Letter on escalating violence to Mr. John Kerry

In November of 2015 MCC signed a letter, along with seven other international NGO and faith based organizations, to be delivered to US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. The letter is a response to the increased violence in Palestine and Israel since the beginning of October. MCC and the other signatories of the letter request meaningful and just measures to address the root causes of the violence. We believe that the US must play a pivotal role in bringing about a just peace.

November 16, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Re: Addressing the root causes of violence and the U.S. role in building accountability for violations of international law

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As humanitarian, development, human rights, and faith-based organizations working in, or partnering with similar types of organizations in, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel, we are alarmed at the ongoing violence and regret the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives. For the benefit of civilians on both sides and in the interest of achieving a just peace, we urge you to take immediate steps to bring a halt to the repeated violations that further inflame the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground.

Despite leadership by you and your international counterparts, the situation has continued to deteriorate and we remain concerned by the limited demands placed upon the parties thus far. The recent instability and rapid escalation in violence is a direct result of prolonged Israeli occupation and lack of accountability for repeated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The lack of accountability has left Palestinians with diminished faith in the international community and in their own leaders, and with little hope that the peace process will bring positive change to their lives. At the same time, the physical and psychological wellbeing of Israelis is also impacted as they live in fear of violence and attacks.

As the occupying power, Israel bears the primary responsibility for the protection of the civilian population and ensuring their basic needs are met. As set out in Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions have an obligation to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for the law in all circumstances. Despite these obligations, violations have continued to negatively affect the lives of Palestinians across the Occupied Territory, fueling their frustration and resulting in increased instability on the ground. These violations include:

Collective punishment

The ongoing separation policy, blockade and closure of Gaza, which has sealed 1.8 million civilians in an increasingly unlivable space and continues to impede access to desperately needed reconstruction materials. By listing even the most basic of construction materials as “dual-use,” the government of Israel has impeded reconstruction efforts, contributing to a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In October 2015 the Israeli army carried out four punitive demolition orders, demolishing or sealing the family homes of individuals accused of carrying out armed attacks. These punitive demolitions have left 33 innocent family members, including 22 children, homeless. At least 10 other Palestinian families have punitive demolition orders pending against their homes.[i]

In response to protests and escalating violence, the Israeli police and army have implemented unlawful closures and increased movement and access restrictions across the West Bank, including the closure of eight East Jerusalem neighborhoods in mid-October 2015. These closures prevented thousands of Palestinians from accessing services, markets, education and work places and impeded access to 5 hospitals[ii]. Similar measures have recently been applied in response to protests, demonstrations, and violent attacks in the H1/H2 section of Hebron.

Excessive use of force, arrest and detention, and restricting medical aid

In October 2015, around 876 Palestinians, including 133 children, were arrested in relation to demonstrations of protests across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.[iii]

Many Palestinians have been killed and injured while participating in protests or demonstrations against the occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli human rights groups expressed concern that the Israeli police and army have used a “shoot to kill” policy rather than attempting to subdue and arrest alleged attackers[iv]. Amnesty International has raised concerns that in some cases Israeli forces used disproportionate lethal force that may rise to the level of ‘extra judicial executions’ under international human rights law[v].

An additional element to the escalating violence has been the continued use of explosive weapons in populated areas that results in a predictable pattern of unacceptable civilian harm. An Israeli airstrike in October 2015 claimed the lives of a 26 year old pregnant mother and her three year old daughter in Gaza, adding to ongoing concerns over Israel’s adherence to its obligations in the conduct of hostilities.

Concerns have also been raised last month over incidents where Israeli forces impeded or interfered[vi] with Palestinians’ access to health services, including the ability of health workers to provide care to those in need, with several cases of Palestinians injured in protests or alleged attacks left to bleed to death from their wounds. In the first 3 weeks of October 2015, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society documented 177 attacks on Palestinian medical teams and ambulances, with 86 volunteers injured, 49 ambulances damaged, and an additional 42 incidents of ambulances being denied access to the wounded.

