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One of Bil'in's main activist in the non-violent struggle against the Wall has been arrested

Yet another Friday of resistance in Bil’in took place this week. MPTers walked along with residents, other internationals and Israelis to the land given back to the people of Bil’in after they won a case with the Israeli court in 2007, and continued further to where the demonstration would nowadays take place.

It took for this small but significant victory for the people of Bil’in four years to be actualized when in June this year the army finally dismantled the Wall in the village and relocated it 150 acres further back into the land of the Modi’in Illit settlement. Even according to the new path 435 acres of village land still remain behind the fence. The demonstrations still continue on a weekly basis and are against the very existence of the separation Wall and the Israeli occupation.

The mood this Friday was grim. The reason for that is that during the last week’s demonstration, on the 21st of October, Ashraf Abu Rahmah, brother of two Bil’in casualties, had been arrested and accused of throwing stones during the protest. This happened as demonstrators were already walking towards the village on their way back. The soldiers surprisingly crossed the gate and drove with four army jeeps into the village, then arrested Ashraf. To see the video of Ashraf getting arrested please go to International Solidarity Movement’s website: http://popularstruggle.org/content/ashraf-abu-rahmah-brother-two-bilin-casualties-arrested-during-protest

The Israeli soldiers promised to release Ashraf if the demonstration was dispersed but failed to keep their promise after this was done and instead drove away with him in one of their jeeps.
You may remember Ashraf from the following story when in 2009 he was blindfolded and shot in the foot in Nil’in by an Israeli soldier, here is the story as MPT members have related it then: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/07/stories-from-bilin-and-nilin.html

Ashraf’s brother, Bassem was shot dead during Bil’in demonstration in April 17th, 2009 with a high-velocity tear gas canister that shot him in the chest. Their sister Jawaher is another member of the Abu Rahmah family who lost her life at Bil’in’s peaceful demonstration in December 31st 2010 after inhaling a massive amount of tear gas.

Witnesses to last week’s demonstration have provided evidence in terms of videos and photos proving that Ashraf, one of Bil’in’s main activist in the non-violent struggle, has demonstrated peacefully every Friday just as he did on the day of 23rd of October when his arrest occurred. He has not thrown any stones. 

Despite this evidence, Ashraf has been ordered an indefinite extension of his arrest, until the end of legal procedures against him and is still under arrest in the notorious Ofer Prison.

One week after his arrest we shouted “Free Ashraf”, along with slogans like “End the Occupation” and “Palestine will be state”, to the soldiers on the other side of the Wall.

The old barrier stood here. The truck could have not gone any further before July of this year.

Tear gas was shot yet another time at the demonstrators.

Two Israeli activists confront the soldiers.

Rani Burnet is one of the witnesses of last week's protest and Ashraf's arrest. Part of his body was paralyzed after he had live ammunition shot in his neck by an Israeli soldier in 2000. This hasn't prevented him in participating regularly in the non-violent struggle of his village up to this day.


Demonstration in Kafr Qaddum

Last Friday (21st of Oct) our team headed to the village of Kafr Qadum to attend a demonstration that takes place weekly since July of this year. We arrived early and were fortunate to learn more about the situation by the organizers themselves. In 2003 the main road east from the village linking it with Nablus was blocked by members of the illegal Israeli settlement of Qadumim (built in 1976) and has not accessable to Palestinian ever since. After unsuccessful attempts during the last six years to gain justice through the Israeli High Court, the popular committee of Kafr Qaddum took the matter in its own hands and started organizing the weekly demonstrations claiming their key road back. Residents now have to drive 26km to get to Nablus instead of 13km. This leads not only to increased expenses but to delayed arrivals at the Nablus hospital. Three children from the village have passed away during the recent years after failing to receive urgent medical care in Nablus on time. Since July until now six young people have been arrested for taking part in the demonstrations.

The demonstration started right after the Muslim’s noon prayer as Palestinians and internationals walked together on the road. It was already blockaded by the Israeli Occupational Forces close to the end of the village. We approached to a distance of about 50m from the soldiers to where barbed wire was strung across the road. Youth began throwing stones and within a couple of minutes tear gas was fired at the demonstrators. The wind, road, and building lay out was such that the tear gas just followed us down the road as we all ran to escape.

After recovering the demonstration participants approached the blockade again and the process repeated itself. This time when the demonstrators began to run MPTers slipped down a side street and were given shelter by some Palestinians. We were able to see and photograph the soldiers as they entered the village on two separate occasions.

We heard sound bombs and tear gas being fired. Other participants reported the use of rubber coated steel bullets. The demonstration ended around 1:00 PM. It was later reported that the soldiers announced that there would be no olive harvesting on Friday and Saturday although the villagers already had permission.

