We write you from a guest house where our delegation is staying across the street from Dheisheh refugee camp which borders Bethlehem to the south. Dheisheh, approximately 1 square Km and home to over 10,000 people, was established as a temporary place to house refugees who fled and were expelled from the Jerusalem and Hebron areas in 1948. It began as a temporary camp and today has been built up with more permanent homes. The struggle continues to gain access to all services provided to those living across the street in Bethlehem.
We arrived a few days ago and made our way to East Jerusalem where we got a room at the Hebron Hostel. After sending some e-mails we pretty much crashed only to wake up at 4:30 am wide-eyed and ready to start our day. 10 hours time difference is no joke! We tried to shut our eyes a little longer and finally rose in search of food. The narrow, stone-laid pedestrian streets of the old city were fairly empty still at 7 am on a Saturday. Strong coffee wafted from a few doorways and we eventually left Damascus gate and walked to the other side where saw and smelled street food the night before when we arrived. Chicken Shwarma and hummus breakfast it was. We met up with our delegation at 10 a.m. and caught a bus to our guest house where we will be staying most of the 10 days of the delegation leg of our trip. We will spend a couple nights in the villages where we will be planting trees.
After dropping our bags at the guest house, we shuttled about a couple miles away to the offices of Badil Resource Center for Palestinian and Refugee Rights which is a community-based organization advancing the individual and collective rights of Palestinian refugees based on the principles of international law and international human rights law. Badil sees refugees as at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. We heard a presentation given by Amjad Alqasis about the role of the JNF in the ongoing colonization in Palestine. It in its own right was thorough and also filled in many gaps and answered questions I had about the JNF’s role. We were oriented to one of their projects called “Ongoing Nakba,” a location specific indexed multi-media exhibit that provides photos, videos and interviews about the different regions and their specific relationship to the ongoing Nakba. It’s really a great site and worth having a look www.ongoingnakba.org. We returned home and played the stay-up-as-late-as-we-can game to stave of jet-lag.
On Sunday, we rose in the early morning to take transportation to the Naqab desert south of here. The Naqab is home to Bedouin communities experiencing constant displacement and home demolition by the JNF/Israeli government. We first met at the offices of Adalah (justice in Arabic) and received a presentation by Dr. Thabet Abu Ras on the JNF’s role in displacing Bedouins and ongoing colonization in the Naqab. We learned about the Prawer Plan, an Israeli government approved plan for mass expulsion of Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab. If fully implemented, it will result in the forced displacement of 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the destruction of 35 “unrecognized” villages. Dr. Thabet accompanied us and provided a short tour of some Bedouin villages from the side of the highway, where they are often pushed to. They receive no access to the services of Israeli national citizens, though they are citizens of Israel. Sometimes there are municipal water reservoir tanks just above Bedouin villages and they are prohibited access. Electricity wires run literally over the villages with no service provided to villagers. Wells are often destroyed along with houses when the JNF bulldozers come through making it impossible to even travel back to their previous homes for water.
We had a traditional Bedouin lunch provided by the village of Khashem Zaneh. They are making lunches as a way to make money from their farming and livestock. It was absolutely delicious. We learned about the tremendous efforts of the IDF and JNF to demolish homes which is often accompanied by bulldozers, military forces, helicopters and then a very large bill for the “service” of demolishing their homes. We heard from one villager the story of how he has demolished his own home several times to avoid being charged immense sums of money and also to protect his children from the greater trauma of a bulldozer plowing it down. Afterwards we went to Al-Araqib Bedouin village. Their village and homes have been demolished 45 times. The people of Al-Araqib are currently living in and around their cemetery, often in vans. JNF trees new and less recent surround them on all sides, as well as a freeway. We met in a tent with the village elder Sheikh Siyakh al-Turi and his son who told us about the deep living heritage of al-Araqib and the commitment of villagers to fight the Jewish National Fund and to share the story of their struggle as internationally and as broadly as possible. The coffee and tea never stopped. On our way back to the highway, we stopped to see up close what the JNF has been planting there- acres and acres and rows and rows of Eucalyptus trees. We attended a weekly protest by members of the al-Araqib village and their supporters. We heard again from the Sheikh and his son while the children who just accompanied us in the tent banged away at drums. It was a profound day.