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Visiting Bedouins in the Jordan Valley

The ancient and the new were viewed in the Jordan Valley as MPT members were treated to a field trip by the Sixth Annual Bil’in International Conference for Palestinian Popular Resistance.

After a short visit to Jericho we were met by a member of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Group who acted as a guide to help us understand the problems the Bedouin people are facing due to the military occupation of their ancient land and the ethnic cleansing tactics of the State of Israel. 

Two generations ago, there were 300,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. That number is now down to 56,000 – one sixth the population.

First we stopped by the dried up Al Auja spring that used to provide water to much of the southern Jordan Valley. It is dried up because Israel has drilled deep wells and stolen the water. Israel provides the water only to the illegal Israeli settlements. Only in the winter does the spring now provide a tiny bit of water. The Bedouin are forced to buy water from Israel in large tanks at exorbitant prices.

Then we moved into Ras Al Auja, a community of about 300, to see the school project that is underway. We saw the mud bricks that are being made and helped to stack some of them. Currently classes for kindergarten and preschool are held in a tent structure for around 20 students. When the mud brick school is completed, hopefully within a month, the expectation is to teach classes for children up to age eleven. The brick making is being done by volunteers, mostly women, because the men are at work. The teachers are also volunteer women. We were privileged to meet two of them.
The school is being built of mud brick because that makes it easy to rebuild. Since the majority of the Jordan Valley is in Area C, under full Israeli control, the Bedouin people cannot get permits to build any structures, not even homes. In the days when the Bedouin roamed about the Jordan Valley they lived in tents as we all would imagine. Today Israel is enforcing containment and preventing them from moving about, particularly across the border into Jordan. 

For centuries these man-made borders have meant nothing to the Bedouin. They have migrated with the seasons and availability of resources at will and have had no particular national allegiance. Now that Israel is forcing them to be more stationary, it would make since for them to build houses, but without permits there is risk that anything they built would be destroyed by the Israeli army as has happened all over the West Bank and Gaza. The homes we observed were made of tenting materials—burlap, canvas, sac cloth and plastic tarps, corrugated metal, screening, dried vegetation such as woven reeds, twigs, etc.

The finale of our visit was being served lunch in the Center of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Group. The Jordan Valley Solidarity Group is a grassroots movement of the indigenous people with the support of some internationals, particularly from Great Britton. This Center is in a building thought to be the oldest building in the Jordan Valley, dating back the Ottoman era. It has been rebuilt over time. It is made of stone, mud bricks, metal and wood framing. While quite primitive it is much more substantial than most structures surrounding it in the community. It has a sink with running water where they cook and wash dishes, a primitive toilet, fire places for heat and cooking. There is little furniture, most seating is made of stone and mud benches covered with burlap or not. There is hope that Israel will respect the ancient quality of the Center and not destroy it as they have so many other buildings in the valley, especially schools.

In the near distance, as we stood at the building site of the school in Ras Al Auja, we could see two illegal settlement farms that exist on the stolen property of the Palestinians, their land, their water. Many of the Bedouin are forced to work on the settlement farms because they do not have water to do their own farming and they are not allowed to graze their sheep and goats near the settlements, under threat of stiff fines. They work for $10-$20 a day. Many Palestinian children are also working on these settlement farms. The lack of schools in the Jordan Valley is greatly caused by the division created by the military occupation regulations which make it the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to provide the schools, but denies the permits or land to do so. Many Bedouin children must travel long distances by bus, through military checkpoints where they are frequently harassed by Israeli soldiers, into the few Palestinian villages for school. These schools are overcrowded and it is difficult for the Bedouin children to fit in due to the very different lifestyle they lead. Many of the children drop out of school and go to work, knowing that even if they complete their education they are likely to have to work on the settlement farms due to the severe human rights violations created by the only nation in the world permitted to ignore all Geneva Convention International law for occupying countries and protected from all UN resolutions by USA vetoes.


Bil'in Demonstration Against the Wall

As every Friday, the weekly nonviolent demonstration against the apartheid Wall that has annexed almost 60% of Bil’in’s land was held. The day began with a memorial for Bassem Abu Rahmah who was killed in April of 2009 when he was shot in the chest with a high velocity tear gas canister while participating in a weekly demonstration in Bil’in. Bassem is one of five nonviolent protesters who have been killed during anti-Wall demonstrations since December of 2008.

After the memorial and noon prayer, the group of around three hundred Palestinian, Israeli and International peace activists gathered at the village center to march down to the Wall. The atmosphere was energetic with a loudspeaker playing music and the demonstrators chanting for the end of the Occupation.

There was an immediate attempt by the Israeli army to drive back the protesters with a barrage of tear gas that was briefly effective but recently released prisoner Abdullah Abu Raymah enthusiastically urged the people to continue to the goal of the fenced barricade between village land and the surrounding military road. As the majority of the crowd approached the fence, they were sprayed with skunk water. Again, Abdullah encouraged the demonstrators not to retreat, explaining particularly to the “first timer” internationals the skunk water could only reach as far.

The action quickly moved to the west side of the area with the protestors going through the fence to approach the assembled soldiers. Several Palestinians climbed atop army jeeps, waving Palestinian flags and according to the videos a demonstrator apparently managed to throw a tear gas canister back into one of the jeeps. Also as seen in the video footage on Bil’in website, there was much struggling, pushing and hitting as the soldiers attempted to force the unarmed group back inside the fence. Several people, including Mohammad Khatib, coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, were carried away from the fenced area with injuries. One international had a bloodied hand attended to by the medics. After the demonstration was called to a halt by members of the Bil’in Popular Committee, MPTers saw long time friend Iyad Burnat, limping. He explained he had been beaten by the soldiers. We celebrated the success of this week’s demonstration with a cup of tea with our friend.

