Tag Archives: West Bank

As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?

Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza City survey the rubble of a house targeted in an Israeli air strike

Reports have cumulated overnight suggesting that at least 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 injured as Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza strip.

The death toll – primarily made up of civilians – has continued to rise as Israel amasses troops on the border readying for a potential ground invasion. Militants within Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israel with at least 140 launched on Tuesday alone but thankfully, so far, with no casualties.

This violence in the south and west of Israel and in the occupied Gaza strip has also resulted in an upsurge of violence in the Occupied West Bank with reports coming in of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Force.

Amidst this escalating violence many, myself included, look on with a growing desperation for any positive development to hold onto. It is perhaps because of this that I have seen this photo, and the accompanying story, posted on my social media feeds almost as much as the photos of the devastation occurring in the Gaza strip.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

This story of mutual loss and grief holds resonance with so many because not only does it deal with death – something which connects us all – but also because it shows the shared humanity in a conflict that too often removes any sense of such commonality.

It is an important story that I hope more people read**.

This said, it also made me reflect how people (once again, myself included) use the Israel/Palestine conflict to project their own values. I want Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their shared humanity more than everything that divides them. I want this so much that perhaps at times I convince myself that this view is shared amongst Israelis and Palestinians more than it perhaps is.

How often do you hear commentators use a variation of the phrase ‘the vast majority just want peace’ with nothing to back this claim up?

Obviously in the broad sense of the word ‘peace’, I am sure this is true, but how many people want a realistic collection of the characteristics that are needed to establish peace? I am not sure to be honest. Probably not as many as I would like.

To counter this I grasp onto the minority who conform to my pre-existing perspective in hope that it validates my own views and my own vision for potential peace in the region. I suspect this is one compelling reason why the above photo has gone viral with many left-wing friends – it supports a world view that validates their own.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that I face then is the task of facing up to the fact that lots of people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories don’t think like I do. Lots of Palestinians don’t want to accept a neighbouring state of Israel, a lot of Israelis don’t want to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state etc etc…*

While I am entitled to my views, as you are yours, I also have to accept the fact that we probably won’t be the ones who ultimately bring about peace. This has to come from within Israeli and Palestinian society (although I think we outsiders can help lay the foundations).

I was acutely aware of this during my time in the West Bank and Israel in 2012 and tried as much as possible to report the words of the people I met and to only offer a human rights framework for their words to help readers contextualise what they were saying. Inevitably though I at times failed and led interviews into the direction I wanted them to go rather than really listening 100% to what they wanted to say.

Equally I noticed on a number of occasions that some Palestinians I was interviewing would self-conform, either out of a sub-conscious desire to please or through strategy, and use peace/human rights language that sat comfortably in my articles but did not necessarily reflect the militaristic rhetoric that I heard in the coffee shops and in the fields when I wasn’t conducting formal interviews.

Since moving away from both Israel and the occupied territories it has become harder for me to put the emphasis on listening to what Palestinians and Israelis have to say on the subject rather than just projecting my own thoughts purely because I am not having daily interactions with them. This is one of the reasons I have been writing much less on the conflict in the last year or so.

All of this said I still think it is important that the international community (that includes you and me) keeps highlighting what is happening and calling for justice and accountability. I also believe that we have a role to play. The most powerful things I think we can do is to highlight the grass-roots efforts to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation. This in my mind includes the powerful story of the Fraenkel and Khdeir mourning families coming together to offer each other support.

The challenge though is how we do this without losing sight of the reality of normal people’s opinions that might sit less comfortably with our own (my own) liberal human rights dominated perspective whilst we cherry pick the few good news stories that make ourselves feel better?

 

*I am not saying these are the characteristics needed for peace, but they are examples of characteristics many feel are needed for peace and that many people in Israel/Palestine oppose. 

** UPDATE Since publishing this article it has emerged that the photo and the recent story I linked to on Huffington Post are not the same. The photo is from 2013. More here. The story however in the Huffington Post, to the best of my knowledge, is true though.

