What Can We Do?

I’ve been home from Israel and Palestine for about a month now. Since getting back I’ve done a lot sleeping, caught up with friends and family, ate some indian food, watched too much Netflix, and I’ve taken Freya for lots of walks. I’ve also spent a lot of time processing my time away. What did I learn? What was my impact? How should I react when hear from friends in Jayyus about the most recent set of military incursions, night raids, and senseless child arrests? What can I do here in Canada? How do I keep walking in solidarity from thousands of miles away?

I’ve also had some friends and family members ask me what they can do to support an end to the occupation, the protection human rights and international law in the region, and an end to one of the oldest conflicts our world has ever seen.

So a month later, here are a my thoughts…. Three things that people like you and I can do here in Canada and around the world to support a “just peace” for both Israelis and Palestinians.


1. READ THE NEWS WITH A GRAIN OF SALT… OR MAYBE A BUCKET OF SALT. 

Our media here in Canada does an extremely poor job of painting a realistic picture of the conflict. As I’ve spoken about in previous posts, a Palestinian who is shot by an Israeli soldier is rarely considered newsworthy. When a Palestinian child is arrested and held without charge, when the military impedes a student from getting to school, when homes are demolished, when tear gas is shot through a family’s window in the middle of the night… these stories do not make international headlines. Acts of violence committed against Israelis are covered at an alarmingly disproportionate rate, and if your only understanding of the conflict is coming from western media then you are missing a huge piece of the story.

Another reason to read our news with a grain a salt is that it tends to paint an overly cohesive picture of the Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. I would have never known before my trip how many Israelis I was going to encounter who were dedicating their lives to ending the occupation, supporting human rights, and working in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Netanyahu may be the Israeli voice that gets the most air time, but he most certainly does not represent the full spectrum of Israeli public opinion. Similarly, I would have never guessed how many Palestinians I would meet who were so openly critical of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. There are a spectrum of views in every society and Palestine and Israel and no exceptions.

Here are some alternative news sources that can help to balance out the often one-sided narrative we get here at home:

  • B’Tselem is a widely respected Israeli human rights organization that frequently updates its website with press releases, photos, videos and statistics about the situation in the occupied territories: www.btselem.org
  • EAPPI is the organization I was working for in Palestine and Israel. The organization’s blog is frequently updated with stories and perspectives from EAs currently in the field: blog.eappi.org
  • UNOCHA – oPt is the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied territories. Although this is no traditional news source, UNOCHA releases weekly and monthly reports on the the situation in the occupied territories that are easy to subscribe to by email: www.ochaopt.org
  • Haaretz is a left-wing Israeli newspaper that often sheds light on issues we don’t hear about in Canada. The newspaper’s website will often ask you to subscribe to view their articles, but if you follow Haaretz on Facebook, these articles are available free of charge: www.haaretz.com
  • The Palestine Moniter consists of a team of international journalists based in West Bank who aim to be “a counterweight to the bias against Palestine found in many international news sources”: www.palestinemonitor.org

2. VOTE!

We have a federal election coming up in October of this year. In our last two federal elections about 40% of eligible voters didn’t vote. Amongst young people aged 18-24, more than 60% didn’t turn up to the polls. Now I’m the first person to point out flaws in our electoral system. It’s a system that often perpetuates the vast inequalities that exist in our society, and it’s easy to become disillusioned and not vote at all. However, when it comes to the way our government is living out its foreign policy, I think voting in this upcoming election is extremely important. 

Canada’s foreign policy on Israel and Palestine is much more balanced than one would think from listening to our Prime Minister’s stance on the conflict. During the Gaza war this past summer, as UN designated shelters were bombed and more than 2,000 Palestinians lost their lives, our government stood idly by. The only piece of our foreign policy I heard on repeat during this time was that Israel has a right to defend itself. Our government provides a substantial amount of monetary aid to the Palestinian people, but one of the common sentiments I heard from Palestinians I met was “we don’t need aid, we need respect”.  I hope in October we can elect a government that will not shy away from condemning human rights abuses, regardless of the perpetrators. I hope we can elect a government who will begin to represent the Canadian people by being well-informed, thinking critically, and giving a damn about international humanitarian law, rather than blindly supporting a government that is currently under investigation for war crimes.


3. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU BUY.

If you’ve read much about about international campaigns that aim to support an end to the occupation, then you’ve probably heard of BDS or Boycott Divestment Sanctions. The BDS movement argues that citizens around the world should boycott Israeli goods, divest from corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights, and calls for international sanctions against the Israeli government until the country meets its obligations under international law.

I’ve met Israelis who are in full support of BDS as well as Israelis who are understandably against it. Personally, I’m not sure. I don’t see any solutions emerging from this conflict in which the state of Israel does not exist. Many of the most hard working and diligent peace activists I’ve met have been Israelis. There is also the argument that boycotting Israel will leave the major corporations and political leaders that are spearheading the occupation untouched , while only really punishing those on the lower end of the income scale like students, artists, or working families, many of whom already oppose the occupation.

In spite of this, I still believe that the way we spend our money has the potential to create change. Two economic tactics that I fully support are:

  1. Boycotting goods and services that come from Israeli settlements and the companies that supply them.
  2. Supporting the Palestinian people by purchasing fair trade Palestinian goods.

More information about boycotting settlement goods:

  • The United Nations’ call for a boycott on international businesses profiting from Israeli settlements.
  • The United Church of Canada’s “Unsettling Goods Campaign
  • A fact sheet on settlement products sold in Canada from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).
  • When settlement goods are sold at Canadian retailers their labels currently read “Made in Israel” making it difficult for consumers differentiate between products that are manufactured in sovereign Israel and products that were manufactured in the occupied territories. To learn more about the the United Church of Canada’s campaign to have settlement products clearly labelled, click here.

More information on buying fair trade Palestinian products:

  • Zatoun is a non-profit organization that sells fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices with proceeds going directly to “Palestinian farmers, children living in occupied Palestine and to create awareness for peace in Palestine”
  • Canaan Fair Trade is a Palestinian enterprise that sells fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, spreads, almonds, couscous and more.
  • Ghassan’s Gift Shop is owned and operated by 18-year-old Ghassan Al Jabari, a Palestinian teenager living in Hebron. On his website Ghassan sells hand made pottery, glassware and embroidery, most of which are hand made and locally sourced.

So there you have it. It’s been wonderful writing to you all… Thank you so much for reading! In the coming weeks, I’ll begin doing presentations about my experiences living in the occupied territories. If you’re part of a group, church, or organization that you think would be interested in this type of presentation then please don’t hesitate to be in touch by email or using the form below. I’d be thrilled to come and spend some time with you.

Salaam Alaikum, Shalom Aleychem, Peace be with you,

Zoë

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Forgotten Photos.

On Saturday I flew back home to Canada. Its been a crazy few months to say the least. As I was getting ready for airport security, I started sorting through some of my photos. Here are some of the pictures that didn’t quite fit into any other post.

Kids Draw the Occupation: Part 2.

Arab Ramadin al Janubi is a Bedouin village of about 300 people that sits in the “seam zone”. This means that the village is on the Palestinian side of internationally recognized green line, but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier that cuts deeply into the West Bank. Palestinians living in the seam zone are quite vulnerable because they are cut off from the amenities and services of the West Bank by the seperation barrier, while holding no residency or citizenship rights in Israel. Building permits are virtually impossible to get in the seam zone which leads to frequent demolitions and a lack of basic infrastructure like roads, electricity or running water. UNOCHA estimates that about 11,000 Palestinians live in the seam zone.

While in Jayyus, our group would frequently accompany the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) with their mobile clinic as it visited villages in the seam zone, including Arab Ramadin al Janubi. For the last few weeks, the Palestinian PMRS staff have not been able to provide medical support for the villages because their permits to cross into the seam zone have not yet been renewed by the Israeli authorities.

On Christmas Eve, some of my team mates and I visited the primary school in Arab Ramadin al Janubi. Just like in Azzun Atma, we asked the students to draw pictures about their lives, to help us share some of the stories we had witnessed with our friends and family back home. The school we were visiting had been fully demolished by the military not too long ago, and subsequently rebuilt by the villagers. As I looked around the village I saw many homes pieced together from planks of wood or scrap metal. I expected the students to draw pictures of bulldozers and soldiers and military jeeps… but that’s not what we got.

