Archives for posts with tag: Israeli Settlements

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”                      – Psalm 121:1.

In Palestine, you can’t help but look at the hills.  They are all around!  They define so much of Palestine.

Even in these arid months, when everything is various shades of brown, they have their own beauty and grandeur, with one hill majestically rolling-on — after — and into another. 

Despite being rock, with shallow patches of soil, sometimes these hills are dotted with olive trees.  They are also pasture to shepherds and their flocks, creating some idyllic pastoral scenes.  Often they have been tamed over the centuries with terraces.

The hills are alive! They are the life of local peasant Palestinian farmers, and Bedouins living off the land in the Jordan Valley.  

In reality, the West Bank is all about hills — both geologically and politically.   It’s about who’s on top of any given hill: Pasture for farmers, a Palestinian village, or an Isreali outpost, settlement, or an army post?  You quickly learn to spot, who is on top.

The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely about who will have most hills at the end of the day.  

In Yanoun, where I serve for three months with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), there’s a piece of me that does not want to lift up my eyes unto the hills when ever  Psalm 121 comes to mind — which is often as I walk the Yanoun valley!  (The hills actually cue the psalm in my mind.) 

Why? Because the hilltops are a graphic reminder of why I am in Yanoun, with other internationals.

Yanoun just may be the smallest surviving Palestinian village in the West Bank.  EAPPI maintains a team here 24/7/365 as a “protective presence.” 

(We also relate to and support 30 nearby villages with similar experiences and issues (land, water, demolitions, settler violence, army incursions etc.), and also the Christian communities of Nablus.)

First, and foremost, we are a protective presence and “witnesses,” because Yanoun routinely experiences settler attacks from the nearby Itamar Israeli settlement and outposts.  Yanoun is all but surrounded!  And a few of the Itamar folk are very aggressive.

To be honest, it’s a challenge to photograph the phenomena of being surrounded.  But there is one to the right, one to the left, one across from Yanoun with army presence – and one right above us!  The closest is only 400 m away!  Way too close for comfort!
 

There has been conflict at times in Yanoun as the settlers have tried to drive them out, and off their land.

The problem is that Yanoun is “in the way.”  It is in the way of a swath of settlements, and outposts running from the border between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel on the west, right through the West Bank to the Jordan River valley.

There are now several of these bands of settlement right across Palestine. 

These bands have often been been achieved through settler violence toward locals, army muscle, the confiscation of property, land, and water, and the demolition of homes and tents.

In simplest terms, it’s the living-out of the words of Ariel Sharon:
“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”  — Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998.
 

At the same time, he also said, “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.”

Yes, who ever has the most hills wins!

And the Palestinains are losing right, left, and centre!  They have been losing this one for a couple of decades!

Now, despite my hesitation, I do look to the hills when Psalm 121 comes to mind, and I will look to the God of justice and mercy, who companions us on the journey.  I hope and pray this One who neither sleeps nor slumbers will call us all — Israelis, Palestinains, and internationals; Jews, Christians and Muslims — to our best selves, to our best values, and to our sacred teachings and stories about how to be with one another — here, and anywhere!

Grace and peace…

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!

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On Thursday, the 12th, we went to visit the people in Khirbet Tana.  Like every day this week, it was very, very hot, and parched; and very, very dry with very little air moving at mid-day.  It brought to mind bits I’ve learned about Death Valley.

As the sparrow flies, it’s only 3.75 km straight east from Yanoun, where I’m staying, to Khirbet Tana.  We should be neighbouring villages.  We used to be neighbouring villages.  Now, it is, as the Irish say, “You can’t get there from here!”  Between the big hills, and the network of Israeli settlements, we first had to go south to Aqraba, west to Za’tara, north to Huwwarra and then northeast and then south east to Beit Furik, where we met with the mayor of Beit Furik.  Then it was a dirt track road 8 km to Khirbet Tana.

Khirbet Tana actually has much in common with our little village of Yanoun: Both are under threat from settlers and settlements.  It is actually on the other side of the Itamar settlement and outposts which that harass Yanoun from time to time.  And, in Khirbet Tana, the Israeli military plays its part in the transfer of land from long-term residents to “military use” and then quickly on to settlement construction.

Kirbet Tana remains home to a number of families who also summer in Beit Furik.  They summer in Beit Furik because, calling to mind Cole Porter’s song, “it’s too darn hot.”  But not everyone summers in Beit Furik.  There were families and individuals there, “holding the fort,” because if they abandon their land, even for a brief time, the settlers will take it over.  

Many of their homes are caves.  

Seemingly superior structures have been demolished over the last few years since 2005 by the military.  This impacted 35 families.  The rubble is still visible to visitors.

One collection of rubble was all that was left of the home of an 80 year-old woman!  

The school was also demolished, next to the mosque.  

But the mosque, for some reason, maybe because it was 200 years old, was spared.

They have a relatively new school, that already needs repair. They can only repair it in a way that leaves its exterior the same.

The local people told us that lately, with almost nothing left to demolish, the military tried closing-in or burying the ancient cave homes.  They also tried to destroy the ceilings from the caves.

Khirbet Tana enjoys a spring, high up a hill, on the far side of the decentralized village.  It is water for drinking, cooking, and watering their flocks.  Lately settlers and soldiers come and swim in the cistern at the spring, temporarily polluting their prime water source. It appears to be part of the strategy to drive them off their land..

So, why is such a parched piece of paradise so coveted?

The settlers have their eye on the land and on the farmers there all the time — because Khirbet Tana stands in the way of completing a network of settlements and roads for settlers, stretching from Qalqiliya — on the infamous Green Line (the original demarcation line from the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) only 14 km from the Mediterranean Sea — through to Jordan Valley.  

The Jordan Valley is coveted land for israel as it is the fruit basket/bread basket of the West Bank.

This crooked finger of settlements extending deep into the West Bank is one of several such “fingers” penetrating the West bank and heading down into the coveted Jordan valley.  

Right now, many families are being driven from the Jordan valley so it can be military use land or military firing range.  But, that is the prelude to settlemenst, rather than some bona fide military activity.

Our visit to Khirbet Tana further rounds out my education about the issue or question of settlements.  Very, very naively — and I thought I was up to speed — when I first came to Palestine in November 2010, I thought the issue or settlements in the West Bank was largely a thorny border issue to be hammered out in any peaceful negotiations over a two state solution for Isreal and Palestine. Boy was I wrong! It’s way past being a border issue, or a security issue.  There are dozens of settlements and settlement outposts deep, deep into the West Bank.

United Nations color-coded maps have been very helpful in seeing that there are several fingers — more than a handful — of settlement networks reaching far into the West Bank and on to the edge of the Jordan Valley.  

It appears to be a blatant land grab!

The goal is to close the gaps.  Some say it turns Palestine into Swiss cheese.  It’s more like a Dagwood sandwich — with some layers Israel and some layers Palestine!  

The Palestinians we talk with, keep reminding us internationals that the years of the Oslo Peace process was for them “a second occupation.”  There was no halt in settlements, despite official promises to the contrary.  In fact, there was an acceleration.

And to this day, the settlements keep spreading their tentacles from hilltop to hilltop. And God forbid that anyone gets in their way, neither man, woman or nation state.

They are a tenacious lot.  Determined!  They love their ancestral lands and living on the land in this traditional manner.  They have a saying: Existence is resistance.

This is a hot and a thin place.  I have experienced amazing hospitality and seen “water from a rock” — way up the hillside, near the crest of the hill.  It sustains and refreshes flocks, herds, and the people on the land.

Grace and peace to all,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog. Thank you!