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Why today I’m reflecting on the deplorable killing of 3 Israeli teenagers

Israel
On hearing the news that 3 bodies have been found in the West Bank that are suspected to be the three abducted Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach,  that went missing almost three weeks ago I posted the following facebook status:

facebook

I was referring to the fact that some armed groups have claimed responsibility for the killings (inc an ISIS affiliated group, and Sarayat al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). If it is shown that one of these groups, or Hamas as the Israeli government keeps claiming, is responsible, then the killings would constitute a war crime.

Almost immediately comments began to follow that status update with comments on context and the atrocious backlash that the Palestinian population has suffered after the abductions in recent weeks. Comments came thick and fast about what we have already witnessed: Israeli forces’ arresting hundreds of Palestinians, raids and damage of property, enforced restrictions on freedom of movement, the continued widespread use of administrative detention and of course a series of killings.

From these comments I assume that people felt one of two things. Either that they thought that by condemning one act of violence I was somehow tacitly condoning another. And/or that some context was needed to the killings of the teenagers for those who read my facebook status updates to understand ‘the other side of the story’.

Whilst I strongly reject the first (for hopefully obvious reasons) the latter needs a bit more exploration.

I strongly agree with the assertion that context is important in understanding violence and human rights abuses. It is essential. I would be fascinated to hear anyone argue anything different. Equally, as a human rights activist the principle of impartiality is important – so I would be equally as passionate about condemning killing of civilian x as I would of civilian y.

The perpetrator is not important, but the context is.

With this said, why then would my facebook status not include the ‘other side of the story’ that so quickly emerged in the comments below?

Firstly, like so many, that status came as a result of reading about and then empathizing with all those affected by the killing of the three boys. It was a knee jerk reaction to a deplorable act. The words that came to hand was that of emotion and human rights, “deplorable act” “war crime” etc.

This facebook status wasn’t an essay, an analysis or trying to make any wider point. It was simply a comment on a deplorable act to illustrate that International Humanitarian Law condemns such behaviour.

Secondly though there is also an issue around comparing and/or contrasting people’s suffering. Not only do I find this morally uneasy but also at times pragmatically unhelpful. I am not convinced that trying to compare levels of suffering is helpful to anyone. In contrast, I can see others use the language of others suffering to perpetrate further atrocities. For me, the death of anyone’s loved one deserves a mark of respect, not a reduction of that life into a statistic to be used and abused for political ends.

With that said, a balance at this point then has to be struck. Clearly those in power are not following this line of thought and are already using these tragic deaths to justify furthering a pattern of events that have been occurring for much longer than the last three weeks.

Netanyahu has openly blamed Hamas for the killings and has promised revenge for what he described as a murder “in cold blood by human animals”. As a result we have already seen a sharp increase in the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel, has called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees.” – something which in itself would be the cause of forced displacement, a myriad of human rights violations and is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

So simply ignoring the context isn’t sufficient either. Mourning the loss of innocent civilians whilst watching on at the on-going violations of others is as equally morally and pragmatically undesirable.

The challenge for myself, and others then looking to comment on these killings and the atrocious backlash being experienced across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is how we speak out in an equal and fair way without reducing people’s suffering to just statistics or worse, campaigns fodder.

This is something that I am still struggling with and thinking about. For now, I use human rights language. Hence my response as I tried to keep it simple when responding to one friend who asked about the killings of Palestinian children:

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While some might think of human rights language as cold and legalistic, I think of it as a powerful liberal tool that encapsulates the importance of the individual. It is not always perfect but it does allow space for people to expand on individual violations when they want.

This morning I chose expand on the deplorable killings of three Israeli teenagers. This has no bearing on my thoughts on the other violations occurring in the region.

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Jayyous – one year on

Kate Cargin, who served as a human rights monitor with EAPPI just after me, writes about going back to Jayyous a year after we served there. 

Abu Azzam, welcomed us back to Jayyous like members of his own family and his wife Sehan laid on a lavish meal. I had met Juliane, my team-mate from EAPPI last year, in Jerusalem and the two of us were invited by the current team to stay in our old placement house.

Supper with Abu Azzam. Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Now, as then, the most serious problem for people living in Jayyous is the ‘separation barrier’ or ‘separation fence’, which divides the village from 75% of its agricultural land. All other problems stem from that: increasing poverty, emigration, demonstrations and arrests.

