ICAHD Summer Rebuilding Camp 2006


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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



Day One – July 16th, 2006

 

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Dramatic developments seem to have overtaken our localized efforts on the ground to end the Israeli Occupation. The invasion of Gaza (almost forgotten, yet ongoing), rocket attacks on major Israeli cities, massive Israeli destruction in Lebanon, the terrorizing of civilian populations – Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese alike – all these seem to dwarf our actions such as the rebuilding of a demolished Palestinian home. One cannot escape the realization, however, that the Occupation is the major source of instability and violence in our region. It both fosters non-progressive forces (religious and autocratic in particular) and prevents progressive forces in every Middle Eastern country from achieving regional peace and development. Israel’s Occupation empowers extremists worldwide; only it end, like the uncorking of a bottle, will create the conditions in which a progressive, peaceful, prosperous Middle East can emerge and play its role as a major region of the world.

 

And so ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, embarked today on its fourth annual work camp, rebuilding the demolished home of the Hamdan family in the town of Anata. Our rebuilding activity highlights the fact that in times of quiet as well as times of high conflict, as today, the Occupation goes on without a pause, every single day witnessing another “fact on the ground” that perpetuates Israeli control: another highway, another olive grove uprooted, another mile of Wall, another demolished home, another Palestinian driven out or not allowed to return, another settlement, another campaign of “cleansing the area.” It highlights the lie behind Israel’s PR, that its policies in the Occupied Territories are motivated solely by security concerns, by showing that policies such as house demolition – at least 12,000 Palestinian homes demolished since 1967 – have nothing whatsoever to do with security but represent pro-active policies of displacement and claiming the entire country for Jews alone.

 

Some 30 international volunteers joined with ICAHD and its Palestinian partners to inaugurate the 2006 work camp in Anata. This year the local community chose the Hamdan family of eight – an elderly couple together with their son, his wife and their four young children whose home was demolished in November 2004 – as the home to be rebuilt by joint efforts at the ICAHD-sponsored camp. Rebuilding is always a risky enterprise; it is an act of civil disobedience since the rebuilding of demolished homes is “illegal” under Israel law. This year, however, the Israeli government decided to construct the Wall around Anata precisely in the place and at the time of our work camp. We find ourselves, then, engaged in civil disobedience just a few feet away from Border Police patrols send to protect the Wall’s builders. To make things even more complicated, we find ourselves in a cross-fire between local kids lobbing stones at the soldiers and the Border Police reacting with plastic bullets and tear gas – the Hamdan house at the very center of the “battlefield.”

 

Nevertheless we accomplished a great deal today. We cleared the site, poured the foundations and columns and, tomorrow, will begin constructing the roof. Our aim is to complete the house from scratch (or from its ruins) in two weeks, at the end of which we will hand the keys over to the Hamdan family.

 

The work camp involves a great deal of discussion: How do we react to both the soldiers and the kids? How do we resist, and to what degree do we resist attempts to stop our building? How do we make our resistance known to the wider community, especially as its attention is deflected by the “bigger” news? Volunteers, who will include large groups of internationals, Israelis and Palestinians these two weeks, learn about the Occupation in interactions, workshops, tours and, of course, through the experience of building an “illegal” house. The issues, difficulties and triumphs of grassroots peace work, composed of myriad micro-decisions and actions, will be the subject of the following daily blogs, each written by a different camp participant.

 

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Day Two – July 17th, 2006

 

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The second day of the camp proved to be eventful and interesting but also somewhat confusing. It is of course a huge game (not to minimize the element of resistance in the act) for an eight year old to throw a stone at a soldier. And the soldiers must know that their presence, especially going out of their way to drive past the Palestinian kids, would present an irresistible provocation. This was how day one ended, the demolished home we were trying to rebuild as our own form of resistance caught in the crossfire between children throwing stones and soldiers firing rubber bullets and teargas. All this drew unwanted attention to the rebuilding in its early stages, just as the site was getting established.

 

Early this morning we learned that the Israeli Border Police were at the site, had confiscated the Palestinian workers’ papers and had ordered them to march to the interrogation center on the next hill, about a mile away. (We learned later they had been held for about seven hours, then released into the West Bank, forbidden to work at our project again). We eventually made our way to the building around 9.30 am. The workers, of course, were not there, but neither were the kids, since Salim had told the Hamdan family that either they kept the local children at bay or we would cease the building.

 

We had just started laying out the blocks for the roof when the soldiers arrived, accompanied by a Jerusalem municipal building inspector. They informed Jeff Halper, the ICAHD representative at the site, that the building was illegal. Jeff answered that on the contrary, the demolition of the home was illegal according to international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding home demolitiona in occupied territories. “We go by Israeli law,” the inspector replied, then proceeded to take photographs of the site. Tomorrow we expect the Jerusalem municipality, which has jurisdiction over this section of Anata, to issue us a stop-work order. (To judge from the quality of the streets, lack of sidewalks and garbage everywhere, the only municipal service the residents of Anata receive from the city is evidently the demolition of their homes. Why they would want to demolish this house built on private land on the PALESTINIAN side of the Wall is beyond us.)

 

Since a stop-work order would imperil both the Palestinian workers and the building equipment (which could be confiscated), the ICAHD staff and camp participants decided to make a strategic withdrawal: we decided to shift our building efforts to another part of Anata where demolitions were frequent, continuing to work on the Hamdan house whenever possible. This was very disappointing for the family as well as for all of us, but we promised the family that the house would be rebuilt within a couple months. We spent the rest of the morning removing the materials from the site so they would not be confiscated, and stripping away yesterday’s work in preparation for the new site.

 

Back at Beit Arabiya we enjoyed another delicious lunch, followed by a talk from Jamilla Biso, who has organised a summer camp for Bedouin children living just up the hill from Beit Arabiya.

