ICAHD Summer Rebuilding Camp 2003
Between August 8-22 the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is holding a work camp to rebuild the home of Arabia and Salim Shawamreh of Anata, near Jerusalem, which has been demolished four times.
Because of the trauma caused to the Shawamreh family due to the repeated demolitions, ICAHD is rebuilding the home as a peace center as an act of resistance. The peace center will be named Beit Arabia (“Arabia’s House”) after Arabia Shawamreh, the mother of seven who has suffered such physical and mental abuse simply trying to provide a home for her family under conditions of Occupation. The center will also be dedicated to the memory of Nuha Makadma Sweidan, a pregnant Palestinian woman killed in Gaza in March 2003 when an Israeli bulldozer demolished her home on top of her, and of Rachel Corrie, an American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer two weeks after Nuha, as she was trying to protect a Palestinian home in Gaza from demolition.
When completed The peace center will house a permanent exhibit of the ongoing tragedy of house demolitions. It will serve as a center for educational activities, study tours, activist events and peace-building between Palestinians and Israelis.
The journal entries below were written by participants in the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions’ annual Summer Rebuilding Camp. The views expressed are not necessarily those of ICAHD
Last Thursday the work camp got off to a good start with seven volunteers arriving from England, Germany and the USA. Several of them spent the night at the worksite with camp manager, Devorah Brous. ICAHD,s contractor had already been busy for a couple of days and finished pouring the concrete bearing wall and nine columns to support the roof. The camp infrastructure was ready with a field kitchen, showers and toilets all set up and ready for use. A men’s tent had been erected adjacent to the construction site and a women’s tent under the chaperonage of a local Beduin family.
By mid-morning several more campers had arrived and work was going full swing. An orientation session was held to apprise everyone of the ever-present risk of the Israeli army showing up with bulldozers to destroy the building for the fifth time. Volunteers were informed of the evacuation procedures and people willing to be arrested discussed strategy and non-violent resistance methods. Volunteers varied in age from seven to seventy and everyone pitched in with the work. People were assigned to food preparation and bathroom cleaning duties, in addition to helping the Palestinian masons in mixing cement and laying cinder block.
Mistress of the kitchen is Arabia Shawamreh who, with the help of volunteers, prepared a delicious traditional lunch of macluba, a dish of chicken, vegetables and rice cooked together.
The workday ended late with the final truckload of block arriving to be unloaded at 8pm. After dinner Jeff Halper and Salim Sahwamreh gave a slide show presentation on the history of the home and the various demolitions.
Day two of the camp started with the arrival of several women from the Women’s Coalition and a delegation of 12 from Christian Peacemakers teams who do protection and witnessing in Hebron. The work day proceeded with the repair of the Rachel Corrie memorial sculpture which had been constructed on the site several months before and had been damaged by local children. However the volunteers gave it a face lift and it will be landscaped by the end of the camp. More block laying was accomplished and the steel for the roof trusses was hauled down the hill and painted with rustproofing.
The day ended with an evening discussion session with representatives from several Israeli & Palestinian peace & justice organizations including the Alternative Information Center, Machsom Watch, Taayush, Bat Shalom and Rabbis for Human Rights
August 12th, day 5 of the work camp saw great progress in the construction of the Peace Center in East Jerusalem. The rough stucco was finished and half the roof was framed with metal trusses. More campers arrived, several Israeli volunteers came for the day, and a delegation from Canada visited in solidarity with our work. In the evening Jamal Juma from PENGON, a Palestinian Environmental coalition gave an excellent presentation in English and Arabic regarding the situation on the ground. The audience was shown maps of the Separation Wall which illuminated the ever tightening noose that the Israeli Occupation was tightening around ever shrinking Palestinian areas.
English volunteer, Reverend Andrew Ashdown shares some of his thoughts with us.
I have been visiting and leading groups to Israel and Palestine for 20 years, but this is the first time that I have joined a direct action campaign. It is an inspiring, moving and disturbing experience. We have been under the watchful eye of the Israeli military and have been threatened with arrest simply for being in a Palestinian village whose lands have been stolen by the building of the Wall around the West Bank. In the camp, there is a wonderful sense of solidarity – Jews, Christians and Moslems, Israelis and Palestinians and internationals from all over the world working together as a witness against the brutal policies of occupation, to build a Peace Centre on the site of a home demolished four times already simply for being ‘too close’ to a new by-pass road. It is humbling to hear the stories of those whose lives have been destroyed by the occupation but whose only desire is to have a home of their own on their own land and to live in peace with their neighbours. The camp is not just a symbol of non-violent resi
stance against the phenomenal scale of injustices and human rights abuses being committed on a daily basis against a civilian population. It is a symbol of hope as people of all nationalities and faiths work together, in a land and amongst a people brutalized by occupation and oppression, witness to the possibility of harmony, justice and peace for all the people of the land.
