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Goodbye from the MPT 2011 Fall Team

MPT has made a number of friends in the Huwarra area. One gentleman who visits with us often actually studied for over a year in the USA. “I was so excited,” said he, “to have a chance to tell Americans what is really happening over here. I came home after my year and was very discouraged. I can honestly say I do not think I was able to change even one person’s opinion.” He shared much more of course but went on to say, “Then one friend communicated with me saying that she now listens more and considers different points of view about Israel/Palestine. I guess it takes time for ideas to sink in. I guess I did have an impact just smaller than I would have liked.” Such is the case with our work in this long confusing struggle. We often wish that we could make huge impacts on those willing to listen. But realistically we are thankful for our readers who care enough to learn more and are open to new ideas

Thank you for following the blog, 2011 MPT Fall Team

Al Walaja renamed - All Wall Around Ja

The village of Al Walaja has a very unique situation. Located near to and west of Behtlehem and south of Jerusalem, Al Walaja has the misfortune of being located near the green line and the route of the separation barrier, aka the Wall. The original village site was taken over by the Israeli forces in 1948. Googling “Al Walaja” will provide the reader with much background information. A recent review of the situation can be found at:


In brief Al Walaja lost it original village site and was reestablished nearby. The continuing construction of the wall will greatly reduced the village’s access to land, water, and the rest of Palestine. Al Walaja will be completely surrounded by a prison like wall with only one access road connecting them to the rest of the West Bank.

On our last day of functioning as the MPT Fall Team we visited Al Walaja and participated in their weekly demonstration. Meeting at the village Mosque we had a chance to speak with other activists.

As prayers ended we walked downhill to see the construction route that has been cut through the olive groves. It was a damp day and a muddy walk. For most of the route there was no sign of the military or police

We moved onto a restricted road and were told that only cars with yellow plates (those originating in Israel) could use this road. At one point Palestinians began to place rocks on the road. The crowd’s presence slowed traffic allowing them to drive carefully around the rocks. There were no rocks thrown and no threatening gestures. Many activists were uncomfortable with the rocks on the road. Indeed they did present a considerable hazard to cars moving at normal speed. A short debate started with statements like: “This is a serious hazard; we are here to protect from violence and thus should remove the rocks.” Others said: “We are to be Palestinian led; this is their demonstration.” The discussion was friendly with most of us having very mixed feelings. As we were causing traffic to slow down there was no serious danger at the time. Within minutes one of the Palestinian leaders came over and began to kick rocks out of the road. Activists immediately began to help him. Police arrived shortly thereafter but the rocks were gone by the

The police did try to stop our movement but were greatly outnumbered. The demonstration just moved around them. They followed along behind in their jeep. We approached an entrance to a restricted area and found a line of soldiers waiting for us. After some talking and mutual picture.taking, the demonstration took a side road back to the Mosque.

No rocks thrown, no arrests, no tear gas or the like which led to a jubilant mood of having achieved some success – at least a chance to express our displeasure, have it heard and return home without injury. We were mindful that such demonstrations are a weekly occurrence in parts of Palestine. They are indeed so common that they seldom make the news anymore. But Palestinians risk arrest and injury on a regular basis to protest the injustices of the occupation.


Announcing MPT Teachers Team Summer 2012! Calling all Teachers...

We're pleased to announce a very special Peace Team to Palestine: the MPT Summer 2012 Teachers Team! This Team will deploy to the West Bank, Palestine/Israel in Summer 2012.  Each member will have the option to join the team anywhere from 3 weeks to 12 weeks in the field.

We love our friends that are teachers, who already give so much for peace and justice-- and they make great Peace Team members.  We're currently talking with two of many wonderful returned team members that are teachers, to arrange for a Teacher to Anchor this special team.
We need your help!  Do you know a teacher at any level K-12 or undergraduate/graduate who would do great work for peace on a team?  Someone team-oriented, dedicated, in short just like all the teachers we know!  Could you forward this invitation to them with a short note from you telling them about this great opportunity, or invite them to contact Nicole or apply for a team?
Training will start as soon as January for our Part 1/Basic compenent, and the February 10-12th weekend for our Part 2 session will be required.  More information about training and more for International Teams under our current program is on our FAQs page.  More information about the February session to prepare for this team is at Idealist.org.  Even if you're just considering going on the team, we'd love to have you join us for this skills and information session in February.
In Peace,

Nicole L. Rohrkemper
International Team Deployment Coordinator
Michigan Peace Team

(586) 419-1070 (direct line)
NicoleR. MPT@gmail.com

Read more about International Teams in our most recent Teams Insider eNews.


