Israelis seeking Palestine

Upon leaving Ben Gurion airport, instead of turning right and hopping on a bus to Jerusalem, we turned left and caught a taxi to Jaffa. I was going to meet my friend Judith, who I met on a previous visit 2 years ago. Judith is an Israeli Jew, she is also a huge opponent to the occupation and the current Israeli government.

The reason I was staying with Judith, was for her to introduce me to two elderly men who reside in Jaffa, so they could tell me their Nakba stories. The Nakba (the catastrophe) was in May 1948 as Israel was created and Palestine diminished by over half, with many of her occupants displaced or worse. (look up Deir Yassin for example). However, Judith received a call for people to help on a project connected to the Nakba. She asked if we would like to go, and of course we said yes.

So Saturday morning, we were up bright and breezy and waiting on the corner of two main roads for our lift. The streets were quiet with it being shabbat. All of the shops were shut. Suddenly we heard a beeping of a horn and Judith said, “Oh that must be Adel. I have actually never met him before. He is an Israeli Arab.” Elaine and I looked at each other. Here we were with a woman we barely knew, getting into a car with a man she didn’t know, to drive to outside Ashkelon which is only a few miles away from Gaza. They spoke in Hebrew to each other, no-one translated. Elaine and I sat in silence.

We joined a main artery out of the city and sped across this land of Israel. This was the first time since being on this slice of land that I had ever gone so fast. Palestinian roads are not serviced very well, there are checkpoints, there are hills and bends. This was straight and smooth and soon on the right hand side I could see the high rise buildings of Ashkelon in the distance.

We pulled off the main road and pulled into a layby. Another car pulled up behind us. Both drivers got out, had a little chat, then the other car overtook and we followed. It wasn’t far until it pulled off a road onto a dirt track. My mind was racing overtime. In my head we were going to a Nakba event, I thought we would be meeting people, yet here we were being driven to lord knows where by who knows. I decided that being as we managed to get into the country far too easily, ‘they’ had now decided to kidnap us and take us for questionning in some far off place where no-one would find us. It didn’t help when we drove up to an military facility area that was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers.

We were told we were there and we should get out of the car. Out of the facility ahead, came women soldiers, still in their pyjamas, with a gun slung casually over a shoulder. Again, Elaine and I looked at each other, probably both thinking the same….”where the hell are we? And what is going to happen here?”

One of the group who had been in the other car had approached the soldiers, then came back to us. She spoke in English. “It’s only the fucking battery for the Iron Dome.” she laughed as she said it. “The fascist bastards said we can’t take pictures of it, so probably best if you don’t, anyway, let’s introduce ourselves.”

We went around the circle and bar Elaine and myself, everyone else there were Israelis, the majority were Jews. The reason we were there was to re-find a village that had been destroyed in the Nakba, Hamama. Ashkelon was expanding and this area was going to be developed, and the development would go right over the top of where the village used to be. The organisers of this group set out to map and tell the history of the village and villagers from this place, so Israel can’t wipe it completely out of history as it so tries to do.

From Google Earth, they had carefully mapped out co-ordinates to where the southern most house of the village would be. Our challenge was to find that and the village square, with clues from stories from people from Gaza who used to live in the village, to someone who drew a map from memory of their birthplace and who lived where.

So, off we all went, co-ordinates put into smart phones to see where the south house would be. To begin with we headed towards the military base, but we soon realised we were heading away from where we needed to be, so we turned on our heels and headed back towards town.

ashkelon

It was apparent that this area had become a nature reserve. There were all types of birds flying around. There were ducks nesting on the pond and no doubt newts and other wildlife. It was such a peaceful, lush place, however, hanging in the air was the stanch of raw sewerage.

ash

After about an hour and half of walking, back on forth, over man-made hillocks, down near natural ponds, we found we were as near as damn it to the Google Earth co-ordinates. Under where we stood were the remains of the Southern most house in the village. We mapped the spot.

ash2

The home-owners name was also mapped, Abu Sultan.

This area was raised from the land below, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mounds were created by the remains of the bulldozed homes, just left in piles, and where nature has taken over and claimed for herself?

We sat and had luch, then made a moving video about the village with excerpts read out from a book called From Hamama to Montreal, written by a former villager. Off we then headed to find the village square.