Life returned to normal quickly in Kafr Qaddum. Kids were playing soccer in the street, no one was arrested this time but one young man was hit by a tear gas canister in the leg and the road is still closed.


Two days immersed in Deir Istiya

This is a view of the Deir Istiya skyline from the walls of the “old city”.

The village of Deir Istiya is one of the West Bank’s largest, in terms of land mass originally including 34000 dunums (8500 acres) of which approximately 900 dunums (225 acres) were built up. Dier Istiya is located SW of Nablas and about 15 km from the Green Line. The community has lost approximately one third of its land to the construction of illegal Israeli settlements and outposts. Outposts are illegal even under Israeli law.

List of losses (date, settlement name, area lost - 4 dunums=1 acre)
-1978, Karne Shomron, 2000 dunums
-1981, Yakir, 3000 dunums
-1982, Emmanuel, 5150 dunums
-1988, Nofim, 500 dunums
-1991, Revava, 1570 dunums
-2000, Gina Shomron, 500 dunums
-2000, an outpost between Karne Shomron and Ginat Shomron, 450 dunums
-2000, another outpost near Revava, 500 dunums

Reported difficulties for the village include:
-reduction of grazing land by 30% as villagers are not allowed on their land which happens to be near a settlement.
-deliberate pumping of waste water into Wadi Qana causing negative impact on the agricultural diversity and the pollution of drinking water.
-closure of much of the agricultural land causing major access problem for plowing, pruning and harvesting.
-ongoing attacks on the villagers by settlers including live ammunition, sound bombs, and beatings
-(unconfirmed by MPT) the release of wild boar which damage the land and crops.

Both members of the MPT 2011 Fall team spent Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 25-26, immersed in the harvest and life of this ancient village. We picked both days and spent the night with a Palestinian family. The following pictures and text share our observations.

We drove to the olive groves in an old truck as the farmer explained that there was a much shorter easier route but they were not allowed to drive that close to the settlement. After a bumpy ride on a very rough road, we started the 10 minute walk to the grove. We were very surprised to be so close to the outpost and also to the settlement of Revava – both clearly visible in the picture.

This is not Wadi Qana as mentioned above but the same process of fouling the land with waste water is practiced in this area. It is hard to express the disgust we felt for a community that would do such to their neighbors’ crop land and for a larger system that would allow such pollution to continue. The water had a slight flow to it indicating that there was an ongoing release of the fluid. But it was basically a putrid stagnant mess of liquid waste. It was impossible to determine what all might be in it.
A tanker truck appeared on the second day and we were told that it would dump bad water to drain into their olive grove. We tried but were not able to confirm that it was dumping.

This lady is trying to harvest some olives from this small tree which is surrounded by filth. We were told this tree would die and saw evidence of other flooded trees having already died. Furthermore, the family reported that too much water prior to harvest negatively impacts the quality and quantity of olive oil.

The picking took place very near the outpost and the settlement. We gained enough altitude to look right down into the outpost.

We were never able to see more than the edges of Revava, the settlement. We were visited by the soldiers and the settlement security. As we were picking during the allowed time, these visits were routine - "no problem" as our Hebrew speaking farmer was inclined to say.

Our landlords reported to us that wild pigs have been released to damage crops in the plains of Huwwara and that a lady was recently hospitalized after being attacked by one. When picking in Jammain, the men said they saw one and chased it off by throwing stones. Wild pigs (boars as they are often called in the USA)can be a huge problem. We are not able to give you an eyewitness account, but the farmer also said, “See the damage that pigs have done to the ground and to this tree.”

We often see a very small scat which all of the folks have said is gazelle. I asked about this much larger scat and was told, “Pig”.
It appears that the wild pig/boar is indigenous to Israel/Palestine. There does not seem to be any clear evidence that anybody has intentionally released them. There is thought that the wall has effected their migration and Israeli army report have shown skyrocketing populations in some areas.

The farmers are not allowed into the groves before 8:00 AM (no picking in the cool hours of the morning even though it is light enough by 6:00) and must be out or moving in that direction by 4:00 PM. Here is the farmer and one MPTer walking out to the truck past the outpost at the end of the day. After dinner a young family member drove us to meet our taxi and said, "They steal our olives; they foul our water; we have nothing left but the air we breathe. Thank you for coming. You give us hope.”

"Welcome" to Israel - Welcome to Palestine

Two members or the Michigan Peace Team arrived in Huwarra on Thursday, Oct. 8. Entering an area of struggle such a Israel/Palestine is a truly unique experience. We thought you might be interested in the greetings we received.

