Monday, February 27, 2012

Bethlehem's Church of Nativity - Beyond Holiness...


The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem is unquestionably one of the top tourist sites in the region, and obviously any holy land pilgrimage, any Bethlehem tour, but also other West Bank tours usually include a visit of the supposed birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth.
The relevance of the site to pilgrims is obvious, but also architecturally, historically, culturally, and politically, this place is of great interest.

Last Christmas a video from the Nativity Church circulated through the web and in many cases provided for a lot of laughter. In the video about a hundred clergymen of Greek Orthodox and Armenian denomination were seen, who, armed with brooms, started beating each other until Palestinian security forces intervened and managed to restore order. The background to this broom brawl was the annual cleaning of the church in preparation for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations. According to several media reports, a feud broke out when one monk provocatively started cleaning a part of the church that was supposedly under the responsibility of the respective other denomination and to clean a part of the church is interpreted as making a claim of it. Being asked about the event, an official of the Palestinian security forces reportedly only shrugged, describing the brawl as a “trivial problem that… occurs every year”.




So fights like these are unfortunately not uncommon and basically reflect the difficulty of the three Christian denominations of Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian to share custody over the holy site.

Even more dramatic, in 1853, the disputes among the monks provided the Russian Tsar Nicholas with a welcome excuse to attack Turkey, and thereby to start the Crimean War which lasted almost three years and led to the death over almost 400 000 people.
The background was again very similar. The Russian backed Greek Orthodox monks denied their Roman Catholic brothers to place a silver star over the crib and to own a golden key to the church door. This once more led to a riot, during which several Orthodox monks were killed. Eventually, the Roman Catholics succeeded in placing their silver star over the crib and Tsar Nicholas blamed the killings on the Ottoman police in charge. He proclaimed himself the official protector of the Orthodox Christians and invaded the Danubian provinces of Turkey.

Sadly, the disputes among the monks started to even endanger the site itself, which in 2008 was placed on the World Monuments Fund's list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Due to disagreements about which denomination is  supposed to pay for urgent repairs, the roof timbers of the 1700 old basilica are rotting away. The water that consequently leaks in, further accelerates the rotting of the wood and endangers not only the structural integrity of the building, but further damages the 12th century wall mosaics and paintings. Again, to pay is to lay claim. For a long time, the Palestinian Authority has been promising to intervene into the rivalry for the sake of the church and in November 2011 stated once more that it will prepare for the restoration of the holy site on behalf of and in coordination with its three custodians.


Throughout its long history the Nativity Church has seen numerous invasions and regime changes, has survived fires and earthquakes, and more recently in 2002, a siege, during which several Palestinian fighters hid in the church for 39 days and exchanged fire with the Israeli army, that had stationed itself around the site. Will it now fall victim to the disputes of those people who cherish it the most?

As you can see, the Nativity Church provides for many more stories, other than the one of Jesus' birth and you don't need to be on a holy land pilgrimage to take interest in this place. In addition, if the disputes continue, and external mediation will not succeed, a future Bethlehem tour may only take you to the ruins of the church...







Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Story of Shuhada Street

This Friday, February 24th, for the third time, the residents of Hebron call upon the international community to stand in solidarity with them and demand the open access to Shuhada Street. In the recent two years for the Global Day of Action to Open Shuhada Street, direct actions and protests took place in Hebron, Israel, the U.S., Europe and many other places all over the world.

In the morning hours of February 24th, 2010, Israeli activists blocked a busy street in central Tel Aviv to call attention to the illegitimate closure of Shuhada Street in Hebron
The conditions in al Khalil, the Arabic name of Hebron, are often said to describe the Israeli Occupation in a nutshell, and it is indispensable for anyone seeking a more thorough understanding of the situation of Palestine/Israel to do a Hebron tour.

