Two of the Gaza Strip’s most pressing challenges are a blockade-induced shortage of both electricity and building materials. And, in this conservative, patriarchal society, it’s a young, female engineer who is tackling both.
Twenty-four-year-old Majd al-Mashharawi, a 2016 graduate in civil engineering, first figured out how to turn ash and rubble—of which Gaza has a lot—into a material she calls “Green Cake” that can replace cement. Now, she is turning her attention to renewable energy technologies, starting with a solar kit named SunBox. Now in the piloting phase, SunBox is, she says, the first off-the-grid solar kit in Gaza.
“Gaza has an extreme shortage of electricity—receiving just three to six hours a day. But the entire Middle East suffers from a lack of sufficient electricity,” Mashharawi says. “This severely affects both quality of life and opportunity for economic growth. But the region has a resource that can be harnessed—an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making solar energy an ideal source of electricity production.”
Mashharawi researched solar options in use in Africa and India, where electricity outages also are common. However, she ended up turning to China for the most applicable solution. Her SunBox product is a small solar energy collection kit she imports, modifies to accommodate local electrical outlets and voltage and sells for US$355—a price her market research shows is affordable to most households. (She hopes to partner with microfinance businesses for those families who need to pay in installments.) The kit generates 1,000 watts of electricity—enough to power four lamps, two laptops, two phones, an internet router and a TV/fan/small refrigerator for a full day, before needing a “refresh” (using either the sun or the electrical grid, when available).
If the Gaza launch goes well, Mashharawi is already dreaming of expanding into other markets—West Bank refugee camps, Syrians in Jordan and off-grid Bedouin communities throughout the Middle East (perhaps the largest of the populations, at an estimated 3.2 million).
Mashharawi attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to her 11th grade math teacher.
"He forced us to find a way to solve math assignments on our own—rather than simply memorizing the formulas. It was the first and most difficult challenge of my life," she recalls.
This led Mashharawi to spend her entire, three-month summer holiday figuring out the "why" behind the answers so she could compile a booklet to distribute to other students. Mashharawi considers this her first startup.
“I didn't know how to change it into a business, however,” she laughs. “I was young and unaware of how businesses work.”
Mashharawi’s independence and a yearning to travel have driven her to work hard to build a future—no minor task in a society that is both conservative, restricting women’s freedom, and oppressed by a blockade.
"I know very well that the world around us is advancing, while our lives in Gaza are frozen,” she says. “But instead of wasting time complaining about how bad our situation is, I prefer to seek solutions for problems."
One of those challenges confronted her family when her brother got married and her father wanted to add a floor to their home for the new couple. However, that was impossible because he could not obtain any cement. In fact, today, nearly four years after Israel's war on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, an estimated 4,500 families still are living without a permanent home. Exacerbating the housing shortage is population growth and restrictions imposed by Israel on the importation of construction materials. The UN Population Fund predicts the population of Gaza, already the densest place on earth, will more than double to 4.8 million by 2050. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of the cement needed has been allowed into Gaza since the Israeli offensive.
That challenge was one of the reasons she came up with the idea for her first product, Green Cake—a material made primarily from coal or wood ash, then cured with steam—with a fellow student. The environmentally friendly brick is fire-resistant and only half as heavy as cement blocks and costs 50 percent less. Nevertheless, Mashharawi and her partner struggled to attract support at first, and the other student later abandoned the project. Fortunately, Mashharawi stuck with it.
A startup incubator run by the Islamic University of Gaza helped fund the first production round in September 2016, and now she rents office space, employing three people. To date, her company has provided the material for parts or all of three new homes.
"At first, I didn't get any help from others," she recalled. Mashharawi borrowed money to develop the project, ignoring the disapproval she received for being a woman in a traditionally man’s field. Then she heard about the Japan-Gaza Innovation Challenge, a two-day workshop and business competition. Two of the 10 competing teams were given the top prize, and Green Cake was one. Mashharawi was invited to tour Japan and then doors started opening.
"Travelling was such a big dream for me, but until then, I could never achieve it," Mashharawi says. Earlier, she had won a scholarship to study for a year in Berlin, and obtained the necessary visa, but she couldn’t get permission to leave Gaza from the Israeli government. Egypt’s Rafah crossing never opened.
“I applied several times to get a permit to leave Gaza, and each time they refused me. So, I lost the scholarship," she sadly recalls. She again was denied the opportunity to travel when she sought to travel to Dubai for the international Hult Prize competition for social-enterprise start-ups.
But this time was different; in March of last year, Mashharawi finally left Gaza for two weeks in Japan. "I was exactly like a bird finally released from a cage to fly freely into the sky,” she says.
The invention also attracted international media attention, including coverage by Fast Company in the United States and The Independent in the UK.
Later, in June, Mashharawi traveled again—this time to the United States. For three months, she studied entrepreneurship and business administration, then returned to Gaza.
“I would have been able to stay in the United States, but honestly, I wanted to come back,” says Mashharawi. “In Gaza, every day there is some new challenge, which makes it a lot more interesting. Outside of Gaza, you live for yourself only; in Gaza, I feel like I have a larger mission that can really benefit people.”
Palestinian Journeys is an online portal into the multiple facets of the Palestinian experience, filled with fact-based historical accounts, biographies, events, and undiscovered stories. Together, they seek to craft an ever-growing comprehensive narrative which highlights the active role of the Palestinian people in crafting their own history. Presently absent from the global Palestinian narrative are stories of resistance, persistence, and hope, which Palestinian Journeys strives to bring forward.
Palestinian Journeys is a project of the Palestinian Museum, in collaboration with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Visualizing Palestine. Beyond that, Palestinian Journeys strives to tell a comprehensive Palestinian narrative through a growing pool of collaborations and partnerships with kindred projects, institutions, and groups which produce knowledge on Palestine and the Palestinians.
The online platform is currently divided into two parts: the “Timeline,” and the “Stories.” The Timeline content is an original creation of the Institute for Palestine Studies, while the Stories are original creations of the Palestinian Museum.
The Timeline is an ever-growing encyclopedic collection of historical events, biographies, themed chronologies, highlights of historical, socio-economic and cultural themes, historical documents, and multimedia. It serves as an indispensable scholarly reference for the breadth of Palestinian history.
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As a user, we’re taking you through layers of experience as you surf from one part of the platform to the other, or dive deeply into its content. The journey can be heavily visual or primarily textual, inspiring you to explore that which you know, and that which you never knew existed.
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Two days before he was killed, Ibrahim Abu Thurayyah filmed a message to the Israeli army.
“I am passing a message to the Zionist occupation army,” the 29-year-old double amputee, who lost both of his legs and a kidney in a 2008 Israeli air raid, said.
“This land is our land. We are not going to give up. America has to withdraw the declaration it made.”
Before his death, the wheelchair-bound Abu Thurayyah had become a staple figure at protests along the Gaza Strip‘s border with Israel.
Since December 6, he and his fellow demonstrators decried US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In photos, Abu Thurayyah can be seen climbing an electricity pole and sticking a Palestinian flag on it.
On December 15, Abu Thurayyah was fatally shot in the head by an Israeli sniper.
WATCH: Funeral of Palestinian amputee killed by Israeli fire
Another Palestinian, Yaser Sukkar, was killed the same day while protesting at Gaza’s border. Two others were killed by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank, bringing the death toll since Trump’s decision in the first week of December to eight Palestinians.
On Saturday, funerals were held for Abu Thurayyah and the three other Palestinians killed a day earlier.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Abu Thurayyah’s funeral procession in Gaza, said thousands of people had taken to the streets to pay their respects for “unlikely figure of Palestinian resistance and defiance”.
“He would often leave his wheelchair at home and attend rallies in protests around Gaza City just carrying his Palestinian flag,” said Fisher.
“He was carrying that flag when he was shot by the Israelis.”
Mourners carry Abu Thurayyah’s body during his funeral in Gaza City on Saturday [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]
Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry, said in a statement on Saturday that the Israeli army has been using snipers armed with explosive bullets and indiscriminately firing tear gas canisters.
“The army also uses gas bombs of unknown quality, which has led to the injury of dozens in the form of convulsions, vomiting, coughing and rapid heartbeat,” he said.
Qidra also noted that Israeli forces have been using excessive violence against civilians and deliberately targeting paramedics, ambulances and news crews.
In April 2008, Abu Thurayyah was sitting with several friends in al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza when he was hit by the Israeli air raid that cost him his legs and kidney. Seven people were killed in the attack.
As the sole breadwinner for his 11-member family, which consisted of his two, sick parents, six sisters and three brothers, Abu Thurayyah, who was a fisherman before the Israeli air raid, was forced to find new work to pay the bills for their home in the camp.
He found work washing cars, earning 50-70 shekels ($14-20) a day. Sometimes he also sold vegetables in the market to make ends meet.
In an interview with Shehab News Agency a few years ago, Abu Thurayyah outlined his hopes and dreams for the future.
“I hope one day to own a house,” he said.
“I wish that people in European and Arab countries will help me after listening to my story to get treatment abroad and prosthetic legs.”
On Friday Afternoon, 15 December 2017,Israeli forces killed 3 Palestinian civilians; one of whom is a lower-limb amputee, and wounded 252 civilians, including 19 children, 2 paramedics and 2 journalists; one is Indonesian, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as Israeli forces excessively used force against participants in protests. Meanwhile, shown in a video widely published, Israeli forces liquidated a forth Palestinian after he carried out a stab attack at the northern entrance to al-Bireh in the West Bank during clashes in the area. These incidents came in light of the ongoing tense atmosphere following the U.S. President’s Donald Trump Decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy to it, constituting a dangerous precedent that violates the international law.
This high number of casualties, particularly targeting a disabled and lower-limp amputee by directly shooting him in the head, prove that Israeli forces continue their systematic crimes and indiscriminate use of excessive and disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians in disregard for their lives.
PCHR’s follow up showed that it is clear that the Israeli forces heavily and upon a decision use live ammunition; some of which is explosive, to confront the unarmed civilians. Thus, comparing with the last year, the number of Palestinians wounded with live bullets east of the Gaza Strip increased in addition to directly hitting them with tear gas canisters.
The Israeli forces also fired dozens of tear gas canisters through special vehciles at the protests. As a result, dozens of civilians suffered fatigue, cramps, vomiting, coughing and high heart rate. Some of them were transered to the hospital while others were treated on the spot.
In the Gaza Strip, the eastern and northern areas witnessed protests against the U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision, and the Israeli forces used force against the protestors. As a result, two Palestinian civilians were killed, including a lower-limb amputee, and wounded 192 civilians, including 18 children, 2 paramedics and 2 journalists; one is Indonesian. 117 of the Wounded civilians were hit with live bullets, 55 were hit with tear gas canisters, and dozens suffered tear gas inhalation.
According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 13:30 on Friday, 15 December 2017, dozens of young men and youngsters gathered tens of meters away from the border fence with Israel near former Nahal Oz Crossing, east of al-Shuja’iyah neighborhood, east of Gaza City. They set fire to tires, threw stones at the Israeli forces stationed along the border fence in protest against the U.S. President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. During the 6-hour clashes, the Israeli soldiers sporadically fired tear gas canisters and live and rubber-coated metal bullets at the protestors. As a result, 2 civilians, from al-Shuja’iyah neighborhood in Gaza, were killed with live bullets; one of them is disabled with no legs. The killed civilians were identified as Yasser Naji Sukar (23) hit with a bullet to the head and Ibrahim Nayeh Ibrahim Abu Thurayah (29) hit with a bullet to the forehead, noting that he lost his legs in an Israeli airstrike in 2008.
According to PCHR’s investigations, wheelchair-bound Abu Thurayah was directly shot to the head when he was 30 meters away from the border fence, where Israeli forces can clearly see him, and did not pose any threat to the soldiers. Moreover, shooting him in the forehead prove that he was deliberately sniped by the Israeli soldiers, without posing any threat to the soldiers’ lives, during a protest that was only about chanting slogans, throwing stones and setting fire to tires. This also emphasizes that the Israeli forces used lethal and disproportionate force against armed civilians.
The Injuries were as follows throughout the Gaza Strip:
Northern Gaza Strip: the confrontations were mainly in the vicinity of al-Shuhadaa’ Cemetery, east of Jabalia; in the vicinity of Beit Hanoun Crossing; and in Abu Samrah area, north of Beit Lahia. As a result, 67 Palestinians, including 7 children, 2 paramedics and an Indonesian journalist, were wounded. Forty were hit with live bullets; one was hit with rubber-coated metal bullets; 18 were hit with tear gas canisters; and 8 suffered tear gas inhalation. Moreover, an ambulance belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) sustained damage after being hit with a tear gas canister.
Gaza City: the clashes and Israeli shooting were mainly near former Nahal Oz Crossing, east of al-Shuja’iyah neighborhood. As a result, 43 Palestinians, including 3 children, were wounded. Twenty-three of them were hit with live bullets; 18 were hit with tear gas canisters; and 2 suffered tear gas inhalation.