Settler violence

At least 48 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians have been documented in October 2015. Tensions have been particularly high since the arson attack in Duma in July 2015, where settler violence claimed the lives of a Palestinian mother, father, and infant, leaving one surviving orphaned child with serious burns. The government of Israel so far has failed to charge any perpetrators in the Duma attack and reports from Israeli human rights organizations indicate that, historically, over 90 percent of all settler violence cases have been closed by the Israeli authorities without the issuance of any indictment[vii].

Wanton destruction of property, forced transfer, forced eviction, and residency revocation

In August 2015, the Israeli army carried out 138 demolitions in Area C, the highest monthly number of demolitions in over 3 years. The majority of these demolitions occurred in communities threatened with forced transfer through an Israeli “relocation plan.” In the first 9 months of 2015, the Israeli army executed 402 demolitions in Area C. One quarter of these demolitions have occurred in communities slated for the “relocation plan.”

Israeli police forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their Silwan, East Jerusalem home in October 2015, allowing Israeli settlers from the extreme right-wing Ateret Cohanim movement to take over the house.

In October 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced during a security cabinet his consideration of the blanket revocation of permanent residency status from an estimated 90,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians residing in neighborhoods located beyond the Wall[viii].

In light of the above, we urge the U.S. to condition relations with the parties on compliance with international humanitarian law, including clear repercussions for continued violations that undermine prospects for peace. The U.S. should make clear that its expectations include:

  • Condemning the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life and calling on all parties to refrain from incitement, violence, and to abide by their obligations under international law.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to halt settlements, forced eviction, forced transfer, and the wanton destruction of Palestinian property. Furthermore the U.S. should note its obligation as a High Contracting Party in regards to grave breaches, specifically the obligation not to recognize as lawful an illegal situation, nor render aid or assistance in the maintenance of that situation.
  • Condemnation of collective punishment, which is strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. The U.S. should call on the government of Israel to cancel all outstanding punitive demolition orders and immediately cease and reverse punitive access restrictions in the OPT, including the blockade on Gaza.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to facilitate reconstruction and development in Gaza through an immediate rationalization of the “dual-use” list. As a significant donor to reconstruction efforts, the U.S. should insist that construction materials, medical equipment, and essential water and energy equipment is immediately removed from the Israeli “dual-use” list. The U.S. should take proactive steps to work with the government of Israel to further rationalize the rest of the “dual-use” list against the Waasenaar Arrangement and other international standards. The U.S. should propose a time-bound plan to end the illegal blockade and open the crossings to Gaza for the free flow of people and goods, in line with international humanitarian law.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to revoke “shoot to kill” policies and to open a transparent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians by Israeli police officers, civilians, or soldiers. The U.S. should make it clear to the government of Israel that impunity is unacceptable and that it expects any individuals who are found to have contributed to unlawful killings to be held accountable.
  • Condemnation of use of force against medical personnel and refusal of permission for Palestinian ambulances and emergency medical teams to access specific areas to reach the injured and to evacuate them to hospitals. The U.S. should press the government of Israel to pursue all possible avenues to ensure accountability for apparent deliberate or reckless targeting of medical infrastructure and personnel.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to abide by provisions outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to limit arrests, interrogations, and detentions of Palestinian children as a last resort. Any arrests, interrogations, and detentions of children must be in line with international humanitarian law and juvenile justice standards.
  • Calling on the government of Israel to fully and transparently investigate cases of settler violence, ensuring those who have committed crimes are indicted and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
  • Calling on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to promote an inclusive process for peace and reconciliation, in which all Palestinian factions and all Palestinians, including refugees, women, and young people are fully empowered to participate. The ongoing political divide further undermines the social, economic and political rights of Palestinians and the PA’s ability to engage in meaningful peace talks on behalf of Palestinians. The U.S. should press the PA to open a formal process of consultation in which all Palestinians, including refugees, women, young people and other vulnerable groups can express their expectations of their leaders and their vision for the future and should allow the PA to engage all relevant parties.

We thank you in advance for your consideration to these recommendations and your commitment to work towards a just, durable peace that ensures the rights of all people are protected and respected. We look forward to your response and remain available should you wish to discuss these recommendations further.


Marie Clarke, Executive Director, ActionAid USA

Moira O’Leary, Country Director, ActionAid Occupied Palestinian Territory

Shan Cretin, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Dr. James Moos, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Dalell D Mohmed, Executive Director, KinderUSA

J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance

Alex Gray, Humanitarian Director, Relief International

[i] http://www.hamoked.org/Document.aspx?dID=Updates1589

[ii] http://www.jlac.ps/index.php?page=inside&pid=369&parentId=0&sectionid=8

[iii] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/oz-israel-prison-palestinian-children-151027102958151.html

[iv] http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20151014_summary_execution_joint_statement

[v] https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2015/10/israel-opt-israeli-authorities-must-protect-palestinian-civilians-in-wake-of-settler-attacks-in-hebron/

[vi] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/hc_statement_east_jerusalem_health_carefinalversion.pdf

[vii] http://www.yesh-din.org/postview.asp?postid=320

[viii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/netanyahu-discusses-revoking-residency-status-for-palestinians-in-east-jerusalem-1445984685


7 years old, three wars

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlaback, Director of the MCC US Washington Office

View from a blown-out window in Munir Ibrahim al-Masri’s home in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza. The home sustained significant damage during the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict. MCC, through partner Al Najd Development Forum, provided emergency bedding supplies to al-Masri’s family and other displaced households. MCC Photo/Alain Epp Weaver

Mostafa is 7 years old and lives in Gaza. Last summer a missile from an F16 came through a window and damaged his home. Mostafa and other children tell their stories in a brief video put together by the Culture and Free Thought Association, an organization that provides creative programs for children, with support from Mennonite Central Committee.

Nabila, who works with the CFTA, says, “You can imagine, we are dealing with children who have lived through three wars.” Mostafa and his classmates have already experienced war in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

By all accounts, last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas was the most devastating. According to the United Nations, more than 2,100 Palestinians died, nearly 70 percent of them civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers died, as did five Israeli civilians.

The war made daily life even more difficult in Gaza, a 139-square-mile strip of land already suffering from a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007. The blockade’s effects have been devastating.

  • The people of Gaza cannot fly, sail or drive away. Israel closed Gaza’s airport in 2000. Gaza has no operational seaports. Israel and Egypt have built walls along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip, with strict controls on who and what can cross.
  • There is virtually no clean drinking water. A staggering 95 percent of Gaza’s water supply is unfit for human consumption. Those who can afford to buy bottled water do. Those who cannot afford it drink contaminated water, which has caused all kinds of health problems.
  • Many don’t have homes. More than 19,000 homes were destroyed in last year’s war. Thanks to MCC support, a local organization has rebuilt about 80 homes that were partially destroyed. But none of the homes that were totally destroyed have been rebuilt, due primarily to Israel’s strict controls on importing construction materials that it considers “dual use” (civilian and military).
  • Gaza’s economy is in shambles. According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza is 43 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.

God’s concern about suffering and injustice is clear in Scripture: “I will not revoke the punishment [on those] who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6-7).

Israel says the blockade is necessary for security, in order to isolate Hamas, the Palestinian political party that leads Gaza. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization because it supports violence against Israel.

Without doubt, violence by Hamas and other militant Islamic groups in Gaza is wrong. But making Gaza’s entire population of 1.8 million people suffer — though many of them do not support Hamas — is also wrong. The U.S. government regularly and rightfully condemns Hamas’ use of violence. But the same outrage is not applied to Israel’s policies.

Mostafa’s generation has experienced Israel only through war and the blockade’s suffocating impact. Far from promoting security, this is a recipe for resentment and anger against Israelis for decades to come.

