I wondered after today how people continue to live, eat, shop, drive, cook, laugh, rejoice, pray, in this situation.mIn each direction the is another story that is so incomprehensible that this person is still living, breathing, and has a vision of the future and is teeming his children that they must have their vision and that only you can make it happen.
There is a 100 acre plot of land sitting atop a hill near Bethlehem that is surrounded by 6 Israeli settlements. This land is owned by a Christian Palestinian family, deeded properly to them in 1919 during the Ottoman Empire. It is unusual for Palestinian land to have official deeds, particularly during the Ottoman Empire as land that was registered was taxed by the Occupiers. Palestinians live in community so the norm would have been that the family would have lived in Bethlehem and that the men of the family would travel to the property to care for the land and crops. The grandfather of Daoud (David) decided however that his family should live on the land in caves as his ancesters would have lived. So he dug a wonderful cave home. The two grandsons who now inhabit the land (their sisters have married and moved away) have been in a legal struggle to keep this land. Currently this is a case tied up in the courts for the last 21 years. As long as the case is pending the Israeli's have no right to take this property.
However, all around, all within the Palestinian land, settlements have been built. The Israelis want this land, too. The first step they took was to declare the land in Area C, or State Land, so declared because it is a security risk. Then the court battle ensued. Then the Israelis tried to purchase the land, for which they offered a blank check and would give the family up to 40 years before vacating. Again, the family refused. As Daoud says, "This land is my Mother and my Mother is not for sale."
The Israelis then gave an order to demolish the 9 structures that have since been built on the property. The order was given on a Thursday and the demolition would begin on Monday. Again the family went to court. They were given 30 days to get a proper survey and to get signatures of neighbors or demolition would take place. Again they prevailed, but not before expending $70,000 paying a proper surveyor, an Israeli.
The Israeli's, continuing to build settlements then gave an order to destroy cisterns and wells. The cisterns and wells remain today but no more can be dug. While all the Israeli settlements surrounding the hill have full services of electricity, water, garbage collection, sewers, etc., this property was allowed none of these services even though the owners pay property taxes. Three years ago a group of German people came and installed solar panels on the roof of one of the structures. The toilets are composting outhouses.
The next tactic was settlers attempting to build a road through their property, cutting down olive trees (the very symbol of peace) vandalism, harassment from the settlers. This has now ceased but the property is securely fenced and padlocked. But a sign remains outside, "We refuse to hate."
The family calls this land the Tribe of Nations. Each summer campers arrive for a 2-week session of artwork. The area is full of artwork that includes iconography, mosaics made from trash scraps, frescos, and other religious depictions. Up to 100 volunteers arive each summer to assist with the crops and animals. There are sheep, horses, chickens, and a bevy of dogs. While all 9 EAPPI ers were present this morning there was also a pilgrimage group from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. They asked about our work and we told them about our program of observation and documentation.
We then walked down to the village of Nahallin, about a 20 minute downhill walk. We were met by Maher who took us to his house to tell his story. We were greeted by his Mother who served us sweet tea and date cookies. Maher is in his early 30's and is a communist, anti-religious, activist, author. who has been imprisoned for 2 1/2 years; the first time for his anti-Israeli writing, the second for attempting to get to Hebron when he was ill. At that time he and his two friends were told to get out of the car, were forced to the grounds, then were forced to face a wall while the soldiers beat each of them. They
were then transported to the prison and guns were pointed at their heads and the soldiers asked them where in their body they wished to be killed--the head, the heart? and where would they like their bodies delivered for burial. Maher speaks Hebrew so he knew what the soldiers were saying to one another and he believes that they were going to kill them. The process was interrupted by a higher official arriving at the prison. He was detained for 6 months with no indictment, no trial. However, due to his original sentence he is viewed as highly dangerous and can never leave Palestine.
Maher story took a long time and we were served coffee and wonderful bread with olive oil and a wonderful spice to dip in. We were all hungry! We left a bit late for our next appointment at Manger Square for lunch with Hamed from OHCHR.
At 2:00 Liva, Martin, Hannah, and I went to Battir, a small village that is accessible by driving under the Israeli highway, on horrible Palestinian roads (which they are forbidden to repair). There we visited with Fayez, his sister Shariya, and her husband, Abid. They have a 8 year old son Sammy who was severely traumatized as a 1 1/2 - 2 year old, during the violent period of the second Intifada. Soldiers used the roof of their home as a rocket-launching area, the soldiers intimidated and frightened them all, but Sammy stopped his babbling and has not yet spoken. They have tried every type of therapy and medical intervention, but there is no program that works for him. We suggested that first they get an appointment with the doctor that Liva had identified for them and I will try Doctor's Without Borders. Hannah has a friend who is in Bethlehem often who is a music therapist and will make contact with her.
To get to Battir we had to walk downhill for a very long time, so when we were ready to leave I was quite relieved when it was mentioned that we could get a taxi to come to the house, so we jumped at it and came home, exhausted.
This is highly emotional, impossible to accept the ability to transcend, endure, and make sweet, sweet lemonade from those old withering lemons.
Faith is such a hard part of the struggle. perhaps the struggle gives resilience, but today I watched beautiful women wearing lots of makeup and sporting new jeans along with their traditional hair coverings laughing together. I saw children on bikes and scooters, home-made soap box derbies, laughing and playing. ThisTakes incredible strength and fortitude. This is not an easy life.
The commonality: Steadfast hope