Central Gaza Strip: the clashes and Israeli shooting occurred in the eastern side of al-Bureij refugee camp. As a result, 14 Palestinians, including 2 children, were wounded. Six were hit with live bullets; one of whom to the head and transferred to al-Shifa Hospital due to his serious condition; 5 were hit with tear gas canisters, including 3 directly hit to their heads; and 3 suffered tear gas inhalation.
Khan Younis: The clashes and Israeli shooting were concentrated in 4 areas: ‘Abasan al-Kabirirah and al-Jadidah; Khuza’ah; and al-Qararah. As a result, 31 Palestinians, including 4 children, were wounded. Eighteen were hit with live bullets, including a photojournalist, and the others were hit with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters, including one sustaining serious wounds.
Rafah: The clashes and Israeli shooting mainly occurred in the eastern side of al-Shokah neighborhood. As a result, 37 Palestinians were wounded, including 2 children. Ten of them were hit with live bullets, and 27 were hit with tear gas canisters.
In the West Bank, All the cities witnessed protests against the U.S. President’s decision. During those protests, Israeli forces used excessive force against the protesters. The shooting to disperse the protests resulted in the killing of 2 Palestinians; one during the protests and the other was liquidated in front of cameras after carrying out a stab attack. Moreover, 60 civilians were wounded, including a child seriously wounded. Four of those wounded were hit with live bullets, and 56 were hit with rubber-coated metal bullets.
According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 13:00 on the abovementioned Friday, dozens of young men and youngsters gathered at the northern entrance to al-Bireh. They set fire to tires and threw stones and empty bottles at the Israeli soldiers stationed at DCO checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers fired live and rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at the protesters. At approximately 14:00, Amir ‘Aqel al-‘Adam (19) from Beit Oula village, west of Hebron, holding a knife approached the soldiers and stabbed one of them He then took 4 steps backwards, and the Israeli soldiers fired 3 consecutive bullets at him, wounding him with 2 bullets in his foot. Al-Adam then fell on the ground, and another bullet was fired to the right side of his chest while he was lying on the ground. He was liquidated as documented in a video taken by a journalist’s camera. The video showed al-‘Adam lying on the ground and receiving bullet after another and suffering a lot with the soldiers’ giving no attention to him. A PRCS crew then approached al-‘Adam to rescue him and evacuate him via an ambulance. However, the soldiers prevented the crew and confiscated the ambulance keys. Therefore, the PRCS crew with the help of Palestinian young men pulled al-‘Adam and ran away a distance of around 50 meters before putting him in a private car and heading to a hospital in Ramallah. In the afternoon, his death was declared after undergoing many urgent surgeries. Eyewitnesses said to PCHR’s fieldworker that al-‘Adam was directly shot at point-blank range. The eyewitnesses added that he was wearing fake explosive belt around his abdomen.
Following ‘Aser Prayer, Residents of ‘Anata village, east of occupied Jerusalem, organized a protest at the village intersection. They threw stones at the settlers’ cars passing through the intersection, which links the northern and southern West Bank. As a result, one of the cars’ windows was broken. Israeli forces immediately arrived and heavily opened fire at the stone-throwers. As a result, Basel Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim (29) was hit with several bullets to his chest. Basel was taken to al-Iman Medical Center in the village, but then referred to Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah due to his serious condition. At approximately 18:30, doctors declared that Basel succumbed to his wounds.
PCHR follows up with deep concern the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and seriously consider the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, amounting to targeting a civilian with no legs, in violation of the international humanitarian law standards.
PCHR also condemns the Israeli forces’ use of lethal and excessive force against the protesters and believes it is as a result of giving Israel the green light following the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. PCHR also emphasizes that this decision is complicity in a crime of aggression and directly threatens the international peace and security.
PCHR calls upon the international community and UN bodies to intervene to stop the Israeli escalating crimes and violations and work on providing international protection for Palestinians in the oPt.
PCHR also warns of the serious repercussions of the U.S. declaration, which has stirred up the feelings of millions of Muslims and Christians around the world, not only in Palestine. This was clearly evinced in the widespread international and local reaction.
PCHR also reiterates its call upon the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations under Article 1; i.e., to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances and their obligations under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These grave breaches constitute war crimes under Article 147 of the same Convention and Protocol (I) Additional to the Geneva Conventions regarding the guarantee of Palestinian civilians’ right to protection in the oPt.
I went to Hebron yesterday and helped with the installation of the playground. They were supposed to continue today but working on Saturday is a bit risky because of the settlers. See attached some pics. 2 international volunteers were also helping us.
Fishermen off the coast of Gaza City, which is home to a 5,000-year-old port. (David Levene, The Guardian)
Today Medinat Ghazzah, or Gaza City, is running on empty – and yet still going. Gaza City, the Gaza Strip’s principal urban centre, carries various scars of war. Since 2006, Gaza has endured one civil war between Palestinians, three wars between the ruling Hamas militant group and Israel, a decade of Hamas’ repressive rule, and a crushing blockade by neighbouring Israel and Egypt – all of which have crippled the economy and turned the tiny territory into a site of humanitarian crisis.
Gaza City’s dusty buildings and bumpy roads, many still damaged or half-rebuilt from the last war, are at times reminiscent of facades found in Egypt and the Palestinian West Bank. But it is the crushing monotony and suffocating limits of life that define the city for residents who have walked the same streets for a decade without a chance of getting out. Still, the city carries on, with coffee shops, traffic, clothes stores, restaurants and even a new upscale mall offering diversions for those who can afford them.
Palestinians attend Friday noon prayer beneath the fallen minaret during the 2014 war.
The city’s framework, like the rest of Gaza, is innately tied up with politics. Gaza was once part of Britain’s Mandate Palestine. Then came Egyptian occupation in 1948, followed by Israeli in 1967. Now, for the last decade, Hamas, which the European Union has designated as terrorist group, has ruled the tiny territory while Israel controls most borders.
This month – on 29 November – brings the United Nations international day of solidarity with Palestinians. Gazans, however, don’t see much of the international community these days. That’s in part because Israel strictly limits entry to the Gaza Strip, with mainly journalists (Israelis and Palestinians excluded) and aid and development workers allowed through. Even then, UN bodies and NGOs working in Gaza constrain much of the movement of their foreign staff due to security protocols. Along Gaza City’s highly polluted coast are two expensive hotels that are considered the “safe zone” where aid workers and many journalists stay.
The five-star Arcmed al-Mashta Hotel, built in 2011
Facing an ineffective and corrupt government, the UN and NGOs have stepped in. Gazans are grateful – but know they can do better and mistrust the politics that dictates where funds are directed. Around much of Gaza are signs thanking Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates for funding reconstruction projects. But the Arab countries have pledged far more for reconstruction than they’ve actually delivered, while many Gazans feel acutely abandoned by the Arab states and international community, and know new buildings still go first to those with Hamas connections.
