Christians in Palestine

As I come to the end of my time in Bethlehem the various Christian communities have only just finished celebrating Christmas. So it is appropriate to reflect here on the situations of Christians in Palestine.

Christmas tree skeleton in setting sun

On Christmas Eve, Bethlehem’s Nativity Church was packed with people, for Midnight Mass. In his message, the Bishop referred to the future of Palestine’s dwindling Christian population, telling the community that the solution to its troubles did not lie in emigration, or closing in on itself.

As the shock waves of the Arab Spring continue, I notice the media references to the persecution of Christian communities in Egypt and elsewhere. Let’s not forget that all the people in these areas are suffering. Meanwhile Western, and Israeli reporting frequently gives a troubling distortion to the truth when it comes to the Christian community in Palestine.

For instance, ‘The Times of Israel’ capitalised on Christmas by claiming that the Christians in Bethlehem, and other parts of what it referred to as ‘the Territories’ – as opposed to the [Israeli] occupied Palestinian territories – are declining in numbers because Muslims are persecuting them. As EAs in Bethlehem, we meet many Christian Palestinians – Bethlehem city is 40% Christian, 60% Muslim. Both communities totally refute this Israeli allegation. At our EAPPI handover ceremony at Jerusalem’s Church of the Redeemer in November, Bishop Munib Younan charged us with telling people at home that Christian Palestinians are not being persecuted by Muslim Palestinians. Muslim and Christian Palestinians regard themselves as two entwined threads of the same community. ‘We are all Palestinians’ they tell us. Both are suffering hugely because of the Israeli Occupation.

The Christian population of the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPts) and Israel has indeed declined, but that decline has happened since 1948. Before this, at the end of the British Mandate, Christians were about 10% of the population of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews. In 1948, nearly one million Palestinians – both Christians and Muslims – fled from the Israeli militias during the Nakba, when the state of Israel was created. Many became refugees in the West Bank and Gaza initially, but the Israeli occupation of 1967 caused a further, continuing flood of Christian Palestinian emigration. As a result, 80% of the world’s one million Christian Palestinians now lives outside Palestine and Israel.  It is the oppression of life under Israeli occupation that has driven out the Christians, for whom it is easier to find refuge in the West.

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A Christian Palestinian at his home where he is denied access to basic services aswell as permission to make improvements or repairs.

Recently, I visited the home of Naim Sarros, a Christian Palestinian farmer, on his land near Bethlehem. It was the day that an NGO run by a Muslim Palestinian was installing solar panels to provide Naim with electricity. Until then his only electricity supply had been from a car battery. Naim and his brother are forced to live in a tiny one-room house, with no electricity, or basic services, and these conditions mean that their wives and children cannot live with them. Meanwhile, the illegal Israeli settlements that now surround Naim’s land are modern and fully serviced with electricity, water, good roads and communications. Naim’s grandfather registered ownership of his land during the British Mandate (before Israel was created in 1948), so Israel cannot confiscate it as State land. So since 1967, the Israeli Occupation authorities have been encouraging Naim and other Palestinians to abandon their land ‘voluntarily’, by refusing them access to basic services; they will not allow him to build anything on his own land, extend his house or even make essential repairs to it. This is because he is Palestinian. It does not matter whether he is Christian or Muslim; he is not Jewish.

A dilapidated Palestinian home. The owners are denied access to basic services whilst the Illegal Israeli settlement behind is modern and fully serviced. The Palestinian family is denied permission to build on their own land, improve their home or make basic repairs.

Kairos Palestine, (see http://www.kairospalestine.ps/), a document written by leaders of the Palestinian Christian community, confirms this and appeals to the world to help end the suffering of all Palestinians by ending the Israeli occupation.

Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land… It was an injustice when we were driven out…. We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights,
bestowed by God.

13.12.15 Cremisan Resistance Mass_A.Morgan

The ‘Resistance Mass’ on the hillside over-looking the Cremisan Valley. The Israeli Supreme Court judgment on 29th January will decide whether the Separation Barrier will be constructed through the Valley, annexing the land of 58 Palestinian families and the Cremisan Monastery to Israel.