To view more facts, pictures and videos of the demonstration, please visit Bil'in village's website.

Prison as a Weapon Against the Nonviolent Resistance

As mentioned, it was wonderful to see Abdullah Abu Rameh at the conference after being released from his 16 month imprisonment this April. Not only Abdullah, but another citizen of Bil’in, Adeeb Abu Rahmeh, had just been released in December after spending 18 months in Ofer Prison. Both are well known and respected in the community for their nonviolent resistance against the Occupation.

The lawyer that represented Abdullah Abu Rahmeh gave a talk on the strategies the Israeli military uses against Palestinians. She said that the prisons are the only real weapon Israel has against the Palestinian nonviolent movement. 

The tactics used, often begin with the minors of the villages. Unlike international law which recognizes a minor as anyone under the age of 18, Israel considers a minor in the West Bank to be anyone under the age of 16. Often the soldiers will come to the homes of minors in the middle of the night to handcuff and arrest them at gunpoint. The children are then taken to a remote location and since it is against the law to interrogate them in middle of the night, they are forced to stay awake until morning when they are taken to the police station.

They are interrogated after being kept awake all night, denied food, water, use of the bathroom, being blindfolded and held at gunpoint. Then they are asked questions about their own activities at the demonstrations as well as the activities of the suspected leaders of the popular resistance movement. If the children acknowledge to throwing stones at the Wall in the past, this nonviolent act is charged as a criminal offense and they can be put in jail for weeks. The court refuses to dismiss any information given by these minors because they have given it “willingly”. In the recent trial of Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, the judge actually stated that there was no scientific evidence that these children were traumatized.

Another tactic of the prison system is the strict regulations around visiting rights. Under international law, prisoners must be held in the occupied land. This means, Palestinians prisoners should not be taken to prisons inside Israel. Both Abdullah and Adeeb spent their time in prison at Ofer Military Base. While Ofer Military Base is technically inside the West Bank, you need an Israeli Permit to visit it, which is the same for most prisons in Palestine.

A woman attending the conference from the European parliament asked why she was denied permission to visit and tour the prisons and if there was a way around this. The lawyer said that these Palestinians prisoners, such as Abdullah and Adeeb, are considered “security prisoners” and only first degree family members and lawyers are allowed entry to see them. The Red Cross is allowed in to monitor and view the prison conditions, but their reports are not accessible.
As this lawyer said, a democracy is only as good as its prisons.

*Photo by Hamde Abu Rahme of Adeeb Abu Rahme after his release from prison


Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is an integral part of the nonviolent resistance against the illegal Israeli Occupation. At the conference was Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement. Barghouti shared the purpose and benefit of BDS, not only as the key to ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza but to granting all Palestinians, including those within Israel, their full rights. The BDS movement is a call put forth by the Palestinian people, lead by the Palestinian with the support of Israeli and International activists. As Barghouti stated in this video clip from the conference,

“You get to decide whether you can help us or not but you do not put words in our mouth and say this is what you really want. We’re not native idiots who cannot express ourselves. Believe us, we have average intelligence or above average intelligence, we’re quite rationale, and we know exactly what we want – self determination.”

Barghouti also touched on the importance of the Boycott from Within, a group of Israeli citizens both Palestinian and Jewish, dedicated to the BDS campaign. Click here for the video clip discussing the Boycott from Within as well as the greater international community's role in BDS.

To learn more about the BDS movement, visit the website at www.bdsmovement.net

Palestine and the Arab Revolutions

It was no surprise that there was much talk at the conference of the revolutions spreading across the Arab nations. The question often brought up was, what does this mean for Palestinians? What makes Palestine different from other Arab countries? Why have we not seen the same revolution that has happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and other countries?

One response that was given was that these countries do not have the geographical separation like the West Bank and Gaza, the physical separation of the Wall, nor do they have the colonization strategies of the settlements and Israeli only roads that are creating Bantustans across the West Bank.

In one of the discussion panels, Dr. Karma Nabulsi who is a professor at Oxford University and until 1990 a representative in the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in Lebanon, Tunis and the United Kingdom, said,

“Any regime that is representative in the Arab world stands with the Palestinian people because the Arab people are with us. It’s very simple."

Click here for our video clip of her speaking at the conference on the Arab revolutions as well as the Palestinian struggle both within the Occupied Territories, within Israel and among the refugee diaspora.

The 6th Annual Bil’in Conference on the Palestinian Popular Struggle

Like many before, the Spring Team had the opportunity this past Wednesday to travel to the village of Bil’in and attend the 6th Annual Bil’in Conference on the Palestinian Popular Struggle. It was three days of community and solidarity with Palestinian, Israeli and International peace activists as we came together to discuss the various aspects, strategies and ideas surrounding the nonviolent resistance.

It was also a time to celebrate the latest victories of the Popular Struggle such as with the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement (BDS) as well as the recent release of Bil’in citizens Abdullah Abu Rahmeh in March from Ofer prison after ­­ 16 months of imprisonment and Adeeb Abu Rahmeh in December after spending 18 months in prison.

These next few posts will go over some of the highlights from MPT’s time at the conference in Bil’in, including the weekly Friday demonstration and a special field trip on Saturday to the Jordan Valley where we were able to witness the increasingly dire situations many Bedouin villages are facing.


Spring Team Arrives in the Field

The first two members of MPT's Spring Team to Palestine/Israel have arrived safely in the field and are preparing for the last leg of their journey.

They have met up safely after their flights, and have rested a bit, and will continue on to the MPT headquarters right away.

Watch for more posts from the team very soon!

Nicole Rohrkemper
International Teams Coordinator
Michigan Peace Team