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Trees of Peace: Olive Harvest Delegation
November 2, 2011

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Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.



Welcome to the Holy Land: On Route 443

Our delegation to Israel and Palestine jumped in with both feet. We arrived in Tel Aviv on Halloween afternoon, worked our way through a huge crowd at passport control at Ben Gurion Airport and our guide Said greeted us in the arrivals hall. While Highway Route 1 is the historic and major road connecting Tel Aviv and Israel’s coastal plane to the city of Jerusalem, our driver elected to take a newer highway called Route 443 to avoid late afternoon traffic.

In the 45 minute drive to Jerusalem, we got our first glimpse of the complexity and immediacy of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land. Route 443 has been in the news a great deal since its construction a few years ago. The new divided four-lane highway climbs its way to the North of Highway 1 traversing Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank most of the way to Jerusalem. 

Last night, during our first group meeting, we listed the many aspects of the occupation that we had observed in less than an hour’s drive, including:

Extensive and costly infrastructure that Israel has put in place in order to impose and reinforce the “social engineering” of separation. An elaborate system of roads and planned communities meant to keep Palestinians and Israelis apart and inexorably encroach further on Palestinian lands.

One new checkpoint had no fewer than eight lanes of asphalt and concrete dividers with paving stones to a series of kiosks where armed security makes sure that any Palestinian vehicles (identifiable because of the color of their license plate) are thoroughly searched before being allowed to continue on Route 443.

Initially, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories were banned outright from driving on 443. A series of heavy metal gates and large concrete cubes still prevent Palestinians from entering the highway from the dozens of communities through which the road passes. Then, in 2010, the Israeli High Court ruled that Palestinians must be allowed to use the road. Still another checkpoint, specifically located to enable the searching of all vehicles, has effectively thwarted the court order. Palestinians cannot afford the two hours (or more) typically required to go through the inspection at this checkpoint at the entrance to 443. Thus administrative bureaucracy makes Palestinian use of 443 impractical.

A second network of tunnels and parallel roads specifically designed for Palestinians makes this two-tiered system of separation extremely effective in keeping the occupation at arm’s length for the average Israeli.

We saw the “separation barrier” or security wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. Many sections of the wall are beautified to make it more pleasing to the eye of Israeli commuters that use 443. Still, the wall vivisects the Palestinian communities, dividing Palestinian from Palestinian rather than Israelis, separating one West Bank town (such as Beitunya) from another (Beit Hanina) or cutting the town (such as Beit Hanina) in half. The brightly lit separation barrier and Route 443 amble across the Judaean hills and through olive orchards.

We drove by the brightly lighted Israeli prison, Ofer, one of several dozen on the West Bank, from which many were released in the past several weeks as part of a prisoner swap of some 1,027 Palestinians prisoners for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. More than 5,000 prisoners remain in Israeli jails, including more than 500 Palestinian children.

We saw the new Israeli city of Modi’in stretching along Route 443 for miles. Modi’in and its network of satellite communities encroach across 443 to take the land of Bi’ilin and other Palestinian towns. More than one delegate commented on the obvious permanence of the Israeli “settlements.” 

We passed three Israeli military “checkpoints” on our drive. In addition to the checkpoint monitoring Palestinians who would dare to drive on 443, others check vehicles leaving the West Bank towards Tel Aviv or entering Jerusalem to the East. Our busload of American tourists was waved through the checkpoints. The location of these checkpoints has nothing to do with the former Armistice Line (the “Green Line”) between Israel and the West Bank. As Said wryly comments, the “Green Line” is rather elastic so far as Israel is concerned, and is easily moved deeper into Palestinian lands. 

On first observation, Israel impresses as a nation with seemingly endless resources to build infrastructure to enforce what one Israeli human rights activist has called a “Matrix of Control” and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin simply described as “Us here, them there.”

This system clearly and utterly rends the Palestinian “fabric of life,” by impact if not by spoken design.

- Scott Kennedy


Sheikh Jarrah: Dispossession in East Jerusalem

Sheikh Jarrah is an East Jerusalem neighborhood that lies between the northeast corner of the wall of the Old City and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, just below the Mount Scopus Hotel where our delegation is staying.  The neighborhood has been home for over 50 years to Palestinian families, who, forced in 1948 to leave their West Jerusalem homes, were given land in Sheikh Jarrah under an agreement between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government.  Since the 1970’s Israel has been contesting the Palestinians’ land claims; the disputes continue to work their way through the Israeli court system.  But meanwhile on the ground some Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted and Israeli settlers have seized their homes.

