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Observing

15 January 2014

The weather is almost springtime. Two colleagues and I go and fix 10 Wall posters near the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint, a hundred meters to the east. There is a small community of Benedictines and a beautiful church. The Wall converts here into barbed wire. This time the posters are sponsored by persons from the UK, the US and the Netherlands. We do the work without professional support.

I remember long ago to have fixed posters in the middle of the night on walls in the heart of Amsterdam, to announce demonstrations. Now we glue large, thin-metal posters, with Palestinian checkpoint and Wall stories, on the lower side of the Wall, just outside the view of a manned watchtower besides the car opening in the Wall. One story relates to a mother challenged to explain the Wall to her son.

The observers of the EAPPI come too, like at previous occasions. EAPPI stands for Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel. It is an initiative of the World Council of Churches, with participation of many countries. The observers, who come for three months, are distributed in teams across the West Bank and Jerusalem. In Bethlehem they observe early morning the checkpoint where the workers pass who go to Jerusalem. They also go to clashes when they hear about them, which is almost on daily base nowadays.

Today three of them come from Al-Khader, a village to the south of Bethlehem. Since the school exams are held there, daily clashes erupt between the boys and the settlers or soldiers, who shoot teargas. I remember years ago to have observed the bullet holes in the walls of a school in Al-Khader. The illegal Israeli Wall building draws youth like a magnet. A Polish EAPPIer tells how the main street in Al-Khader was closed today by the army.

They also tell that these last days daily clashes occur in Aida camp, not far away from where we stand. There are protests against a strike of UNRWA personnel (the UN organization faces a financial shortfall). The inhabitants of Aida also express solidarity with the refugees in the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in Syria near Damascus, which is beleaguered by the government army and faces shortages in food, medicines, and other basic supplies.

Together with the Polish and Swiss participants we talk about the Wall Museum. The Polish lady is a video artist and interested how video art van be employed to support the posters. The Swiss is a teacher who is interested which method was used to have women and youth writing down the stories. They live very close to the place where we are. Nowadays they see on daily base army patrols passing – why these days, they don’t know. Yesterday the mobile of the Polish participant was confiscated by a soldier. After long talking, she got it back.

Each Friday, at 17:30, some of the EAPPIers join a silent walk and vigil along this location of the Wall, together with some clergy, residents of the area, and maybe a tourist group. This coming Friday we will join.

Toine van Teeffelen

 

Glued


Celine Dion’s So This Is Christmas, an anti-war song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, fills the rooms at home. Mary suddenly says: “War is wrong.”

Today, Saturday, is the moment to put up the Christmas tree. Yet first some new story posters have to be glued on the Wall in Bethlehem. While I am walking along the vegetable market, the traffic is stuck because of visiting Dutch and Palestinian VIPs. There is a large Dutch-Palestinian economic conference at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. The car of Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister, flashes by on its way to the Church.

Together with colleague Fadi and some workers, we are going to attach two posters on the Wall. The posters show the lyrics of a Christmas song composed by the Danish singer, Lars Lilholt, well-known in his country. We make photos of the song that asks Jesus to “love down the Wall.” Lars wants to show photos of the posters while he sings his song next week live on Danish TV.

I talk with the head of the adjacent souvenir shop so as for him to know what this is all about. We always try to involve shopkeepers around the wall so that they can explain to the visitors the idea behind the posters: The many small stories of Palestinian women and youth express the larger story of humanity in opposition to a Wall which kills, disowns and divides.

Afterwards we glue other posters (two by one meter, of thin metal) on a section next to a military watchtower. The mayor of a middle-sized Dutch city, Deventer, escapes from the economic conference and passes by to have a look.

Quite a number of visitors come to the area. The Christmas season has begun. Hundreds of Mexican visitors, all dressed in a red Santa hat and some singing, pass by, accompanied by Palestinian police. Do they know that Israeli soldiers shoot at demonstrators in nearby Aida camp on almost daily base? Do the conference participants know?

