“Where the Sidewalk Ends” and other stories - Summer Camp blogs
Palestinian tea and hospitality for thirsty camp workers - given with a touch of grace and style, as always
Day 12: ICAHD campers visit Bethlehem and continue work at Beit Arabiya
International campers here for ICAHD's rebuilding camp spent time in Bethlehem. While there they received a briefing from Badil, visited Manger Square and had a bus tour of the Wall in the northern part of the town.
The Wall in Bethlehem near Aida Refugee Camp
Campers sit in the shade with our host Salim Shawamreh
The Beit Arabiya site has been turned into a memorial to the 28,000 Palestinian homes that have been demolished in the OPT since 1967. During the camp a photographic exhibition has been prepared which tells the story of the six demolitions of Beit Arabiya and ICAHD's rebuilding each time as a non-violent political act of resistance to this cruel and illegal policy.
Day 11: ICAHD Rebuilding Camp Visits the Negev
Still groggy from a long journey, I look out of the bus window onto the village of Alsira. Already disoriented from the afternoon heat, my eyes catch solar panels popping out of the dusty hills. I look out again-didn’t we just hear that a new Israeli law forbids Palestinians from using solar energy? But then I remember; we’re not in the West Bank anymore. We’re in Israel. And Israel, I’ve come to learn, is the land of exceptions. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the rules are changed.
The story of the Negev upholds a familiar maxim; as our guide Khalil tells us: “Maximum number of Bedouins on a minimum amount of land; minimum amount of Jews in a maximum amount of land.” His village, Alsira, is home to over five hundred Bedouin citizens of Israel, compromising one of the forty-five unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouins living in the Negev are now squeezed onto 10% of their ancestral land. A map of the Negev shows a triangular shaped piece of land just below the West Bank border that the Bedouins have been pushed onto, rendering almost all Bedouins in the area internally displaced persons within the State of Israel. Over 78% of people within Israel consider the Bedouins to be a security threat to the state, giving rise to the numerous military outposts and airforce bases that serve both as a border and interruption to the existence of this community.
Khalil Alamour tells the story of his village, Alsira, and their resistance to displacement
Israel has pushed the urbanization of these traditionally nomadic peoples by establishing seven towns built in and around the Bedouin land reserve, and providing “incentives” such as threats of house demolitions (every house in Alsira has an outstanding demolition order), a total lack of electricity and restricted water access. When asked about the possibility of moving to these new cities, Khalil tells a joke about a Bedouin man who visits a doctor’s office but refuses to sit on the wooden bench. “Give us a break,” he laughs, “We like the ground!”
Khalil, a math teacher, is now studying law at an Israeli university, attempting to learn the rules of a system that dictates not only his movement and livelihood, but identity. When asked about connections to the Palestinian struggle, his sigh softens, “Unfortunately we are disconnected from the Palestinians.” He reminds us that as citizens of Israel, even Bedouins have to pass through checkpoints to enter the West Bank. He says that he sees himself as an Israeli who lives “inside,” and wants to become a contributing force to Israeli society. “We have solidarity with the Palestinians, and we support their struggle—peacefully,” he adds.
Map of the unrecognized villages in the Negev
As we pile back on the bus, a little more tired after another show of Arab hospitality at its finest, I look out at the town of Alsira and wonder to myself. I think about Khalil, wearing his shirt that says, in Hebrew, “Please, don’t demolish my house!” How many more systems of discrimination will he live under, will try to render him powerless, before he is given the same rights as any other citizen of his state?
Alexandra from California
Day 10: Jewish Peace Activists Speak at ICAHD Camp
Three Jewish Israeli peace activists came to visit the ICAHD rebuilding camp on Wednesday evening. The short introductions and the discussion that followed covered a variety of topics, the main themes being militarism in Israeli society, peace activism in Israel and abroad and resisting occupation.
All three visiting activists had refused military service and described Israeli society as exceptionally militaristic. Jewish Israelis are conscripted into military service, and the average Israeli has grown used to seeing soldiers and civilians bearing machine guns every day. The military pervades many aspects of Israeli life; for example, many houses can only be rented to persons who have served, and employers often only hire perspective workers with military records on their CVs.
According to these activists, one powerful way to resist the occupation is to refuse military service. The idea is that the occupation will no longer be sustainable if enough Israelis refuse to serve. Israeli Jewish activists have tried to campaign to get people to refuse military service, but only with small success.
