I visited the West Bank as part of a group looking at the health of Palestinians under the Occupation. The trip organisers were affiliated to the Israeli Campaign against House Demolitions (ICAHD) - a non-violent direct action organisation which protests against the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories (OT) which is in contravention of human rights legislation and international law. To date over 24,000 homes have been destroyed since 1967.
We witnessed what is in essence the creation of an apartheid structure ‘on the ground’ as a result of physical changes in the landscape. This has been achieved by the construction of a wall (26 feet high in places) which effectively separates Palestinian villages from their land, by building settlements in the OT for Israeli settlers, by building new roads which Palestinians cannot use and by road closures and checkpoints on roads they do use and need. This has affected both the supply of water and the wider Palestinian economy. In some areas the deliberate destruction of olive trees is clearly visible.
We visited several hospitals and learned about the difficulty Palestinian patients have in accessing specialist care in Israel because of a lack of timely permits for patients themselves and for mothers or other accompanying relatives. At the Al-Quds Medical School we met the Professorial Dean - whom we learned much later had a demolition order placed on his own home.
Bethelem - no longer like a New Testament village but a walled city with its own refugee camps - houses the Wi’am Centre for conflict resolution. This seeks to provide restorative justice for traumatised children, not vengeance. As its impressive director said: ”I’m not against Israel, I am against occupation.”
A drive south took us to the ancient city of Hebron where Palestinians have lived for hundreds of years. However, with the influx of extremist Israeli settlers who often only live part of the week there, they have suffered harassment and abuse which the Israeli Defence Force does nothing to prevent. We had tea with a family whose damaged vines we saw and were told had been cut and poisoned by their new neighbours. Their presence makes it impossible for the children to play outside. There are 600-650 settlers (protected by 1500 IDF soldiers) 90% of whom come from the US we were informed.
At the Hope Flowers School a unit for traumatised children provides a safe and supportive environment where children can grow and develop into future citizens. Christians, Muslims and Jews are all welcome.
We visited Ramallah and went into the Meeting House, a cool building in the middle of the bustling town. Back in Jerusalem we had a briefing from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs about the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank.
We visited many institutions involved in the health and welfare of Palestinians and heard from many people who yearn to make life better for the West Bank including the 27,000 who live in the refugee camp at Shu’fat. The impact of the trip I made still reverberates in many ways but alongside those memories I have also the image of a few really ancient and massive olive trees.They are thought quite possibly to be 2000 years old. And where are they? In the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Their survival seems an extraordinary symbol.
An attender of the EQM