 

In the afternoon a group returned to the Hamdan work site help load the materials for transportation to the new site. While we were working there was another incident with soldiers again firing at children a small distance away from the building site. More soldiers then arrived at the site and stayed for a while watching as we carried on loading the materials. The day ended with a small but difficult incident. Some of the children came running onto the site showing off a small canister they had found and started to get a hammer and nail to hit the firing pin. An ICAHD member noticed that it was a blast canister which was live, and could have seriously harmed any the children if it exploded. He took it away, but this angered the kids who became quite hostile. In the end the situation was resolved when the canister was given to our Palestinian site foreman.

 

So day two was one step back, although filled with learning experiences big and small. We will continue with house-building for another family, however, and the Hamdan house will be rebuilt by ICAHD at a later date. The evening finished with presentations from several women’s organizations: New Profile, the Jerusalem Centre for Women, MakhsomWatch and one-time Palestinian cabinet minister Zahira Kamal.

 

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Day Three – July 18th, 2006

 

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Lucia Pizzaro, ICAHD’s Camp (and International) Coordinator

 

Today I woke up with bad headache again. I’m not used to sleeping so little, and again we had pita, hummus, cucumbers & olives for breakfast.

 

The participants left the site this morning for a tour around Jerusalem. I stayed to receive the ISM volunteers who came to work on the new building site. Talking to them filled my heart with hope, especially our conversation about the many youths around the world that chose to volunteer for ISM.

 

Interviewing the family, I found myself asking the same stupid questions I always ask: “How did they demolish your home?”, “Why?”, etc. The house belonged to Abu Ahmad Al Hadad, aged 53, originally from Hebron. About seven years ago he bought some land in Anata, mainly because one of his wives, Intivah, has a Jerusalem ID. 24 people were living in the house at the time of demolition: Abu Ahmad, his two wives, seventeen children, two grandchildren, a daughter-in-law and his mother. The day of the demolition, 16 June 2004, Abu Ahmad was in Hebron. Intivah called him, but by the time he got to the site there was no house left, only a big pile of rubble. The Israeli Civil Administration demolished their house over some of their belongings because they were not given enough time to remove them. His younger children wanted to get the rest of the stuff out but were forcibly removed from the site. Two of the children and Abu Ahmad’s mother needed continual medical treatment after this.

 

All of Abu Ahmad’s life savings had gone into the house and the one he lives in now, which is also slated for demolition. By the time I asked him if he had anything to add, he began crying. He insisted that ICAHD’s readiness to rebuild his home is a gift from Allah (even though Salim has made sure the family understands that it could be demolished again), and he went on to say that if I was to open his wallet I wouldn’t find $10. Feeding 24 mouths is impossible when you cannot even find work. I dared to ask, do you know that even if we finish building a small house for you on your land it could be demolished again? “I have no choice,” he answered.

 

The ISM-ers worked really hard to fill the columns of the al-Hadad house in Anata, which lies in a virtual “garden” (or should I say cemetery?) of homes demolished by the Israeli authorities.

 

 

By camp participant BF

 

We pulled away from the camp this morning at 8:30 am bound for Jerusalem. 20 of us hiked up the hill past a lunarscape of rubble and debris left by Israeli bulldozers, piled onto the bus, crossed the checkpoint, left the Third World and in minutes found ourselves in modern Jerusalem. Jeff Halper met us at Jaffa Gate where he began guiding us through the Old City, walking us through the history of the region, orienting us to its geography, its shifting walls and its changing occupants, then leading us on a walking tour from one quarter to another. We found the two-hour tour rich in historical background and as anything Jeff says, with significant political insight. I was struck by his account of the Judiazing [or, de-Arabizing] going on openly and quietly across the City. We ended the tour overlooking the Western Wall, the Haram-al-Sharif or the Temple Mount, and the Mount of Olives.

 

After two hours of free time we reconvened at Daila, ICAHD’s outreach center in West Jerusalem, for a great lunch followed by talks from Ashraf Abu-Moch, Daila’s director, and from Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center (AIC). The AIC (http://www.alternativenews.org), founded in the 1980′s, is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization with an office in West Jerusalem. Its staff gather, analyze and disseminate information regarding the Occupation and inequalities in Israeli and Palestinian societies. Shir offered a brilliant summary of the various economic factors affecting Israeli society and conspiring to support the Occupation. He emphasized the importance of boycott and the vulnerability of Israel’s economy given the bloated military budget and the waning enthusiasm of the average Israeli for the Occupation. Particularly disturbing to me was Israel’s welfare-to-work program which erects numerous bureaucratic obstacles seemingly designed to humiliate Palestinians and thereby sharply reduce the number receiving income subsidies.

 

Our final lunchtime speaker was our beloved Jeff who brought out the maps and explained the Israeli government’s plan for isolating individual Palestinian communities and surrounding them with a controlling matrix of walls, checkpoints, settlements, alternative roads and the like. This segwayed nicely into a bus tour of East Jerusalem which looped around the Old City, traced the Kidron Valley, descended to the City of David and further down to the Palestinian city of Silwan, a community that lives under constant threat of house demolition. We saw a new and expanding Jewish settlement in an area that has long been entirely Palestinian. From there went to the Wall to see how is bisected the village of Abu Dis. After a pause to inspect an elaborate checkpoint we ascended to Ma’ale Adumim, a massive, strategic and ever-expanding settlement outside East Jerusalem that all but severs the West Bank into north and south. The planned non-viability of an increasing fragmented gaggle of Palestinian cities and towns became clear.