The impact of the fence and accompanying restrictions on the village is profound and life-changing. Farmers have to pass through ‘agricultural gates’ to access their land and permits to do so are often not forthcoming. It is a precarious way to live. Not only are people cut off from their farming income, but because of demonstrations against building the fence many have also been denied permits to work in Israel. Breadwinners and young people emigrate; students are pulled out of university. Regular army incursions with exchanges of stone-throwing and tear gas result in arrests, many of them of children. The prevailing emotion is loss and grief. Jayyous used to be a prosperous place to live. Now it is estimated that up to half its inhabitants receive food aid.

When the fence in this area was completed in 2003, the case for Jayyous was taken to the Israeli high court to contest its route. In September 2009, the Israeli High Court handed down a judgement to reroute the barrier to return some land to the village. Yet the farmers were not represented subsequently when the new route was determined which would return only a third of the farmland to the village. The villagers did not accept this, pointing out that all of the land belonged to them. They organised demonstrations which resulted in many arrests and increased army presence in the village. As Abu Azzam put it ‘We are expected to welcome the return of 2,488 dunums (1 dunum = 1,000 m2) and one underground well to the village. However, more than 5,000 dunums and four underground wells remain behind the fence.’ When the new fence is complete, most of the farmers will still have to pass through agricultural gates and some will even have to take a longer route.

Fence showing re-routing in progress

Photo: Fence showing re-routing in progress

Water is a huge issue in Palestine. While I was in Jayyous, villagers were suffering from a chronic lack of water because the fence cut them off from their main water supply. We had a very small well in our garden with a back-up supply from the next door village of Azzun and were warned not to drink it. There had been an agreement to pipe water from some of Jayyous’s own wells back through the fence. This was to be implemented and financed by the International Red Cross. Like many agreements it was taking its time and nothing happened during our time there. After a shaky start when the settlers destroyed the initial pipes, a pipeline is now established from three wells behind the fence to the Jayyous reservoir. However, the villagers have not been given planning permission to lay electricity cables to run the pump. They have been told to use diesel which would increase the cost eightfold. Currently there is a stalemate.

Israel says that the separation barrier is necessary for security. They claim that it has prevented suicide bombings in Israel (the last suicide bomb in Israel was in 2006). However, we remained sceptical. We were told last year ‘everyone knows where the holes are’. All of our team had seen people going through a hole in the fence near one of the checkpoints. Sometimes soldiers went down to guard the hole and sometimes they did nothing. We were very surprised, returning a year later, to see that the same hole was still in operation and had not been blocked. We were even more surprised to be told by a local man that there are eight holes in this section of the fence.

men detained at checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Photo: Men detained at a checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Nevertheless Jewish Israelis are clearly afraid of their Palestinian neighbours and believe that the fence makes them safer. I saw several manifestations of this fear. Last year, when my daughter came to visit me, the border guards tried to stop her entering the West Bank for her own safety. ‘You will be kidnapped and robbed’ they said. On another occasion, an Israeli woman warned me against getting on an ‘Arab’ bus in Jerusalem. ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ she exclaimed in surprise when I asked why that would be a problem. The fear is undoubtedly genuine but it is cynically manipulated by politicians to justify theft of Palestinian land and in the process all Palestinians are demonised. The sad truth is that the separation barrier will not make Israel more secure and does not bring about the end to fear.

My British MP, a reasonable man, was unimpressed when I pointed out the deviation of the separation fence from the Green Line and told him how it represented the livelihood of an entire village. He described it as a small bump on the map. When people talk about a two-state solution they blithely talk of ‘land swaps’ allowing some settlements to remain and Palestinians to be given land elsewhere. This is what ‘land-swaps’ can look like on the ground. Where else can Jayyousi farmers farm if not on the land next to where they live which their families have farmed for generations?

