Practicing Gratitude in the Middle of it All

Thousand-year-old olive tree overlooking the city of Hebron.

Thousand-year-old olive tree overlooking the city of Hebron.

Life is not meant to be a burden. Life is not a problem to be solved. It is a blessing to be celebrated. Every dimension of life, its gains and its losses, are reasons for celebration because each of them brings us closer to wisdom and fullness of understanding.
– Joan Chittister

In the U.S. the end of November means the celebration of Thanksgiving. The importance of setting aside time to give thanks, not just on one day in November, but as a daily practice, cannot be dismissed.

Here in Hebron, we may sometimes ask: For what can we possibly be thankful? We see teargas lobbed at children regularly, men and boys detained daily, frequent harassment of Palestinians. Violence. Hopelessness.

Gratitude is not a simple emotion or an obvious attitude. It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future. It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face the painful moments – experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure – and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith.
– Henri Nouwen

It is in places like Hebron where we must practice gratitude, where we must not let the bad that we see eclipse the good that, against all odds, abounds. For how can we possibly harness and share goodness if we are unable even to recognize it around us?

And so we, the current CPT Palestine team, offer the following – the places and times where light breaks through darkness, where hope conquers hopelessness, where love wins over hatred, fear, and apathy:

I am grateful for the family and friendship, that support us in every aspect of life.

I am grateful for my son and the beauty and promise of his life that waits him. There is hope in each new innocent life that is presented to us, knowing that we are giving the opportunity towards leading them towards the path of love. Each day I am reminded of this, because kids naturally want to love and be loved. I see this not only in my son, but in all the young children around me.

When hope is under serious threat, I can always turn to the earth.  Sometimes I resonate with the words of Saint Catherine of Siena, “I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns of the earth and the laughter of the sky.”  As I passed through a valley between Bethlehem and Hebron the other day, I saw the earth sing in rust-coloured grape vines and leafy green veggies.  For several days, the sky has been laughing at us with rain showers, thwarting our plans with downpours and floods.  And today, as promised, the sun comes out again.  Gazing at thousand year old olive trees, I marvel at the way they can grow in dry and rocky places.  And I’m reminded that the earth continues its steadfast resistance, slowly overtaking landscapes of fear.

I am grateful for the Palestinians who show me what perseverance, courage, patience, and hospitality look like. I am grateful for teammates and friends near and far who show me how to live compassionately and how to embody humility by recognizing that our work is not our own, but the product of God working through us. I hope that someday this team won’t be needed, but while it is, I am grateful for the many people who make it possible for me to here to share in this work.

I always feel that God is beside me. If a door closes in my face, God opens another door for me. I am glad that I am working with the team, that God opened that door for me. I am happy that I have the support of the team and that I can do this work. Sometimes I smile and hope that everything will be good, so I carry that hope and don’t live in the circle where everything is bad.

I am grateful for the infinity of the sky to remind me of the expansiveness of God.

For these things and many more, we are grateful. We sincerely hope that you, too, see beauty, notice experiences of grace, and find many reasons for gratitude at any moment and wherever you may be.

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Repressive Force by Israeli Forces at Demonstration to Protest Checkpoint Closure in Hebron

IMG_3670

A Palestinian protester in a cloud of teargas, after teargas canisters were fired by Israeli forces directly into the crowd.

At a demonstration to protest the closure of checkpoint 56 in Hebron on Saturday 29.11.14, a torrent of teargas and sound grenades rained down from Israeli forces, also armed with live ammunition, who were occupying rooftops above Bab az- Zaweyeh. Leading onto the small section of Shuhada street on which Palestinians are allowed to walk, checkpoint 56 leads from Bab az-Zaweyeh (the central square which marks the boundary of Israeli controlled-H2, and Palestinian Authority governed H1) to the neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida. Last week the checkpoint was set on fire during clashes, and the checkpoint has been closed by Israeli forces ever since. This act of collective punishment demands that families living in Tel Rumeida walk an extra hour, or that they walk through the homes and gardens of other Palestinians, to reach their homes. These families therefore organised a nonviolent demonstration to protest this closure, which is another example of the daily harassment and routine restriction of the rights and movement of Palestinians living under occupation.

