After ten days of building a community centre in the Jordan Valley, Harvesting Olives
in the West Bank and touring Israeli and Palestinian areas, out volunteers share a
bit of what they’ve learned and experienced
21 volunteers took part in the camp: One from the US, three Germans, Five from Finland, One Italian, One Australian and ten British. We are grateful for their hard work and solidarity, and for enduring the physical hardship and emotional pain. Their engagement gives us all some hope.
Photos from Yaelle Caspi (Australia)
By John Hedley
I’ve recently come back from an 11-day “camp” in Palestine, organised by ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). We spent 4 days really camping in the Jordan Valley, helping to build a community centre for the villages of the area; 3 days helping with the olive harvest, and staying with a wonderful family near Nablus; and finally, four very intensive days based in Bethlehem, with trips to Ramallah, Jerusalem, Hebron, the Negev, Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
It was an extraordinary experience, wonderful and devastating. Wonderful, because the group itself was as lovely as it was varied: there were about 20 of us, from Britain, the US, Finland, Italy, Germany, and Australia – young and less young, new to the situation and experienced, religious and non-religious, and led by Jeff, the Israeli founder of ICAHD; Rashed, Palestinian community leader in the Jordan Valley; Arik, Rabbi and activist; and Linda, American convert from Christian Zionism. And devastating, because, although I knew a bit about it all in theory, now I could see at first-hand what the situation really meant for the lives and spirits of the people we met.
Here are just a few of the things that came home to me:
- The Nakba which overcame Palestine in 1948 was far worse than I had realised: about 500 villages were destroyed or taken over, and over 700,000 people were forced into exile. We visited a refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem, where many of these people, and their descendants, are still living. And hoping against hope to return one day.
- But the Nakba did not stop in 1948. Houses continue to be demolished, and villages destroyed, every week, so that the refugee situation gets worse, not better. We met a community of Bedouins in the Negev, whose village is due to be demolished any day, and who, despite endless appeals, have nowhere to go where they can live safely and continue to pasture their flocks. None of this will stop until the “Judaization” of the land (official government policy) is complete, and all Palestinians have been expunged.
- In the West Bank, the illegal construction of settlements, far from tailing off, is increasing year by year. It is getting quite rare to see a hilltop not desecrated by one of these ugly new colonies. Most of the very limited water supply is syphoned off to feed their swimming pools and their sprinklers, while Arab communities cannot rely on any regular supply; the river Jordan is reduced to a trickle; wildlife and the environment are being devastated; ancient olive trees are poisoned or uprooted; the Dead Sea is shrinking year by year.
- Life for Palestinians is overshadowed by constant fear. No daily activity, which we would take for granted, can happen without a looming threat. We built the community centre, but as likely as not it will be bulldozed by Israeli troops before the year is out. We harvested olives, but all the time two of us had to keep watch in case armed settlers came over the hill and attacked. We accompanied shepherds on their way to pasture their flocks, but they were turned back by soldiers. We watched as ordinary people on their way to work were herded through a checkpoint like so many cattle, and held up, and turned back – one man had recently died in the resulting crush. We saw people’s balconies shrouded in wire netting, to prevent settlers bombarding them with filth – and worse. We saw a newly built school extension that had just been bulldozed by the army.
And yet, in amongst all this and much, much more, we met one wonderful person after another: community leaders refusing to be drawn into violence, people whose homes had been demolished but calmly kept on rebuilding, Israeli soldiers who had turned their backs on the enormities they had been part of, Jews working against all the odds for justice and peace.
Early on our last Sunday morning, I celebrated the Eucharist in our hotel with eight others, including Christians, a Jew, a Muslim, and some of no particular religion. It was short, simple, and largely silent. With Christ we offered up the things we had seen and felt, the people we had met, and the evil and the glory which run through us all. And I at least was somehow able to glimpse it all from a new perspective, and in the light of heaven and hope.
Videos from Claus Walischewski (Germany)
A letter to Alex chalk, MP for Cheltenham (Con.)
By Mike Scott-Baumann
I have recently returned from the West Bank where I spent four days, with other international volunteers, helping to build a community centre in the north of the Jordan Valley and three days harvesting olives near Nablus.
We witnessed many, many different forms of harassment, by both settlers and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), which, when combined, constitute a deliberate, concerted policy of ethnic cleansing. They ranged from school demolitions by the military to physical attacks, by settlers, on families wishing to farm their land. We saw the impact of the IDF’s cutting off a village’s water supply and of the settlers dumping their sewage in spring water which was no longer fit for human or animal consumption. We witnessed a shepherd being arrested for trespassing in a ‘military firing zone’ and heard that, two days earlier, he had been held, blindfold and handcuffed, for five hours. Fortunately, his flock had found their way home; otherwise, his livelihood might have been destroyed. Destruction of Palestinians’ livelihood would appear to be a deliberate aim of both settlers and military. In the case of the shepherd, the soldiers had been called in by the settlers.
We met a farmer whose family property had been demolished on numerous occasions and another who had been subjected to several spells of administrative detention for being, in the words of his Israeli captors, a ‘troublemaker’. It would appear that the crime they had in common was to be active and outspoken leaders in their communities.
We stayed with a family whose tractor had been torched by settlers and picked olives for another family who were too afraid to do so themselves because they have been repeatedly subjected to attacks by hilltop settlers nearby. As I am sure you know, settlers are invariably armed.
We saw examples of great resilience in the face of oppression. However, increasing emigration, particularly from Area C (over 60% of the West Bank), attests to the success of the Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing. Surely the UK government needs to take more action, to show a greater readiness to join with our international partners in implementing international law, rather than just repeating the mantra of support for a two-state solution when that prospect recedes ever further into the distance?
We did hear the view, voiced by rabbi Arik Ascherman, that Theresa May had influenced Israeli PM Netanyahu’s decision to call off the demolition, even if only temporarily, of the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar. That suggests that our government can have an effect.
I ask you to meet the Palestinian briefing group when they lobby Parliament on 28th November and do your best to influence HM government into taking a more active stance on Israel/Palestine.
Photos of Checkpoint 300 from kirsti honkasalo (Finland)
Epilogue – A letter to all participants from Rasheed of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign
Greetings to all of you
Yes last week the walls were finished and within two days we will start working on the roof. We were busy rebuilding a house in the village of Hadidiya, where army forces demolished the house of Omar Besharat twice this month.
Last day they also demolished a house in the village of Bardallah for the families of Khaled Rushdie and today we will help them rebuild.
The weather here is very nice neither cold nor hot
Last week was in a light rain and the earth began to be green and this is very beautiful
We send you love
The letter arrived with photos of the community centre, that now nears completion: