ICAHD Rebuilding Camp 2010 in Anata

 

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 19th, 2010 

 

 

Rubble covers the tile floor at the site of the demolished home we are beginning to rebuild in the East Jerusalem section of Anata, a Palestinian town divided between occupied “East” Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Activists from the United States, Britain, Germany and Iran, reinforced daily by local Palestinian and Israeli activists, have gathered here for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD’s) eighth annual summer rebuilding camp. They will spend two weeks rebuilding a Palestinian home that has been destroyed by the Israeli authorities.

 

This year’s house belongs to the Hamdan family, which was first demolished in 2005. In 2007, ICAHD activists began rebuilding the home, but because it was located near a section of Israel’s apartheid wall that was being constructed around Anata, battles of stone-throwing, tear gas, shooting and arrests erupted between the Palestinian residents resisting their virtual imprisonment behind 8m/26′ concrete blocks and the Israeli army and police. Feeling endangered, ICAHD suspended the effort for an alternative site. In 2008, the ICAHD camp came back to the Hamdan home and completed its reconstruction. The house, however, was demolished again within a few months. Since our rebuilding constitutes political acts of resistance to occupation and not “humanitarian gestures,” we try to rebuild every home that is re-demolished.

 

As we cleared the rubble from the foundation this morning, I noticed the tile floor that remained underneath. I was struck by the fact that the tiles were the same pattern as those we used last summer, when I participated in the ICAHD effort to rebuild a house a short distance away. I thought about the volunteers in 2007 and 2008, who had worked in the summer heat to build this home, only to have their work destroyed shortly after the family moved in.

 

Because the Spanish government is sending 45 volunteers this year to rebuild, a wonderful thing but something that would make a combined work camp unwieldy, ICAHD decided to operate three camps: this one in Anata with about 20 volunteers, one in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina and one in the West Bank, near Hebron (more on those camps when they begin next week). Altogether we will build four houses this summer.

 

We made measurable progress today. After a nonviolence training session by members of the Palestine Solidarity Project based in Beit Umar near Hebron, we took a walking tour of Anata, guided by Salim Shawamreh, ICAHD’s Field Coordinator and resident of Anata, whose own home has been demolished four times. We met residents on the way and got a feel for the place where we will be spnding the next two weeks. On the tour, ICAHD Director Jeff Halper gave a broad political context, explaining how part of the village is under joint Palestinian-Israeli control (Area B), and part under full Israeli control (Area C and Jerusalem). Many of the homes in Anata are under constant threat of demolition because Israeli authorities claim they were constructed without the proper permits – which are virtually impossible to acquire. In fact, THREE Israeli government authorities demolish homes in Anata: the Jerusalem municipality, the Ministry of Interior and the “Civil” Administration, Israel’s military government over the West Bank

 

In the afternoon, the whole crew of volunteers went to the building site and got down to work, first cleaning the site, then forming human chains to pass along a seemingly endless stream of buckets of concrete to pour into molds for the foundation and pillars. At the end of the day we were treated to a sumptuous tray of baba ganoush, hummus, pickles and fresh-baked bread sent out to us by the mother of two teenaged girls who had been watching our efforts.

 

We dragged our sweaty bodies home for dinner and a presentation from Jeff and Salim about the Israeli occupation and the history of Beit Arabiya, the house where we are staying. Salim explained the nightmarish and expensive process he repeatedly undertook in unsuccessfully trying to get a permit to construct the house, named after our hostess, Arabiya. Their house has been standing since it was rebuilt by ICAHD in 2003, but because the family has Jerusalem residency and the home is in the West Bank, they will lose their right to enter Jerusalem if they move into their home – something especially worrying since there is currently another demolition order against it and they might be left without a home entirely. So now it is used as a strategizing center, and the Shawamreh family only stays here during the ICAHD summer camp. More than 24,000 homes have been destroyed since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. ICAHD has rebuilt 165 over the past decade; only about 15 have been re-demolished.