The demonstration was a nonviolent march towards the checkpoint, attended by families from Tel Rumeida and the organisation ‘Youth against Settlements’, some of whom were waving flags and chanting “no to the occupation”. It took less than a minute before Israeli forces, who were already occupying rooftops nearby, to fire the first teargas canister into the crowd of people, swiftly followed by a sound grenade. In the half hour that followed, at least 15 tear gas canisters and 12 sound grenades were fired by Israeli forces into the busy square of Bab az-Zaweyeh. As anger and frustration at the sheer repressive force of the Israeli military mounted, stones were also thrown by Palestinians, yet were unable to reach the rooftops occupied by the heavily armed Israeli soldiers and police. The two CPTers who were in attendance, documenting, monitoring and photographing what was initially a nonviolent demonstration, were also directly targeted by sound grenades and teargas, by Israeli police who were also pointing live ammunition into the crowd. With the demonstration violently suppressed, clashes continued into the afternoon.

Video footage of the demonstration taken by CPT can be seen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhfv9sz8xh0&feature=youtu.be

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Roads to Resistance: Action to Develop Road in South Hebron Hills

A young Palestinian boy works on the road  which connects Yatta to At-Tuwani.

A young Palestinian boy works on the road which connects Yatta to At-Tuwani.

On Saturday 15.11.14 the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee (a nonviolent Palestinian organisation resisting occupation in the South Hebron Hills region), coordinated an action to develop the road which connects Yatta to At-Tuwani and surrounding villages located in the ‘Firing Zone 918’. Under the watchful eyes of the Israeli military and police, the action was attended by members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee, residents of At-Tuwani, Israeli peace activists from ‘Ta’ayush’, and internationals from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and EAPPI.

This unpaved road that runs between villages and the town of Yatta is the access route that Palestinians travel for employment, education, water, healthcare and other basic necessities of life. Surrounded by the tarmacked roads developed by the Israeli state for the settlers living illegally in the area, the rubble and holes in the Palestinian roads are tangible manifestations of the stark inequalities of power which characterise the Israeli occupation, and the specific context of the South Hebron Hills and the Firing Zone 918.

The ‘Firing Zone 918’, in which 8 villages are under threat of eviction, is a microcosm of the war of attrition the Israeli state is waging against Palestinians. Located in ‘Area C’ (under full Israeli control), the fear of forced eviction, constant settler violence and military harassment plague the life of over a thousand Palestinians. The majority of these Palestinians earn their living through farming and herding. The grinding realities of life under occupation, such as a near-total ban on construction as well as myriad restrictions on movement, render ‘living off the land’ a constant struggle.

This Saturday, as construction with tractors and other machines is banned in the area without rarely-given Israeli permits, busy hands set about with buckets and hoes attempting to remove rubble and stones and fill in the many potholes on the road.

A member of the South Hebron Hills Popular committee from At-Tuwani explained that:

“This road serves all the people from Yatta and around… This is a very bad road – the school bus can’t and when people need to bring something by tractor, it is very difficult. This road is also not good if you need to use an ambulance to take people to the hospital. Ten years ago it was an asphalt road, but at the start of the Al Aqsa intifada (in 2002), Israel demolished the road.”

He also said that, “we need to build a channel for rain water…Last year with the snow, all this is closed with water…You need a machine to fix this road but the DCO asks us for a permit, but will not give one to us to use a machine to work here….Now every week we try to fix it with small things, with our hands, before the rain comes.”

The racial politics of occupation are clear in his statement that “if a Palestinian comes alone to work here, the army and the police would arrest him quickly and stop him working, but it helps having international people and cameras to film everything.”

The action was an act of nonviolent resistance to the control Israel asserts over the lives of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. Despite the slow progress being made with hands, buckets and hoes, six Israeli police and military jeeps arrived. Palestinians were told that the work cannot be carried out without a permit, and a soldier declared such work a supposed ‘health and safety’ hazard.

The irony of such a statement is clear given the ‘health and safety’ hazards of the current state of the road and its implications, not to mention the myriad physical and psychological effects of occupation. Legal issues surrounding the firing zone and the South Hebron Hills are complex, with numerous bureaucratic intricacies through which it is nigh impossible for Palestinians to gain a permit for construction. Members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee asserted the unlikelihood of gaining such a permit ‘requested’ by the military, and managed to converse with soldiers until the action ended at the time initially planned by the committee.

Consider a contribution to the Christian Peacemaker Teams to support peace and justice. Make a difference, click here: http://www.cpt.org/participate/donate

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Israeli military and settlers close down Old City of Hebron to Palestinians

An Israeli settler screams at young Palestinians in the court yard of the Old City of Hebron.

An Israeli settler screams at young Palestinians in the court yard of the Old City of Hebron.