Maya, one of the three activists that visited us, is currently working with New Profile, a feminist organisation that seeks to create new discourse to challenge the prevalent culture of militarism. At the same time, they work to support youth seeking to avoid military service. Maya also mentioned that although activists often view refusal as an ideological decision, in reality, economic factors more commonly play into a non-Ashkenazi individual's decision to refuse. She also noted that It is much more common to refuse reserve service than to refuse military service altogether.
The scant success of the refusenik movement indicates a general weakness of the Israeli Jewish left and peace movements. Many organizations among the Israeli peace camp aim for a two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state is necessary to unburden Israel of its Arab population. These arguments expose an underlying demographic and racist logic to Zionism on both the right and the left, alienating the non-Jewish populations. The Zionist left and peace movements also tend to see the settlements as the central issue of the conflict. They are unable to acknowledge the foundations of the Jewish state as the root of the problem. In order to actually become a democracy, Israel needs to treat all its citizens equally.
Disenchanted with the weak peace movement within Israel, our visiting Israeli activists called for strong international pressure on Israel, including use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. With pressure from outside, Israeli politicians may eventually be forced to reconsider their policies.
Jonas – Finland
Reflections from one of the international participants in ICAHD’s rebuilding camp.
Day 9: ICAHD Rebuilding Camp Visits Hebron
The West Bank city of Hebron was known in its heyday as a vibrant hub of Palestinian commerce and trade. Today, however, the city’s name invokes images of apartheid, structural violence, and stark poverty. Our visit to Hebron was widely described among ICAHD campers as the most disturbing portion of our trip; the daily realities of life in the city are often beyond belief.
Campers pass through container checkpoint separating H1 and H2
We began with a walking tour of the eerily quiet Tel Rumeida neighborhood, a former commercial center devastated by military orders that resulted in the closure of thousands of shops. Our group met with a family who has shown incredible steadfastness in the face of an offensive orchestrated by Jewish-Israeli settlers to force them out of their home. Their household is located directly next to the Tel Rumeida settlement, and Jewish-Israeli residents of the area have repeatedly attacked the family’s freedom of movement and water sources over the years. Those same “religious” settlers went so far as to purposefully beat the family’s pregnant mother to cause a miscarriage, not once, but twice. They succeeded both times with impunity.
A trip to the Jaber family home proved that this type of story is not uncommon. The nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba was built on land stolen from the family, and Ata Jaber, the head of household, has suffered myriad health issues as a direct result attacks by extremist settlers that amount to acts of terrorism. Their home has been demolished, cash crops uprooted and vehicles burned, and yet the Jabers remain committed to non-violently resisting their oppressors.
Kiryat Arba settlement expands taking even more Jaber family land
Walking through the Old City, campers saw both a glimpse of Hebron’s past glory and the facts of existence in H2, the section of the city under Israeli administrative and security control. Hebron is the only Palestinian city with a Jewish-Israeli settlement located in its center; in many cases, Jewish residents live in apartments directly above Palestinian homes. Hanging over shops filled with embroidered pillows and colourful kuffiyehs, visitors find nets and metal grates overflowing with trash and rocks thrown by settler families. Watchtowers, soldiers, and automatic weapons abound.
Many explain that they shy away from becoming involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because there exists too much “gray area,” to sort through. To me, Hebron demonstrates everything that is black and white about the situation on the ground: what is so morally ambiguous about physical assaults on pregnant Palestinian women carried out by the settlement enterprise with the goal of procuring miscarriages? Is there any shadow of a doubt that families humbly seeking to live on their ancestral land should not wake up in the middle of the night to find their olive trees, cars, or homes aflame? What happens in Hebron is no different than East Jerusalem building and zoning laws that dispossess Palestinians, nor is it any different from home demolitions that disproportionately affect Palestinian citizens of Israel living in Jaffa. All are part of a systematic, racist effort to ensure that Jewish-Israelis remain an artificial majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River by whatever means necessary.
Nur -- USA
Day 7 ICAHD Rebuilding Camp: Jordan Valley
On Sunday we went to visit Fathe Kdirat of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign. Driving through the Jordan Valley, it’s hard not to notice the lushness of the Israeli date farms on one side of the road and the dry barrenness of the Bedouin encampments on the other. Water pipes snake down the hillside past the Bedouins’ tin and canvas shacks to pipe junctions that are stowed behind electric fencing and clearly marked with blue and white to denote exclusively Israeli drinking water. Our group quickly noticed that the wall takes many forms, one of them being enormous ditches and dirt piles that impede Palestinian movement. We saw several foreboding red signs throughout our trip warning us in three languages that entering certain areas was dangerous to our lives. Others explained that certain areas also happened to be military firing zones for the IDF.
A few feet from another firing zone sign we met with a Bedouin family and shared tea and stories over the sounds of chickens and goats. We learned that in addition to the family’s children having been arrested in the past, many of their livestock have been locked up for walking across the road. Israel’s livestock prison requires animal owners to cover daily room and board costs, fines that can easily run into several thousands of shekels. Down the hill from the family home a formerly plentiful spring has been tapped and secured for Israeli use while the Bedouins live on the parched earth a few feet away, paying five times as much for their limited water supply. Once the water is successfully obtained, decisions must be made: will the water be used for drinking, livestock, or watering plants?
At the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign Friends House we sat under a roof made of palm fronds surrounded by walls made with traditional mud bricks. We had a delicious Palestinian lunch of MaHshi and the ever prevalent cucumber and tomato salad that is served with every meal here, cooked by the caretakers of the house. The father is disabled and the family of seven has struggled to survive since their home was demolished. The mother spoke to us about her desire to simply be able to work and live, stressing that they had very simple needs and that they ``are not trying to travel to the moon; we just want clothes and food.
On our way back to the campsite, we drove to Jericho and stopped to look at the lush valley. Passing neat fields we learned that these farms were managed by Palestinians, a clear demonstration that Palestinians can farm on par with Israel’s subsidized and state-supported farms with the right resources and fair access to water.
New York, New York
Blog posts reflect the views of individual campers.
Day 5: Sun, sand and surf.
All parts of an ideal tourist landscape, yet behind it all lies a darker story seldom heard. It is Friday and the ICAHD summer camp participants are in Tel Aviv however whose Tel Aviv are we in? Adjoining the modern skyscrapers and swank beach hotels is the older city of Jaffa, a city with a complicated and troubled history that belies the party atmosphere so close.
But first we make another stop. The Nahum Gutman Museum is an art gallery founded by Israeli artist Nahum Gutman. Gutman lived from before the turn of the century till 1980. Riders in fezzes, elephants, and Curious Georgesque scenes of orientalist exploration form characters in Gutman’s paintings, images drawn from his memories, from an imaginative past in a youthful Tel Aviv rising from a suburb of Jaffa.
The exhibit we’re here for though is one titled ‘Effervescence: Housing, Language, History.’ The exhibit is a collection of art from the few mixed cities of Israel in which ‘Arabs’ and Israelis are allowed to live side by side—Akko, Nazareth, and (our city of the day), Jaffa to name a few. The city previously known as Al-Lydd (now Lod) and the ethnic cleansing campaign there feature prominently. Photos by Dor Guez portray a vision of the old city of Lydd in ruins. Other photos by Nissreen Najjar evoke the historical-religious story of the salvation of Nazareth during the 1948 war. Posters from the Alacwih Group satire the buying up of land in Akko by Israeli settlers in a collection of work titled ‘Akko Not for Sale.’
"Akko - Not for Sale" from the exhibtion at the Naham Gutman Museum, Tel AViv.
From the museum to the beach we take a break to enjoy the tourist side of Tel Aviv. Huge crowds of Israelis saunter up and down in bikinis and swim trunks packing the beach. Intense games of paddle board line the shore while sailboats and various watercraft take to the water. The waves roll in from the ocean buoying us as they crest.
Yudit Ilany is a community advocate in Jaffa for an organization called Public Committee of Housing and Land Rights. The Committee works for ‘Israeli Arab’ housing and land rights in Jaffa and has worked intensively in the contested neighbourhood of Ajami. Jaffa has struggled with forces of gentrification as Arabs have faced eviction and housing demolition.
Since 1947 Israel has pursued a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing according to Llany. In the summer of 1947 Jews carried out a program of terrorist attacks against Arabs while many Palestinians were spending the summer in the breezier climes of places like Ramallah and Lebanon. Following the resulting chaos many Arabs opted to stay away from Jaffa and when the dust of ’48 settled the conquering Jewish forces moved settlers into many of the absent home owners homes. Jaffa was a rich trading port and a vital economic link to the rest of the world, and consequently a valuable prize. To make a longer story shorter when the dust settled, by 1949 only around 3,000 Palestinian residents of Jaffa remained and most from professional classes had gone.