The settlement outpost caravans, which we used to monitor, have been moved from the area designated for return to Jayyous and are now on land next to Abu Azzam’s largest farm. This land was confiscated in 1988 from the Khaled family when Abdul Latif Mohammed al Khaled went to work in Jordan and the land was classified as owned by an absentee. Planning permission has been granted for 40 new houses to be built there and as with all settlements, the houses will be for Jewish Israelis only.  According to official Israeli data, Palestinians have been given only 0.7 percent of confiscated land in the West Bank; around 38 percent has been allocated to illegal Israeli settlements.  Abu Azzam told us that someone from the settlement council comes down to look at his land every day. On one occasion, he told Abu Azzam’s workers: ‘Tell Sharif (Abu Azzam’s given name) this is our land and the shed is our shed.’

Abu Azzam is a naturally cheerful man but he was more worried than I had seen him before. The Israeli army had given him a map showing the re-routed fence. There were also strange yellow lines marked on it going across his land. He said, ‘I do not know what the lines on the map mean. Are they going to take my land? Have they already confiscated my land and I do not know about it?’ This is not without precedent. Sometimes land is declared forfeit but nothing happens on the ground until some years later.

Remembering also that two sizeable plots of Abu Azzam’s land are still behind the rerouted fence, I asked him if he was afraid that village access to land behind the fence would be more difficult now that some of the land had been handed back.

His answer was to tell me a story about a melon farm which had belonged to his extended family. It was situated between the nearby town of Qalqilya, on the Green Line, and the railway, in what is now Israel. The area was designated as a buffer zone when the 1949 armistice line was drawn up, to be neither Palestinian nor Israeli. At first they were assured that they would be allowed to continue farming; then the Israelis simply sealed it off.

I looked at Abu Azzam and wondered how he could bear it. It has been his life’s work to defend his village’s land. He just shrugged and replied quietly, ‘For the moment, they say they will allow us to go there’.

Kate no longer work as an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views contained in this blog entirely her own.

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Israel/Palestine – reflections of a tired peace activist

When things get to a certain ‘bullshit factor’ I think I subconsciously switch off. It is a sort of self-defence mechanism against insanity.

I think it happened about three years ago with climate change. I can tell you that climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity blah blah blah but I don’t find myself lying awake at night worrying about it.

To be honest, I only really think about it when one of my more solid activist friends tweets, writes or speaks to me about it. The rest of the time it swirls around in my head evading any solid thoughts, let alone actions.

I have been dwelling on this particular thought over the last few weeks, thinking I really should pull my finger out and do something about it when it suddenly struck me that I have also switched off about Israel/Palestine.

The observant amongst you will have noticed I have barely mentioned it in the last few months on these pages.  A very personal bombshell that I doubt anyone reading this will care very much about.

I have subconsciously wondered off from all those people whose hands I shook, coffee I drank and that I made all those ill-thought out promises to, “I won’t forget this hospitality”, “I will do everything I can”, “I will write” etc etc.

Staying for a short period of time in the West Bank was a deeply moving experience and one that I would recommend to most people. For me, it helped put a lot of things in perspective and yet, perversely, for some it also seems to annihilate all sense of perspective.

I still care passionately about the people that I met, and with less rationality, the people I didn’t meet that live in the troubled towns and villages that I visited.

But, as much as I try and muster the will power, I am simply no longer reading Ma’an News, I have stopped listening out for what Peace Now has to say and worse of all…I no longer feel the fire of injustice that burned so fiercely when I hear about arbitrary arrests, midnight incursions, rockets and all the other bullshit that occurs on a daily basis in Israel/Palestine.

What’s happened?

I don’t know exactly. Of course, partially time… I moved countries, moved jobs, got engaged. Life moved on and before I realised it the memories that loomed in my rear view mirror that once loomed so large slipped out of sight.

Partially disillusionment, my ‘moderate’ approach (showing empathy towards people regardless of their belief, religion, skin colour, nationality etc) seemed to win me surprisingly few friends and the few friends it did win me were, so I was told, sell-outs or people ‘pretending to be moderate in order to be extreme’ (an accusation that was also regularly thrown at me).

I guess most of all, I got as tired of talking to people who weren’t listening and the people who were listening got tired of listening to me.

Don’t worry; this isn’t me giving up just being honest with myself, with you.

