Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Blue Skies of Jerusalem

It rained on Monday here in Jerusalem. I’ve been here since October 3rd and it’s only the second time it’s rained. I was actually glad to see, feel and smell the rain. Most of Jerusalem and the West Bank are thankful for the rain because it has been such a hot, dry fall. But, at the same time I was celebrating the rain, I was acutely aware that there is at least one family that might not be so grateful for the rain.

On November 30, our team received a text message from a group that monitors house demolitions and evictions in the neighborhoods that make up East Jerusalem. The message was a demolition alert for Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood to the north of the Old City and home to over 2,800 Palestinians. When the team arrived, there were approximately fifteen police officers near a house where the top floor was being demolished. The picture to the right is what the house looked like shortly after the demolition started. The appearance of the house changed rapidly from that point on as the picture below and to the left reveals.

Although I was not with the team on November 30, when they first went to this demolition, I returned to Sheikh Jarrah on December 1, to view the demolition and to speak with the family members who lived in the house. As we approached the home, the owner, Bahar, invited us to come upstairs and view the scene first hand. As we climbed the stairs toward the front door, the first thing I saw is this door that the police broke through to enter the home in order to gain access to the roof.

From the front door we climbed up to the roof area and were met with the scene (below right). As we stood among the nails, the broken 2 x 4’s and the smashed drywall, Bahar explained to us that he purchased the house 5 years ago. At the time he purchased the house the structure at the top of the house was already there. Before he completed the purchase, the City Inspector came to the house and determined that everything was in order. The previous owner never disclosed that a portion of the home had been built without a permit.*

Bahar went on to tell us that several weeks ago, as he was leaving for work, somebody stopped, put a piece of paper on his door, took a picture, then took the paper down. When Bahar asked what it was about, he was told it was none of his business. On November 30 at 10:30 a.m. a crew of men arrived, broke the lock on the front door, forced it open, went upstairs and started destroying things.

The police told Bahar, that the only thing on the structure that was illegal was the roof, and only the roof had to come down; the rest of the structure could stay. But the pictures show that isn’t what happened. And, really what good would a home be without a roof anyway? The roof and two exterior walls were demolished as were most of the interior walls. One exterior wall, the one facing the street, remained standing. Drywall, wood, window frames, electrical fixtures, flooring, tile, etc. were in a large pile of rubble. The workers remained until approx 4:30 p.m., then left, leaving the piles of debris where they fell.

Bahar told us that he will have to pay 50-60,000 shekels for the cost of demolition - yes he has to pay for the destruction of his home. In addition, he will have to pay any costs associated with cleaning up and hauling all of the rubble away. It was his brother’s family that lived in this apartment. His brother died earlier this year from cancer. His brother had five children, ages 13, 11,9, 5, and 3. The children and his brother's widow are currently living in Bethany with an uncle.

The family of Bahar's brother were probably not as happy as I was to see the rain on Monday, since it now comes directly into what used to be their home. And the picture at the top of this article, the one with the beautiful blue skies? That's a picture of one of the workers throwing a piece of their home into a pile of rubble.

*I need to explain a the issue of permits. As with most municipalities, you must obtain a permit in East Jerusalem to erect anything on your land. By anything, I mean anything, a house, an addition, a chicken coop, a dog house, a storage shed. Now that may not seem like such an odd thing, after all many of us have needed permits over the years in order to modify, expand or remodel our homes. But, unlike most of us who obtain the necessary permit simply by going to City Hall and paying a relatively small fee, in East Jerusalem an application for a permit can take anywhere from 5-10 years and the average cost is $25,000. As a result, many additions are added to existing buildings without the necessary permit.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Welcome To The Life Of Alaa Zorba

Imagine that you are living in a house that your family has owned for 80 years – you have the title to the property, as well as the structures. The papers show that it is yours, free and clear. Imagine also, that 5 years ago, the government allowed someone to start digging a huge hole under your house, without your knowledge, without your permission and without any compensation to you. Every day you hear the noise of the jackhammer and you can feel your house shaking. As you try to sleep at night, the noise and vibrations keep you awake. One day you open your front door and your porch is gone, replaced by a huge hole also dug without your knowledge or permission. Upsetting? Outrageous? Alarming? Welcome to the life of Alaa Zorba.

Alaa Zorba, along with his father, owns a grocery store in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City very near to the Western Wall. If you continue down the street toward the Wall, you come to a stairway on the left, just outside the security entrance. If you climb those stairs, you come to Alaa’s house. There is a synagogue within arm’s reach from Alaa’s house, built two years ago.

