When Israel arrests youth on unknown charges they are robbing them them of education, the right to a family life and of Palestine’s right to their future.”
So Palestine continues to be perplexing and tragic, hopeful and doomed and denied any political solution for the freedom and justice it deserves.
* I was not there to witness what happened last week the italicised extracts come from the Palestine Chronicle.