A busy day in and around Hebron

Any day for an activist in the West Bank can include a surprise or two. Our day in the Hebron area was full of unscheduled action. We had just spent the night with the Christian Peacemaker Team deep in the old city. We arose early to go on check point watch with CPT. This is a daily pre-breakfast task for CPT. Critical check points are monitored to log the number of school children passing and to observe the treatment of others. One MPTer decided to take pictures and chose to continue even after a soldier said “No”. The police arrived later. Police have more authority over internationals. After manipulating the memory card out of the camera and passing it off (a move the soldier unfortunately observed), the camera was handed to the policeman. It could have gotten messy at that point but up rolled a car with TIPH representatives. TIPH, Temporary International Presence in Hebron, is a creation of the Oslo Accord. They observe and file reports – no more, no less. But the Israelis want good TIPH reports. It is our guess that their arrival prompted the police commander to get out of the vehicle and take charge. The camera was immediately returned and MPTers moved out of the way. The soldier and policeman were upset at being overruled. MPTers were relieved.

This is the check point we observed. The soldier is asking us not to take pictures. School children have to pass through the little white building for metal detection and such. These four men are being checked as they complain that they were just checked at another check point to get into this area (True according CPT staff.)

Then a call came alerting us to a home demolition south of Hebron, in Baqa Valley. A quick trip to the CPT house to repack, a taxi and soon we were at another scene. Somewhere in there breakfast got forgotten.

By the time we arrived in Baqa'a the Israeli army had already destroyed a well and a house built next to it, both of which belonging to a local Palestinian family. Baqa Valley located in a mountainous area south of Hebron. It's separated from the notorious Jewish settlement of Qiryat Arba only by a road. The village suffers serious water shortages and locals have been accused of "stealing" water from the settlement in order to meet their basic water needs. Naturally it's arguable if one can steal their own water but that's the pretext under which the Israeli army destroys wells and irrigation pipes belonging to Palestinians in Area C. We were told that one more well in the village was to be destroyed on the following day for the same reasons. This particular family had their well and house destroyed for the first time in 2009. The reason was actually the usual one: lack of permit to built. Their water did come from pipes from a neighboring village. After 2009 the owner rebuilt both his well and home and acquired all the necessary documents proving that the land is his. It was to no avail though, the bulldozers returned.

When MPTers arrived the bulldozers were leveling the ground. The Israeli army was working along with Qiryat Arba settlers to place stones on the property to minimize the chance of rebuilding. We were told by children from the family whose home was demolished that the bulldozer has been at work since 6 am. That's when the family had been awoken from their sleep and given 5 minutes to leave.

The only hint for the existence of the house and the well at this site hours later was the water flowing now all over the place. An MPTer asked a boy from the family why he wouldn't change his pants that were wet. He replied he was beaten by an Israeli soldier earlier during the day and now he had no house to take a spare pair of pants from. His parents were at his uncle's house at the time and were sparing themselves the sight of the bulldozers at work.

We had planned to visit the village of At Tuwani on this day so after watching the home demolition clean up, taking pictures, and talking with the family and other internationals, we decided to go to At Tuwani from this new location. MPT has a history of visiting At Tuwani. You can learn more about this village by reading our old blogs.

This report talks about the Bedouins in Tuba, a village very near to At Tuwani. http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2008/05/bedouin-land-fragile-desert-ecology-and.html And in 2009 MPTers visited again. http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/11/cactus-watering-protest-at-at-tuwani.html

Children from nearby villages are still accompanied by internationals and the military as they walk between the Israeli settlement and Israeli outpost on their way to and from school. This is necessary because the settlers have a history of attacking kids on their way to school. We were reminded of President Obama’s recent speech where he commented that Israeli parents should not have to worry about their children when they send them to school. He made no mention of Palestinian kids on their way to school.

The settlement of Ma'On is on the hill. New construction is visible to the left. We are not able to see the Israeli outpost hidden in the trees to the right. International volunteers are not allowed to escort the children, this is considered as a "provocation" by the settlers and the Israeli army. So they only observe from afar trying to make sure the children are escorted safely from various observation points on the hills around the area. The army comes twice daily to provide escort as the children walk to and from school, often late and without completing the whole route. That day they came after the international volunteers had contacted the local DCO, only half an hour late. The children actually rejoiced at the sight of the approaching jeep, they could finally goo home now. Sometimes the soldiers actually provide protection when trouble starts .... sometimes.
Another informal taxi ride and a group cab got us back to Hebron for the another evening with CPT


Sheikh Jarrah

Readers, After leaving Huwwara MPT was involved in a number of activities and did not have access to a computer or the internet. Although our time as a team has ended and we are separated by many miles, we have decided to continue to blog about our final days and experience together. Peer editing is taking place via email. Thank you for your patience.

Blog readers might wish to review the history of this situation by going to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Jarrah Or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ir-amim/why-are-israelis-demonstr_b_445968.html

In brief, Palestinian refugees moved to this area when it was under Jordanian rule. The UN got involved and houses were built for the families. The area has been contested for years. Settlers have gained access to some houses even though complaints have been filed including one from the United States government. The above links will give the reader many more details. MPT has a history of involvement with this troubling situation.