We first met Alaa in his store the evening of November 2, 2010 and we asked him to share his story with us. Alaa invited us to his home the next morning. On November 3rd we returned to his store and walked with him down the street toward his home. As we approached the steps to his home, Alaa pointed out an “archaeological” excavation on the left side of the street, directly underneath his home. Looking through the door, we saw a huge hole, which, according to Alaa, is over 45 feet deep and almost 100 feet long.

Alaa told us that the excavation has been going on for approximately 5 years, although the frequency of activity at the dig has increased over the last several months. Although unsure of what they hope to find in this pit underneath his house, Alaa is sure that the digging has adversely affected him and all of the family members living in his house. And, while there is no proof, there is a deep suspicion about the effect of this dig on the stability of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second most holy place to Muslims.

As we climbed the stairs to Alaa’s home, he showed us the structural damage sustained by his home in the last five years from the digging. In the courtyard at the entry to the home, there are cracks in the walls of the house.

In the entry courtyard on the ground, we saw different colored stones. Alaa explained that the Israelis simply showed up in the courtyard one day and started digging. The family had to go to court and get a court order to stop the digging in the courtyard. When the police came to the house to stop the digging, Alaa spoke to the officers about the dig and the fact that he had to get a court order e had to get a court order to have it stopped. He was then arrested because he was “too noisy with the police.” When we entered the house and climbed the stairs we saw additional cracks in the walls.

As we sat in his living room talking and drinking tea, Alaa told us about his family history and the home they live in. His family has lived in this home for over 80 years, they have the Turkish document that proves that they are the legal owners of the home. His grandfather lived in the home, his father still lives there and now Alaa lives there with his family. As we sat in the living room talking, we heard a rumbling noise begin and the floor beneath our feet started to shake. The digging in the excavation had started. Alaa explained that the noise and the vibration occur during both the day and the night, making it difficult for him and his family to sleep. Alaa also showed us additional places in the home where there are cracks in the walls and the floors are uneven.

We went up to the roof so Alaa could show us just how close the synagogue was to his house. We were also able to see the numerous buildings in which settlements had been established; many had armed civilians sitting on the rooftops. Alaa asked us to keep our EAPPI vests on so that the police would know who we were. He told us that if anyone from his family goes on the roof, the police are immediately at his door and on their way to the roof

to find out what they are doing. In contrast, however, the armed Israeli settlers on the roofs are not questioned at all. And no protection is offered to Alaa's family when they are harassed by settlers or by people at the synagogue within arm's reach of his house. Alaa said the situation was almost funny, but he felt like crying at the same time.

The excavation has the approval of the Israeli Department of Antiquities. The dig apparently has some archaeological significance although if you ask the people working there they cannot or will not tell you what they are looking for. The dig will not be stopped even though families occupy the homes directly above the dig. It will not be stopped even though homes are damaged. There will be no compensation for the damage. There is no way to stop the dig. Upsetting? Outrageous? Alarming? Welcome to the life of Alaa Zorba.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The First Sunday of Advent in Ramallah, Palestine

I woke up yesterday morning and got ready to go to church at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah, one of the congregations in the ELCJHL. I needed to leave by 9:00 to make sure I was able to be there by 10:30 when the service started. Although Ramallah is only 17.5 miles from Jerusalem, it takes at least 1 hour to get there by bus, because the Palestinian buses are not allowed to drive on the Israeli roads once they leave the municipality of Jerusalem.

As I quickly checked my email, I found the following “poem”:

Twas the month before Chris tmas
When all through our land,
Not a Chris tian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Chris tmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Chris tmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Chris tmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Chris tmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
not Happy Holiday !
Please, all Chris tians join together and wish everyone you meet
Christ is The Reason for the Chris-tmas Season!
If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.
(Spelling and division of words, e.g, Chris-tmas(?) in the original)

This poem stopped me dead in my tracks. As I sat at the table, I thought about the congregation I was going to go visit. A congregation of Christians that exists in a land where the government has decided which religion is the “right” religion, and it is not Christianity. I thought about the people in that congregation whose families have been Christians for 2000 years, the families who first became Christians when Christ actually walked here in Jerusalem. I thought about how those families can only travel to Jerusalem if they have the right color permit. I thought about how the members of that congregation can’t get to hospitals whenever they need to because they live on the wrong side of a 30 foot high concrete wall that was unilaterally built by a Government that has decided which religion is the “right” religion. Frankly, I wondered how Christians in my own country could truly advocate what is written in this poem, in the name of Christ. And so, I have composed the following response:

Nothing that is mentioned in this poem can take your faith away, - not the PC Police, not the Senate, not the courts, not schools, not authors and not retailers. Only you can allow any of these things to take your faith away.

