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MPT’ers met Mazin Qumsiyeh in Al Walaja

"Wall being constructed, after cutting down trees"
Michigan Peace Team met with Mazin Qumsiyeh, a university professor of genetics who teaches at Yale and University of Bethlehem. Attending one of his seminars, MPT’ers learned about the troubles of the Bethlehem District; of which only 20% is allowed for Palestinians. The lecture was held right next to the
Dheisheh Refugee Camp; one the largest areas of buildup for Palestinians. The camp having expanded since its creation in 1949 was set up primarily for 3,400 refuges of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
After the seminar, Professor Qumsiyeh then led MPT and Italian peace activists to Al Walaja a small village outside of Bethlehem that is currently being enclosed by the separation wall on all sides. During MPT’s visit we met with a village farmer who watches daily as the wall is being constructed in back of his home, within feet of his small farm. When MPT’ers arrived to see how close the wall was being built, almost immediately the construction was halted. Within five minutes the Israeli Police came onto the farmers land questioning who the internationals were and why they were there. Not wanting to escalate the situation, Professor Qumsiyeh, MPT and the Italian activists decided to retreat to the farmer’s house. One can quickly recognize after visiting the farmer in Al Walaja and witnessing the construction of the settlement wall, the Israeli police don’t want internationals taking pictures of the wall being built. If people are not allowed to simply watch a wall being built on a friend’s property, one must ask what Israel is so concerned about? Perhaps, it is because Israel is aware that international law is being broken.

The tale of two demonstrations: Bil’in and Iraq Burin-Palestine

MPT’ers had the chance to see two nonviolent demonstrations in the occupied West Bank territories of Bil’in and Iraq Burin.

MPT arrived in Bil’in the night before the weekly Friday demonstrations. All throughout the village, there was a presence of unity and strength from the internationals; including many Israeli activists. In Bil’in weekly protests continue for the loss of almost 60% of their land for Israeli settlements and the separation wall. The morning of the demonstration, all the Bil’in locals and internationals met at the home of a Palestinian man who has been imprisoned; and was still being held without a charge or a release date. This particular man is well recognized in Bil’in as a person who upholds non-violence behavior and attitudes, and therefore is a person that Israel would rather lock away than see at weekly demonstrations.
Before making the way towards the demonstration all internationals were given a briefing session about what to expect and how to take care of oneself during a demonstration. As the procession made its way towards the heavily guarded separation wall there was a sense of pride the among the Palestinians and they were grateful not to be alone in their fight for basic human rights; such as the right to peacefully protest against land that has been illegally acquired by Israeli forces
The fearless Palestinian leader of the procession, who happens to be wheelchair bound, was followed by internationals hailing from all over the world; the United States, France, Germany, Norway, Ireland and England. Before the demonstrators made their way toward the fence, heavily armed guards illegally entered the side where the demonstration was being held and proceeded to litter the sky with tear gas. Anytime the demonstrators were able to regain their breathing and marched back, more tear gas was used to retaliate. This series of events occurred for approximately two hours, until one of the Palestinian members stated “Ok, enough for today; we have a wedding to get ready for.” MPT observed how dedicated and planned out the Bil’in community was for the demonstrations. Even before a wedding, the community will not back down from a peaceful protest.

Iraq Burin
Iraq Burin a small village south of Nablus is home to nearly 1100 people. The village is under a closed military zone, primarily meant to keep away internationals and journalist from reporting the scenes and actual events that occur during the Saturday demonstrations. Because the village is closed and internationals have a more difficult time accessing the village, Iraq Burin tends to be more violent. It has been reported that many of the tear gas canisters are shot directly at the demonstrators. Three MPT’ers were invited to the demonstration in which there would be an alternate route taken to enter the village. Since the main entrance to Iraq Burin is a closed military zone, MPT hiked nearly a mile up the valley to avoid the army and to enter the village. There MPT was shown where to meet the demonstrators and begin the procession to the demonstration site. Geographically the protests take place behind the village on the slope of a rough and dangerous terrain. They army stands on the top of the hill and waits for the young shabob[1] to aggravate them before showering the protesters with tear gas. Two MPT members agreed to enter the demonstration site to gather more information and witness how the Israeli military acts more aggressively when the international presence is weakened by a blocked military entrance into the village. In the attached video, one MPT member documented how the soldiers do not waste any time administering tear gas directly towards the demonstrators, once the first stone had been cast. The materials used are quite different; a stone sent in the direction of fully protected and armed soldiers, or high velocity metal canisters sent in the direction of people armed with cameras and peace signs.