MPT वास there in October of 2008 to provide protective accompaniment. The details can be read at http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2008/10/mpt-presence-at-al-kurds-in-east.html

MPT returned in April of 2009 after the family had been evicted. Read that report at http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/04/return-visit-to-sheikh-jarrah.html

MPT returned again in November of 2009 to stand watch for two nights. This team (which included one member of the current team) witnessed a police demolition of the tent site. Details can be read at http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/11/e-jerusalem-incomplete.html
The tent that was removed by the police in 2009 was located right outside the home that is now the center of controversy. A Palestinian family built an addition without the proper permission. The end result is that Israeli settlers now “live” in the addition while the family remains in the original house. Internationals activists try to have at least two people at the site for each night. This presence created a barrier between the settlers and the Palestinians giving the latter a bit of peace of mind and a chance for decent rest each night.

This is the view from the street. The block addition on the left is the section taken over by the settlers. The small tent is shelter for the activists staying overnight and provides a "gate" and visual privacy for the Palestinians who live in the rear of this compound.

The MPT fall team took a turn on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 15. The task was to stay in the tent guarding the entrance to the Palestinian section of the compound and keep an eye on activities in the Settler section. Settlers have reportedly made much noise (loud music and such), yelled profanities, and thrown numerous things at the activists including water, bleach, vomit, urine, and feces. On this night the only incidents were a few visits to the tent by the settlers. They would stop by and make strange comments and leave. The settlers all seem to be young males who come by each night and party or use the computer. It is not clear if they really live in the addition or just occupy it often.

This is the view from the back side of the tent. There is a small court yard and access to the living areas.

It was a long cold night. We were reminded of a comment made by a young Palestinian in 2009 around a campfire just outside the door of this compound. He said “There are two things I really admire about the Jews. They are very smart and they are very patient.” He continued to say that they will work as slowly as necessary to gradually take over the entire neighborhood. So far local protests and international reactions have not stopped the eviction of Palestinians and the cancerous spread of settlements and settlers.

Readers who are really interested in this situation would do well to watch the videos in the following link. The son of the Palestinian family talks about his life. Israelis (including a middle aged army veteran) talk about their decisions to stand in support of the Palestinians.


MPT Team Members Complete Fall Team Safely

MPT Fall Team members have signed off the team, and our US component has returned home safely as of Tuesday evening.

This very committed team has done great work in the West Bank, and remains committed to peace and nonviolence work.

All of us at MPT offer our sincere gratitude to the Fall 2011 Palestine Team and all of our domestic and international Team Members for being such an integral part of MPT's work and mission of nonviolence, locally and internationally.

We also want to thank the volunteers who supported this team and all our teams; those who hold the emergency phone, act as team Point Persons and Home Support, as well as our office volunteers and staff (who do so much-- from keeping records and paperwork on our teams and getting the team checks and funds in order, to making all of our various programs run harmoniously!).

in peace and with thanks,

Nicole R. for
Michigan Peace Team

P.S.  If you want to get involved in teams, click the link on the upper right to make sure you get the Teams Insider news.  Plus, from wherever you are, our teams policy and deployment committee meets "virtually" by phone and Skype-- positions are open and the committee can use your unique perspective!  Email NicoleR.MPT@gmail.com for more info on how you can get involved with MPT teams.


3rd Demo at Kafr Qaddum

MPTers made their third trip to Kafr Qaddum on 11/11/11, seven years after Yasser Arafat’s death which coincided with Veteran Day in the USA. We are starting to feel like veterans of this demonstration as we see familiar faces and are warmly greeted. We met at the center, had tea/coffee, banners came out, this time they were with the beloved image of Yasser Arafat. Children showed up (they lead the march but disappear before we get to the razor wire and soldiers), we moved close to the wire and a speech commemorating the memory of Arafat was made. After a number of stones were thrown the protesters were assaulted with profound quantities of tear gas and soldiers started gradually forcing the protest towards the center of the village. The tear gas was being shot at about 4-6 feet off the ground. In other words, it had been fired directly at the crowd. A safer way is to arch it up and let it drop. Such deployment can also injure but the velocity is decreased before it hits down at a single location. When fired horizontally, tear gas is like a large bullet and can have impact with people at a large number of points. Protesters have been injured and killed by such directly aimed shots. This time the military assault was aimed at the village’s houses along the road more than any time we had witnessed before. A child was taken out of a tear-gassed house vomiting. Even the local mosque where protestors usually take refugee and where the ambulance was stationed trying to assist the injured was tear-gassed as well after soldiers walked into the village. A local demonstrator was hit with a tear-gas canister in the eye. Rubber coated bullets and sound bombs were shot.

The international in the blue scarf, center right in the photo, was arrested a few minutes after this was taken.

Hazzam Barham, a Palestinian who was lying unconscious from the tear-gas close to the barbed wire was arrested. After this the soldieries targeted one of the internationals and arrested him as well. Here’s a link to the video of both of these arrests:


They were taken to the police station in Ariel settlement. We later heard that the international was beaten and the Palestinian was humiliated in various ways: spat at and made to crouch with his head between his legs.