 

Most camp participants are already involved in this work, but they come home from their experiences here energized and more determined to carry on their efforts. As Alaina, a volunteer from Portland, Oregon put it, “As Americans, there’s only so much we can do here, but there’s a lot we can do back there, because our tax dollars are funding this whole thing.” The ICAHD camps will send bac
k into the world 65 effective advocates against the Occupation and for a just peace by the end of work camp schedules. And four families, numbering several dozen people, will have homes. 

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Day Two – July 10th, 2010

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Today was our first full day at Beit Arabiya, our base in Anata. We woke up early this morning and had a wonderful breakfast cooked by our hostess Arabiya and the women of the ICAHD camp. (Since the house itself, where the kitchen is located, is the “women’s space” and outside is common space, modesty according to the norms of this traditional community means that preparation of the meals is primarily the responsibility of women).

 

We then met up with Maqdesea Community Development Society, a Palestinian human rights group from East Jerusalem which brought out 14 young volunteers for the day, and we headed to the work site to build together. The extra hands were much needed as we were in full-swing building mode. We began to see the fruits of our labor as the house started to take shape. Rubble was cleared, trash picked up, jacks set in place to hold the roof supports, rebar cages constructed, and cinderblocks sorted into place. Needless to say it was quite a busy day on the job site. Thanks to the camps collective effort, in combination with help from the Palestinian youth group, we made a lot of progress.

 

After a long day of heavy lifting, several of us headed to the internet café in Anata where we caught up on email and stayed up to date on the news back home and abroad.

 

When we returned to Beit Arabia we had another amazing meal followed by a very insightful presentation from Xavier Abu Eid, a member of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department. During the presentation, he discussed the current situation on the ground, the official positions of the PLO negotiation team, and his personal opinions on politics in Palestine and abroad – which were optimistic as to the possibility of a just peace. All and all, the presentation was very informative and the discussion afterwards pleasant and engaging. We finished the night off with our first group meeting where we discussed building plans and the next day’s schedule.

 

The progress we have made on the house is amazing after just one and a half days. The foundation of a new beginning for the Hamdan family has been laid with the collective effort of Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals. While we are physically tired, our spirits are high, and our motivation to compete the task is unwavering.

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Day Three – July 21st, 2010

 

We started off today as any other day, humus and falafel. Then we were ready to begin.

Yahav, an Israeli tour guide, regularly working with ICAHD, came to Beit Arabiya at about 8.30 and we sat down for a 100-year intro to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

He led us to the Damascus Gate where we met a group of the ICAHD interns, and this is where our tour began. This would not just be a regular historical and religious tour of Old Jerusalem, but one that brings in the present day political ploys of the State of Israel and the gradual conquest of the Palestinian neighborhoods by the Settlers.

The settlers are slowly taking over a ring of property around the Dome of The Rock, as part of the long term plan to cut the Palestinian people off from the centre of East Jerusalem – their would-be capital. We got a good view of the ring of settler houses from the roof of the Austrian Hostel, and then moved on to see the Wailing Wall. I have been to see the Wailing Wall before, but never realised that the Western Wall Plaza, where all the tourists gather to gawp at the centerpiece of Jewish history, until 43 years ago was a Palestinian neighborhood. When Israel took over in 1967, the first house demolitions took place here, to clear the way for a nice big Plaza infront of the Western Wall – over 100 houses were razed to the ground, and the residents made refugees.

 

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We moved on to East Jerusalem where the tourist gifts change from Shisha pipes and scarves to T-shirts condemning Israel’s enemies, and portraits of Jerusalem – after the Temple has been rebuilt (i.e. omitting the Dome of the Rock!). Unfortunatley we didn’t get to finish the tour as we ran out of time, but this wasn’t a problem as I think we were all happy to have had such an insight into so many different sides of the Old City.