If you believe that the reason for Christmas is lost, or the faith of children is undermined by the absence of singing about "shepherds and wise men and angels and things" in school, please spend more time singing these hymns with the children you know and bring them to worship each Sunday so their faith can be reinforced and strengthened. Please set an example for them by living out Christ every day by being as open, loving, and accepting as Christ was to everyone he encountered except to those who judged others. And, if you are offended by the materiality of Christmas, then opt out of the shopping madness and have a Christmas without gifts for anyone but the poor and the needy.

As for the idea that sensitive, inclusive and diversity are words that are used to intimidate, I can think of no one who better exemplified sensitivity, inclusivity and diversity than Christ did. Look at that rag-tag bunch of fellows he picked up to be his first disciples - talk about a diverse group. And even more so, his followers ALWAYS included sinners, outcasts and those that society deemed to be "those people", just as Muslims (Ramadan), African-Americans (Kwanzaa), and gays are considered to be "those people" by the people who, in this poem, lament the absence of the word "Christmas." I believe that Christ would be appalled by the complete absence of sensitivity, inclusivity, and I'd be willing to bet, diversity of the person or persons that wrote this poem.

Also, I cannot understand how requiring religious displays on civic property in December to represent all religions, not just Christianity, somehow constitutes taking away “the reason for Christmas” or "eliminating Jesus in all public matter." Jesus has not been eliminated by the inclusion of symbols or other religions, he has been added to. What a generosity of faith it shows to include others at a time when they have been historically excluded. What better way to demonstrate what it REALLY means to be a Christian than to lovingly and openly welcome those who look different, act different, talk different and YES, believe differently. If we are able to do this, then Jesus has not been eliminated from all public matter, he has been glorified, he has been exemplified and he has been worshipped in the most public of ways.

Let me also respond to the phrase, "they took away our faith, forbidden to speak of salvation and grace, the true gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded, the reason for the season stopped before it started." I believe that the beauty of salvation and grace is that they exist irrespective of whether they are not mentioned, they are whispered about in private places or they are shouted from the mountain tops. So even if we were forbidden to speak of them, which we are not, they would still exist for everyone. As for it taking away your faith, I repeat what I said at the beginning, no one can take your faith away unless YOU allow it to happen.

Finally, the true gift of Christmas is not a crèche on the lawn of City Hall, it is not a Christmas tree hung right side up, it is not children singing hymns in a public school, it is not even a church building or the institution of church. The true gift of Christmas is Christ himself who called us to justice, to kindness, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If each of us were able to do that, then whether we choose to call December 25th, Christmas or a holiday or something else, it will not matter because the Kingdom of Christ will have arrived and all these other differences will fall away and not matter.

As I attended church at Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah yesterday, the entire service was in Arabic and I understood not ONE word. Nevertheless, I still knew that I was among my Christian brothers and sisters. They are not concerned with whether December 25th is referred to as Christmas or a holiday, they are not concerned about stores and which way they hang their Christmas trees, they don’t spend time fretting over being able to include Nativity scenes on the lawns of City Hall. No, what the members of Lutheran Church of Hope are concerned about is the freedom to worship as they choose; they seek not to be disregarded by the “right” religion, as this poem seeks to disregard those who are not the “right” religion. They simply want the right to be regarded as God’s children, deserving of the same respect and dignity as those who belong to the “right” religion in Israel. And, I knew that this congregation understood the meaning of Advent, expectantly awaiting the coming of Christ, who welcomes all to his table.

Merry Christmas to you and Happy Holidays to those whose beliefs, although different from mine, are just as strong and important to them as yours are to you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Today I intended to share a story with you about my last two mornings at Qalandiya, a checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerualem. Yesterday, however, someone asked me what we do at checkpoints. As a result, in this posting, I’m simply going to describe Qalandiya and tell you what we do there. I will share my story about my last two mornings some other time.

We go to Qalandiya three mornings a week, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. We are there from 5 a.m. until 8 a.m. If the lines are moving smoothly, we may decide to leave early. If there are problems, we stay until the lines clear. Recently we were asked to monitor Qalandiya on a Friday morning and on a Saturday morning, so next week we will be at Qalandiya five times instead of three.