 
The greatest dismay of Palestinian Christians is the way that their suffering (together with that of Muslim Palestinians) is so often forgotten and ignored by fellow Christians abroad; even justified by so-called Christian Zionists. Kairos Palestine declares that any theology that legitimises the occupation is far from Christian teaching, because it supports violence in the name of God.

Jean Zaru (Clerk of Ramallah Quaker Meeting) often speaks of her frustration at repeatedly explaining to Christians abroad that there are Christian Palestinians, only to be asked when they converted to Christianity. As Jean points out, the Palestinian Christians are the descendants of the earliest disciples of Jesus.
Our support for the Christian community in Palestine is vital. Although the Christian population of the West Bank is now less than 2%, it plays a significant role in promoting non-violent solutions to the conflict.

13.11.17 Al Khardr_ IDF exercise raid of home of (Christian) Palestinian women_A.Morgan

Israeli soldiers entering the homes of Christian Palestinian women and children during exercises in Al Khadr village near Bethlehem.

This brings me to a recent conversation with an Israeli Pro-Palestinian rights activist, which illustrates the confusion and mythology around race, religion and identity in Israel-Palestine. He told me he had watched the Bethlehem Midnight Mass on TV…

‘But,’ he told me, ‘the Bishop said Jesus was a Palestinian!’

‘What do you mean, Yes?’ he said indignantly, when I nodded, ‘ Jesus was a Jew!’

‘Well, a Jewish Palestinian – a Jewish Arab.’

‘What do you mean?’ he exclaimed ‘the Muslims didn’t come until much later.’!

And one more EAPPI Christmas story to help us ponder our need to wake-up and challenge our own creation myths, rather than allowing other to manipulate us with them:

On the way back from a visit to the beautiful St Saba monastery on Christmas Day, a group of EAs stopped for a cup of shai mar halib (tea with milk, British style!), at the Shepherds’ Field in the Beit Sahour area of Bethlehem. Inside, we watched pilgrims kissing a white, blonde, baby-doll, and our driver told us the story of the Shepherds’ Field…

‘here, the shepherds saw the star and the Angel Gabriel told them Jesus had been born. The Angel told them to go straight away to see the baby at the Nativity Church’.

Wishing you all a Happy 2014 and a Just Peace for Palestine.

131224 Bethlehem> Midnight Mass at the Nativity Church_A.Morgan

Checkpoint 300

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It is 3.45 a.m. and my team-mate and I arrive for our regular monitoring duty at Israeli Checkpoint 300, which allows entry through the Separation Barrier, from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. Nearly 200 men are already queuing for the checkpoint to open and hundreds more are swarming in to join the crush at the bottom of the main entrance lane – a huge cage, 1m wide and about 300m long, totally enclosed by iron bars.

Over 5,000 Palestinians trudge through this checkpoint between 4 a.m.and 7 a.m. everyday. They are mostly men, eager to catch busses on the other side to go to work on building sites and other low paid jobs in Israel, because the occupation has strangled the Palestinian economy. The same osmosis is happening across checkpoints up and down the concrete and wire membrane that now surrounds the West Bank; 32,000 grey figures in dusty working clothes and heavy boots, filtering East to West in pre-dawn darkness, unseen by the world. Yet these people consider themselves the lucky few. They have been granted permits to work in Israel or to attend a hospital appointment in East Jerusalem.

