Tuesday 28 April 2015

A photo of the dead sea which is close to Jericho

To go to the Dead Sea a fee needs to be paid to the Israeli authority of 55 shekels, there are many settlers in the Jordan valley and near the Dead Sea as it is an Israeli controlled area.

The Jordan valley

Much of the Jordan valley is in area C, specifically 94% is Israeli controlled land. There is no water in the spring for Bedouin, this is a way for Israelis to evacuate the Palestinians from this area. The Israelis started coming to the Palestinian side/areas of the Jordanian valley so the Palestinians stop coming, this is the plan for the Jordanian valley.

Israelis are controlling 100% of the water resources here. The only source of drinking water for Palestinians is the Israeli national water resource.

This is a photo of the difference in pipe sizes; Palestinians have a small pipe outside the wire fence which supports many more people than the large pipe that supports the Israeli community which is protected inside this wire fence.

Israeli settlers get more water than they need, for example they have swimming pools whilst Palestinians have very little. The settler areas have green grass, lovely scenery with plentiful water resources.

Here met an organization working in the Jordan valley called The Jordan valley solidarity we witnessed them building a community center helping the local community here.

Here is an image of the Jordan valley solidarity building a community center, which could easily be demolished at any time but at least they are attempting to improve the situation for the Palestinian communities here. Find more information on their website http://jordanvalleysolidarity.org/

We were introduced to the Jordan valley by Hamza Zbeidat, community and media coordinator at Ma’an Development center.

The Bedouin

The Bedouin are travelers who if they had a choice would not stay in one place but they have to now since the Israelis have restricted their movements in various ways.

Difficulties for the Bedouin began in 1967 where settlements began to be built everywhere in the west bank. Often settlers move to the regions Bedouins reside and this is why most of the west bank became forbidden for Palestinians.

The Israeli soldiers stopped any access for Palestinians to various regions and that is why the Bedouins cannot travel. They used to move all over the West Bank in search of more water for their sheep but now they move at a maximum of 5km on top of the mountains all over the West Bank.

The settlers shoot at the Bedouins their excuse is that they say ‘they felt threatened’. The Israelis are building military bases in the Jordan valley where Bedouins live even if the Bedouin were their beforehand. Find more information here at Ma’an Development Center, http://maan-ctr.org/.

A view of the Jordanian Valley

The Al Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center, repression and resistance movements in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Aida is a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem in central West Bank. There is a separation wall on the outskirts of the camp which separates it from Jerusalem. Aida camp was created between 1948-1950 after the Nakba. Bethlehem to Jerusalem is 8 miles away but the wall separates people and does not let them through. You can go to Jerusalem illegally easily so security issue cannot be the case it must be an excuse.

Aida refugee camp is under the Bethlehem governance. It contains 6000 people living in 1km area. Also it Is the second largest in the west bank, Déjà camp being the largest. Furthermore it is estimated that Beit Jibril camp contains 1000 people.

Al Rowaad and the beautiful resistance in the Aida camp.

Al Rowaad, a Cultural and Theatre Center was created in 1998 to give the people in the refugee camp a chance in life to create a better future for themselves. This is so kids who would otherwise not have many activities to do and would usually throw rocks over the wall and at soldiers for example.
The Al Rowwad center began to establish an emphasis on a non-violent resistance in 2008 by Palestinian volunteers. The Al Rowwad center uses arts for example theatre and dance to create social and long-lasting change within the community. The organization focuses on children and parents to continue the cycle of a long lasting change within the community that is non-violent and uses art to give the people a voice.

If a child throws a rock this gives the Israeli soldiers what they want and they can respond with violence but if a child uses art this can be their voice which speaks to people about their struggles. It can also give the child a better future as he/she can become a dancer, actor, painter or singer and there are many more opportunities and they can teach others about the occupation of Palestine as they travel.

Firstly a drama group was formed at Al Rowaad then other activities followed such as the women’s society was created, if the women did not have education she would not find a job so they will be educated in the center.

There is an education department which began during the second intifada, activities here which include different language classes being taught in the center, such as French and English.
Those working for the center made a film documentary about the camp showing life through the eyes of those living there. Also there is an environment department at the center which is also beneficial to camp residents.

Palestinian Arabic history is often deleted and confiscated or it is suddenly Israelis such as falafel which the Israelis are saying is theirs. This is a big problem and people are determined to maintain their heritage and identities. This center can provide means for people to continue their culture and express themselves through art such as Dubka dancing.

Recently the United Nations and the Israeli authority have begun to stop helping the camp; they used to provide more finances among other assistance.

The Al Rowwad center had a campaign called the welcome to Palestine campaign. Here the UN is responsible for water, healthcare and food. They come every 6 months to assist 3 families only and this is not sufficient and will not be enough to create a better future for those in the camp. US Aid, France and the United Kingdom help to fund the center. Saudi Arabia also gives the UNRWA support each year for the Palestinian people.

The occupation of the west bank affects the camp via continual shootings of the children here to keep control of camp residents.

Conditions in the camp include some of the following:

- Water can be cut off at any time and it comes only every 20 days and it goes very quickly since people have been waiting for 20 days.

- It is not definite that wages will be paid.

- Aida refugee camp went from area A to area C so the Israeli soldiers can enter the camp at any time and take control.

 Palestinians are not using guns it’s the settlers who are always armed and the Israeli soldiers. The Palestinian police also have guns but they don’t have bullets, the Israeli authorities say is for ‘security’.

- The Israeli soldiers dig through houses like moles to get rid of the privacy of houses and snipers shoot water canisters for target practice, there is already a lack of water for residents.

- The separation wall here was created in 2003 and it began with mesh wire fencing and the stone wall was completed in 2006.

Aida refugee camp entrance in Bethlehem: The key above says to the Palestinian people know that they will return one day to their country, it is known as the key of return.

Battir village and its beautiful terraces are now a world heritage site.

Battir is a village in area C which lies just above the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway which in 1949 was taken over by Israel. The Israelis began work on the railway in 2000 and it is still under construction. They did not change anything from the old Turkish railway they just changed the track.
Here water comes twice a week, there is a problem with the water in this area despite there being several springs.

Battir is famous for its agriculture which includes the steps in the hillsides and irrigation system which was built in the roman era. Residents here still use the roman channel for water pipes which has provided fresh water from seven springs for 2,000 years and they still swim in the bath which collects the rainwater.

Photo of Battir village with its protected terraces behind a roman built pool which collects the fresh water from the roman irrigation system.

When the Israelis first came to the village they moved all of the people out it used to be much more but now the population is about 10,000 people. When the Israelis came to move people from Battir one man from this village was friendly with king Bassir of Jordan, king Bassir conversed with the Israelis and the man who was friendly with king Bassir and the rest of the residents got their land and houses back as long as it was away from the railway.

A photo of the railway in the valley below Battir village

The last station before Jerusalem is here in Battir. The railway is used to take produce away to sell from places such as Hebron. It is no longer the last stop before Jerusalem, now the last stop is Malha. The railway is also used by refugees in Tel Aviv.

There was a bridge over the railway however the Israelis damaged it. Now there is a level crossing for people to walk over also. There are also settlers living close by. Palestinians, Settlers and other Israelis hike often in this area.

There is no way of trading with the outside world without going through Israel and this is why the railway is so important. An artist from Battir, Sultan Shami made hand made products and 70% of sales were from Israel. When the boycott Israel began to be very much implemented in 2014 Israel took revenge on Palestinians by boycotting the work from this artist among other products from Palestine.

Before Battir village terraces was a world heritage site a separation wall was intended to be built through the valley for ‘safety’ reasons, the Israelis lost the battle for this wall since it is now a protected world heritage site. If a separation wall was to be built through Battir it would destroy the landscape and this would be terrible for the agriculture and the landscape it is most famous for.
Israeli archeologists came to Battir to try to prove Jewish people lived here but they could not prove this as they found no evidence. It is commonly believed in Israel that all of Palestine is Jewish land and not Palestinian.

The Roman irrigation system


In February one of our friends here, S, was arrested. He was mistakenly identified as having thrown a stone at a car, and despite the car owner correcting the mistake after the soldiers had hold of S, he was still taken to prison, where he spent 12 days before being released and fined 2500 shekels.

Last Tuesday we visited the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. There is a checkpoint leading into the old town, and another to get into the Mosque itself. On the way into the old town, S was pulled away from our group to have his ID checked. On the way into the Mosque all our Palestinians hosts had their IDs taken, and when they went to collect them after the visit, S was made to wait for 15 minutes.

I've seen and been through check points before, and I've seen people being taken to the side and made to wait. I've heard stories of birth and death at checkpoints trying to get to the hospital, but I don’t think I’d really felt the reality of how they feel until Tuesday. The fear for my friend when the solider led him off, was physical, I could feel it in my stomach and heart. I knew they would probably only hold him back for a minute or two, but it gave me such a sense of fear, injustice and anger.

On the way out we left through a one way exit as S went to get his ID card, but when he didn't come out after us we were worried. Our Palestinian guide joked about not helping him get released if he was arrested again. We’re still too new to this to find the humour, but under this occupation, as we've been told several times already, if you can’t laugh, you can’t survive.

Monday 27 April 2015

‘Everyone wants to go to London to experience how to be happy’

One of the things that have really gnawed at me about the occupation is the effect it is having on young minds. There is almost nothing that screams ‘success of Israeli occupation’ more than young people saying, and believing, that nothing will change. As a teacher, it breaks my spirit to know that hope is lost. From what I can see, some hope has been lost. 

During a morning’s activities, we were asked to ‘entertain’ the students who all had interviews for the student exchange programme. After failing to play any games, we all settled for having chats instead. And it was here I met Mumin. A heavy American accent and perfect Arabic had secured my full attention: where was he from? I’m Palestinian but my family used to live in California, he told me. Now it made sense. I took advantage of his English and asked him about why he wanted to visit London. It was then he explained that being a child here is not easy. The occupation makes it difficult to do anything, to want to be anything. ‘Everyone wants to go to London to experience how to be happy’ were his words. Never had I heard it put so painfully. 

Israel takes away what we fight to give our youth: the faith that they can be happy, that they deserve to be happy. 

This is for you, Mumin says and hands me a bar of soap. It’s Nabulsi soap made out of olives. He tells me there are only three factories left because production rights are now reserved by Israeli authorities. It is ours but they liked it so much they took it, he explained. 

The theft by Israel, its inhabitants, its supporters, is clear. But perhaps it is not enough to call it theft or bullying or inhumane when you take life away from those that have not lived it yet. It is more than theft. It is extermination. 

Monday 20 April 2015


The horror of this place paralysed me. I can only manage to write down some facts even now. #freepalestine 

  • An individual who has been shot seven times in the leg (his home is near a settlement)
  • Same individual’s home has an Israeli watch tower on its roof. 
  • Shuhada street in the Old City is a ghost town. Israel closed down the street after a US born settler (Baruch Goldstein from Brooklyn) entered the Ibrahimi mosque and killed 29 Palestinians.
  • After the massacre of 1994 the Ibrahimi mosque was divided into two: a synagogue and a mosque. 
  • Entry is now controlled by the Israeli army. 
  • There are checkpoints outside the Palestinian entrance. I did not find a checkpoint outside the entrance to the synagogue. 
  • Shops and homes on Shuhada street have been forcibly closed and families have been 
  • removed. (Not all. Some families still reside there. One family’s front door is right beside the Israeli checkpoint.) 
  • I met a shop owner who was threatened at gunpoint for saying hello to a settler. 
  • There are armed soldiers everywhere. Men and women with guns stand in groups and alone. They stand everywhere. 
  • Our friend and guide was stopped and questioned at the checkpoint outside Ibrahimi mosque both when entering and leaving. 
  • I saw Kiryat Arba, the biggest settlement in Hebron, located in the centre of the city. It homes a tomb venerating the terrorist Baruch Goldstein.
  • International Solidarity Movement #ISM volunteers are based in Hebron to help students walk to and from school. 
  • In one area under Israeli military law (area H2) Palestinians are not allowed to own cars.  They have restricted movement.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Demolished house in Abu Dis

In December 2014 a house was demolished here in Abu Dis by Israeli soldiers. The reason for this was because it was too close to the separation wall and Palestinians may be able to jump the wall from the roof of the house. The fact that the house was built before the wall is not important as Palestinians have no human rights as far as human rights as far as Israelis are concerned.

Demolitions are a common occurrence in Palestine. There was a peaceful protest against the demolition by locals and since this was across the road from Al Quds University many students protested the demolition. The Israeli soldiers responded with shooting protesters. One boy I interviewed about this got shot in the foot. One boy was shot in the foot for protesting peacefully, this is Normality here in Abu Dis.

There was a road behind the house which was used every day by locals was closed with the demolition and when a man tried to move the rubble to clear the road in a bulldozer so it can be used again he was arrested by Israelis and put into a bath of cold water outside in cold weather whilst soldiers danced around him.

Prisoner Museum Visit

Today we visited the Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs at Al Quds University. It displays shocking pictures of the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and really brought home the reality of incarceration for the many men we have met who have spent time in Israeli jails.

The Israeli Army often target Al Quds University, setting up checkpoints at its entrance, demanding IDs and making arrests. It can be no coincidence that the majority of arrests are made during the exam periods.

Last year more than 2000 tear gas canisters were fired into the university, more than 1000 lectures were cancelled due to Israeli violence, and more than 1000 students were injured. The university had to set up an Emergency Unit with an on-site ambulance after 400 students were injured in 1 day from an Israeli attack.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Abu Dis – We see more because we are not from here

This feels familiar. I don’t feel like this is the first time I’ve walked along the dusty road, or that this is the first conversation I’ve had with Mussa or Hazem (I know it won’t be the last), and it definitely doesn’t feel like the dancing sounds of Arabic are strange. But this is what we are. Strangers. We are not from here.

Yallah. Musa tells us as we dilly dally and gather our belongings for our first day in Palestine. I can’t help but smile because I know I’m back in the company of Palestinians. This is what I was looking forward to, what I am looking forward to. I’m excited to see words of resistance on pages I’ve read come alive, for the images I’ve seen of beautiful Palestine to become coloured in my mind. But mostly I am ready to learn about the real lives and real struggles faced by Palestinians. Because I know it is more than just the words I read. When I put down my book and resume my normal life in London, I know the injustices continue.

The reality of Palestine is quite wonderful. This is hard to accept because of the concrete Iron Wall that cuts through the land and separates Palestine from Palestine and Palestine from Israel. But wonderful is what it is. Our kind hosts- Abid, Hazem, Mussa, Husam, Nadine- full of interest and kind gestures welcome us to Dar Assadaqa. We take a short walk around Abu Dis, wind stronger than we thought. During our walk we encounter the wall, the military base (Israeli), as expected. We also spot real life; about five or six hair salons, a pizza place, a chemist, a few places to enjoy nargila.
I feel at home here. I am in Palestine, finally. After many years of thinking I wouldn’t be able to get here-  because I’m a Muslim and because I’m not Caucasian- I’m here where my new friends ask me ‘kay fiik?’. I have so many things I want to ask, want to see, want to understand and I can’t wait to get started.

first day at Dar Assadaqa

I'm from Abu Dis but I live in Ramallah. I came to Dar Assadaqa today for volunteer training with the new EVS volunteers. We're working on improving the CADFA blogs so there is more on them.
Yesterday we got very bad news about my brother Yazan who is 18 years old.  He was arrested when he was 15 and the Israelis put him in prison for two years. Then they arrested him in 2013. Yesterday he was finally given his sentence, 38 months. He has been in prison for 21  months of this before getting the sentence. I last saw him 21 months ago in the court when he was first arrested. He should come out when he is 19 and a half years old and he will have been in prison 5 years and he has missed all of his study.

Monday 13 April 2015

Good morning Abu Dis

Good morning Palestine - Went to sleep with dogs barking, woke with cocks crowing, pigeons humming and primary school children chanting loudly before school.  Here's a picture from the 'guesthouse' window - that's the place that CADFA volunteers and visitors stay. And here are some pictures from inside... before the  next group of volunteers arrive.  There are a few days of induction and training, and we hope you'll see lots of updated blog posts here, and on the CADFA school, women's and youth blogs from now on...