Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Blog Entries from Libby Davies

August 14, 2009

Jerusalem

Met with Danny Seidemann, founder of Ir Amin (City of Peoples), in Jerusalem (www.ir-amim.org.il). He’s a really good story teller and expert on the complex geo-political layers of this city. "This is where the conflict ends or it doesn’t end at all", he says. But adds the "Balkanization" of Jerusalem is making a two state solution impossible. Even so, h is cautiously optimistic, as is everyone we have met, due to the change in the US and Obama’s words, and the appointment of Mitchell as his Middle East envoy. Still, he is worried that Jerusalem is being turned into a "settler evangelical theme park." He has met with more US representatives in the last 30 days, than in the past eight years – such is the renewed interest in the issue.

Danny has been a key activist around the house evictions in Jerusalem. And he gets impassioned about the issue as he talks about the ongoing evictions and how the city is being divided. Later the same day we go on a field trip with Jeff Halper – a great Israeli activist too, whose organization works to prevent Palestinian house demolitions (http://www.icahd.org/eng/).

We inch along jammed streets in a high-density Palestinian neighbourhood, (no sidewalks) roads not fixed for years. We all pay the same taxes says Jeff – but in Palestinian areas there’s rare garbage pick-up, no postal service, no legal water hook ups etc. He takes us to a house being built by 60 young people mostly from Spain. They are building it in two weeks flat from scratch. The Spanish
Government is helping pay for the construction. The owner is beaming as the young folks pour concrete, tile, clear rocks, and sing. His former house was demolished. A young Palestinian boy runs around giving everyone tea with mint. We also meet Salim, whose house down the street has been demolished four times. If you stand in the new doorway of the partially constructed house (they are on day nine) there are striking views. Behind us are layers of housing crushed together, almost defying gravity it seems. In front of us down a steep rocky embankment is the Wall. Still being built ($2 B so far, $2B to go) as it snakes through the city. Its message is powerful. Divide. You cannot ignore the wall. In some places it is covered with graffiti; in others, grim concrete slabs, thick and wide. In the further distance are white, red roofed "settlement" developments. They are on hill tops, serene and look quite beautiful, and illegal. A little further away we can see the police station that is part of the E1 settlement. It is very controversial (3500 homes) and is at this point is not progressing after Obama said it must stop.

I’m a city person and I love cities – the way they work, the way they are run, and how they grow. It comes from my municipal experience as a community organizer in the Downtown Eastside, itself a complex neighbourhood, as well as being a city councillor in Vancouver for five terms. But Jerusalem is quite something different – the contradictions are endless and generate much debate. Of course its historical and religious contexts are unique. But I’ve never seen a city where the roof top water tanks are colour coded to reflect who you are (white-Israeli, black- Palestinian). And a new transit line being contracted going through both Palestinian and Jewish neighbourhoods, but you won’t be able to get on or off in the Palestinian one.

The future of Jerusalem is core to everything, so I am glad I got to see, meet, experience, a little bit of what is happening here.

 

West Bank, August 9.

We had a very busy day in the West Bank.

There’s a lot to learn and absorb. A briefing from the Ramallah office of the Canadian government is really helpful. Ramallah itself, a centre of commerce and social activity on the West Bank, is bustling and busy. New buildings. We pass through Area C (still controlled by Israel administratively and policed by Israel). We are told that this means in effect, no regular policing.

Excellent briefing from Negotiations Support Unit of PLO. Settlements and their continued expansion are the single greatest threat to a viable and sovereign Palestinian State. Expansion continues and the impacts are real (as we are to see later in Bil’in). It means Palestinians don’t have access their land and resources around the settlements. Settlements now number about 170 with a population of close to half a million. The by-pass roads connecting them and the Wall, now two thirds constructed, means close to 90% of the settlements will be within the wall, even though they go far beyond the green line. The settlements are illegal under International Law. This system of segregation of Palestinian land, and over 600 check points in the West Bank, and a permit regime, is a major road block for a Palestinian state.

