Last chance for MPs to save Bedouin village school from demolition during Christmas break
By Martin Linton, Parliamentary Briefing
December 02, 2017
Westminster Hall debate
Wednesday 6th December 2017
2.30 pm – 4.00 pm
Effect of Israeli demolitions on Palestinian communities
Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock has won the right to introduce a debate in Westminster Hall in the House of Commons on Wednesday December 6th 2017 on ‘the effect of Israeli demolitions on Palestinian communities’.
Stephen Kinnock, MP
This will be one last chance for MPs to urge the Government to put genuine pressure on the Israeli authorities not to proceed with demolitions that are against international law and that many Palestinians fear will take place during the Christmas break when the media spotlight will be elsewhere.
This year the Israeli army had already bulldozed 349 Palestinian buildings by the end of September, making 542 Palestinians homeless (see United Nations figures at https://www.ochaopt.org/
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry visited Khan al Ahmar and Susiya last month. Middle East minister Alistair Burt has visited Khan al Ahmar on two occasions and Susiya recently.
The Government, and indeed the Opposition, have constantly urged the Israeli government to stop the demolitions, specifically in Khan al Ahmar and Susiya but also more generally in the West Bank.
This may have delayed the date, but it has not lifted the threat. The demolition orders remain in place.
The issue now is whether the UK Government will take – and the Opposition will call for – more effective action such as economic pressure to stop the demolitions going ahead.
The undeclared aim of Israeli government policy has been to build a wedge of settlements across the narrow waist of the West Bank from Jerusalem to Jericho, thus dividing the West Bank into two halves and making a viable and contiguous.
A Palestinian boy walks past his home village of Susiya, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, July 24, 2015. Photo by Nasser Nasser/AP
By Zaid Jilani, The Intercept
November 29 2017
IN A STARTLING demonstration of support for Palestinian human rights from Capitol Hill, 10 Democratic senators wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday urging him to halt the impending demolition of two Palestinian and Bedouin towns.
Israel has been actively planning the demolition of the West Bank Palestinian village of Susiya for months. Its government claims that the village is not authorized, despite the fact that it is in the occupied West Bank, which is internationally recognized as Palestinian territory.
For the past couple years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been a lone voice on the issue, writing directly to Netanyahu to demand he halt the demolition. Feinstein’s efforts have been successful, as Israel has put off Susiya’s demolition multiple times.
But there are reports that Israel will begin demolishing structures in the village within weeks.
On Wednesday, Feinstein [L] finally got some backup. She was joined by nine other Democratic caucus senators — Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, Delaware’s Tom Carper, Minnesota’s Al Franken, Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich, Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, and Hawaii’s Brian Schatz — in a letter from her office demanding Israel not demolish Susiya and the Bedouin town of Khan al-Amr.
The letter is unusually strong in its description of Israeli government behaviour:
“Instead of forcibly evicting these communities, we encourage your government to fairly re-evaluate Susiya’s professionally developed master plan and provide the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar equal building rights. Your government’s threats to demolish these communities are particularly distressing in light of the Israeli Civil Administration’s efforts to dramatically expand settlements throughout the West Bank”.
What makes the letter so remarkable is that there has been traditionally little criticism of Israeli human rights violations from members of Congress. Even some of the progressive senators who signed onto Feinstein’s letter had in the recent past defended Israeli government abuses.
For instance, in 2014, Sanders angrily defended his vote for a resolution backing up Israel’s actions in the Gaza war to a crowd at a Vermont town hall, citing the threat from Hamas to Israel.
But the past few years have also seen an explosion of activism aimed at pressuring Democrats to improve on this issue. After Palestinian-American activists were ejected from a Sanders campaign event in Boston in 2015 for carrying banners pressuring the presidential candidate on the issue, the Sanders campaign responded by apologizing. Sanders then went on to tap a top Palestinian-American activist — New York’s Linda Sarsour — as a surrogate and denounced Hillary Clinton’s unwillingness to criticize Israeli treatment of Palestinians at a New York debate. More recently, Sanders met with Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro.
In 2014, Warren more or less repeated Netanyahu’s talking points about the war in Gaza, simply defending Israel’s right to self-defence as the country bombarded civilian infrastructure. She also literally bolted away from a question about Gaza at the liberal Netroots Nation conference.
But shortly after she offered a defence of Israel’s actions during the war, Warren was confronted at a town hall by activists who objected to her pro-Netanyahu stance. A Holocaust survivor asked the senator if she believed Palestinians also had a right to self-defence. Warren softened her tone, said that they did, and that the “direction we ought to be moving is not toward more war.” And more recently, Warren came out against legislation that would criminalize activists who boycott Israel or its settlements.
Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, praised the Feinstein letter both on its merits and the political weight of having so many prominent senators joining on.
