ICAHD Summer Rebuilding Camp 2007

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From July 15th to July 28th, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) hosted its fifth annual summer work camp in Anata. This year, we rebuilt the home of the Hamdan family, which was demolished by the Israeli authorities on December 21, 2005. This is the same home that was selected for rebuilding during last year’s summer camp, with the rebuilding having to unfortunately halt due to the Israeli authorities’ interference.

 

 

The Hamdan Family and Home


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Hassan Yussef Hamdan is a sweet 67 year old man from Anata. We met him last year at a shop in Anata and he walked us to the house where he is temporarily living. He wore a red keffiyeh with a long white cloak, and walked with a noticeable limp. Hassan Yussef introduced us to his wife, Nashia Imam, 53, an outspoken woman making the most of her little English, and his second oldest son, Shadi, 29, who is the only son still not married. Shadi was the one in charge of arranging the building permit for the house, which – for a Palestinian living in Israel – is a full-time job in itself.


The origins of this family from Anata were well known. The land belonged to their family for generations, with the deeds filled-out in Hassan Yussef’s great-grandfather’s name, dating back to the times of the Ottoman Empire.


Hassan and Nashia have three children: the oldest son, Mohammed, 30, who is married with no children, Shadi, and the youngest son, Ashraf, 27, who is married with two children, ages 1 and 2 and a half. Shadi, explained to us that while they knew that all their neighbors built their homes ‘illegally’, they Hamdan family tried to do things right. Shadi went to the municipality of Jerusalem to apply for a building permit, where he was instructed to do a general survey of the land. “They wanted a survey of half of Anata!”, he said. He asked an engineer friend for help, to which his friend replied: “This is a huge job, a job for a government. It is impossible to do it as a private person”. The cost of such a survey would have been well over US$160,000.


“I think Israel doesn’t want to give Palestinians building permits in
case it decides to build something in the future like a bypass road or something like that”, Shadi told us. In July, 2003, they started building their home without a permit, like most people are forced to do in the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. They finished building the house on the 4th of January, 2004, with the total cost being US$55,000. Shortly after, the nine people comprising the Hamdan family moved into their new home.


On the 14th of January, 2004, the family received a confiscation order. The Israeli authorities have already confiscated tens of thousands of dunams to build Pisgat Zeev, plus thousands more for ‘security purposes’ in the West Bank. This time it was the Defense Ministry that issued the confiscation order. Thus, Shadi hired a lawyer in order to “move the route of the wall” and they managed to move it around 70m away from the house. Shadi said that the Defense Ministry was unable to do anything about it because the land is inside the municipality of Jerusalem.


A few days after, however, on the 22nd of January, the municipality of Jerusalem provided them with a demolition order. Shadi hired another lawyer, an Israeli woman who was an expert on these issues. Between the lawyer fees and papers, that the municipality requested in order to sort out the building permit (such as surveys, etc), the family spent another US$9,000. We asked them where the money was from and they answered that they had to sell off their properties in Jordan.


On the 20th of December, 2004, Shadi received a call at work informing him that the house was about to be demolished. He rushed back home and they gave him a couple of hours to come up with US$17,000 to prevent the impending demolition. The deal included the condition that the Hamdan family should continue applying for a building permit. Shadi, again, began gathering all the papers the municipality requested.


Nevertheless, on the 21st of July, 2005, workers from the municipality of Jerusalem, accompanied by Israeli police, surrounded the Hamdan home and started removing everything from the inside. Shadi provided the Israeli inspector in charge with the papers from the municipality, which explained that the demolition had been postponed. The inspector, however, did not seem to care. Nashia was pushed out of the way when she attempted to go inside to pick up her ID. Finally, after several arguments, the Israeli police asked the inspector to call the municipality and inquire about Shadi’s claims. The municipality confirmed to the inspector that what Shadi had been saying was true and that the demolition of the home was in fact postponed. The inspector said to Shadi: “Next time, I will come at 4am and you won’t be able to do anything to prevent your house from being demolished”.


When they returned their belongings to the house, they realized the house and the appliances init had been badly damaged.


At 6:30 AM on the 21st of November, 2005, a very cold and rainy morning, ICAHD staff, volunteers, and activists traveled to Anata to resist, witness, and document the demolition of the Hamdan family home, as well as its next door neighbor’s. By the time we arrived, the area had already been blocked off by the Israeli Border Police, making it difficult to approach the houses. As we watched from afar, a Daewoo bulldozer systematically demolished the first house, leaving a pile of rubble where a family once lived. The bulldozer then moved on to the Hamdan family’s house and began drilling into it as well. After a few minutes, the roof began to collapse and the nine members of the family were left homeless. They were left to stand in the pouring rain, wondering how they would rebuild their lives, which like their homes, were now in shambles.


The demolition of their home left the Hamdan family in serious debt and without a house of their own. The three couples have been scattered amongst their relatives. Shadi can no longer perform his job as he has no mon
ey to buy a car (he used to be a supermarket distributor and now works as a builder in West Jerusalem). Mohammed’s wife was three months pregnant the day of the demolition and had a miscarriage as a direct result of the shock. Mohammed is an engineer, but cannot find a job, and Ashraf is jobless as well. Salim Shawarmeh, ICAHD’s West Bank field coordinator, believes all this is a process of quiet transfer: “They demolish your houses and then make it impossible for you to have a job. What is the message? Get out! This is our land! You have no business here!” “Where shall I go now?” I’ve heard Palestinians ask me again, and again.

 

 

First Rebuilding Attempt


The Hamdan family’s house was decided on by the Anata community for our 2006 summer camp. However, at the end of the first day of building, the demolished home we were trying to rebuild was caught in the crossfire between children throwing stones and soldiers firing rubber bullets and teargas. 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, often especially going out of their way to drive past the Palestinian kids, must know that their presence would present an irresistible provocation. All this drew unwanted attention to the rebuilding in its earliest stage, just as the site was getting established.


The next 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, and then released into the West Bank, forbidden to work on 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 Israeli 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 forbids home demolitions in occupied territories. “We go by Israeli law,” the inspector replied, then proceeded to take photographs of the site. The next day we expected 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 postpone the work on the Hamdan family’s home until a later time and shifted our building efforts to another part of Anata, where demolitions were frequent. 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 at a later date. We spent the rest of the morning removing the materials from the site so it would not be confiscated, and stripping away the previous day’s work in preparation for the new site.

 

 

We Are Not Giving Up on
the Hamdan Family


This year ICAHD is keeping its promise to the Hamdan family to rebuild their home. Although last year’s incidents made it impossible for us to continue work on the home at that time, this year we intend to complete the job. We met the Hamdan family again, yesterday, in Anata. They are as enthusiastic as ever to work with ICAHD volunteers on rebuilding their home. Hassan Yusef Hamdan spoke to us with bright eyes, a big smile, and broken English. He explained that his wife was in Jordan but would be back next week, so that the entire family is present during the rebuilding. “Ahlan wa sahlan” he said, as we all introduced ourselves – a mix of new ICAHD volunteers and seasoned staff members. Despite last year’s disappointment and their understanding that this year’s building attempt may be stopped as well, the Hamdan family remains hopeful, excited, and welcoming.


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 15th, 2007

 

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I am an Israeli citizen and have never been to the West Bank before, but this morning I woke up in the West Bank, along with 25 strangers, with the goal of accomplishing something that I consider moral while my government considers illegal. Personally, I believe that people should abide by their morals, and this is what makes this trip worthwhile for me.

 

After breakfast, a team from ISM came to explain what we are to do if a situation arises where we come face-to-face with an IDF demolition team.

 

We later toured Anata and visited the leader of the local Bedouin tribe – Abu Mussa. He explained the hardships of being exiled from place to place and how the lack of health benefits in Anata led to the amputation of both of his legs. He told us about how his family was not allowed to visit him in the hospital after his operation and he also told us about his dreams: how he wants one day to return to his homeland and his tribe will be once again united. He and his family would then have a definite place they call home. Hearing his story and seeing his condition saddened me, but his will to survive inspired me. As an Israeli, it is especially difficult to see just how terrible conditions are just a few miles from home. It’s a disappointing site to see, that really makes me question a government that I already have little faith in.