The expulsion of Arab residents of Jaffa however was far from over. A systematic plan for ethnic cleansing was put in motion by the new minted Israeli officials. There has never been a zoning plan for Jaffa. This seemingly small gesture had huge consequences: no one could build or repair a house without permission and after thirty years of forced neglect around 4,000 were demolished. The formally picturesque Jaffa coast was opened by Israeli authorities as a dumping ground for trash from across Israel forming a huge festering garbage mountain right on the edge where the city met the sea.
By the 1980s as Arab families were crammed into increasingly tight and dilapidated houses the city was discovered by Jews as a hip place to live. Clear attempts followed as rich Jews moved into the grand, old houses and massive apartment buildings constructed that were decidedly not open to Arabs.
The Committee has been successful in helping 330 Palestinian families to remain in Jaffa however thousands more are threatened with displacement.
Ted – USA
The post is a reflection of one of the international participants.
Day 4 Oslo: Demolishing Daily Life
Day four was spent excavating and constructing at Beit Arabiya. Whilst human chains shifted buckets of rubble and dirt away from the ruins, our contingent from Finland collected rocks in the field next door to build a demarcation wall. Work also began on another wall that will be comprised of 28,000 small mosaic pieces in order to commemorate the number of homes demolished in the OPT since 1967. During the day a makeshift wooden pagoda was built in front of the men’s bathroom and vines that have survived six demolitions were hoisted on top to restore this shaded area.
With excitement, the folks unearthing the remains of Beit Arabiya reached the floors for the bathroom and kitchen. The toilet, shattered under the weight of concrete and metal, was found in its original position. Only the base of the sink and a few crushed cupboards were identified in the kitchen. Finally we were able to sweep the floor to reveal the speckled tiles below and we wound our way through the shadow of the home’s former living space.
Discovering recognisable artefacts in the ruined house brings a measure of joy – but it’s also a poignant reminder of the truth in Salim’s words, “A home demolition is a family demolition.”
In the evening Sam Bahour visited the camp. American-born businessman hailing from Youngstown Ohio, Sam has been deeply involved in developing a Palestinian telecommunications network and also writes political analyses of the conflict. His talk began with his personal experiences with the Kafka-esque bureaucratic structures that constrict Palestinian daily life and movement. Sam identified the Oslo Accords as the source of many of these realities, and explained how these agreements were littered with conditions that inevitably gave Israel the mandate to establish its own facts on the ground, to the detriment of the Palestinian population.
Sam then discussed the current situation, invoking Palestinians to move beyond prioritizing statehood to a struggle that most resembles a civil rights movement, and he encouraged greater cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) was also described as a useful activism tool. The campaign may not bring Israel to its knees economically, but it can serve as powerful means to initiate a critical discussion on the ongoing Occupation.
Scott – Australia
Digging up the recent past in a land called Holy. The distinctively familiar green of the lid of a bottle of washing up fluid winked at me from amongst rocks, tiles, rubble and dust presenting a goal to accomplish within the perplexing confusion of smashed walls and broken support wires sticking up like skeletons. Heaving away buckets of rubble then scratching around stones and finally scraping through the dust I loosened the plastic and I gently extracted the near full bottle. A dishwashing sponge sat dutifully at its side. No need to carbon date this exciting find for the exact date of Arabiya’s home destruction is known, 1 November 2012.
These everyday objects symbolize family life; especially Arabiya’s, wife of Salim, mother of seven and now a grandmother, whose kitchen has been part of family life over decades. Everyday symbols of ordinariness conveying the extraordinariness - the shock, the terror of having the place you call home demolished time after time after time after time. How could the authorities, how dare they arrive time after time, on the flimsiest of legal pretexts? It is my rage at these demolitions and their profound impact upon the family life and the children that has bought me here. Triumphantly waving my washing up liquid bottle I am also sharply reminded that the work here might all be again undone for the seventh time. So why persist? Why take expensive time out to live and work here in heat over thirty degrees, and less than comfort, to rescue a bottle of banal washing up liquid? Simply to make my own statement about the shocking disregard for the rights of the 28,000 Palestinians whose homes have been demolished. Simply to draw attention to the profound trauma suffered by the entire family and particularly the children. I have never forgotten Salim’s story of the first time the home was demolished when his six year old son was so traumatized that he ran and hid in fear all day and still as an adult has psychological problems. We as a group of thirty at the very least are a voice alongside Salim.