Up ahead was a wall of cacti, many over 5foot tall, and with thick trunks. This gave us a clue really as to where the village square might be and what was being hidden behind these prickly pears.

cactus

orchard

We then again matched up the co-ordinates for the Google Earth images and where we stood and again mapped them. We looked and looked, but there was little evidence of any of the village left. We found a few bricks in the undergrowth, but everything had almost gone, as if nothing had ever existed here.

ash 3

We headed back towards the direction of the cars, happy to have found something and hopefully mark it down in history, but sad that so little remained. I am sure that if you stood there for just long enough the sounds of the past would have been carried by the wind.

I would like to thank Judith for taking us on this amazing day and to De colonizer research / art laboratory for social change for allowing to take part in their research. I felt hugely privileged to have spent time with these Israelis who have taken time out to research so much of what their fellow countrymen want to ignore or deny.

Please have a look at the video made from the day. Scarred Hamama

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Focus!!!

I am back. I am reviving the blog. I realised I lost my focus and my yearn to write about Palestine. My love and feelings for the place however, have not abated.

Since coming together with my friend Elaine and setting up Feed A Village in Palestine, I have been on a journey, I never thought I would ever undertake. I have been out to Palestine now on an annual basis and am planning my fifth visit later this year with the project.

Each time I return, I feel like I am going home. I have forged friendships there, seeing people time and time again. I have met the most generous of heart people who materialistically have very little, but they have their pride and their sumoud, their steadfastness.

I wrote a little on our visit in December 2014, but have written nothing since. I concentrated muchly on raising money for the project, and as I was absorbed into this, I was absorbed 24/7 into Palestine. I felt I was living and breathing it, posting on Facebook about fundraising activities etc, and it was almost like I didn’t need to write in my blog, as my focus had changed so much.

But fast forward to this December just gone when we were back there for 3 weeks. I had gone with the focus upon collecting stories from the Palestinians we met along the way, their lives, their hopes, their dreams. The situation on this last visit was bad. Many had been killed by the Israeli army and settlers, many Palestinian teenagers were looking for revenge and set out to stab soldiers. These were shot dead, killed outright. Along the way, innocent victims were shot, stabbed as an air of unease and paranoia spread. Checkpoints, strip searches and blockades were set up within the West Bank by the Israeli Army. We arrived as all of this was going on in full swing.

Whilst there, you almost go into auto pilot, you don’t know if you can get from A to B, you don’t know if ‘someone’ is going to think you are an ‘enemy’, ‘a traitor’. Journeys were rerouted, stopped altogether. We heard gunshot, we had journeys changed as ahead of us people had been shot dead. But this is normal life there, you just almost shrug your shoulders and carry on. This is how Palestinians live, this is their life.

It wasn’t until my return home that it hit me how shit the situation had been. I was happily driving in my car, going from place to place without a care in the world. I began to cry. I hadn’t appreciated how free I was here and how hindered I had been there. It made me sad, deeply sad, and then the reality of what we had experienced out there really hit home.

I have found it really difficult to adjust for the past couple of months. I speak to friends in Palestine often and hear what they are going through, and I feel guilty that I can only offer platitudes from here. I realised that now was the time to revive this blog and tell their stories, give them their voices, and for me to write again about things and feelings I haven’t wanted for face for a while.

I realise that this blog was born out of my naivety of my journey to the Holy Land, and seeing all I wanted to see. I realise what a journey I have taken, in a way I never thought my life would take. I feel that now is the time for me to accept the fact that I am an activist and I need to own the fact that Palestine is in my heart.

I hope that the stories that I write in the future will open your hearts too to the lives of these amazing people I have met on my journeys.

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The changing family through occupation

During our recent trip as Feed A Village in Palestine, we visited many different areas within the West Bank. We had meeting with town councils and mayors to discuss who in their municipalities would benefit the most from our help of giving sheep, goats or fruit trees to help them self sustain in one way or another. We also decided whilst there to give out food parcels to those deemed most needy. During the delivery of the goats, trees and food parcels, we had a whistle-stop tour and a snapshot of many families in lots of villages. One thing stood out to us, how many families there were with disabled children, and not just one disabled child in the household, but usually 2,3 or even 4. One house we visited had 5 children, 4 of them were deaf/mute.
I thought back to a family we stopped with in a different area a couple of years ago, they had 4 children, 3 had serious disabilities and they had also lost some children, either through death or miscarriage. Elaine and I had a discussion about all the disabilities. Was this caused by the gene pool getting smaller? After all, most of these villages are now cut off from other areas. The Palestinians are not freely able to travel between towns and villages. Was this an unseen, unspoken part of the occupation, a serious consequence?
Forward to a few days later and we arrive in Bethlehem for Christmas. Whilst there we decide to visit the Caritas Baby hospital to deliver Christmas presents to the children in there. Afterwards we spoke with Bashir, the PR manager for the hospital. He told us that the admissions on genetic illnesses had increased hugely over the past few years. He said that 10 years ago you may have had one child who had cystic fibrosis, now they have many. He confirmed our suspicions that this is because the gene pool is shrinking. The hospital is carrying out genetic research and testing many of its patients and their parents.
This was honestly a part of the occupation that had not occurred to me, until we saw how many disabled children there were in each area. It is not an obvious association, but when you look at the lack of freedoms, travel etc, it comes down to who lives where and who you partner off with and marry. First cousins marry all the time, but when you are on perhaps the third generation of first cousins, this is when the waters muddy somewhat. And, obviously, I haven’t touched on the lack of water, food, poor diet, chemicals used etc etc can also affect fertility and childbirth obviously affecting the health of the child.
Sadly, the Palestinians land and rights have been fading over the years. Many remain steadfast and are very active against the occupation, but it is the poor villagers, who have very little who sadly seem to be the forgotten generation. I hope that by writing this piece, it highlights their need for the occupation to end and to open up their worlds again.

http://https://www.facebook.com/pages/Feed-a-Village-in-Palestine/299604890221896

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So, we left Bil’in in tears after being handed, handcrafted cushion covers by our hostess Kamar. I felt sad to be leaving them, and had only known them for 3 days, for Elaine it was much worse, this was her third visit to them.
We arrived in Ramallah where Jamal picked us up and started a tour of ‘half the West Bank’ as he put it. We drove out of Ramallah and into straight into military rule by the Israelis with watchtowers and checkpoints.
Our first stop was a large village called Qaryout. Before anything further, we have to visit the town council (I’m starting to see a pattern here) where we meet Basel. He had just come out of hospital after being in a coma for 5 days caused by the nerve gas that was used with the tear gas during the previous Friday’s demonstrations. He came with us and took us to an extended family unit away from the village. There are 23 people that live here. Directly opposite is a settlement. The road has dog kennels dotted along it for ‘security dogs’. The area is fenced and barbed wired obviously to keep the terrorist Palestinians! What that doesn’t stop is the illegal settlers daily harassing this family. Throwing stones at the children, setting fire to their agricultural land, breaking into their houses. They release their sewerage onto the crops, destroying any little bit of livelihood these people have. This family refuse to move and hand over their land to these illegal squatters. illegal under international law, but that means nothing in Israel, which seems to make up its own rules and the rest of the world cowtows to it.
Then we went a little way down into the village where an old man told us that on the roofs of these houses they were storing stones to throw at the settlers when they come. His house had been set on fire twice through molotov coctails been thrown at them, and his 4 year old grandson had had his head split open by an attack by a settler with an Iron bar. All the houses now have grills on their windows for protection. The old man kept giving us sweets and biscuits and was really grateful that we had visited.
“It makes us know that someone cares, we think no-one cares.”
Off to Yanoun, a very poor village that needs 24/7 international presence to protect it from settler raids. All the hills surrounding have settlements on. They can no longer tend to their land or roam with their livestock. 10 days ago new caravans appeared, marking the place where a house will be built and more land will be lost.
On the way back to Aqraba, we stopped at a family home where all members of the family had been attacked by settlers. One was on crutches, it was 2 years since his worse attack. He will never work again. He was attacked from behind with an iron bar, beaten, kicked and left for dead. He still needs operations to sort his leg out. The family can’t afford it.
We finished the day feeling drained and emotional. Luckily we had been given a flat to stay in in Salfit. We had chance to sit back and mull over all the stories we had heard from the day.
Both of our heads were in a mess. Who to help and how?
Friday. Well I had been up all night with a dodgy tummy. We were due to meet Fatima at 2pm to go and vist some more deserving families. The time was then changed to 3pm, then 4.30pm. As I was feeling so ill, we said we would leave it. It was good to have a ‘free day’. Our heads are all over the place from all the stories we have heard so far. Trying to organise anything on a friday also is impossible, people are either at a demo or at rest. So, nothing got organised, even though we tried!
Saturday, finally we were off to buy the sheep (or so we thought) Jamal picked us up, off the the Town Council again. The mayor of Yanoun wanted to do the negotiations on our behalf, so we went off to the Jordan Valley with Jamal. What an absolutally beautiful area this is, and as they have had rain, it was green. Trenches had been dug by the Israeli Military to stop the local bedouin crossing onto land they once owned by Israel have decided they are having.
We visited a lovely man, whose home has been demolished 7 times. Each time the military have knocked it down, he has built nearer to the Illegal settlement. He has told them that if they demolish again, he will rebuild inside the settlement!
This week, the settlers killed 38 of his sheep. That is half of his livestock. They put poison down on the ground for them to eat. Now we have been quoted anything from £200-£450 for a sheep, so he has lost a whole heap of money there. This is a regular occurance. He has no water, and no rights to water, yet there is a water pipline that passes through his land. He is not allowed by law to access it, as he is Palestinian.
Back to Yanoun….they mayor had only found one sheep he liked the look of, so we have to go back tomorrow, hopefully by then, he will have found the other 2. And the Hatchery we promised for the village needs to be specially ordered in.
Nothing here ever works to plan. Elaine and I have found it really frustrating working with all the protocol and how slow it all moves. We hope to take pictures of our sheep tomorrow as we move onto the Nablus area where we have 100 trees to plant for people!
Please let this area be more organised!
http://www.feedavillageinpalestine.co.uk/

