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MIDDLE EAST Witnessing a life of fear and exclusion

In part three of a four-part series MARY ADOSSIDES documents her study tour of Palestine with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Day 6: Ramallah. There are checkpoints within 5km of each other around Ramallah, home of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. 
Along the encircling serpentine wall there are huge paintings of PLO leader Yasser Arafat and jailed intifada leader Marwan Barghouti.

Palestinians do not have permission to leave Ramallah without “valid” permits. At the Kalandia checkpoint, we see Palestinians having to get off their bus to show their permits and ID cards, some carrying their heavy bags and suitcases rejoining the bus on the other side.

No problems for us, though. Our minibus is stopped and a very young armed blond soldier gets on, looks at the group, asks where we have come from and lets us pass.

We pay our respects before Arafat’s tomb, visit his mausoleum and then meet lawyers from Military Court Watch (MCW) in Ramallah who campaign against child detentions. 

Detentions often occur near settlements, an MCW lawyer tells us. Every authority has a designated intelligence officer who knows the political affiliations of Palestinians and will have records of who has been detained before. 

They obtain information from intelligence-gathering and informers and collaborators recruited from previous arrests. 

“They are under pressure to inform — a way of controlling a society which is thoroughly infiltrated,” the lawyer says.

“Palestinian communities know this and there is a lot of mistrust.”
Intelligence officers have a list of names passed on to military commanders and arrests — after a stone-throwing incident by young people, for example — are made usually in the early hours of the morning which frightens villagers.

“The family is gathered in a room and soldiers come and arrest several people. Forms are filled.

“Commanders can be young but so are the soldiers. To avoid an uproar, the army arrests quickly, blindfolds the prisoners and zip-ties their wrists behind their backs, which is very painful. Soldiers are often disrespectful to prisoners and there’s plenty of evidence showing that policing civilians is dehumanising.”

Detainees are placed in containers and kept awake with slaps. Hours pass from the time of the arrest. Prisoners are in a psychologically weakened state when they go before interrogators and threatened to obtain a confession.

A few days later, the detainee is taken to a military court where, very often, the judge is a settler.

He passes sentence and the parents are fined. This system of collective punishment fuels mistrust within families and Palestinian communities.

“The impact of soldiers breaking into a home with children is traumatic and can lead to depression,” the lawyer explains. 

“Detentions have a lifelong impact and cut children off from their parents. Mothers pay the highest price. They suffer physically and become desensitised.

“The social fabric of close communities is torn apart,” the lawyer tells us.

Day 7: Negev. We visit H, a member of the Regional Council of Unrecognised Villages in the Bedouin village where he lives with his large family. He offers us lunch and shows us the reservation in the Nakab (Negev) where Bedouins live.

The Bedouin way of life was to roam the desert freely with their animals “but this way of life has destroyed our traditional culture,” he tells us. 

“We have been denied access to sources of sustenance — including grazing restrictions, access to water, electricity, roads, education and healthcare in the unrecognised villages.”

Tens of thousands of Bedouins in Israel have resettled in the townships and, while the Bedouin population has grown by 220,000 since 1980, their living space has been reduced.

More than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins live in unrecognised villages and the government uses a variety of measures to put pressure on Bedouins to relocate to government-planned urban centres that disregard their lifestyle and needs.

Whole communities have been issued with demolition orders and others are forced to continue living in unrecognised villages, where they have no documents. They are not on the map. They have no address and don’t belong to a municipality. They are described as a tribe and have no voting rights.

Their citizenship has been withdrawn and, according to H, the Bedouin minority of the Negev is one of the most discriminated-against groups within the Arab population and in Israeli society.

Day 8: East Jerusalem/Jaffa. “We were taught God’s command: ‘Love thy neighbour’,” says Rabbi A from the Rabbis for Human Rights organisation when we meet in East Jersualem. “Every Jew knows this.”

His organisation practices what it preaches. Every year, they assist Palestinian farmers to ensure that they can complete their olive harvest free from violence and intimidation by racist Jewish extremists from the Hilltop Youth, a small but influential religious-nationalist organisation who establish illegal outposts in the West Bank.

“The ideology of the Hilltop Youth is that the Palestinians are ‘raping the Holy Land’ and must be expelled,” the rabbi says. He believes that the idea of Jews and Palestinians reaching a decision on a two-state or single-state solution is not helpful at this stage. 

“Human rights for Palestinians are the key issue,” he stresses.
We drive on to Jaffa, where we talk to Y, an Israeli activist opposing house demolition and a member of Balad — a political party whose stated purpose is the “struggle to transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity.” 

It is part of the Joint List set up in 2015 to increase representation for Arabs and Palestinians in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and it has formed an alliance with Hadash, Ta’al and the United Arab List, the southern branch of the Islamic Movement.

“The zionist state receives huge support from Christian zionists who supported the colonialist project and believe Jews have the right to live in Palestine,” she says. 

“They are influential and to achieve their goal they get the state to sell Palestinian properties to wealthy Israelis who move into the area. Property is expensive in Jaffa and Tel Aviv and the capital’s seaside promenade, with its huge developments, is built on destroyed Palestinian villages.”

Echoing the rabbi’s earlier words, she explains that “the government’s plan is to concentrate state efforts on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian and Arab Jews despite the Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘the right to housing is a human right’.”

Information on Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions study tours to Palestine is available at icahduk.org and on the BDS movement at bdsmovement.net.

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