Unlike the last checkpoint I talked about, Qalyndiya is a checkpoint for both vehicles and pedestrians. We monitor only the pedestrian portion of the checkpoint. Also unlike the last checkpoint I talked about, Qalandiya is dirty and dark. The sun barely shines into Qalandiya, except along a narrow strip of floor by the concrete bunker in which the soldiers sit. The light comes from overhead fluorescent lights, many of which are burned out, leaving almost half of the place in darkness. Above and to the left is a picture I took at Qalandiya on November 14, at 4:30 a.m.

I took this picture to the right on November 2. The space quickly becomes crowded and noisy as the men wait to get through the lines to work. As the mornings go on, women who are also going to work, and schoolchildren who need to get to school join the men. At times there may be 200 to 300 people waiting in line for the turnstiles to open so they can pass through.

As you can see from these pictures, there are three metal chutes, enclosed on three sides by metal bars and wire. These chutes are roughly 30 feet long, and two feet wide. At the end of each chute is a turnstile. Border patrol soldiers operate the turnstiles, pushing buttons to open and close them. Beyond the turnstiles, there are five ID booths; each has a conveyor belt and a metal detector, similar to airport security. Once a person passes through the metal detector, they are required to show their permit allowing them to enter Jerusalem. If the permit is satisfactory they are allowed to go. If it is unsatisfactory they are turned back.

At no time do the people waiting in line have any personal contact with any of the border patrol. The soldiers who push the buttons for the turnstiles sit in the concrete bunker, pictured below, which is located behind both a metal fence and a separate wire fence. The soldiers at the ID booths are also behind concrete and metal walls, the glass is shatterproof and bulletproof.

How often the turnstiles open is random. Sometimes they open every couple of minutes, sometimes every ten minutes, sometimes even more time passes. How many people are allowed to pass at any one time, from 8 to 100, also seems to be completely random. This is one of the reasons there are so many people waiting to get through – there is simply no way to predict how long it may take to pass through the checkpoint on any given day. Workers will arrive at 5 in the morning to go through the checkpoint simply to insure that they are able to make it to work by 7 a.m. Students start to arrive at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. so they can make it through the checkpoint to get to school by 8:00 a.m. Waiting times of over an hour or longer to pass through both the turnstiles and the ID booths are not uncommon.

Off to the left side of the concrete bunker, just out of sight is a gate called the Humanitarian Gate. This line is supposed to be open for older people; people with physical limitations that make it difficult to pass through the turnstiles, those with medical permission to use the Humanitarian Gate and for schoolchildren who need to get to school. The gate is supposed to be open from 6:30 – 7:30 a.m. Often it does not open at all. I have been told that the Humanitarian Gate will only open when the lines at the turnstiles are backed up. The definition of “backed up” is difficult to ascertain, however, given the number of people waiting to go through the checkpoint. We have the phone number for the humanitarian hot line programmed into our phones so that we can call for assistance to have the gate opened if the need arises.

The Humanitarian Gate opens into an area that leads to a turnstile. Although there is no metal chute encasing the walkway to the turnstile, the people are still fenced in by metal bars and wire fences. After the turnstile, the people walk to the same ID booths as the people who passed through the other turnstiles.

To open the Humanitarian Gate, a specific procedure must be followed. Despite the fences, the ID booths, and the armed soldiers in the concrete bunker and behind the bulletproof glass, 3 additional people are needed to open the Humanitarian Gate. A border patrol soldier with an automatic weapon, because this soldier is responsible for the border; a police officer with an automatic weapon, because the police officer has the key to the gate; a private security guard with an automatic weapon, because he guards the armed soldier and the armed police officer. It is necessary to have all of these armed people to allow the elderly, the sick and the students to go to the ID booths along the route I just described.

When we arrive in the morning, we walk from the Jerusalem side of the Wall to the Ramallah side, basically going through the checkpoint the wrong way. As we go through, we note the number of ID booths that are open, the number of turnstiles that are open and how many people are waiting. After that we stand near the entrance to the turnstiles to count the number of people who pass in each 30 minute period. We separately count the men, women and children. It is not an exact science, since we cannot physically see every person who goes through the turnstiles. Sometimes one or more turnstile stops working and we don't always notice the exact time it happened. This is one of several factors which can affect the accuracy of the count.

We share the numbers we gather with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Machsom Watch. On average, over 2000 people pass through the checkpoint in a three-hour period. We document when we call the humanitarian hot line, we document whether the problem is resolved, we document the actions of the people waiting and we document the general attitude of the soldiers. This is what we do at Qalandiya.

