Thursday, April 25, 2013

EAPPI memories

Incoming Ecumenical Accompaniers at the handover cermony
Outgoing (left) and incoming Jerusalem teams
This is my final blog from Jerusalem. At a handover ceremony this morning in St. George's Anglican Cathedral the seven international EAPPI teams lit the candles of their successors, who will carry on the work for the next three months. I expect to be home Sunday night. In this last blog I would like to share  some of the memories, bad and good, that I will carry home with me. The pictures tell the story.

Israeli authorities left more than 30 people homeless by demolishing this house in the Beit Hanina neighborhood. Now the extended family lives in tents and a trailer next to the rubble.

There is a demolition order to destroy this barn in Nabi Samwil built with French aid after authorities destroyed earlier tents three times.

Taxi driver Moyad Ghazawneh in Ar-Ram died from tear gas shot in his cab by Israeli soldiers, leaving a widow and two daughters, one born 10 days after his death.

At a demonstration at the Damascus Gate we saw the young man below arrested. Arrests of minors, mostly for stone throwing, is common. One woman said her 13-year-old brother was arrested 33 times in the last four years.
(Photo by EA Esteban Gutierrez)

Thousands of Palestinians endure the daily aggravation of crossing Israeli checkpoints, like this one at Qalandiya, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. EAPPI monitors it from 4:30 to 7:30 a.m. three times a week, when on bad days it can take workers more than an hour to cross.

For four consecutive Friday mornings Muslim men under the age of 50 were denied access to the Old City for Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa mosque. Police told us it was because "there might be problems." One time there was a security cordon with checkpoints on approach streets and all around within the city.

In the Kaabneh Bedouin community near Jaba, children have to crawl through a drainage culvert to get to school under busy highways to Israeli settlements. But Bedouin children in Wadi Abu Hindi have a new kindergarten thanks to international organizations.

I will remember watching students cross the Zatoun checkpoint to get to their school in Jerusalem, and accompanying boys from a school in Wadi Rabada to avert problems with Israeli settlers or police.

In Israel close to the Gaza strip, children in Sderot unfortunately need shelters like this big worm to protect them from Palestinian rockets. 

In the village of Kafr Qaddum near Tulkarm in the West Bank, boys roll out tires to burn for the weekly protest against the blockade of their road for the convenience of adjacent Israeli settlements.

My Holy Week observances in Jerusalem included helping to carry a cross on the Via Dolorosa in the "Contemporary Way of the Cross" that compared Christ's suffering with the daily suffering of the Palestinian people.

I will remember the Statue of Liberty weeping for Palestine (on the separation barrier in Bethlehem). But I will also remember the signs of hope, like all the Israeli and Palestinian groups working for a just peace, and this large fragrant yellow rose I saw in my last week in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The UN perspective of East Jerusalem

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA) promotes inter-agency coordination for more effective humanitarian assistance. The office is concerned with all occupied Palestinian territory, but this blog will focus on its information about East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and annexed in 1980.

Around 293,000 Palestinians live there, in addition to 200,000 Israeli settlers in settlements built contrary to international humanitarian law (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). About 4 million Palestinians from the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory cannot enter East Jerusalem without Israeli-issued permits, which are difficult to obtain.

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are "permanent residents" rather than citizens of Israel, and they have to prove that their "center of life" is within the Israeli-defined municipal  boundary. More than 14,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians have had their residency revoked since 1967. The family reunification process for a spouse from outside East Jerusalem has become virtually impossible since Israel passed the Nationality and Entry Into Israel Law in 2003. It is hard to register children when one parent is not a Jerusalem resident, and there may be 10,000 unregistered children in East Jerusalem. OCHA says "Combined with land expropriation, restrictive zoning and planning, demolitions and evictions, and the inadequate provision of resources and investment in East Jerusalem...this residency policy not only increases humanitarian vulnerability but risks undermining the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem."

35% of land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated for Israeli settlement use; only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up. At least 33% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, which are difficult to obtain, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement. Since 1967 Israeli authorities have demolished over 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem. (See below for the latest demolition.)

OCHA office in East Jerusalem
OCHA says about 2,000 settlers live in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, concentrated in the so-called "Holy Basin" that includes several communities, among them Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. In those two places alone one Palestinian was killed and least 430 have been injured in settler attacks and clashes with Israeli forces and private security guards in the last four years.