Rather than blockades and military action, the U.S. and Israel should pursue policies that respect the rights of all people in the region. This could help Mostafa see Israelis as more than just the pilots of F16s.

Learn more at washingtonmemo.org/gaza.

Originally printed in the Mennonite World Review on September 14, 2015 , also reprinted for MCC Stories on September, 28, 2015.

Connected to Cremisan: Nader Abu Amsha’s story of struggle and resistance

At the height of the first intifada (uprising) in 1989, Nader Abu Amsha and a group of friends brainstormed how to help those who had been injured reenter society. The result was a voluntary initiative established at the YMCA in Beit Sahour to help rehabilitate young people. MCC has partnered with this project, which grew into the YMCA Rehabilitation Program, since 1990. Nader is the current Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program and the Director of the Beit Sahour YMCA.

“The view, this kind of open view is good for your soul, your vision, your imagination, your life.” Nader Abu Amsha speaks about the Cremisan valley with a deep reverence, and a great sadness, “Open space- green space- is shrinking.”

A view of the Cremisan Valley, taken by Nader in 2013.

The Cremisan valley is divided between fifty-eight, mostly Christian, Palestinian families, a Monastery, and a Convent with a school for many local Palestinian children from the nearby town, Beit Jala.  Currently, about 3,500 dunams of this open, green land is under threat of being seized by Israel through the expansion of the Israeli separation wall.

Nader’s family owns a 7,000 square meter plot of land that they have cultivated for six generations. It is currently co-owned by Nader, his brothers and sisters, and their cousins. They hope to be able to pass the land onto the next generation. Each year the family harvests the olives from their trees in order to both use and sell the fruits and the oil that they produce. The income is important to the family, undoubtedly, but Nader stresses that the land means much more to them than purely a financial benefit.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader with his daughter, Nour, on their land in 2007.

Nader fondly remembers working on the land as a child, harvesting not only olives, but also grapes and apricots. He highlights the emotional and spiritual importance of spending time cultivating the land. He reminisces about the community and the heritage that existed in the Cremisan valley, recounting his participation in football (soccer) teams there as a young boy. He remembers stories of family working the soil together and the creative ways that the community irrigated their crops from a nearby spring.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

A row of olive trees on the plot of land owned by Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2011 by Nader.

These memories stem from a time when his family had full access to the land; before all Palestinians in the valley were not allowed to build roads or residences, or bring in machines for cultivation and harvesting. The spring that for generations had watered Cremisan valley soil has been blocked. Palestinians cannot use it to cultivate their fields. The 1967 annexation of land for the extension  of the Municipality of Jerusalem by Israel and building the colony of Gilo on Beit Jala land created rules and restrictions on building within the new borders. These restrictions have kept Palestinians from manageable access to their land, which makes the land susceptible to being grabbed by Israel. If the wall is built on its current path, it will further separate the people from their land.

The threat of the separation wall through the Cremisan valley has loomed over its residents for over nine years. Many Christian leaders, from local pastors and bishops, to international faith leaders, including the Vatican, have denounced the construction of the wall through this land.

Nader’s family has deeds showing their ownership of the land from the Ottoman, British, and even the Israeli legal systems. This proof of land ownership from Nader’s family, and from many of the other families in the region, may not be enough to stop the wall from being built, nor from having restricted access to the land. Nader knows that his is one of thousands of cases like this in Palestine. For Palestinians, one of the biggest consequences of Israel’s occupation has been, for decades, being removed from land, while simultaneously seeing the development of many Israeli settlements on that land.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family.

An old olive tree, whose beauty and fruits are important to Nader and his family. Photo taken in 2013 by Nader.

The impending loss of this land by the extension of the Israeli security wall is painful for Nader. The beauty of nature, the history of generations, the connection to deep childhood memories, are all powerful motives to resist the wall’s construction. Nader’s passionate yet gentle resolve is tangible. He will continue to resist the loss of his land via the courts, and also through non-violent demonstrations that occur in the Beit Jala/Cremisan valley area every Sunday.