Returning to Beit Arabiya for dinner we heard from two members of the International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent direct action group that participates at the request of Palestinian communities in various activities that help them fight the Occupation. Palestinians are much less likely to be arrested or hurt when accompanied by internationals. ISM has a media office in Ramallah for issuing press releases and doing legal work for detainees. They work in places like Bilin, Hebron, Tel Rumeida, Beit Ummar and, until 2003, in the Gaza Strip. A brief presentation was followed by a lively discussion which began formally then continued informally for some time. Many of us seemed at least as tired at the end of today as we did at the end of a day of physical work. But our passion to understand the issues is only growing.

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Day Four – July 19th, 2006

 

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Today was first day working on the new house since we had to change building site due to problems with Israeli authorities. Finally we could start over! The new site is scattered with demolished homes, and we met with the owner who expressed gratitude for our efforts. 24 people lived in the demolished home. While work went a bit slow in the beginning, we finally got ourselves organized and in the end we completed quite a lot.

 

It is great to see how the house is taking shape, a lot faster than I thought (tomorrow we should be ready to put up the roof!). I have no doubts at all that we will finish in these two weeks. I today had the role of some sort of assistant block layer. I worked with Adil, a middle aged man, originally from Jenin, now living in Ramallah, with his wife and seven children. With limited possibilities of spoken communication more things were said during the silence, laying blocks putting concrete and building the walls of this house. In the end Adil said: “You are a good Swede,” then he smiles and we shake hands. It is fantastic to see how things progress, and that includes the relations we build with the Palestinian workers leading our work.

 

Today we also had a talking circle at lunch, where we as individuals in this group can raise questions and concerns about everything from the practical aspects of the camp, on the construction and on how it is to be here in Israel and Palestine. It is of great important that we are all comfortable here and this method will help us assure this I think. We also heard that ICAHD had helped save five Palestinian homes from demolition yesterday by appealing to the courts at the last moment and by bringing an injunction to the Israeli authorities overseeing the demolitions.

 

I write this while listening to Rabbi Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights and Gareth Gleed from the Palestinian human rights group al-Haq. I will let the rabbi’s words end today’s blog: “Together we restore hope and most of all, we empower each other. And it is of crucial importance.” 

 

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Day Five – July 20th, 2006

 

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Apart from a few hardy volunteers, we had a break from building to go with ICAHD’s Angela Godfrey-Goldstein to the Negev. Those who stayed behind to continue building achieved a milestone of sorts as the majority of the roof was done.

 

After an hour or so, the bus pulled off the highway and slowly drove down a long dirt track in the desert to Nuri Elokbi’s protest tent. Nuri told us his story as Angela translated.

 

For many hundreds of years, the Elokbi tribe had lived in two areas of the Negev totalling 19,000 dunums. When the state of Israel was founded many Bedouin were granted Israeli citizenship and were given written, signed assurances in Arabic and Hebrew that their rights to enjoy their lands would be protected and respected all in return for their loyalty to the state. The house that Nuri’s father built in 1936 was used twice a week as of 1949 by the Israeli Military Representative sitting with Bedouin elders as the local tribal court.. The Elokbi paid taxes – Nuri still has the receipts. But it was not to last.

 

In 1951 the Government told the Elokbi that their land was needed for military exercises for the next six months, after which they could return. In the meantime they would be given other land of the same size in Hura. For four months the tribe was subjected to harassment and shooting by the army to ensure compliance. On 11 November 1951 army trucks came to move the tribe to their new area, an area under total military control. The house that Nuri’s father built was destroyed.

 

The Elokbi were deceived. The new land was in fact much smaller and it was already owned and used by other Bedouin. By 1954 the government made it
clear that the Elokbi would never be allowed to return to their original lands. Confined to Hura, the everyday activities of the tribe, buying feedstock or equipment or selling animals were all subject to the granting of permits by the military. The tribe started to build houses and sheds but these were served with demolition orders. There is no electricity, no schools, no sewage, no phone lines, despite the fact that these services are within easy reach.

 

In recent years members of the tribe returned to their original lands to plant wheat. It was sprayed and destroyed. Last year it was ploughed up. Nuri set up a protest tent on his land and invited people to hear his story. Six or seven times the military have torn down his tent. It offered us welcome shade from the burning sun. “This situation imposed on us by the racist Israeli state is intolerable”, said Nuri. “It’s destroying our culture. All we want is to rebuild our pastoral community, to build houses, to look after our animals and live in peace with others.”

 

We bid farewell to Nuri Elokbi and his remarkable struggle for justice to visit the village of El Gren. Ali Abu Shaeta greeted us warmly. “Your visit gives us hope that one day we will be able to live in dignity without harming anyone else and like normal human beings.” The village of 1400 souls is an unrecognised village: it receives no assistance from the state, no electricity, no schools, no water, no sewage, no building permits and no service other than house demolitions. On the 25 April, 2005, when the world was remembering the Holocaust on Israel’s Holocaust Day, the soldiers and officials arrived to post a demolition notice on Ali’s house. Ali said “We had had no trouble with the Ottoman Empire or with the British. When Jews come to Israel they are given every assistance, but we are given nothing. The government even wanted to demolish the mosque we built. This racist state is creating fanatics.”

 

We travelled next to Lakiya, one of seven recognised townships. Hissin Al Sanna of the Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status greeted us. A feisty young woman, she spoke with great confidence, telling us how she, then aged 12, and three friends, frustrated with being taken for granted for the work they were already doing for the community set up the organisation. By 1992 the Association was recognised as an NGO and got help. The four young women organised meetings, literacy classes for older women, established a kindergarten, organised a mobile library and set up Desert Embroidery. This last venture is training the younger women of the village in traditional Bedouin embroidery. Now 170 women are earning some independent income from the work. This is courageous work on behalf of the women of Lakiya; last year their centre was burnt to the ground by reactionaries within their own community.

 

On the way back from Lakiya we drove through a new Jewish settlement where no expense had been spared to provide the community with broad, landscaped roads and all the community facilities it could need. The contrast could not have been greater.