 

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We got back to the build in the afternoon, the roof was ready to be concreted, and the concrete pumping vehicle was on its way. There wasn’t quite so much physical work to do today, but a few of us got on the roof and helped our Palestinian friends lay down the cement, with the aid of a large vibrator machine that loosens up the poured concrete so it gets into all the nooks and crannies. While we were doing this some of the other guys were preparing the lintels for the door frames, and we did a lot of clearing rubble from around the build site!

 

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Its really looking quite housey now – which cant be a bad thing, and weve got through one more session without encountering “enemy forces” which is another plus! The whole thing has been brilliant so far, hard work, but we’ve got a great group of volunteers and have met some great people too.

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Day Four – July 22nd, 2010

 

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It’s high school graduation day in Anata and fireworks have been shooting off from rooftops in every direction all day.

 

We arrived at the building site to find the concrete roof, which we poured yesterday, curing and drying. We pulled away the wooden and metal braces from underneath and on the sides of the roof. We mixed a lot of concrete. We also moved dozens of cinder blocks in a chain – a line of people passing bricks to each other to minimize walking. When we have a task that seems too difficult for one person, chances are that we will form a chain.

I think it serves as a good metaphor for the movement we are in: individually we are much too small to move Israel or our communities at home to recognize Palestinian human rights, but as a large, coordinated group we can accomplish monumental goals.

 

Today we were able to get many of the exterior walls of the house up. During our lunch break, I went inside Beit Arabeia to take a nap and found that Arabiya had two young women from Anata over, both of which knew English. One was studying, aspiring to get her doctorate in physics. We sat and talked about politics, hospitals, universities, and the economy. One of the women has a boyfriend in Gaza. He moved from Anata before the blockade and she has not been able to see him since, though they can text each other on their cell phones. She explained that there are a plethora of political parties other than Hamas and Fatah that most of the students are flocking to. Both of the women aspire to move to Jordan. They said most women their age, my age, are hoping to leave Palestine for Jordan because there are jobs.

 

We saved a dog today. Yesterday, I saw three children dragging a whining, emaciated dog through garbage and broken glass by a rope tied around its neck. The dog was trying to resist being dragged, sprawling its legs out and trying to dig its paws into the dirt, however it was too small to resist three insistent children and was being choked in the process. The boys began throwing large stones at the dog’s head. One woman was already trying to get them to stop and I ran over to try to help. The boys stopped dragging the dog and I was trying to pet it to show them how you treat dogs, which some of them understood. Someone asked who owned the dog and the children said, no one.

 

Some interpret dog ownership as haram, forbidden in Islam. It was made clear that dogs are the lowest of the low in Anata, especially to these young boys. Today, the dog was back. The children were dragging her around again by her throat. One of the camp participants, a high school student from DC who lives in Jerusalem part-time, scooped the dog up in his arms to protect her from more abuse. After getting another affirmation that the dog had no owner, the student called his mom and asked if he could take the dog home. She said yes.

 

As soon as we got away from the boys, the dog, now named Jamie, began to immediately relax. She stopped shaking and became willing to walk. She is now living in a wonderful, caring home with flea baths and dog food. Ultimately we were able to peacefully save a life from brutal torture. That is why we are all here, to continue to build the movement that will alleviate the suffering of countless lives in Palestine.

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Day Five – July 23rd, 2010

 

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Since it was Friday and the construction workers had afternoon prayers, we only worked until 11 a.m. This meant however, that we needed to get an early start, so a group of us got up at 5:45 and started work at 6:00. We continued working on laying bricks for the interior walls. Some people worked on mixing cement while others moved bricks. We proved to be an efficient team and were able to finish all of the walls by the end of the morning.

 

After a midday nap and some lunch we went on the “Matrix of Control” tour with Jeff Halper. First we drove to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, which is just a few minutes away from Anata nd smack in the middle of the West Bank. We passed through one checkpoint through which Palestinians are allowed because it is an industrial area and many Palestinians work there. A lot of Israeli industrial production occurs in the West Bank because there are no environmental regulations. This is especially attractive to highly polluting industries like meat production. Just like U.S. polluters, Israeli industries choose to dump their toxic waste on poor unrepresented populations.