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The men queue for up to 80 minutes each morning. Young and old, crammed together like cattle in the blue cage, shuffling slowly up the lane to a single turnstile. If someone should be taken ill, or injured, there is no chance of getting out until he reaches the turnstile. Only internationals and a handful of Palestinian women, children and old men with permits for hospital appointments, are allowed through the separate ‘humanitarian’ turnstile. After the first turnstile the younger men race across the tarmac to the terminal building, leaping barriers to get ahead in the next queue through more turnstiles, metal detectors and finally to the ID booths. Here each person must hold up his ID card to the glass, followed by his work permit and place his finger on an electronic finger print scanner. All this is checked by a bored and sullen Israeli soldier, wearing a bullet proof vest and an automatic machine gun behind the bullet proof glass. Private Israeli security guards with sub-machine guns prowl near the ID booths. A tannoy voice barks orders in Hebrew at the lines of Palestinians.

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This morning is worst than usual. The soldier controlling the first turnstile keeps locking it every few minutes. The bars rebound jarringly in the face of an old man and the queue halts for the fifth time. The crush of bodies intensifies for the next 20 minutes. Men begin shouting and complaining. Many climb over the top of the cage and queue-jump through gaps in the corrugated tin roof, desperate not to miss their busses and lose a day’s pay. When the turnstile finally opens again, 500 men surge through in 10 minutes calling ‘Yalla, yalla!’ (Go,go) to those ahead. One man stumbles, falls and is nearly trampled by the crowd pushing up behind. He is saved by another man who braces himself across the line whilst others haul the man to his feet.

I ring the military ‘Humanitarian Hotline’ three times. The soldier answering tells me it is a new unit on duty today and they don’t know what they are doing. After a few minutes two armed security guards appear from the main terminal to reinforce the soldier, rather than help people in the cage. I speak to the guards from my observation spot alongside the cage, asking them to do something before someone gets trampled or crushed. One of the new security guards finally turns and yells at me, motioning towards the crowd in the cage, ‘You do something! This is not Israel!’ as if the it is the behaviour of the Palestinians that is the problem. ‘That’s right!’ I respond in astonishment at this admission, ‘This is not Israel – it is Palestine! But Israel built the checkpoint and (Separation) Wall’. He turns his back on me.

My team-mate and I change places and I move to monitor the ID booths near the exit on the Jerusalem side. Only one of three metal detectors is open and the soldiers in the five ID booths keep turning men back. We try to speak to those who are refused entry to find out why. Most are given no explanation and we work with the Israeli human rights organisation, Machsom Watch, to find out. Sometimes the Palestinian has suddenly been blacklisted for unexplained ‘security reasons’. Sometimes his work permit has expired. People often don’t know that their permit has expired until they get to the checkpoint. The Israeli employer applies for the permits for their workers and sometimes simply cancel them when they no longer need the workers. The employee only finds out when he reaches the ID booth, after hours of travelling and queuing.

In addition to the thirty two thousand who are permitted to enter East Jerusalem and Israel, the Israeli authorities are well aware that another 20,000 West Bank Palestinians enter Israel without permits each day. Thousands of people, desperate for work, walk for hours across hills and through woods where the Barrier does not yet reach. The risks are high and many people serve repeated terms in Israeli prisons when they are discovered in Israel without a permit. A high proportion of the West Bank population was dependent on work in Israel before Israel began building the Separation Barrier in 2002. By then, the years of occupation since 1967 had dismantled the West Bank’s economy, with Israel controlling and taxing raw materials and products; the costs and uncertainty deterring investment.

After two and a half hours, people begin to stream through the terminal. The inexperienced Israeli army unit have finally given up and simply thrown opened the gates, allowing everyone to by-pass the security checks, as though acknowledging that security is not the real issue here.

And after enduring this systematic inhumanity and humiliation day in, day out, these Palestinians pass me at the exit with a smile and ‘Good morning’ – many kneeling for morning prayers on the exit slope – refusing to be humiliated, refusing to be dehumanised.

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Tuqu’ – a village under siege

A loud buzz of chainsaws greets our arrival following a call from Tuqu’ – a Palestinian village of about 12,000 people, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. We find Israeli soldiers overseeing the destruction of row after row of mature olive trees.