Just because something is difficult it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The improbability of peace in Israel/Palestine remains a weak defence for the inaction of the majority. I will proudly call for the improbable and fight the uphill fight but, being honest with myself, I can see I will be doing it at a lower intensity…dipping in and out of the insanity, commenting when I feel the strongest and feel it to be strategic.

Perhaps that is what I should have been doing from the start.

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Scorched earth and shootings, as the Israeli military stand by

This article was originally published on Liberal Conspiracy.

Scorched earth stretched out before me. To my right the fire was still burning across the hillside spreading through olive trees. To my left all that remained was charred black earth.

All around me, men were moving, unable to rest but also unable to access their land to tackle the fire. All they could do was to stand watching as their livelihoods and land burnt.

An hour earlier, 22 year old Najeh al-Safadi had tried to put out the fire on his land and had been shot in the stomach by the private security staff from the overlooking settlement. At the time of writing it is unknown if he will walk again after the bullet damaged his spine.

I was stood with some residents from Urif, a small village in the West Bank close to Nablus. Urif stands on the opposite side of the valley to the illegal settlement of Yitzhar which is described in the New York Times as, “an extremist bastion on the hilltops”.

Violent action from the settlers directed at both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and local Palestinians is not uncommon in the area. The International Solidarity Movement reported back in April 2012 that, “that hundreds of villagers [from Urif] have been injured since 2000 [by settlers from Yitzhar], with as many as 40 serious injuries (many of which were gunshot wounds) and one murder”.

Stood on the hillside opposite me, above the one hundred and fifty dunums of burning land but below the settlement of Yitzhar, were a collection of about forty to fifty settlers. A small group of them were still lighting fresh fires, hours after the original fires had been started.

Parked up and stood alongside these settlers were the IDF. The Israeli Army stood by and watched as these crimes unfolded.

A few hours later however, the IDF did intervene. Just as a small number of settlers were on the outskirts of Urif the IDF stepped in. Their contribution? To fire fifty to sixty tear gas canisters at the villagers and international observers who were monitoring the events.

The IDF has said that they, “regard this incident [the shooting] as severe and will thoroughly investigate it”. Between September 2000 to November 2011, B’Tselem sent fifty-five complaints to the Military Advocate General’s Corps regarding cases that raised the suspicion that security forces did not intervene to stop settler violence.

In only five cases was an investigation opened; two of the five were closed without any measures being taken against the soldiers involved. In eighteen cases, no investigation was opened at all. In eleven cases, B’Tselem did not receive any response.

In a flash the ambulances were gone and the only traces that were left of the violence that had just occurred were the smouldering fields and the talk of whether Najeh would make a full recovery.

I left the mayor promising him that I would do what I could to tell the world what I had seen in his village that day.

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The missing pieces of Jayyus’ jigsaw

Children are running wild around my feet, unable to decide which is more exciting, the strange foreigner holding a digital camera, or the prospect of finally seeing Ashraf Khaled.

The atmosphere almost reaches fever pitch as rumours spread like wild fire of Ashraf’s imminent return. A car alarm goes off and people break out into a short lived hysteria. The occasional firework flies into the air, the explosion resonates through the narrow village streets and leaves the children delirious with anticipation. For the last week the village of Jayyus in the West Bank has been expecting Ashraf to return. On each anticipated release day, his family would drive to Jenin only to find out at the last minute that they would have to wait for another day or two.

For many of the young boys flittering around my feet they have no memory of Ashraf – many were still in their mothers arms when he was detained eight years previous.  Perhaps this only adds to the excitement – the prospect of the unknown.

The wait is stretched out with small snippets of information being fed to the growing crowd. Someone is sure that he has left the neighbouring village, another comments that he will be here any second. I have no idea what to expect but even I am starting to feel excited.