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Back again, this time with Feed A Village In Palestine.

What a mad few days it has been!
We arrived at Tel Aviv airport on Saturday evening to torrential rain, awoke in Jerusalem to more rain, left Jerusalem in sunshine and arrived in Bil’in to more warm sunshine, so much so, that yesterday I got slightly sunburned and the local mozzie population have had a feast on me.
So Bil’in….we had three nights here. Which we thought was plenty of time to sort out four goats and various trees. What we had forgotten about was the Village Council.
The first evening we met the Mayor under an oak tree and ate toasted acorns near the apartheid wall. A meeting of the town council was called for the following evening, so on day 2 we went to look at goats and trees. The visit to the ‘tree shop’ happened at 8.10pm, when it was dark and we couldn’t see a thing, but the tree man promised us a good deal.
The town council meeting on the evening of day 2 consisted of 5 men who needed to see if our project was viable and what they could sort out. After much deliberation and many”Ahlan wa Sahlan’s” our project got the go ahead and they then needed to decide on the most worthy of people for the goats. They decided on four women, all widows who have families to support. We really liked that idea. They already were farmers, but having another goat would make a huge difference to them where they can sell more cheese and yoghurt and make more money to support their family. We were introduced to all of the women who were bought to the Town Council offices. It was a hugely humbling experience.
We followed the goat truck to see the goats delivered and then went off to discuss trees. We bought 51, 30 were olive and 21 were fig. These, instead of going to individuals, will be planted on Town Council land, they will plant the trees and look after them, and the village will benefit when the trees bear harvest.
The council decided to buy a tree in dedication to me and Elaine and we helped to plant that in the grounds of the council meeting place.
So, we are heading off tomorrow to see what we can buy to help in the Jordan Valley. A very different area to here with very different needs. Please check in in the next few days to read about what we have done here.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Feed-a-Village-in-Palestine/299604890221896

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So, here we go again.

Last year when I returned, I had thought that that was it for me. I had seen almost all I had wanted to see out there, and I could do more good spreading the information I had gleaned from my two trips back here. After being offered the chance to go over in the summer to help with the summer school in Bil’in, and me turning it down, some little voice in my head kept really nagging at me. My friend returned, really gee’d up. She had decided to set up a project and was going to go back in December to launch it.

“December” I thought, “I could possibly manage to squeeze a little trip out there at Christmas.”

Then the sensible voice in my head spoke to me. “Lisa, you are saving up to go to India next year. You promised that you were not going to travel anywhere else before that trip.”

Sensible voice won…..but the nagging voice told me to look at flights and sensible head agreed as flights at Christmas would be far too expensive for me to contemplate.

They weren’t!

So, I am off in December to help my mate in a project she has created. I saw the prices of the flights, text Elaine and said, “right these are the dates I’m thinking of going, do they work for you?” She text back “yes” and that was that, decision made and booked in under 20 minutes. I think sensible head must have taken herself off somewhere for a lie down, but at least nagging head had stopped!

If you are on Facebook, please have a look at the page for the project and don’t forget to click  ‘Like’ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Feed-a-Village-in-Palestine/299604890221896?fref=ts

And have a look at the website too, which will also have a blog on it.

http://www.feedavillageinpalestine.co.uk/

And for those who don’t want to click on either link, basically we are raising money to buy Olive and Fig trees and sheep and goats to give to families in Palestine to help them self sustain. Any donation is welcome (but you will need to click on either link to be able to do that) Or think about donating a tree or an animal in lieu of a Christmas gift, or give one as a gift (we have certificates for those who donate)

Also whilst there, I will hopefully be meeting up with people from my last trip, ones I am actually aware I never got around to telling their stories (I must remedy that before I go) and I will be in Bethlehem for Christmas, so am hoping to get tickets for Midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity. Well, it seems silly not to when I am in the country!