25 Nov 2013 Palestinian woman pleading with Israeli soldiers as trees are cut down_A.Morgan

25 Nov 2013 Palestinian woman pleading with Israeli soldiers as trees are cut down_A.Morgan

The Palestinian farmers remonstrate with the army. They have land ownership documents dating back generations from the Jordanian, British and Ottoman administrations, but their arguments are ignored by the soldiers holding them back at the gunpoint. I notice a woman pleading with soldiers who order her away, but she will not let up.

25 Nov 2013 Israeli Border Guard weeping as Palestinian trees destroyed_A.Morgan

25 Nov 2013 Israeli Border Guard weeping as Palestinian trees destroyed_A.Morgan

An Israeli Border Guard, a young woman who speaks Arabic, is called to deal with her. I watch as the young soldier stands listening and silently drops her head, turning her face to wipe away tears.

Finally, the buzzing stops, but it is a temporary reprieve. The Israelis have declared this ‘state land’ and the farmers are given four days to cut down hundreds more trees themselves, or the world’s fourth largest army will return to defend Israel from the olive trees.

‘How can we do this?’ asks one farmer ‘It will be like killing our mothers!’

Israeli military harassment of children in Area C

About three quarters of Tuqu’s land is in Area C*, under full Israeli military control, although this was supposed to transfer to the Palestinian Authority within 5 years of the Oslo Agreement. Tuqu’ has already lost hundreds of hectares to the illegal Israeli settlements of Teqoa, Noqedim and Ma’ale Amos that surround it to the north, south and east.

Our team comes regularly to Tuqu’. It is one of four Bethlehem villages where we accompany children to school as part of a UNICEF ‘Access to Education’ programme. Every day, children of six to 18 must run the gauntlet of armed Israeli soldiers and we have been present when the army has tear-gassed the schools. The soldiers obstruct the school entrances with jeeps, and patrol the footpaths with guns, forcing the frightened children to walk across rough fields or along the busy road.

‘It is emotional harassment’ says the mayor.

Israeli Soldiers in one of the  villages where we accompany children to school_A.Morgan

School children pass by Israeli Soldiers in one of the villages where we accompany  children to school_A.Morgan

Recently we met a 16 year old boy who showed us the X- ray of a bullet still lodged in his back since a recent military incursion into Tuqu’. The mayor also tells us that over 20 children have been arrested in the last three months.

Two weeks before the trees were cut down, Tuqu’s mayor had called us because Israeli settlers, accompanied by soldiers, had begun putting up Israeli flags and tents on Tuqu’ land each afternoon.

One of the Israeli settlers I spoke to – a woman with an American accent – justified what she was doing, saying,

‘It is no different than what the Americans did to the Native Americans’.

Following this we saw the army erecting a series of concrete pillars along the roadside, with two red signs warning Israelis that this was a dangerous Palestinian village.

Soon after that, settlers erected a large marquee and put up provocative posters with a picture of a car being fire-bombed. The Palestinian landowner protested, but the military commander told him the settlers would take the land for two days for a party.  There was nothing the farmer could do to stop this, but the village held a peaceful protest, whilst a large Israeli military force guarded the settlers.

20 Nov 2013 Nadia Matar, Women in Green at Tuqu'_A.Morgan

20 Nov 2013 Nadia Matar, Women in Green at Tuqu’_A.Morgan

The people of Tuqu’ know that this is how it starts; a few tents, some flags, then some caravans – an illegal settlement outpost is born. With Israeli state protection and financial inducements it will soon grow to thousands of settlers. More land theft, house demolitions, movement restrictions and violence against local Palestinians will follow.

Two days after the party, the settlers are back. They include a vigilante group called Women in Green** led by a Belgian-born woman called Nadia Matar. We ask what she thinks about the 16 year old Tuqu’ boy who was shot it the back whilst going to visit his grandfather.

‘ He was probably throwing stones.’ She replies ‘Kids who throw stones should be shot in the head ’

During a visit to Tuqu’ a week after the tree cutting, we see scores of settlers coming towards the village, many bringing young children. A large number of Israeli soldiers position themselves across the road and fields, aiming their rifles and teargas cannons at Palestinian children coming out with their unarmed parents for another peaceful protest.