Qalandiya is dehumanizing. It is disrespectful. It is degrading. I hate going there.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

At 5:45 a.m., on October 25th, we walked out the door to go to Zaytoun, a pedestrian checkpoint located east of the Old City of Jerusalem. At the checkpoint we count the number of men, women and children who pass through the checkpoint. Because Zaytoun is a pedestrian checkpoint, no cars drive through, everyone who lives on the east side of the Wall gets dropped off and then they walk through the checkpoint to the other side. Why the Wall is here, in this particular place, is not germane to the story, but I will note that it was built more than 3 ½ miles beyond the internationally recognized border of Israel.

Laborers, teachers, school children, professionals, everyone who lives on the east side of the Wall, must pass through the checkpoint to get to their jobs or schools. When we arrive at Zaytoun, we cross to the east side of the wall so that we stand on the same side of the checkpoint as the Palestinians who must cross through the checkpoint. This is what Zaytoun looks like from where we stand:

As checkpoints go, Zaytoun is a one of the better ones – if you can ever describe any checkpoint as one of the “better ones.” Zaytoun is fairly new, it’s not dirty, it’s not dark, it doesn’t have the same smell of desperation and despair that is prevalent at Qalandiya –a story for several other entries.

On this particular day, the sun is shining brightly, there were four I.D. Booths open, and there were no lines at the turnstiles. As the Palestinians approached the checkpoint we were greeted in Arabic and English, with nods, smiles and lots of giggles and grins by the students.

We had been there about an hour when a woman approached with her two little girls in their school uniforms - beautiful little girls, with large brown eyes, shy smiles, and carefully brushed hair. They were probably 5 or 6 years of age; they would be in Kindergarten or First grade in the United States. It made me think of walking my kids to the bus stop and waiting with them for the bus to arrive when they were that age.

As this woman approached with her two daughters, I assumed that she was going to go through the checkpoint with her two little girls, as many other parents had that morning, and accompany them to school. As a result, I didn’t watch as they approached the turnstile, but instead turned to continue counting people as they approached the checkpoint. When I turned back, this is what I saw:

Her little girls are just passing through the turnstiles. If you look very closely, you can just see the head of one of her daughters in front of the little boy in the blue shirt with the baseball cap on his head.

The mother could not cross with her little girls, because she does not have a permit that allows her to cross. She has to remain on the Palestinian side of the wall. Yet her concern as a mother, for the safety of her children, is evident in these pictures.

In this next picture, her daughters have moved through the turnstiles and are waiting at the ID booths to show their identity cards, which establish their right to cross, and pass through the metal detectors, which will allow them to go to school. If you look closely, you can see the mother on the left side of the picture, standing against a turnstile, which is not open today. She is watching to make certain, the best she can from where she has to stay, that her little girls get through the ID booth and metal detector with no problems.

This next picture shows the mother standing at the top of the entrance of the checkpoint, watching to see if her little girls safely get on the bus that will take them to school:

This is her life and the life of her children, day after day, week after week.

Remember, today was a day when the sun was shining. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t raining. Remember that today there were no lines – some days there is only one ID Booth open. Some days no one passes through the turnstile for 30 minutes or more, with no explanation. Some days people are pulled to the side interrogated and searched, and not allowed to pass.

So today was a good day for this mother and her daughters.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

You may have noticed that I have not recently posted anything on my blog; to say that I have been busy is an understatement. I have spent the last two weeks learning, tasting, inhaling, seeing and feeling Jerusalem. All five senses are in use every day – the smell of fresh baked bread and cookies from the baker just behind my apartment; the sounds of buses, and vendors, and people as they go through their days; the taste of the delicious food – hummus, falafel, shawarma, and Arabic coffee. The sight of the old city walls, the stone streets, Augusta Victoria hospital and the never-ending beautiful blue sky; the touch of the sun, the warmth in the handshake of someone I’ve just met, the feel of an olive branch in my hand as I comb the olives from its leaves. All are wonderful sensory experiences that will never leave my memory.

My mind will also never let me forget the following sensory experiences either. The smell of refuse because the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not provided with regular sanitation services as the settlers and residents of West Jerusalem are, even though they pay the same taxes. The sight of people being herded like cattle into cages, on a daily basis, to go through a turnstile to get to their jobs because they live on the wrong side of a barrier built by the Israelis. The taste of despair that hangs in the air, as people are evicted from their homes that their families have lived in for generations because there may be a garden under their city that King David may have walked in at some time. The sound of the spit hitting the ground at my feet because I held a sign that said “Stop the Occupation.” The touch of the butt of a loaded machine gun on my arm, as a soldier walks down the aisle of a bus checking passports and residency permits.

The dichotomy is disconcerting, disturbing and difficult to experience. I have formed a tentative explanation for all that I’ve experienced. I’m deliberately choosing not to share that explanation now. Instead, I invite you along on my journey. I will describe for you what I see and hear and experience. I will share with you the stories that I am told by the people I meet. At the end of the journey, let’s compare explanations and we’ll see if they are the same.

In the meantime, I have what may seem like an odd prayer for you: I pray that your beliefs, your opinions and your emotions about the Middle-East are challenged, shaken, rattled and changed as a result of what you read here. God's peace be with you and me and with everyone here in Jerusalem.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Monday, October 4, we visited an apartment in the Old City. The apartment was one of eight apartments in one building occupied by Palestinian families. One night in July, occupants from 7 of the eight apartments attended a wedding. When they returned home at 3 a.m., they found that Israeli settlers had moved into their homes while they were at the wedding. Only one apartment remains occupied by its Palestinian owner. The settlers are protected by the IDF, the police – who have erected police barriers in the apartment courtyard, and private security guards. The Palestinians whose home were seized, sat in the street outside the house for several days and were accompanied on several occasions by the current EA's, in protest of the actions of the Israeli settlers. Although the Palestinians have obtained several court rulings that the Jewish settlers improperly seized their home, the Palestinians have so far not been able to have the Jewish settlers evicted.

On the afternoon of October 4, we visited the Palestinian family who was home at the time of the seizure. In order to visit the family, one of the children had to ask the settlers and the private security guard if it was okay if his family had visitors. While the settlers agreed to allow us to come in, we were told that we were not allowed to take pictures. The family that lives there has to have someone in the house at all times in order to avoid having their apartment seized as well. During our visit, the owner explained that over the last few days, in the evening, the settlers attempted to take his furniture out of his house and put it in the street. This means that they entered his home, without permission, grabbed his furniture without permission and attempted to set it on the street. His Palestinian neighbors prevented this effort from occurring. As a result of hearing this story we returned that evening around 8:45 just to provide a presence in the street if another attempt was made to take the furniture.

Fortunately, no effort was made to seize the belongings of this family. The settlers across the street, however, were quite disturbed. They shouted down from the roof top, asking who we were, why were we in the street, did we want something, were we lost, and did we need help? When it became apparent that nothing was going to happen we decided to go back home. The last two nights we have returned to continue to provide a protective presence. Fortunately, so far nothing has happened.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Greetings from Jerusalem. Today is Tuesday October 5th, our first full day of orientation. My team in Jerusalem has 5 people on it: Michael Hiller, an American living in Germany for the last 30+ years, Aster Boberg, from Sweden, Niku from Finland and Bernard from France. We range in age from 24 to 72.

We started off the day w/a general orientation, then attended a presentation at the UN OCHA offices which gave us a a brief overview of the current situation. We then met with the current Jerusalem team and began a 3 day orientation period with them.

The Jerusalem team reported that during Ramadan and Sukkot, things were relatively quiet. Since the end of Ramadan, however, things have started getting tense in the Jerusalem area again. There are approximately 90 Palestinian homes in Silwan that are scheduled for demolition because the Israeli government wants to establish an archeological park where the houses are currently standing. Our work will involve visiting Silwan, monitoring the demolition orders, meeting with community leaders and attending a weekly demonstration.

In Sheikh Jarrah, an area north of the old city, there are two areas where a number of Palestinian families are being threatened with eviction. Although they own the homes on the land, the Israelis claim that they are entitled to possession of the land as the property was allegedly owned by Israeli Jews prior to 1948. The Israeli courts have routinely accepted these claims on behalf of Israelis, but have consistently denied the claims of Palestinians asserting the same legal claims. As with Silwan, we will be monitoring the situation, meeting with community leaders and attending regular demonstrations in support of the Sheikh Jarrah population.

The rest of this week we will be taken to the various sites visited by the current team. On Wednesday we will visit Silwan, the Jahalin Bedouin Camp and Sheikh Jarrah. On Thursday a.m. at 4:45 (go ahead laugh), I will be leaving to go to the Qalandia checkpoint for 3 hours, then on to a meeting with Saabeel, then on to Ma'ale Mikhmas, another Bedouin camp, very close to a settlement. Friday we will be attending Friday prayers in Silwan, the Women in Black demonstration in West Jerusalem and a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah.