Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Struggle of the Communities in South Mount Hebron


By Miri - 

It is generally acknowledged that the Israeli settlers in the West Bank live in relative affluence when compared to their Palestinian neighbours. Yet nowhere becomes this contrast more apparent than in the case of the Southern Hebron Hills, an area considered to be one of the poorest of the whole West Bank and constituting the home of several thousand farmers and shepherds. 
Shepherds in Umm Zaytouna, Photo ActiveStills
 The documentation of the presence of those communities dates back to the 1830s, it is however likely that they have actually been dwelling there for centuries. 
South Mount Hebron is rich in natural caves, used by the local communities for housing, as well as for sheltering their flocks. Throughout the time, they have dug additional caves near wells and farmland and also set up temporary and permanent dwellings. Their livelihoods rely primarily on farming and raising sheep and goats, and on the production of milk and cheese, with the bulk of the produce being used for home consumption and the rest being sold in the surrounding villages. 
 Due to a lack of paved roads leading to and from their residential areas, the communities are compelled to walk, travel by horse or donkey, or by tractor and off-road vehicles. The villages are also not connected to a power grid, to telephone lines or a running-water system. For education and health care, the communities are obliged to travel to the surrounding villages. 

During the 1970s the Israeli government declared a large part of the area, approximately 30,000 dunums of land, as a closed military area. This was of no consequence until 1999 when military forces started to confiscate personal belongings, sealed caves, destroyed wells, as well as temporary structures and finally expelled the residents and prohibited their return. 
The closing of the area is being justified on two major grounds, one of which is the supposed need for the area to be used for military training purposes, and the second one being that the communities are only living on the land on a seasonly basis; hence due to the fact that they are spending half of the year in the nearby villages, they cannot be referred to as “residents” of the area. 
With the assistance of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), some of the families petitioned against their expulsion at the High Court of Justice, which in turn filed a temporary injunction and allowed the residents to return to the area until a final conclusion would be reached. 
View at Carmel settlement from the village of Umm AlKheer, Photo ActiveStills
 Following Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, the real motives behind the closing of the area is the intended annexation of the land, which is closely located to the Green Line. 
In the beginning of the 1980s, Israel started building an increasing number of settlements in the area, which were followed by the setting up of outposts. B'Tselem notes that while many of the housing units and structures were built without official approval by the government, they however continue to be subsidised by government ministries. 

The increase of land appropriation for the expansion of the settlements was followed by a deterioration of the relations between the local communities and the settlers and Israeli authorities. 
The communities are increasingly being subjected to different forms of abuse by the settlers, including property damage, the destruction of crops and theft of sheep and goats, as well as by varying forms of intimidation and physical violence. Like in the rest of the West Bank, the Israeli authorities, theoretically obligated to protect both the Palestinian and the Israeli residents, usually stand by, or defend and protect the settlers. 
Setting up solar energy in the village of Susya, Photo ActiveStills
 According to the communities, until relatively recently, their living conditions and their struggle were ignored by official bodies and organisations, including Palestinian ones. Only in more recent years did Israeli and international activists start to regularly visit them and to support their fight to remain on their lands. Also Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations started to pay attention to the situation and to assist them in legal and humanitarian matters. 
All those efforts however, are also too often foiled by the Israeli authorities, the most recent case being the demolition threat of solar and wind power systems, which constitute the only source of energy for six of the communities, and which were built in coordination with the Israeli initiative Comet-ME.

A visit to the communities of South Mount Hebron is also included in some of the tours organised by Green Olive Tours, for further information see here.








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Monday, April 23, 2012

On Leaving Israel


By Miri - 

Last week I wrote about crossing the border and entering the Holy Land. That's however only half of the story; eventually you will have to leave again and I feel it's worthwhile to also give some advice as to how to depart without unnecessarily calling the attention of Israeli security to you and ending your trip with an unpleasant experience. 