The city center of Hebron is divided into multiple sectors, which have been established to supposedly appease the tension between the 800 settlers and the Palestinian residents of Hebron, but which factually do nothing more than restricting the movement of the Palestinian residents. Within this complexity, the story of Shuhada Street displays one of the most obvious and most impudent cases of discrimination against the Palestinian population.
Up until 1994, the street constituted a vital part of the economic and cultural infrastructure of Hebron, linking the north to the south and passing by the major markets, the Old City, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the al-Haram al-Ibrahimi Mosque. The closing of this once so busy street dates back to the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler, who in 1994 stormed the Ibrahimi Mosque, and opened fire on unarmed Palestinian worshippers, which resulted in the killing of 29 and the wounding of 125 more. Rather than attempting to ensure the safety of the Palestinian population, the Israeli army asserted the need to protect the settler community and started restricting Palestinian movement along the street.
With the eruption of the 2nd Intifada in October 2000, the army enforced more severe restrictions on Palestinian movement on Shuhada Street, prohibiting them from walking or driving on the entire length of the street and also inhibiting Palestinian traffic on adjacent streets. The implementation of movement restrictions for Palestinians resulted in a collapse of the economy in Hebron and turned the once so busy area into a ghost town.

A view on Shuhada Street, Keren Manor/ActiveStills
According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem, 304 shops and warehouses on Shuhada Street closed down, and a big number of  private homes were either abandoned by its residents or closed down by military order. The few remaining residents of Shuhada Street are prohibited from entering their homes through the main entrances and therefore have to resort to either using the side entrances, or if there are none, to enter their homes through the roof by the use of ladders.
Notwithstanding the great amount of local and international attempts to pressure the Israeli government to act against those discriminatory policies, the Israeli army continues to insist on the maintenance of the status quo. B'tselem reports that no valid military order for the closure has ever been presented and the notorious and seemingly omnipresent rationale “for security reasons” has never been elaborated on.

Embarking on a Hebron tour may not constitute an easy experience, but it will definitely broaden a visitor's insight into the complexities of the situation on the ground.







Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Act NOW Against the Expulsion of 30,000 Bedouins in the Negev


Most of the human rights issues covered by international media and NGOs concern the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza. Notwithstanding the fact that the Bedouin communities living inside Israel are being increasingly deprived of their resources, the discrimination they are facing usually receives less attention by the international community. 
A visitor seeking to embark on an alternative tour through Israel has to include a Negev tour that takes into account the situation of the Bedouins living there. With their Bedouin Reality Tour, Green Olive Tour provides you with the rare opportunity to listen directly to those, whose voices are rarely heard and whose futures are typically being decided over their heads, as shall be seen in the following.
Approximately 160,000 Arab-Bedouins call the 13,000km² of desert that stretches out in the south of Israel and that is usually referred to as Negev, or “Naqab” in Arabic, their home. Having resided in those lands for centuries, today's Bedouins constitute the most disadvantaged citizens in Israel and struggle hard for equality, recognition, and pursuing their way of life. Half of the community lives in government planned towns, with the remainder residing in 45 unrecognised villages, which lack any basic services, such as running water electricity, garbage collection, proper education and other social services. In addition to that they live under the constant threat of dispossession and displacement. 
Most prominently, the unrecognised village of Al Araqib has been demolished 35 times in order to give way to a forest that the Jewish National Fund is planning to plant on Al Araqib's land. 

A resident of Al Araqib sitting in the ruins of her home, ActiveStills

More recently, in September 2011, the Israeli government approved a plan for the regulation of settlement of Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel in the unrecognised villages in the southern Negev. Instead of recognising the villages in question, and connecting them to infrastructure and services, as suggested by the Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages and Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights, the Prawer Plan, named after Ehud Prawer, the head of the Committee who prepared the plan, outlines arrangements for permanent Arab Bedouin settlement within a clearly demarcated area in the Negev in the form of a completely unnecessary expulsion of 30,000 people and their relocation to Bedouin towns. Obviously, no single Bedouin representative has been consulted or was involved during the planning process or before the approval through the government and since the state only recognises those ownership claims to the land that were filed prior to 1979, there will be hardly any monetary compensation or compensation in the form of land. 

At the time of writing, the Israeli government has just postponed the deadline for public objections to the bill and there is still time to respond to this shameful act of discrimination and land theft. Please, click here and send your objection to the Prawer Plan.

Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Next Stop Gaza City

By Miri

The images that we associate with conflict zones are usually grim ones that are inextricably linked with those of war, suffering and poverty. For an outsider it may be hard to imagine that from within those places, so occupied with survival, art may emerge. A West Bank tour that includes visits of cities such as RamallahBethlehem and Jenin will however reveal those places as the home of a thriving Palestinian art scene that features museums, galleries and theatres. Similarly, a closer look at Gaza will show us that artists can and are drawing inspiration from their home and are engaging in creative activities, that may even display notions of hope for a better future.