This Saturday afternoon we also film a Wall act of the Palestinian clown Francis, accompanied by a violin. The wordless performance shows him being overwhelmed, confused and saddened by the Wall. He receives a ladder, two wings and a shovel, as he tries to beat the Wall by climbing, flying and digging. In anger he kicks but then dances around in pain. Suddenly he experiences a flash of insight when a group of Palestinians approaches. His face lights up and he starts putting their hands together. When he sees hands falling apart, he comes back, no, no, those hands should stay together as glued. Only human connection can beat the wall.

The violinist is Sliman, in his daily job lecturer food production at a university. He usually plays the ‘Oud - predecessor of the western lute - but agrees that the violin is better able to express the deep sadness of the clown. However, he emphasizes that he plays the violin in the Oriental way. At the end Marianne sings Silent Night in English and Arabic. Her voice slowly fades away while darkness approaches.

Lars Lilholt’s Christmas song:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXHLPHenuVE&;feature=share

 

Toine van Teeffelen

Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows

Bethlehem

16 December 2013

The cemetery killing

Like every Sunday morning the ka’ek salesman passes by, selling his sesame bread, falafel and speckled eggs heated in the oven. He always wants to sell more, and asks whether he had perhaps heard me asking for “four” breads instead of one. He also sells the Al Quds newspaper, for which Mary has more reading time on Sunday than during the week.

While today is the opening of the Christmas market in Bethlehem, the news does not make anyone happy. There were recently several dead and injured in the West Bank and Gaza because of the occupation. Most of the time the “incidents” do not draw much attention. Who did for instance last week hear that the Israeli army killed three men driving in their car, near Hebron? It apparently concerned “Salafists” and “Al-Qaida.” As always there are contradictory accounts about the circumstances under which such extrajudicial executions – how to call them otherwise? - take place.

Mary relays an item in the paper about a worker from a village near Nablous, the 24-year old Antar Al-Aqraa. He was killed yesterday at a cemetery not far from Tel Aviv. He happened to be there in the neighborhood together with some 40 men who did not have a permit to work in Israel. Some tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians are illegally working in Israel, finding their way across the supposedly impenetrable Wall. A volunteer of the Israeli border police shot Antar dead from 10 meter distance, according to al-Quds. It is said that he had attacked the police. His family in the West Bank could not believe that he had done so. It was not his personality.

What is his story? After three weeks he would marry. His fiancée fainted after hearing the news. He worked day and night to save for his marriage. But the unemployment rate is high in the West Bank, both under manual workers and those with more education. Young unmarried men like Antar do not get permits to work in Israel, except when they collaborate. So he took risks and worked hard in Israel as an illegal laborer. You can imagine the types of places where illegal laborers stay for the night. Mary tells that she heard that many got a skin disease in such places. He too stayed under unhygienic circumstances during the night in Israel.

Previously Antar was arrested several times during night raids. He had to pay fees, but still he continued working in Israel. According to his colleagues he would have to stay this time, if caught, at least one year in prison. That would mean: no marriage any time soon. So he tried to escape from the arrest into the cemetary.

How he tried to escape is not clear. In a first report on the Internet the Israeli paper Jerusalem Post mentioned that he had attacked the border police with an “axe.” This morning the report presented a new version in which it was claimed that the man had “stabbed” the police. Below the report a correction stated that it was not clear whether it concerned an axe or not. But who cannot tell the difference between an axe and a knife? And if it was an axe, how can you stab with an axe? And how dangerous is somebody at a distance of some ten meter; the distance mentioned elsewhere, in Al Quds newspaper.

A few weeks ago we discussed a similar incident. A worker was called to come out of his car at a checkpoint in the West Bank, the so-called “container” checkpoint near Abu Dis. The soldiers said that they were attacked. Passengers in the car denied that. The man was killed at close range. Nobody started an appeal procedure. That would lead to nothing, so is the feeling. In general people want of course to have to deal with the army as little as possible.

Ask the dissident Israeli ex-soldier group, “Breaking the Silence,” how regularly Israeli soldiers lie to escape punishment (modest or negligible the punishment itself may be, compared to international standards).