Nader believes that if this land is lost, it will be a real collapse of the legal system and of the morals of people. He is not ready to give up on this vital and sustaining piece of his life. “I won’t surrender… I will continue defending my land until the last day of my life. Even if the wall is built, I will keep defending it.”

Susiya: Symbol of a Larger Struggle

Originally posted on August 26, 2015 by

The tiny village of Susiya in the occupied West Bank has become a symbol of a much greater struggle –Palestinians’ ongoing resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Located in the South Hebron Hills, Susiya is home to about 340 Palestinian residents.  Some of the residents are descendants of those whose villages were destroyed in 1948 when the new state of Israel forced thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes. Others have lived in the Susiya agricultural community since at least the Ottoman era.

Palestinian flags fly over some of the temporary homes in the village of Susiya. Photo credit: P. Moore, EAPPI

Palestinian flags fly over some of the temporary homes in the village of Susiya. Photo credit: P. Moore, EAPPI

In 1986, Susiya residents were forced to relocate, when the Government of Israel (which, after 1967, gained control of the West Bank) wished to establish a heritage site on the remains of an ancient synagogue located there. Without any compensation for the loss of land, Palestinians rebuilt Susiya nearby. The village has been partially demolished several times since then, ostensibly to create a continuous swath of land between an Israeli settlement and the archeological site.

During the intervening years the living conditions in Susiya have deteriorated, while a new Israeli settlement named Susiya prospers. Palestinians are denied connections to the local water and electricity systems. Their access to their grazing and agricultural land has been reduced due to harassment and intimidation by Israeli settlers. Many live in shacks, tents and other temporary shelters.

This summer, residents have once again faced the prospect that Israel will demolish their homes and buildings, and they will be forced to relocate.  Why? Because they do not have building permits for their homes.  And they don’t have permits, because it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian living in what is known as Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under both civil and security control of the Israeli military — to receive a building permit. According to Bimkom, an Israeli nonprofit focused on planning rights, more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C from 2010 to 2014 were rejected.

In May of this year, COGAT (Israel’s governing body in the West Bank) issued Susiya residents with eviction notices and demolition orders that were to take effect by August 3.  And so the people awaited the bulldozers that would come and destroy their homes.

But they also appealed to the world to help them stop the demolition of their community. Before long, Palestinians, Israelis, the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. State Department and international solidarity groups joined the cry. Their appeal was grounded in the argument that the forcible transfer of people under occupation and in a coercive environment is a breach of international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions.

People pick through rubble at the site of a demolition in Wadi Sneysel, in the West Bank near East Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lutheran World Relief.

People pick through rubble at the site of a demolition in Wadi Sneysel, in the West Bank near East Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lutheran World Relief.

Though there is an active case in the Israeli courts regarding a Master Plan for the structures in the village, an Israeli judge rejected a motion to halt demolitions while the court case was in progress. Shortly thereafter, bulldozers arrived in the village. Thankfully, after intense international pressure, the bulldozers were withdrawn. This is good news—good news that speaks to the power of a people’s struggle, and the power advocacy, both local and international.

But the story is far from over. MCC workers in the region report that Israeli officials have pulled back from a wholesale demolition, but are continuing to pressure villagers to “agree” to the demolition of numerous specific structures and a relocation of the community to a new site one kilometre away.

Moreover, they say that Susiya is only one of many villages threatened by Israel’s plan to strengthen its hold on the West Bank, expand Israeli settlements, and make life even more difficult for Palestinians. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Israel has destroyed over 120,000 Palestinian homes since 1948. On August 17, 2015 alone, Israel demolished 21 homes in Area C, rendering 78 people – including 49 children– homeless. The threat continues.

Please consider contacting your Member of Parliament to urge him or her to join the call for solidarity with Susiya and other vulnerable Palestinian communities. And during this election campaign, ask your candidates how their party will help to advance a just peace, with adherence to international law, for Palestinians and Israelis.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office of MCC Canada.

Open Gaza Now

Eight years ago, in response to a democratic election which saw the rise of the “wrong” party, Israel instituted a complete closure of the Gaza Strip, severing a people from the world outside the walls and limiting prospects for development. Since Israel put the blockade in place, entry and exit of people and goods have been severely limited, creating what many have referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” But as a senior government official in Gaza quipped recently to MCC staff, “At least people in prison know why they are being punished. And for how long.”

It seems almost impossible to overstate the impact the blockade and subsequent military operations have had on Gaza. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) released a report in 2012 discussing whether Gaza would still be liveable in 2020, noting that 90 percent of the water extracted from ground wells is unfit for human consumption and the aquifer could be unusable by 2016. In a report released May 2015, the World Bank found that real per capita income in Gaza is 31 percent lower now than 20 years ago and that Gaza’s “economic performance . . . has been roughly 250 percent worse than that of any relevant comparators, including that of the West Bank.” Notably, the World Bank report states that “there are no other variables that could explain these developments other than war and the blockade.”

Even before Israel destroyed Gaza’s sole power plant in the war last summer, only 46 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs were met, leading to rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours each day.

Gaza’s unemployment rate is likely the highest in the world at 43 percent, with an average monthly income of $174 USD. And in spite of the fact that 80 percent of the population receives foreign aid and other social assistance, 39 percent live under the poverty line.

Compounding all of these challenges is the inability of people and goods to enter and exit; the Erez Crossing, controlled by Israel, is generally only open to “humanitarian cases” or aid workers. The only other pedestrian crossing, Rafah, on the Egyptian border, was only open 15 days in an 8-month period (Oct. 2014-May 2015). Israel, with help from Egypt, maintains a complete naval blockade, and the only airport in Gaza was destroyed in 2002.

We can come to understand the depth of the crisis through these statistics from the World Bank or United Nations. But we must be cautious of two things, the first of which is that Israel’s effective control over Gaza, but also over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, often takes the form of precise calculations or quantitative measures. The issuance of a certain number of permits in or out of occupied territory, the maintenance of a demographic majority through denial of family reunification permits or the right of Palestinian refugees to return, the calculation of the number of calories necessary to sustain the population of Gaza and the allowance of only that amount of food to enter the Strip. In relying on statistics to convey the tragedy of Gaza, are we entering into and reinforcing the mechanism of control Israel maintains over the Palestinian people?

The second item of concern is perhaps easier to grasp: that statistics are aggregates and are therefore, by definition, more concerned with “big picture” trends than with an individual’s humanity. The human element is lost when we quantify all aspects of life. We emote differently when we hear that more than 550 children were killed between July and August 2014 than when we imagine 11-year-old Mohammad Bakr and three of his cousins playing soccer on the beach before being killed by Israeli naval fire. The statistics frame the reality, but real people, living real lives, are involved and deserve dignity and the realization of their rights.

A teacher and young student at the NECC metalwork vocational training school in Gaza City. (June 2015)

A teacher and young student shape iron for a project at the NECC metalwork vocational training school in Gaza City. (June 2015)

MCC and local partners on the ground in Gaza are actively working to provide relief to people affected by physical and structural violence. The hardworking volunteers and staff of Al-Najd Development Forum have rehabilitated 70 partially destroyed homes in northern Gaza, primarily in the hard-hit neighborhoods of Shejaiyya and Beit Hanoun; Al-Najd, with funding from MCC, is one of the only organizations actually rebuilding homes destroyed in the war. The Near East Council of Churches (NECC) runs health clinics in Gaza, in addition to several vocational training schools, helping ensure the well-being of their community. The Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), based in Khan Younis in the south, works with women and children to support healthy and empowered leaders who see themselves as change agents in spite of a difficult and discouraging environment.

The international community has allowed Israel to operate with impunity for far too long, and we must demand an end to a system which sees the people of Gaza as unworthy of dignified lives. The only way forward is for Israel to end its illegal blockade of Gaza. Let people and goods in, and let people and goods out. End the strangulation and allow for recovery: for the economy, for the infrastructure, for the water sources, for the people.