It appears that the Israeli Occupation Forces reacted with more violence in other locations as well. The following news release may interest our readers. http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=435998

The International was released after spending about six hours in Ariel’s jail. The Palestinian is still being held there and a lawyer has been assigned to him.

Why do the Palestinians continue these demonstrations? What do they hope to gain? There are probably many reasons. One might be the hope of international awareness and a long overdue international statement of "ENOUGH!" Or might it be simply ‘You can steal my land, you can steal my water, you can close my road, you can throw me in prison, but you cannot steal my spirit. I will continue to stand up for my rights.”

A Visit with Amal Jumaa

MPTers recently joined other activists to visit Amal Jumaa in the Nablus hospital. Amal belonged to Fatah’s armed wing and was sentenced to eleven years of which she served nine. She was released October 11 as part of the Hamas/Israeli prisoners swap. Amal gained a lot of publicity and media attention after going on a hunger strike recently. She made this decision after the Palestinian Authority failed to provide her with the appropriate treatment following her treatment while in prison for uterine cancer.. More information about this can be found at:


The history of Amal’s neglected health condition goes much further back though. She was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus back in 2004 and her condition was neglected for six years while she was in both Ramleh and HaSharon prisons. We asked if she was given anything after she had been diagnosed. “Water”, was her reply, and some light pain-killers similar to Panadol. As her condition became graver, she was also administered some drops. They had strong side effects such as constant drowsiness and what was described as fits of madness: pulling her hair, yelling. The director of the prison said she was fine. Amal’s cellmate decided to prove that her behavior was due to side-effects and she started taking the drops herself. Her behavior got bizarre in the same way and she slept through her days as well. A hunger strike was started by other female inmates asking for Amal to be treated. It lasted for 4 weeks and 4 days.

In 2010 Amal was finally taken to a hospital in Haifa for an operation. She was handcuffed the whole time while in hospital and was allowed no visits at all, not even from the Red Cross. After the operation she got transferred to Damun prison. She developed some severe bleeding. Once again she was not treated and was drugged instead. Amal started sending letters to friends and media asking for help from outside. The PA Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs provided money for 4 months so she could buy pads to take care of the bleeding.

Shortly after her release she collapsed and was taken to the hospital in Nablus. Even after freedom had been granted to her, she still had to resort to a hunger strike to receive her right to a proper treatment. Now the Palestinian President himself is making sure she is to be sent to a hospital abroad where she can receive the necessary treatment after the many years of neglect in prison. There have been delays in her travel due to the days off because of the Eid Religious holiday and delays in her having a passport issued to travel. Further tests will determine if treatment will continue in Jordan or someplace in Europe. Amal was visibly tired during our visit. Most of her story was related to us by a friend of hers, she herself had no voice to speak and was constantly slipping into drowsiness. All of her upper front teeth have been taken out during her imprisonment and she showed us where they used to be in her mouth. She managed to stand up and shake our hands when we walked in and also pose for a picture with us.

Amal means “Hope” in Arabic. There are still many concerns but there is now more hope for Amal.


Yitzhar Settlers as Neighbors

MPT’s fall team took the short walk to the houses at the upper edge of Huwwara. The Palestinians in this area live only about 400 yards for the edge of Yitzhar. We were fortunate to meet Muhammad, a Palestinian with American citizenship and his brother. Muhammad spends part of the year in New York where he and two of sons run an electronics business. Part of his family spends the entire year in this fabulous house. Muhammad said, “Yitzhar is built on the highest point in the West Bank. I believe my house is the highest Palestinian house in the West Bank. But this proximity can be problematic." The family readily talked to us, they have had troubles with settlers throughout the years and are used to being an object of attention for journalists and human right activists alike. We were told that they had had no problems with the settlement till the year of 2008. As a matter of fact up to just ten years ago the family used to have a picnic at Salman al-Farsi’s reserve, an important site for Muslims that is located on land controlled by Yitzhar. But more recently radical settlers came to live there and visiting the reserve became impossible. The first clashes between the settlers and the local Palestinians that took place close to Muhammad’s house happened in May 2008. About 15 teenaged settlers came down the hill and were engaged in a stone fight with Palestinians. Soldiers stood aside as observers and did not interfere, we were told. The settlers claimed that the attack was in response to Palestinians from Huwwara having thrown stones at a settler’s car earlier that day. Twenty days after this incident the windows of the family’s house were broken by 13 Yitzhar settlers. Olive trees above their house were damaged too. Soldiers were reported to have taken no action one more time.

The American's house is on the far left. His brother's immediatly to the right of it. The MPT house is down the hill approximately in the center of this photo.