Toine van Teeffelen
Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows

Bethlehem, December 1, 2013

Dreaming in Battir

While Mary visits the celebrations at Bethlehem University, which has its 40 year anniversary, Tamer (now 11 years) and I leave for a hike in the village of Battir, west of Bethlehem. In his homework he just learned about the ecological value of trees. But the morning paper, Al-Quds (Jerusalem), opens with the story that olive trees in the villages Bourin and Deir Sharif in the Nablous area have been destroyed by settlers.  It is presently olive harvest time.

Tamer joins the hike on the condition that he can bring his I Pad.  The trip by service or collective taxi is cheap: 11 shekel or just over 2 Euro for two persons. We start near the Hassan Mustafa Center, one of several cultural centers in Battir. Lately I had the chance to meet Nadia Butma, who runs the center (named after a former community leader who protected the village in 1948 and negotiated with the Israelis about the ceasefire line). Nadia is open for cooperation with the Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship which AEI hopes to establish next year, offering a one-year vocational training to youth and women.

Battir has struggled for some years against the building of the Wall which would, if built near the village, not only ruin the lives of local people but also greatly damage the landscape. You can see in the area beautiful terraces with trees, wells, caves, as well as ancient Roman channels, pools and gravetombs. Walking there somehow gives you this sense of loosing time, certainly so when meeting a peasant with a donkey working on the land.  Tamer and I put the arms around each other so as to stay warm; the weather is colder than we thought. I explain him the idea of sinsile, the little pittoresque walls which decorate the terraces and are built up from the rough stones found in the environment.

But the sense of timelessness is broken when Tamer spots two military jeeps on a road close to the Har Gilo settlement, and the Wall also emerges on a distance (it is lower though than in Bethlehem, as the settlers do not want to ruin the views from their houses). Tamer imagines that he glides like Batman across the wadis. Maybe that Batman can cross the invisible border with Jerusalem, normal humans cannot. There is an electronical “fence”; when you cross the Battir railway, you will be caught immediately. On my turn, I fantasize about the rock formations in the wadis which take on shapes that resemble animals. In fact, once an old folklore book noted that some rocks in this area represent a passing bridal procession, the members of which apparently “sinned” at that moment – which sin wasn’t mentioned - and who were punished by being transformed into rocks.

No sound around us, except for the wind.

Among the new posters on the Wall, are 15 children’s dreams.

One is Majd’s, from Bethlehem.

 

Bethlehem

A holy city, a place where all kinds of people are welcome.

It’s my hometown, a place where I can relax.

A safe place, a place of religion.

A wonderful place.

A place I want to build my future, my better life.

Finalize my high school education and hopefully become a vegetarian.

Bethlehem is an open prison.

In my future it is a place of freedom.

A place known for its hospitality for everyone, especially tourists.

A place where people bond and talk and be free.

 

Toine van Teeffelen

Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows

Bethlehem

10 October 2013


A Big, Unpleasant Game

Rumors say that in the coming months West Bankers will receive permits for no less than 6 months, says Mary. At the same time many permits are torn up, without a reason given. The permit business is a big, unpleasant game.  It is true that more and longer permits are handed out nowadays, apparently under the influence of the shopkeepers’ lobby in Israel that wants more Palestinians from the West Bank entering Israel and supporting the Israeli economy. In fact, during the Ramadan month 1 million West Bankers entered Jerusalem and Israel and spent there 100 million shekels [about 20 million Euro], according to the news agency Ma’an - to the chagrin of Palestinian shopkeepers in Bethlehem and elsewhere.

The Israeli “security establishment” knows that the more permits are given, the more people become dependent, and the larger the chances to prevent Palestinians challenging the occupation. The permit system in fact has widened its net and incorporates now – unlike some years ago -  all Palestinians here, including children below 16 years. Everybody needs a permit to visit places like East-Jerusalem - one’s very own country. And, who knows, giving some extra thousands of permits may be considered by the Americans a goodwill gesture during the present, doomed peace talks.

