Read the poem. See the video.

If you could imagine

Your teenage girl in prison

In a jail far away without charges

For four days

Because she dared to try to save

a few things

from the bulldozer,

if you could demolish a home

while people screamed –

and smile,

“all in a days’ work,”

If you could see the place now

Looking at the remains of a family dwelling after a demolition

The tent poles bent

Into crosses

On the ground

you could understand

this absurd and tragic place.

And then

Maybe you could explain it

To me.

See the VIDEO by Operation Dove about the demolition at Um Fagara; it will break your heart.

Light One Candle

How was your Thanksgiving?

I spent mine at beautiful Tantur, a theological institute just outside Bethlehem, enjoying the lovely olive groves and trying not to look too far into the distance, where I could not avoid looking at the illegal settlements and Checkpoint 300.  At 12:45, I went down to join other worshippers in the chapel.  I left my phone in my room because it kept sending me notification of demolitions of homes in progress in the West Bank.  It was my day off, after all. I don’t get so many opportunities to worship in a chapel right now because we live in a Muslim area, so I had been looking forward to this service for some time.

As I walked into the chapel, a pastor I know, who gets the same messages on his cell phone, received a notification.  He looked at the phone and turned to me.

“It’s Susiya,” he said quietly. There was no further information.  I know many people in Susiya very well. They are quiet people who just want to live on their land and herd their sheep. Who was it? Which of my friends was losing their shelter?

We went into the chapel and sang a hymn.  Then we prayed a prayer asking God to bless our homes, our roofs and walls, our families safe inside.  It was a lovely prayer, but it was very hard for me to pray it.

Meanwhile, in Susiya, a man we had met just a few weeks before was having his simple tent home and the shelter for his sheep removed by a bulldozer.  And in the chapel, tears were filling my eyes.

We finished our prayer and went into the dining room. Just as we sat down, my pastor friend’s phone went off again.  “A mosque,” he said.  “In Um Fagara. Is that near you? The message says some homes and a mosque were bulldozed.”

My mind raced.  We had just visited Um Fagara the week before to condole with them after the military removed the electric poles that were being installed to bring electricity to the village.  We had been so warmly greeted. We had played with the children.  We had enjoyed being shown around.  “Come see where I live, “ the people had told us as they showed us their tents and cave homes.  And they had showed us the mosque, a small concrete block dwelling with a loudspeaker on the top, probably not more than 5 square meters of floor space, but the pride of the village.

What was happening? My mind and my eyes were swimming.

“It will be on the news,” my pastor suggested.  But I doubted it.  Many human rights abuses in the South Hebron Hills are not on the news.

Not on the news that the simplest possible house of worship was demolished while I worshiped in the beautiful chapel at Tantur.

Not on the news that 43 people were made homeless as I relaxed in a safe and warm place enjoying my friends.

Not on the news that two young women, trying to take personal items out of their tents in the face of the bulldozers, were arrested and taken to prison on trumped-up charges.

There was an Israeli group on the scene, working for human rights, called Taayush.  This is their video of some portion of this event, by Taayush member Guy Batavia.

Just now, our EA team lit one advent candle.  I’m asking you to pray. Pray for Israel, captive to its policies displacing people in this region.  Pray for the two girls held captive for no reason at all.  Pray for those made homeless by the cruelty of others.

Pray.

And then pray the prayer of St. Thomas More: God grant us the grace also to work for the things for which we pray. Amen.

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata

In the movie, The Lion King, a young lion cub haunted by guilt for something he did not do is taught the healing phrase, “Hakuna Matata.”  “It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy.  Hakuna Matata.”

The Arabic equivalent would be “mish mushqili”, I guess.  “No problem.”

I find myself humming the music to “Hakuna Matata” every now and then here.  It’s the Great Escape.  And granted, it’s a Healing Moment if you are consumed, as Simba was, with guilt and shame over the past.  But it doesn’t work as an antidote for the future.