All of a sudden the suspense spills into carnival jubilance; a procession of cars start to pour into the village. Each car has Palestinian flags and jubilant young men hanging out of the windows, sunroofs and out of places you wouldn’t believe that it was possible to hang. One man leans out of the window holding a box of fireworks firing them into the air. Soon we are encircled with loud explosions as houses all around the village let off fireworks from their flat roofs. Car horns are on permanently, men are shouting trying to be heard over the car horns and feeble stereos try their best to compete. The children, for the first time since I came out onto the street, stand still and watch the spectacle in amazement. The street fills with firework smoke, music, explosions, laughter, and giddy men embracing.

As I stand in the middle of this all, breathing the fresh evening air, I watch a community come together in a public embrace to welcome home a missing piece of their jigsaw. I have long given up asking the reason why anyone is arrested (invariably it is either for ‘security’ or ‘stone throwing’) but on this occasion I venture down this delicate line of questioning. The answer comes back with a cynical sneer. I am told that his brother was killed and he was arrested as a precautionary measure in case his brother’s death ‘radicalised’ him.

In most modern democratic countries this story would be an impossibility or at least it would be considered to be unusual. Sadly, in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory we know that at least 308 people are currently being held in administrative detention[1]. This is a clear violation of International Human Rights standards. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly states that no person should be subject to , “arbitrary arrest or detention”.

Some men are arrested for genuine security concerns, some are arrested for stone throwing, many however are held without charge or trial.

As the parade of clapped out 1980 Subaru Leones file past for the third or fourth time, I start to look beyond the explosions and the loud music and catch the occasional eye wandering into the near distance. On this night one piece of this village’s jigsaw has been returned but many more remain scattered across Israel languishing in prisons. In the last few weeks at least three of the village’s young men have been detained including the Mayor’s son. Each one leaves a hole in the fabric of this close knit community.

It remains to be seen whether Ashraf will fit back into place here or whether his body and mind has been permanently bent out of shape. Tonight the community will welcome him back with a celebration that will go onto the early hours. Tomorrow the sun will rise and cast its light into the homes of all those who have relatives in one of Israel’s prisons. For as long as the occupation continues and Israel pursues its policy of arbitrary detention the jigsaw of villages like Jayyus will remain incomplete.

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Administrative detention on the West Bank

This article was written by my colleague Bjoern Gunnar and was originally published in Norwegian and English on his blog.

By invitation from the Qalqiliya branch of Prisoners’ Club, the EAPPI team at Jayyus attended the demonstration against the administrative detention of Khader Adnan who has been detained since 18 December. Adnan is now on his 64th day of hunger strike and has lost a third of his body weight. According to Al Jazeera, the 33 year old baker was arrested in his home in the middle of the night and ‘sentenced’ to four months of administrative detention,  “World leaders have expressed growing concern over the fate of the prisoner, who is being held without charge under a procedure known as “administrative detention”. There are currently more than 300 Palestinians being held in administrative detention by Israel, without charge or trial, for renewable periods of six months, without any way of defending themselves.”

EAPPI teams do not actively participate in demonstrations, but attend to show sympathy and talk with people. Sometimes we find eloquence without the use of words.

In the small town of Qalqiliya, more than two hundred attended the demo. Not bad!
Mothers and sisters with husbands, sons and brothers in administrative detention; faces showing the destructive effects of the use of illegal imprisonment.
There is beauty to be found on the West Bank. Administrative detention is not among these. The life of Khader Adnan is on the line; a very thin line. Should he die in illegal detention, scenarios including disruptive, violent response are more than probable. Israel’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal for Khader’s release today.

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The lasting legacy of child detention in the West Bank

This article was published on WeSpeakNews – an alternative grass-roots led news service.

It is becoming a regular event but I am far from being able to normalise it. Having sound grenades go off meters from you whilst being caught in a shower of stones is not, and should not, be understood as normal. Increasingly however for the village of Jayyus it is. In the last 7 days there have been 4 Israeli Defence Force (IDF) incursions into Jayyus and its neighbouring village of Azzun.

Last night we saw three vehicles tear through the village. What follows is typical of villages across the West Bank. Children who are already on the streets start nervously at first, but soon with collective confidence, throwing stones at the IDF vehicles. We were caught out of position (between the IDF and some stone throwing kids) and so take cover in a shop. The IDF then lets off a couple of sound grenades before tearing out the village, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.