[1] Shabob: A group of young Palestinian boys


War on Children

MPT: Asira al Qibliya

MPT followed up on an incident that occurred last month in the village of Asira al Qibliya. The case was dealing with a boy who had been forcibly taken from his home and sent to a prison for 22 days. Last month, MPT filed a human rights report to the United Nations within days of the incident.

After hearing the news that the boy was back with his family, MPT was invited to the family home to hear more about the ordeal the boy and his family went through. On June 10th, 2010 around 2am a young boy who had just turned 16, (this occurred on his birthday) was awakened by 50-70 soldiers who surrounded and entered the home by force. The soldiers took the boy away from the house and handcuffed him; put him in the back of a military jeep. All this was done without saying anything to the boy or the parents; he was just taken away.

The boy was present during MPT’s visit to his home and he gave some information, but at times seemed very despondent and agitated. The boy did not find out why he had been taken away until eight days after being detained and appearing before a court. The reasoning behind seizing him was that the boy was believed to have started a fire on Palestinian’s land in the village. Coincidently, there is an illegal Israeli settlement near the boy’s house where the fire had been started. There had been no witnesses or evidence that the boy had started any fire, only suspicion because he resides near the scene.

On the basis of suspicion the boy was taken in the middle of the night from his family’s home without any reason given. After the initial court appearance the boy and another village boy, age 15, were sent to the basement cells for holding. There, the boy was confined to a cell, 1 by 2 meters; where he ate and used the toilet for six days. The boy lost track of time and never knew if it was day or night. Although the boy was not beaten, he was verbally abused by soldiers who told him they were going to torture him with electric shock and hang him by his legs upside down, unless he confessed to starting the fires. To add to the bleak conditions and verbal abuse, the boy never knew when he was going to be released.

Finally, after the six days he was brought back to court for a trial where he was able to see his father. He had no recollection of how long he had been gone. When the judge asked the boy if he started the fires, he responded that he had not set any fires. He was held for several more days after he was found not guilty and let go.

It’s difficult to imagine that this sort of cruel and inhuman treatment can be done from one human being unto another, let alone in this case being done to a child. Through numerous human rights violations such as depriving the detainee of family visitation, and psychological abuse it seems Israel has taken a new front on scaring the future generations of Palestinians from having basic human rights.
Photo courtesy of Land Research Center


Aqraba: Never Enough

Aqraba, a large village of almost 10,000, lost over 76% of its land to Israel since the 1967 war. The confiscated land was used to build four illegal Israeli settlements, including “Natural Areas” and “Military Areas.” 

Later much of this land, stretching toward the Jordan River, was declared Area C, which means Israel has total administrative and military control. Part of the confiscated land was also declared Area B, which means Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control. In any dispute, however, the final decision always is made by the Israeli military.

This village has suffered from continual clashes from nearby settlements. MPT visited the village in June 2010 where they saw the site where 2 young men from Awarta, a nearby village, were killed probably by Itamar settlers in March of 2010. [See the June blog of MPT’s visit to the village of Aqraba and the work of villagers with an agricultural organization: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/06/aqraba-76-land-loss.html]

MPT visited Aqraba on July 12th at a villager’s request, because Israeli settlers were plowing Palestinian land in Area B. MPTers met with the Union of Agricultural Works Committee (UAWC) and the mayor of the town. The land being plowed by the Israeli settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar mostly belongs to the mayor and his family.

The settlers come into the groves in the early morning and at night time to plow the land. These recent actions of sneaking onto the land to cultivate it, in an area clearly not near the settlement causes feelings of anger, frustration, fear and despair to the citizens of Aqraba. The Israeli government uses an old Ottoman Empire’s land ownership law that allows it to seize any land uncultivated for more than 3 years. Organizations such as UAWC work with Palestinian farmers to “recuperate” land by building terrace and planting olive trees in Area C and B.

As an added aggravation to the situation, the Israeli Occupation Forces [IOF] limit Palestinian farmers to only 2 days to plow the olive groves and another 2 days to harvest the olives. The farmers often need several weeks to both plow and harvest.
The mayor asked, “How would you feel if you grew a tree, and cared for that tree; then you find out someone has been entering the grove and taking the tree for themselves?”

He went on to explain, that there is nothing that can be done to protect the trees or the people themselves from settler harassment. The Palestinian Security Forces [the Palestinian military or Palestinian police] do not have any power against settler or Israeli army [IOF] illegal actions.

The mayor asked MPT to relay one message “Please tell the American people that the Palestinians are peaceful people who want to live in peace with the world. We don’t want the settlers to take our land.”


Sheik Jarrah observations

MPT in Sheik Jarrah

Nearly one year ago two households consisting of eight families were forcibly evicted from their house in the Sheikh Jarrah section of East Jerusalem. On a recent visit through the neighborhood MPT noticed how some family members take refuge outside under a shade tree across the street from the house they no longer live in. The house is currently occupied by Israeli settlers.

