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An Ever Present Threat to Tuba

Eric and Martha arrived at the Ibrahim Bedouin family tent as the school children were returning home. These children are escorted every school day by an Israeli army jeep and under the watchful eyes of internationals to protect them from attacks by Israeli settlers. The school session ends soon, so a gift of crayons and paper seemed ideal for summer fun. No one has suggested what he might draw, but no one was very surprised at what the boy drew.
The young boy begins immediately to draw. [MPT Eric in background.]

An Israeli military jeep escorts the school children through the dangerous Israeli settlement. Note the forested hill with houses and the chicken barns.

Armed Israeli soldiers and army jeeps, a sign of protection and fear, are part of the daily life of this boy.

How different life needs to be for these children!

In the evening, the family sons, young shepherds, requested Eric and Martha to accompany them as they herded their sheep and goats near the illegal Israeli settlement. Everyone kept an eye toward the nearby house of the often-violent settler security guard.

The animals graze on the family land near the illegal settler chicken barns.
A watchful eye is needed. At any time Israeli settlers may cross
the hill to steal or injure the animals or people.

The family hopes to harvest the ripe wheat growing in their field near
the illegal settlement. Settlers often use violence to prevent harvesting.

Eric left soon for the states, but remembers the tenacity and the beauty of the people who love their life and their land. A better day is coming is everyone’s hope.

A tenacious and lovely desert flower.


Tuba, I’ll miss thee

If you’ve been reading our reports for the past few weeks, you’re already aware of some of the struggles faced by Bedouin families and the challenges of traveling to visit them.
(If not, see the reports:

http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2008/04/remote-desert-life-in-wild-west.html) The families live daily with threats of attack and danger, and on our last visit, it took us a full 2 1/2 hours to get there!

Martha tries to maneuver her way through a flock of sheep.

But if you ask me, every one of those 150 minutes of traversing hills and valleys is completely worth it. What I’ve built in my visits to the small community of Tuba are relationships that I will always remember and people I will think about when I’m sharing the story of the people of Palestine back home. In a world where you needn’t compete with video games or reality television, you actually have a chance to get to know others and have some “good old fashion fun,” something I think many in the United States forget exists. Some examples:

With the help of some dictionaries, a teammate who knows more Arabic than I do (though still not much), and the help of children who know a little English, our team has been able to discuss a school field trip, the arrest of one family’s son/brother, and other work MPT has done in different locations. It may take 10 minutes to say something that would otherwise take two, but that challenge of communicating is part of the fun and a good incentive to learn a new language.

On my first visit, the last hour before bed was set aside for the children of the family to do their homework – by kerosene lamp light. While the other teammates rested from the long journey, I enjoyed the experience of reading a book in a cave, which was as enjoyable as almost any TV show I can think of. On a subsequent visit, I talked with the 16-year-old son about his mathematics course, and it was fun for both of us to realize that he was doing work similar to those his age in the United States and that boys and girls of Palestine and the US both have a general dislike for geometry proofs!

Night time means its time to study!

On my second visit, it was near my birthday, so I shared this as a topic for conversation and asked others when their birthdays were, since I had gotten fairly proficient with my numbers in Arabic. It was interesting to learn that no one could tell me the birth date of the youngest son, signifying the insignificance such a date holds in this culture. On the next visit, I spoke of this with the other family, and soon we were also discussing my weight and height. (I am 6’ 4” and thin.) As I was pondering a quick foot to centimeter conversion, one of the boys of the family pulled out a tape measure, which led to enjoying moments of measuring one another’s height.

Children have fun comparing their heights.

And as this picture shows, an Israeli military helicopter stopped very close to the village on our last visit, right around the time Israel was inundated with prominent world politicians in connection with their independence celebrations. Though the military helicopter landing is likely connected to a nearby Israeli military base, we joked that maybe George W. Bush (a name known by everyone in Palestine, for worse rather than better ) or Tony Blair or Ehud Olmert were coming to visit the people of this small village and see their situation. “If only everyone could truly see what was going on here,” I thought to myself as we laughed together.

Is someone "important" coming to visit?

Without all the accessories and gadgets that use up and compete for our time, we’ve had time to help with harvesting wheat by hand (environmentally positive compared to a huge combine ), draw water from the well, assist in the milking of the sheep [additives in the milk], and participate in other necessary chores. I’ve played a volleyball-like game using a half-flat basketball and a pipe net until I couldn’t see anymore, though somehow the others seemed to be still going strong.