In the aftermath of this relatively small incident I talked to some of the young men on the street. One, who proudly boasts that the IDF ‘questioned him’ comments, “they asked me if I threw stones and I said no”. A stone slips out of his hand. Mostly the boys and young men are excited and exhilarated by the whole episode.

This however is in stark contrast to the Mayor of the village who I visited a few days previously. His son had been arrested during the raid on the village the night before. There is no excitement in his eyes, no exhilaration, just tired resignation. The sight of his children being taken away blindfolded and bound is all too familiar. His house had been broken into and turned upside down in search of weapons that were never found.

One ex-IDF soldier told me recently that in hundreds of house raids he conducted, he only ever found one gun. In his words, “This is about power and intimidation, not arms”.

These arrests have both immediate and long term consequences. Firstly, the children are detained, normally in the early hours, by being blindfolded and bound by armed soldiers. This is a terrifying experience by itself. The NGO Defence for Children International however describe in detail the procedure which arrested children can experience, including, no access to legal help, reports of torture and forced confessions. This treatment leaves a lasting legacy on the attitudes of these children.

The detention of minors, in this manner, clearly violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 3) and the UN Convention against Torture. What is most concerning however, is the lack of accountability throughout this system. It is often a battle to ascertain the location of any prisoner, let alone their welfare. There are entire organisations established just to help people track the whereabouts of those detained.

Those who are left in villages like Jayyus are left to hope and pray to their God to protect the children they could not. Not knowing where their children are and when (or if) they will be released, is something no parent should have to go through. As NGOs such as Yesh Din work to protect the basic rights of these children, all that is left to do for those in the village is to start sweeping up the broken glass and to keep praying to their God.

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The death of Mustafa Tamimi highlights a lack of accountability in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The death of Mustafa Tamimi is another example of people suffering from the misuse of tear gas in Israel and The Occupied Palestinian Territories. We have witnessed a series of deaths and injuries in recent years from tear gas canisters being fired directly at crowds. Tristan Anderson of Oakland California is suffering from brain damage, paralysis and seizures after he was hit in the head by a canister at a 2009 demonstration.

The Israeli army has described Mr Tamimi’s death as an ‘exceptional incident’; sadly we know this to not be the case. IDF regulations prohibit firing tear gas directly at people. It would appear though that the military regularly violates its own regulations at Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bil’in, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest.  B’Tselem has been warning officials about security forces’ fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations for some time now.

The IDF commanders need to leave in soldiers mind no doubt that they will face disciplinary action if they are caught firing directly at people with tear gas canisters. At the moment the lack of accountability is only entrenching this problem. Soldiers, and ultimately if orders are given, their commanders must face consequences for their actions.

Even the Daily Mail thinks it is a problem – enough said.

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The West Bank for Dummies – see you there

I have mentioned to a number of people that I am off to the West Bank. To my [lack of] surprise, a number of people have either been oblivious to, or at best, have a vague understanding of what/who or where the West Bank is. So here it is….the West Bank – an explanation.

Simply the West Bank is the Eastern part of the Palestinian territory – but I suspect it might need a bit more explaining than that. In 1947 the British ended their Palestine Mandate and handed control over to the UN. The UN partition agreement of the same year divided what was then Palestine into two sectors (55% for a Jewish State and 45% a Palestinian State – with Jerusalem kept separate under International control).

Inevitably war broke out instantly (47-48) and the new state of Israel was declared in June 48. This state was made up of approximately 78% of former British Mandate Palestine.

22% was left as ‘Palestine’. This was made up of the Gaza Strip (piece of land next to the Mediterranean and the Egyptian border), the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Until 1967 the Gaza strip was controlled by Egypt and East Jerusalem and the West Bank was controlled by Jordan. During the 1967 war Israel took control of all three of these areas. This area, the 22% of historic Palestine is what is now deemed the ‘occupied territories’ – the West Bank is part of this and is under military occupation and has been in one form or another since 1967.

I will try to not let this subject dominate this blog over the coming months as I prepare to go, but no promises! At least now you know where I am going even if not why/when/with who or for what explicable reason. Perhaps a few more posts to come…

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Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War