Later we meet with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the PA, a self described "moderate". He says Israel is implementing a clear policy of a "settler state" in the West Bank. We also talk about the situation in Gaza and he points out $4.4 Billion has been provided by the International Community to re-build Gaza where 25,000 homes were totally or partially destroyed in the war and bombing in December/January, but the materials for re-building are not getting in. UN reports on the ground have said that 860 truck loads are needed every day to go into Gaza to cope with the humanitarian disaster. But only a small percentage is allowed in by Israel.

Later on we have a lively discussion with Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP, who is critical of the way things are being done by the Fatah Party, the dominant party in control of the Palestinian Authority. He advocates for a more grass roots approach to support democratic development, rather than focussing on security issues. He has been supporting non-violent resistance to the occupation, and believes this must grow.

I have anticipated our visit to the small community of Bil’in, a village of about 1700 people 30 minutes from Ramallah. I met Mohammad Khatid, a leader in the village, in Ottawa and was so impressed with his leadership and work. He is now in jail. We met with other village representatives and their Israeli supporters and visited the site adjacent to the fence/wall, where they hold weekly demonstrations. The wall cuts through their land. The earth is scorched black from numerous tear gas cylinders and there is a terrible smell that makes you want to vomit. It’s the remains of "skunk water" they say. As many as 50 containers containing this skunk water are shot over by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), at a time, and once on you, will remain for weeks in your hair and skin. One villager tells us they have been terrorized by night arrests and the children are very scared and can’t sleep. Arrests are nothing new, they told us, but the focus of the security forces has increased since the court case in Montreal, where the village has taken 2 Canadian companies to court for building an extension to an illegal settlement next to the village. The village of Bil’in won a court case in Israel two years ago that the wall had to be moved so it doesn’t separate their land, but nothing has happened. "They are trying to kill popular non-violent resistance", but the villagers continue to pursue their case. We also meet a man whose brother died at the wall after being shot by IDF. His brother’s memorial is a few feet away – and he himself was arrested, and shot in the foot while handcuffed and blind folded. He has a warm smile and easy going manner which defies what he has experienced.

Villagers who are arrested face military court – and a much harsher legal system than the Israeli supporters who are arrested and face the regular Israeli system.

Mohammad is in jail – and we have requested to see him – but are told it will take 10 days at least. We will send him a message.

The Israeli supporter who works with the village gave a recent update, that last night (Sunday) the security forces came and harassed his family in their homes. His father was taken in for questioning. We will monitor what is going on.

Now off to Hebron (Monday). I was there in 2002 and am interested to see if it’s the same Mayor of Hebron that we met with then. We will also meet the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) folks.

 

 

Our first day in Jerusalem

August 8, 2009

Getting through the King Hussein crossing into the West Bank from Jordan took approx 1.5 hours and at least six different checks – but no problems. This evening (Saturday) was quite eventful. After being dropped off at our hotel by the Canadian office representative from Ramallah, the six of us (three MPs, and three from Code Pink) walked down the winding street towards the old city.

Without realizing it at first we walked through a small area where 67 Palestinians were recently "evicted" and Jewish settlers moved in immediately. Sabbath was almost over and the settlers were leaving prayers, in their long black robes. A young American woman told us of the daily events unfolding as three Palestinian families try to hold onto their homes(the latest in a number of ongoing evictions). The Hanoun family is sleeping on the street, a few short paces from their family home of many generations. Police and border guards arrive as tensions rise. You can feel the tension as settlers gather in small groups and the evicted families and supporters say one of them has been attacked. The police appear to push back the settlers from getting too close. We observe quietly and listen to the young woman whose family is now on the street. She explains that they were forcibly awakened in the early morning and put out of their homes. No time to gather belongings, and personal items. It seems lawless here – and the sense of uncertainty is all around.

We also learned that Mohammad Khatid and five others have been arrested from the village of Bi’lin for incitement to "damage the security of the area", http://palsolidarity.org/2009/08/7982 .

These are the villagers that have employed creative, non-violent strategies, against the barrier of the wall that dissects their village and land. We will be visiting the village. It seems hard to believe that Mohammad, who visited Parliament Hill and spoke with a few MPs, including me, in June is now in jail.

As you enter Jerusalem from the Allenby bridge the vista of illegal settlements on just about every hill top is surreal.