Wednesday, 30 April 2014

At home, for now, with Abu Ghassan

Abu Ghassan
Abu Ghassan has been blind since 1993 when he was only 27 years old.  He sits on a battered  plastic chair on an earth mound above the ruins of his home in Jabal al Baba.  This small hilltop Bedouin village is reached by a steady four kilometres climb east of Jerusalem’s Old City.  At 9am on March 12th this year, fifty Israeli soldiers arrived with a couple of bulldozers and razed his home to the ground.  He and his family had no warning and no chance to remove any of their belongings. You can still see the remains of furniture and plumbing attachments in the rubble.
The rubble of Abu Ghassan's demolished home
The Red Cross Tent
The European Union provided Abu Ghassan with a prefabricated replacement.  But on 9th April the army arrived again and dismantled his new home, which despite being liberally emblazoned with the EU logo, was loaded on to a lorry by the soldiers and removed.  He is currently living in a Red Cross tent with his wife, her sister and his eight children.
EU funded temporary buildings in the village

According to Nicola, an UNWRA* researcher who works regularly in thevillage, the inhabitants of Jabal al Baba like it when the Ecumenical Accompaniers arrive.  Are the ‘Jakatat' (jackets) coming?’ they ask her.  It’s difficult to see what we can achieve by going but Abu Ghassan asks us to take photographs and assures us: ‘Tell our international friends about what is happening so they can see the real face of the Israeli Government and its actions. That will make a difference.’

Jabal al Baba is a small herding community, home to 40 families and about 250 sheep.  The Bedouin inhabitants knew long before demolition orders were placed on 18 of its 26 buildings that their hilltop village was a strategic target for the Israeli Government.  The Israeli separation barrier is still under construction in this area.  When it is finished, it will be surrounded on three sides by the barrier, and cut off from the neighbouring town of Al Eizariya where the village children go to school. Since the building of the barrier commenced, they have suffered many home demolitions and the number of sheep - their livelihood - has declined from 600 to 250.

The reason for these problems is that the village of Jabal al Baba is part of the district known as E1.  Israel plans to clear this area of its inhabitants in order to join its large illegal settlement Ma’ale Adumim  to the rest of Jerusalem.  There are plans to develop this strikingly beautiful area into settlement suburbs and facilities and even a nature reserve.  However, it will result in  East Jerusalem becoming a surrounded Palestinian bubble within Greater Jerusalem and have the further effect of completely dividing the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part.  This will mean that travelling from the north to the south of Jerusalem, approximately a twenty minute journey by car, will take more like two to two and half hours.

Taken from UN OCHA map December 2012.  The brown areas are illegal Israeli settlements; the red line is the separation barrier (dotted red line was under construction in 2012, now finished) and the black line the intended route for the barrier
The E1 area is quite simply the red line for the Peace Process - the most contentious and strategic place in the race for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.  The UN are getting used to hosting high-level delegations in this area.  John Kerry, the US Secretary of State and his team have visited recently; Labour Leader, Ed Miliband also paid a visit during his tour last month.  Miliband, significantly, spoke out strongly against settlement expansion on his return to UK.
Meanwhile, Abu Ghassan waits by his demolished house: son of a refugee from 1948, when many Bedouin were displaced from their home in the Negev desert, he is now three times a refugee.  And he wonders where it will be next.  Many of the Bedouin have been relocated in a place up against the separation wall near Abu Dis, a place where there is a large rubbish tip and many health problems resulting for humans and animals from the toxic effluent from the waste.  The Bedouin here are placed in concrete houses with no grazing for their animals.

He asks again as we leave: ‘  Please tell our international friends …  that will make a difference.’

* United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees

I work for Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of QPSW or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for Middle East for permission. Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment