Day 2 & already a delegate down

Saturday 2nd February
An early morning departure (7.30am) for Jerusalem.  As we had Israeli/Jerusalem number-plates and were all UK citizens we could have taken the easy route and stayed on the bus but we had decided to see what it was like for Palestinians and go via the Qalandia checkpoint.

It is a forbidding place.  We were dwarfed by the cement structures topped with barbed wire and cameras.  We walked through iron cages into a container-like tunnel with turnstiles that were operated remotely.  There were no soldiers in sight until we reached an airport style scanner and could just see Israeli soldiers through a reinforced glass screen on the other side of the scanner.  Instructions were shouted at us via a tannoy system.  Several people, myself included set off the alarm and were waved back by the young Israeli woman on the other side of the toughened glass to remove belts, watches, shoes etc. Unlike an airport, however, there are no trays to put jackets or belongings in and several items were getting stuck on the rubber curtain.  Despite the X-ray hazard notices it was necessary to push items through the scanner that had become stuck.

Successfully through the body scanner you are required to hold your passport open against the glass while they scan it and check their computer.  So it is clear they now know we had been to Palestine.

This check point is not as busy as it once was, as only those Palestinians with a permit are allowed to cross.  There are numerous verifiable stories of Palestinians being denied access to medical facilities in East Jerusalem, sometimes women giving birth at the checkpoint and others losing their babies.

Visualising Palestine infographic on births at checkpoints>

But we were safely through – or so we thought – and boarded the bus which Hesham had driven to the other side. It was not until we reached Jerusalem and the second bus arrived that we discovered we had lost one of our party. Kamal is a British citizen with a UK passport and has lived in Britain for 30 years but the border officer noticed that he had been born in Palestine and as a Palestinian was not allowed through.

On arrival in Jerusalem we visited the Educational Bookshop in Salah Al-Dinn Street and were briefed by Mr Zakaria Odeh of the Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem and Mr Xavier Abu Eid from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).  I am extremely grateful to Cllr Chris Summers, whose detailed notes I have relied upon for this recollection of the day.

Question-time

The PLO now accepts that West Jerusalem should be part of Israel but Mr Eid said that it was wrong to describe it as the traditionally Jewish part of the city and reminded us that when West Jerusalem was seized by the Israelis in 1948, 75% of the property was Palestinian  Mr Odeh said that in 1948 around 80,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem and that 38 out of 40 Palestinian villages near Jerusalem were destroyed.  Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 war and in 1980 declared Jerusalem as the “united capital of Israel” in violation of international law and condemned by the UN Security Council in resolutions 476 & 478.

He told us that 35% of East Jerusalem had now been confiscated for settlement building; that only 13% of the land is for the use of Palestinians; that15 illegal settlements have been built since 1967 and that now 210,000 Jewish settlers live on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.

In 1976 the Israeli government decided Palestinians should ideally not exceed 22% of Jerusalem’s population, currently it is 38% and rising.  In order to change the demographics, Israel builds illegal settlements for Israeli citizens but denies the Palestinians the right to build new homes, or as is traditional, extend their homes as their family grows.

To build or extend their homes, Palestinians need a permit which is often refused or takes 5-10 years to obtain and can cost upwards of £20,000 to obtain.  He estimated that more than 90,000 Palestinians live in 20,000 homes that have been built without permits. Currently the Israeli government aims for a Palestinian population of no more than 30% in Jerusalem.

Mr Odeh described the Al Bustan Area in Silwan which has been zoned as a “green area” for King David National Park, threatening 88 Palestinian homes with demolition, containing 130 families (1,400 people). In nearby Sheikh Jarrah 28 refugee families have lived in the area for 55 years but some Israeli settlers claim the land, although without any legal evidence and 11 Palestinian families have been evicted. There are no plans to build homes for 200 Israeli settlers.

Although Israel seized West Jerusalem in 1948 and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967,  Palestinians living in Jerusalem are not classed as Israeli citizens but “permanent residents”, a status which can be taken away for being “disloyal” to the state of Israel. Mr Z says that more than 4,000 people have lost Jerusalem residency permits since 2008; 14,050 since 1967. He says that 120,000 children are vulnerable to deportation as they don’t have residency.

Mr Odeh said that although Palestinians made up 38% of Jerusalem’s population, the areas where they live receive only 8% of municipal spending and that there are now 12 checkpoints in the city separating affluent Israeli areas from the deprived Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Mr Odeh said that the PLO’s position on Jerusalem was clear; that as a city which is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians it should  be an “open city”. Palestine should be a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital and Israel sovereign state with West Jerusalem as its capital but that the whole city should be open to travel.