Gaza City in numbers
40 – rank of Gaza city in 2014 list of most densely populated cities worldwide. At the time, the population of Gaza City and surrounding area was estimated at 750,000.
360 – square kilometers covered by the Gaza Strip, about the size of Detroit.
80 – percentage of families in Gaza who receive some sort of aid.
44 – percentage official unemployment rate in Gaza; for those aged 15-29, the rate rises to 60%.
3 – number of hours of electricity generated by Gaza’s only working electricity plant at a severe low point this summer. For the last few years Gaza has averaged around at most eight hours a day of electricity.
History in 100 words
Gaza City, famed for its port, is more than 5,000 years old. Over centuries various empires between the Nile River and Middle East – Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Byzantines, Moguls, Ottomans, among others – ruled Gaza, as Jean-Pierre Filiu documents in Gaza: A History. Gaza’s status as a key trading and transit place shaped its unique culinary traditions, melding flavours like hot pepper and dill. Today Gazan culture and society has expanded to incorporate the Palestinian refugees who fled to here during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
Fresh produce on sale at Al-Zawiya market. Photograph: Rex/APAimages
City in sound and vision
Each of Gaza City’s 10 neighbourhoods have their own rhythm and reputation. There’s the Remal neighbourhood, the city’s nicest, where many of the fancy shops and NGOs are based. Along the main drag, Omar Mukhtar Street, cars honk and shouting street vendors sell all kinds of wares. Along the way are various historical landmarks: the Square of Unknown Soldiers, Gaza’s largest open space, filled with music and light-up cars for kids to ride at night; Saraya Square, an old prison where political rallies are now held; cinemas that have been closed by Hamas; and the city’s public park, teeming with children. Keep going and there’s the old city, with the traditional Al-Zawiya market, one of the oldest in the Gaza Strip and filled with everything from spices to shoe shiners, and the Great Mosque of Gaza, the largest and oldest in Gaza and originally a Byzantine-era church. To Gaza City’s east is the Shejayia neighbourhood, a dense network of cement houses and narrow side streets that was heavily bombed during the 2014 war, and has the reputation as housing its toughest people. On Gaza City’s Mediterranean side is Al-Shati, known as the beach refugee camp. Here the sounds and rhythm of the sea mix with the honking of horns and occasional wafts of sewage as Gaza City brings the sweet and sour all at once.
مسجد السيد هاشم 🕌
يعتبر من أقدم مساجد غزة وأتقنها بناء ❤️
ويقع في حي الدرج في المنطقة الشمالية لمدينة غزة القديمة ويبعد عن المسجد العمري مسافة كيلو متر واحد تقريباً 👌🏻
وورد في الموسوعة الفلسطينية أنه من الراجح أن المماليك هم أول من أنشأه 💛
وقد جدده السلطان عبد المجيد العثماني سنة 1266 هـ 1830م"
Mosque of Hashim 🕌
Is one of the oldest mosques in Gaza and trained building️️ and located in the neighborhood of the stairs in the northern area of the old city of Gaza and away from the mosque Omari approximately one kilometer 👌🏻 The Palestinian Encyclopedia stated that it is most likely that the Mamluks are the first toestablish 💛 Renewed by Sultan AbdulMajeed Ottoman in 1266 AH 1830 AD "
How liveable is Gaza City?
For many residents, to remain living in Gaza is a point of national pride. But after a decade of war, siege, and Hamas rule, just about everyone wants out – even if only temporarily. The generation born since the siege have mostly never left Gaza; the older generation have memories of what came before, when Israelis came to the city’s markets and Gazans worked in restaurants and construction in Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. Now unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, electricity and clean running water are in dire shortage, and the young generation is well educated with no place to go.
نأمل من الله أن يكون هناك غداً أفضل 🌹🌿
On the move
Most people get around by foot, shared taxi or car – the former growing more common towards the end of the month, as salaries are stretched thin. The city has no formal public transport. Instead, regular cars roam around looking for riders heading in the same direction, each ride costing the customer one or two shekels (about the price of a falafel sandwich) depending on the distance – and the driver’s mood. Inside the shared taxi, there are informal rules governing how males and females should interact.
Palestinians speed through Gaza City by car. Photograph: Santiago Lyon/AP
There used to be buses and microbuses serving Gaza City. Now they are mainly reserved for students to get to school or for travel between Gaza City and other areas. There are a few hubs around the city to catch cars going to the rest of Gaza. Companies sometimes provide transportation for employees, as does the government. Gas is expensive due to import restrictions (Gazans say the gas from Israel is better than Egypt’s watered-down offerings). For a more secure, albeit expensive ride there are private taxi companies.
What’s next for the city?
It has been three years since the last war between Hamas and Israel and for many in Gaza the dream of what’s next is the same as it ever was: reconstruction and employment. Huge swaths of the territory’s infrastructure, including 171,000 homes, were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 war. The city centre is now hesitantly bustling during the day , and a little brighter than other areas at night when the sun sets and electricity-starved Gaza largely goes dark. Many structures remain partially finished as people can only sporadically afford building materials.
Al-Shatee refugee camp in Gaza City on February 14, 2017. By Wissam Nassar @wissamgaza#wissamgaza مخيم الشاطئ للاجئين والبحر المتوسط
These days, the streets convey a sense of hesitant hope tempered by fatigue. Last month, Hamas and its rival, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, signed a unity deal intended to end the territorial dispute that began when Hamas evicted Fatah from Gaza in 2007. Reconciliation has eased some imports, hindered some of Hamas’ much-resented taxes and provided more work for Fatah employees in Gaza. But people in Gaza have heard these promises before and then repeatedly seen them fail. In Gaza City, the centre of economic activity, people say there’ll believe this time is different when there’s work and opportunities again. For now, it’s still the same suffocation.
Gaza may be physically and politically isolated, but many Palestinians in Gaza have turned to Instagram to get their version of their city and lives out. For slices of life you can check out some of Gaza’s most popular instagrammers such as Fatma Mosabah and Ensaf Habib , or the photojournalist Wissam Nassar.
IT HAS been two weeks since Saudi Arabia imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Yemen, a country already devastated by two and a half years of Saudi bombing. Before the embargo, Yemen was suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with 7 million people on the brink of famine and another 900,000 stricken by cholera. Those conditions have now grown far worse — and yet the Saudis persist with their siege. It is time for the Trump administration, which has indulged the Saudi leadership for too long, to intervene.