 

Then we passed another checkpoint through which Palestinians are not allowed. We were entering the residential area of the settlement. One of the first things I noticed was the dramatic contrast in the landscape between inside and outside the settlement. The settlement is surrounded by dry desert, but inside there are neatly taken care of flower beds and dark green lawns. In this area of the country there is no rain from April to October, so the extensive landscaping in Ma’ale Adumim is only possible due to extensive irrigation. Meanwhile, Palestinians living mere minutes away have running water only a few days a week.

 

As we drove through Ma’ale Adumim we saw that it is supposed t
o be a nice middle class city with stores, libraries, schools and other normal parts of middle class life. The people living there are not ideological settlers for the most part. In fact they do not think of themselves as settlers. Most of the people living in Ma’ale Adumim are people who wanted to get away from the ultra-religious aspects of Jerusalem and also wanted cheaper housing. Because of generous subsidies from the Israeli government and private Zionist groups, a house in Ma’ale Adumim costs 50%-75% of what a comparable house would cost in Jerusalem. The economic incentive to live in settlements allows ideological leaders to use mainstream Israelis to achieve their goals.

 

The “punch line” of our visit was a view looking over a new water park which is being built, complete with an artificial lake, then glancing at an Olympic-size swimming pool in the middle of the city, then passing a huge water fountain gushing thousands of gallons an hour. (Even if it is recycled, the evaporation means a lot of water is simply wasted.) Settlers, we learned, use five times more water per capita than Palestinians. After experiencing dry Anata, the almost vulgar waste of water in Ma’ale Adumim hit us all hard.

 

After visiting Ma’ale Adumim, which extends from Jerusalem to Jericho and effectively divides the West Bank, it is hard to imagine how a two-state solution could be achieved – which, apparently, is what right-wing Zionists ultimately want.

 

In the evening we all went to Jeff and Shosh’s house for spaghetti, then went out for a night-time tour of downtown West Jerusalem – and a late-night drink with their daughter Efrat and son Yishai – before returning to Anata.

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Day Six – July 24th, 2010

 

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Morning: Work at building site

We made a lot of progress this morning, marked by:

  1. Cement – this went

Mix, mix, mix, bucket, bucket, bucket, sieve, sieve, sieve,

Slap it on the walls and smooth it off.

(Repeat – many times)

  1. Wood and metal braces – this went

Rip it out and carry in a chain.

Straight chain, bicycle chain, straight chain, bicycle chain, straight chain, bicycle chain,

Load it on the truck.

(Repeat – many times)

That pretty much sums up the morning.

 

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Afternoon: Tour and meeting ’48 Palestinian residents of Lydda/Lod and Ramle

We were introduced to Rami Younis of Khutwe, a young Palestinian activists group struggling against the policy and practice of Israel in Israel proper. We started with a short tour of the Mahata neighbourhood in Lydda, an economically disadvantaged area with a range of social problems which are clearly connected to the political impact of the apartheid wall there, house demolitions, individual and institutional racism and denial of human and civil rights.

 

Later, we met residents of nearby Dahmash village on the edge of Ramle and heard about their struggle for recognition and rights there. Arafat Ismail, the leader of the Dahmash Village Committee explained their experiences and efforts of trying to attain proper legal recognition and rights and the struggle against the process of ethnic cleansing through house demolitions and various forms of intimidation and deception perpetrated by the local municipality and the central state of Israel. Ramis Younis explained the involvement of Khutwe in these struggles, including cooperation and joint action with young Jewish anti-zionists campaigning for Palestinians.

 

What was so striking about the whole afternoon was to see and hear about some of the same strategies of abuse and oppression being perpetrated against Palestinians by the Israeli state in Israel proper as in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

 

Evening: Visit to Ramallah

A lighter evening, of food and music – a lot of fun. What a great city! Fun on the bus back to Beit Arabiya too – including finding that Jessica L is such a big fan of (Wesley’s mate) Bono!