On February 3, 2011, Muhammad’s wife and daughter were watching TV in the evening when they had their windows all broken again. Muhammad was in Nablus during that time, he heard about the attack and headed straight home. At the Huwwara checkpoint he showed his American passport to the soldiers and two military vehicles followed him home. They arrived to find out that it was not only his house and family who got attacked. Six Molotov cocktails had been thrown into his brother’s house located right next door. Most of the bottles were thrown on the first floor that was burned as a result. One of them hit the window frame of the second floor of the house where the children and their mother were sleeping at that time. Luckily it didn’t go through the window. The wife reports that the settlers were gone by the time her husband and the soldiers arrived and the soldiers refused to believe settlers had anything to do with the incident at first. Eventually though the family did receive significant protection from the army. Soldiers guarded the home for a number of days. Neighbors suggest that Muhammad’s American citizenship was the cause for that.

During a talk with Muhammad’s wife she shared that at the present time she leaves the house on very rare occasions and worries that another settler attack could take place when there’s nobody home. She does not fear them though and keeps on hoping that their house might be a safe enough place one day for her whole family to be united in it again.

Burned trees can be seen above Muhammad's house.


Olive branches and the military

MPT was told a few days ago, “All of the picking in all of the dangerous places in all the West Bank are all done.” The same individual suggested we pick with a Burin family today near the Huwwara Check Point. For MPT WB vets - the location is east of the main road and right on the NE corner of the military base near the Check Point. We were joined by one ISM activist as we piled into a crowded van and headed north via the back route through the village of Awarta. We ran into a flying check point but fortunately a brief talk and a spotty ID check was all that was required.

This pictures show the service ahead of us stopped at the flying check point. The military base is to the left. The yellow strip on the road is a tire puncture obstacle - best go slow and be sure to go around it. Wooded areas are few in this area but one does exist in the military base. We picked right next to these pines on the far side from this angle.

We arrived at the small grove near an intersection and right up against the back fence of the military base. The olive grove was in sad shape because plowing and pruning had not been done. “Come to our other groves and you will see a big difference,” we were told. “We are not given time to plow and tend these trees.”

A number of branches had been broken off. Settlers were blamed.

This picker has one foot on a branch and one foot on the corner fence post of the military base. You cannot get much closer than this.

Soldiers stopped by a couple of times in the morning, talked, and went on their way. The proximity to the base and the side road seemed to mean that regular patrols could be expected. “Don’t worry about the soldiers; it is the settlers who are really dangerous.” About lunch time a couple of soldiers stopped and said “you have to leave”. That started a lengthy process of other soldiers stopping. By chance some Israelis from Yesh Din, a human rights organization, were in the area investigating a report of olive tree damage and just happened to stop by. When negotiating with the Israeli army it is really helpful to have some supportive Israelis present. They called the local coordinator for Rabbis for Human Rights who in turn contacted the District Commanding Officer who stopped by for a talk. End result: We were able to continue picking, given permission for picking tomorrow, and permission to plow the following day.

We left mid-afternoon as we had an appointment to interview a family about a settler attack….to be reported in this blog soon.


Yitzhar - in the news !

Climbing up the road behind our Huwwara home we located a village park with a Ferris Wheel and a swimming pool. The houses in this area are the highest in town and the closest to Yitzhar.

We were told that “of all the settlements in the West Bank Yitzhar is the worst.” We’ve heard that said before about other settlements. It sometimes seems that the worst settlement is the one nearest the village where the speaker lives. Yitzhar did make the news recently. The Israeli government closed their high school because they were teaching violence. It is an incredible story. It can be found at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/ministry-closes-yitzhar-school-over-violent-attacks-1.3932

This is the view above the park. You can just see the edge of some Yitzhar buildings and some of the burned olive trees. "They destroy trees and harass us. They want to claim even more of the land." we were told.

We were up there hoping to meet with an American family who lives in nearby. Good fortune was with us. We ended up sitting in a fabulous house speaking with two Palestinian Americans from New York and Ohio. (Homes in this area have been attacked by settlers. That story will appear in a day or two when we are able to complete the interviews.) The home on the left in the following picture is where we met the American family.

Our landmark mosque with two minarets is visible in from this spot as are the large Huwwara plains and the army base at the far end.

As we shared stories and food one of the men spoke about Palestinians who are still able to travel to Israel to work. There are some but the number is so much lower than before the construction of the barrier fence/wall. “Many used to go. We worked together. I would go to eat with the Jews and they came to my house. We were friends.” said one man. He went on to share that the opportunities to meet and relate with Israelis is greatly decreased. The only Israelis nearby are the settlers of Yitzhar. In the early days even they were ok. “We used to drive up the hill near Yitzhar to picnic. There is a Muslim holy place there. You can see the ocean from there. Going there now is impossible.”

The barrier fence/wall was constructed to decrease the number of suicide bombers, to make it difficult for Palestinians to travel into Israel. The barrier has come at a tremendous cost. The loss of contact makes it harder for these neighbors to be in positive relationships. It is costly financially. Much land is loss. Travel is more difficult for everyone. Maintaining and protecting this hated structure keeps the military busy. The barrier fence/wall is a strategy to end these attacks but Robert Pape, co-author of “Cutting the Fuse” has a different idea. In a nut shell studies show that suicide bombing decreases to almost zero when a foreign occupying army ends the occupation. Read more details at http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2010/10/04/how-end-suicide-bombings-new-book-argues-problem-not-islam-lengthy-military-occup

END THE OCCUPATION ? Now that seems like a strategy worthy of consideration.


Balata Refugee Camp 2011

The Balata Refugee Camp is only about 5 miles from the MPT home in Huwwara. It is the largest and most crowded refugee camp in the West Bank. Buildings were often built to the dimensions of the original tent and crowded together. As families grow and additional space is needed, they build straight up as there is no horizontal space. Some streets are extremely narrow with just room to walk. There are almost no places for the many youth to play. Noise is constant. 25,000 bodies are living in one square kilometer which is about 247 acres. That is more than 100 people per acre.

The following murals are on the wall outside of Balata. The first one depicts the happy life before 1948.

The second mural shows the sad time of leaving when Palestinians were forced out of their homes and became refugees or displaced persons within their own country. This event in 1948 is known as the Nakba, the Catastrophe.

Many Palestinians still have the keys to their homes, some still speak of their previous village as home, although they have never seen it. The hope to return is still very alive for many.

Refugees lived in UN tents for years before the building of permanent homes started.

If you view the murals and then turn around, you will be looking at the Greek Orthodox Church. We took the tour to the basement and viewed Jacob's Well. The quiet spacious green garden inside the walled church compound stands in stark contrast to the crowded, dusty camp right across the street.

MPT visited Balata recently and took an informal walk through the narrow streets talking with children and adults. We had tea with a shop keeper and his friend. He had been “visited” by soldiers recently but did not want to discuss it. His friend said, “He fears that any publicity may cause the soldiers to return.” This friend spent time in prison for reasons that were not clear to us. We dropped by the Yafa Cultural Center and had a nice conversation with a staff member. He reviewed the history and conditions at Balata. He also shared that Germany (indeed a German social worker sat in on this discussion) was helping to establish a mental health program, a clinic where support groups could meet and therapists could work. Psychological problems caused by overcrowding, stress, unemployment, abuse, grief and despair are rampant. He said, “It is a total community problem; everyone has mental health issues.” It was painful to see this man’s frustration as he said, “I continue to be a moderate but what good does it do? We have waited for freedom for over 60 years and nothing changes.”

Refugees tend to be more involved politically so it was no surprise to see many names on the list of martyrs.

Previous MPT teams have visited the Balata Refugee Camp on numerous occasions. Related MPT blog posts include:


"Body in the Frig"

Nablus, the birth place of Abu Zent.

Shortly after we arrived in Huwwara (during the time when we had no internet at our home)we were told about the arrival in Nablus of the body of a prisoner who had died 35 years ago. “They kept his body in the frig”, the Palestinians told us. We were intrigued and decided to investigate at a later time. We then heard that it is common practice to require Palestinian prisoners to serve out their entire sentences … even if they died before the time was up. In other words, if one has a 50 year sentence and dies after serving 30, the corpse is required to serve out the remaining 20 years. Such a policy disturbed us. Was it a psychological punishment for prisoners? Was it collective punishment? (Collective punishment is often used to punish a family or community for the actions of one or more members. Collective punishment is illegal under international law.) And, of course, the big question was – Is there any truth to these comments? The following is what we have learned from multiple sources.

Hafeth Abu Zent was born in Nablus on May 24, 1954, and was killed while conducting a military operation in response to the death of a Palestinian child. He died on May 14, 1976. “The body had been kept for 35 years in the so-called Israeli Cemetery of Numbers” - the Ma’an News Agency reported. The practice of keeping some bodies in this unique cemetery is well documented. Graves are numbered so no one can identify who is buried where except the Israeli military. Reports vary but generally claim that there are between 250 and 350 Palestinian bodies being thus held. Some suggest that release of the bodies would allow for autopsies which might show evidence of mistreatment. Others suggest that the organs were harvested for transplanting.

Sorting out truth from fiction can be a challenge. MPT is committed to accurate reporting.


Olive Harvest as seen through our eyes this season; part III: Jit

We parked the car at the top of this desolate looking valley and began to walk down. It felt like we were walking into a lifeless waste zone.

If you read our blogs about the demonstrations at Kafr Qaddum, you may recall that Jit is the village at the other end of the short closed road. MPT has a history of picking in Jit where there have been numerous problems with settlers. Villagers picked just south of Jit recently at a spot very near the back side of this small army camp. Israeli activists were present to support them at the tenuous location. The army was apparently uncomfortable with the situation. The story we heard was “the soldiers came out and told the Palestinian to leave the areas nearest the army camp. Only the Israelis were allowed to pick in those areas.” The Israelis could not return for day two so the MPT was asked to come.

