Kids Draw the Occupation: Part One.

On Sunday we had the pleasure of spending our morning with a class of grade two students from one of the schools in Azzun Atma, a village where we monitor access to education. We explained to the students that in January, my team mates and I will all be going back to our home countries and that we’ll be trying to tell the story of what we’ve seen here in Palestine.  We asked if they would be willing to draw some pictures about life in Azzun Atma, to help us tell the story. The photos that follow are some of the drawings we received, pieces of the stories of some 7 and 8 year olds who live and go to school in Palestine.


A Strange But Hopeful Morning.

This morning started off a lot like most mornings. I rolled out of bed around 5:15, put a granola bar in my pocket, sleepily got into Abed’s taxi, and headed out to the gates. We arrived at the first gate quite early, so we found a spot around a fire with some local farmers and sipped on arabic coffee to keep ourselves warm.The soldiers arrived, opened up the gates and one by one the farmers passed.

The next gate we visited is in a village called Zeita, where typically only women and children cross to work on the land. Its become a favourite gate to visit amongst our team because the women there are so friendly. Again we arrived early, so we huddled around another fire with the women and waited for the soldiers to arrive.

Soon enough, three soldiers pulled up to the Zeita gate and began opening it up. At most agricultural gates there is one gate on the Israeli side that is actually attached to the rest of the separation barrier, then there is another gate on the Palestinian side, not connected to the separation barrier, but surrounded by heaps of barbed wire. Today, for whatever reason, the soldiers couldn’t get the second gate to open.

The soldiers each took turns coming to try their hand at opening the lock while all the women watched and waited. One woman offered some olive oil to the soldier so that he could oil the lock. He gave it a try, but no such luck. After a while, most people at the gate were laughing… soldiers, women and children alike. It was an absurd situation and everybody knew it.

The soldiers seemed to be at a loss for what to do next, but they didn’t want to leave the women and children waiting at the gate, so along with some of the local Palestinian men, they tried a few different ways of helping everyone to cross. Eventually one of the soldiers and one of the local men managed to crush down some of the barbed wire to the left of the gate, putting a board over top of it so that the women and children could cross. One soldier stood at the barbed wire, held women’s bags or buckets, and helped them to climb through.

Usually, taking photos at the gates you have to be quite subtle with your camera. If you get caught snapping photos by the wrong soldier, they will confiscate your camera and delete your pictures. Many of the photos featured in this blog so far were taken by a camera hidden half inside of someone’s pocket. Today, after all the women and boys had crossed, one of the soldiers told my team mate that we should take pictures of what happens at the gates and send them to the UN, adding that he doesn’t want to be at this gate any more than the women do.

I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down lately. Little things pile up and sometimes it’s hard to see what kind of solutions could ever emerge from this mess of a situation. Today alone we’ve heard of two people shot, several needing medical attention because of tear gas, the gates of the a nearby village were sealed off, and someone was attacked by a settler.  There are many things about the occupation that are absurd, but there is no doubt in my mind that persistently compassionate people exist on both sides. This morning was a good reminder of that.

At the Gates.

Six days a week we get up in the early morning to monitor freedom of movement at agricultural gates where Palestinian farmers cross by barbed wire and soldiers to get to their land. Here’s a few photos from the gates…



Impending Demolitions in Hajja.

On Tuesday we visited the village of Hajja a few days after at least 5 demolition orders were delivered by Israeli soldiers to local families. Amongst the buildings set to be demolished are a local wedding hall, a furniture factory that employs 45 people, and several family homes. Part of Hajja, along with over 60 percent of  land in the West Bank, is located in Area C (UNOCHA). This means that the land is under full Israeli civil and military control. According to Israeli authorities, when buildings are demolished in Area C it is because the owner was not granted the proper permits to build on the land. According to UNOCHA,  it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits to build in Area C. So far in 2014, 548 Palestinian structures have been demolished leaving 1,230 people displaced (UNOCHA).

The Masalha family wedding hall.

The Masalha family wedding hall.

Bilal Nur al-Deen in his family’s wedding hall, set to be demolished.

The Alawi family furniture factory, which employs 45 local people: Under demolition order.

Chairs in the Alawi family’s factory.

Motassem Alawi and his son Abdel Rahim in their family’s furniture factory, set to be demolished.



Cooking with Lina.

Lina is a local woman from Jayyus, our driver Abed’s wife, and an incredibly warm and caring lady. We learned quickly after arriving in Jayyus that on top of all of these things, she is also an outrageously wonderful cook. Today we spent our afternoon learning to make a Palestinian dish called “Maqloobeh”, Arabic for upside down. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

A Village Surrounded By A Wall.