 

 

 

 

 

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Day Two – July 16th, 2007

 

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Day two of the summer camp, the first full day of work on the building site. Another great breakfast followed by the short walk to the building site. Today the ICAHD volunteers engaged with a variety of work – mixing cement mortar, helping to lay blocks for the walls, arranging the hollow blocks for the roof structure and tying the reinforcing bars for the concrete roof beams.


Above all, the work day was characterized by the forming of human chains. Chains to remove rubbish, to move concrete blocks, to carry buckets of cement mortar and to move steel reinforcing bars. There is quite a lot involved in forming such a chain. Everything becomes meaningful, from the way people position themselves in relation to each other to the way they pass the buckets or blocks to each other. The chain can often be the first time people meet and talk to each other. Discussions about where people come from and how and why they came to be here. This human chain is a reminder of the long line of events and causes that brought all these people to this particular building site. And it is also a way to express and demonstrate concern for the wider cause.


The camp was joined by volunteers from ISM who helped on the building site for the day. At mid-morning a press conference was arranged with powerful statements given by ICAHD members, and volunteers and also by the family whose house we are building.

In the afternoon the site was visited by a group led by the Consul General of Belgium Mr Leo Peeters. He was taken on a tour of the area and shown the wall around Anata. He expressed solidarity with the work of ICAHD and commended the building work on site.


In the evening, excellent discussions were led by Machsom Watch and the Coalition of Women for peace. The speaker from Machsom Watch talked about the system of checkpoints and the presence of women at checkpoints – ‘opening a window into an ugly back yard’. They showed the way that the Civil Administration acts as the bureaucratic arm of the occupation. Machsom Watch is concerned about what is happening to the country and the society and attempt to set up a challenge to the dominant military discourse of Israeli society.

 

 

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Day Three – July 17th, 2007

 

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I knew today was not going to go as scheduled when I saw in the distance a chain of Israeli boarder-patrol jeeps making their way in our direction.

 

About a half of an hour earlier, most of the international volunteers left the building site under the leadership of Meir Margalit, who responded to a call informing him about a potential demolition at another location. In the mean time, several volunteers, Palestinians and I stayed behind to finish preparing the site for cement pouring that was expected to happen at 11:00 AM.

 

It was shortly before 11:00 AM when I looked up from my work and noticed the boarder-patrol jeeps slowly turning off a main road onto a dirt road that eventually passed about 400 meters below our building site and then snaked its way up the hill to our location. I later found out that these were the same jeeps that Meir was informed about earlier.

 

We were not certain they were headed for our building site. Most houses around have demolition orders and which one will be demolished next is unpredictable. The Palestinian workers quickly removed their tools from the site and headed into Anata in fear of an arrest; while the few internationals and Israelis huddled in the shade of a nearby building and began to strategize.

 

It turned out today’s demolition was intended for another house, about 200 meters to the right and down hill from our building site. We later learned that the small house served as a home for a family of nine.

 

The above report was written by ICAHD intern: G.S.



Below are two eye-witness reports, on the way things unraveled, written by two Summer Camp participants:


The below report was written by Summer Camp participant: S.A.


The decision was made. We as the summer camp now officially have two houses to reconstruct. We all woke up this morning with a day of brick setting and cement pouring ahead of us. Some of us woke to the sound of mosquitoes in our ears, others to the splash of cold dew dripping down from the tent
tarp between their noses. We moved on to the building site after breakfast and did exactly what we were meant to; Setting bricks into walls. But before we could pour the cement Meir received a phone call and asked if we’d like to accompany him to see a demolition in Jerusalem. Many of us went with him and as we watched the green army jeeps leave the Israeli base we realized that they were headed toward Anata. It was quite a scare. I myself was in the van where people feared that the demolition team was coming to destroy our in-progress home.

 

Back at camp however, the family panicked and some tears were shed in the thought of once again losing their house. The workers had already abandoned the site by the time we had arrived. Meir clarified that our house was not in danger of demolition but the house just down the hill was about to be torn down. He warned us not to approach the demolition site as to avoid attracting attention to our project.

 

We all climbed to the upper floors of a large apartment building and watched as the bulldozer inched toward the little house. Soldiers surrounded the entire house and even went as far as placing soldiers amongst the crowds of Palestinians and internationals watching on the hillsides. Watching the demolition really made me question my own opinions. I don’t consider myself an optimist, but I know that there is a considerable amount of Israeli’s who do oppose this government and its policies. I believe in the good of men. It is moments and atrocities like the one that I witnessed today that make me doubt my own beliefs. We all stood on the balcony, some of us filming, some of us taking pictures and a lot of us discussing. But all of us had the same feeling of disbelief and hopelessness. For a single moment I thought that many of us in this camp lost our sense of hope.

 

When I finally went down and closer to the house and the soldiers, I continued to watch. Some of the Palestinian kids were staring at the soldiers. One of the soldiers asked in Hebrew “What are you looking at?” and approached the child. The kid’s older brother took to his defense and the soldier told him to shut up. I guess it never escalated because of our presence as foreigners. But it was appalling for me to see people just a year or two older than me seem so heartless. I never was keen on the draft, and this reminded me why. The soldiers left and we saw the children throw their stones and down came the tear gas canisters. We left to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

 

Jeff Halper had returned from the United States and when we got back to Beit Arabiya he, Salim and Meir debriefed us about the whole event. Why the house was demolished and the events that led up to it. The family was not even home, but they have to come back to a pile of rubble. We decided as a whole to continue both our current project and give hope to the newly distressed by also reconstructing their home. And so the decision was made that this year, we will have two homes to dedicate, two hopes to restore, and two families to rebuild.

 

The below report was written by Summer Camp participant: S.A.


An exciting day: today, Inshallah, they’ll pour the concrete for the roof. On the way to the building site we hear from Meir that there are jeeps and a bulldozer outside of Issawiyeh, just across the little valley in front of the building site where we’re working. There are worries that it’s going to be a demolition either in Issawiyeh or beyond, in At Tur. We arrive at the site and start work. I’m helping and getting to know young ‘Ezan, and a little vocabulary: the pin for the jacks is something like shmual, the words for hammer (shakush), stone (hajar)… We’re placing jacks to shore up the roof before the concrete is poured later today. I figure ‘Ezan is about fifteen and he really enjoys bossing me around. I kind of like it too except when, laughing, he selects a particularly heavy stone for me to lift.

 

Mid morning word comes: it’s looking like a demolition may be immanent. Seven of us, needed for work on the roof, are going to stay behind and the rest pile into vans to go see what’s happening where the jeeps and bulldozers are, near Issawiyeh. When we get there we can see the vehicles beside the road. Then cell phone calls from back at the building site: there are jeeps arriving there and a big worry that they’re planning to demolish the site we’re working on – “our house”, as everyone automatically calls it – so we head back.

 

All this time, sitting in the van, I’m working with Nadia, trying to correct my mispronunciation of a Palestinian song, “Ya Meit Massa”. We pause each time new information comes in by cell phone, and then Nadia says, let’s go on. This happens every day and meanwhile we have to go on living. We work through to the end of the song, getting all but a couple of words.

 

Then we’re back at the site. By this time it’s late morning, nearly 11. We hustle up seven flights to the top floor of a building across the road from the site so we can see what’s happening through the windows. There it becomes clear: the house slated for demolition is a different house, a tiny little house just down the road. There are vans and jeeps pulled up on the dirt track across the little valley near the bottom, more vehicles pulled up over near the tiny house, soldiers and guys in green vests – and one orange vest – moving around outside the house. There are also two horsemen riding up and down and up and down the road at the valley bottom.