Yemen’s 28 million people depend on imports for up to 90 percent of their basic needs, including food, fuel and medicine. The vast majority of those imports come through the port of Hodeida, in northern Yemen, which along with the capital, Sanaa, is under the control of Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia imposed the blockade after a missile allegedly fired by the Houthis came close to its capital, Riyadh. The Saudis blamed Iran for supplying the weapon, though U.N. monitors in Yemen say they have not seen convincing evidence of that.
U.N. humanitarian officials warned that the shutdown would quickly lead to an emergency. Now their predictions are coming true. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sanaa, Hodeida and three other crowded cities — with 2.5 million people in all — have lost access to clean drinking water because of a lack of fuel. One million children are at risk from an incipient diphtheria epidemic because vaccines are out of reach on U.N. ships offshore. According to Rasha Muhrez, Save the Children’s director of operations in Yemen, several governates are down to a five-day supply of the fuel needed to operate flour mills, without which the millions dependent on food handouts will starve. “This blockage has cut off the lifeline of Yemen,” Ms. Muhrez told us.
Last week the Saudis began allowing limited humanitarian imports through the southern port of Aden, which is controlled by their Yemeni allies. But that is not adequate access. That’s why three U.N. agencies — the World Health Organization, the World Food Program and UNICEF — issued a joint statement last Thursday saying that the continued shutdown of other ports and airports “is making an already catastrophic situation far worse.” A confidential report by U.N. monitors, seen by Reuters, went further, saying the Saudis were violating a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution on Yemen by obstructing humanitarian assistance.
The Trump administration, through the State Department, has objected to the ongoing blockade and called for “unimpeded access” for humanitarian supplies. But many in Yemen suspect, with some reason, that the White House is tolerating, if not encouraging, the crime. Shortly before the siege was announced, Jared Kushner paid a visit to Saudi Arabia and reportedly met late into the evening with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince. Even if it was unaware of the subsequent crackdown, the White House has the leverage to put a stop to it. It should act immediately, or it will be complicit in a crime against humanity.
A doorman stands at the entrance of The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem Friday. Dusan Vranic/AP
There’s no pool, but there is a piano bar that exudes “an air of undeserved authority.” That’s part of the promise at The Walled Off Hotel, the artist Banksy’s vision of a hotel along the wall Israel built in the occupied West Bank.
The project blends Banksy’s trademark style — a trickster’s eye for trompe l’oeil and a political cartoonist’s ear for satire — into more traditional hotel amenities such as food, drinks and well-appointed rooms. The hotel will begin taking reservations on March 11.
Just don’t call it the Waldorf. For a hint of what awaits visitors to the small hotel in Bethlehem, consider this description of the piano bar inside:
The Walled Off Hotel, which offers what it calls the “worst view in the world,” has rooms that look onto an Israeli security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Dusan Vranic/AP
“Guests can peruse a collection of Banksy artworks that include vandalized oil paintings and statues choking on tear gas fumes. Warm scones and freshly brewed tea are served daily on fine bone china and the Walled Off Salad should not be missed.”
That’s from Banksy’s website, which adds that the engagement is open-ended: “We’re aiming to be here for the whole of the centenary year, maybe longer if people come.”
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Israeli forces Friday suppressed weekly marches held in the villages of Billin and Kafr Qaddum in the occupied West Bank districts of Ramallah and Qalqiliya.
In Bilin, the weekly march, which occur every Friday to protest the Israeli separation wall and illegal settlements, was launched in solidarity with the Bedouin village of Umm Hiran on Wednesday which was violently raided by Israeli forces on Wednesday, leaving a local teacher and an Israeli police officer killed, before Israeli forces carried out home demolitions in the village.
The demonstration was also centered on protesting President Donald Trump’s support of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Palestinian and international solidarity activists held up Palestinian flags and signs condemning the potential embassy move and threatening an escalation of the resistance if such a decision is made.
As the demonstrators marched through the streets, they called for national unity, resisting the Israeli occupation, and releasing all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
The popular resistance committee’s spokesperson Ratib Abu Rahma called upon Islamic, Arab, and all nations of the world to stop the new US administration from moving the embassy, while also urging Palestinian factions to unify their efforts to defend Palestine.
When the protestors reached the western part of the village near the separation wall, Israeli forces prevented them from marching on, declaring the area a military post and firing rubber bullets, sound bombs, and plastic bullets at protesters.
Abu Ahmad noted that Israeli forces detained Palestinian activist Ahmad Abu Rahma during the protest, but he was released afterwards.
Bilin is one of the most active Palestinian villages in peaceful organized opposition against Israeli policies, as residents have protested every Friday for 11 consecutive years, and have often been met with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and stun grenades from Israeli forces.
Story continues below
Like Bilin, the village of Kafr Qaddum in the northern West Bank district of Qalqiliya used their weekly march to condemn the raid on Umm Hiran and also drew attention to the potential moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Coordinator of the popular resistance in the village, Murad Shteiwi said that hundreds of village residents participated in the protest, along with international solidarity activists.
Protesters held signs that read “Jerusalem will only be the capital of Palestine,” and shouted slogans denouncing the nearly half-century occupation of the West Bank.
Shteiwi told Ma’an that violent clashes erupted with Israeli forces, who had entered the village with an Israeli bulldozer and Israeli military jeeps, and “attacked” the protesters who responded by throwing rocks and burning tires.
He added that no detentions were carried out and no injuries were reported.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an she would look into reports on clashes in both of the villages.
Residents of Kafr Qaddum began staging weekly protests in 2011 against land confiscations, as well as the closure of the village’s southern road by Israeli forces. The road, which has been closed for 14 years, is the main route to the nearby city of Nablus, the nearest economic center.
The Israeli army blocked off the road after expanding the illegal Israeli settlement of Kedumim in 2003, forcing village residents to take a bypass road in order to travel to Nablus, which has extended the travel time to Nablus from 15 minutes to 40 minutes, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been detained during the demonstrations since their start in 2011, and at least 84 protesters have been injured by live fire, including 12 children, Shteiwi told Ma’an during a similar protest last year.
Some 120 others have been detained at demonstrations and were subsequently held in Israeli custody for periods ranging between four and 24 months, Shteiwi said at the time, adding that they have paid fines totaling some 25,000 shekels (approximately $6,488).
Over the course of five years, an elderly protester was killed after suffering from excessive tear gas inhalation, one youth lost his eyesight, and another his ability to speak, he added.
Israeli forces last month became the focus of international condemnation when Israeli forces, wearing matching plain clothes and black ski masks detained a seven-year-old Palestinian during a weekly protest in the village.
A video of the incident was taken by a volunteer of B’Tselem and quickly went viral. Rights groups and activists pointed out that the video seems to show the soldiers using the child as a human shield during clashes.