Playing "volleyball."

Doing some chores.

In a place where no one locks the door before you go to bed (if they have a door, I try to remember the wonderful experiences and not think about how these families could soon be expelled from their homes and livelihoods because of Israeli colonization of the area if something isn’t done to change the current course of events. I pray that history will write for these families, and all Palestinians, a peaceful and safe outcome to the current occupation so I might one day introduce my family to these amazing new friends of mine.


Great new friends.


Al Nakba – The “Catastrophe” Palestine 1948

The 1948 Palestinian exodus, referred to by most Palestinians and Arabs as Al Nakba, meaning the "disaster" or "catastrophe", refers to the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and lands during the time of the founding of the State of Israel and the 1967 War [Arab-Israeli War]. In 1948 more than 60 percent of the total Palestinian population was expelled. More than 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and completely destroyed. There are estimates of between 4 and 6 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, which includes approximately 250,000 internally displaced Palestinians. [Estimates vary because of lack of registration and different manners of registering by the UN, etc.] http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/171.shtml

The majority of the refugees still live within 100 km of the borders of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip where their homes of origin are located. More than one and a quarter million Palestinian refugees live in 59 official refugee camps located in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. There are a smaller number of unofficial refugee camps. A large number of Palestinians have remained in camps after more than 50 years of exile due to several factors: family and village support structure in the camp; lack of resources for appropriate accommodations outside the camp; legal, political, and social obstacles; and physical safety. www.badil.org/Refugees/facts&figures.htm

Historians have argued over the causes of the Palestinian exodus. Some “pro-Israel” historians tend to say that the Palestinians left because they were ordered to and deliberately panicked by their own leaders, who wanted the area cleared for the 1948 war. “Pro-Arab and Palestinian” historians charge that the Palestinians were evicted at bayonet-point and deliberately incited to hysteria by the Zionists. Since the 1980s, Israeli "New Historians" have presented another viewpoint suggesting the deliberate displacement of Palestinians was a coordinated plan. [The New Historians are Israeli historians of 1948 Palestine. Much of their primary source material is from declassified Israeli government papers. They include Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, and Simha Flapan. Some hold conservative political views, supporting expulsions.]

[For an interview with Benny Morris: www.pij.org/details.php?id=597">http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=597">www.pij.org/details.php?id=597

For a debate on the topic by Benny Morris, Norman Finklestein and Saree Makdisi:

Israelis celebrated 60 years of independence the week of May 8th. They invited foreign dignitaries, including President Bush, who was more than pleased with his warm welcome. Jewish people from across the globe came to celebrate the foundation of the nation of Israel. These visiting Jews were enthusiastically received with signs along the highways inviting them to make their home is Israel/Palestine.

Throughout Palestine, Palestinians remembered Al Nakba on May 15th by demonstrations, dancing, music, and workshops. In several locations, Palestinians flew a total of 21,915 black balloons equal to the days since the Nakba took place. [www.imemc.org/article/54877] One man told the MPTers that because Palestinians were such wonderful welcomers they are no longer welcome in our own country.

MPTers went to two remembrances of Al Nakba in sites in or near Bethlehem. The first was near the wall in the Aida Refugee camp. Here several hundred black balloons were sent up.

The sufferings of the Nakba are lived daily in the crowded refugee camp of Aida.

A few of the 21,915 black balloons flown
[one for each day of the 60 years of Nakba commemorated].

Black balloons float over the huge key near the camp. The key symbolizes the old keys to their homes taken during the Nakba that many Palestinians still have.

Under the hot sun, children dance traditional Palestinian dances.

This vigorous dance keeps hope alive in the hearts of the children and their parents.

The writing on the three-story illegal apartheid wall near the Aida refugee camp brings a strong message for the people of the world.

In the second remembrance, located in Al Khadr, the men prayed nonviolently on the road near the land confiscated from the village and then marched toward the end of the road leading out of Bethlehem where they were met by armed Israeli soldiers and coiled barbed wire.

Armed Israeli soldiers post sentinel on the cliffs overlooking the road on which the prayerful nonviolent protest is held.

About 125 Palestinians, Israeli peace activists, and Internationals were present at the prayer and protest.

Eric, MPTer, [red shirt and cap] sits reflectively behind the praying men.