The settlers hold a ceremony and light candles. It is Hanukkah, and they tell us they are renaming this area with a new Hebrew name.

Under international law it is illegal for Israel, as an occupying force, to transfer its own population into the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite this, Israel’s massive settlement programme has continued unabated for decades, with thousands more homes being planned during the current Peace talks. With many settlements to the east of Bethlehem and other Palestinian centres, the Israeli strategy seems clear: to expand the eastern settlements westward to join up with Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and corralling the Palestinian population into a series of isolated cantons. EAPPI is keeping international agencies informed about these developments in Tuqu’ and a legal challenge is underway, supported by UNOCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council.


* The Oslo Accords led to the West Bank being divided into Areas A (under Palestinian control), Area B (Palestinian civil government and Israeli military security) and Area C (Completely under Israeli military law). Areas B and C were supposed to be transferred to Area A – full Palestinian control, within 5 years. Instead, 20 years on, Israel has consolidated it’s control over Area C, illegally building hundreds of thousands of settler homes. Area C represents over 60% of the West Bank. It is the only contiguous area and therefore control over Area C is essential for communications. It also includes most of the West Bank’s fertile land and water. Israel prohibits Palestinian construction in Area C. Israeli control over, and settlement building in Area C is a major obstacle to a peaceful solution to the conflict.

** Women in Green is a right wing group that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, which it proposes Israel should annex. WiG also opposed Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.  Nadia Matar, the Belgian-born leader of WiG claims that the ‘Arabs’ in the ‘Holy Land’ are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and should be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring Arab countries.

Boys shot with rubber bullets at Aida refugee camp

We have been seeing an increased number of Israeli settler and military attacks against Palestinian civilians and property over the last few weeks. This has included far more incidents than usual in Bethlehem district.

Three Palestinian men were shot dead by Israeli military in the South Hebron Hills three days ago and this has led to a spate of protests across the West Bank. Amongst other duties we have been monitoring the situation during clashes between kids and the Israeli military at Aida refugee camp for the last three days.

Yesterday I saw the Israeli military shoot four teenagers with rubber bullets to the legs. Every now and then as kids threw stones towards the watch tower, the iron door in the Wall would slide back and a group of soldiers would come out and begin firing tear gas. Then we heard rubber bullets zipping past and the kids scattered, waiting a while and then move back towards the soldiers again. It became a game of bravado until the first boy fell, and then the next, (see video above_ footage taken by Alison Morgan and Julie Land).

!31129 Ayda Camp IDF approaching kids at entrance A.Morgan

Palestinian boy watching clashes between Israeli soldiers and Aida youth_A.Morgan

Though stone-throwing is a violent act that we do not condone, in this situation the soldiers need not have exposed themselves to any danger. All they had to do was ignore the kids, and remain safe behind their concrete wall or in their concrete tower, rather than coming into Bethlehem where, even under the Oslo agreement, the Israeli military has no right to go.

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Photo of (segregation) Wall art at Aida camp, Bethlehem_A.Morgan

Aida is a densely populated warren of narrow streets and ramshackle houses. It is still home to thousands of Palestinian families who were dispossessed of their homes in 1948 and 1967. It is full of bored angry kids who the world has abandoned, their history stolen, their future vanishing and nothing left to lose.

The Segregation Wall and the military watch-tower  loom over their homes, a daily representation of the violence of the occupation that has now overshadowed three generations.  The only colour is provided by the now famous Wall art.

The Israeli military regularly fire teargas and make incursions into the camp – often firing live ammunition and arresting kids in the middle of the night. – even though Bethlehem is in Area A and supposedly under full Palestinian Authority control.

131129 Aida Camp IDF targeting kids at key A.Morgan

131129 Aida Camp, Bethlehem_ An Israel Soldier kneeling to take aim at Palestinian youth at Key of Return arch_A.Morgan.

Today there was were more clashes, with the Israeli soldiers pursuing kids right up to the Key of Return entrance.