 

We stopped for Bedouin snacks on the way back to the Daila Centre where cold, refreshing beers, hot soup and salads refreshed us.


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Day Six – July 21st, 2006

 

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Today the interior walls were built, parts of the shuttering were taken off the roof and we started plastering the facade. Not everyone was completely occupied (though the territory is) so some used the time for joking with the boys and others who were posing in front of the column that got the “crooked-award”.

 

One of them had plates on his T-shirt with the Canadian flag and he gave some to us as a present. Guests today: the Israeli film-crew, a Spanish-Palestinian geographer, two free-lance journalists from Poland, a journalist and an artist from Canada.

 

Coming home from the building site we found the Bedouin sheep from next door (or is it next tent?) being herded by girls and eating our garbage. One of the people living there is Abu Musa who came to us in the evening to speak about the experiences of the Jahalin tribe after we saw the documentary “Jahalin”. The film shows Bedouin families that had to move from Tel Arad in the Negev to the West Bank in the early 50′s right after the founding of the State of Israel. When Ma’ale Adumim was founded they were expelled again. People said they were not even allowed to take their belongings out of their housing before it was demolished.

 

Some of us went to Bilin to participate in the demonstrations there. About 200 people marched to The Wall to protest against it, as happens more or less as every Friday. Those in front carried a huge black banner over their heads as a symbol of mourning for the dead in Gaza and Lebanon. At The Wall, a prayer for the dead was recited and a short moment of silence was observed. The group then turned around and peacefully marched back.

 

What should also be mentioned is the talking circle in the evening. Most people of the group expressed how good they feel having the opportunity to create something together and to exchange their experiences in conversations. But regarding the difficult situation here and the experiences of extreme injustice, most of us might escape it after the two weeks in Anata, whereas for many people living here this is already normality.

 

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Day Seven – July 22nd, 2006


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It’s so hard to tell you what it’s really like here. It is hot, we are building a house and the food is amazing. But that doesn’t get close to what it’s really like. There is no expression for just how much fun it is to stand in a chain and pass along buckets of concrete. We are doing something more than just recreating a home. I am so awed by the people here. They still speak of forgiveness, of love and reconciliation. Meanwhile they still carry on despite everything. Could I do that?


We have visited the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organisation where we had a talk from Maen Areikat, the Director General. (www.nad-plo.org) His talk was really good. It helped give us a longer, clearer view of Palestinian events through a very different and ‘official’ perspective. He also shed more light on the relations with other countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Such important insight in a building over a shop.

 

We spent time in Ramallah, a busy thriving place. We visited the Quakers Meeting House where we had another talk, this time by Kathy Bergen. More happens there than the bare, plain walls give away. They arrange lectures, a First Day (Sunday) school, they welcome groups like ours, training young people to speak to us – it is a place used for so much good.

 

It reminds me of the story of Pandora’s box. We have let out all the terrible things in the world, but we must also remember to let out hope.

 

We went to a restaurant in Ramallah in the evening. it began with lots of bowls of dips, humous, potato salads and pitta breads. Having eaten as much of this as we could we were brought out our main course. We were given wraps that had chips, meat and onions inside. It was almost a barbecue, Palestinian style. In the twenty minutes we had free we all wandered around Ramallah, and some of us even had ice cream.

 

The day ended a little less peaceful due to a huge hold up at the checkpoint so we got off the bus to walk to the taxis on the other side, however the Israeli soldiers didn’t want to let us through as it was unsafe. Excuse me? And just who is holding the gun here?

 

Just time to say I am enjoying every part of being here, and am wondering how long it will be before I can come back.

 

Silence

is a natural demand

born of a need for God,

felt by young and old

in all the world religions.

In silence we ma worship together,

sharing our search for life,

sharing our quest for peace,

Sharing God’s gift of love.

(Friends General Conference)

 

This, I think, is the problem. No one can hear over the voice of the Israeli bombs. 

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Day Eight – July 23rd, 2006

 

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We were informed yesterday that we would be joined today by members of Combatants for Peace. The plan was for 20 Israeli and 20 Palestinian members of the group to come to the camp in the morning. My morning started with a shower. It is such a good feeling to get the dust-sweat-sunscreen mud off my body and out of my hair. Next, it was over to Salim for what has become my morning ritual, Turkish coffee and philosophy. The subjects have ranged from the mundane to the meaning of life and cause of evil. Then the excellent breakfast, with eggs fried with tomatoes and pita bread and cheese and humus and olives and and odd jello-like substance that might have been cranberry jelly.

 

The organizers were in nearly constant communication with the two contingents as the morning continued. Finally it turned out that only 12-13 Israelis would come which was deemed actually a good number. The Israelis, 12 men and one woman gave a presentation on the origin of their group and what they have been doing. Combatants for Peace (CFP) are Palestinians and Israelis who have participated in the military aspect of the Occupation. One joked that both worked with the IDF, Israelis in military service and Palestinians in IDF detention. Most of the latter were members of Fatah military wing. All had done violent things that they sooner or later found repugnant and had made the decision to work for peace rather than participate in organized violence. They described their first public even which occurred in April of 2006. It was held in Anata at a school, which has the Wall being constructed actually partly inside the school grounds. The press came as well as a delegation from the European Union. Since then they have spoken in Israel and abroad about the suffering they inflicted on the Palestinians as part of the IDF and their personal transformations into people working for peace.

 

Some of the Palestinian members arrived and they, the Israelis and a couple of internationals from the camp went to the building site.

 

The rest stayed. Some did odd tasks such as washing windows. Some went to Jerusalem. Most participated in raising the height of the wall that guards a dangerous drop-off. The well-established human chain was used to move the stones that were used.