 

People from the neighbourhood gather to watch. I worry when I see some young kids taking positions on nearby mounds of earth and rubble, that they’ll start throwing stones and get hurt.

 

After a while the green vests pick or break the lock on the door, go in and start hauling the family’s stuff out of the house and dumping it on the ground. Someone says that they’ve brought dogs to sniff for guns or bombs, and to deal with people inside if they need to, although I don’t personally see the dogs. The family isn’t home. A little later the lady of the Hamdan family who owns the house we’ve been working on, reports that they’ve come and are standing in the street, watching.

 

There’s a sudden buzz of excitement: the civil administration officer and a couple of soldiers are coming up the hill toward “our house”. He snaps photos of the building site, and of us up in our windows, and then disappears into the site, presumably to inspect and photograph in preparation for preparing a demolition order. Meir goes in to talk to them and we hear his voice raised. After a while they head back down to the tiny house.

 

The bulldozer moves around to get in position. The jettisoning of furniture out of the house slows and stops. At about 12:15 the actual demolition gets underway, the bulldozer’s arm with its giant jackhammer lifting and knocking through the roof, then chewing away the house corners and walls.

 

We watch. We understand pretty clearly that “our house” is probably scheduled for re demolition in the next few days, before it’s half built. In the midst of all this, the lady of “our house”, watching her neighbours’ house go the way her house went before (and may well go again), serves tea. Where and when did she make it?? Never mind. Her nephew hands the tray round and she insists we
each take little glass of the sweet, hot, refreshing beverage, please, please. She begins a conversation about tea. Have we ever seen the plants growing in the earth? No? One day we must. It’s hard to hear her voice over the rat-tat-tat of the bulldozer hammer.

 

This level of hospitality makes the ongoing destruction that much more brutal, that much more obscene. Later, I heard that the lady of the house handed one of the internationals a rose from the garden. A group of others talked about how they stopped later in a shop to buy ice creams and the shopkeeper wouldn’t let them pay. Please? La. Khallas, khallas. No, it’s enough, it’s enough.

 

The bulldozer finishes and, together with the soldiers and jeeps, leaves the site. Jeff arrives from his trip abroad, to be briefed.

Campers and folks from the neighbourhood come out and are wandering around looking at the demolished building. Suddenly a bang. Some of the kids down the road started throwing stones at the departing jeeps, and the soldiers shot a tear gas grenade. Where I’m standing we’re directly downwind. It’s probably a quarter mile away but soon we can smell it and feel the sting in our noses. I notice the Palestinians near me lifting the necks of their t-shirts over their noses and heading across the street, so I follow suit. We campers head back to Beit Arabiyya.

 

After lunch, a briefing and discussion. Some quick decisions: even though “our house” may well be demolished soon, we’ll continue to build. Further, if the family wants it, we’ll also rebuild the house that was just demolished, hoping to dedicate two houses at the end of our time here. And a change of plan for today’s schedule: we were going to take a tour of the East Jerusalem area this afternoon, but instead we’re going back to the building site to help get ready for the concrete pour later.

 

We head back to the site at 3:00 and finish up a few details in preparation for the pour. Some of us go down to visit with the family that lives – or lived – in the demolished house. The mother and father are in shock, wandering around the rubble looking here and there. By the time more of us come down to visit at around 5:00, mother and daughters are sitting on a bed off to one side, greeting visitors.

 

There’s a birdcage on the ground with a couple of parakeets inside, squeaking like crazy. The family, who are tenants in the house that was demolished, are unsure of what to do next. They have an empty plot of land in Issawiyeh, and they’re thinking of transporting all their things and sleeping there, in the open. Some kids from the neighbourhood have already come and stolen some stuff, so they don’t feel safe to stay here. We go back to our building site for a little more work, and then a decision comes: we’ll go back down and help move the family’s stuff into a neighbour’s back garden – actually into a space beside the trees in an orchard. By now we’re good at forming a human chain for moving things – bricks, jacks – so we form a chain and start passing the family’s things – chairs, tables, mattresses, bags of clothing, appliances, food from the refrigerator, the refrigerator itself… imagine watching your worldly goods, badly bundled and sometimes broken, pass through the hands of strangers into a neighbour’s yard for safekeeping. After an hour, the space in the neighbour’s orchard is piled high with tumbled possessions, stacked as coherently as a gang of hurried helpers can contrive, which isn’t very. We have to hurry because we have a group meeting this evening and the buses are waiting.

 

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Day Four – July 18th, 2007

 

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We were to have a normal work day, but with two houses to build instead of one. We welcomed the extra work because our unskilled labor was not much needed at the Hamdan house, where the windows were being framed and interior walls started by the Palestinian bricklayers. More importantly, we wanted to undo yesterday’s tragic demolition. That is, we wanted to shake off our heavy mood and maybe give the family hope by starting the process of giving them back a home.


So most of us walked on past the Hamdan house site and approached the layer of rubble left by the Palestinian bulldozer, which had done its best to clear off the remains of the demolished house, so we could start work today. Using mostly our hands and a few buckets, we had soon gotten down to the tiles that formed the floor of the one-story house. We had feared the army had broken the foundation, but not so this time. We also moved lots of rubble from one side of the house where it was in the way, to the other side and uncovered the foundation wall to discover its degree of disrepair. Then the Palestinian workers erected the rebar support columns on the same places they had been before and began to nail the wooden boards around the rebar to make forms. These will be filled with cement and become supports for the roof. Next we carried the iron girders from thirty feet away, onto the tile floor, followed by long planks that, along with the girders, will make a cement block and poured concrete roof possible. It is all the work of ants, but the work gets done.


After our tea break, five of us were recruited to go fetch more wooden planks. We scrambled into a van with two Palestinians and we drove all over Anata, looking for wood. Our third try produced a storage shed full of wood, but not stacked. We formed a human chain and pulled the boards outside the shed. Just as we started to worry that there would be no end to this task, our Palestinian workers said “khalas” – enough.


After lunch, the women volunteers were privileged to sit with four Anata women in Beit Arabiya to hear the stories of them losing their homes. These women have in common that they were made homeless by the actions of the occupation. Umm Mohammad (mother of Mohammad) who has made herself our hostess as we rebuild her home, used her strong will, good humor, and fair amount of English, to express their collective welcome and thanks to our group. Here are some of her words.


“the lives of poor people are not valued. When you are rich you can ask for whatever you want. When I became poor, I could no longer ask for anything. If I needed medicine and did not have the money for it, I pretended not to need it. I was changed from someone who always helped others, to someone who could not even help myself.” Umm Mohammad’s house was destroyed in 2005 and she developed ulcers – another example of how a house demolition means other kinds of destruction as well.


Umm Ahmad, whose own story makes her cry every time she tells it, had a spark in her eyes as she said that Palestinians have patience and patience is a gift of God. Her house still stands, but it is now only half visible through the garbage that surrounds it. It sits on the side of the hill and receives dump truck loads of debris of all kinds from the top of the same hill. Why? Because she and her family were intimidated and deceived into leaving one year ago, and any empty space is everyone else’s garbage dump. We are reminded that there is no garbage pick-up in Anata.


Umm Ahmad told her tale. She was happy with her children and husband, renting in town. A friend convinced them to stop renting, buy land and build a house. When they set themselves to it, the whole family got involved and worked very hard and spent their life savings of about $125,000 on a spacious home. After 4 years of living in it, they had the dreaded visit. Police came at dawn and told them an Israeli ag
ency had bought the house, and they had to get out. They were frightened and thought they had to leave. Sometime after they fled, an “Arab” came and offered to pay for repairs (to the now damaged house) plus $30,000 to buy the house. This nefarious offer revealed to them that what the police had said was a lie. They got a lawyer, but it was suggested that they meet with the Jerusalem municipality in the Hyatt hotel in West Jerusalem to discuss the matter. However, Umm Ahmad’s husband does not have a Jerusalem ID, so he can’t go to Jerusalem to represent his interests in such a meeting. Umm Ahmad had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for one week. The family suffered another humiliation. A son was engaged at the time of their eviction and when he couldn’t abandon his family nor afford the wedding just then, the fiance’s family called off the wedding. The costs of the occupation. 