“The substance of the letter is terrific, and this list of signers makes a tremendous statement,” she said.
But she also insisted that Israel should cease the demolitions not just due to political fallout with the United States, but for moral and legal reasons as well.
“On the Israeli side, I hope they would take seriously the fact that, as [Israeli human rights organization] B’tselem has said, moving these people would constitute a war crime. I hope that Israel would take that seriously, separately from senators weighing in. I hope that they would take seriously that taking an action like this is counter to the values of a Jewish democratic state. This just adds to that.”
Eid abu Khamis, a Jahalin Bedouin spokesman
Eid Khamis tells the story of the Khan al Ahmar school
By Eid abu Khamis, Palestine Briefing
December 02, 2017
Our children were travelling 15 miles to Jericho or ten miles to Bethany to get to school. Many of the girls did not even go to school. We asked for a school, but were refused. So we decided to build a school ourselves here at Khan al Ahmar to serve five Bedouin villages.
We are forbidden to build anything using breeze blocks or cement, so we looked on the internet and we saw that in South America, in Brazil and Argentina, they are building with used car tyres and mud. So we brought that picture here and we started to build a school, not just the Bedouin but international volunteers from Europe who were working with us, the Sisters of Camboni from Italy, French activists and a Dutch NGO.
The Israeli authorities caught sight of the building before it was finished and they put a stop-work order on us. If they came back and found anyone helping us to build the school, they would have immediately arrested them and taken them to court if they were Israelis or taken them to the airport and put them on a plane – and probably banned them from returning for ten years – if they were Europeans.
So we had a meeting and decided to split into two groups. One group would go on working and a second group would be watchmen, keeping look-out. Whenever the Israeli police or army came by, we would dress the European and Israeli women as if they were Bedouin. The men would hide in a tunnel. And that way we finished the school.
The people from the nearby Israeli settlement were using a drone to spy on our village, so as soon as the school was finished, they called the army and the army put a demolition order on the school.
So I invited the head of the settlers’ village council and the headteacher of the settler school to visit our school. They came and the teachers came without children and they said what a wonderful school you have made out of garbage! A week later we got a court order and it said you built a school on our land and it’s a threat to our security and our lives.
In 2014 the Italian Consul-General visited and we asked him for a donation of some playground equipment for the school. Two weeks later the Consul-General arrived with a lorry full of equipment for the school and the settlers activated their drone and saw the lorry and immediately called the army. The army came and took away the lorry and all of the playground equipment. The Consul-General was standing there watching it all with his own eyes.
And two weeks later, after he had used his diplomatic channels to ask why they had confiscated the equipment, the reply came that as you had to dig ten centimetres into the ground and put in cement to anchor the equipment, the playground equipment was regarded as a building and confiscated.
Now there are 150 children studying in this school from the age of six to fourteen and there is also an out-of-school-hours literacy course for adults. Once a week Medical Aid for Palestinians runs a clinic in the school. There are also plans for English classes and human rights classes.
There will be a hearing in the Israeli High Court in December. We fear they will use the Christmas break to demolish the school. It would not be the first time that the High Court ordered a demolition at the end of the year, because at Christmas all of the diplomats and the international organisations and all of the journalists are away. It’s taking advantage of that fact.
A generation ago the Bedouin lived totally independent and sustainable lives. We didn’t need any outside help. We used to have 1,600 sheep and goats and 28 camels. Then they came and declared most of our land to be a ‘military area’ and after a few years they gave that land to the settlers to build settlements.
Now our biggest problem is the settlers. They kill animals, they beat people up, they commit arson, they cut down trees.
Now if we go 600 metres into the desert it is a closed military zone. There is nowhere for the Bedouin to graze their animals. There are no markets for us to sell our food in since they built the wall to stop us going into Jerusalem.
Now we have barely 240 head of sheep and goats and no camels. Every year we are falling further below the poverty line, so we are knocking on the doors of all the humanitarian organisations asking for help.
We do not choose to live like this. We see our future as being through education. We have Bedouin professors, doctors, PhDs, but our children often have to go abroad to get their degrees because they have not done military service.
A consortium of five organisations is giving us caravans, toilet and shower blocks, solar panels, but when the organisations come to deliver aid, it is being confiscated on the way and if we build any structures, even solar panels, they come with bulldozers to demolish them or carry them away.
Donor agencies don’t know how to help. The Israelis are taking away their visas and preventing them from coming in. They want to take the Bedouin out of this corridor between Jerusalem and Jericho. That will cut the West Bank in two and it will also prevent Palestine from having Jerusalem as its capital or from being a viable state. If this happens, it is the last bullet in the head of peace.
It is not just the future of our school and our village that is at stake. It is the future of Palestine.