We met last night with several Sheikh Jarrah Palestinian residents at the home of Nabeel Al-Kurd.  As we entered his yard, we saw a Sukkah (a Sukkot booth) draped with an Israeli flag partially covering “Free Palestine” graffiti.  Click here for photos.

We learned that Israeli settlers had seized and for many months now had been occupying the front part of Nabeel’s house.  Nabeel greeted us and led us along the pathway to a patio by the back of his house.  As we walked, a dog barked fiercely from inside the front of the house, jumping up and disturbing the window curtains. 

We were joined by other Sheikh Jarrah residents, women who with their families had been evicted from their homes at five in the morning on August 2, 2009.  They told of “savage” evictions, with Israeli commandos with guns closing off the neighborhood, breaking down their doors, pulling them and their children out of their homes, and throwing their furniture in to the streets.  Within hours Israeli settlers had moved themselves and their furniture in.  Click here for photos.   

For over six months, these families then lived in tents outside their now-occupied houses.  Even these tents were then repeatedly destroyed (for one woman’s family, 17 different times) with their possessions taken and destroyed.  With each demolition, they were fined 500 shekels.  As these neighbors spoke with us, Nabeel pointed out surveillance cameras that the Israeli government has placed all over the neighborhood.  “We are famous,” one of the Palestinians joked.

The stories were heartbreaking.  How do these Palestinians sustain themselves and keep hope, we asked.  Nabeel stood tall as he said, “This is our place, these are our homes, this is our right, and we believe in that.” 

An elderly Palestinian woman added, “The more we are pressured, the stronger we are.” 

- Allie Perry


Elastic and Flexible: Israeli Control in East Jerusalem

Two words that describe Israel are “elastic” and “flexible.” Monday when our guide showed the "Green Line" which separates Israel and the West Bank, he called it "elastic" because it has moved significantly since the 1967 War.

Today we learned that Israeli law can be "flexible". We met Nabeel, a Palestinian man who has been evicted from half of his home in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. His story is quite complex, but part of the problem began when he built an “illegal” addition to his home. “Illegal” because he did not receive a permit for the addition - a common occurrence as Israel issues very few permits to Palestinians and the cost is prohibitive. So the addition was condemned for demolition.

Some male Israeli settlers (not a family) moved into his home. Nabeel told us he would rather have had his addition demolished, than have settler neighbors. He approached the court, which has been investigating property claims.

As we were leaving the homeowner's original house, a settler came out of the "addition."  Although his English was poor, he was able to communicate his sentiments to us: “Israel is for Israeli Jews and Palestinians are to go to Jordan!”

Traveling frequently causes a paradigm shift. I had not realized it until we were waiting in line to visit the Al Aqsa Mosque, but I had seen no house pets. The Old City had a lot of alley cats, including a remarkable calico with one gold and one (Siamese) blue eye. Many Muslims do not keep dogs, so I did not see or hear one until we drove down from the Promenade and passed a Jewish settler house with two barking Alsatians on the roof. There was no doubt these were guard dogs. The image of the guard dogs on the roof remains fixed in my mind's eye. However, I learned that they might not be all that uncommon, since we learned that the settlers in Sheikh Jarrah were known to let their guard dog loose to bite Palestinians.

- Jo  Hollingsworth


Seeing Separation

On the way from the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem, our bus drove along Route 443, one of the beautiful highways running through the Palestinian West Bank.  It was effectively closed to Palestinians.  We saw only the yellow license plates identifying Israeli cars.  This was our first experience of Israel's practice of separation and displacement.

Today we met with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions who explained that since 1967, 26,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and that their owners have been displaced.

We saw several modern Israeli settler developments in East Jerusalem, and Israeli flags flying over homes which settlers have seized from Palestinians.  We spoke with one Palestinian in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Nabeel Al-Kurd, who has had a group of settlers seize and move into the front of his house.  He explained that the settlers have been using name-calling, intimidation, provocation, and even dogs to make life uncomfortable for him and his family and encourage them to leave.

Palestinians believe the government of Israel is working hard to get them out and to move as many Israelis in as possible so that, despite UN resolutions to the contrary, Israel will eventually be able to claim all of East Jerusalem for its own.

From what I saw today, it also looks like apartheid.     

- Bud Hensgen


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