As the group moves slowly forward, the Israeli soldiers placed a barbed wire coil as a block in the road. [Martha, MPTer, is wearing the straw hat.]

Young demonstrators sat quietly in front of the barb wire coil and the armed Israeli soldiers and jeeps.
Older demonstrators protest the construction of the illegal apartheid wall at the edge of their town which will expropriate more than 5000 acres of land, making life more intolerable for this predominantly agricultural community. [www.israel-academia-monitor.com]

What are the thoughts of these young Israeli soldiers?


Al Walaja – A Enclosed Village

Before 1948, Al-Walaja was the largest village in the southwestern Jerusalem region. After the 1948 war, Israel expelled the villagers in the northern village area and confiscated 65% of their land. The refugees from the confiscated area formed a new Al-Walaja on remaining village land. The Israeli authorities of the city of Jerusalem annexed this land after the 1967 War, but did not inform the village residents or provide services, nor give them Jerusalem IDs which would have allowed them easy entrance to work in Jerusalem. Many village refugees had already left the area because of lack of land for agriculture and high unemployment.

Beginning in 1985, more than 40 homes have been demolished, and there continue to be actual or threats of home demolitions. Michigan Peace Teamers visit the family of Ata and Fatima in Al Walaja because they are so welcoming and because the accounts of Ata and Fatima are inspiring and courageous.

Ata and Fatima have seen the houses on both sides of their home demolished despite pleading by families and neighbors. They have seen sheds holding animals bulldozed, killing the animals. Life is not easy for this family with 4 lovely school-age children. The team has seen the illegal apartheid wall enclosing the village and illegal Israeli settlements increase in the past year since they began to visit the family.

Ata after having his Jerusalem work permit denied, received 96 months of house arrest last year with no stated cause, except that his Israeli lawyer said authorities had labeled him an agitator. He has organized and protested the demolition of houses, land confiscations, and the building of illegal Israeli settlements. Through the efforts of his lawyer, which cost about $1500, his house arrest has now been lifted, and he now is able to get a 5 week-temporary work permits which takes 2 weeks [without work] to renew. This family continues their efforts against the wall, telling their story and the story of their village to all who will listen.

Grape vines and olive trees flourish on the hillsides of Al-Walaja.

The first Al Walaja, wooded area and north, was annexed to Jerusalem in 1967.

Fatima embroiders handicrafts to supplement the family income and for gifts. Ata learned to embroider when he had not worked for several months.

Illegal Israeli settlements flank the north of the village.

The stone wall is lovely to view from the settler side, but not through the two rows of barbed wire on the village side.

The illegal apartheid stone wall was built in the last year. When the wall and fence are finished, the village will be surrounded, enclosed, with only one controlled exit manned by the Israeli army.

Coiled barbed wire decorates the second fence.

Protests, demonstrations, and legal actions by villagers have not stopped the illegal wall or the fence.

Illegal Israeli settlements on the east of the village are protected by walls, fences, and gates and are built on confiscated Palestinian land.

More illegal Israeli settlements and more walls and fences. Are walls and fences for security or for securing confiscated land?

More settlements, many of which will sit empty until Jewish immigrants come to fill them. Or they may just remain empty, but secure.

Bypass roads are used only by Israel settlers.


Demonstrations at Bil’in and Al Khadr

“I hope Karin writes a story about how nobody’s here.”

As Israeli Occupation Force soldiers fired tear gas canisters overhead and shot rubber bullets, a photographer spoke these words into her phone, giving her take of the Bil’in protest MPT team members attended on 2 May 2008. It is likely she was referring to Karin Laub, an AP reporter who was present at the protest and had interviewed team members before the protest began. While the photographer may have been unimpressed by the approximately 100 Palestinians, Internationals, and South Korean press that attended the protest that Friday, the story of Bil’in is a very important one. For approximately 3 1/2 years, the village of Bil’in has held weekly nonviolent actions in protest of the confiscation of “close to 60% of Bil’in land for [illegal] Israeli settlements and the construction of Israel’s separation [Annexation] wall.” (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/discover-bilin/)

Protestors march toward the Annexation Wall near Bil’in as an
illegal Israeli settlement built on village lands looms in the distance.

Unfortunately, as so many people do, this photographer was reacting to the number of people (or lack of, in her opinion) in the protest instead of significance and reason for such protests.