The permit system aims in the long run to sever the ties of West Bank Palestinians from East-Jerusalem and Israel. Palestinians are even largely separated from area C, the 60% of the West Bank which is under total Israeli control, full of settlements and beyond the Palestinian Authority.

Jara (15) lately did not obtain a permit for Jerusalem, and asked me a couple of times to accompany her. However, being a foreigner may not be much of an advantage in the future. When I returned to Tel Aviv airport in April, I received a stamp in the passport saying “Judea and Samaria only”. This looked like as if I too would be imprisoned in the West Bank, but when passing the checkpoints the soldiers did not know and were even less interested. After returning from holidays with Mary and the kids, I received in August a new stamp at the Allenby Bridge between the West Bank and Jordan, now with the stamp “Palestinian Authority only.”

That would imply a further limitation – no entry into area C. At the passport control officials thought “that I would not be able to enter Jerusalem, but if I wanted to know for sure, I would have to enquire with the Coordinator of Military Affairs in the West Bank.” At the checkpoint soldiers again seem not much interested, at least for the moment. Likely these measures are testing the ground. If there is no international pressure to withdraw them, they will be in time introduced in full and further isolate whatever is left of Palestine.

 

Toine van Teeffelen

Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows

Bethlehem

13 August 2013

Up, the kufiyeh!

Yesterday midnight we went out for a party outside on the streets of Bethlehem. A motor cyclist shot along the usually quiet University Road with his arms for some 100 meters spread out in the air. A car drove full speed over a little hill set up to brake speed so that the vehicle hang in the air for a brief moment. Like other West Bank cities, Bethlehem exploded for Mohammed Assaf, the 23-year old youngster from the refugee camp Khan Younis in Gaza who just had won Arab Idols, the Arab variant of the famous talent show. We hadn’t that experienced before in Bethlehem, an outbreak of so much spontaneous joy. Cars with Palestinian flags, people sitting or hanging out of the windows or through the roofs, claxoning, standing on the brakes or giving full gas, it all didn’t matter as long as it made noise. Mabroek sha’ab  Falastin ! [Congratulations, Palestinian people], shouted a lady out of a window of a car to all of us. Mabrouk! we shouted back.

The social media were of course in full gear, Jara participating enthusiastically. The winner of the TV competition which is broadcast across the Arab world and viewed worldwide (also by Arabs far outside the Middle East) had to be determined by viewers through text messages sent to Lebanon. Palestinian telephone companies distributed free telephone cards so that each could send out a great many messages. Companies offered extra messages to those who bought their products, like a cup of coffee. Since the Egyptian competitor in the contest could potentially count on the votes of millions of Egyptians, there was massive mobilization. At the end perhaps some 65 million votes were given to Assaf, a well-looking man with, indeed, a great voice

Yesterday, we took him at a workshop for religious studies teachers as an example of the moral principle of “giving.” Did Mohammed give a gift to the Palestinian people – or was he more the receiver of status, money, a beautiful car? Well, he certainly gave, and not a little: he gave a feeling of national unity. In his songs – such as “Up, the kufiyeh!” – he mentioned all the different groups of the Palestinian people that should be mentioned, such as the prisoners and the fallen. He also mentioned the “sections” of the Palestinian people fragmented against their will: the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the ’48 Palestinians (those living inside Israel), the Jerusalemites, the Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestinians in the Diaspora.

Mohammed is religious but not fanatic and the imam of Nablous on the West Bank who proclaimed a fatwa against the glitter show, did not receive support. According to rumors, the Palestinian Authority tried to recruit him against Hamas, but the wedding singer from Gaza refused to join the game.

Call it cultural resistance. Mary sent a text message to her friend this morning: “Good morning, victory.” Her friend answered: “Good morning, dignity.” “Let us for one day taste a victory,” said a Palestinian in response to a skeptical observer from Qatar who did not understand all that joy. After all, the show did not change the situation? The response: “You don’t understand because: where were you when the bombs fell on Gaza?”

 

Toine van Teeffelen

Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows

Bethlehem

23 June 2013

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