On the issue of refugees he argued that the Right of Return of the estimated 7million Palestinian refugees is precisely that, a right in international law and in a final settlement every refugee should have the right to either:

a)      Go to Palestine (West Bank/Gaza)
b)      Go to Israel (and their former homes)
c)       Take citizenship in whatever state they now live in    (eg Jordan)
d)      Resettle elsewhere

but that it must be their choice.

Mr Odeh said that Palestinian land, occupied by Israel included some of the most fertile areas and that 50% of grapes and 40% of dates exported by Israel come from the occupied territories and are therefore illegal.

At 11am we were on the move again with a walking tour of the Old City with Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD). ). A number of the delegation had previously met Jeff on his visits to London.  We walked through the historic parts of the city, briefly seeing most of the religious sites. Although various parts of the city were called Jewish, Christian, Armenian or Muslim quarters, Jeff Halper said that prior to 1948 the various communities had lived in harmony but that now the Israeli government was proceeding with a policy of Judaisation and the old Muslim quarter was being renamed the new Jewish quarter. A red “George V” Pillar Box provides evidence of the period of British rule.

There is another remnant of British rule. We were told that Israel relies on Emergency Powers based upon the Emergency Regulations from the British Mandate for the “administrative detention” of Palestinians i.e. imprisonment without charge or trial, which have been declared illegal under international law.  Israel has routinely has used this administrative detention to imprison thousands of Palestinians for prolonged periods of time, without prosecuting them, without informing them of the charges against them, and without allowing them or their lawyers access to any evidence.  We were to learn more of this later in our visit.

We then boarded our mini-buses for a tour of Greater Jerusalem.  We travelled through Jebal Mukhader, in Palestinian East where a new settlement, Nof Zion, has been built and Jebal is now divided by the Separation Wall which has resulted in many Palestinian families being cut off from each other. Palestinians on the western side of the wall have blue identity cards enabling them to travel but those to the east have orange ID cards which restrict their movement.

Jeff said that the separation barrier was twice as high as the Berlin Wall and 5 times longer but that it did not follow the internationally agreed 1967 border but that more than 80% was actually in the West bank, thereby annexing more Palestinian land.

We drove through areas under Israeli control and witnessed the deterioration of the social fabric as one moved from the illegal Israeli settled areas to Palestinian ones. You could easily recognise Palestinian areas by the black water butts on the roof tops, the holes in the roads, the garbage in the streets and the lack of kerbs and footpaths.  Jeff said the black water butts on the roof of houses identify Palestinian homes, as these are required as emergency supplies either because the homes are not linked to the water network or if they are they can have their water cut off or suffer inadequate pressure as priority is given to supplying Israeli homes.

Similarly, the Israeli authorities do not spend money on street maintenance or refuse collection in Palestinian areas under their control.  Jeff confirmed the figures we had heard that morning that Palestinians contributed over 40% of the tax revenues but only 8% of the City’s budget was spent in their areas.

In areas under Israel’s control, the police had insisted on street names but the authorities will not allow Arabic names so they have a curious variety of bland names such as “Steep Hill Street”

No time for lunch – we had some falafel on the go from a nearby street-stall.

From a vantage point high on a hill we could look out towards the currently undeveloped area known as E1.

Jeff Halper

E1 is an area of more than 4 sq miles of land northeast of Jerusalem to the west of the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, where Israel plans to build new homes and roads for Israelis to prevent any expansion of Arab Jerusalem, creating a physical link between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.   The current plan, to build 15,000 residential homes, a large police station, an industrial zone, hotels, and civic facilities to shared by Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, has been condemned by the USA and the European Union.

Many have argued that proceeding with the E1 Plan will end all possibility of achieving a two-state solution. If the E1 plan were to be implemented Palestinians in the northern and southern parts of the West Bank would be cut off from each other.

From the hill we could see the vast police station under construction. Jeff informed us that the $10m Police Station was being funded by US millionaire Irwin Moskowitz.  The “Moskowitz Foundation” raises funds for Israeli housing projects in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and was involved in the redevelopment of the site of the Shepherd Hotel to provide homes for Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood , a plan which was condemned by both the British & United States governments as a hindrance to the Peace Process.