Ben Gurion Airport security
Rule number one for foreigners is to stick to the recommendation of arriving early to the airport, i.e. three hours before departure of your flight; in the best case you may just have some extra time to rummage through the duty free. While rushing through Ben Gurion Airport towards the check-in, you are probably unknowingly already passing a few security stations, some of them in uniform, others undercover. 
As already mentioned in the previous article, before even being questioned, you may already draw the security personnel's attention to you, if you have any of the following attributes or characteristics, including Arabic or Muslim origin or appearance, as well as an Arabic or Muslim sounding name, previous visits to countries considered to be enemy states, certain types of clothing that are associated with radical leftist political mindsets, i.e. punks, anarchists and the like, as well as people, especially men, of certain age groups (from 19 towards mid 30s) who travel alone. 

Waiting in line for your luggage to be scanned, you will already be asked a few questions, such as “what was the purpose of your visit?”, “where have you been?”, "where did you stay?" etc.. Again, stating openly that you have visited the West Bank may or may not cause the suspicion of the security personnel and there is no blue print as to how to behave. 
On the one hand, the very fact that you have been to the Occupied Territories may prompt them to scrutinise you more, on the other, if you actually did visit the West Bank and tell otherwise, you may later be accused of lying to the authorities. Whatever you decide to say, stay calm and polite and stick to your original story. 

Better to send.
Should you have purchased any pro-Palestinian items, such as clothing with political drawings or messages, information material and the likes, consider sending it home by post, rather than carrying it with you in your suitcase. Other things that are easily recognisable as having been purchased from Palestinians, but that are not of political content, such as traditional embroidery, do not necessarily constitute a risk, especially if you have already stated that you visited Arab places, which could already include East Jerusalem for that matter. The same applies to videos or photos that you have taken. If you have any footage that attests to you having participated in any pro-Palestinian activities, you should consider sending it by mail. Tourist images of sites, places and people, on the other hand, are perfectly fine. 

Should the authorities decide to investigate you further and subject you to interrogation, again, stay calm. A common strategy used by security personnel is to agitate you into panic, an easy thing if the departure time of your flight is approaching. In that case, remind them politely of your schedule and keep in mind that it is not their intention to really have you miss your flight. In fact, if you have to undergo the “special treatment”, the authorities will afterwards escort you and make sure you won't be bothered by any further checks. 

We can conclude this article just as the previous one by saying that, unless you are unlucky enough to be one of the few random picks, and taken that the authorities don't have any previous records or information on you, you should be fine. Bon voyage!


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Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Entering Israel


 By Miri

At least since 09/11 boarding an airplane became a pretty lengthy procedure. Boarding an airplane in order to enter or leave Israel, especially (but not only) as a foreigner and even worse as an Arab or Muslim, has always been a “special” experience. Israeli airline security is notorious for being one of the toughest of all, and in some airports, flights going out to Israel even have a separate terminal. 

Israeli activists welcoming the Flytilla at Ben Gurion Airport, Photo ActiveStills
Lately, with the “Welcome to Palestine” initiative, during which a total number of 1,200 international activists intended to enter Israel through Ben Gurion Airport and openly voice their intention “to visit Palestine”, the policies regarding entry into Israel have gotten under increased scrutiny and criticism. 600 out of the 1,200 Flytilla activists had reportedly received notifications from their airlines that their flights were canceled. 
On a similar account a Swedish woman, trying to get into Israel through the Taba crossing from Egypt, was refused entry unless she signed a document committing herself to “avoid contact with members of any pro Palestinian organization” and to “not participate in any pro Palestinian activities”. 

But it is not just people who openly state an intention to visit Palestine, or who engage in what Israeli authorities consider actions that deligitimise Israel, or that constitute a threat to Israel's security, who are being subjected to these kind of procedures. 
One day after the Flytilla event, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that 40% of those passengers that were blacklisted by the Shin Bet (Israel's internal security) beforehand, were actually added to those lists without any information regarding their connection to any pro-Palestinian protest activity. Admitting the mistake, officials of Israel's Foreign Ministry were quoted as saying that “direct damage” had been done “to tourism and to Israel's good name”. 
This shows that the Shin Bet is by far not as knowledgeable as it tries to appear, and also how arbitrary border security can be.

You may want to consider changing outfit before entering Israel...
Certain attributes or characteristics of visitors to Israel are considered to be suspicious to the security personnel and may prompt them to target you for further investigations before you even open your mouth. These attributes include Arabic or Muslim origin or appearance, including names, previous visits to countries considered to be enemy states, certain types of clothing that are associated with radical leftist political mindsets, i.e. punks, anarchists and the like, as well as people, specifically men, of certain age groups (from 19 towards mid 30s) travelling alone. 

The next step is constituted by the question about the intention of your visit to Israel. Although not an official policy, stating that you cooperate with political pro-Palestinian organisations or individuals, will definitely get you into trouble, and is therefore not recommendable. Saying that you are planning to visit the occupied territories is likely to raise suspicions, but you may pass as an interested, but harmless tourist. However, as the above mentioned example shows, there is no guarantee for anything, so even if you say that you are a dedicated Christian intending to visit the holy sites in Israel, you may be subjected to “a special treatment”. 

This special treatment ranges from simply being put on hold for a while, to undergoing lengthy interrogations, or, in the worst case, enduring a strip search. Hence, being singled out by security personnel doesn't necessarily mean much. If you are being invited for a “chat” with security personnel, keep in mind that their main strategy in order to figure out the “real” motives behind your visit is by looking for inconsistencies in your story and/or agitating you into panic. You will therefore probably be questioned by different agents who will repeat the same questions over and over again, waiting for you to make mistakes, so the best you can do is to keep calm and stick to your original story. 
Taken that you are a harmless tourist and that the authorities do not have any previous records or information on you, you should be fine.

Bon Voyage!




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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Brief Look at the Status of the Palestinian Population in Jordan


By Miri

When trying to undermine the Palestinians' right to self determination, right wingers usually come up with two arguments, first “the Palestinian people as such don't exist”, and/or second, “the Palestinians already have a country, it's called Jordan”. The second argument is usually based on the notion that Jordan's eastern part constitutes part of the historic land of Palestine, as well as on the fact that more than half of the population of Jordan is of Palestinian origin.

Map of Palestinian refugee camps
Especially the latter argument can easily be dismantled by looking at history and at the fact that Jordan's demographic condition mainly resulted from the expulsion of the Palestinian population from their lands, as well as from Jordan absorbing the most substantial part of those Palestinian refugees that Israeli expansionism had created.
 Today there are approximately 1,9 million refugees in Jordan, with more than 337,000 of them living in the 10 official refugee camps. 

The forced migration of Palestinians to Jordan is usually divided into two main waves, with the first one following Israel's War of Independence in 1948, and the second one with the war of 1967, when Israel took control over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights. Following the war of 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank, and granted all Palestinians residing in that area Jordanian citizenship. Since 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) registered a total number of 1,698,271 refugees who eventually sought Jordanian citizenship. 

During the 1967 war, a second wave of refugees was created, the majority of which sought shelter in the neighbouring countries of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. As opposed to those Palestinians who fled from the West Bank to the East Bank and who were already considered Jordanian citizens, the refugees coming from Gaza and who had been living under Egyptian authority, were only granted temporary passports by the Jordanian government, a condition that, with a few exceptions, continues until today. 

View at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, 1948
Following 1967, Jordan and especially its refugee camps, came to be more and more associated with a growing Palestinian resistance movement and therefore turned into a frequent target for attacks by Israeli brigades. The resistance movement in turn attracted a great number of followers from within the Jordanian population who opposed the Hashemite regime and therefore was increasingly perceived as a threat to King Hussein's authority. 
In order to give a halt to this threat, as well as to the harsh reprisals by the Israeli army following the guerrilla attacks, the king in 1970 declared martial law and formed a military government to enforce it. The subsequent armed conflict between militant Palestinian organisations and the monarchy, also referred to as the Black September, resulted in thousands of casualties and only ended in 1971 with the expulsion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and thousands of Palestinian fighters to Lebanon. 