We can’t, for instance, personally look a poor child in the eye and apply Jesus’ words, “The poor you will always have with you”, as a way to get let off the hook. It’s not about keeping us from feeling bad about what we should be doing, and aren’t.  Jesus never meant to give us a Quick Fix to make us Feel Better.

If you take a jeep (or in our case a very resilient Subaru) over rough roads for an hour into the desert, you reach what is arguably the most remote of the villages we visit.  In a corridor of Area C and precariously placed between two military zones at the southern tip of the West Bank, Dkaika is home to a Bedouin population of around 220 residents. According to the school headmaster, the people have lived here since before Turkish rule.

The people of Dkaika have little in the way of material possessions, and their land is not favorable.  Their dwellings are tents with dirt floors.  Water is brought into the community by tractor.  Here there is no electricity.  Children do not have toys here, not really, although I did find an old toy gun in the sand. Because of this, an organization called Right to Play has come to the school, which serves 60 children, and taught games. They brought supplies. The school does not have basic school supplies, let alone things like balls and games.  The children receive a biscuit and 5 ounces of milk from the World Food Program a few times a week. There is an infrequent traveling medical clinic 5 kilometers away, but no local medical staff.

Israel has been trying to reduce this community’s buildings to rubble and to displace its people since the 1980s. In January of 2011, 13 buildings were demolished. In June, the army destroyed some tents, four rooms and two toilets originally constructed by Oxfam.  One of the rooms demolished was a school classroom; two other classrooms suffered extensive damage as well.  Islamic Relief and Unicef have been working to rebuild these classrooms, but the army is not happy about the repairs and the entire school continues to be very vulnerable.

The pretext for these demolitions is that the structures were erected without building permits, but this is the Occupation talking.  The truth is that because fewer than 100 building permits have been given to Palestinians living in Area C since the Oslo accords, Palestinians usually do not wait to receive one before doing necessary work, because they know they will not receive a permit. Destroy, rebuild. Destroy, rebuild.  For the village, it’s very bad economics and it doesn’t do much for mental health, either.

Currently there are demolition orders outstanding for 46 structures. These include 5 toilets and a cistern for storing the water.  These demolition orders comprise almost all the structures in the village and affect 220 people as well as 700 sheep and goats and 20 camels.

Why?

In the face of this,  it’s tempting to shrug our collective shoulders.  What can be done?

“Hakuna Matata.”

But you can’t use the Arabic equivalent.  This is not a moment for “mish mushqili.”  This is a big problem.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Which is which?  We won’t know unless we try.

Winter in Dkaika

It’s winter in the West Bank now.  Here in the South Hebron Hills, hard earth is softening as the daily rains loosen the hardpack into mud.  The barren earth is awakening; green grass is beginning to spring up.

It’s cold.  Fifty degrees doesn’t seem bad until you realize it’s the temperature inside the house.  But what if you had no house?

A family outside their home in the desert town of Dkaika, which is under a demolition order. Photo taken earlier this year by Guy Butavia.

Here are the grim realities for the families living in the village of Dkaika.  Please write your elected representatives and state departments if you can, and thanks for your time.

Dkaika Under Massive Impending Demolition Order

Where:  Bedouin village near the Green Line in southeast part of West Bank.  In Area C between two military zones.

Who is affected?: 220 residents, 700 goats and sheep making up the livelihood of the inhabitants. A primary school of 60 children.

History: The people were here during the Ottoman period. They have been threatened by demolitions and displacement by Israeli army since 1980s. A legal battle has been ongoing since 2005. In December 2010, a portion of the school was demolished by the army. Recently, in January of 2011, 13 buildings were demolished.  In June, the army destroyed some tents, four rooms and two toilets originally constructed by Oxfam. Through funding provided by UNICEF and labour provided by Islamic Relief, a new school consisting of 5 classrooms, an office and a small kitchen has been built. Students moved into the new facility last month.

