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.

P1010404

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).

P1010423

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.

This is Bethlehem Today

The Palestinian city of Bethlehem  lies 6 miles (10km) south of Jerusalem, the two cities sprawling one into the other. Bethlehem governorate is a conurbation of several contiguous towns, including the old city, surrounded by 41 small villages, with a total population of 194,000 Palestinians.  There are also now 22 illegal Israeli settlements in Bethlehem governorate plus 22 outposts (outposts are how settlers establish new settlements or expand existing ones).

P1010201

An Israeli settlement near Bethlehem

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, when it illegally annexed East Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital.  In 2002, following the second Intifada (Arabic for Shaking Off), Israel began building the Segregation Wall. This now dominates the landscape of Bethlehem and the lives of its people, cutting them off from East Jerusalem

131105 Bethlehem Separation Wall A.Morgan. jpg  131105 Bethlehem Wall tower & EAs A.Morgan jpg

The Wall has decimated the Palestinian economy and Bethlehem, which was a thriving economic hub, now has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank (35%).

131105 Bethlehem Queues at Israeli Checkpoint 300 A.MorganjpgOutside our apartment there is a constant hum of vehicles queueing for Israeli Checkpoint 300 (Gilo), the main access from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. Tourist busses come and go full of foreign Christian pilgrims, but West Bank Palestinians can not pass through without a permits which is hard to obtain and often arbitrarily revoked.

131108 bethlehem Israel Checkpoint 300 israeli Guards checking Cars with Palestinian Number PlatesA.Morgan

Armed Israeli soldiers and security guards check vehicles passing though Checkpoint 300.

 

131105 Bethlehem Security Wall at Pedestrian Entrance to Israeli Checkpoint 300 A.Morgan

The Segregation Wall crossing the Hebron Road into Jerusalem and taxis waiting near the pedestrian entrance to Israeli Checkpoint 300.

131105 Bethlehem Aida camp entrance A.Morgan

The ‘Key of Return’ entrance to Ayda Refugee Camp. Bethlehem has threeRefugees camps, Ayda, Al Aza and Ad Duheisha, which remain home to around 18,000 people – generations of refugees since from 1948 and 1967.

1983-2013

Just arrived in Bethlehem to begin a three months stint as a human rights observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (www.eappi.org). The Bethlehem team is made up of five Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) from Poland, Switzerland, Norway, Canada and Britain. We are one of eight teams, totalling 36 internationals spread across the West Bank. After a week of orientation in Jerusalem and a few days handover from the Team 49 we are flying solo!  So today began at 3.30am with observer duties at Israeli Checkpoint 300 (More of which later).

 

This is my fourth time in this troubled region, having first visited Israel in 1983 as a new graduate on a university travel scholarship, hosted by a Tel Aviv research institute and a kibbutz in the Lower Galilee. I thought I had come to study agriculture, but found that life has its own ideas for what it will teach us.  I returned in 2011 and 2012 to pick olives as part of  group providing Protective Presence to Palestinian Farmers in a group of West Bank villages  living under occupation and in the shadow of two Illegal Israel settlements – ironically, both settlements were founded at the time of my first visit in1983.