April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
Article 53 of 4th Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians:
“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
Nureddin Amro is the founder and principal of Siraj al-Quds School for Integrated Education in Jerusalem, promoting inclusive education for young people with visual impairments. Nureddin is himself blind. At the end of March, he and his family were awoken by the Israeli army at 5.30am in the morning as they slept in their home in East Jerusalem. What happened next in his own words:
Living in Rubble in Jerusalem – Nureddin Amro
Steps away from Jerusalem’s Old City, where millions of people from all countries and faiths visit for spiritual and cultural renewal, I am living with my family in rubble.
In the early morning hours of March 31, while we were sleeping, hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police surrounded the house where I live with my wife and three children and the adjacent house where my brother lives with his wife and four children and our 79-year old mother. We had gone to bed looking forward to a picnic in Jaffa that we had planned, but were awoken by the frightening sound of vehicles and yelling. They banged on the doors shouting that we had to get out immediately as they had come to demolish our home.
Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes is not new. Some demolitions are collective punishment for acts carried out by individual family members, but most are “administrative,” which means that homes were built without permits. Palestinians and human rights organizations argue these administrative demolitions are not legitimate because Israel refuses to issue permits to Palestinians to build on their own land and because the “permit regime” is part and parcel of Israel’s policy of driving Palestinians away from areas the occupying power wants to control.
Unfortunately, I live on strategic land that Israel is trying to confiscate. I live on the access road to a new settlement. Israel supports Jewish settlement in Jerusalem to make sure the percentage of Palestinian residents does not rise and threaten their efforts to Judaize the city.
What is unusual in my case is that there was no demolition order against my house and there was no warning at all that it would be demolished. Perhaps that is why the soldiers committed the act with such brutality. Many of the soldiers were masked. They brought dogs and a helicopter and bulldozers. We begged the soldiers for time to go to court and obtain proof of our rights, but they refused. We tried to email international organizations for help, but the soldiers cut our electricity and phone lines. We tried to film using our cell phones, but they beat us. My brother was injured in the leg and a fence fell on my 12-year-old son.
I was born in Jerusalem. My parents were born in Jerusalem. Their parents were born in Jerusalem. Their parents were born in Jerusalem. It mattered not to the soldiers, many of them only recent arrivals in this land.
Our modest house was approximately 70 years old – older than the State of Israel. I have lived there for more than 40 years. It’s a semi-rural spot nestled between the commercial zone, the major hospitals, and the religious sites. My kids used to play and relax under the shade of the trees, now destroyed, and they enjoyed offering water and snacks to passersby, whether Palestinian or Jewish Israeli or foreign. The house is our only home.
By the time the soldiers left, they had demolished the wall that surrounds the house, the garden that we loved, the kitchen, and several other rooms. My brother, my mother and I are each left with one room. We have restored the electricity, but the sewage system is ruined. In the place where my children used to relax and play under the shade of old trees, there are piles and piles of rubble.
Many people have offered to help us clear the rubble, but after talking with other families who have experienced demolition, I am confused about what to do. Some were told to remove the rubble after the demolition or face high fines. Others who cleaned the rubble immediately after the demolition, however, realized they had helped the authorities to destroy the evidence enabling them to later deny having demolished the house. I don’t want to take any action that will undermine my legal position, and I don’t want to do anything to “invite” them to demolish the house still more in the near future.
It isn’t easy living in a house surrounded by rubble, especially for my brother and I who are both blind. Still, I find myself unable to throw away the crushed concrete, which is mixed with the fragments of my entire life. Each uprooted plant and broken piece of furniture is a part of our story. While it’s hard to walk over and around the rubble as we try to live, it’s just as hard to imagine tossing it into a dumpster.
Life for Palestinians in Jerusalem is complicated and tiring. Laws favor the authorities and Jewish citizens, especially settlers, and are interpreted unevenly and unpredictably. As the principal of a school for visually-impaired and sighted children, I have supported hundreds of families as they tried to stay on their ancestral land in the face of violence at all levels. Now my own family is among those awakened by nightmares. We live in fear that the soldiers will come back and that nobody will protect us.
Nureddin Amro is the founder and principal of Siraj al-Quds School for Integrated Education in Jerusalem. He was chosen as an Arab World Social Innovator by Synergos Institute for his work building an inclusive future for the visually handicapped through integrated education and is an Ashoka Fellow. He was recognized by the British Council in Jerusalem as a social leader working for positive change and social development for people with special needs. A campaign to alleviate the Amro Family’s losses is at:
April 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
Apologies for the long absence… it has been a busy 6 weeks! Friends came to visit at the beginning of March and it was interesting to see Palestine through their fresh eyes, so to speak. I love showing people around, even when I have no clue where I’m going! We visited Hebron – my first time in this very complex city – and saw how the Israeli settlements within the city have crushed trade in the Palestinian markets. Hebron used to be a bustling centre of trade It’s famous for it’s pottery, glass objects – and grapes. Everything that’s to be exported is now bought by Israel and sold on as “Israeli” products – after the EU labelling rules, fresh produce from Hebron will probably be labelled as settlement produce. The city is unique in that it’s the only place where there is a settlement right inside a Palestinian city – usually they are built on the outskirts. There are 400 Israeli settlers living in Hebron in settlements built above the old market… and 2000 Israeli soldiers to “protect” them. The market streets, where Palestinian traders work, are covered with sheets of wire netting, put up to protect traders and shoppers from the generic rubbish which is thrown down by those living in the settlement. We saw empty cans, pieces of glass and more organic rubbish balancing precariously on the netting while we walked cautiously through. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, settlers and Orthodox Jews visiting the city often come down into the market and smash things up, presumably for entertainment.
Why is Hebron special? The Ibrahimi Mosque – also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs – is believed to house the tombs of Abraham and his wives and is therefore a holy place for Judaism and Islam. In Islam, Abraham is known as “Khalilullah” – the friend of God – and Hebron’s Arabic name is “Al-Khalil”. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American immigrant to Israel (and, ironically, a medical doctor, trained to save lives), entered the mosque during the dawn prayer and murdered 29 people while they were praying. When you visit the mosque today, you can see the bullet holes in the walls, plastered over with white and numbered from 1 – 199, according to our guide. Following the massacre, the mosque was shut by Israel. When it was reopened, it was split with bulletproof doors – one side is now for Jews, and the other for Muslims. For 10 days a year, the whole mosque is opened to Muslims, and for another 10 days it is fully opened up for Jews. On both sides, we were asked the same question – “Are you Muslim?”. On the mosque side, it’s to establish whether you’re there to pray or just as a tourist. On the Jewish side – it’s because Muslims are not allowed to enter (but sometimes we do anyway… shh).
I went back to Hebron last week with a group of Britons who had come to Palestine to run in the Right to Movement Marathon, fundraising for the Amos Trust and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). We visited the Al-Alia hospital, where MAP are funding a new burns unit, and heard from MAP staff about the issues facing healthcare in the West – Bank and particularly Gaza. To summarise healthcare in Gaza, a quote from one of MAP’s staff – “I didn’t see a single bar of soap in any hospital in Gaza”. Imagine what the situation is with actual drugs and consumables. Gaza at the moment has 4 hours of electricity a day, and generators are not able to cover the shortages. The Gaza power plant has been inactive since the war last summer, so they are dependent on Egypt and Israel to provide electricity. Obviously effective medical care is impossible without electricity – and to get care outside Gaza, citizens need a permit from Israel to leave. People die waiting for permits. We were told that when a child gets a permit for medical care inside Israel, their parents are not allowed to accompany them – they have to be accompanied by a “secondary” relative – an aunt or uncle, for example. This relative, being Gazan, is not allowed to leave the hospital premises for any reason, whether to buy food, get fresh air, whatever. I cannot work out what the security reason for this bizarre rule might be. Anyway, selfish shout-out here – I am still collecting donations for the 10k I ran as part of the Right to Movement Marathon. All money will be divided equally between MAP and the Amos Trust, so if you can spare a fiver, please do – https://www.justgiving.com/boo-bethlehem10k. Massive thanks!
While in Hebron, we also visited the only shop on the famous “Shuhada Street” that is still open (the rest have been forced to close by Israeli forces for “security” purposes), and were fed a fantastic Palestinian meal by the family who owns the store. We also heard how the shop – and it’s owner, Abu Mohammed – were attacked in the run up to the recent Israeli elections by a local settler who was running as an MP and wanted to boost support. While the soldiers manning the nearby checkpoint which you go through to get from the “Muslim” side of the Ibrahimi Mosque were apparently supportive AFTER the attack (they have no jurisdiction to do anything to stop settlers), the police couldn’t care less. Justice here depends very much on two things: the person you’re dealing with and your racial identity… as I and all the other brown/Arab people who have been detained at the airport can attest to!
Staying on the subject of Hebron – there was an incident this week which may have made international news. 2 nights ago, we heard that an Israeli lad, 22, was “missing” after entering a Palestinian village near Hebron, and was presumed kidnapped. His friend call the emergency services, claiming he had gone missing after going to look for help for a flat tyre. The Israeli army launched a massive operation – here in Ramallah, people were tense and afraid of what might happen next. The next day, we discovered that the whole thing was a prank – there was no flat tyre, the friend hadn’t gone missing – apparently he was just trying to impress a girl! The whole of Hebron was closed by the army because of this idiot.
Something else happened this week that probably didn’t make the news, but should have. A 5.30am on Tuesday morning, the Israeli army woke up a Palestinian family asleep in their home in the Wadi El-Joz area of East Jerusalem. 2 blind brothers, their wives and children, and their 79 year old mother. They proceeded to demolish the house while the family were forced to stay in one room. Nureddine Amro, one of the 2 brothers, is the director of Siraj Al Quds, a school for the visually impaired in East Jerusalem and one of our programme partners. He’s an incredible, dedicated man, passionate about improving the situation of young people with visual and other disabilities in Palestine. Full story here. Home demolitions in East Jerusalem and forcible evictions are part of an Israeli policy to change the demographic “facts on the ground” to justify keeping the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. According to international law, however, East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and (theoretically) the capital of a future Palestinian state. Whatever Google maps might tell you, the capital of Israel is in fact Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. While we’re on the subject of evictions, there is an Avaaz petition going around to garner support to stop the eviction of Nora Sub Laban and her family from their home in Jerusalem’s Old City. They have been subject to several eviction orders, despite holding the deeds to their house, and the only reason they are still there is because of the physical international presence of journalists and activists (shout out to EAPPI!) who gather at the house to prevent them being forced out. Please do sign: Help Save My Home.
I didn’t intend this blog to be quite so full-on – or quite so focused on Hebron, but that’s what’s slipped out. I’d like to end on a cheerful note though, because, politics and endless human rights violations aside, there is so much to love here. One of my best experiences in Palestine so far has been attending a show by the Palestinian dance troupe “El Funoun el sha’biye el falastiniye” – here’s a video from the show, because I can’t explain how incredible they were: https://youtu.be/28qVTrmXtgA. In fact, I was roped into a dabke lesson last week and the only reason I joined was because I secretly want to be able to dance like El-Funoun… pigs may learn to fly first! I will update on my progress when I get to the end of my 8 weeks of lessons…
From the holy land – a happy Friday, happy Easter and happy Passover to you all, whatever you’re celebrating.