131129 Ayda Camp boy picking up rubber bullets A.Morgan

131129 Aida Camp, Bethlehem_ Young palestinian boy shows me the IDF rubber bullets he has picked up_A.Morgan

A group of young boys showed us their collection of rubber bullets that they had been picking up from the ground.

‘ I Love Papa’ – Israel’s identity crisis and the plight of divided Palestinian families

Going through Israeli Checkpoint 300 a few days ago I noticed a young man carefully balancing a cardboard  box through the turnstiles. ‘Sabah ilkher’ (Good morning) I greeted him, ‘ Do you have cakes in the box?’ He beamed and told me he was going to visit his wife in East Jerusalem. When my team-mate and I reached the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint he was waiting to speak to us again and asked if we could do anything to help him. When we met him again this week, the man, who I will call Mohamed, was too frightened to allow us to use his  name or photograph in this blog.

131112 Bethlehem CP300 Man exiting A.Morgan

Caged approach to Israeli Checkpoint 300 which controls access from Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Mohamed is a 32 year old Palestinian from a village near Hebron who works in Bethlehem. Four years ago he met D., a girl from East Jerusalem, when she was visiting a relative in Bethlehem. They fell in love and were married in 2012 and now they have a 4 month old daughter. Mohamed proudly showed us photos of his little girl wearing a baby grow with the slogan ‘ I love Papa ‘ printed on the front.

Mohamed has West Bank Palestinian ID but his wife has East Jerusalem ID. Most of us do not plan who we fall in love with, but for an East Jerusalemite Palestinian it is very bad planning indeed to fall in love with someone from the West Bank. East Jerusalem is only 6 miles from Bethlehem and  both are part of the area designated by the UN as Palestinian territory. However,since Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and began building the Segregation Barrier in 2002, tens of thousands of Palestinian families have been torn apart (1).

Mohamed and D. have had a little more luck than most such couples; the Israeli authorities have allowed Mohamed a permit to visit his wife in East Jerusalem for five days every three months, but he can only stay between 7am and 10pm. If he is found in East Jerusalem overnight he will be arrested. His wife visits him occasionally in Bethlehem  “But she is terrified’ says Mohamed, ‘the Israeli authorities made her sign a form agreeing not to come to the West Bank and if she is caught here she will lose her Jerusalem ID’. Such permits and visit restrictions only apply to Palestinians.

In contrast Jewish Israelis can live freely anywhere they choose within Israel, or as settlers in the occupied territories (although this is illegal under international law),  and they can live abroad as long as they want without any risk to their Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, any Jewish person born anywhere in the world can obtain Israeli citizenship. Around 16,500 Jewish people currently  immigrate into Israel each year. During the 1990′s (coinciding with Israel introduction of permitting requirements for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians) nearly a million Jews (mostly from Russia and Ethiopia) arrived and were given citizenship (2).

Despite Israel’s  annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and its declaration that this part of the city is in Israel, Palestinians from East Jerusalem have never been granted Israeli citizenship. Their status is limited to ‘permanent residency’ and depends on their ability to prove that their ‘centre of life’ lies within the Jerusalem municipal boundary. Thousands of Palestinians have their residency status revoked every year (1).

If an East Jerusalem Palestinian marries someone from the West Bank and they want to live together in East Jerusalem, they must apply to the Israeli authorities for Family Unification. (Historically there have always been close family and social ties between West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians and this continued after Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967). When Israel introduced permit requirements for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians in the early 1990s the Family Unification process  became onerous. Furthermore, since Israel introduced the Nationality and Entry into Israel (temporary order) in 2003, Family Unification has become virtually impossible.

The most frequently cited explanation from Israel for the movement restrictions placed on Palestinians has been that of security. Israel has the right and obligation to protect its own citizens and in 2003, quite soon after the end of the second intifada, increased attempts to monitor and control suicide bombings were implemented in a way that now affects the freedom of movement of the whole Palestinian population.