This same photographer may have reacted in a similar fashion to the protest the MPTers attended on 9 May 2008 in the small village of Al Khadr just to the west of Bethlehem. According to a published news report, “Organizers say that the planned construction of the wall will result in the de facto annexation to Israel of more than 73,000 dunams, or 18,000 acres, of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area alone. 20,000 dunams [5000 acres] of this land belongs to the farmers of Al Khadr, who stand to lose their whole livelihoods.”

Israeli Occupation Forces lay down barbed wire and block traffic while
protesters simply pray for peace with justice.

The e residents of Bil’in have spent large amounts of money fighting the annexation through legal channels and have won some rulings in court. A November 2007 Israeli High Court Order demanded that the route of the wall be changed and that some land be returned to the village, yet the route of the wall has not changed and settlement expansion continues. As the residents of Bil’in mention on their website, “All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Still, Israel’s Supreme Court legalized the settlement of Mattiyahu East on our land, even though Mattiyahu East appeared to violate even Israeli law because it lacked an approved building permit. The rush to build followed President Bush’s April, 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon stating that, ‘new realities on the ground, including already existing population centers’ make it unrealistic to expect Israel to withdraw completely to the Green Line. Israel responded by expanding ‘existing population centers,’ building huge apartment complexes, like Mattiyahu East, for hundreds of thousands of people, and calling them neighborhoods in existing settlements.” (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/discover-bilin/Bilin-will-continue-to-struggle-against-the-wall-and-settlements) Palestinians must continue to protest in various ways and seek solutions in court because statistics and history show that the annexation of lands for illegal Israeli settlements still continues.

Construction continues on illegal Israeli settlements,
despite their illegality under international law.

According to a report (based on the most recent plans released April 2007) by the Applied Research Institute –Jerusalem (www.arij.org), the Annexation Wall (when completed, will confiscate 283 square miles of the West Bank, or approximately 12.9% of the West Bank’s total area [2193 square miles], a territory defined under the terms of the Green Line created by the 1949 Armistice Agreements. If the West bank were a part of the US, it would be only the 49th largest state (ahead of Delaware and Rhode Island), but it would be the 36th largest state by population, with approximately just over 2.3 million people, according to a 2007 census. This would put the population density at approximately 1,069 people per square mile, behind only New Jersey and the District of Columbia. If one does not include the areas confiscated by Israel behind the Annexation Wall and those established as illegal Israeli settlements, the population density passes that of New Jersey to approximately 1,227 people per square mile.
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Bank, http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/census2007_e.pdf, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_area, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population_density for statistical data.)

However, this should also be looked at in the context of the history of the conflict, which includes the events of 1947-1949, which Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba,” or the “catastrophe,” and commemorate each year on 15 May, with 2008 marking 60 years of such commemoration. (This date was chosen because 15 May 1948 was the day Israel declared its independence and statehood.) In 1947, the UN decided to divide the lands of the British Mandate of Palestine - those which remained after the establishment of the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946, now Jordan, - into a Jewish State, an Arab State, and a small internationally administered zone which would have included Jerusalem and surrounding areas. This plan allocated 43% of the lands to the Arab State. However, through military efforts and tactics that have been called by some ethnic cleansing (see Ilan Pappe’s recent book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine for a detailed account of the Nakba), Israel took by force half of the land originally allocated for an Arab State, thus controlling about 77% of the total area by the 1949 Armistice, instead of 56%. The West Bank was taken by Jordan, an outcome which had been secretly negotiated during 1948, and the Gaza Strip was left for Egypt. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_UN_Partition_Plan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1949_Armistice_Agreements, and http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/un-partition-plan-pal-isr.html for references and further information.)

The confiscation of land by the state of Israel began as early as 1947 and continues to this day. In a similar fashion, Israel has been employing tactics to both kill native Palestinians and drive them from their lands and homes, creating a refugee population that continues to this day. There are “4.5million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East [with] around half of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, including most of the people in Gaza, [being] refugees.” (http://www.economist.com/world/africa/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11332217) This number might be even greater if Israel had not murdered the massive amounts of Palestinians it did in the late 1940s, a killing which continues to this day. A future MPT report will include more information about the Nakba.

Protesters approach and attempt to confront soldiers but are
deterred by the multiple barriers separating them from Bil’n village’s land.

Soldiers prepare to fire off tear gas, even though protestors pose no threat to anyone.

Protesters must stop to put out a brush fire caused by Israeli fired tear gas.