Current Status: On November 1, the Civil Administration (a branch of the Israeli Defense Force) arrived in the village with 36 demolition orders applying to 46 structures. According to the office of Dov Hanin, a member of the Israeli Knesset, these orders directly affect a population of 220 people, 700 sheep and goats, 20 camels, 55 poultry and 3 donkeys. The demolition orders are on a variety of structures, including 5 communal toilets, a cistern and a quarrying preparation for a cistern, a number of animal structures and a number of residential tents. Villagers were told on a previous Civil Administration visit that they have no right to have the school and it must be removed or else the army will demolish it. These orders comprise almost all the structures in the village.

Humanitarian issues: water, fodder, electricity, sanitation, education, health care, mental health, nutrition…in other words, everything.

Actions we are taking: Advocacy to increase public awareness and public pressure to protect the community; networking with Rabbis for Human Rights, Unicef, UNOCHA, UNRWA, MSF.

Inhumane

They didn’t want any photographs taken, he said.  And he didn’t want his name used on the report, he insisted as he began to tell us his story.  When we first came to have tea with him in his tent, he denied any problems. But his eyes held a story inside them that he gradually chose to reveal. After we had spent time with him, drank tea with him, his words about what had happened to him rose to the surface.

There were never any formal charges.  There was never any possibility of a lawyer.

He was visiting in a neighboring village a couple months ago when the helicopter came.  He and two of his friends were arrested by the Israeli Army. It was 8 o’clock in the morning.  They were questioned, beaten: everyone in the village saw it.

What did they know about workers crossing the border into Israel without using the checkpoint, the soldiers demanded.  Nothing, the detained men insisted. They were taken by car to an Army base where they were detained and questioned some more. His friends were released, but he was taken to a police station some distance away, in an Israeli city.  There, he was held, interrogated, and beaten some more. Blindfolded, his wrists tied, he was slapped, thrown to the ground, punched and kicked.  A foot pressed down on his neck. Eight people were there, he said, Six soldiers beat him. Two policemen watched.

Later that evening, he was returned to the village.  Two weeks ago, it happened again.  A couple days ago, they came for him a third time and he hid.

It doesn’t matter what his name is.  It doesn’t matter where he lives.  It doesn’t even matter whether he did know anything about the subject. All people of conscience know this.

“What happened to you was wrong,” said the EA intensely, leaning forward in an attempt to bridge the gap between them. “You should never have been beaten.”

He had to ask us one chilling question: ”If they do this to my children, will you come?”

“You don’t know about these beatings,” a friend told us. “But I know. You can’t imagine.”

We shouldn’t have to.

Dependable electricity, International Law: A call for action.

Mohammad Yousef A’ Daghamein, Imneizil School headmaster,  speaks from experience.  When I asked him how the loss of electricity would affect Imneizil School, he was firm.  “Without electricity,” he said, “the educational process comes to a standstill.” He gave examples.  “For instance there is the computer.  The printer.”  Clearly, administration would become next to impossible. “And then maybe you have a documentary film to show the students. You become unable to provide educational materials.” Of course, this is not news to us.  We already know how important electricity is; we depend on it every day.

The village of Imneizil, a Palestinian town of about 350 people with a regional school that serves about 120 primary school children, has a demolition order pending against its solar energy grid.   A lawyer working on the case has said the issue will probably go before the High Court because other avenues are essentially exhausted as of the 10th of this month.   I cannot overemphasize the importance of advocacy letters at this time for the village of Imneizil. The threat is not idle. It is real.  In September we witnessed the immediate aftermath of the destruction of electric infrastructure to the village of Khirbet Ghuwein al Fawqa.  Last week, the village of Um Fagarah lost its electric power when bulldozers from the Army came and demolished the pylons.  What has happened in other villages we visit can definitely happen here.

The Summary Objection to the demolition prepared by Imneizil’s advocate says that before the electric grid was created, the village relied on small generators. The power supply was “small, fragmented, and irregular,” reads the brief. “Lack of electricity did not allow…electrical equipment necessary for normal activity of the village clinic, “ which was unable to treat breathing difficulties or monitor pregnant women or to keep vaccines cold.  The villagers sometimes suffered from food poisoning because of unreliable or absent refrigeration. The solar power installation has changed all that.