Reverend Andrew Ashdown
Vicar of All Saints, Denmead. England.
Day 6, Wednesday, August 13th, 2003 our campers were joined by an Italian group and some Israelis for a critical tour of the Jordan Valley and the Separation Wall. The tour was led by ICAHD’s tours coordinator, Naama Nagar and Jeff Halper. The following report was written by Naama Nagar.
First we went to see the construction works next to Tulkarm. We had a chance to speak with the construction workers (Palestinian, of course) and with the Israeli guard who work for the private security company hired by the government. We also saw the Border Police Headquarters at the western entrance to Tulkarm, whose attendants were suspicious and curious about our presence there. Next we drove on Rd. no. 6 – the Cross-Israel Highway, that goes along the Palestinian city of Qalqilia, that found itself in an enclave due to the wall.
At 14:45 We reached Mas’ha, a Palestinian village located 6 Km eastern to the Green Line, next to four Jewish settlements sitting on its lands (Ornit, Elkana, Sha’arei-Tikva and Etz-Efrayim). In Mas’ha Palestinian, Israeli and international activists have jointly run a protest tent for the last 3.5 months. As a resident of Mas’ha presented to us the implications of the wall over its community, two soldiers appeared with an order to clear the place, since they have just announced the area a ‘closed military zone’.
We wanted to check whether this was a legal order (should be an original, signed by a Lewtenant-General) but didn’t get a chance to. The soldiers also refused to show us on the map attached to the order what area the order was referring to. Since we didn’t want to cause any troubles to the people of Mas’ha, we decided to accept the oral order and leave the area, less than an hour after our arrival. After having left, we got reports from Mas’ha that the military destroyed the protest tent and confiscated written material that was in it.
This isn’t the first time the military announces ‘closed military zone’ in order to disperse any activity it objects, especially when a joint Palestinian-Israeli or International action is the case. Yesterday’s incident happened during an educational tour, not even a demonstration, when none of the participants had any intention to protest or violate the law. The tour ended up in the most unexpected way. It was definitely an educational experience, for some of us the first encounter with the IDF.
Camp report Day 7+8
August 14th was a productive day at the Work Camp with the Labor Solidarity group from the USA joining the other internationals in building the Peace Center on the Site of the Shawamreh Family home which has been demolished four times. Several more Israeli volunteers also arrived to boost the work crew.
The day’s focus was on continuing the roofing and preparing the western side for the terraced garden. The interior floor tiles were also installed, and the northern wall prepared for the mural which is scheduled to start in two days.
The evening was spent in Jerusalem where the campers enjoyed a well-earned meal at a fine Palestinian restaurant complete with desert accompanied by ‘nargilas’ (traditional tobacco water pipes). The crew finally arrived back at camp after midnight.
On August 15th a delegation sponsored by Ta’ayush arrived with representatives from Peace Now. Ta’ayush is a Jewish/Arab Israeli peace & justice group that works to end the Occupation and fights for social justice inside Israel. They worked hard until lunchtime on building the masonry terraces. After lunch Ta’ayush spokesperson, Lena Yassin, gave a presentation on their work in the Occupied Territories which includes solidarity activities against the Separation Wall and bringing food convoys to besieged villages.
The following paragraph is written by Kathy and Bill, volunteers from the USA, who also took most of the photographs posted on the web site:
We’ve been working on the Palestinian-Israeli problem for over 30 years, but we’ve always been armchair activists, writing a lot but never doing anything hands-on until now. This is an amazing project — exhilarating to be doing something tangible in opposition to the occupation; emotionally powerful to see the human impact of the occupation as it affects every aspect of Palestinian life and to be doing something real to help a Palestinian family; wonderful to be working with a group of Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals from Europe, North America, and Asia, all devoting themselves to working for Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation; and extremely satisfying to be taking a meaningful step to express our opposition to our own U.S. government’s horribly misguided policy. Perhaps most important, we are so pleased to be working with Israelis who recognize Palestinians as equal human beings with equal political and civil rights and who are able to criticize the occupation and listen to criticism without charging anti-Semitism. We still struggle with the worry that what we and all activists on projects like this are doing is futile in the larger scheme of a U.S. policy that endorses and facilitates the continuation of the occupation. But projects such as this can make a difference. Ultimately, only a change in U.S. policy will ever bring an end to the occupation, and only non-violent acts of civil disobedience like this project, participated in by large numbers of people from the region and from around the world, will ever have an impact on the powerful pro-occupation forces that dominate U.S. policy today.
Kathy & Bill Christison
Writers, former CIA political analysts
(Kathy is the author of two published books, “Perceptions of Palestine” and “The Wound of Dispossession.” Bill was a National Intelligence Officer and the Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis.)