The pictures we received from the students living in Arab Ramadin al Janubi were not full of suffering or dispair, but were mostly full of hope. They drew flowers, houses, trees, swing sets and the doves that flew above us as we sat in the sun. Many of the students drew pictures of their newly rebuilt school, with only one boy who drew a bulldozer. Some of the students wrote the word “Gaza” in Arabic as a sign of solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters living in a far worse situation than themselves.

Kids are resilient… and they often have a knack for finding beauty in what some would call unlikely places.  Amidst the occupation, the demolitions, and the discrimination. Amidst the permit rejections, military incursions, child arrests and general lack of freedom… there are a group of kids, sitting out in the sun, drawing pictures of some of the things that are beautiful about their lives.

Wait for the Bulldozers or Demolish it Yourself?

Self-demolition is an increasing trend in East Jerusalem. This phenomena receives little international attention as it is difficult to track, both in numbers of those affected and its psychological impact.

by Emmi & Zoë, Jerusalem team

The Haq family needed to wait for the authorities to verify the demolition before cleaning up the rubble. This took one month. Photo EAPPI/M. Kjellstrom. The remains of the Haq children’s bedrooms. The family needed to wait for the authorities to verify the demolition before cleaning up the rubble. This took one month. Photo EAPPI/M. Kjellstrom.

One and a half rooms is what is left of the Haq family’s house in the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. For the family of seven, this means living shoulder to shoulder.

“It is especially difficult for the older children to share,” Huda Haq, the mother, regrets.

In addition to an 18-year old son and a 16-year old daughter, she has boys aged 12 and 9 and a baby girl aged 4. Since three months ago, all of the children have been…

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Death by Checkpoint.

On the morning of December 31st, 39 year old Ahmad Samih Bdeir was crushed to death while attempting to cross at Al-Tayba Checkpoint in order to get to work. This marks the second death of its kind at Al-Tayba in 2014.

While living in Jayyus, Al-Tayba was one of the checkpoints we monitored each Sunday. Between the hours of 4 and 6 AM our group would routinely count between 5 and 6 thousand men passing to go to work. As reported in Haaretz, “Palestinians with permits to work in Israel pass through metal turnstiles, then through metal detectors, then through inspection stations. The lines move very slowly, with workers often crowded into metal pens, unable to move in the crush of people.” Many of the workers have permits that are only valid during certain hours of the day. If a worker isn’t able to cross the checkpoint before their permit expires, then they won’t be able to get to work that day, causing panic and chaos in the line ups.

This past Sunday, about 5000 Palestinian workers at Al-Tayba refused to pass the checkpoint to get to work. A one day strike from their jobs in Israel, and a small demonstration against the conditions they experience 5 days a week.

There is very little space for humanity at a checkpoint.

Palestinian Organic Farmer Refuses to Give Up: For Fayez Taneeb, organic farming is non-violent resistance. By Emmi Kulta

Agricultural entrepreneur Fayez Taneeb welcomes a visitor to his farm. Taneeb cultivates his land in the northern West Bank, in the Tulkarm area, which is known for its fertile soil.

The day is sunny but windy, which is why he serves the tea indoors. As the air outside has a metallic smell, going inside seems like a good idea.

In his greenhouses, Taneeb grows green beans, peppers, tomatoes and cucumber. In the fields, there are herbs, lettuce, spinach, eggplant and squash. Fruit trees are heavy with fruit. The season for citrus has started.

Fayez Taneeb continues farming on the land, which has supported his family for generations. He took over after his father died in 1984. In the same year, construction work in the neighbouring lot started. The Geshuri chemical factory was moved there from the other side of the Green Line.

The Green Line is the armistice line that was signed by Israel and its neighbouring countries in 1949. Finland considers the state of Israel to exist within the Green Line. Israel occupies the West Bank, which is on the east side of the border. 