A Jones, England
Note: Postings are the reflection of the international participants of the Rebuilding Camp
Day 3: Where the Sidewalk Ends
I, like many other American children, grew up reading the poetry of the late Shel Silverstein. One piece of his stood out to me in particular—‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ the namesake of Silverstein’s most prominent anthology of childrens’ poems. After all of those years spent contemplating where that elusive place could possibly exist, I found it yesterday: Jabal Mukaber, East Jerusalem. The sidewalk, and all other quality infrastructure for that matter, ends abruptly where a pristine Jewish settlement stops and a Palestinian neighborhood begins. Yesterday during the Matrix of Control tour with Jeff, ICAHD campers were confronted with countless manifestations of the Israeli government’s attempts to Judaize Jerusalem—a process whereby Palestinian spaces, both public and private, are transferred to exclusively Jewish ownership. Each discussion of water rights, housing issues, and freedom of movement further evidences Israel’s status as an ethnocracy: a democracy for many of its Jewish citizens, yet something quite different for the rest.
Unfortunately, the place where the sidewalk ends in East Jerusalem is not the tranquil spot where one can rest in the “peppermint wind” as Silverstein writes; in this case, the end of the sidewalk illustrates the discriminatory policies that determine how resources are distributed in Israel/Palestine. No peppermint wind here.
Nur - USA
Day 2: Walking in Anata, visiting Bedouins and Jonathan Cook’s visit to Beit Arabiya
After breakfast we walked again in the rocky hills of Anata. We passed some Bedouin shelters where one if the men handed us some fresh fruit and small children with curious faces waved at us. It was already very hot in the morning and the sun was shining from the cloudless sky. Bedouin women were guiding sheep with their donkeys on the hills so dry that only very few plants can survive here.
Sheep and goats grazing in Anata, a neighbourhood of East Jerusalem,
subject to Israeli occupiers' pressure on historic Palestinian and Bedouin land
We visited the site where ICAHD rebuilt the house of the Abu Omar family in the 2011 Summer Camp. The house was demolished again the same night as Beit Arabiya in January 2012 with devastating consequences for the family.
We also visited a little Bedouin community next to the military camp on the edge of Anata. The community also lives under the threat of demolition. Two men from the community told us about their lives. They weren’t too positive about their future and the politicians representing them. Ongoing peace talks are a joke to them; they’ve seen it all before. They told us that they have no problem living side by side with Israelis, even if it is in one state. Their major concern seemed to be the lack of the right to self determination and their oppressed position. We asked what is the best way we as foreigners can help them and they said to simply tell others about the situation here. They also said that our presence was a relief for them because we gave them the message that they’re not alone.
In the afternoon we spent more time cleaning the remains of Beit Arabiya that was destroyed last autumn. Working together seemingly lightened the mood among us, although it was extremely hot.
In the evening the journalist and author Jonathan Cook honored us with his presence. He put the whole Israel/Palestine conflict in the context of Judaization which was a very interesting approach.
Pauli – Finland
Note: Postings are the reflection of the international participants and are not official ICAHD policy.
Day 1: We are two of the five participants on the ICAHD summer camp from Norway. Since our hometown, Tromsoe, is Gaza’s twin city we already new about some parts of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, we found it hard to understand the situation completely, just by reading articles and going to seminars. Therefore we decided to see it with our own eyes, both to show the Palestinians that they are not alone in this situation, and for our own personal experience so that we can tell others about what is truly going on.
After finishing Arabiya’s homemade Palestinian breakfast, we took a walking tour through the village of Anata. During the tour we talked to the mayor and experienced some of the wonderful Palestinian hospitality, showed to us by the people living in the village. But more importantly, we saw the Israeli politics in practice. Did you know that the Palestinians on the West bank only get water every third day? Or that they have to store it in black tanks on the house roofs, to have water the rest of the week? Keeping in mind that less than three hundred meters away, the Israeli settlement, Pisgat Ze’ev, is provided with water every single day. Not to mention that in the past Anata was fully capable to provide water to the citizens of the village and Jerusalem. Now they are not able to sustain themselves because Israel authorities have confiscated all of the water supply.
Also during the tour we saw several demolished houses. It is devastating to think about how every house has been a home and belonged to a family. Later in the evening, after the tour, Salim told us his own story of his family and Beit Arabiya. He described it like this “The house was all my savings. It was destroyed and we were left with nothing… in 15 minutes it was all gone”. When we came back to Beit Arabiya we started working in the ruins of the demolished house, carrying away the rubble, piece by piece. After observing some of the injustice the people in Anata have to suffer every day, it felt good to process that through hard physical work.
- Hanna and Karine