Waiting to Break the Shackles of 48 Years of Israeli Occupation

By Suhail Khalilieh, Head of Settlement Monitoring Department, Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ)

Since 1967, the Palestinians may identify two eras; the first between 1967 and 1993 and the second era from 1993 and on. It is no question that Palestinians are different in many aspects of their lives from one era to another. The way they think, act and react. The nature of the people between now and then is clearly different; ask the people who lived through both eras and they will tell you. However, and in spite of what one may think or reflect, one thing is true: Palestinians remain persevering in their quest for an independent state.

It has been 48 years since Israel launched its preemptive war in 1967 and went to occupy what remained of mandate Palestine—the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—along with the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Upon the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel took unilateral measures aimed at restricting and controlling Palestinian use of the territory. It did so by declaring considerable areas of the West Bank as “Closed Military Areas” and military bases; these amount to 18.3 percent of the West Bank. Israel designated another 12.4 percent as “Nature Reserve Areas,” and an additional 2.7 percent as “Mined Areas” along the West Bank’s eastern border with Jordan. All of this adds to one-third of the West Bank’s total area.

A map of the West Bank showing settlements, the Separation Wall, and Areas A, B, and C. Produced by ARIJ.

A map of the West Bank showing settlements, the Separation Wall, and Areas A, B, and C. Produced by ARIJ.

When Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, it initiated the settlement program which has since constituted a cornerstone policy for every Israeli government that came to power in Israel; hence, the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has never stopped but continued in fluctuating pace.

From that time on, and in violation of international law, the Israeli government has nurtured 196 settlements established on 196 km2 (3.5 percent of the West Bank), accommodating more than 718,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory. The settlements have developed through the years of occupation to become impediments and a genuine threat to any possibility of a peace solution.

However, the Israeli settlement program is identified in two different streams. The first was adopted by the Israeli Labor Party that attributed building of the settlements for “security reasons,” in areas with strategic significance to the security of the State of Israel. It also signified Israel’s interest in secured borders under any peace agreement where the settlements would constitute the first line of defense, which gained them the name “settlements’ security belt.”

The second stream, spearheaded by the Israeli Likud Party, embraced the settlement program based on ideological principles, exemplified by their “God-given right” to occupy this land. This explains why the Likud party has always refused to consent to “land for peace” as a guideline in a conclusive peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, it became clear that the layout of the Israeli settlements built in the West Bank since 1967 was no coincidence but was predetermined to cut off Palestinian localities and governorates from each other. Israel also aimed to control as much empty land as possible.

In 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel materialized the Declaration of Principles (DOP), also known “Oslo Ι,” which began the Middle East Peace Process. Both sides committed to negotiate a permanent peace agreement which would provide for an eventual resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Almost by all standards, Oslo miserably failed to realize the Palestinian aspiration for an independent state. However, “might makes right” as the saying goes, and the failure of Oslo really reflects the failure of the international community to stand up to Israel when it decided to diverge from Oslo agreed-upon conditions. Israel decided to back away from its commitments and relieved itself of its responsibilities for the bulk of the Palestinian population, located in the densely populated areas classified “A” and “B” (39 percent of the West Bank) by turning the responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority, and maintained the occupation of the remaining area “C” (61 percent of the West Bank).

This arrangement turned the West Bank into an archipelago; Palestinians do not have a sea, but Israeli control over Area C interrupts their daily life and controls their movement. Additionally, Palestinians do not control borders or natural resources. And if that was not enough, in June 2002 Israel initiated the so-called “security barrier,” identified by Palestinians as the Segregation Wall, which stretches 771 km along the western terrains of the West Bank and isolates 733 km2 (13 percent of the West Bank).

The Segregation Wall has already negatively affected the lives of thousands of Palestinians as they are subjugated to the policies and control matrix of the Israeli Army, cut-off from their natural environment. Upon completion of the Wall, 159 Palestinian communities will be affected, of which 66 Palestinian localities (population 352,601) (30 localities in Jerusalem [population 301,481]) will be completely isolated from the West Bank.