 

At the building site the home (It is rapidly becoming a home) is really coming along. The exterior walls are almost completed and most have the exterior plastering. The (plastic) plumbing is going in. Wiring will be soon. I did the job at which i have developed some skill. Filling in gaps between the concrete blocks with mortar. It requires some skill, which is a rewarding process. It has a formal name “pointing”. It enables me to stay inside out of the sun. I have managed not to become sunburned (except a couple of spots where i missed the sunscreen) The Israelis did what we have done a lot, which is to pass buckets of exterior coating/plaster or concrete blocks from person to person between point A where the supply is, and point B where supplies are needed. It is very meditative. Breaks were taken in the “shade” of the shelter covered with a metal roof with lots of holes in it.

 

We came back to Beit Arabia to have lunch and hear the formal presentation from Combatants for Peace. (www.combatantsforpeace.org) Two members, a Palestinian and an Israeli, gave their personal stories of having participated in violence, the Israeli, through his service in the IDF and the Palestinian through throwing rocks and Molotovs, then being
in an IDF jail for two years. Both described reaching a point where they realized they needed to do something different and each finding their way to CFP. Another group of Palestinians came after starting out at 9:00 and being detained at a checkpoint and having their Identity Cards confiscated. One described having 21 family members killed. They challenged the Israelis to change the policy of the occupation before they talk of trying to work together.

 

A CFP spokesperson (Palestinian) replied: “We got together and came to the conclusion that what we did as soldiers was wrong. We have to get together and show there is a different way.”

 

The Israelis had to go. All but one, who is from Haifa and can’t go home now because of rocket attacks. He told of hearing air raid sirens before rockets hit and after. And of going to the subway or to the kitchen of his house since it has the thickest walls.

 

We went back to the work site. We arrived to find that mattresses from the sun shelter had been moved to the two day-old roof of the house. The family will probably start sleeping on their roof. The house’s structure including interior walls is essentially complete. Finishing and details will be next. The house is now to the point where it is now possible to say: “This is the toilet.” “This is the kitchen.” “This is the Salon.” I happily filled gaps with mortar. I got really dirty.

 

Finally, after a desperately needed shower to remove mortar from my hair and face followed by dinner, we saw the film, “The Iron Wall. It is a comprehensive look at the so-called Security Fence (The Wall) as the instrument of implementing the goal of bringing as much land into the state of Israel as possible with as few Palestinians as possible. The most heart-wrenching parts were those that showed settlers from Hebron shooting, throwing rocks and otherwise attacking Palestinians, also cutting down their olive trees with chainsaws. The owner of the grove being filmed escaped from the soldiers restraining him and ran down the ten feet from his porch to throw himself on the ground crying, “My father! My Olives!” The settler with the chain saw ran. The IDF soldiers roughly tackled him, held him down, and hauled him away. Most campers looked stricken. Some said afterward they almost had to walk away. Copies of the DVD quickly sold out.

 

It’s simultaneously empowering and depressing to hear and see indisputable examples of what the government of Israel is doing in the territories. Clearly the government of Israel is systematically taking land from the Palestinians in order to have as much territory as possible. In so doing they are insuring that their version of the Palestinian state “side by side with the state of Israel” will not be viable or contiguous and will in-fact be entirely INSIDE Israel. Reading about conflict with Hezbollah in Ha’aretz, the International Herald Tribune and The Jerusalem Post seems much less real but equally unsettling. It is gratifying to know that despite the reality of the occupation and the conflict with Hezbollah, we will be leaving a positive fact on the ground when we leave. I’m very glad I came.

 

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Day Nine – July 24th, 2006

 

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Work at the building site was left to the Palestinian professionals today. We casual labor campers had a chance to improve our minds and
our future message through up-front-and-personal experiences with the matrix of control.

 

We traveled by bus through the new-and-improved Bethlehem checkpoint terminal — official drab on the Israeli side, enhanced with thoughtful, touching, brash, and provocative graffiti on the Palestinian side. To be sure, tour buses roll by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s official cynical greeting, “Peace be with you”, writ large in three languages.

 

Leila Sansour of Open Bethlehem joined us to point out the geography and politics of The Wall in the Bethlehem/Beit Jala area. From nearly every point along the route we say settlements and roads/bridge/tunnel network designed to serve Israelis. As in other areas, The Wall separates most of the population from its agricultural land. Recent olive tree cutting signals the future route through Beit Jala in such a way as to destroy ancient terraces and separate the citizens from the local monastery, its vineyard, and the last public forest. Many of us walked through a double wall Jews-only corridor to Rachel’s Tomb and boarded the bus in front of empty shops on empty streets.

 

In Beit Sahour, third of the Bethlehem area sister cities, we met with Nidal of Badil, who outlined the distribution and status of 6.5 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons who still hope that the international community will honor their rights of return, property restitution, and compensation under UN Resolutions 194 and 237. Many refugees and been moved more than once by war and the politics of occupation.

 

Yehuda Shaul told of his experience as a soldier in Hebron and his recent activities exposing the situation there through Breaking the Silence. Hebron’s settlements, established within and on top of the Arab Muslim old city in 1968 by ideologues, are particularly violent — flaunting the authority of the police and military with impunity. About 450 settlers have driven away all but a few of the Arab families, “sterilized” the streets, and positioned themselves for takeover of the buildings in the historic district. Arabs who remain are not safe from attack by bands of armed settlers, young and old.

 

We climbed a precarious footpath in Tel Rumeida neighborhood to visit Hashem, a local Arab partner of Breaking the Silence, who showed us a video of a band of about 100 settlers trashing the home of an Arab doctor. He told of us a settler neighbor who told him that there was no peace possible between them unless Hashem moved to Egypt. After typical Arab hospitality, we made our way to a nearby home where garbage deposited by settler neighbors barred our entry. As we negotiated the garbage heap to enter the gate, we were stopped by military who wanted to turn us back from attending a private birthday party arranged by Christian Peacemaker Team. At one time more than 20 soldiers and police argued with Yehuda and each other before we were given permission party. The party was a happy hour for us and the family although the aunt delivered a tearful apology that guests had to enter her home through garbage. The birthday girl’s father said that 15 years ago he was a rock-thrower who had learned from contact and example of CPT, Breaking the Silence, and other groups that constant openness to the “enemy” is the only possible road to peace.