We arrived to find trees in desperate need of plowing and pruning. The farmer said “We have 167 trees in this area. Our production of olives has decreased by 90% in the last ten years.” He went on to share that they only get one or two days per year to access this area so do not have time to care for the trees. “Tree are like are children.” We are often told. “If you do not care for them, they do not grow properly.” The farmer then said, “We picked 100 trees yesterday so only need to pick 67 today.” If you have never picked olives, then such numbers may hold little meaning for you. But they struck terror in our hearts. 67 trees in one day! We often do only 20 or 30 trees in a hard long day. But it soon became apparent that these trees were in sad shape. Many were done within minutes. In fact it was a quick and easy process. We finished by early afternoon.

The “farmer” has a Master Degree and teaches High School science. He is about 35 with a family and would like to work on his PhD. Many of the people we work with are very highly educated, articulate, and knowledgeable individuals.

Burned olives trees near the edge of the valley.

An MPTer picks very near a military camp.

We found this flare in the olive grove. It appears to be the type that would be fired up in the air to light up an area at night.

Back to Kafr Qaddum

This Friday for a second time MPT members went back to the village of Kafr Qaddum to show support for the village’s struggle in reclaiming its key road to Nablus. More than hundred demonstrators had gathered, the vast majority of whom were Palestinians. The local council of the village had prepared big posters with the image of Abu Mazin (Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) in support of his going to the UN. A smaller poster read “UNESCO said Yes to Palestine” and a third one had the image of the Foreign Israeli Minister Avigdor Lieberman and condemned his opposing the UNESCO vote. Children took a poster in hand and the weekly protest started with them in the lead.

Demonstrators chanted in Arabic “Palestine is free”, “Go ahead Abu Mazin”, “Liberman go away”. There was way more global of a message crystallizing this time. It was not only about the lost road to settlers; a distinct political message concerning the UN vote and UNESCO’s acceptance of Palestine was present as well. This time we walked much further. The razor wire and soldiers were located further from the edge of the village. The army’s chief commander approached the group of protestors with two other soldiers behind him and three others protecting them on the side. They addressed Murad, the spokesman of the demonstrators, by name and then we witnessed a ten minute conversation between the later and the Israeli commander in Arabic.

We found out later that during this conversation the soldiers attempted to set conditions for the protest but the Palestinians refused to comply with them unless they had their road back and the other side followed some rules themselves.
The soldiers retreated and then an international, a Canadian Jew, took the loudspeakers on behalf of the demonstrators. He addressed the soldiers in Yiddish and English questioning their grounds for being armed and shooting tear gas when all the villagers were unarmed and just wanted their road back; why was it that both Palestinians and Israelis couldn’t use it. This was a powerful speech and it was followed by one of a small Palestinian girl in Arabic.

There was five minutes of a pause there during which soldiers were advising one another and two sides faced each other peacefully.

Then we retreated back and the demonstration continued; a couple of stones thrown from the Palestinian side, tear gas shot immediately back from the Israeli one, many canisters at a time and right at the demonstrators. Protesters set a couple of tires on fire that made lots smoke as the wind was blowing towards the soldiers. With each tear-gas shooting the soldiers would advance little by little towards us till they were already inside the village. There were a lot of canisters coming straight at us and fast. We saw two Palestinians getting injured: one of them was hit with a tear-gas canister in the hand and was taken away by the ambulance; another one broke his foot while running away from the tear-gas canisters. We learned after the demonstration’s end that two others needed treatment for gas inhalation. Some of the tear-gas canisters were shot at houses. We saw an entire family going out from one of the houses, children crying.

It was not only houses that were not spared by the tear-gas. A Palestinian boy is trying to kick the tear gas canister away from the donkey

There was a sense of tangible spiritual victory for the Palestinians. After the end of the demonstration which lasted for about an hour, Palestinian men walked around the village together singing with big smiles on their faces.


Israel's unknown border

It looks like a border but is it really Israel on one side and Palestine on the other?

Someone stated recently that Israel is the only country that does not know where its border are. If Israel says, “the Green Line is our border”, then they have to admit that their many settlements in the West Bank are actually in a foreign country. If they say ”the barrier wall is our border”, then they have to admit that they have annexed part of a neighboring country while at the same time admitting that many of their settlements are in a foreign country. If they say “there is no Palestine, it is all Israel from the sea to the Jordan River”, then they have annexed a foreign country and will not have a Jewish majority. It is an interesting dilemma. We would like to research the idea more and that will probably need to happen after our team time is over. Interested readers (who might like to comment, who have knowledge to share on this topic or who could point the team to resource materials) are encouraged to email the team at mpt.wb.office@gmail.com

We were reminded of this concern today during a flying check point stop on the road from Nablus almost to the village of Jit. We were traveling to a demonstration at Kafr Qaddum with other activists. It seemed obvious that the soldier knew we were not tourists going to Qalqiliya as was our agreed upon story. Everybody knows the game and they were pleasant enough and ended the stop by saying, “Welcome to …..(awkward delay)…Israel” It was like he knew how ridiculous and untruthful this would sound to a bunch of activists. I thought “You are a representative of the government of Israel. Are you indeed claiming that this is part of your country?”