Following the Arab League's decision in 1974 to recognise the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, King Hussein was forced to relinquish his claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinians during peace negotiations and to acknowledge a Palestinian state independent of Jordan. Finally in 1988, the king severed Jordan's legal and administrative ties to the West Bank and gave up his claims to sovereignty. 
In a speech to the nation, King Hussein, based this decision on his determination to help the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state. This stated goal however also led to the withdrawal of Jordanian nationality from all Palestinians who resided in the West Bank at the time. 
Following Human Rights Watch, a policy of arbitrary withdrawal of Jordanian nationality from citizens of Palestinian origin, couched by the authority “as a means to counter any future Israeli plans to transfer the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Jordan“, continues up until today. More than 2,700 Jordanians of Palestinian origin were stripped of their nationality between 2004 and 2008 and are thereby denied basic citizenship rights such as access to education and health care. 

Palestinian kids in a camp in Amman
Throughout its history, the Jordanian government has been oscillating between an emphasis on Jordanian-Palestinian unity and a privileging of local Transjordanian identity, depending on the respective political context. Generally, the Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin suffer from what is considered to be a deeply embedded discrimination: “Their career options are limited to the private sector, they run the economy, but have no access to the decision making circles and state institutions”, states one UNRWA employee. The 13 percent dwelling in the refugee camps suffer furthermore under poor living conditions, more physical and mental health problems, higher unemployment levels, and lower income. 

It is debatable whether it is due to their social and economic marginalisation, or because of a political and national sentiment that a majority of the Palestinian population living in Jordan until today do not cease to have a sense of belonging to Palestine.

Green Olive Tours can organize trips to explore the status of Palestinians in Jordan. Contact the Tours Coordinator for Details. The Amman Day Tour visits a refugee camp. 


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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beit Ummar - The Occupation in a Nutshell

By Miri

Beit Ummar is a town situated between the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem in the beautiful and fertile central highlands of the West Bank.
In Palestine, like everywhere, each and every place has its very own and particular story, at the same time, however, Beit Ummar's condition in a way constitutes the Occupation in a nutshell.


Since 1967, five ideological settlements were built on Beit Ummar's land, for which approximately 4,000 dunums were seized and numerous houses were demolished. Like in other places, the presence of settler communities bring with it the establishment of a whole security apparatus. During the course of the years, bypass roads to the settlements, security gates, as well as checkpoints and a tall watch tower overseeing the main entrance to the town and monitoring everyone entering and leaving, were built and hence allow the army to restrict the movement of Beit Ummar's 17,000 residents.
Again, just like in so many other places in the West Bank, approximately 60% of Beit Ummar's residents rely on agriculture for their living. With the continuous expansion of the settlements, more and more land is being seized, and thousands of grape vines and stone fruit trees, typical for the area, have already been uprooted. Beit Ummar used to have a reputation for hosting the largest fruit market in the southern West Bank. With the loss of the trees, however, and especially with the Israeli army blocking the entrance to the market, Beit Ummar's fruit farmers were forced to sell what is left of their crops alongside Route 60 to passing traffic.
Faced with the theft of their lands and the repression of their lives, the residents of Beit Ummar chose not to remain silent, and by now look back at a long history of involvement in popular resistance, including during the First and the Second Intifada. During clashes with the Israeli army, as well as with violent settlers, many residents were injured or killed, and hundreds are still held in Israeli jails.
Since the end of the Second Intifada, activists all over the West Bank have been trying to move back to earlier models of political organising that transcend political affiliation and combine unarmed struggle with social programmes and support. Aligning themselves with other activists from the region, the activists from Beit Ummar particularly focus on activities that broach the issue of farmers' rights and access to their lands. Their weekly activities include the accompaniment of farmers who are threatened by settler violence, the replanting of uprooted trees, as well as the farming of lands in danger of being seized by the Israeli army.

Mousa at court with his fiancee and PSP co-founder Bekah Wolf, 2008, Photo ActiveStills
It is also in Beit Ummar that one of Green Olive Tours' partners, the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) was founded in 2006. The PSP dedicates itself to “opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through non-violent action” and also facilitate the involvement of international and Israeli solidarity activists into the local struggle.
Mousa Abu Maria, a co-founder of PSP and frequently hosting participants of Green Olive Tours, had to pay a high price for his political work and spent nearly five years in prison, 14 months of which he was kept under administrative detention, meaning without charges or a trial. Carrying on with his work after his release in 2009, the Israeli authorities keep on threatening him and his family, as well as other Palestinian activists from Beit Ummar with further arrests.

