Before Women in Black (WIB) began in Israel, there were earlier movements of women who demonstrated on the streets against political oppression in South Africa and Argentina.In 1987, 20 years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian intifada began. WIB in Israel began as response to the violence in 1988. Women gathered weekly to hold silent protest for peace wearing black clothing, a sign of grief for lives affected by the violence of militarism and war.
Israeli WIB have been recognized with peace awards in 1991,1994, and 2001. Today there are WIB organizations in over 40 countries. http://www.haaretz.com/news/
After the demonstration, the group gathered for a photo. In addition to the women(and men) from Israel, there is pictured MPT and people from Interfaith Peace Builders based in Washington,D.C.
In a valley south of Nablus lie a number of villages. MPT talked to Ali Omar from Huwwara who works for the Palestinian Authority. The village in the picture is Oldala, to the right- out of picture range - is Beita.
Each village in Palestine grew up around a spring, where water comes to the earth’s surface usually part way down these low mountains. In this semi arid region, water is very precious. Illegal Israeli settlements locate on tops of mountains and drill deep wells to access the water.
A Settler uses 8 times the amount of water an average Palestinian uses according to Ali Omar. There is also a problem of mountain top settlements discharging their sewage down to Palestinian communities.
The village of Oldala’s spring is 100% dried up. The Palestinian Authority closed the water bottling plant in Beita five days ago because of sewage contamination to the water.
The illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar is west of these villages. The settlement was founded in 1984 “ to take advantage of the large reserve of state lands. Itamar is known for the many farms and hamlets (outposts) the dot the otherwise barren hills east of the village” http://www.middleeastexplorer.com/Israel/Itamar
Friday MPT participated in the nonviolent demonstration against the apartheid Wall in Bil’in for the second week in a row. We were privileged to meet not only some of the brave Palestinians we observed in the film Bil’in Hababti but also many astounding internationals who attend each week to support Bil’in’s struggle for freedom and justice.
We met a young man who is paralyzed after being shot at a demonstration some years ago and now attends the weekly demonstrations in a wheelchair, wearing a gas mask and sometimes filming the action. We met members of the families Abdullah Abu Rahmah and Adeeb Abu Rahmah, who are both in prison for their nonviolent resistance.
Palestinians opening the gate at the apartheid fence, Israeli Occupation Forces behind cement barrier
We met Khamees Agurahma, a 29 year old man who sustained a head injury from the kind of tear gas canister that killed Bassem, the man who was known as the heart and soul of Bil’in. After 8-10 days in a coma and being paralyzed for 4 months, Khamees is much better but not completely healed. He still attends the demonstrations but “stays back” now. He helps out as a caretaker of the International House that the Popular Committee of Bil’in provides for the lodging of the many internationals, a courtesy MPT accepted last week. Khamees stated this type of canister has been made illegal now. Khamees was injured Jan 23, 2009. He is Bassem’s cousin.
We met Iyad Burnat who was also in the film, participating in the demonstration with some very creative messages the Popular Committee has put together. He is the acting leader of the Committee, since the imprisonment of Abdullah Abu Rahmah and continues to play a very active role in the weekly protests. He spends a lot of time with the various internationals, explaining the various methods of Boycott, Deinvest and Sanctions, which the Popular Committee all over Palestine endorses.
We met a Norwegian parliamentarian and mayor, both in Bil’in to observe and participate. We met two young women from So Korea, a young man from Spain, two young women from Poland, all spending their vacations with International Solidarity Movement (ISM), picking olives and supporting Bil’in. The young women who provided our orientation for international “first timers” were Israelis from Tel Aviv, one a Ukrainian immigrant. There was a group of senior citizens from Oxford, England, an author of children’s books from Indiana. Women from the Netherlands encouraged us to change our government’s policies concerning Israel/Palestine and acknowledged the hypocrisy of their own country. There was a young man from Germany who works in Ramallah and his visiting mother in law.
We met Emily Schaeffer, an impressive 31 year old Human Rights attorney, who is an Israeli immigrant from Boston. She devotes most of her time to working on legal issues of Palestinians, such as the battle Bil’in has fought to get their land returned to them, and the trials of Palestinians arrested for speaking out against the wall. She is a regular visitor to Bil’in, traveling frequently from her home in Tel Aviv.