Israel froze the processing of Palestinian Family Unification applications after the second Intifada. By January 2011, over 120,000 unprocessed applications had accumulated, according to a report by the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem.  Knowing that applications were not being processed, it is likely that many couples chose not to bother with the complex and lengthy application and that the actual number of divided families is much higher. (3).

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A poster from The Wall Museum – an exhibition of writings by Palestinian women and children displayed on the Bethlehem side of the Segregation Wall.

Mohamed’s wife has been to the Israeli authorities to plead with them to allow Mohamed to come to Jerusalem more freely. They tell her that maybe they will allow it when he is 35 years old, maybe. “Please can you do anything to help me?’  Mohamed asks us, “I just want to be able to see my wife and daughter every week when I have a day off, and be able to spend the night at home with them like a normal family”.

A further worry for Mohamed and D. is their daughter’s status. East Jerusalem Permanent Residency status is not automatically passed on to a holder’s children by right and this creates difficulties in registering children, especially where one parent has West Bank or Gazan ID. A UNOCHA report estimated that there maybe as many as 10,000 unregistered children in East Jerusalem (1).

In April 2013 Israel renewed the Nationality and Entry into Israel (temporary order) again.

My team is currently supporting Mohamed by identifying sources of legal assistance for his case. As EAs our task is also to shed light on the daily reality for civilian and the effects of the occupation on their lives,  and to get these stories through to decision makers.

Fenced Out – Caged In: One Farmer’s Story

Omar, his wife and three young sons farm a small area of land on the outskirts of Al Walaja, a Village of 2000 Palestinians, 4km North West of Bethlehem.

131106 Alwalaja Omar's house A.Morgan

Omar’s House

In 1949 the Green Line between Israel and the Palestinian territories was drawn close to the village, cutting off 75% of its land on the Israeli side. Now Al Walaja is one of the many Palestinian communities losing even more land as Israel extends its infamous Separation Barrier. At 700km, the Barrier is twice as long as the Green Line, snaking close to Palestinian towns and villages, grabbing their land and water on the Israeli side.  Eighty-five per cent of the Barrier route is on Palestinian land, not on the Green Line and for this reason it has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Completion of the Barrier will cost the people of Al Walaja another 150 hectares  - most of their remaining agricultural land. Over 100 Al Walaja homes have been demolished or issued with demolition orders The Israeli authorities have blocked the road to the olive groves and uprooted hundreds of olive trees. The village completely surrounded by the Barrier. Meanwhile the Israeli Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality have announced plans to build 12,000 housing units for 45,000 more illegal Israeli Settlers in Har Gilo Settlement, plus 1000 hotel rooms, all on land owned by Al Walaja villagers.

131106 Al Walaja Omar's tunnel A.Morgan

Bethlehem EA at Omar’s tunnel, Al Walaja

Omar’s house and land are now on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier. Omar told us the Israeli authorities had offered him a blank cheque to leave his home. When he refused, they offered him twice as much land in Area A of the West Bank  - land that is entirely under Palestinian jurisdiction and not Israel’s to give away. When he refused again the Israeli authorities went ahead with the Barrier, building a tunnel under it, at a cost of $1.3 billion, to connect Omar’s house to the village. Blasting during construction of the tunnel has damaged the foundations of Omar’s house.

131106 Al Walaja  Bethlehem Omar's land with settlement beyond A.Morganjpg

Har Gilo illegal Israeli settlement from Omar’s land, Al Walaja

Next the Israelis plan to encircle Omar’s house with a 5m high electrified fence to ensure he has no way out except the tunnel.  Whether Omar’s land ends up on his side of the fence or the Israeli side, is a question the authorities have not yet answered. Omar’s three young sons can no longer play outside the house because of the presence of Israeli soldiers. Omar’s wife can no longer stand the strain and has gone to live in the village. Omar himself is recovering from his second heart attack, but determined to stay on his land.