 

We have much to wrap our minds and hearts around and much to pass along.

 

Meanwhile ICAHD’s Jeff, Angela & Jimmy made their way to the David Citadel Hotel in West Jerusalem to pass along greetings to the visiting American Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. Ms. Rice, in an entirely unshocking move, declined to see them or any of the other 50-60 Israeli and Palestinian activists gathered outside the hotel during her meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In a showing of solidarity with their American counterparts, the cossacks were unusually violent yesterday evening. Almost immediately arrests began and the police pushed, shoved and dragged
the protestors to a pen across the street where others were arrested and assaulted.

 

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Day Ten – July 25h, 2006

 

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The cool morning breeze combined with the arrival of three newspapers made departing for the work site rather difficult for the news deprived group staying at the campsite. We eventually mobilised everyone and began the well rehearsed ritual of mounting the love bus (our transport vehicle decorated with LED and stuffed toy hearts) to the construction area.

 

We were greeted by a well formed structure and our team of Palestinian colleagues. As they smoothed the internal walls with cement we were left with the task of transporting buckets of gravel, cement and tiles into the house. People assumed their place in a work chain and we began swinging the wobbly black containers filled with a variety of “raw” materials. The usual struggle between people to co-ordinate the return of empty buckets to the beginning of the chain and the need to maintain the momentum of buckets laden with heavy materials moving in the opposite direction occurred. Nonetheless, we were able to keep a seemingly endless stream of buckets filled with concrete and rubble flowing into the house for several hours. These items were dispersed across the ground in preparation for the arrival of pink floor tiles that were speckled with blotches of dark brown and beige.

 

The call to return to Beit Arabia for lunch was welcomed with an excited yelp (at least it was from me). We clambered back into the van and rocked back and forth as the uneven ground strained the vehicle’s suspension. After a brief wait, a heaping plate of cauliflower, carrot and chicken rice emerged from the kitchen followed by a bowl cucumber and tomato salad. A few people gathered around the corners of the tent and chatted about urban myths and politics while others read the paper or took a nap. However, such activities came to a halt when Lucia called for an afternoon talking circle.

 

While some returned to the building site others stayed behind at Beit Arabia to prepare dinner, relax and repaint the flaking mural. Akmad then brought several of us to purchase boza (ice cream) in the Shu’fat refugee camp near Anata that currently houses 30,000 refugees. Dinner followed shortly after in a rather uneventful manner with the usual falafel, humus, pita and zatar.

Our evening event was arguably one of the most stimulating to date. Ilan Pappe spoke on a variety of topics from: Zionism, the American government, ethnic cleansing, one state solution and a possible conspiracy. What most resonated with me was his comment about the Israeli state “this country is a menace to its neighbours”. This questions and arguably dismisses the justification for a Jewish haven as “they” are the ones reeking havoc.

 

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Day Eleven – July 26th, 2006

 

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Today at the work site, the ICAHD work camp accomplished a significant amount, with the Palestinian workers leading the way. The Palestinians completed all of the interior mortar along with a large portion of the tile work. The ICAHD workers continue to work alongside the house where the former foundation was, breaking the rubble up with shovels and pick axes so that the family may have a spot to plant their trees. The exterior of the house is almost entirely plastered and ready to be tiled. Towards the end of the day, some of the workers began to install the windows, which went very smoothly.

 

Much has been accomplished towards the structure and finishing of the house but at times, it seems to be surpassed by the camaraderie of the work site. Although there is sometimes a language gap between the internationals and the Palestinians, the site has been proven to be fertile soil for friendships to sprout. The air is filled with laughter and encouragement. Hope has arisen as result of these friendships.

 

In the evening the powerful film “Arnas Children” generated a lot of debate. The discussions with film maker Juliano Mer Khamis were wide ranging – including the situation in Gaza and Lebanon and the legitimacy of various forms of resistance.

 

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Day Twelve – July 27th, 2006

 

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Today ICAHD provided an opportunity for camp participants to gain understanding of another important aspect of the conflict, that of the position of Israeli Arabs (Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinians ’48) and the destroyed villages from the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of May 1948, which resulted in some 531 Palestinian villages being completely destroyed and many others being damaged.

 

Guided by ICAHD staff member, Ashraf Abu Moch, our journey began by traveling north on highway 6. This Trans-Israel highway is known as the “spine” because it links the Jewish regions in the north of the country, south to Beersheba in the Negev. Officially, this road is to ease the traffic load (density). The route was planned carefully so as not to take land from the many kibbutz and moshavs in the area. Instead, further Palestinian land was confiscated, more of their homes and buildings were demolished and trees uprooted. The highway separates farmers from their fields with access to them becoming increasingly difficult.

 

Eighty percent of the Israeli population live in five cities along the Mediterranean Sea. Highway #6 facilitates quick travel to the settlements in the east, thus it is part of a scheme to encourage the Jewish population to move eastward, continuing the judaisation of the Galilee. It squeezes most of the Palestinians into a small area called the Triangle, where most of the Palestinians live.

 

During part of our travel, we could see the Wall to the east of us. What was so shocking was knowing that on the other side, where the Palestinians live, the full nine meters of the wall is exposed, whereas on the western side, high banks have been made and planted with shrubs and trees. Within three or four years, the currently visible four meters of the top of the wall will be completely hidden to those driving by, thus the realities of the “prison” on the other side can be completely forgotten.