 

 

November 15: CPTers gathered expectantly at Bab il-Baladiyya, one of the bustling business areas in Hebron’s Old City. Palestinian shopkeepers greeted passersby, while shouts and chants in Hebrew came from the other side of a metal gate, one that separates the Old City from an area where Palestinians are forbidden. Israeli soldiers stationed themselves at various points around the Old City: in Bab il-Baladiyya, down streets and alleyways, and on the roofs of Palestinian homes. As each moment passed, tension grew.

Every Saturday a group of Israeli settlers and Jewish tourists, escorted by dozens of Israeli soldiers, parade through the Old City on a “tour,” in which they hear a version of the city’s history. This Saturday, however, was a holiday commemorating Abraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah, so an unusually large number of Israeli settlers, Jewish tourists (many from New York), and Israeli border policemen and soldiers were present. For nearly three hours, hundreds of Israeli settlers and occupying forces overtook the Old City, restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement and causing shops to close early.

While a normal Saturday “tour” means restriction of Palestinian movement and disruption of the lives of those living and working in the Old City, this holiday “tour” created greater disruptions. The Ibrahimi Mosque was closed, which meant that not only could Muslims not pray there, but that the checkpoint leading to it was closed. When the checkpoint is closed, Palestinians have to take much more circuitous (and hilly) routes from one side of the mosque to the other, adding time and difficulty to daily tasks.

The settlers and tourists, many of whom were young men, jumped and chanted Israeli nationalistic slogans as they slowly made their way through the Old City, blocking passage for residents and creating noise that prohibited any sense of normalcy.

As CPTers and representatives from other NGOs stood along the route, settlers and tourists questioned them, sometimes aggressively, about their presence and work and accused them of anti-semitism. One tourist threatened to hit a CPTer; another asked a CPTer to take a picture and then threatened to break the camera (which he’d already tried to handle as he passed by). A number of tourists said to observers, “Welcome to Israel,” though no country in the world, except Israel, recognizes the Palestinian Occupied Territories as part of the nation of Israel.

In a more open area Palestinian boys were playfully holding out their hands to shake tourists hands or give them a high five, with reactions ranging from enthusiastic handshakes and high fives to looks of disgust. The situation there got ugly when one of the groups of chanting tourists included in their shouts profanity directed at the Palestinian boys. When the boys shouted back, border policemen and soldiers intervened, yelling at the Palestinian boys and trying to move them back. CPTers arrived, putting themselves between the soldiers and the boys, at which point both groups backed away from each other. The solders and border policemen then turned their attention to calming down the still-shouting tourists. One soldier remained with the boys, talking and listening to them.

The holiday that brought so many settlers and tourists to Hebron commemorated what Jews identify as the purchase of the first Jewish land by Abraham. Often, and certainly on the Hebrew/English signage near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the implication is that the area is sacred to and meant for Jews only. However, it must be noted that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic faiths and, therefore, the area is significant for all three religions.

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Six homes, community oven destroyed in Um Al Kheir

Um Al Kheyr demolitions (1)

On the morning of 27 October 2014, the Israeli military came with bulldozers to the Palestinian village of Um Al-Kheir and demolished six houses and a traditional bread oven (tabun). The demolitions left thirty-one people homeless, including twelve children. According to the villagers, the tabun had no demolition order, but the settlers from nearby Karmel settlement were trying to sue the community over its use, saying that the smoke from the fire that baked the bread generated health problems for the settlers.

Um Al Kheyr demolitions (7)

During the demolition, Israeli police took two Israeli peace activists to the Kiryat Arba police station and arrested an international volunteer. They released him later that night on the condition that he could not be in the West Bank for a period of two weeks.

Um Al-Kheir is a small Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, made of Bedouin refugees from Tel Arad in Negev, inside the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel. The residents bought the land for the village in the 1950s. In the 1980s, settlers established Karmel right next to the village and continue to confiscate land from Palestinians for its expansion. The Israeli occupation authorities deny access to even the most basic infrastructure for the residents of Um Al-Kheir, may not connect to running water or electricity, and must rely on solar panels and generators.

As it happens all over Area C (61% of the West Bank under full Israeli military control), any construction without approval from the Israeli military authorities, the Civil Administration, gets a demolition order. The Civil Administration approves only a small fraction, about 5%, of the requests for building permits and only in heavily built areas that represent only 1% of Area C. It effectively forbids Palestinians to build in two-thirds of this same area (40% of the whole West Bank). Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israel has demolished thousands of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories because they could not get building permits, including the six houses demolished on 27 October.

The administrative process of house demolition, along with land confiscation, has been publicly recognized as a way to safeguard space for settlements, which are illegal under international law. According to this same set of rules, and according to international law, an occupying force should also allow the development and well being of the occupied population, which the policy of house demolitions clearly violates.

Tabun Rebuilding  (3)DSC00521 (1024x683)

On the day following the demolitions, 28 October, Palestinian residents of Um al-Kheir gathered with members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee and international solidarity volunteers for a joint action, during which they rebuilt the tabun. This traditional oven is the only sustainable source of daily bread for forty people in the village. CPTers were actively involved in helping to rebuild this illegally demolished structure.

The tabun was demolished once again on 29 October and rebuilt only with metal parts soon after.

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Israeli Military arrest 13 year Palestinian boy from playground

IMG_0855[1]HEBRON, Palestine – On the morning of October 29, 2014, Israeli forces made an incursion into the Motanabi school in Hebron, near the illegal Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The Israeli military detained two young Palestinians and arrested one. The Israelis arrested Bara Araf Jebal, 13 years old, for allegedly throwing rocks from the school playground at an iron shelled military outpost some 400 yards from the school.

During the arrest, the Israeli military transported Bara Araf Jebal in the armored vehicle without his parents being present or notified. The Israeli forces dropped him off approximately one kilometer from the school and was forced to walk back. According to reports, he was physically abused and coerced while in custody of the Israeli military.
The Motanabi school has been a recent area of unrest, specifically during the times of day when the school starts and ends, the times when the Palestinian children are coming and going.

“We have phone calls now when these incidents occur of parents calling us and telling us their children will not be going to school today,” said Hisham Qawasmeh, the principal of the school. “Last year it wasn’t as bad, but now we have soldiers here all the time. They say they saw kids throwing stones, but our kids can’t throw stones from here to where they are at – it’s too far.”

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11 year child detained and arrested in Hebron on the way to school

 

11 Year old Palestinian detained and arrested in Hebron.

11 Year old Palestinian detained and arrested in Hebron.

HEBRON, Palestine –  On Sunday October 26th at approximately 7:45 a.m., Israeli border police detained and arrested an 11 year old Palestinian boy in the Qitoun area of H2.

The Israeli soldier grabbed the young boy by wrapping his hand in the collar of his shirt, twisting his clothing tightly around the neck, despite the fact that the young Palestinian showed  no signs of resisting.

After several minutes of Palestinian adults pleading with the soldier to release his grip, the soldier finally responded and escorted him to the police station next to the Ibrahimi Mosque – without his parents being notified.

Once at the police station, the young boy was detained for over an hour and a half, after which the soldier informed one of the school teachers that he would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority at Check Point 56 at Bab iZeweyya, in the H1 section of Hebron. Once the child was in the military jeep by himself, the Israeli soldiers transported him to the other side of Hebron to the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba.

As of the time of this writing, he has yet to be released.

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Home Demolitions in Hebron

While many facts about the kidnapping of three Israeli settlers in early June, remain unclear, specifically to the public, one reality remains clear: Israel will pull no punches in sending a message to the Palestinians.

There are some points of this story that cannot be contested. We know that Israeli military orders to demolish three Palestinian community buildings left 22 Palestinian children of the Kawasamas and Abuaisha families with no home in early hours of the morning August 18. Eight families in total have been displaced as a result of the midnight assault. Additionally, the three multi-family structures that have been demolished, will likely not be issued building permits to re-construct them. Two of the three suspects have yet to stand trial for the alleged kidnappings – which raises concerns for the legal legitimacy of issuing the home demolition in the first place. Furthermore, the interrogation and subsequent confession of one Palestinian man, by Israel’s secret security service the Shin Bet (which has a long history of torture) is Israel’s High Court of Justice’s (HCJ) justification for the displacement of 39 Palestinians.

Although it is important to discuss , it’s crucial to look at the disparity between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in Israel’s legal system, and who benefits from the rule of law and how this perpetuates Israel’s position in the West Bank.

These Palestinian families have known for well over a month that the home demolitions were imminent. Hamoked – an Israeli rights organization – filed three separate petitions in the Israeli High Court.

A man stands in cement at Marwan al-Qawasmi house which was sealed off with cement

A man stands in cement at Marwan al-Qawasmi house which was sealed off with cement

They argued that “demolishing a family home was a cruel and inhuman act of doubtful efficacy, and that demolishing the homes of the suspects’ families constituted a deliberate attack against innocent people, in violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits collective punishment and destruction of property.”

HaMoked continued, stating that the planned demolitions did not meet the test of proportionality of Regulation 119 of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which sanctions such punishment – an old British Mandate Law Israel has adopted and uses frequently against Palestinians.