The Summary Objection to the demolition concludes that the demolition order is “against a civilian building used by the villagers for civilian purposes”. Because demolition of this infrastructure disregards the basic humanitarian needs of the occupied population, the order is illegal under international humanitarian law.  Occupied populations receive this protection under the Geneva Conventions which require that an occupying power provide for the education and humanitarian needs of the occupied population.  Furthermore, these regulations specify that it is against international law to demolish civilian property.

I urge you to write today about this pending demolition order.  If you are a US citizen, you can write to your senators, congress people,  and State Department, or, if you are in the EU, to your MPs or MEPs.  You can also write to Ehud Barak, Ministry of Defense, by emailing minister@mod.gov.il .  The proper salutation for Mr. Barak is, “Dear Minister.” Let them know you believe the destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly in Imneizil, is immoral and that you know it is against international humanitarian law.

Thank you for your time and your interest in Justice.  Peace depends upon justice and the good will of people toward each other.  The families in Imneizil would thank you and give you “double welcome.”  They would put on the light for you and make you tea.  Depend on it.

Checkpoint

The top of the checkpoint cage

The men were anxious. They got out of their taxis at a run, desperate to get through the checkpoint before the morning rush.  It was 4:15 am. These men were not trying to catch a flight or to respond to a fire. Their motives were much simpler and more mundane. They were just trying to get to their jobs. To go to work.

Every day, checkpoints screen thousands of Palestinian men and women who need to go to jobs in Israel. They are going to all sorts of jobs, but at this time of year there is an increase in young men who are working in the various agricultural harvests, helping to gather oranges, olives and other produce as it comes ripe in the cool month before the winter rain.  Their short-term permits are related to this seasonal work.

On Sundays, the men who prefer to avoid the daily checkpoint screening go through once for the week, finding some temporary place to stay in Israel in the evenings. So Sunday mornings are usually busy.

But not like this.

Inside the checkpoint cage

Yesterday, the checkpoint was already full when we arrived at 4:10 am.  The line was barely moving.  Before 10 minutes had elapsed, I had to climb up onto a bench to be out of the way.  A mass of men was forming at the entrance to the checkpoint building, ten abreast and at least that deep. They were trying to go through a doorway one yard wide, to enter a warehouse-size metal shelter leading to a turnstyle that could be locked by a soldier at whim.  The men were pushing.  They had to get to work on time in order to keep their work and their permits.  The delay was inside, at the turnstyle, where only a few men at a time were being allowed to advance further, into a chute that led to a second locked turnstyle and then, finally, on to the security screening.

The screening was too slow.  Soon the men were literally jumping line. Climbing the walls, yelling and pounding the metal walls in frustration. The crush inside the building was so great that some men began to come out the entrance, deciding to give up rather than stay in the misery of the building. It became necessary for me to move away from the entrance altogether.  A few men formed a line along the fence and said their morning prayers, bowing their heads to the ground. In the parking lot, the vendors were doing a huge business in falafel sandwiches and coffee as many men stood around in frustration and anger.  The men were grateful when I began to do some photo documentation, repeating “work, work, work!” as I documented the situation.  It made them feel less alone to know someone was seeing their struggle.

Climbing

I made several calls to the humanitarian hotline and got no response.  Finally I called the International Red Crescent.  There had been targeted assassinations in Gaza by Israel the day before, I was told.  Now there were rockets being fired from Gaza. As a result, all the screening at the checkpoints was going to take a lot longer.  There wasn’t anything to be done, I was told.

The situation continued. Some men reported being in the metal shed, waiting for the security check, for over an hour. Some construction workers were turned away because they were carrying tools for construction work, tools like an electric hand saw that, today at least, would be considered too dangerous.

Pictures can show the crowding and the worried men, but they cannot show the helplessness I felt as a human rights observer, seeing these men act out their desperation to go and earn a living. A final call to the UN field officer yielded some results, and by the time I left at 7am, the line was beginning to move more normally.

“Why do you come here?’, checkpoint workers have asked me recently.  “Don’t you miss your families? Why come so far from home to stand here?”  Why indeed? To be here for the men. And to show you, the reader, what occupation looks like.

The look of not getting to work.

Absurd.

Shuhada Street: closed shops, checkpoints, occupation, dispossession.

Shuhada Street once was one of the main commercial streets for Palestinians in Hebron, but it has been closed by Israeli Occupation. The shops here have been unable to open for years, ending the incomes of the merchants who live over these shops.

Every man, woman and child coming home to Shuhada Street must go through a checkpoint, the first on many on Shuhada Street.

The number of checkpoints on this street alone is ridiculous.  There is a slow and steady attempted encroachment of settlements in this area of Hebron, as house after house has been occupied by Israelis.  There’s even an illegal tent synagogue, an outpost of Khiryat Arba, on Palestinian land.

An illegal settlement outpost, this tent synagogue is established in a Palestinian neighborhood in the West Bank on Palestininan land.

There’s an illegal settlement next to Hebron called Khiryat Arba.  On Fridays, these settlers come into Hebron to pray at the Synagogue which is attached to the Ibrahimi Mosque.  Because the settlers walk through Palestinian streets that are under occupation, on Fridays the streets are heavily militarized.  There are soldiers stationed all along the streets where the Israelis walk on their way to prayer, every 100 meters or so, and heavily armored vehicles also patrol here.

Walking along these streets this evening, we EAs greeted people along the way.  To the Palestinians we said, “Massah al Khair” and “Salaam Aleichum”. To the soldiers, we said, “Shabbat Shalom.”   Although most of the soldiers smiled and responded, one settler couple, an elderly man and his wife, hissed at me in disgust when I offered my greeting. It is the first time that a sincere greeting of “Sabbath Peace” from me has been thought to be provocative.  Apparently my presence as a peace activist in Hebron sent an unwelcome message.  For those who want to take over more of Hebron, the presence of internationals is often unwelcome.

As darkness set in, we encountered a horse and cart that had been stopped behind a barricade while some Israelis passed.  Eventually the cart, with children riding in the back, was allowed to pass.  As we walked, we saw that the cart had been stopped by some soldiers, but this was a peaceful encounter. The soldier was petting the horse as we arrived, and some friendly banter was going on.

As the cart moved on, one of the children pointed his stick at the soldier, pretending to hold a gun, and shouted, “Jesh, Jesh!”, which means “soldier, soldier!”.  The soldier pointed at him and laughed.  It was a pleasant cross-cultural exchange…

It was funny….  It was tragic….

It was absurd.

Local Inns and Outs

While I was in Bethlehem a couple days ago,  a tour group was expected at dinner time and I was invited by management to eat at the hotel.    I was traveling alone, and wasn’t going to know anyone in any case, so it seemed like a good plan.

So putting on my clean shirt and my best extrovert manners, I went to dine.  The diners, speaking Italian, all had space at their tables, so I went around to introduce myself and see if I might join a table. After all, I am well groomed and essentially nice.  And it could have been a pleasant and enriching encounter. But it wasn’t long before I had gathered that I was not welcome.  “Groupa”, I was told as if that explained my unwanted status.  In other words, “we are a group and who are you?”

I took a seat at an empty table and chose a reflective attitude.  I ate and watched.

And as I watched, I couldn’t help but recall the thousand times I had recently been told I was welcome in the city of Yatta. “Wallah! Double welcome really!” people would exclaim in broken English.  In Yatta, I couldn’t even hang out the laundry on the roof without being invited for tea, despite the fact that everyone knew we didn’t speak any kind of even minimally passable Arabic in our house.  Language is not a barrier when good will is involved.

But it’s part of the human condition to be suspicious of strangers. Yatta doesn’t usually see internationals, so at first, small boys tossed a few pebbles in our direction, but they were corrected by their elders.  After that, they preferred to swarm us to practice their one or two phrases of English. “What’s your name?”  “How old are you?”

At the moment, our team is not living in Yatta.  There was some civil unrest, a quarrel between families.    Some stones were thrown between factions, so we are in Hebron in a temporary arrangement while the local peace process goes forward.

Our temporary “digs” are with the United Nations, or rather, in a house that UN representative Hamed and two former Ecumenical Accompaniers, Marte and Aster, are putting together on a shoestring budget as a place of international encounter for people of peace. It is called the Hebron International Resource Network, HIRN.

Thanks, H.I.R.N!

The house wasn’t ready when we became “internally displaced”, but the welcome mat was rolled out anyway.  We were given mattresses on the floor,  blankets and towels.  We were given basic plumbing and a shelf in the communal refrigerator.  We were given internet, that essential food of the modern mind.  And we were asked repeatedly to say what we needed.  Anything. A generous hand was extended to us.

Home is where you hang your hat.

We needed one. We had left most of our stuff behind. It is useful for us to have the embodied experience of temporary internal displacement because so many of the Bedouin and Palestinian people we meet have been deeply formed by having to leave their homes or by having them demolished in the conflict. Our experience really cannot be compared to theirs precisely because it is a temporary inconvenience.  Nevertheless, this minor disruption and confusion are worth knowing personally, even if only for a few days.

I don’t know why we human beings must keep returning to “us versus them” instead of “you and me”.  We do it in all cultures.  No one can deny that we see it everywhere, from the cliques in our schools that lead to exclusion and bullying, to the gangs we see in our cities. I do it too, hesitant sometimes to engage in street conversation, using selective attention or even turning my back. Sometimes my internal house is not ready to be open to someone new or different. Sometimes I pull in the welcome mat, circling the wagons of the familiar against the stranger, shutting the door.

I don’t know why we must keep building walls around us and putting razor wire up around our hearts.  In reflective moments I see how little a distance it is, when fear rules, from building a wall to throwing a stone.  I understand how, when people are excluded systematically, and taught that they are unwanted, unwelcome, and unworthy, over and over, a message sinks in that this is not a friendly world.   In some ways, we get what we ask for.

I’m missing Yatta.  It’s a different society than the one I am used to, but its hospitality is unbeatable even if, like the rest of us, it doesn’t have everything figured out. Hopefully the peace process there will go forward, and we will be able to return “home” soon.  May the same peace process happen everywhere. May it transform us….. may it transform me.  Amen.

Hope. We need more.

Placement visits are opportunities for EAs to see how things are outside our own region of the West Bank.  Today I have been visiting the Jerusalem team. While in the midst of a three-hour tour of the Old City, so awesome that it will need its own blog post later, the team received notification of an ongoing demolition in the Bedouin village of Jaba, just north of Jerusalem.  When we arrived, we found that seven structures, including five shelters for goats and sheep and two dwellings, had been demolished.

Watching the goats come.

While wide-eyed children watched, we saw the goats return from their grazing and wander in the rubble of their home.

Moussa, a middle aged man, described how his mother and father had had their living space demolished with no warning.  When the bulldozer came, the soldiers gave them five minutes to take belongings out.

Moussa’s father was sitting in a chair nearby, staring silently. Moussa’s mother, Fatma, showed me where she had been brewing tea on a wood fire just at the entrance to the tent.  The ashes were still a little warm where the fire had been.

Looking at the dwelling.

We asked other family members how they would keep track of the goats now, without any shelter.  They expressed worry about the oncoming winter.  But they added, “The neighbors will help us.  We are all like one family in the situation.”

However, solidarity cannot change the fact that the people here are regularly harassed by local settlers. Solidarity cannot change the fact that children have been arrested from these tents in the middle of the night. Nor can the people in the village forget that they still have demolition orders outstanding for other dwellings.  The village is in Area C. The Army could come at any time.

In the rubble, we heard a faint peeping and the children began to pull apart wood and metal, digging quickly in the rubble.  After some minutes, they emerged with one small chick that had survived the bulldozer.

A survivor.

Somehow, finding this chick alive gave us all a bit, a tiny bit, of triumph, happiness and hope.

We need more.