Umm Allech was the next to speak, but she hardly had words. Hers is the home we saw destroyed yesterday. She went to the Red Cross yesterday and asked for a tent. But where will she even put it? Her clothes are all stuffed in plastic bags and are somewhere in her neighbor’s yard, so she can’t find them or change her clothes. Meanwhile, all but one of her children are still in Hebron, where she was when she heard of the demolition, and she worries about them. Her sole focus now is the ICAHD promise of a rebuilt house in two weeks time. All she wants is to have shelter again, a place where she can find her clothes.


Umm Allech’s neighbor, who was harboring all her possessions in her fenced in yard, is Umm Arqaan. Well, it isn’t exactly Umm Arqaan’s yard. It is her brother in law’s, where she lives off and on with her seven children. But he has a large family too, so she gets just one room, and she feels like a burden. When possible she stays elsewhere for as long as she can. The reason she is homeless is because she bulldozed her own home – it is cheaper than having the Israeli’s do it. When you don’t have a building permit, you pay the price. In spite of the situation, one daughter attends the university. Because of this situation, one son had to return from abroad to help his father.


Umm Mohammad concluded our time together by saying, “you see our pain and you feel our pain. We are happy you are here.”

Those who went to the work site in the afternoon reported that the family home is ready for the concrete of the roof to be poured. On the work site, people observed the border police on the highway across the valley. We are hoping it wasn’t to observe our building efforts.

 

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Day Five – July 19th, 2007

 

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Open the window, take in a deep breath and look around. Pay close attention because on this same land, 4000 years ago, you might have seen Abraham, Sarah and Hagar putting up their tent on that rounded hill. Or you might have seen Rebbecca carry water from the well in that wadi. Indeed, it is possible that you might have encountered Jacob meditating on that open wide field. What a privilege you have, I think, to engage with this beautiful biblical land and its sheep grazing freely on the land, its mighty oaks rooted deeply in the rich soil, and its countless wells and springs refreshing any guest under the beating sun.

 

I always thought myself to know this road very well. On these hills to the south of Jerusalem, located next to my home town Gil
o, and further south towards the Negev desert, I spent much of my time growing up. Whether visiting friends in Bat Ayin, Alon Shvut or Beer Sheva or guiding tours for Jewish teenagers from the US, I always thought of this biblical view as a precious gateway to the pages of Genesis. With great power I was drawn to this narrative of Place, as if wanting to re-member myself to it. And in this re-membering, I ended up forgetting, fragmenting and destroying. I looked but I didn’t see.

 

Invisible people with invisible problems they have been for me. Arab villages with no names, people with no faces, no stories, no voices. In fact, it seems that my psyche had no room for them. Looking towards their villages, have I ever thought to ask, how are they living? How are they treated? Why do their villages look so different than the settlements? Why their kids are often barefoot? Did I ever take the time to think about the life of a particular family or a particular child? When “looking at” is transformed into “seeing and listening in”, a sense of privilege becomes a sense of responsibility. Responsibility to know, understand and act.

 

When driving in the Negev, it is hard to miss the Bedouin villages. You can recognize them by the bad roads that turn muddy in the winter; the lack of infrastructure and planning; or by the presence of a variety of animals in the backyards. In these towns you will find displaced communities, traditions, and memories. When you go deeper and allow yourself to start hearing the stories, you might get dismayed and shake your head in disbelief for what has been done over the last 60 years, on behalf of your people.

 

“People don’t have a right to exist; let alone co-exist” Ali, Head of the Hura Community Center told us. By repressing, oppressing, and depressing the Bedouin traditions, social structures and their economic viability “the state is loosing the solidarity of its Bedouin citizens. It undermines the possibility of having good citizens” he added. On Wednesday, July 18, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, devoted the whole day to discuss the ‘Bedouin problem’. We heard Bedouins say again and gain (paraphrased) “we don’t want to be a problem. In fact, we are NOT a problem. We want to be part of the solution but the government makes it impossible for us to do this when they don’t give legitimacy to our ways of living; when they keep demolishing our humble houses or tents; when they take away our familiar economic infrastructure without even giving us a viable alternative”. In the Knesset, at the end of the day, an agreement was placed on the table in which the Israeli government promises not to demolish any Bedouin houses in the next year in the condition that the Bedouins don’t build any houses without permits. Our tour in the Negev took place only one day after these discussions. Early in the morning, we heard that at least two Bedouin houses were being demolished. “promises, promises” we heard some Bedouin say. “They tricked us in the past and they trick us now”. We went to the site of one of the demolitions to show solidarity. The owner of the house did not want to speak to us. He was too depressed and shocked – not only did this young man just lose his little house, but he was supposed to marry this week. The wedding and the party were canceled and with it, I wonder if hope was canceled too.

 

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Day Six – July 20th, 2007

 

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Like the preceding days, today began with a massive breakfast provided by our generous host and her family. The work site was busy and active as always with a variety of tasks to perform in order to continue to convert this structure into a home. Home in all of its many meanings; not merely a construct providing shelter but a place where families gather and grow, grieve and celebrate, share and seek solace. The attachment is not to the physical structure but to the myriad ways in which that structure contains mementos and meanings; a lifetime of memories.

 

The generosity and hospitality of the community is on full display each and every time any one of us simply needs to use the bathroom. There are a host of local residents who unhesitatingly open their doors to our filthy crew anytime any one of us needs anything at all. Today’s bathroom break began with a warm and enthusiastic greeting followed by a round of freshly brewed coffee, sweet mint tea and healing lemon drink for those among us coughing or ailing in any way. The richest part of the visit, however, is the conversation.

 

Today a gentleman with six years of formal schooling fully dispelled any remnants of the myth equating education with intellect. For well over an hour this man shared not only his home and his hospitality but his knowledge and his insight. His grace extended not just to us and to his wife, for whom he showed great affection and respect, but to the political process, as well. His command of the socio-political maze in which he lives was matched by his grace and dignity. In short, the building blocks to his formula for all parties seeking to extricate themselves from this seemingly intractable morass are mutual respect, pluralism, equity and compassion. Simple words perhaps for a profoundly complex web of political, social, cultural and religious problems. But, to paraphrase what he put so eloquently, we can choose to complicate the matter or we can choose to heal; to transform a wretched and oppressive set of policies into an opportunity to engage the best in all of us and “share the blessing.”

 

Visiting the homes of those who have been so systematically marginalized and oppressed is similar in one respect to visiting Palestine for the first time; it is not what you’d expect. Just as I failed to imagine the many layers and contours of Israeli control over Palestinian lives, I similarly failed to anticipate the readiness among so many to conceptualize and seek to apply such creative solutions to the problems that plague the lives of all who live on this beautiful land. No matter how people with power and privilege attempt to deny their participation in a system so irrational, illogical and cruel, their oblivion circumscribes not just the dreams and hopes of those with whom they share the land but themselves, as well. Not to know your neighbors is not to know your community and not to know your community is not to know your home. A home is defined, not by colored IDs and permits, but by people and their aspirations. If this ceases to be a home for the Palestinians, it fails to fulfill the meaning of home for anyone.

 

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Day Seven – July 21st, 2007


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After breakfast, all of the team went to the building site. The decision was made to concentrate the efforts of the team on the house that had been demolished earlier in the week as the family who had been living in the house was living in difficult circumstances in a makeshift accommodation close to the site.

 

The concrete structure had been set in the previous two days and it was now the time to remove the supporting scaffolding and the shuttering. This was accomplished during the morning and the building equipment was stacked and made ready for transport from the site.

 

The morning was hot and the team worked hard on the mixing of the mortar and
the construction of the side walls of the building was almost completed by lunchtime.