Many argue that the two-state solution has died. For all we know, this might be the case, but it would be naïve to think that a signed peace agreement would inevitably lead to the two-state solution. Just few months separate us from the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the first Oslo Accord; even at the time, political peace seemed far-fetched. Then again, Palestinians were only taking the first step and laying the foundation of their aspirations, regardless what Israel wanted. Since then, Palestinians yearn for an independent and contiguous state, and realize they are not there yet but will get there eventually. Ultimately.

Home Gardens in Ar Rawa’in, YMCA Women’s Program

Southeast of Bethlehem in the desert hills that border the Dead Sea lies the small Bedouin community of Ar Rawa’in. The community of between 200 and 250 people lives in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli civil and military control. In Area C, which constitutes about 60 percent of the total area of the West Bank, Palestinians must apply to the Israeli military for building permits, which are rarely granted; as such, many people choose to build without permits, or live in tents and other temporary shelters.

The people of Rawa’in have only lived on this land since 1986, after they were forced by the Israeli military to move from Wadi al-Ghar, a mere three kilometers away from their current location, in order for Israel to establish military training grounds. Now, the people say, Israel regrets moving them to their current location since the government plans to confiscate the land for a Dead Sea road project. This, plus the fact that the people do not own the land on which they live—it belongs to two nearby Palestinian villages—makes the community’s situation especially precarious.

Living so far from a major population center and with nowhere to go should they be forced to leave, the people have benefited from a new project with the YMCA, an MCC partner, to build home gardens; this program focuses on the women of Rawa’in, providing training for how to take care of a small garden in an arid desert environment.

Many of the men of Rawa’in work inside Israel, picking fruits and vegetables during the harvest times, and receiving work permits for the duration of the season. But after one harvest finishes, they spend several months unemployed until the next harvest arrives. This sporadic income makes it difficult for the community to cover its needs over the course of the year; the home gardens should enable the people to save money by providing locally sourced vegetables for each household, in spite of the ebb and flow of personal income.

A successful sample home garden in Rawa'in, southeast of Bethlehem, through a project with the YMCA.

A successful sample home garden in Rawa’in, southeast of Bethlehem, through a project with the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

YMCA started with several sample gardens and gave training to only a few women of the village. When others in the community saw the success of these sample gardens, they wanted to receive the training as well. This month, YMCA is providing the practical aspects of establishing a garden, including fencing, water irrigation pipes, and plants and seeds for the women to build 18 new gardens. Each garden will be cared for by two women who will share the produce between their families.

The women appear to have found this training extremely useful, and are eager to begin caring for their own gardens. Nadia Ar’ara and Mona Ar’ara, two women who have worked on the sample gardens, noted how successful this project has been so far, which has inspired the other women of the village to pursue training.

Kalma Musa, a home garden trainee from Rawa'in, plants a pepper plant during a practical training through the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

Kalma Musa, a home garden trainee from Rawa’in, plants a pepper plant during a practical training through the YMCA. (20 May 2015)

But the women note that the villagers still face many issues, particularly from the Israeli military and Israeli settlers living nearby. While playing in a field near the village, three of Mona’s children sustained light injuries from the detonation of an old Israeli mine left in the ground. Nadia also mentioned that last June when three Israeli youth were kidnapped near Hebron, settlers came to Rawa’in, rounded up the children under one tent, and threatened to hurt them unless they “brought the boys back.”

Recent news of the imminent demolition of the Palestinian village Susiya, or of buildings demolished in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Silwan, or the forced eviction of entire Bedouin communities in the Negev inside Israel, reveals a pattern of aggressive discriminatory policies aimed at forcibly moving Palestinians into smaller and smaller areas of both Palestine and Israel. The community of Rawa’in stands as yet another witness of such policies, but also as a witness of the ways local organizations are supporting resilience and rootedness—literal and metaphoric—for Palestinians.