In order to learn about the situation in Palestine and Israel one can (and should) engage with and delve into literature, articles, lecture, documentaries etc. None of this can however substitute for encounters with the people who call Occupation their everyday reality. Nothing will get you closer to an understanding of the complexity of the situation on the ground than engaging with, and especially listening to the stories of the people who live it.
Green Olive Tours provides you with the opportunity to stay and get to know Beit Ummar and its residents. For more information, click here       

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Instances of Genuine Co-Existence in Jaffa


By Miri

Joint Palestinian-Israeli initiatives are not that rare anymore. In fact, in recent years they have become some sort of business, and funding agencies all over the world are keen on financing efforts at establishing dialogue and co-existance. 
At the same time, those initiatives are frequently criticised, both by more conservative or right wing groups from both sides, but also by more radical leftist groups, who may be in favour of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, but who bemoan the fact that a majority of those initiatives don't get to the root of the problem, which is the inequality deeply rooted within Israeli law and society. 
The mixed city of Jaffa appears to be a perfect playground for those projects and initiatives. During a Jaffa tour you will however learn that the often praised historical co-existence of today's Jaffa is way more sensitive and uneasy than the official Israeli discourse may want to make you believe.
Jaffa's Ajami, juxtaposition of new luxurious buildings and old dwellings
In fact the Palestinian community today only constitutes a third of the population of Jaffa, with the majority living in the impoverished neighbourhood of Ajami. In addition to that, many Palestinian families in Jaffa live under the threat of home demolitions and evictions, and similar to the Jewish families of low class background who settled in Jaffa after 1948, suffer from increasing rent and housing prices. Jaffa, once a stigmatised borrough of Tel Aviv, associated with crime and poverty is developing into a chic and trendy area branded by its “Oriental charme” once so despised by the Israeli gentry.  

One of the above mentioned initiatives born in a bomb-shelter in Jaffa's Ajami in 2006, is the music project System Ali. System Ali is comprised of 10 members, including Israeli Jews of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Their music could be described as hip hop, containing elements of funk, rock and folk. They rap and sing in four languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and English. Already due to the composition of the band members, their music can be considered a message of peace, but as opposed to other musical collaborations between Jews and Arabs, they do not serve their audience with easily digestible lyrics of the sort of “give peace a chance”. Instead, System Ali deals with some of the core problems of Israeli society. Jaffa is System Ali's home and the history of expulsion of its Palestinian residents in 1948, as well as the continuation of displacement of the Palestinian population serve them as a microcosm to denounce Israeli policies towards the Palestinian population. But System Ali doesn't stop here, it's Russian rapper broaches the issue of discrimination within Israeli Jewish society and tells the audience what it feels like to be told off for using one's native language, while simultaneously empowering himself and his community through the use of the Russian language on stage. 



Another such initiative is the Café Yafa, a joint Palestinian-Jewish coffee place, bistro and bookstore, located on 33, Yehuda Margoza. Again, the Café Yafa is not just a place where Jews and Palestinian meet over a cup of coffee, or to eat humus together, a notion that is already evidenced by the selection of books offered in the shop, which range from a wide variety of Arabic literature to radical, political texts about the Nakba (the expulsion of the Palestinian population since 1948) in Hebrew. In addition to that, the Café Yafa immediately became a meeting point for joint Palestinian-Israeli activism within the city of Jaffa, as well as a neighbourhood meeting place for Palestinian regulars.

So after all it is true that in Jaffa there are instances, projects, initiatives and spaces of co-existence through equal and non-discriminatory partnership, but they are rare and surely not the ones propagated by the hegemonic Israeli discourse. In order to find them you should come on an alternative Jaffa tour, which will enable you to look closer and find those cracks within the polished fabric of "Oriental charme", that institutions such as the Tel Aviv municipality are trying to present to the regular tourist.

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Our First Video!


Green Olive Tours Production Proudly Presents:




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