Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bassem's Anniversary

Friday 16th April marked a special day in the history of Bilín's popular resistance to the apartheid wall which encroaches onto village lands. A year ago one of the leaders of the struggle, the much-loved Bassem Abu Ramah, was killed by a teargas cannister fired at short range by an Israeli soldier.

The anniversary of his death was commemorated with marching bands and speeches remembering Bassem by local leaders and visiting dignitaries. When these eventually came to an end many villagers, accompanied by ISM and other international volunteers and a sizeable contingent of Israeli anarchists, and others, marched to the wall. They were met by a small squad of Israeli Occupation Force soldiers, who fired tear gas cannisters and rubber-coated steel bullets into the crowd. Being downwind, many of the marchers suffered from tear gas inhalation and the demonstrators soon dispersed.

The Friday demonstration has become such an established event that it now attracts a variety of people seeking to take advantage of the opportunity it offers: small boys sell embroidered purses and other handicrafts, an icecream seller plies his trade and Big Cheeses from the Palestine Authority sometimes make an appearance. This Friday one dignitary was chauffered towards the vicinity of the wall in a shiny silver four-wheel drive, and back again after having suffered a mild affliction of tear gas. The rest, including women, children and the elderly chose a more traditional form of locomotion - they walked.

While the villagers welcome any displays of interest or solidarity from representatives of their elected government (oops, hang on that's Hamas) there is a perception amongst some that the Palestinian Authority is merely a "second Occupation".

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Abu Dia

Abu Dia, 50 years old , his weatherbeaten face a testament to a life spent working under the hot sun, lies on a farrsha in the living room of his house in the village of Tammun. For the past three weeks he has been able to move about only with difficulty, and in pain.

Before dawn on March 14 he waited, as usual, at the Hamra checkpoint, together with a number of other agricultural labourers, to be picked up and driven to his work at the Jewish colony/settlement of Miswa, further south in the Jordan Valley of Occupied Palestine. He and his fellow workers earn 90 Israeli sheckels (around $30) for a day's work, for most of them their sole means of income. Of this, 30 sheckels goes on transport.

Suddenly, seeing an approaching army jeep and knowing what lay in store, the workers began to run. Abu Dia, being older, could not make his escape and was seized by the soldiers, seven or eight of whom formed a circle while one of them knocked him to the ground and commenced to kick him senseless. They left him there and drove off. He was taken to a medical clinic in the town of Tubas, where he was diagnosed with a broken ankle and extensive bruising. The medical staff recommended that he be hospitalised but he chose to return home where, unable to afford medication or further treatment, he has remained until now, unable to walk and unable to work.

Abu Dias, his wife and four children, face a bleak future. Poor villagers such as them depend on whatever employment they can pick up, especially now that much of their lands have been confiscated for the ever-expanding colonial settlements.   Abu Dias has worked for many years at Miswa, where he is regarded as a capable and willing worker, but now he fears for his safety while waiting for his employer to pick him up at the infamous checkpoint, which has been the scene of other brutal attacks by sadists wearing the uniform of the Israeli Defence (sic) Forces.

Reporting live from Occupied Palestine.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Just Another Day

Sunday, 4 April
Reporting from Occupied Palestine

It is Sunday but, like every other day of the week, Nasser Ghawe sits with his wife and three small children on the street verge opposite his house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. From the outside the house appears rundown but it is in a select area of the city, just around the corner from the American Colony Hotel, the USA consulate and the British Council.

Since 1956 the building has been home to the Ghawe family, refugees from the village of Sarafud, near Ramle. It was built by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on vacant Palestinian land to house victims of the 1948 Nakba – the first ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

In 1967 the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza came under Israeli military occupation. Five years later settler organisations commenced claims to gain title to the property and, in 2009, the Ghawe family received their first eviction order. Despite being able to produce documents dating back 110 years to Ottoman times, proving Palestinian ownership of the land, successive Israeli courts have found against the Ghawes.

In August 2009 a gang of settlers broke into the house and commenced smashing the furniture. The Israeli police supported their action. Indeed, the head of the police squad took the house key, kissed it and presented it to the settlers. The extended Ghawe family of 37, including 20 children, were arrested and detained for 6 hours before being evicted into the street.  The settlers then moved in.

The family has maintained its vigil outside their home, summer and winter, since then. The tents they have put up have been pulled down sixteen times by the police, who have told the Ghawes that they are not welcome in Jerusalem and should move “To Jordan or some other Arab country”. Despite these vicissitudes the Ghawes, together with supporters from Israel and around the world maintain their vigil, knowing that the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem cannot continue unopposed.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Qaramat Bani Hassan

Friday 2 April
Reporting from Occupied Palestine

A group of internationals , including two ISM activists, joined sympathisers and supporters from Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank in assisting the villagers of Qarawat Bani Hassan repair and rehabilitate the historic natural springs which lie in the nearby Wadi Qana. The springs which issue at the base of the wadi feed into a series of reservoirs cut into the stone, said to date from Roman times.

From time immemorial they have been the source of water for those villagers without their own wells. Today the springs and their surroundings, a location of outstanding natural beauty, are the most important cultural heritage for the village. They also provide water for agriculture and shepherding.

Situated between Ramallah and Nablus, Qarawat Bani Hassan has the misfortune to be surrounded by a number of settler colonies, including Nofim, Yaqir, Revava, Kiryat Netafim and the most recent and closest, Havat Yaáir. (This last one "appeared overnight"). Settlers routinely trespass onto village lands and two weeks previously, in an act of deplorable vandalism, emptied sacks of cement and steel mesh into one of the Roman-era tanks. This followed upon the previous dynamiting of a nearby cave which, too, contained a natural spring and pool.

On this Friday the villagers and their supporters laboured under a hot sun to clean out the reservoirs, build dry stone walls nearby and bring the site back to its original condition. They were interrupted twice by groups of settlers from Havat Yaáir attempting to access the area. A confrontation was avoided only when the villagers returned to their work and ignored the presence of the intruders who, after a short time, returned to their colony on the overlooking hilltop. The presence of international and other observers armed with cameras undoubtedly deterred the settlers, on this occasion, from any further acts of vandalism.