Anyway, before I go, there are a few things coming up with Coventry Friends of Palestine. We have a writing competition. Details below.

FOP Writing competition poster draft 5 pdf-page-001

Please feel free to enter, wherever you live.

We also will have a ‘Pop-Up Shop’ for the 14th, 15th and 16th November at 1 The Precinct, Coventry City Center. We will have the Silent Voices photography exhibition which is currently in Liverpool Cathedral. And we will be selling Zaytoun products along with olive wood carvings and nativity scenes and tree decorations from Bethlehem -hand carved by a carpenter with the name of (yes, you have guessed it) Joseph. We will also have talks going on over the weekend and short films and documentaries on show too. Please pop in our ‘Pop-Up Shop’ if you are in the area that weekend.

I am going to try and write a couple of blogs about my last years trip, before my this years one. And sorry for the rambling blog, but sensible head is still out to pasture. I am hoping she will return before my return to that most confused of places.

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My house, my life.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Things that happened a week ago feel like a lifetime ago due to news and events which surpassed the previous days happenings. Gaza became an everyday word and I was hooked on the news coming from there like a junkie needing a next fix. I forced myself to watch the most horrendous of footage that the local people had filmed on their mobile phones and read the saddest of statuses written on Facebook.

For now there is a truce….for now! Yes, the bombs have stopped dropping over Gaza, but how on earth can people begin to rebuild their lives there, how can they begin to rebuild their homes for that matter? Over 16,000 homes have been destroyed. Just think about that for a minute, 16,000 homes! Think about your home, go on, take a good look around your own house. Mine is filled with happy (and some sad) memories. I have family pictures dotted about the place, photographs of holidays and paintings from places I have visited. I have gifts given to me by my friends and family, some of these I hold very dear to my heart. I have important documents like my birth certificate, driving licence, insurance and bank details and my most precious of documents, my passport. I have worked hard to make my house into my home, cluttered with memories of fabulous visits to places near and far, and of friends and family. I would think that your house is the same. So imagine, just imagine you were given just 57 seconds to leave your house before it was going to be razed to the ground. What do you do? What do you take? This is if you actually recieved a phone call or text to warn you. (what if your phone was not by your side? What if it wasn’t charged up? What if you didn’t have a phone?) What about the ‘warning’ bomb they dropped on people’s roofs? A ‘small’ bomb to warn of one that is coming to destroy the house and maybe the occupants. What if you had an elderly relative that wasn’t easily moved? What if you were heavily pregnant? Were sleeping? Had numerous children in different rooms? All of these questions and more spun round and round in my head.

16,000 homes, with numerous occupants. There are over 450,000 people displaced, that is almost half a million people. I live in Coventry, the population here is under 320,000 just to put it into perspective, so that is the population of an entire city and then some who can not live in their homes any longer. Here is a brilliant link where you can put in the name of your home town and compare it to the size of Gaza.

http://ahmadnassri.github.io/gaza-everywhere/?center=52.406822,-1.519693&zoom=10

Look up the population of where you live and think…..just think.

I drive past blocks of flats and think of the flattened ones in Gaza, bombed without a second thought for the families whose lives were inside. I honestly can not contemplate how they are continuing with nothing and nowhere to go.

There have been 89 entire familes wiped out during this campaign…..all dead, wiped from history. One wonders if Israel wants to do the same with all the families of Gaza?

I also had to question the warnings to people, as had there been Hamas in the building, then surely they would have been warned to leave too? On the day the ceasefire was announced, the heads of Hamas stood for a press conference, in the open in Gaza. Yes, a ceasefire and truce had been called, but Israel could have easily and justifiably taken them all out on one fell swoop with NO fatalities to any civillians, ceasefire or no ceasefire. But who am I, a mere mortal to question all of this and these actions that have come from the ONLY democracy in the Middle East, and the MOST moral army in the world.

I, along with many others, will be watching closely to see if anything changes for Gaza apart from that the fishermen have a couple more miles of sea to fish in. I hope for the sake of all the dead (over 2,100) that their lives and deaths were not in vain and that they counted towards a free and fair Gaza. More of the world has now woken up to this……more of the world is now watching!

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