It is so encouraging to witness the persistence of the Palestinians and the support of the internationals. The atmosphere is very enthusiastic. It feels so good to be a part of that, one can forget momentarily that in spite of these positive forces for good, the Palestinians are still living in a large crowded prison.
Meet Handala. He is a Palestinian refugee who represents the sadness and hardships endured by the Palestinian who longs for a homeland with justice and human rights. Although created in the 1970’s by Naji Al-Ali, the Handala figure can be seen on t shirts and painted on walls throughout Palestine.
Balata Refugee Camp, one of the largest in the West Bank, is located in the southeastern section of Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, directly across the street from the religious shrine known as the ancient Jacob’s Well. It exists in stark contrast to the elaborate cathedral and lush green gardens, well tended by a staff. In Balata camp there is almost no green to be seen, mostly just gray cement.
Approximately 800,000 Palestinians were kicked out of their homes in 1948, when Israel declared itself a nation, in possession of the native Palestinians’ land and homes. At first the Palestinians were determined and hopeful of return to their homelands but after a few years some accepted the United Nations (UN) offer of refugee camps. Balata is one of these UN camps.
Mustafa Farah, the tour guide and translator at Balata, explained some of the history to MPT members today. Originally, the one square kilometer was home to 4-5,000 refugees, living in tents, with 2-4 public bathrooms. Over the years the UN built very small cement block houses in place of the tents and the population has grown to 25-26,000 inhabitants. The houses are built with adjoining walls; the streets are very narrow passageways. A very large person is not able to pass through them. As the families have grown they have expanded their homes up, adding more stories, as they have nowhere to go horizontally. They must stay within the space of their original tent. Mustafa showed us one the “uninhabitable” houses originally built by the UN, and yes, there is a family living in it.
The great-grandchildren of the original residents are now growing up in the Balata camp. These generations of refugees have experienced all manner of horrors of the Occupation, e.g., killings, incarceration, closed schools, demolished houses, and curfews preventing people from getting to medical care, school, and work. Some of these conditions have improved since the end of the second Intifada, “We are able to breathe,” stated Mustafa. But these Palestinians are still plagued by serious issues of overcrowding, unemployment, lack of educational, medical and social resources.
For the last 6 years the village of Bil’in has organized weekly nonviolent demonstrations protesting the Israeli separation wall which denies access to 60% of the village’s land.
MPT viewed these pictures before Friday’s scheduled protest. The play material pictured is spent ammunition that Israeli soldiers used against the demonstrators.
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Palestinian olive trees in Kafr Qaddum are steps away from a back entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement of Qedumim. Today the Israeli army declared this area a closed military zone. MPT, Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers are told by the army that non-Palestinians must leave the area. While the orders to leave were being clarified, two 50 kilo bags of olives were harvested by the Palestinian farmers and loaded onto the pictured donkey.
A RHR representative talks with a Palestinian farmer. Each Israeli activist( RHR) and international volunteer was thanked personally by the farmer for the help that was given today.
A family from the small village of Kafr Qalil was picking very near the settlement of Har Brach. When angry yelling was heard from Israeli settlers, MPT talked on the cell phone with Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) explaining the situation at the request of the Palestinian farmer. The District Commanding Officer of the Occupying Israeli army was contacted by RHR representative. The Palestinian farmer appeared increasingly anxious; there has been a history of harassment including violation and destruction of property. MPT saw evidence of illegal grazing and burned land. The farmer and RHR requested MPT to take pictures of any settler aggression. An Israeli military jeep with 4 soldiers drove to the settlers’ goat watering pond and talked to the settlers. From the valley below the picking area, the soldiers observed the Palestinian family and the 4 internationals with photo equipment. Although the soldiers remained with the settlers, the farmer decided to pick in a safer area.
Omar uses his donkey to transport tarps and bags to the picking site.
For the past three days MPT has accompanied Omar, a Palestinian farmer to his olive trees. A month ago he had 350 trees burned by the settlers. Today he heard that the Israel army would come to protect him from the settlers but the army didn’t come. Omar used his cell phone but was unable to learn why the army didn’t come. He chose to pick olives in a safer valley area further from the Israeli settlement of Har Bach.
In spite of the many hardships, Omar continues to experience, both he and his son could be heard singing Arabic songs while picking olives.