B’Tselem strongly condemned the incident at the time, saying that “it does not take a lawyer to know that the detention of a seven-year-old child by soldiers, keeping him by their side as they shoot at his friends, is deplorable and utterly unnacceptable.”
I hope you, your family and friends are doing well.
Special thanks to our old and new donors for your contributions to our winter project “Keep Children Of Gaza Warm.”
Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God) we have achieved our goal within a few days and finally we received the whole donation today. We started the process of delivering the coats as a gift from you to our children – please check the pictures down below.
We also decided to extend the project goal to cover more children of Rafah/Gaza. So please don’t hesitate to support if you can at:
B. The children of Rafah in their rehearsal for the play show “International Criminal Law Moot Court – War Crimes on Trial”
(please expect our show on you-tube soon)
C. Preparing the Gallery of the Peace City
Please keep your eyes open for:
1. Play show, we expect so many people to attend the Trial on Sunday, the show will be translated into English.
2. Play show, Gallery of the Peace City, also on Sunday.
3. Our new initiative for the new year, I will surprise you with it.
Thank you all for your support
Mr. Mahmoud Mansour (Anees)
Hope & Peace Foundation For Children – Gaza
Mobile: +970 599 028556
+970 2131 371 www.facebook.com/HPFFC.Rafah
The wildfire that struck Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam left our Jewish-Arab village more resilient than ever before. We invite Israel’s politicians to learn from us on how to heal our society’s wounds.
Fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Shalom and Latrun, outside Jerusalem, November 22, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Our country has been up in flames this past week. Hundreds of fires have broken out in various areas resulting in tens of thousands of people being evacuated from their homes. The first fire started last Tuesday at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, a unique community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs live together in equality, which struggled to quell the flames and bring peace to the region. My husband and two children and I were evacuated from with 300 others, fearing of our lives and the destruction of our homes.
It was frightening for all of us. However what was even more frightening was the reaction of some of the countries journalists and politicians who used the opportunity to ignite and inflame hatred, claiming that arson was the cause of the wildfires. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted an unfortunate and irresponsible Facebook status, in which he wrote that “The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.” Rather than unifying and reassuring Israeli citizens — if only slightly — Bennett incited against an entire public and inflamed the public atmosphere.
Following the elections in the United States, the world has become a dangerous place, as sparks have begun to fly in all directions, igniting hatred and fear. We have seen this over the past decade in Europe with new immigrants, and we now see it in the U.S., as white supremacists begin to cheer on Trump’s victory as a victory for the ‘white race,’ while graffiting swastikas on walls.
The fire at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam was clearly an unfortunate accident, as was the one in the neighboring town of Nataf. One reporter, an expert in arson, deemed the fire an “inspiration” to other supposed pyromaniacs, giving second and third-rate politicians carte blanche to do what they are best at: incite. But perhaps the journalist was right; since the fire in my community was an inspiration. We made it through the freezing night together in the fields below our homes, where we realized that our community can teach this country’s leadership a thing or two about humane behavior in times of crisis.
Cohesion and unity in the face of fire is not so surprising in our community – the first and only Jewish-Arab community in the Middle East. It is what makes us feel that 40 years of living together through wars, intifadas, crises, military “campaigns,” and lots of pain has been worthwhile. They have been years of valuable teaching and learning; investment in people rather than stones; investment in one another, rather than in fences and barriers.
Jewish Home ministers Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, November 16, 2016. Bennett hinted this past week that Arabs were responsible for the spate of wildfires across Israel. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Our hearts were open as we waited in the fields below, where a protective ring circled our community as the rescue forces fought to safeguard our life’s project, built on a hilltop surrounded by fires that raged on every side. (Those of us who are dedicated to living together in peace have felt this way often.) Meanwhile our neighbors, Kibbutz Nachshon, Bekoa, and Tel Shahar, opened their gates to us. At 6 a.m. they took us in; Arab and Jewish men, women and children and offered us a warm and cozy place to recover, without checking our identity cards to check which nation we belonged to.
If the world is looking for inspiration, and our minister of education is looking to bring our people together instead of pulling us apart, we invite you to join the Arab and Jewish families who send their children to our bilingual school. On the day after the fire, the pupils and teachers got together and cleaned up the school grounds, where for more than 30 years Jewish and Arab children have studied together every day — through war and through peace as equals, promoting peace and shared society. We invite him to observe how this week we set out with 40 up-and-coming politicians from Israel and Palestine to seek new solutions together and open avenues of communication. We invite him to learn from us how to struggle to bind a shared society together, not to pull it apart.
Students from Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam clean up the school grounds following a wildfire at the Jewish-Arab village. (Lindsay Stanek)
The attempt to sabotage the humanity of any people who share a common space in order to survive politically is a highly dangerous experiment —one that places the lives of millions all over the world. We have seen the results in the past, we see it happening all over the world today. This is truly playing with fire. If a burned forest takes years to rehabilitate, the work required to heal the wounds of hatred and fear is far more difficult.
Although it is hard to imagine that the voices we are hearing today, even from your political leaders, will lead us to a better society, I urge you, dear readers, for the health of your minds and your sanity, not to listen to the voices of malice or be carried away in the cold, dry winds of hatred and fear. Since inside that fear lies an unsustainable fire that eventually leads to hell. Look around and see that people, irrespective of religion, race and gender, are afraid of the fire and other disasters, just like you are. It is best to learn how to survive it together, or else we will burn together.
Middle East Fires, Past Week (Global Forest Watch, Washington, DC)
Over 200 forest fires are raging in Palestine (now renamed the Jewish State of Israel, including its occupied Palestinian territories). Many countries are helping put out the fires, including four teams of Palestinian firefighters (nobody helped Gaza when it was being fire-bombed by white phosphorous).
But the fascist, racist government of “Israel” blamed the Palestinians for the fires! Even some decent Israelis pointed out that fires are raging across Western Asia (aka the “Middle East”).
Perhaps coincidentally or otherwise, right after war criminal Netanyahu blamed Palestinians, new fires erupted near Palestinian communities. If you really want to know who is to blame for the damage, it is clearly Zionism, as I wrote in many articles and books before.
In 1901 at the World Zionist Congress, and despite objections of conscientious Jews, a Jewish National Fund (Keren Keyemet Li’Israel, or KKL) was established to further “Jewish colonization” (the term they used) of Palestine.
One of the tasks was to raise money, and they used the gimmick of collecting money for trees. Indeed they did plant trees, but it was unfortunately the highly flammable European pine tree.
After 1948-1949 when some 500 Palestinian villages and towns were depopulated, their lands (cultivated with figs, almonds, olives and other trees) were razed to the ground, and again resinous and inflammable pine trees were planted.