We then travelled on an Israeli highway to the illegal settlement at Ms’ale Adumim.  On either side of the road, for a distance of some 100 metres, there was bare parched earth dotted with tree stumps.  These were once lush Palestinian olive groves, a major part of the Palestinian economy, but had been deliberately destroyed by the occupying Israeli forces for supposed “security reasons”.

We travelled through Jebal Mukhader, in Palestinian East where a new settlements, Nof Zion, has been built and Jebal is now divided by the Separation Wall which has resulted in many Palestinian families being cut off from each other. Palestinians on the western side of the wall have blue identity cards enabling them to travel but those to the east have orange ID cards which restrict their movement.

Jeff said that the separation barrier was twice as high as the Berlin Wall and 5 times longer but that it did not follow the internationally agreed 1967 border but that more than 80% was actually in the West bank, thereby annexing more Palestinian land.

We drove through areas under Israeli control and witnessed the deterioration of the social fabric as one moved from the illegal Israeli settled areas to Palestinian ones. You could easily recognise Palestinian areas by the black water butts on the roof tops, the holes in the roads, the garbage in the streets and the lack of kerbs and footpaths.  Jeff said the black water butts on the roof of houses denote Palestinian homes, which are required as emergency supplies either because the homes are not linked to the water network or if they are they can have their water cut off or suffer inadequate pressure as priority is given to supplying Israeli homes.

Similarly, the Israeli authorities do not spend money on street maintenance or refuse collection in Palestinian areas under their control.  Jeff confirmed the figures we had heard that morning that Palestinians contributed over 40% of the tax revenues but only 8% of the City’s budget was spent in their areas.

In areas under Israel’s control, the police had insisted on street names b ut the authorities will not allow Arabic names so they have a curious variety of bland names such as “Steep Hill Street”

We then travelled on an Israeli highway to the illegal settlement at Ma’ale Adumim.  The Israelis have granted city status to Ma’ale Adumim and with a population of more than 40,000 is the third largest illegal Israeli Settlement in Palestine.  The first thoughts that strike you as you enter the city is its tidiness and affluence and above all, having just driven through parched landscapes, it greenness.  A lush, artificial, ornamental lake lies on its outskirts and every road junction has a green, irrigated roundabout often with fountains and some with a symbolic olive tree, possibly 100 years old or more, taken from a Palestinian farm.

We were told that the city has 4 Olympic size swimming pools!   Jeff says that at least half of the city is built on land which was privately owned by Palestinians.

Water comes from the Palestinian aquifer and settlers use between 5 and 7 times as much water as the Palestinians.  Whilst Palestinians have no water to irrigate their crops, Ma’ale Adumim has swimming pools and fountains. It is estimated that more than 80% of Palestinian water goes into illegal settlements or to Israel itself.

It is contrary to the Geneva Convention for an occupying power to transfer its population to the occupied territory, as Israel has done by building settlements – or as some would describe them “colonies” and is a breach of the Convention to exploit the natural resources such as water & minerals, which Israel also does.

On leaving Ma’ale Adumim we passed by several Bedouin encampments, many of these were displaced people from the Negev but now they were not allowed to pursue their nomadic life and were forced into static camps which made their way of life and animal husbandry unsustainable.  Goats and sheep, for example, had been a significant source of meat for Palestinians and now this supply was in decline.

We also passed quarries where the Israelis were illegally taking stone for settlement building.

Our final destination on the afternoon tour was Anata, a town which is supposedly under Palestinian civil control but under Israeli security control (AreaB).  The surrounding area of Palestinian villages is designated as Area C (under full Israeli security and civil control) where several families had received demolition orders for their homes. There is an Israeli military base nearby and the area we visited was surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers.  It was here that we met Saleem whose home had been demolished and rebuilt 6 times since the mid-nineties.  186 homes which had been demolished had been rebuilt, often with the aid of outside volunteers, as an act of non-violent resistance to occupation.

Simon, John and Martin

John with Cllr Simon Hogg and Martin Linton

He had been refused a building permit because his home was on a slope.  He responded by saying that the whole of Jerusalem had been built on a slope.  His home had originally been built before the occupation in 1967.

I spoke to a man aged 67 whose home was due to be demolished.  He said his family had been there since the 1920s, some had left for Jordan after the 1967 occupation but he had stayed.  His house had been there before 1967 and he said he had title deeds to the land part of which was confiscate by Israel in 1979. He was due in court the following week to challenge the demolition order.

At the end of a tiring day we returned to Ramallah for a meal together.

After such a long day, our first full day in Palestine, it was much to think about.

If I was to survive the next two days sleep was needed

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