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 Day Seven – July 25th, 2010 


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Another hot, dusty but productive day at the camp. The house is really beginning to take shape. All of the exterior walls and most of the interior walls are in place and have been cemented, the floors roughly levelled and the window sills are in. Up above the house a couple of people doggedly continued to wrestle nails from the timber roof supports , while around the perimeter of the house several of us embarked on the mammoth task of collecting rubbish from around the site. And we finally have a replacement for the broken sewage pipe near the site, so that the rivulet that was fast becoming a river cascading down the h
illside to the Apartheid Wall beneath us has finally been tamed!

 

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Back at Beit Arabiya, Kareem Nashashibi—economic advisor to Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad—spoke to us about the current activities of the Palestinian Authority: the launch in August 2009 of a manifesto for a Palestinian state (according to the 1967 borders and to be actualized within 2 years), and in preparation for its declaration, the expansion of welfare programmes and community development projects and drive for greater transparency and accountability within the PA.

As Dr Nashashibi observed, larger scale infrastructure projects—such as water sanitation plants—have proved far harder to execute since they require permits from Israel. As such, he argued, the PA has elected to concentrate their efforts on smaller scale projects in neglected villages—paving roads, providing children’s play areas etc, and establishing mechanisms for the swift execution of these projects.

He also stressed the PA’s efforts to establish security within Palestinian-controlled areas—and the importance of this as a prerequisite not only for economic growth but for the reformation of key areas such as the justice system, which has been dogged for decades by a culture of fear amongst judges targeted by competing militias and influential families.

 

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Underpinning all of this, he asserted, was the PA’s drive to bring greater transparency and accountability to its institutions—starting with the publication of details of the Ministry of Finance’s expenditures and revenues—in a bid to establish greater confidence amongst regional and international supporters.

In terms of the declaration of a Palestinian state, the issue of the ongoing land grab being affected by Israel through its contravention of the 1967 borders was raised, in response to which Dr Nashashibi proposed the possibility of land swaps being made for some of the major Israeli settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim. Even more fundamentally though, since such a state would still be under occupation, the question of the nature of international recognition it could in reality expect to receive, and what this would actually mean ‘on the ground’ for Palestinians was raised and discussed, but ultimately left unresolved.

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 Day Nine – July 26th, 2010 

 

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I just arrived yesterday after a 10-hour flight from NYC. The sherut from Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, dropped me almost in front of the ICAHD office but I had the wrong # for the office so I wandered up and down the street looking for it in vain. Then I went across the street to the pedestrian mall where I bought a cell phone and minutes and called ICAHD. I was off by a #! I went back and met Jeff and got to meet the ICAHD staff and the house crew leader, Cody. We then got on the bus with the ICAHD group who had attempted to go to Hebronbut could not get in. Quickly, we were into East Jerusalem which was for me very familiar since I have travelled in many Latin American cities, in the poorer sections. Roads in with potholes, garbage not picked up, crazy traffic patterns, the works! We went right through the checkpoint and arrived at Beit Arabeyea. I was welcomed warmly by everyone and ate a delicious falafael dinner, then sat in on a debrief which filled me in somewhat on what the group had been up to.

I got up early, (jet lag!) and had Turkish coffee with Salim and talked as the sun came up. I was in Palestine! We walked to the house we were building, which again from Latin America, I was familiar with, but I had never constructed one before. The summer brigadistas had done an incredible job rebuilding this demolished home. Today we worked on hauling yards and yards of gravel in buckets up and down the ramp into the various rooms. Also, lots of plaster for the Palestinian construction crew who expertly applied it to the walls. Mai, water in Arabic, was one of the first words I learned after I hauled a bunch of buckets of it to the workers.

Then, we received a call that the military had arrived near Beit Arabeyea. Some of our crew ran over there to see if they had come to demolish Salim and Arabeyea’s house. They were stopped a hundred yards from the house as the Israeli Border Police had set up a perimeter around the Bedouin settlement up the hill from the summer camp. Ellen has written about this already so I won’t repeat anything else.

During the evening after dinner, we had an Israeli BDS organizer speak who wished to enlist the aid of the international community in boycotting Israeli products and having, mainly, musicians boycott playing in Israel. Already, Elvis Costello and the Pixies have refused to play in Israel, a great disappointment to the legions of Israeli fans. He said BDS movement against Israel is a non-violent boycott and what the Israel government and military does to the Palestinian occupied territories is a violent form of the boycott. Also, he asked to check out the website: whoprofits.org

 

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This morning, Wednesday, July 28, we all got up at 6am to get the job site early, as we were leaving early to tour a neighboring refugee camp. We moved more gravel up and down the hill and more tiles. Working as a team made the task at hand that much easier to complete. Salim and Ahmed brought us breakfast on the jobsite. During break we planned what else we needed to do before we left. This afternoon, we visited Dr. Salim Anati at the Shou Fat Refugee camp. We visited the physical and psychological clinic/community center for over 500 children. He explained that some were physically disabled and others developmentally. The camp is 1 kilometer square and has over 32,000 residents making it extremely overcrowded. It falls in Area C, so the Palestinian Authority can’t enter it. Jerusalem says since it is on the other side of the apartheid wall, it is not their respon
sibility. The UN supplies some services but does not have the adequate budget so garbage goes uncollected. As we pulled up to the clinic, a large pile 8 ft by 40 ft lay across the street with some it burning.

Dr. Salim related how last week, 10 IDF jeeps entered the camp for no reason, which made the young people nervous and angry, and some of them threw rocks. The soldiers started shooting. He explained that even though they use rubber bullets, it is merely a coating of rubber around a bullet!

Because of the unique situation of falling between governments, the camp depends heavily on NGOS mainly from Italy, Switzerland and other European countries. He mentioned that the US Ns don’t offer any assistance, he said perhaps they are scared. I thought that they are not educated and swallow the US government’s pro-Israel propaganda wholesale.

Dr. Salim took us to his house in the camp where he lives in a 3-room apartment with his wife and six children! We invited him Sunday to the house ceremony and he promised to come with a children’s dabka dance group.

At 6pm we had the big football, soccer to us Americans, match against the local group of Palestinians and Bedouin guys. They were excellent players, one’s nickname was Messi, but we held them to a 2-2 tie until we were exhausted, and they scored 2 more before we ended. Seemingly impossible but the wall stood 5 yards from the field, in the background the whole time!

After dinner, Molly Malekar, the leader of Bat Shalom , a women’s peace organization, came to speak on their efforts to work with Palestinian women to end the occupation. Unfortunately, the Palestinian women’s leader could not make it. As always, a lively discussion followed.

 

Please click the following link for an article published by camp participant Ellen Davidson in The Indypendent: http://www.indypendent.org/2010/07/27/blogging-from-the-west-bank-guests-for-lunch/

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Day Ten – July 27th, 2010

 

Work at the building site

 

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We worked morning and afternoon on the rebuilding today and made a huge amount of progress, despite it being very hot. The building is really looking like a house now – the walls inside have been plastered and painting can begin. And we started work on the outside/garden area. This visible progress is all very motivating now.

The only downside today was the after effects of playing football last night – at least for some of us older (but not old) guys!

 

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Programme talk

At lunchtime we had a presentation by Shir Hever from the Alternative Information Centre, on the economics of the occupation. The analysis by Shir was fantastic –detailed, clear and informative. A couple of points amongst many, stood out for me:

Research suggests that the real cost of the occupation can be seen in the fact that the Israeli state spends 12.5% of GDP on ‘defence’ spending, which is far higher than any other nation – higher even than North Korea. Secondly, Israel has lower social spending than any other OECD nation. These facts are clearly related. However, the rate of growth of the costs of the occupation are outstripping economic growth meaning that the present rate of spending / current model of occupation will be unsustainable. Hence, Israel is seeking a less costly form of occupation.

 

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Ellen Davidson & Tim Kent