The Gaza Strip, with a total area of 360 square kilometres and a population of approximately 1,6 million people, constitutes one of the most densely populated regions of the world.  Gaza City, with an estimated population of 450,000 is the largest city in the whole of the Palestinian territories. With Israel and Egypt controlling the movement of people and goods in and out of the region, as well as due to the continuity of Israeli air strikes frequently targeting essential infrastructure, Gazan life is unpredictable and often chaotic. In order to establish some sort of routine within this chaos, Gazan artist Mohamed Abusal started envisioning a network of seven metro lines running across the Strip.


The Palestinian artist is quoted as having been daydreaming about the idea ever since his return from a visit to France and observing the every day traffic chaos in his home town. The idea was also partly inspired by the existing underground tunnel system, used to smuggle both weapons and essential goods to the Strip: "We’re experienced in digging holes and tunnels underground so we must put that experience to good use now," the artist said in an interview published on the regional website Mashallah News.

Looking at the map of the imaginary Gazan metro network, it becomes clear that Abusal put a lot of thought into the conceptualisation, including present and future needs of the population. Line 1, or the Green Line for instance stretches across the whole of Gaza, connecting the Erez crossing into Israel to the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Line 7, or the Pink Line, envisions a rebuilding of Gaza airport which would in turn also need means to transport passengers to and from there. The metro would be accessible for each and everyone and would run on sustainable energy supplied by Egypt so as to make it immune to the frequent power cuts due to Israeli air strikes, as well as to the blockade.


Abusal started designing a luminous red metro sign that he erected and photographed in 50 different spots. He reportedly hesitated after having been warned by some advisers that he may come under suspicion from the Israeli surveillance teams who could mistake his Metro pole for a rocket that could be used to launch an attack. Although the signs did not point to an actually existing train station, they allowed the residents to consider the possibility that they were. “What was most interesting was people’s reactions,” Abusal is being quoted. “It was very positive. A lot of people were positively surprised; they started thinking about the idea and discussing it… Some told me that, with the current security situation and daily Israeli attacks, maybe this would not be a safe option. It was fascinating to get people’s feedback. I wanted people to feel that, temporarily, they had a solution in front of them, that there was a train station.” 

Abusal's project constitutes an example of Palestinian art that directly engages with the context from which it emerges, that emphasises the difficulties of life under occupation, and using it as a point of departure to look at the possibilities that emerge from it and at the same time envisioning a more positive future.

Abusal's work is now being exhibited in Gaza City and according to Mashallah News, will be touring Palestine in the coming months.

Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Monday, February 6, 2012

The ABC of Palestinian Hospitality

By Miri

The contradictions between common representations of the Palestinian population in predominantly Western media and actual real life encounters as visitors to the country usually experience them could not be greater. Images of angry mobs burning US and Israeli flags, of masked fighters roaming the streets, shooting their guns into the air and screaming "Allahu akbar" (Arabic: "Allah is the greatest") are amongst the most common depictions and obviously instill a sentiment of fear. This is not to say that these scenes do not ever happen in Palestine, however, as a visitor, you are most likely to be attacked by warmth and unconditional care, rather than by gunshots or other forms of  hostility. In fact, Palestinian hospitality is famous, if not notorious.


A cup of coffee as being served in Palestine
Walking through the streets of a village, town or even a city, a stranger is very likely to be greeted by people sitting in front of their shops or houses and invited in with a "tfaddaloo" (Arabic: "please", in the sense of "come in" or “have a seat”). It is said that only after the third polite decline of the offer, the host to be will give in and stop repeating her/his invitation. If the stranger will accept, however, the "tfaddaloo" will be followed by an "ahlan wa sahlan" (Arabic: "welcome") which in turn will be precede the notorious "qahwe willa shay?" (Arabic: "coffee or tea?"). At this point of the interaction you should be aware that you gave yourself into the hands of your host and that by now it will be difficult to decline or to leave. The coffee that is being offered to you is most likely Arabic coffee, spiced with cardamom. Palestinians tend to drink it “saada”, meaning without sugar, but commonly offer their foreign visitors a slightly sweetened version. The tea usually drunk in Palestine, in turn, is very sugary and is being complemented with tasty “marramiyye” (Arabic: “sage”). So if you embark on a West Bank tour that includes visiting local homes, get ready for a very sweet and stimulative (in the sense of full of caffeine) experience.