 

A trip to Ramallah had been arranged for the afternoon that included a visit to the temporary resting place of Chairman Arafat, the Palestinian ex -leader and -President. We were given an account from a Palestinian Authority soldier of the President’s internment and imprisonment in the Moquata compound during the siege by the IDF that lasted for 4 years. The same complex of buildings now house the current emergency administration.

 

Ramallah has the true feeling of an independent Palestinian city but one is still somehow aware of the sense of threat and containment imposed by the occupation. With periodic incursions by Israeli snatch and assassination squads. These subjects were raised during a private meeting I had in Ziryab later that afternoon with the prominent Palestinian artist and intellectual Emily Jacir whose work articulates the plight of those under Occupation on an international stage through her practise as a contemporary artist. The subject of insecurity which is a continual threat to Palestinians who travel out of the zone of the Occupation, specifically the possible denial of re-entry to their homeland, access to their friends, families, and loved ones is an ever present factor in their daily lives.

 

The possibility of envisaging a personal or professional trajectory for the future, of long term planning is denied to them by the clampdown which is imposed on civil society with the iron fist of the Occupation. Even to try and plan for the next week, the next day! “The moment is occupied” said Khaled Hourani during a conversation we had earlier this year at the International Art Academy in Ramallah.

 

After my meeting with Emily the ICAHD group had been invited to a dinner hosted by Sam Bakur, leading businessman and entrepreneur who, like so many other Palestinian ex-patriots had naturally decided to invest in the economy of their home country in the wake of the Oslo Accords. All of their efforts had been thwarted and undermined by the bad faith displayed by their fellow signatories and partners in the agreement, the Israeli Government. He too spoke about the insecurity felt by the Palestinian ex-patriot community, the possible denial of re-entry which has been ingrained as a psychological tool to demoralise and humiliate those enduring the Occupation. Also the subject was raised of how the rights of U.S. citizens, i.e. passport holders, are compromised by a tacit agreement between both the U.S. government and that of Israel, to discourage them from entering the zone of the Occupation, Palestine.

 

A little later on that evening as the ICAHD group relaxed and enjoyed a little refreshment in a hostelry in Ramallah, fragments of the conversation I had earlier with Emily came to mind. The idea that people from Europe or the United States seem strangely disappointed to discover that there is a substantial middle-class and even wealthy Palestinians and that not everybody is living in tents. There are artists, intellectuals, poets, doctors, lawyers, an entire intelligencia and a complex cultural stratum. Though these might be glibly described and dismissed as an elite, they too are playing their part in the resistance to the Occupation.

 

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Day Eight – July 22nd, 2007



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I arrived at the camp today, midway through this year’s rebuilding. Having participated in previous ICAHD camps, I was delighted to be back and to see so many friends who had also returned for the 2007 rebuilding. Seeing them, Salim, Arabiya and their family plus other local Palestinians and ICAHD staff was such a happy reunion, with a feeling of ‘family’ about it.

 

There is a good atmosphere at the camp and there seems to be a strong team spirit. The eagerness to work hard (building TWO houses), learn from one another and from the people on the ground is evident. I noticed changes at the campsite. The interior of Beit Arabiya has been painted and there is a little more furniture and full length curtains hang from attractive poles. Outside, a large steel awning covers part of the patio, providing shelter and shade especially for the tables on which the food is set out for the meals.

 

The men sleep outside on another part of the patio area and now instead of having to put their sleeping bags on mats on the ground, there is a proper tiled space that leads onto a leveled area with small white pebbles. Tastefully done, it gives Beit Arabiya a more permanent appearance, which is interesting considering that the building permit has never been granted and there is still the possibility that it may once again be demolished.

 

Today, much of the work at the building site was done by people forming chains and with so many of us joining in, progress was fast and I am confident that the houses will be completed by the end of the week.

 

In the evening, we were addressed by Ronim from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, composed of lawyers, other professionals and activists. Established in 1989, it documents human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza with one of their major aims being to take their findings to the Israeli public. Asked what B’Tselem would do if they were given a blank check, Ronit thought they would use the money to break Israel’s “framing” which says that their actions in the Occupied Territories have to be done for security reasons.

 

Before ‘lights out’, Arabiya invited all the women to join her in the house for a Tea Party. She wanted each of us to introduce ourselves and then she told us about what it is like for a Palestinian woman living under occupation. It was a humbling time and we all grew in understanding and admiration for what these people have to endure.

 

The above report was written by Summer Camp participant: L.R.


The below report was written by Summer Camp participant: C.H.


This has been my first trip outside of the United States. On Sunday most of the group went into Jerusalem to take care of some business. I almost went with them, but for my first day here I was keen to work at the building site. In the morning, several of us walked up to the second site. It was some of the hardest work I have done in awhile. I started by moving many bricks from the brick pile to where the workers needed them. Although I didn’t understand the language or what they were saying, I realized quickly what needed to be done. The workers were rebuilding the wall structure of the house, and needed the bricks lifted up to them from the ground when they were done laying the mortar. If I wasn’t doing that, I was mixing the mortar, which itself is hard work. Mixing the sand just right with enough water to reach the right composition.

 

After lunch I would love to have taken a short nap, but the work was more important and needed to continue. There was as much work as there was in the morning, this time I needed to pace myself a little better to get more work done. Now, the whole group was involved. At the first house, we created a human chain to transport hundreds of floor tiles from outside into the house. At the second house, it work mostly involved mixing water and sand to make mortar for dry-walling, a lot of sand and water. The progress on the second house was remarkable, from where we had started to when we finished in the afternoon.

 

I thought I was up to date in understanding the issues involving Israel and Palestine. But seeing with my own eyes really drove home the gross injustice that is going on. The Palestinians have had promises made to them by the Jordanians, Lebanese, Europeans, etc., but all have come to naught. It is so important for them to realize by seeing us, that they are not alone. I look at the poverty in this area, and know that it does not need to be like this. They pay the same taxes as those in West Jerusalem, but receive little, if not none, of the services. It is important especially for the children to see this and understand that there is hope in this troubled land. They can rely on hope and love and not hate.

 

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Day Nine – July 23rd, 2007



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“Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart moans within me, I cannot be silent… Hear this, O foolish people, devoid of intelligence, that have eyes but cannot see, that have ears but cannot hear… [Who] sense no pain… feel no shame… [non of you] acts justly, seeks integrity. Mend your ways and your actions…execute justice between one man and another… do not oppress the stranger [and the indigenous], the orphan and the widow… do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place.”

 

A short while before the destruction of Jerusalem, about 2500 years ago, Jeremiah, a prophet from Anatot (=Anata-, where we are rebuilding the houses), spoke these words to his people. They did not want to hear and answered, “you are lying”. Today, on the eve of 9th of Av, when Jews all around the world remember the demolitions of the Temples in Jerusalem, the destruction of the city and the exile of its people, it is impossible for me not to cry, not to feel shame and anger, when seeing the destruction Israel is causing to others, the suffering that is created in my name.

 

“My eyes are spent with tears, my heart is in tumult, my being melts away… as babes and and sucklings languish In the squares of the city. What can I take as a witness or liken to you, O fair Jerusalem?… Your ruin is vast as the sea: who can heal you?… O wall of fair Zion, shed tears like a torrent day and night… My eyes shall flow without cease, without respite… my eyes have brought me grief”

 

These images taken from the book of Lamentations, which some say were written by Jeremiah himself, are ‘seen’ tonight by millions of Jews all around the world. They sit on the floors of the synagogues to mourn Jerusalem and cry for the suffering of the Jewish people. If only they were here today, to witness with us the images that lie on the ‘other side’ of the wall; if only they would have the courage to see through the barriers and walls around their own hearts and listen to the cries of the Palestinians, see the incredible suffering in Hebron, the unmet basic needs of the refugees in Daheshe. If only for one moment tonight, while lamenting their own suffering, they could also see and feel the suffering of ‘other’. What is the cost of this blindness?

 

As an Israeli I must admit that I have been very impressed with the development of the road infrastructure in Israel. You can get anywhere very fast, through multiple lane roads. “Everywhere”, meaning of course, mostly Jewish places. Driving to Beth Lehem revealed to us early on, how the efficient and comfortable road systems for Israelis, is exchanged with a complicated and frustrating road infrastructure for the ‘others’. Even Angela, our tour guide which is well acquainted with the area, did not expect the recent changes in the road that don’t allow cars driving from Jerusalem on the south bound road, to turn left into Beth Lehem. “I am staggered by the changes on the roads so fast” she said. A clear statement that calls “do not enter here, it is a dangerous place” could be heard implicitly as we drive by the closed entrance.

 

Daheishe, the biggest out of three refugee camps, was created in 1948, as a result of the growing numbers of Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes. Dwelling poorly in this half-kilometer square you will find about 12,000 people. They do not receive services or economic assistance neither from the Israeli government nor from the Palestinian Authority but depend solely on the UN and on international aid. Our guide, Najai, was not interested in emphasizing the humanitarian tragedies that take place daily in the camp. Rather, he chose to share with us the many creative and positive things that the Public Program Committee, of which he is a member, has been doing since 1969. They have been closed once but the work has never stopped. He was proud to let us know that they have created in the camp the Edward Said library, a computer center, a fitness center for women and a large hall that host’s conferences, weddings and events. When walking in the crowded and dirty camp that lacks basic infrastructure like sewage, when hearing stories of people that are not given an opportunity to have an economic stability, when seeing people living in half built houses – you realize that hope in this camp, is an act of resistance. “We send a message to the world” Najai says, “ to show how you can find hope anywhere, how to maintain hope in any condition. Now – Halas! [enough] – we stop crying. It is not time to cry anymore.”

 

Have you ever been in the Arab SHUK of Jerusalem? Remember the smells of the spices, the loud voices of people bargning, stunning fabrics in a myriad of colors? Now imagine empty streets and closed shops, imagine the roaming silence that fills the void. This nightmare has become tragically a real image in a part of Hebron. Area H2 (Hebron 2) includes 20% of the city where alongside thousands of Palestinians there are about 800 settlers and 800 policeman and army forces. In a ratio of about 1:1, the settlers are given the protection needed so they can maintain their presence in the area. After all, some will say, it is the city of OUR forefathers; Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and others are buried here. Naturally, we, the Jews, have the right to this land. It is OUR promised land. What happens to the people that have been living here for centuries is of secondary importance. That their shops have been closed, that they are not allowed freely on the roads, that they can not even open the windows in their houses from fear, that in times of curfews they are allowed to go out only for two hours every two weeks (!!!) – is not of our concern, they may say.

 

And there are others. Like Michael, our tour guide, a religious man from Jerusalem that is a member of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ organization. Soldiers, many of them religious in fact, have decided to not only leave the army, but to speak out the terrible reality that they were part of in Hebron. “In coping daily with the madness of Hebron, we couldn’t remain the same people beneath our uniforms… We were exposed to the ugly face of terror: A suicide bomber who doesn’t hesitate to try to kill a group of children. An innocent family killed while at the Sabbath table… The settlers whom we were meant to protect rioted, occupied houses, and confronted the police and the army both physically and verbally. The constant curfew, which made the streets of Hebron into a ghost town. The Hebron Casbah (old city) locked and barred…Hebron isn’t outer space. It’s one hour from Jerusalem. Now all you have to do is to come. And see. And hear. And understand what’s happening here.” (www.breakingthesilence.org.il)

 

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Day Ten – July 24th, 2007

 

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Reconstruction of the two houses is going well. White finishing coat of plaster and tile floor installation are progressing in the big house, and wiring and plumbing are nearly completed in the small house, which still requires external plaster.

 

Meir Margalit: Home demolition in East Jerusalem


After the midday meal, Meir reviewed home demolition based on his extensive experience as a municipal official. East Jerusalem has about 270,000 Palestinians, who represent 33% of the municipality’s population, and pay 30% of the taxes, but receive only 10% of the municipal budget. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are included as residents but, unlike new Jewish immigrants, not citizens.

 

Why this discrimination? The “demographic phantom” – the fear that by 2015 or 2020, Palestinians in the Jerusalem municipality will outnumber Jewish Israelis and will therefore be able to elect the mayor, a terrifying prospect. So everything possible is done to encourage them to leave, including denial of building permits and demolition of houses.

 

The process of demolition begins with serving the demolition order. This doesn’t have to go into the hands of the owner – it’s sufficient to cello-tape it to the wall of the building. As we have seen, in this environment a piece of cello-tape is not necessarily going to hold a paper to the wall. It may drop off, blow away, whatever. Thus many whose houses are under a demolition order don’t find out until the soldiers come to demolish the house, perhaps years later.

 

There are about 1000 “illegal” houses built a year, but the demolition budget is only about $1,000,000 (4.6m NIS), not nearly enough to demolish them all, which is why they don’t do more.

 

Example: the little house we watched cost about 70,000NIS to destroy. They demolished several other houses that day and spent about $300,000.

 

Demolition orders never expire, so some families live in fear for years or even decades waiting for the blow to fall. Others are taken by surprise, never having seen the order, and when they ask are shown perhaps a 15-year-old piece of paper.

 

When the soldiers come for the demolition, they approach and surround the area – perhaps a whole village – usually at 4 or 5 in the morning. This leads to a period of terrific stress as they slowly close in: whose house will it be? Mine? My neighbour’s? My cousin’s…? Meir related the story of one woman who chose to terminate her pregnancy during this time of stress.

 

At last the soldiers arrive at the house. If ICAHD is informed, sometimes they can work quickly to find an error in the process or some other way and get a freeze order, postponing the demolition.

 

At such times, when the municipality tries to contact the demolition crew and let them know about the freeze order, often the cell phones of the demolition crew and other lines of communication suddenly stop working. Perhaps they’re in an area with no cell coverage, or there’s some network problem. Or the call doesn’t come until just after the demolition is over. Or they hurry up – before the furniture is removed, even – and get a couple of good bangs in against the house, and then afterwards the municipal engineers examine the house and declare it unsafe – so it has to be demolished anyway.

 

Matrix of Control Tour


A tour of East Jerusalem and environs followed, led by Catherina. She explained that there are three rings of control, beginning with houses purchased by Jews in the heart of the Palestinian Old City, followed by Jewish “neighborhoods” such as French Hill, and finally the major outlying settlements exemplified by Ma’ale Adummim. We viewed first the Shu’fat refugee camp, which is across the wall from Anata. The camp is distinguished by grey concrete, since the refugees are not required to build in white Jerusalem stone. Outside the Palestinian village of Shu’fat are the Jewish settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev and Pisgat Omer. The wall carefully allocates all greenery to the Israelis’ territory. We passed through E1, where a large police station is under construction, to Ma’ale Adummim. Government subsidies have induced 33,000 Israelis live there currently, but the plan is to expand it to 70,000 inhabitants. The palm trees, flowers and grass throughout this settlement, which was build in desert, contrast dramatically with the surrounding environment. Per capita Israelis use five times the water that Palestinians do and pay a usage rate one fourth that paid by Palestinians. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho passes through Al Eizariya, an old Palestinian village, but that road has been cut by the wall. We viewed the wall from both sides at this point. About 20 minutes was required to drive to Ras al Amud, the village on the other side at the same point along the wall. Along the way we noted that Mt. Scopus and Hebrew University are inside the “Green Line,” but the French Hill is outside, making it a Jewish settlement. Shops and businesses along the Jericho road have closed or failed as a consequence of the decline in traffic. The difference in road quality, signage and trash collection between Israeli and Palestinian areas is dramatic. “Ideological settlements” inhabited by militant Zionists, i.e., individual buildings in Palestinian East Jerusalem purchased by wealthy U.S. Jews, were identified along our route. Finally we visited Nof Zion, a nonideological settlement perched dramatically high on a hill overlooking most of Jerusalem. The houses here are too expensive for all but the wealthiest Israelis, and will be purchased mainly by Americans, who will visit primarily during Jewish holidays. The rest of the year
Nof Zion is likely to be a “ghost” settlement.

 

 

Ilan Pappe, new historian


In the evening, Ilan Pappe spoke at Dalia about his latest book and current research. He outlined the two paradigms of Israeli history and the current situation. The first he identified as the UN Resolution 242 paradigm, which is accepted by political elites in Israel, the U.S., Europe, Russia, and Palestine. This is the “land for peace” paradigm, which was reinforced by the treaty with Egypt, which traded Sinai for peace. But this paradigm has a sinister sublayer, which is to find an internationally acceptable process that satisfies Israel’s hunger for land while maintaining a Jewish demographic majority. Military ethnic cleansing was the means to realize the Zionist project, which sought to control 80-90 percent of Palestine while removing all Palestinian inhabitants. “Satisfying the beast,” according to Pappe, would allow Israel to reside in peace. He believes that now Israel would be satisfied with additional absorption of 50-55 percent of the West Bank and relocation of the Palestinians who live there. Relocation would occur through gradual attrition. No Israeli leader wants an open, dramatic dispossession of Palestinians that can be traced.

 

The other paradigm, according to Pappe, is the UN Resolution 313 civil society paradigm consisting of acknowledgement, accountability, and acceptance. South Africa provides an example of a country that acknowledged its role in suppressing and exploiting a different people. Israel could do the same. Accountability would be satisfied by permitting disposed Palestinians to return. Acceptance of Israel within the fabric of the Mid-East by Palestinians and other Arabs could follow. Pappe emphasized that elaborate, culturally sensitive implementation mechanisms would be necessary to bring about these three steps. He opined that a separate Palestinian state would not be economically viable, and advocated a single, binational state. As an example of how far the discussion has progressed in Israel, he noted that in two weeks the Israeli Communist Party is scheduled to debate the viability of a two-state solution, to which it previously clung.

 

Pappe asserted that a regime change is necessary in Israel. To bring about this change he believes that boycotts against Israel, divestment, and sanctions will be necessary. This “mad” state in the Mid-East should be contained. He opined that end of the occupation is a prerequisite to termination of the conflict.

 

In response to questions, Pappe indicted that he is not opposed to academic boycotts directed against either institutions or individuals. He noted that Israeli universities do not subscribe to any tenant of the European constitution. Based on recently declassified documents, he observed that in 1948 Arab states were responding to outcries from their own populations, provoked by Jewish massacres of Palestinians, when the took armed action against Israel. The Arab armies stopped at the UN designated boundaries. Incidents in 1958, 1960 and 1965 suggest that the IDF was looking for an excuse when they finally attacked in 1967.


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Day Eleven – July 25th, 2007

 

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Today saw the result of several days’ hard work rebuilding the home the Jerusalem City Council ordered to be destroyed. The destruction was carried out last week and we pulled together to swiftly put right that wrong. As the picture above shows, two joyful family members help in putting back into their home the many belongings so hurriedly bundled out just days before when the home-destruction gang arrived.

 

But first the doors and windows were completed, internal pointing finished off, tiles repaired and sinks and toilet units installed. By the late afternoon the Mustafa family were so keen to move back in that those working inside suddenly found themselves having to manoeuvre around an ever-increasing pile of household furniture and other items.

 

The team split into two groups with one half handing furniture over the fence from the garden, where the items had been stored out in the open, to the other half who then manhandled them along the track through the front door and into the house. There had of course been breakages in the rush to rescue their belongings. And carefully handling the plastic sacks of clothing, bedding and other household items gave a see-through glimpse into a family’s privacy violated.

 

On the one hand there was satisfaction at showing we would never give in, never surrender and abandon these innocent families to the repugnant repression of the Occupier. On the other, many volunteers felt deep and heartfelt anger at this repression, which has nothing to do with ‘security’ but everything to do with harassment and subjugation. We will never surrender to this. We will always resist and fight back. We wish the family well in their rebuilt home.

 

Great progress was made too in the Hamdan house, with floor tiling and grouting well underway, with only one more room to do and the stairwell to finish. And singing lessons for one of the rooftop cement-mixing crew!

 

The evening’s lecture was a first class, highly revealing and informative talk on the hidden and open financial and social costs of the occupation to Israeli citizens. We learned that behind the spin and gloss of an apparently vibrant Israeli economy was a lurking and imminent melt-down.

 

We learnt that financial aid to the settlers cost Israeli society $3 billion a year, and the cost of maintaining the Occupation $6 billion a year, that whilst the Israeli population was growing only 2% a year, this was outstripped by the growth of settler population of 8% a year.

 

To pay for this the Government was having to sell off State enterprise – refineries, shipping lines, industries, but they are running out of State sector assets to sell. We learnt that the cost of the Wall had quadrupled and that a former Occupied Territory General Officer, Ya’ir Golan, had said publicly that the reason for the Wall was to separate populations and not to protect Israeli lives – this latter aim could be done far more cheaply in other ways.

 

Private armed security personnel guarding banks, shops, and other public facilities, now outnumbered the total strength of the IDF. And that crime was soaring because the Police were mandated to fight terrorism not crime. There was a brain drain with academics leaving for better jobs abroad, which led to the final question – would Israel be around in 50 years’ time?

 

Well if it is, and they are still destroying homes in defiance of international humanitarian law, then rest assured ICAHD will be around too, resisting oppression and fighting back!

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Day Twelve – July 26th, 2007

 

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The build went well for day twelve with some camp participants and Palestinian workers hauling multiple buckets of cement and steadily working to get closer to finishing the Hamdan home. Most of the camp participants, however, went north to see both Israeli and Palestinian towns of the northern region. We visited an Israeli town west of the Green Line and an Israeli settlement, as well as two Palestinian villages trapped behind the wall. The contrast between Israeli and Palestinian towns is stark and telling of the affects of the occupation.

 

Our route took us up highway 6 from Jerusalem through the West Bank on a road used primarily by Israelis and blocked with boulders from Palestinian villages. Highway 6 follows the route of the (so called) ‘security’ Wall providing an interesting look at how the Israeli government attempts to minimalize the impact of the Wall on Israelis. In some stretches, the builders of the Wall have painted lovely archways leading to green grass and blue skies. In other places, the Wall appears only half as high on the Israeli side because of the slope of the land, but the full height on the Palestinian side. You never see the reverse with the Palestinian side being shorter than the Israeli side. The first town we visited was Kfar Saba, which is an Israeli town west of the Green Line. Kfar Saba was a town for both Palestinians and Jews up until 1948. In 1948, the Israeli military expelled the 1,473 Palestinian residents as part of Operation Coastal Clearing. The residents fled, many to Kfar Saba’s twin city of Kalkylia. The wall now separates Kalkylia from Kfar Saba. We met with the Vice-Deputy Mayor of Kfar Saba, Amos Gavrielle, to discuss the relationship between the twin cities. While Gavrielle expressed regret that the Wall existed, he could not comment on the affects of the Wall on Kalkylia. There were several incidents of shootings from Kalkylia to highway 6 and at least one person had been killed, so Gavielle justified the Wall’s necessity to protect even one Israeli life. We brought up the fact that in many cities in the US, there are shootings such as this from poor neighborhoods to highways and no such walls exist. We also asked whether it might be better to wall off Kfar Saba than Kalkylia, which has a wall encircling it. Gavielle countered that the victims should not be punished, and a wall around Kfar Saba would punish the residents there. Since there were a few shootings and most residents of Kalkylia were not involved, and Gavielle admits that the Wall is punishment, one would think that the conclusion that the Wall constituted collective punishment, which violates international law, wouldn’t be far behind, but Gavielle couldn’t even admit that the Wall goes all the way around Kalkylia, not just along highway 6.

 

After Kfar Saba, we ventured into the West Bank (occupied Palestinian territory) settlement of Alfe Menashe to meet with D. R. and hear about his experience as a settler and his perspective on the settlement issue. His physical appearance reminded many of us of the old cowboy image as he wore a cowboy hat and carried a pistol in a holster. D. R. first started by defending settlements as not violating international law and going into the technicalities of the Israeli interpretation of international law. Israel does not recognize the settlements as being illegal even though the ICJ and ICAHD do. D. R. seemed to rely on our not being familiar with legal documents such as the Balfour declaration and the UN charter, but many of us are quite familiar with these documents and are aware of the ambiguous language and how interpretations vary, so this line of argument convinced none of us, but did lead me to re-read some things.

 

In the final analysis, D. R. saw the future as a one-state solution with different areas of control for Jews and Palestinians with freedom of movement and the dismantling of the Wall, but only if security could be guaranteed. D. R. sees himself as a moderate and moved to the settlement for the quality of life. He says he would leave if asked by the Israeli government, but doesn’t see Alfe Menashe as a problem settlement as it isn’t deep in the West Bank.

 

We left the manicured lawns and swimming pool of Alfe Menashe to visit Imateen, a Palestinian village cut off from both Israel and Kalkylia, the nearest major town, by the Wall. We met with the mayor and several town officials to hear about the affects of the Wall on Imateen. One man relayed the story of his son who was shot by border police on his way to school. The police had asked him to stop in Hebrew, but the boy didn’t know Hebrew and kept walking to school. He was killed by the shot.

 

Imateen got help from a French NGO to develop water services to the village which they completed over a year ago. The village and several NGO’s have worked since then to try to get a permit to run a line to the village so they may have water, but, so far, they have failed to get the permit. Alfe Menashe can build a swimming pool, but Imateen cannot even have running water. Next, we moved on to Hajja, which means market in Caananite. Hajja suffered as well from the wall with separation from agricultural lands, general freedom of movement and access to markets, as well as a lack of water. We met with the Mayor and several town council members (which includes two women) to discuss Hajja. The most pressing problem for the town aside from those listed above was a lack of a sewage system that led villagers to continue using traditional methods of sewage treatment. With the growing population of Hajja, this means too much sewage in the ground water, too little water, and the outbreak of ameobic dysentary. Hajja lies primarily in area C and receives little help from its Israeli occupiers except to demolish their houses. The mayor invited us to visit the sites of several demolitions, but our time ran out.

 

The day was long and hot, but helped me understand the ideology behind settlements and occupation as well as the grinding constraints on Palestinians. We were unable to see Kalkylia at all due to internal politics (Hamas control of the area), but seeing the surrounding villages, cut off from their market, showed the affects of occupation. Seeing the settlement of Alfe Menashe and the town of Kfar Saba showed the extent of the inequality and the refusal of some to see what is right in front of their eyes.

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Day Thirteen – July 27th, 2007

 

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Today was a collapsible telescope… a day that highlighted the dramatic shift from intimacy to distance and back again according to the subtle curve of the beholder’s lens, the minute convexity or concavity of the heart of the witness. Throughout this trip, I have been invited to try on the various spectacles of everyone from a Zionist settler to the impoverished members of a demolished tin shanty in the Negev, to an ex-Israeli soldier who served in Hebron, to the matriarch of an Anata family turned upside down by the destruction of their home. Each time I put down one to pick up the other, I glance up fuzzy-eyed at the inscrutable shapes extending from my nose to the horizon and I can sense the unknowable complexity around me. Lenses focus, inform, and illuminate, but they can also narrow, manipulate, and distance.

 

At lunch, Jeff, Linda, and Temma spoke to us about advocacy at home, about transmuting what we have seen here into action through the very useful but very narrow channels of fundraising at home and (in my case), the American political system. I find myself balking at the prospect of relaying what
is happening around me. There is simply no translation for the feeling(s) of being here, the reality that happens in the moments between lenses. I recall my inability to listen, to really listen, to my father’s stories when he returned home from ICAHD summer camp two years ago. Despite his passion, despite his explanations, anecdotes and photographs, it all remained two-dimensional and abstract. What I heard was his voice; I couldn’t hear the echoes of Palestinian voices he heard as he spoke. Nonetheless, I was provided a hook, for which I am so grateful. Now that I am here, I understand and appreciate the absurd challenge of awakening a sleeping people back home… rocks thrown at a tank. I am baffled as to how to invite my friends out of their tanks and into these stories, to come and see for themselves.

 

After dinner, while watching “Arna’s Children,” I was struck by the efficacy of the use of a lens, a camera lens, to connect. The documentary by Juliano Mer-Khamis tracks the lives of seven boys from their experience in a theatre group in Jenin to their participation in the Intifada, and seeing it made me painfully aware of how much we are missing in our brief encounters with the Palestinian people. The camera in this case acts as a secret mirror, a microscope with which we are allowed inside the language, the town, the homes, and the families of the least investigated and least heard voices- those whom we call “terrorists”. What has been presented to us through the lens of mainstream media as the blank surface of a dark ocean is in fact a whole confounding world of color and life and flux, that we can see if we but choose to put on a mask, jump in, and peer below the surface. In truth, I have no idea what the young boys whom we work with are saying, much less thinking and feeling. As closely as we witnessed the demolition of the little house near the Hamden house, moving bags of personal belongings, we have NO IDEA what it feels like to live on edge. We do not understand. Can we understand? How much, in the end, can really be communicated?

 

After the film, an animated conversation regarding identity, self-expression, and violence ensued. Juliano stressed the intertwining of Palestinian identity with Palestinian freedom, saying that the necessity of recapturing an authentic sense of cultural identity that has not been co-opted by the Israeli system is key to the survival of the people. In his theatrical work with Palestinian youth, Juliano provides an emotional outlet for the stifled reactions to the trauma of the occupation. By expressing themselves, the youth are able to define themselves on their own terms and not merely in response to the Israeli army. Nonetheless, as we saw in the film, artistic expression does not necessarily preclude communication through the language of violence. By the end of the film, nearly all of the featured young men have died as martyrs for the Intifada. It is all well and good for a people to dialogue creatively and share within itself, but how does one express him/herself to a world that is not listening, to a system that is actively and systematically silencing it? The wall is a deaf ear, a turned back. It is the shut-down theater in Jenin, it is the absence of Palestinian voices in mainstream media across the world. In essence, violent acts are a last-ditch attempt to be heard. Reducing a people to the label of terrorist, refusing to see and listen to them, and shutting them out from the global discussion can only perpetuate the self-fulfilling prophecy of suicide attacks. If we truly want the cycle of bloodshed to end, we must listen to the voices of the people before they reach this fevered pitch. We must help build a solid stage on which they can stand and pack the house.

 

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Day Fourteen – July 28th, 2007


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It was a moment when time had stopped and the emotional entanglements of a military occupation dissolved and a fresh hope filled the air. The sense of accomplishment rejuvenated the perseverance of the Palestinian people and gave the internationals inspiration to continue their advocacy for justice. The sharing of these experiences strengthened the commitment, not simply to ending the military occupation, but also to each other. Later in the night, gifts and feelings were shared. The conversations went late into the night sustained by Arabic coffee and kanafe from our gracious host Salim.

The morning came, against the will of the participants. After breakfast, they regrettably packaged their belongings and prepared for departure. Some were staying in Palestine – Israel for a while, others were heading home to begin work to end the occupation, but all were seen embracing, wishing each other the best for the future. One young American Jewish woman sobbed in the arms of Ya’een, a Palestinian
worker, as she new it would some time before she would see him again. It was obvious that a bond had been made throughout the two weeks of the summer camp between the internationals, Israelis and Palestinians. This is the bond that will keep the unity in the struggle for justice.