Lastly they objected to the home demolition on the basis that Israeli military only “uses the regulation only when the attacker is a Palestinian and the victim is a Jew, demonstrates extreme discrimination.”

The Israeli High Court of Justice’s arguments in favor of the Israeli military not only represented a continuation of collective punishment policies and the suppression of basic human rights granted to the Palestinians under international law, but also delivered a blow to the rule of law by setting dangerous precedents and perpetuating a dual-system of law for Israelis and Palestinians .

(Some articles contend that Israel is “renewing” a policy of home demolition, but this is misleading considering that the number of Palestinian structures demolished by the Israeli government doubled from 192 buildings in 2012 to 393 in 2013, displacing 854 Palestinians in just two years.)

The High Court Justices Yoram Danziger, Issac Amit, and Noam Sohlberg (a troika that has a checkered history) retorted that the demolitions were essential to deter acts of violence – particularly given “the significant deterioration of the security situation.”

This argument is particularly dubious considering that “the significant deterioration of the security situation” is as much a function of Palestinians resisting the Israel’s decade’s-long military occupation of the West Bank. (The reasons for the spike in violence across the West Bank is murky at best).

The legal unit representing the Palestinians argued that the ruling is discriminatory because Israel doesn’t exercise a policy of equality, since Israel does not demolish the homes of Jewish terrorists.

Consider the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager that was kidnapped and forced to drink flammable liquids before being burnt alive early last month at the hands of Jewish terrorists.

Yosef Haim Ben-David, an Israeli from the illegal settlement of Adam in the West Bank, explicitly stated in his confession to the kidnapping and murder that, “We planned to hurt a soul, meaning to kill… to torture him and kill him,” and continued onto say that, “to [let  know  Muhammad Abu Khdeir] that he was about to die as a sacrifice for the Jews that were murdered.”

How did the Israeli legal system respond? . Slightly different than demolishing the homes of eight Palestinian families – especially when there has yet to be a formal trial for the suspects.

When this analogy between the deaths and kidnappings of Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the three Israeli boys (Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah) was presented to the Israeli High Court, Justice Yoram Danziger responded, “I’m not overlooking the shocking case of the murder of the teenage boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a case that shocked the country and sparked wall-to-wall condemnations, but this was the rarest of rare occurrences.”

It’s hard to understand Danziger’s working definition of rare, considering that Israeli settler violence quadrupled in the last eight years across the West Bank.

Since 2006, there have been 2,100 attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers. Additionally, annual attacks are up from 115 in 2006 to nearly 400 in 2013 and 2014’s numbers are also on the rise.

But after 47 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the Palestinian families were not shocked at the court’s decision on the petitions, the violent way in which the homes were destroyed and the collateral damage of the explosions which displaced more families than what the court order ruled appropriate. For the Kawasamas, and Abuaisha families, it was just another chapter of injustice, through which possessions, homes and livelihoods have been destroyed – which plagues daily life for Palestinians living under the violence of occupation.

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Military shuts down Old City of Hebron for Settler Tour

August 5th settler tour

On August 5th, around 12:05 a.m., roughly 15 soldiers accompanied a tour group of approximately 25-35 Jewish tourists/settlers through the Old City of Hebron, detaining Palestinians on the street and stopping families in their vehicles.

The tour lasted over an hour, starting at the Israeli military gate at Bab al-Balideyah and ending at the Israeli settlement of Avraham Avinu.

The tour represents Israel’s tactics of strengthening control in the Old City of Hebron by encouraging Jews to increase their presence in Palestinian neighborhoods and expand on the settlements, which are all illegal under international law, as they represent an annexation land and a transfer of population.

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Israeli army throws stones and arrest two Palestinian policemen

A Palestinian sits motionless after being beat by the Israeli military.

A Palestinian sits motionless after being beat by the Israeli military.

Late at night on Saturday August 2, 2014, Israeli soldiers stationed at a military point threw stones at the Palestinian Municipal Inspectors office (police) and family house in the Old City of Hebron. CPT affiliate observed the incident. According to the policemen present at the station, the Israeli soldiers were throwing stones for several hours in addition to throwing of empty glass bottles.

While the CPT affiliate was present at the municipal office where the incident occurred, the Israeli army searched the premises, assembled the policemen in the street and detained two of them for allegedly throwing stones at the Israeli army point nearby contrary to the observation of the CPTer present in the station.

The two policemen were taken to a nearby military base. One of them returned within 20 minutes to the police station with visible cuts on his wrists from handcuffs and lost consciousness for unknown reasons shortly after.

The man didn’t fully recover and had to be taken to the hospital by an ambulance.

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