The Geshuri chemical factory had been ordered to shut down its production in its former location in Israel due to environmental issues. Israeli authorities directed the pesticide – and fertilizer – producing factory to a new location, which was in the West Bank, between Taneeb’s farm and the city of Tulkarm.

Palestinian farmers around the factory opposed their new neighbour. According to Taneeb, an Israeli farmer, on the other side of the border, was also displeased with the factory. 

“We took the case to court on both sides. In Israel, the court refused to deal with the case saying that the factory is outside its jurisdiction. For the appeal of the Palestinians, the Israelis answered that there was no proof that the factory had negative impacts on the environment”, Taneeb tells.

The legal way of getting rid of the factory did not lead anywhere. 30 years later Israeli chemicals are still being produced next to the Palestinian vegetable farm. What is more, other chemical companies followed Geshuri’s example and today, one can see a line of chimneys of multiple factories behind the high wall bordering Taneeb’s farm.

Despite the adversities, Taneeb did not give up.

“I took part in a workshop about the health impacts of chemicals. I understood that even though there is nothing I can do about the factory I have control over my own actions. I decided to turn my farm organic. This is my way of resisting.”

The farmer tells that the shift was gradual and was carried out in ten years’ time. Since 2000, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used on Taneeb’s farm.

The prominent resistance against the factory brought Taneeb problems, which escalated in the early 2000s. In the same period the area experienced the start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.

Taneeb says that he has been shot at from the direction of the factory and that the army has bulldozed his farm.

“In 12 hours everything had been bulldozed in two piles. When our fruit trees were being destroyed, my wife was crying against my shoulder. I promised her that we would plant a new orchard.”

The army tried to expel the farmer from his land arguing it was needed for security.

“In 2001, the army blocked the road leading to the farm. We carried vegetable boxes by hand over the roadblock. Later on, they prevented access completely by barbwire. For 18 months, we could not reach our land, the farmer recalls.”

The problems continued when Israel started building the separation barrier, isolating the West Bank. Today, Taneeb’s farm is demarcated by the wall of the factories from two sides and by the Israeli separation Barrier from one side. Concrete forms the background for his fruit trees.   

Taneeb has rented more land to make up for the land that was left under the separation barrier. He is full of ideas on how to improve the self-sufficiency of the farm.  The fruit drier operates with sun energy and the compost produces biogas. The rotation of crops, raised beds for vegetables and the usage of natural enemies of pests are all in the toolkit of the farmer.

However, when asked about who will carry on farming the land after Taneeb, he first answers with a silence. The farmer has five children.

“It’s difficult to answer this question. I want my children to have a good future. I do not want them to go through the same we had to with my wife. But at the same time we need somebody to stay on our land and to continue the struggle.”

(Emmi wrote this article after our group met with Fayez two times, back in November. It was originally published in Finnish in the Suomenmaa newspaper on December 2nd, 2014. The photos below are my own from our time on Fayez’s farm)

Hiking in Battir.

Just south-west of Jerusalem, amidst the hills surrounding Bethlehem and right on the fringe of the green line, sits the Palestinian village of Battir. This year, Battir became Palestine’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its tiered farm lands, stone-walled terraces that date back to the Roman era and a unique natural irrigation network that continues to distribute water from underground sources to the families of the village. In June, when Battir gained UNESCO status, the village was also added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to an ongoing legal battle with Israeli authorities over the route of the separation barrier. The proposed route would cut right through the site, isolating farmers from the land their families have been cultivating for generations and potentially damaging the terraces and irrigation system that make Battir so special.

Yesterday I had the chance to go hiking in Battir. I knew embarrassingly little about the history, significance, or legal battle surrounding the village before I got there. I was really just excited to be outside and walking through what I had heard was a beautiful place. We set out in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, on a route we found in a book called Walking Palestine. The book said our route would take us through the famous valley and up to a local hidden gem called the Maghrour Restaurant. It sounded great. The sun was bright, the air was cool and crisp, and we were in for a great day.