An example of the tasty Maqluba
This being said, however, doesn't mean that you have to accept each and everything that is being offered to you. Palestinian hospitality is a very generous one, and even families with a very low income, especially in the villages or the refugee camps, will offer you what they have, even if it constitutes a great expenditure to them. This obviously makes it much harder to decline, but me for instance, I'm vegan and not a very flexible one and I successfully do turn down the frequent offers of chicken, which commonly accompanies the very popular and extremely tasty rice dish of “Maqluba”, which in Arabic means “upside down” and refers to the way this meal is being prepared. So when I say that Palestinian hospitality is notorious, I don't mean to say that people will not accept or understand a decline, especially if it is based on allergies, vegetarianism or other special diets, or that they will be offended if you turn down their invitation to spend the night at their home, an offer that may even come from complete strangers sometimes.

All in all, it is safe to say that a Palestine tour will be incomplete without the experiencing of the people's infinite warmth and care expressed through their hospitality and whoever has had the chance to spend some more time among the people and in their homes, especially in the villages, will surely be able to relate to what I'm saying.       

Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Who's the Terrorist? Settler Violence and Notions of Safety and Risk in the West Bank

By Miri

A lot of the questions that we receive surround the notions of safety and risk in the West Bank. This is not surprising considering that foreign governmental institutions, such as the respective Departments of Foreign Affairs, consulates etc. urge their citizens to refrain from travelling to Gaza and the South of Israel and “to exercise caution“ when travelling to the West Bank. Interestingly, those statements mention that violence had decreased in recent years as a result of the deployment of “Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the major cities and other limited areas within the West Bank”.

This information suggests that much of the violence in the West Bank is happening in places like Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, a notion that sounds very strange to someone like me, who has lived, worked and travelled in the West Bank for a considerable amount of years now and who would assess the potential for violence particularly in those cities as fairly low, and definitely as much lower than in most big cities in the U.S. or in Europe

Most of the travel warnings do admit that violence is also perpetrated by the Israeli army but mainly warns their respective citizens of the risk of getting “caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations“, implying that there are two sides equally engaged in violent acts.

The most striking notion, however, is the fact that for instance the most recent travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State ignores one of the greatest sources of violent occurrences in the West Bank, namely the settler population. While it does mention incidents of stone throwing, Molotov cocktails and gunfire, it does not attribute those acts to anyone. A similar paper issued by the German government, on the other hand, does mention settlers as perpetrating violence against the Palestinian population, but neutralises its statement by marking that also Palestinians engage in such acts by targeting the settler population. Both governments thereby completely ignore that most of these incidents have to be attributed to the settler population, and that settler
Settlers attacking a photographer in Hebron, Yotam Ronen, ActiveStil
violence is on a sharp rise.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “the weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 165% compared to 2009.” More recently settlers also started engaging into acts of revenge and targeting Israeli army infrastructure and personnel.

In any way it is true that the average traveller to the West Bank will most likely not be the target of settler aggression (or of the Israeli army for that matter). Engaging in activities expressing direct solidarity with the Palestinian population, such as accompanying farmers who live close to notoriously aggressive settlements1, does however increase this risk.

By embarking on an alternative tour through the West Bank, a visitor will understand more about the issue of safety and risk as pertaining to the Palestinian population. In particular, going on a Hebron tour, where according to statistics the great majority of those incidents happen, will definitely clarify the extent to which settler violence interferes with the life of Palestinians, and will shed light on the extent to which the Israeli authorities collaborate with the perpetrators.2 A visit to a settlement, and attempting to view the conflict from the settlers' point of view will further increase the understanding of the complexity of the conflict.


1
Palestinian property, located close to radical settlements is increasingly becoming the target of different forms of vandalism and destruction through settlers. OCHA states that “in 2011, nearly 10,000 Palestinian-owned trees, primarily olive trees, have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers, significantly undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of families”.

2
OCHA states that “over 90% of monitored complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment".

Comments

Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Del.icio.us Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS