A Caabu-Medical Aid for PalestinianParliamentary delegation recently returned from the West Bank. The delegation from 28 September – 2 October 2017 included five Labour MPs; Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central), Chris Elmore (Ogmore), Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), and Holly Lynch (Halifax).More on the delegation can be found in the Medical Aid for Palestinians report.
The delegation had meetings with officials, including with PLO Executive Committee Member, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, the British Consul General in Jerusalem, and was briefed on the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza by the UN. There were also meetings with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty in the West Bank and Israeli NGO Gisha.
Ka'abne in The Jordan Valley
The delegation visited the Bedouin community of Ka’abne in the Jordan Valley, and saw the vital work of Medical Aid for Palestinians’ mobile clinic. The clinic provides essential primary health care services for Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank –under full Israeli civil and military control. Some of the cases being treated on that day were for chronic issues such as diabetes and hypertension, respiratory difficulties, and muscle pain. Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley have limited access to permanent health infrastructure.
MAP are currently seeking funding to save this vital service. More details here.
At Qalandia checkpoint, the delegates experienced the process through which Palestinians have to go to at one of the most prominent checkpoints in the West Bank - the major crossing point from the occupied West Bank to illegally-annexed East Jerusalem. Mohamed Fityani, a paramedic working for the Palestinian Red Crescent explained the process and delays caused by ‘back-to-back’ transfers – the process of moving patients from a Palestinian registered ambulance and into an Israeli registered ambulance. ‘Back-to-track’ transfers even occur in emergency situations.
The South Hebron Hills
Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence gave the delegation a tour of the South Hebron Hills. It included visits to witness various illegal outposts in the South Hebron Hills and settlements. They visited the community of Susiya, which is under threat of demolition. The Israeli Government have said that Susiya will be demolished in a matter of months. The decision on whether to demolish Susiya has been with the Israeli court for years. Susiya comprises 32 families numbering some 200 persons, including 93 minors. It has a council structure, a clinic, a small preschool and a school for grades one through nine, which serves 55 children. The demolition of Susiya and that of Khan al-Ahmar would constitute a war crime say Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem. More information can be found below in the visit to Khan al-Ahmar.
The delegation was briefed by activist and Susiya resident Nasser Nawaja and by Fatema Nawaja of Susiya’s Women’s Collective.
The Tent of Nations
The delegation visited the educational and environmental farm, the Tent of Nations, which is surrounded by many illegal Israeli settlements, including Neve Daniel and Beitar Illit. It is in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli military control. The access road to the Tent of Nations has been blocked, making access to it more difficult. A yeshiva for the nearby settlement has nearly been completed. There are concerns that settlers with particularly hostile views will use this religious school and make life even harder for those at the Tent of Nations. The land was purchased by the Nasser family in 1916, but in 1991 was declared ‘state land’ by Israel, and the family has been fighting court battles ever since.
The Tent of Nations, as with many places in Area C, has no access to electricity, running water and building permits. The Tent of Nations has received many stop cultivation orders, evacuation orders for trees, and demolition orders concerning buildings, tents, animal sheds, restrooms and cisterns. In April 2016, the Civil Administration rejected both the objections to all demolition orders and the application for building a new educational centre.
Shu’afat Refugee Camp
The delegates were given the opportunity to see the conditions inside Shu’afat Refugee Camp in occupied East Jerusalem. They were given a tour of the camp, including alongside the separation wall. They visited a youth centre inside Shu’afat who spoke of the challenges of many young people in the camp, and the challenges of protecting them – particularly from violence, sexual assault and drug use. Shu’afat is incredibly crowded, and the situation is worsening for many people who live inside it.
Separation barrier in the Qalqiliya and Salfit areas
With Palestinian NGO Al Haq and Swedish development organisation Diakonia, the delegation witnessed the huge impact that the separation barrier has had on communities in the Salfit and Qalqilya areas. Many communities have been separated from one another, and livelihoods affected either because of confiscation of land, or by having land on the other side of the wall which they either have limited access to or none at all.
They met with Hani Amer and visited his home in Mas-Ha (Salfit area) which is behind the separation barrier. He has to access it through several gates. Since 2005, his home has been completely surrounded by the Wall, security fences, a road used only for military access, and the illegal settlement of Elkana. The view from his home is of the 8 foot high concrete wall. The separation barrier encompasses the settlements of Elkana, Sha’are Tiqwa and Ez Efrayim. From these illegal settlements, settlers can drive to Tel Aviv in around 20 minutes. For Hani Amer however, if he wishes to access his land only a few kilometres away, it now takes about a 20-30 minute drive given that the villages and land in this area have been separated by the barrier. Many attempts have been made to try and force Hani Amer from his home, including by offering him money – however, he refuses. Hani Amer has lost 27 dunums of his land (about 8 acres) in total. Overall, by 2005, in the village of Mas-Ha, 5,000 dunums (1,250 acres) of Palestinian land has been confiscated. It was previously 8,000 dunums (2,000 acres).
Bedouin community of ‘Arab al-Jahalin – Jahalin Women’s Association
The delegates learned of the vital work being done by Palestinian civil society to pursue rights, freedoms and development in these challenging circumstances. Over dinner in the Bedouin community of ‘Arab al-Jahalin, Hamda Salem, President of the Jahalin Women’s Association, described how their collective of young women had combined their efforts and resources to provide education, advice and activities for mothers and children from the community, much of it made possible through the support of the Dalia Association. One community member expressed their hope that the Parliamentarians would continue to highlight the challenges posed by life under occupation on their return to the UK:
“We are pleased to welcome you, and hope our voices will reach the British Parliament”.
The Military Court at Ofer
Gerard Horton and Salwa Dubais of Military Court Watch briefed the delegation on the effectiveness and control of the Occupation, including on the issue of child detainees. They spoke of the process of arrest of minors and the differing legal systems for a Palestinian and illegal settler child. The delegation also witnessed several trials at the military court at Ofer, and spoke to families who were there to attend the trials.
The delegation was twice forced to leave the trials they were observing due to a variety of reasons expressed by the court guards, not all of them consistent or seemingly legitimate, including: the use of secret evidence; the presence of a child detainee; a lack of permission from the defendant’s family; or overcrowding in the viewing area. The MPs were nevertheless able to speak to families and defendants, family members and attorneys about some of the cases that day, which included attempted stabbings, stone throwing, online ‘incitement’, crossing into East Jerusalem without a permit, and traffic offenses.
One man told the group that he was attending the first hearing of his 15-year-old son who had been arrested while trying to pick up some suits from a tailor while another group of Palestinian youths were throwing stones nearby. One woman from the village of Biddu, who was waiting for the trial of her 17-year-old son, said he was accused of throwing stones, and that her other sons had been jailed for raising the Palestinian flag at a protest. She told the group that her house had since been raided several times by Israeli forces. “Imagine what they do to those accused of serious crimes!” she said.
Read Military Court Watch’s latest briefing here.
Khan al-Ahmar and E1
Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem accompanied the delegation to the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The community is under threat of demolition, including the community’s school made from mud and used tyres. The State of Israel said on 24 September 2017 that it plans to evict and carry out demolition orders in Khan al-Ahmar by April 2018 in a response to the High Court. B’tselem have said that “the state was asking the court to authorise a war crime.”
Khan al-Ahmar is home to 21 families numbering 146 persons, including 85 minors. It has a mosque and a local school, which was established in 2009 and serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen – some of them from neighbouring communities. There has been plenty of attention from the international community, but now the fate of Khan al-Ahmar is in the hands of the Israeli Prime Minister, who ultimately has the final decision about its fate. In a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu, B’Tselem warned that demolishing Palestinian Bedouin communities such as Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, and expelling their residents would constitute a war crime.
The hearing about Khan al-Ahmar, which was supposed to be held on 24 September 2017 but was postponed, included two petitions; one from the settlers of Kfar Adummim who are demanding the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar’s school, and another from the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The State of Israel say that Khan al-Ahmar’s residents have been offered an alternative location 8 kilometres away. The site is very close to a municipal garbage dump.
26 UK parliamentarians wrote to the Foreign Office about Khan al Ahmarin September 2017. More on Khan al-Ahmar can be read here.
The delegation was also taken to the viewpoint at Mount Scopus to see the strategic settlement project of E1 that would effectively sever Jerusalem from the West Bank as well as dividing the West Bank in two, a project that would seal the fate of the two-state solution. Khan al-Ahmar lies within this area. It is in this area that one of the largest of Israel’s illegal settlements lies, Ma’ale Adumim.
Makassed Hospital, occupied East Jerusalem
Medical staff from the Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) briefed the delegation on the obstacles that hospital patients and staff face on a daily basis and obstacles placed on accessing the right to health in the occupied Palestinian territory.
They detailed access issues for patients from the West Bank, but also in particular from Gaza – including issues surrounding permits to be able to leave Gaza to receive treatment at the Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. In August, five female cancer patients from Gaza died as a result of being prevented from attending hospital appointments outside of Gaza. The women were aged between 26 and 53. Two of the women suffered from colon cancer, one from ovarian cancer, one from breast cancer and one from a rare cancer known as a primitive neuroectodermal tumour.
Many of the hospital’s patients, and the medical teams that transport patients from the occupied territory, face difficulties getting to the hospital, which impacts both the health of the patients and the hospital operations. Physicians for Human Rights Israel also gave an analysis of various mechanisms that impede access to treatments for patients from Gaza and the West Bank.
The hospital’s CEO, Dr Rafiq Husseini briefed the delegates on the recent raid at Makassed Hospital by Israeli forces and voiced his concerns about the ability to protect patients and staff.
Dar al-Aytam boys’ school in the OId City of occupied East Jerusalem
With Save the Children, the delegation visited the Dar al-Aytam boys’ school in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem. They met with students and the head teacher who spoke of the many issues of getting to school, with students having to pass through several checkpoints – with many being forced to take off their shirts and trousers by Israeli police in public – particularly at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City. Many students spoke of harassment by the police and by Israeli settlers in the Old City. One student told the MPs how Israeli police would regularly curse him, including with insults about his mother and sisters. The school itself has to teach the students about resilience, offer anger management support, and give legal advice since frequently students and staff are arrested. The school has its own lawyer. The MPs were given a tour of the school, in close proximity to illegal settlements in the Old City. This meant that in certain areas of the school, garbage had been thrown down onto the metal meshing, which had been put in place to stop the rubbish being thrown into open courtyards and classrooms within the school. The head teacher also spoke of his arrest by Israeli police, on the basis that he was not keeping the students under control. He spoke of being unable to keep his students safe, and allow the school to be a safe space because of the conditions in the Old City and the ordeals students have to face on a daily basis.