Azzun Atma is a Palestinian village of 2000-3000 people, entirely surrounded by the separation barrier and four Israeli settlements. We go to Azzun Atma a few times a week to monitor the checkpoint at the entrance of the village, where about 90 children and 40 teachers pass each day to get to school, as well as a workers checkpoint at the other end of the village used by those crossing to work in Israel. No Palestinians are allowed inside of Azzun Atma unless they have a proper permit saying that they live in the village or go to school there. The boy’s school in the village sits right up against the separation barrier, overhung by Sha’ara Tiqwa settlement, Hebrew for “Gates of Hope”. Today we met with the headmaster of the boy’s school who told us that once or twice a month the settlement releases their sewage into the school yard where the children play.

Houses in Sha'ara Tiqwa settlement overlooking Azzun Atma.

Houses in Sha’ara Tiqwa settlement overlooking Azzun Atma.

Security fence?

Sha’ara Tiqwa settlement behind the barrier.

Children passing through the military check point to go to school.

Workers trying to get to work.

Azzun Atma Boys School, with Sha’ara Tiqwa settlement sitting above.



Ten Boys Shot in Ya’bad.

Two weeks ago, on October 28th, we received a call letting us know that several boys had been shot by Israeli soldiers  in a town called Ya’bad, not far from Jenin. Our contacts say that ten boys were shot and four of these boys, all between the ages of 17 and 20, were admitted to hospital. One boy remains in hospital after surgery to address a broken femur from his gunshot wound. Last week we had the opportunity to speak with one of these boys two days after he was released from the hospital. His name is Sharaf, he’s 20 years old, and he currently attends university in Nablus, studying Business Administration.

Sharaf told us that on the evening of October 28th, he was spending time in an internet cafe like he often does, when three military jeeps entered Ya’bad. Since this happens quite regularly, Sharaf says he paid little attention to what was going on outside, and stayed inside the cafe. When sound bombs began to go off outside, the owner of the internet cafe decided to close up shop, so Sharaf had to leave. Sharaf says he left the shop, was crossing the street, and was shot in the leg from behind with live ammunition. As he was lying on the ground, he was shot again in his other leg. The soldiers that shot him were about 200 meters away.

Some of Sharaf’s friends found him on the street and an ambulance was called. Sharaf says he was losing a lot of blood, and came in and out of consciousness a few times. His friends brought him to a local clinic in Ya’bad where he received preliminary care. Several local contacts told us that Israeli soldiers held the Palestinian ambulance at the entrance to the town for about half an hour before letting it pass to care for the injured boys.

We’ve heard from members of the local municipality that soldiers enter Ya’bad almost every day. Sometimes they use tear gas and sound bombs, sometimes they just drive around with loud music on, other times people are shot. In the same week as this incident, a Palestinian attempted to kill a right wing Jewish activist in Jerusalem and the story received international media attention. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the events in Ya’Bad weren’t even picked up by the local press. As we were leaving Sharaf’s home, our driver and translator Abed went over to Sharaf and showed him one of his old gun shot wounds. Very many men you meet in Palestine have been shot at least once.

Sharaf, age 20, two days out of hospital after being shot by Israeli soldiers.

Soldiers Come to Jayyus.

On Tuesday afternoon we got a phone call from one of our neighbours letting us know that 5 military jeeps had just pulled into Jayyus. We went out into the street and sure enough there they were: 5 jeeps, probably about 20 soldiers, and several locals trying to figure out what was going on. They arrived around the time that school gets out here, so sure enough, most of the people in the street were kids.

As some soldiers stood guard, pointing their guns, and yelling at people that got to close, the rest of the soldiers went into our local bakery and began requesting IDs from those inside. One of my colleagues went up to a soldier and asked them what the problem was. The response we got was “there is no problem”.

After looking at the documents, and asking questions of those in the bakery,  the soldiers got back into the jeeps and started moving down the road. One boy threw a stone that hit a jeep, and the soldiers let a sound bomb go.

About a block down the road, the soldiers got out of their jeeps again, and seemed to ask more locals for identification. They stayed there for a while, let a few more sound bombs go, and got back into their jeeps.

As the jeeps pulled out of the village one of the soldiers waved at us with a big smile on his face. At first I thought, that’s odd, why is he being so friendly? A moment later, my burning eyes informed me that they had just let tear gas go. They threw the tear gas in both directions down the street as they drove away, so many of the kids in the street were caught in the middle of the gas with nowhere to run.

In our first week here, we had a session with an incredible Israeli organization called Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence is a group of veteran Israeli soldiers, working to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories” (Breaking the Silence). The man we met with talked a lot about how much of his training and instruction in the army surrounded “making your presence felt”. He talked about the practice of arresting innocent people as part of training exercises and giving people a hard time so that they remember who’s in charge.

There were no arrests made in Jayyus on Tuesday and besides the tear gas, no one was physically injured. We’ve heard that the owner of the bakery is thinking about leaving Jayyus, but for the most part people have just moved on.

Despite this, I can’t stop thinking about what happens when kids grow up in an environment where soldiers are constantly reminding them that violence (be it structural, emotional, or physical) is what power looks like. I don’t know why this is a lesson that anyone would want to teach a child.