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Observing human rights in Palestine

Phil Craine in the West Bank

Phil Craine in the West Bank

Manxman Phil Craine is currently working as a human rights monitor in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was set up in 2002 following a call from local church leaders to send volunteers to monitor human rights abuses in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

There are six houses scattered across the territory, with around five people, called ecumenical accompaniers, in each – all from different countries.

Phil is based in East Jerusalem for three months.

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Israel captured the West Bank during the Six Day War in 1967, and has never left.

It has maintained its occupation over the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians for 47 years, contrary to international law and UN Resolutions.

Furthermore, with Israeli government encouragement, Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank, and now number 540,000, protected by the Israeli army.

Just four kilometres east of Jerusalem’s Old City lies the hill known as Jabal al Baba.

The location enjoys magnificent views, and the hill itself is crowned with pine trees.

Since the early 1950s it has been home to a community of Bedouin who live here in shacks and caravans, along with their flocks of sheep.

But gradually this community is being placed under siege by the separation barrier, which continues to be built by Israel, and when completed will surround them on three sides.

The Bedouin are well aware that their hilltop lies in a strategic place, directly between Jerusalem and the already-built Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummim.

Linking these up would effectively split the West Bank into two halves.

We first visited because 18 demolition orders had been issued two days earlier.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian homes are under such orders, because Israel issues so few building permits, wishing to restrict Palestinians to 30 per cent of Jerusalem’s population.

So Palestinians are forced to build illegally to accommodate their natural growth.

We met Abu Ghassan, a resident of Jabal al Baba who has been blind since 1993.

His was one of the houses affected by the demolition order. He has a family of eight and depends on his children for everything.

‘We will fight to stay here but sooner or later we will be evacuated.’

Sometimes demolition orders remain in force for years without being carried out, but not in this case. At 9am on March 12, 50 soldiers arrived with a couple of bulldozers – and razed it to the ground.

Cupboards, drawers and plumbing attachments were visible in the rubble; unusually, no time was allowed for the family to take out furnishings.

His house was built fairly recently with breezeblocks and was a cut above the other shacks and tents.

It is thought the best house was demolished as a deterrent to improvement.

We visited again to express sympathy. Abu Ghassan’s extended family live in the village and of course had taken him in.

He told us: ‘They came, they demolished, the Israeli occupation doesn’t care.

‘Ask people in your countries to help other families without homes, not just me.’

Under international law, destruction of property by an occupying state is forbidden, except in cases of military necessity.

A few days later I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial museum to the Holocaust.

Through text, photograph, testimony and artefact, the exhibits soberly display the story.

A small section at the beginning tells of the Church’s persecution of Jews for 2,000 years.

Then a procession through the horror of the Nazi years… the yellow star… the ghetto… the train… the pit.

On leaving, a verse from scripture is carved into the exit arch: ‘I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.’

A quote from one of the displays sticks with me: ‘A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.’ (Kurt Tucholsky).

Follow Phil’s blog at www.philcraine.info

 

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