One member entered with no difficulty. The other was pulled aside at the airport, made to wait, then interrogated (“Why so long? Why Turkish Air? Are you a journalist? Are you familiar with ISM? Who do you know in the West Bank? Do you intend to do any violence against Israel? ….and so on), made to wait again, and then abruptly told, “You must sign this document or you will not be allowed to enter Israel.” The form was mostly in Hebrew but did say in English, “…agree not to enter PLO controlled areas.” Such was one member’s “welcome” to Israel.

A few days later in Huwarra we began visiting around town and handing out cards (in Arabic) explaining our work. A man approached one of us asking “You need help?” He read our card and then said, “Welcome Welcome Welcome.” We stopped at the small grocery store down the hill from our home to pick up a few things for our home. We gave the clerk one of our cards; he refused payment saying, “You come to help us; first time you pay nothing.” Our first taxi driver quoted a low price, he dropped us at our junction saying “you pick olives, thank you” – he then refused to take any money. Such was our welcome to Palestine.

Palestinian Prisoners' Hunger Strike

Thank you for your patience. We have been without internet access in our Huwwara home since we arrived. We will begin posting blogs today. .........the 2011 MPT Fall Team.

The fall team met in Jerusalem and traveled directly to Ramallah for two days of additional training. Before leaving for Huwwara we visited a tent in Ramallah where persons are on a hunger strike in support of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in the many Israeli prisons. Civil law structures exist in most countries but such is not the case for Palestinians. They are under a military law which allows for “administrative detention” for up to six months without being charged with a crime or having a hearing. Such detentions can be extended. Palestinians who actively try to resist the occupation even by peaceful nonviolent means are often detained in this manner. The hunger strike is meant to denounce all of that as well as the living conditions inside Israel's prisons such as solitary confinement, ban of visitation, and the lack of medical attention. Apparently the hunger strike continues even after the deal Hamas and Israel reached on Oct. 11 for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

It didn't take us long to notice the two tents for right in the middle of one of the buzzing with life central squares in Ramallah. There was an old man nearby who seemed to want to talk to us. We went and greeted him and right away he started telling us his story with an unseeing look in his eyes. He told us the names of his relatives who were imprisoned, then pointed to his lower jaw that was completely toothless and made the gesture of teeth being pulled out. Even with some Arabic skills we were unable to determine much of what he was saying. But it was intense with emotion and this needed no words to be conveyed, we clearly felt it. Then tears came out of his eyes. We were unable to communicate with words but hope that our willingness to listen and to share time showed him that we cared. We took his picture and shook hands. We walked away with sadness, hopefully carrying away of a bit of his burden.


Stories of the Olive Harvest in the West Bank

The MPT Team in the field is busy supporting Palestinian farmers as they engage in nonviolent restistance to the illegal Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Today, the team had dinner with a local family in a village near Nablus, eating with about 25 Palestinian locals.  It was a great chance to make connections and help build recognition, trust, and community for MPT and local folks involved in nonviolent resistance.

As you may know, sometimes things move slowly under occupation, and the Palestinian economy has been all but devastated by the intentional effects of Israeli policy.  The team is still working daily with local folks to restore internet and phone access at the main house.

In the meantime, we encourage you to read the archives about Olive Harvest time.  Here are some selected articles written my MPT direct from the field, that you might find informational and engaging:

Internationals make a difference with protective accompaniment during Olive Harvest.

What it's like growing olives in the West Bank.

Brief retelling of one incident of settlers stealing olives.


Olive Harvest Accompaniment, and Internet difficulties for Team in WB

The MPT Fall 2011 team is safe and well and settled in at our home base location in the West Bank this week.

They have been meeting with local folks and our contacts in the area to renew connections and let folks know we are back on the ground for the coming season.

They have begun accompaniment for the Olive harvest time, helping to reduce the threat of violence when asked to go into the fields with Palestinians picking their crops.

For the time being, the demands of this busy time and very limited access to Internet means it will be a few more days at least until the team can post full first hand reports of their work. Keep watching as they will be up soon!

To read more about what Olive Harvest time is like, search "olive harvest" in the search box above for last year's Fall posts.

Thank you for your continued support, and leave your comments for the team on the blog comments section!


Fall 2011 Team Members Arrive Safely

The whole MPT Family wishes to thank everyone who helped make this team possible, from volunteers, to donors, to staff members.

The team will begin posting reports from the field within the next few days, when they arrive at their home base location. They have arrived in country safely.

We look forward to hearing your comments on our blog!

Nicole Rohrkemper
Michigan Peace Team