 

Our first destination was Baqa el-Gharbiya, a Palestinian town of 24,500. As it is where Ashraf grew up, he was able to give us detailed insight to the history of the locality. Located right on the Green Line, this town in
Israel modeled the possibility of Arabs and Jews intermingling. Most of its population used to work in various parts of Israel and felt free to travel around the country. Jewish people made weekly visits to Baqa el-Gharbiya taking advantage of the cheaper prices in their bustling market.

 

In the last few years, this has changed dramatically. In August 2002, Israeli bulldozers destroyed the entire market, which had more than 250 stalls resulting in Baqa el-Gharibiya becoming more like a ghost town compared to the prosperity it once knew.

 

Few residents feel comfortable visiting Jewish areas because of the treatment they receive and most Palestinians from here have lost their jobs to the influx of people Israel has brought in from countries like Romania, China, Thailand and Malaysia who now do the menial jobs. The erection of The Wall has stolen 1500 dunams (nearly 400 acres) of the town’s land and is located along the eastern edge of the town. From a gap in this concrete monstrosity, Ashraf pointed to Baqa e-Sharqiya, its neighbouring town just metres away. The people’s lives had been closely inter-twined by marriages, businesses and friendships. Now any contact between people from the two towns is financially prohibitive and exceedingly difficult as they can now longer simply cross the check-point but they are sent on an arduous detour that can take hours to complete and is very expensive. Indeed the people of Baqa e-Sharqiya have no agricultural land and no industry, thus they live off monthly donations from the European Union.

 

In the afternoon, we went further north, driving through Nazareth. This ancient city is home to 70,000 Palestinians on 14,000 dunams of land while neighbouring Nazareth Illit, founded in the 1950’s now houses 45,000 residents on 30,000 dunams of confiscated land, which chokes Nazareth of any possible expansion.

 

Soon we found ourselves in the countryside, near a park. Thirty-four year old, Ziad Awaysi, guided us in a walk to a cemetery, over grown with weeds, it was once part of Tsipori, where his grandmother was from. This was one of the towns that were totally destroyed when the state of Israel was established. Ziad held up pictures, taken of this town with its sandstone houses covering a hill when 6000 people lived here. Only a castle jetting above deciduous and conifer trees, built in 1870, remains.

 

Ziad’s words continue to echo in my ears, “Palestinians need to know what it is to simply exist before the move to coexistence.”

 

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Day Thirteen – July 28th, 2006

 

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Today, Friday, is our last major construction day at “our” new house — and the weekly holy day for all muslim communities. However, there is no rest for our skilled workers at the site, and we support them with our many hands. Most have learned a few basic words of Arabic; we can say aiwa (yes), la (no), and shukran (thank you).

 

As we work, our thoughts and conversations revolve helplessly around the issues in this part of the world: Lebanon, Gaza, as well as other world events where human rights are non-existent. We try to maintain perspective, and a sense of dark humor, as we chat amid the splattering of paint. Many issues are touched upon, including the irony of such words as “democracy” and “freedom” in this land of over a million refugees – and whose life is anything but free.

 

These broader issues are pushed aside as the afternoon wears on. Pick axes turn the earth in preparation for new trees, while the interior finishing nears completion. The first light switch is thrown, there is light! Somehow, a working kitchen and bathrooms are ready for action. At the end of the day, a flurry of raking results in the levelled yard area – the house will soon be a home for 12 people.

 

Other events of the day included an Advocacy workshop by Angela Godfrey-Goldstein. She shared her views on political action as well as a list of the many Internet sites that can help keep up to date with the peace movement and Palestinian political issues. In the evening, our circle gathered around Jeff Halper as presented his views on “framing” political issues.

 

Jeff uses “human rights” to frame the Palestinian context – and makes the violation of human rights more emphatic by using the term “apartheid.” Although Israel is obviously not South Africa – many aspects bear resemblance – such as the cantons that are emerging in the West Bank to contain / imprison the Palestinian population.

 

Broader concerns aside, we are doing our small part to help. One of the comments from the Palestinian foreman on our worksite was, “You give us more than work, you give us hope.” Peace.


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Day Fourteen – July 29th, 2006: One House Rebuilt, Another Demolished


 

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Saturday was the last day of the camp and a house now stands where, two weeks ago, there was a pile of rubble and building waste. It looks all the more striking as this house stands now in the middle of several other piles of twisted steel and broken concrete, also previously homes that were in the past inhabited by Palestinian families. The stark brutality of the occupation and Israel’s policy of demolishing homes and driving out Palestinians is clearly revealed in this picture. But today there is also a sense of optimism and hope that a home for a family can rise again on their own land. 

 

A last frantic push saw the remaining windows fitted, internal and external doors in place, the kitchen and bathrooms tiled, plumbing and sinks fitted and final painting and cleaning. The rubble around the house was cleared away and a large tent erected for the dedication ceremony. 

 

The dedication of the house, the speeches, the keys handed to the family and the tree planting were all part of a final act of house rebuilding. All the speakers, Palestinian, Israeli and international, placed the rebuilding within the context of the war in Gaza and Lebanon, emphasizing that resistance to occupation and hegemony (US as well as Israeli) must take place at several levels simultaneously. Just as the invasion of Lebanon cannot be allowed to eclipse the ongoing attacks on Gaza, so the “big” conflicts should not conceal the steady erosion of Palestinian rights and even the Palestinian presence in the Occupied Territories, symbolized by house demolitions.

 

The moving ceremony was marred only by the fact that a troupe of young Palestinian dancers from the Shuafat refugee camp were prevented from performing because they were not allowed to pass an Israeli checkpoint. However a spontaneous dance started by Palestinian men and joined by some of the camp participants generated much laughter and singing. The dedication ceremony is always an important part of the work of the summer camp. It shows the local community that Palestinians and Israelis (with the help of international volunteers), can work together and it demonstrates in a concrete way ICAHD’s refusal to accept that Palestinians and Israeli’s must be enemies

 

Back at Beit Arabia, a final evening meal. Presents were then given to the family of Salim and Arabia and the camp organizers. A final discussion and reflection on what each participant in the camp has seen and experienced. Working on the house and visiting towns and cities in the West Bank has made all participants aware of the huge weight of the Israeli occupation and the terrible price paid by the Palestinians. All participants agreed that this has been a significant experience and discussed how to spread the knowledge in their own wider communities.

 

 

TM

 

Following are some of the comments of the work camp participants summarizing their experiences:

 

“It’s been an extraordinary fortnight, an emotional roller-coaster. It’s been great to do something practical putting a very different fact on the ground. I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking to everyone and I’ve learnt a lot. We have much to do when we get back.”

(Arthur)

 

“To build a house as a ‘human rights’ statement was a wonderful experience. Twenty-seven men and women from twenty years to sixty-seven, from seven countries discovered the wonderful enthusiasm of a team of Palestinians and Jews. We discovered that respect for others and working together make the best holidays. Completing a house in two weeks allowed me to hear about the horrors imposed on a peace loving people by a ruthless occupier. The Palestinians taught me a lesson in human dignity and friendship in the midst of hardship. Thank you for making me a better person.”

(Alec)

 

“It is one thing to hear about house demolitions and the suffering of Palestinians who live their lives under occupation. It is quite another to see it up close, to talk to families who have suffered and endured. Letters to editors, articles and demonstrations at our own Governments who support Israeli policies certainly help bring awareness. But there is nothing like being here, working to right a horrendous injustice as a way of acting, and doing so in an effective and tangible way. It is now our obligation to tell the world their stories so that we can all work together to end Israeli injustice.”

(Jessica)

 

“I am glad I came to the ICAHD camp. It allowed me to make a political statement against the occupation by symbolically reversing one home demolition. The camp provides a forum to do something physical – build a house. A second benef
it of the camp is the opportunity to get to know Jeff Halper, Terry Bulatta, Ilan Pappe, Ziad Awaysi and Zahira Kamal and others who have inspiring and sophisticated ideas. A third benefit is to spend some time with others who share my views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”


(Jeff and Barbara)

 

“The world came together for a few days – East and West; North America, Europe, Asia; Jews and Palestinians. And there was no fighting. Only joy and shared labour and the salaam that comes when differences don’t matter and when a Palestinian family gets to move back into their home. May the walls of this home stand firm for many years and may other, much taller walls crumble very soon.”

(Bruce)

 

“This has been humbling – the generous and patient spirit of the Palestinians, the courage of Israelis/Jews to speak truth, the complicity of my government in perpetuating evil, my privileged life and how little I can do. I am taking home a huge responsibility to make at least a small difference.”

(Esther)

 

“I had many expectations of what I would see when I got here but I didn’t know what I would feel. While here in Israel/Palestine Israel bombed Beirut, killed Palestinians while reoccupying Gaza, continued to demolish homes, expand settlements and build the wall – right under our noses. All this supported by US dollars and a complicity of silence throughout most of the world. What we did here was one small thing for a short time. It won’t change the world or end the occupation. But it changed hearts, including mine. I learned an enormous amount about pain, patience, humiliation, endurance, arrogance, anger, pushing and stretching oneself. I will need a long time to process what happened here and I look forward to sharing what I learned with others. I am very grateful for having been part of this amazing two weeks.”

(Elyse)

 

“I think now I have a bit of an impression of how people live here…..the construction workers sleeping on the roof of the building site, children playing between the rubble piles of demolished houses, garbage on the streets and sheep eating that garbage before it is burned, the kindness of people offering what they have. I love to spend time with people that I can learn from. This has been a rich experience and seeing a house built in two weeks was fascinating.”

(Judith)

 

“Jeff Halper asked a question at the end of the camp: ‘So what?’ Exactly. So what? I go home and life resumes. So what? But my life has been irrevocably changed. I have come to love a land and a people whom I can never forget, and somehow somewhere I need to share this. That’s what.”

(Roberta)

 

“Between the roses and the thorns,

My heart was gladden and torn.

Amid the rocks and the rubble,

The spirit knows the worlds in trouble.

I wipe my tears and start again,

And seek the peace

Found in justice and new beginning.”

(Martin)

 

As this was being up-loaded we got word of of another two “routine” house demolitions in East Jerusalem. This, plus the dozens destroyed in Gaza over the past few weeks, is the constant background against which Palestinians live their lives.

 

One of the houses demolished today belonged to Fathi Abu Kaf, a man about 55 years old with heart disease. His physical condition is such that when the demolition equipment arrived, his family removed him from the scene so as to reduce the stress. He, his wife Faiza and their six children, one of whom is disabled, became the latest victims of Israel’s criminal demolition policy. The family’s representative, with the help of our colleagues at Rabbis for Human Rights, succeeded in delaying the demolition for one-half an hour to give the family time to pay a fine of 50,000 shekels (about $12,000) to delay the demolition further. Because it had to be paid at a specific post office which happened to have a long line today, the lawyer didn’t succeed to make it in the half hour. The court allowed another half hour but word of the reprieve didn’t reach the demolition site on time as the delay at the post office allowed the municipality to begin demolishing the house. Though the site commander was informed that the exorbitant fine was being arranged and would be ready shortly he refused to wait even another fifteen minutes, all it would have taken to keep a family housed. It was perhaps half destroyed when the court ruling freezing the demolition order came through, leaving the family out NIS50,000 and with an uninhabitable half-house. Far from the headlines in Lebanon is this, just another day in occupied East Jerusalem.