For more information and maps from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, see

House demolition in At-Tur
We witnessed another home demolition today on the last working day of our EAPPI volunteer assignment. In the village of At-Tur it took the giant bulldozer two hours to destroy the addition of the home of a family of 45, 17 of whom were living in the addition. It was the fourth time it has been demolished. The family says the bulldozer just happened to be in the neighborhood, and could not get close enough to destroy the house that was on the schedule.

Owner Kayed Jaradat talks to the media by the rubble

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A business destroyed

Nayef's son Shadi shows destroyed machinery and living space
At 3 a.m. this morning soldiers and police came with a bulldozer and demolished the family building-tile plant of Nayef Wahid al Ashhab in the West Bank village of Hizma, northeast of Jerusalem. The authorities did not present a demolition order, and the family had been pursuing litigation to contest a "stop building" order. Nayef, his two sons, and two employees were living in a small room on the site. They said they were awakened by the soldiers and were not given time to remove any of the equipment. The whole demolition took only 20 or 25 minutes.

EA Olli from Finland views the damage
Some of the tiles that were spared
Nayef estimates the value of the machinery and building destroyed was more than $25,000. His son Shadi says,"We want to build it again, right here, if we can." The problem is, the Israeli army controls Area C of the West Bank, in which Hizma is located, and does not generally permit new Palestinian construction.

Nayef in makeshift shelter
Nayef is from Hebron, and he visits the rest of his family there on weekends. But during the week, as noted above, he, his two sons, and two employees share a small room on the site that was destroyed this morning. EAPPI is trying to help them get a tent through the Red Cross or some other agency, but it is not so easy because the site is primarily industrial rather than residential. In the meantime, they must use makeshift blanket shelters.

A tiny school

Nabi Samwil Mixed School (toilet at right) 
In the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil (on the Jerusalem side of the separation barrier) stands a sturdy, a tiny one-room school for a dozen students in grades one through four. Headmaster Khaleel Abu-Arqoup calls it "the world's smallest school." That may be hyperbole, but the 13 x 16-foot school certainly must be one of the smallest four-grade schools anywhere. The interior is crammed with Khaleel's desk in one corner and a dozen small student desks.

The school uses the Palestinian Authority curriculum, and is funded by the Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Department with money from other Arab countries.

Khaleel Abu-Arqoup
Khaleel's office corner

Students at the one-room school
Khaleel has three teachers on his staff, and he helps, too. That's a pupil-teacher ratio of 3:1, which allows for individualized instruction. The teachers take turns using the classroom, and some teach outside in good weather. Khaleel is proud of student performance, because their scores are at the top in the standardized fourth grade tests in Arabic and math.

"Our greatest need is more space," says Khaleel. Israeli authorities cannot demolish the building because it predates 1967, but they refuse to grant permission to build an addition or bring in a trailer to accommodate more students.

Students preparing to cross Al-Jib Checkpoint
The Nabi Samwil school's enrollment could easily double given more space, because other young students now have to ride a bus though Al-Jib checkpoint in the separation barrier to reach Arab schools on the other side, along with the older students. We monitored the checkpoint for one hour yesterday morning and estimate that 94 Palestinian students from various villages came through without problems on their way to schools on the West Bank side. Most were on buses; a few were walking.

We also counted 222 people coming from the West Bank, mostly construction workers with jobs in the Israeli settlements. They said it is relatively easy to get three-month permits from Israeli authorities to cross the checkpoint every day, but they can be delayed there for up to two hours by an arbitrary soldier. They said the morning we were there the crossing was easy.

Later yesterday we visited the headquarters of the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B'Tselem, whose name in Hebrew means "in the image of" a reference to the Genesis account of the creation of humankind. It produces research reports on systemic issues for policymakers, engages in public outreach through videos and social media, and pursues accountability in individual cases of human rights violations. Its website, with a wealth of valuable information, is

Noam Rabinovich
B'Tselem's international research associate Noam Rabinovich, who was born in Israel and lived for two years in the United States, told us that one of the organization's current concerns is illegal use of crowd control measures by Israeli forces. "Monitoring demonstrations is a priority for us," she said. She said that last year attack dogs were used nine times, and the army changed the policy to prohibit it. In January of this year, she said five Palestinians were killed by live fire, which is strictly forbidden. B'Tselem's latest report on crowd control in the West Bank was issued in January, and you can read a summary or the full report under the publications tab of their website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

St. James Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Priest in front of the baroque altar of St. James Greek Orthodox Church
The largest Christian denomination in the Holy Land is the Greek Orthodox, whose Patriarch claims direct descent from St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Yesterday I worshiped in St. James Cathedral, which is just to the left of the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was an uplifting experience for me, a Presbyterian unfamiliar with the Orthodox rite. The two-hour service was in Arabic, mostly sung and chanted except for the homily.