Olive harvesting as experienced through our eyes this season; part II : Jamma'in

Jamma'in is located about 6 km to the southwest of us. The stone quarry/cutting industry is a major source of employment and income for the village followed closely by agriculture – mainly olives. MPT accompanied a Jamma'in family on four occasions. They treated us very well – picking us up, feeding us two meals per day, and driving us home each evening.

Leaving home about 7:00 AM we started each day with a 30 minute tractor & trailer ride over a rough rocky road. We dropped down hill to the south from the village and crossed the major road toward the very large settlement of Ariel. The area between the road and Ariel is a huge olive grove. We picked at the high eastern edge of this grove finding ourselves uncomfortable near an outpost just off the western edge of the settlement of Kafr Tappuah. The family reported to us that last year a settler showed up one day with two threatening dogs. The following day internationals accompanied the family. About ten settlers arrived with guns. The internationals called the military who arrived and sent the settlers away. Understandably this family felt a strong need for international accompaniment.

We are pleased to report that the only disturbance to this year’s picking routine was the appearance of a wild boar. The men threw rocks and chased it off before either MPTers got a confirming glimpse or photo.

It takes this family about 10 days to complete their work. It is difficult to leave such a situation before completion but other needs called us away. We were happy to be able to assist in getting other internationals to join this family for most of their days. Much of the olive harvest work is just like this. Days are long and hard, friendships grow, stories are told, and goodbyes are filled with conflicting emotions.

...................…a view of the illegal Israeli outpost from as close as we chose to approach.

.....................This looks like a big pile but closer inspection identified it as a rock pile home which belonged to the previous generations of this family. Settlers now use it as a campout location or so we were told.

...........................This is the lower entrance; there is a sizable room inside and an interior stone stairway to the upper “deck”. The family was fearful of this place and asked us not to go there but one MPTer had already taken the tour.

…....................sorting olives prior to bagging. That is a stained MPT knee at the top of the photo. There was a lot of kneeling and picking off the ground with this family.

…........loading the trailer for the bumpy ride into the sunset down the hill and up into town.

........ We were fed in two different homes; one at a table with the father only dining with us; the other seated on the floor with the whole family present. The family included the nicest, cutest kids. They came and went so quickly we were never able to determine how many there were.


Olive harvesting as experienced through our eyes this season; part I : Burin

“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears.”

― Mahmoud Darwish

As the olive harvesting season nears completion our team felt there were a lot of things worth sharing from our days immersed in the olive picking. We didn't happen to witness any of the violent settler attacks that took place this year. They happened but not where we were picking. Were we in the wrong place or were we the reason it did not become a problem area. Who knows? Sometimes the less dramatic stories need to be shared and it’s precisely those that we’ll try to relate in this blog entry as seen through our eyes.

Burin – amidst the settlements

The olive harvest this year started in early October and timed perfectly with our team’s arrival in Huwwara. Neighboring Burin was the first village where both picking and our work as team started.

Because of its location between mountains topped by two Israeli settlements Yizhar(with the Yitzar outpost) and Bracha, Burin falls completely into Area C of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control. Ytzhar is at the forefront of the so called "price tag" policy or campaign which calls for attacks against Palestinians in retaliation for actions of the Israeli government against West Bank settlements (for more information please visit: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/yitzhar-extremists-all-settlers-must-fight-construction-freeze-1.287512)

Yitzhar settlement

Those who own olive grove land must receive “prior coordination” from the Israeli Civil Administration (a part of the military administration) in order to be able to tend to their land. Many Palestinians cannot prove land ownership as customary traditions saw land being passed down from one generation to the next without the necessity for formal land registration. Others refuse to apply for “permission”, or if it is given, will only pick on days without it. We accompanied some families who had chosen to pick without permission from the Israeli army. The first day we picked a hundred meters away from Bracha. We saw the olive trees bordering the settlement that had been set on fire earlier in June this year along with about 1500 other trees were reported to have been burned in a single settler’s attack. The total number of trees reported to be destroyed in Burin this year goes up to 4000 and this number seems to be only going up every year. (http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=3412). (NOTE: We are unable to verify the accuracy of this data. 4000 seems extremely high given the data in the UN report of our previous blog.)

The second day we accompanied another family who chose to harvest without permission from the army. Despite our visibility from and proximity to the settlement of Yitzar, we could not help but be awed by the fact that these were obviously days devoid of fear. Farmers sang songs and joked around with internationals under the strong sun. This seemed as much of an act of resistance as picking without permission.

After a couple of days of picking with different families in Burin, we started to see familiar faces and in turn villagers also started recognizing us. While waiting at the village’s center for our work assignmetn, we were the object of unexpected gestures of kindness. A man selling flowers once approached us and merely handed a flower without saying a word, then went back to his morning duties. The small falafel shop sent a kid carrying some tasty sandwich for our second breakfast of the day. It felt good to be connected to these incredibly nice people and receiving these small but deeply appreciated tokens.