The same happened after 1967 when here Palestinian villages were demolished and their village lands planted with the same European pines; one of those villages is the biblical Imwas (see photos before and after here: freepaly.wordpress.com/tag/environmental-racism.
Palestinian village of ‘Imwas, 1958
Palestinian village of ‘Imwas after destruction by Israeli army, 1968
Ruins of Palestinian village of ‘Imwas, site of Jewish National Fund’s ‘Canada Park’, 1978
The choice of European pine trees was because a) they grow fast, b) they give a European look to the otherwise “Arab” landscape, and c) their leaves on the ground make it acidic, preventing growth or regrowth of endogenous trees. In total, KKL boasts that it planted 240 million pine trees.
Resinous pine is like petrol and burns with a ferocity. This was not the only environmentally catastrophic decision by the Zionist movement in Palestine: others include draining the Hula Wetlands and the diversion of the water of the river Jordan and now the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal.
Environmentally, the current fires are deadly to all living creatures regardless of their origins, and they do spread to the remaining few indigenous forests and to human dwellings (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Atheist without distinction).
We environmentalists (Palestinian and Israeli) have long warned of the catastrophic consequences of politically driven decisions, guided by colonial ideology but devastating to native animals and plants.
So here we are: the remaining native Palestinians watching our lands go up in flames and being blamed for it. This is not unusual and we are the victims of others from long ago. We even paid the price of what happened in WWII (by Europeans to fellow Europeans).
I am thinking now if a meteor hits the Earth, we Palestinians will also pay a disproportionate price. 7 million of us are refugees or displaced people.
We in the Palestine Museum of Natural History and Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability (http://palestinenature.org) urge protection of our nature. Environmental conservation is a priority for all decent human beings, including guarding biodiversity (and human diversity).
A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor and (volunteer) Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Occupied Palestine http://qumsiyeh.org http://palestinenature.org/
I would like to thank you all so much for your support to our project “Gaza Summer Camp”. I would also like to inform you that we have achieved our goal. Again your support is much appreciated. Here are some pictures of the first few days of the project.
In the other hand, we will start a few Skype meeting, please if you’re interested to join your kids into it let us know, feel free to ad my skype anees.mansour7
So keep your eyes open for our further updates.
Best Wishes from Gaza
Mr. Mahmoud Mansour (Anees)
Hope & Peace Foundation For Children – Gaza
Mobile: +970 599 028556
+970 2131 371 www.facebook.com/HPFFC
This past Friday, I had the honor to participate in an incredible, unprecedented mass action of civil disobedience in the H2 section of Hebron – in the heart of Israel's unjust and illegal occupation.
I'll start with a little bit of history:
In 1968, a year after Israel conquered the West Bank, a group of radical religious settlers led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, led a group of followers to a hotel in Hebron – with the government’s support – to observe a Passover seder. When it was over, they refused to leave; and following a negotiation with the government, they were allowed to create a settlement to the east of Hebron that they named Kiryat Arba Since that time, Jewish settlers gradually moved into Hebron proper. Over the years tension gradually increased in Hebron. Things changed drastically in 1995 after Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque. Fearful of reprisals, the IDF imposed increasing curfews and restriction of movement on the Palestinian population.
In 1996, as part of the Oslo agreement, Hebron was divided into two sections: H1 and H2. H1 is locally governed by the Palestinian Authority and is home to approximately 120,000 Palestinians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians live in H2 along with 600 Jewish settlers. Since the Second Intifada, Israel increased their security crackdown on this part of the city, blocking off major streets to Palestinians – most notably the main commercial road, Shuhadah Street. (The army refers to them as “sterile roads”).
Virtually every Palestinian shop in H2 has been closed and their doors welded shut by the army. Because the Palestinian residents of Shuhadah St. are not allowed to walk on the road, they must enter and exit through the rear of homes because they cannot leave their own front doors. Because of these measures – and the ongoing harassment and violence at the hands of Jewish settlers – what was once the busting commercial center of Hebron has become a ghost town. 42% of its Palestinian homes are empty and 70% of its Palestinian business have been shut down.
We visited Hebron earlier this week and it was a truly chilling experience. Our group went on a tour led by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army veterans who are speaking out about the abuses the IDF are committing in Hebron. I did a BTF tour in 2008 during my first real foray into the reality of contemporary Hebron. Today, the situation there is even more dire if such a thing is possible.
With Colm Toibin in Hebron
Before we started our tour, we witnessed an incident in which a settler attacked an Israeli photographer and damaged his camera. As it turned out the photographer was the celebrated photojournalist Oren Ziv. who was accompanying a private BTS tour for Irish author Colm Tóibín. The incident was captured on film by a member of our delegation. He gave a copy of the video to Ziv so he could press charges against the settler for damages. (We never found out whether or not he actually succeeded).
As we walked down Shuhadah St., the intimidating presence of the settlers was impossible to ignore. At one point we saw Tóibín and his tour guide on the side of the road. A car with two settlers drove up and the driver proceeded to scream obscenities at them for ten minutes.
Hebron’s settlers are truly the most brutal, ideologically extreme and heavily armed of the entire settler movement. They walk and drive the streets with impunity and full protection of the IDF. As is the case throughout the West Bank, Jews are governed by Israeli civil law – and as a result the army cannot and does not intervene when settlers harass Palestinians. However, since Palestinians are subject to military law, they face dual oppression from soldiers and settlers alike.
After our BTS tour we walked to the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron to meet with Issa Amro, founder/director of Youth Against the Settlements. YAS is an increasingly powerful and important Palestinian nonviolent organization; among other things, it sponsors the annual Open Shuhadah Street campaign and regularly organizes/empowers the youth of Hebron.
Issa is truly a visionary leader in the Palestinian popular resistance movement. He has been arrested and detained countless times for his activism but has clearly become well known throughout Hebron as force to be reckoned with. Palestinian activists such as Issa tend to infuriate the Israeli military because their principled commitment to nonviolence cannot be quelled militarily. Although he and his comrades have been arrested and detained numerous times, YAS has come to represent a ray of hope for the Palestinian residents of Hebron.
We met Issa in the YAS center, which has an interesting history all its own. Originally Palestinian-owned, the building was taken over by settlers several years ago. But through a methodical campaign of legal pressure and nonviolent resistance, the settlers were eventually evicted and it was turned into YAS’s central headquarters. Last November, the center was raided by the IDF and temporarily declared a “closed military zone” (I’ll get back to this term later). Still, Issa and YAS remain steadfast.