After a few hours of walking, a couple of wrong turns and the gracious help of some other hikers, we climbed up the side of the valley to the restaurant. When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly young man who opened the gate to the restaurant’s lot, but there was no restaurant there. The restaurant had recently been demolished, we were told, by Israeli soldiers… not once, but twice since 2012. Our new friend apologized that he couldn’t offer us any food but invited us in for coffee anyway. He showed us the land where the restaurant had been, talked about the legal processes he was going through to try to solve the issue, and told us that his family hoped they would have the place back up and running in the next few months. We talked for a while, sipped on coffee, and got directions to the next closest restaurant, an organic farm across the valley. We ate a delicious lunch overlooking a delicious view. Across the way we could still see the site of the torn down restaurant.

There have been many occasions since I arrived in Palestine when I have actively sought out the impacts of the occupation. I have chosen to stand at agricultural gates and check points, chosen to witness children having their bags searched by soldiers on their way to school,  chosen to respond to military incursions or demolition orders. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days. Whether its hitting a flying checkpoint while on days off, smelling tear gas in the distance as you walk to the corner store, or hiking to a restaurant that turns out to demolished, the impacts of the occupation are everywhere here… whether you’re looking for them or not.

 

A Tiny, Strange and Beautiful Place.

This week I visited a little Palestinian village called Yanoun, located just south of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Yanoun is a peaceful seeming place, overlooking the rolling mountains of the Jordan Valley, but it has a pretty violent past. In 2002, Israeli settlers forcibly evacuated the residents of Yanoun from their homes and from their village. After the diligent efforts of those who heard about the situation, including Israeli peace groups like T’ayush, many of the villagers were able to return home. In 2003, in response to an invitation from the mayor of Yanoun, EAs from around the world began living in the village to provide a protective presence from the surrounding settlements.

Today, Yanoun has a population about about 80 people, most of whom are children. Twelve years later, the incredibly beautiful village is still surrounded by Israeli settlements and outpots, all of which are illegal under international law. Its hard to put your finger on the atmosphere. One moment, the breathtaking landscape makes you forget you’re standing in an occupied territory. The next, you become keenly aware of the surrounding watch towers, settlements and massive spotlights that illuminate the village for those who are watching from the hilltops.

Visiting Yanoun was important for me for a lot of reasons. After spending the last few months in Jayyus, followed by a few weeks in the city, visiting Yanoun felt like coming home. Listening to the sheep bah-ing as I fell asleep gave me a certain comfort that I never thought it would. I’ve really grown to love the Palestinian countryside.

The other reason that visiting Yanoun was important for me is because of my dad. My dad worked as an EA in Yanoun three years ago now, and his experiences played a huge role in why I decided to come here myself. Watching my dad prepare for his trip, hearing over Skype about what he was seeing and doing, and listening to his stories when he got home had a huge impact on me. I feel very lucky to be his daughter.

Welcome to Jerusalem…

After a few blog-less weeks I’m back! Things have been really hectic, and due to a series of unfortunate and unexpected circumstances our team has been pulled out of Jayyus. I’m very sad to leave this wonderful village and my life of incredibly fresh fruits and veggies, the warmest hospitality, and some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

With that said, for the remainder of my time here I’ll be staying in Jerusalem. So here is a bit of an introduction to the city…

Jerusalem has been a divided city since 1948, with West Jerusalem under Israeli rule,  East Jerusalem under Jordanian occupation, and the green line running through the middle of the city. The situation changed during the six day war in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and began its annexation of East Jerusalem.

When East Jerusalem was annexed, the Palestinians living there became “residents” of Israel, but not citizens. In practice this means that Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have blue ID cards, while Palestinians living outside of East Jerusalem have green ID cards.

Since its annexation, the boundaries of the city have been continually expanded and several policies have been put in place to encourage Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, like in many parts of the West Bank. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have a lot of difficulty getting building or renovation permits, and the number of approved permits does not come close to meeting the housing need. This leads to Palestinians building without permits, and subsequently extremely frequent home demolition. In the few days I’ve been here I’ve met Palestinians who have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the military in order to make way for settlers. To learn more about the situation in East Jerusalem click here.

Over the last few months Jerusalem has been a hot spot for activity, with many home demolitions, extremely frequent clashes, and several violent attacks from one side onto the other. Here a few photos from the city…