Upon walking closer to the house, MPT’s attention was drawn to what appeared to be an interview in progress. Two older Palestinian men, heads of the evicted household were being interviewed and filmed by internationals from Japan, Norway, England and the United States.

The Palestinian man stated that the interactions with his new “neighbors” are peaceful and the situation has to remain calm, so one day he and his family will have a better chance of returning to their home. One of the men stated, “There is no need for violence, so we just have a peaceful struggle.”

The men hold onto the hope that the freeze on settlements will indeed take effect in the fall of 2010. Additionally, with an impending appeal from the Israeli High Court this fall to further investigate the eviction process, the men and several international supporters meet in solidarity every Friday to hold non-violent protests.

In last Friday’s demonstration, nine non-violent protestors were arrested. Those arrested were mainly Israeli peace activists. Click on the link below for a more recent overview of the situation, courtesy of Haaretz online publication.

Iraq Burin: Closed Military Zone

Iraq Burin, a village a few miles to the southwest of Nablus, lost more than 25 acres to the illegal Israeli settlement of Bracha and prohibited from entering another barrier section which contains a well. This village is the scene of frequent incursions of settlers, hurling rocks with sling shots and Israeli soldiers who shoot tear gas canisters shattering windows in homes when children are present. Since 2009, residents of this small village have gathered to resist the theft of their land and the attacks to raise their voices against the occupation. In March 2010, two youth were killed, shot by the Israeli Occupation Forces, in a peaceful demonstration.

[For a report of the shooting of the 2 youth by the UNESCO Chair of Human Rights, Democracy and Peace at An-Najah National University] see http://stopthewall.org/enginefileuploads/content/iraq-burin-r.pdf ]

On July 10th in the outskirts of Iraq Burin, Palestinian and internationals peace activists gathered in front of the Israeli blockade into village. To control the Saturday protests that continue weekly as in Bil’in, the Israeli army closes of the village, declaring a closed military zone for 24 hours to stop journalists and peace activists from entering the villages.

Many international peace activists still find alternate ways into the village to document the violence the military perpetrate on the villages. MPTers also noticed that twice the Palestinian police car passed by the demonstration. What their role was is not certain.

Below is raw gonzo footage of Palestinians and international peace activists during the demonstration on July 3rd. They faced the Israeli army shooting tear gas directly at them from the top of the hill.


- Day in Jerusalem – City of Peace!!!

As the [Michigan Peace Team] MPTers team got adjusted to the new country, they visited the Western Wall and The Dome of the Rock. The wall is the most important Jewish religious site in the world and the hottest tourist attraction in Jerusalem. After seeing the Western Wall a testament of time and the many empires that ruled it, the next stop on the map was heading to the Dome of the Rock, the second most important Islamic site in the world. They were stopped when they tried to pass through one of the entrances and told to find the non-Muslim entrance. A Palestinian man led them to an over look of the western wall and pointed out the non-Muslim entrance next to the Western wall. Befuddled they followed that path to the second entrance to the western wall only to find that there are no signs pointing to a wooden bridge to The Dome of the Rock. Even the soldiers shrugged when asked for directions and did not respond. It seemed that the entrance was pushed off to the side, so as not to over shadow the Western Wall and to make life harder for tourists and non-Muslims interested in seeing the Islamic architecture.

MPTers also visited the

Jerusalem Holocaust Museum , Yad Vashem. One MPT followed an English speaking guide as he explained the history of the Holocaust to a group of international Jewish youth. He pointed out that the Holocaust was a systemized endeavor by many well educated people.

He made a special effort to point out the section “The Righteous among the Nations, “ which honors non-Jews who risked their lives, liberty and positions to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. He focused on one man, a thief, who for several months, hid Jews and fed them. He said that he did not want the youth to leave the museum with hate, but rather with love and with the conviction that one person can make a difference. Reflecting upon his statement; The Holocaust and the present Occupation of Palestine leaves one with many unanswered questions. Michael Lerner of Tukkun magazine has stated that the Jewish people suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, because of the Holocaust. It might seem important that the museum would include ways to be healed from the tremendous trauma of the Holocaust. Too, that those who know of the Holocaust be truly committed to working that a systemized endeavor to ghettoize and destroy a people never happen again to any peoples in the world.

Pictures from wikimedia(1)(2)


All Safe

The last team member arrived safely in the field and the team is all together. They are orienting now and will post blog reports very soon.



Safe Arrival

The second summer team member has arrived safely; a third team
member will be joining soon. Watch for reports from the team
coming soon.