With Issa Amro of Youth Against the Settlements
On Thursday we prepared to return to Hebron for our nonviolent direct action, which had been almost two years in the planning by YAS and the Israeli anti-occupation collective All That’s Left. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence was invited to be part of this action as well so that its message could be strengthened through the solidarity of diaspora Jewry. CJNV has cultivated a strong relationship with both YAS and ATL and other Israeli/Palestinian partners on the ground. It is truly a sign of the times that diaspora Jews are joining this increasingly broad-based solidarity movement.
The goal of the action was to begin the process of turning an old metal factory in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron into a movie theater: Cinema Hebron.YAS chose to build a movie theater so that the isolated, segregated Palestinian residents of H2 could have a place to come together in community – to experience even a little slice of normalcy in this intensely abnormal, unjust environment. It was also designed to be a statement to the settler community that the Palestinian residents of Hebron will continue to resist the theft of their property – and that Jews from around the world are ready to stand in solidarity with them.
The factory is owned by Jawad Abu Aisha, the patriarch of a prominent family in Tel Rumeida. As was the case with the YAS center, Jewish settlers were gradually encroaching toward this particular property – and based on past history, it seemed it was only a matter of time before it was taken it over completely. Tel Rumeida is heavily desired by settlers and has long been one of the tensest areas of Hebron. (This past March, Tel Rumeida made the news after a solider was filmed shooting a wounded Palestinian in the head while he was lying in the street.)
We spent all day Thursday preparing for the action, which was prepared down to the most minute detail. Our plan was to go to the old, cluttered site, begin the process of cleaning it up and announce our intention to turn it into Cinema Hebron to the press. Inevitably the IDF and police would show up and eventually declare it a “closed military zone” – their standard operating procedure when dealing with protests.
Legally speaking, the military needs to get a signed order to declare a closed military zone, but they often dispense with that pretense. Our plan was to keep cleaning up the site until the soldiers returned with their order. In the meantime, we would put up a mock marquee, pass out Cinema Hebron popcorn, give interviews to press, chant and sing, and do our best to clean up the site before they soldiers and police ordered us out.
There were 60 participants all told – 40 from CJNV and another twenty from Youth against the Settlements and All That’s Left. Our group split up into three “pods” – Green (those who would work until the soldiers returned but would not take an arrest), Yellow (those who would would be willing to be arrested if it was deemed necessary by our leaders) and Red (those who would stay until they were arrested.)
As an extra precautionary measure, we drove to the site in separate vans to the site. Unfortunately, the military was somehow tipped off that there was some kind of action being planned for Hebron that day – and the van coming with ATF activists from Jerusalem was stopped en route. Our CJNV delegation all made it in safely, however. We gathered in an old metal warehouse until we were given the word that our tools had arrived. Then we put up the marquee and got to work.
The site was heavily overgrown with high weeds and all kinds of scrap metal everywhere. As we started raking, hauling, piling junk we sang a every Jewish song and civil rights chant we knew. In short order settlers started to gather, peering at us through the front gate. The IDF and police arrived soon as well – we worked for about an hour or an hour and a half before they actually entered the site. They began arguing with the Palestinian owners and after some back and forth, they eventually fell back and we continued with our work.
After another hour or so, they returned and announced that the area was a closed military zone. At this point some members of our delegation left and the rest of us sat down in the middle of the site, continuing to chant and sing. A police officer came up to us and told us that our presence on the site was illegal and if we did not leave in two minutes, we would be arrested (below). When our two minutes were up, they started to physically remove us (see the clip at the top of this post). They shoved us to the back of the site, gathered us together and ordered us to take out our passports. They then asked the six Israelis from our delegation to take out their identity cards and led them away. We were sent out in the other direction and told to leave the site.
At that point we gathered together and discussed what to do next. It seemed clear to us that the Israelis were targeted because they were easier to process – and that the authorities likely wanted to avoid the bad publicity of arresting internationals. When we received word from our lawyers that our six friends had been taken to the police station in Kiryat Arba, we decided to walk there together and demand their release.
After walking for only ten minutes or so we were stopped by five soldiers who told us we couldn’t continue because the area was (you guessed it) a closed military zone. We refused to leave and said we simply wanted to visit our friends in the police station. Thus began a stand off, during which the lead soldier called his commander four or five times. They clearly had never dealt with a group like ours and were somewhat bewildered that we wouldn’t leave when ordered. Finally Issa arrived and argued loudly with the soldiers. I’m not sure how he managed it but we were finally told we could continue along a detoured route.
We eventually made it to Shuhadah St., continued down the road, passed the Ibrahimi Mosque and headed up a hill that led us in the direction of Kiryat Arba. As we walked in, we were joined by soldiers who silently walked alongside us. It quickly became clear to me that they weren’t there to impede us but rather to protect us from angry settlers. (I’m fairly sure this was the first time the residents of Kiryat Arba had ever witnessed a group of singing diaspora Jews walking down the street wearing “Occupation in Not Our Judaism” T-shirts ).
We finally arrived at a gated area and faced yet another gauntlet of soldiers. After yet another round of back and forth, we were sent around to the front gate. Then we walked down a residential community to the end of the street where the police station was located. We talked to the guard at the front gate and explained we wanted to see our friends inside. After other policemen gathered we were told that our six friends were indeed inside but that we would not be allowed to see them. At this point, increasing numbers of residents from the neighborhood had come to mock and taunt us. Many of them filmed us with their cell phones. Eventually we sat down on the ground in front of the station gate and began to sing and chant once more.
The leaders of our delegation were in cell phone contact with the lawyers and our friends inside, who told us they could actually hear us singing and calling out their names. They were in the process of being interrogated by the police one by one but were otherwise fine. By this point quite a crowd had started to gather around us. We kept on singing as more police cars arrived. The original officer came back to us and told us that this was an illegal assembly – and that we had two minutes to disperse before they arrested us.
Photo credit: Jewish Forward
After talking with our lawyers, we decided against taking an arrest. They told us they believed our friends would likely be released in several hours, adding that our arrest would not help their cause and might even hinder it. So after spending an hour at the station we got up, walked together down the street and gathered near the front gate. As Shabbat was getting closer, we sang Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi together with our other songs. Then together, we walked to a YAS home in H1 to meet up with the rest of our crew, eat a late lunch, debrief, share stories and nap after our physically/emotionally exhausting experience. Eventually we boarded our bus and returned to Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills where we would spend our Shabbat.
That evening just after a gorgeous sunset, we made a circle on a rocky hill and I began to lead our Shabbat service. As I prepared to lead Lecha Dodi, the prayer that welcomes the Shabbat bride, I heard someone shout. I looked up and saw two cars pulling up. Our six friends got out, grinning ear to ear as we cheered their arrival. After lots of hugs and laughter, we all continued with our service.
Shabbat had arrived.
(PS: You can read about our Cinema Hebron action here and here and our Shabbat in Susiya here).