There were many icons, and artificial roses surrounded the center one of the Virgin and Child.

By the end of the service the church was packed, with about 30 men in front and 100 women and children  behind.
Reading from jewel-covered Bible
Unlike the Greek Catholic Church I attended during Holy Week, here there was only one procession around the church. The priest read from a jewel-covered Bible, and had jewels on the gold cross around his neck. At certain points in the service he kissed another hand-held cross. The most unusual experience for me was the mode of receiving  the Eucharist. The priest had a long-handled silver spoon, which he filled with a mixture of the crumbled Host and wine from a chalice and flipped it into the open mouth of each worshiper, even a one-year-old child in arms.An elder held a large red napkin under the worshiper's chin. Then we picked up a piece of  bead from a basket.

Painting of St George in St. James Church
After the service there was a memorial service for a man who had died six months ago and another who had died a year ago. There were readings by family members and special cakes with white frosting on which the priest scratched the sign of a cross at the end of the ceremony.

Yesterday afternoon we gave a briefing on EAPPI and the problems of East Jerusalem to a group of French Catholics who are here for an alternative study tour.
Speaking to French group

Mohammed al-Kurd
We took them to the house of Nabeel al-Kurd in Sheikh Jarrah, the front part of which is occupied by Israeli settlers (see previous blogs). Nabeel was not there, but his 14-year-old son Mohammed articulately explained the background of the community's problem and the current situation. He told the French visitors that he has been slapped by settlers, and his father and a neighbor have been bitten by their attack dogs. But the police arrest the Palestinians, not the settlers. "Everybody in the neighborhood has been arrested except me," he said. Mohammed tells his story in the documentary "My Neighbourhood," which he showed in the United States last year. You can see the 25-minute film at this link:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A super-fast checkpoint crossing

Approaching Shufat Checkpoint
When I took three of the new EAs to the Shufat Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem yesterday, we walked through the checkpoint on the way back. It was the fastest crossing I have seen anywhere in the past three months. All four of us passed through the turnstiles and the ID check in just one minute. The new EAs showed their visas; I just showed the cover of my passport. The metal detector was not in use. Would that all checkpoints were so easy to cross, or better yet, removed entirely as part of a just peace.

Shufat, as you may recall from previous blogs, has more than 25,000 refugees crammed into one square kilometer, with an unemployment rate of 40%. The Israeli separation barrier is an ever-present reminder of their marginalized status.
Shufat Refugee Camp
Refuse burning near the separation barrier

EAs meet Najah Masalmeh at the cooperative
We visited the women's embroidery cooperative and met with Najah Masalmeh, who showed us some of their beautiful work. They have a sales outlet in the United States through the United Methodist Church. I bought some gifts for my grandchildren.

Yesterday EAs also returned to Khan al-Ahmar, the Jahalin Bedouin community threatened with forced relocation (see Feb. 10 and 23 blogs).

Eid Abu Khamis shows site of proposed forced relocation 
Spokesman Eid Abu Khamis showed us a tentative government plan for moving 800 Bedouin families to a small site north of the village of An Nuwei'ma, north of Jericho, between an aggressive Israeli settlement and a military zone.

Proposed layout of relocation site

 He says the plan is the worst yet, because each family would have only one-eighth of an acre, not enough for grazing animals, and different Bedouin groups that do not always see eye-to-eye would be forced to live together. He expects that the proposal will be officially announced in two or three weeks, after which there will be 60 days for public comment. Lawyers for the Jahalin will continue to pursue lawsuits to postpone forced relocation.

SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumim
On the way back to Jerusalem we stopped in the Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim to see the huge factory that makes SodaStream home soft drink products. Human rights groups in several countries, including the United States, are encouraging consumers to boycott them because they are made in settlements that are illegal under international law.