Viewing the Occupation Up Close

This is the second installment of a tour report covering our recent visit to Israel and the occupied territories. In this report we try to convey in pictures and in words some of what we experienced. Much of it was painful; the years of war, violence and bloodshed have made life particularly difficult for Palestinians and for Israelis as well. At times we struggled to maintain our hope for peace and reconciliation. It was our many caring guides, however, who continually reminded us that things could be turned around. They placed a lot of hope in us and especially in our work with Brit Tzedek. We were reminded again and again of the centrality of human connections in bringing us momentum and vision.

- Aliza Becker, Deputy Director and Sue Swartz, Board of Directors

 


Maximum Empty Land

Kareem Jabran

The late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (z”l) began his poem “Jerusalem Ecology” with these words: The air above Jerusalem is filled with prayers and dreams. It is difficult to visit the city without being overwhelmed by its complex history, rich symbolism, religious overtones. So too is it difficult to visit Jerusalem without being brought low by reality – how division, discrimination, and suffering have become an intricate part of the city’s fabric. Our three -hour tour with Kareem Jabran of B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, began near the Bethlehem checkpoint outside the city and followed the winding structures – cement, wire, and yellow checkpoints – that make up the Separation Wall and the de facto boundary between Israel and the West Bank. [read more and see additional photos]


Ghost Town

Yehuda Shaul
There is little we can write about our three hours in Hebron that will do it justice. The city is surreal. A twilight zone. This place considered holy by all three Abrahamic religions – and site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs –  encapsulates and magnifies the Occupation to a point of life-threatening absurdity.

Hebron has been a Canaanite, Hebrew, Roman, Byzantine, Mamluk, Ottoman, and Arab city. There has always been a Jewish presence there (except during parts of the Crusades), though often a very small one. In 1929, the British (then in control) moved the Jewish community out of Hebron in response to Arab rioting that killed 67 . This remained the status quo until 1979, when a group of 30 women from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Aba took over a hospital and refused to leave. [read more and see additional photos] 


The Strength to Remember Our Message

Dov Avital

Dov Avital is the Secretary of Metzer, a 500-person kibbutz not much more than a stone’s throw away from the Green Line northeast of Tulkarm. In his capacity of Secretary, he deals with government bureaucracy, factory production & agricultural, and budget management. We also find him to be a principled man who thinks deeply about the tensions between personal and communal life, and the role of borders and bridges. He gives us a 3-hour private tour without a hint  of hurriedness. [read more and see additional photos] 

 

 


A Snapshot of the Camp

Jihad Abu Zneid

Shuafat Refugee Camp, where Palestinian Legislative Council member Jihad Abu Zneid was born, was the last camp created in the occupied territories and the only refugee camp in Jerusalem. Its original 50 acres have doubled since 1966, while the original population of 1500 multiplied more than ten-fold, 20,000. Shuafat Camp – bordered on one side by the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat, on two sides by the Israeli settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev & French Hill, and on its last by the planned expansion of Ma’ale Adumim – is run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), though almost half of its residents are non-refugees who have come from other parts of the West Bank to work in Jerusalem. [read more and see additional photos] 



The Land Irrevocably Changed

Sue Swartz and Dror Etkes

When Dror Etkes looks out on the West Bank, he sees not mile after mile of green and rocky hills, farming terraces, small villages and olive trees but, instead, bypass roads, caravan outposts and checkpoints. “This is what this job has done to me,” admits Etkes, the Director of Peace Now's Settlements Watch project since 2002. Our tour, with takes us north from Jerusalem on Route 60 (a road reserved for exclusive Israeli use ) to just outside of Nablus, past – and sometimes into – two dozen outposts and about half that number of “regular” settlements, all deep in the West Bank. [read more and see additional photos] 


Into Bethlehem

Suleiman Al Hamri

We knew that it would be a non-stop day when our host Sulaiman al-Hamri, from Combatants for Peace, joked that this was his way to “re-pay” Aliza for his 21-city Brit Tzedek tour during the winter. We arrived at the checkpoint just before 8:30 a.m., when the early morning school and work lines were already over. It should be said that the way into Bethlehem is not through an “ordinary” checkpoint of yellow metal gates and barbed wire fences; it is through a far more elaborate series of cement walls, metal detectors, and enclosed booths – one could mistake the set-up for passport control in an international airport, except for the presence of soldiers, loudspeakers, and observers from the Christian Peacemakers Team. The city of Bethlehem is surrounded on 3 sides by the Separation Wall, both finished concrete and temporary fences, completely cut off from East Jerusalem, only six and a half miles away. [read more and see additional photos] 


Volunteer Opportunities

Breaking the Silence is seeking volunteers, especially with skills in database management, research and writing.  Please contact Mikhael Manekin for more information.   

The Shuafat Refugee Camp Women's Center is seeking, especially with skills in public relations, lobbying, writing, research and domestic violence or drug counseling. Please contact Jihad Abu Zneid for more information.




Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org


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