ISM-Vancouver report

Following is a report sent today from Robin, whom we interviewed on the Voice of Palestine on Tue. Mar. 21, 2006, Robin is a member of ISM-Vancouver, and this is his second trip to Palestine.

Destruction and Defiance in the Shadow of Bethlehem:

Unable to enter the al-Walaja village, I waited for close to an hour at the Har Gill’o turnoff until I could hear the sounds of 2 giant earth-movers, courtesy of Volvo and the Israeli government. The police refused to respond to questions, but a young soldier told me that a “military activity” was just finishing, but he had no idea what that activity was. He threatened to arrest me if I try to make my way past the blockade, so I waited, along with villagers and international press, until he allowed us to walk through. He and the others in green and blue, on horseback and jeeps, laughed as they ate their lunch on the hoods of their vehicles, oblivious to the villagers watching them. Ironically, the road sign to the illegal settlement of Har Gill’o boasts of accomodation and a lookout because of the stunning view: a view that the family of Hadr Mahmoud Mohammed Rabah no longer enjoy.

I walked the narrow road into the village, following the Volvo tracks and the ground up pavement, not in need of any directions. I spoke with two teenagers just released from handcuffs by the police. They were obviously devastated, but at least not injured like their friend, who took a blow to the head from a soldiers club.

The Rabah family, including 8 children, are now homeless, after the Volvo earth-movers tore through the back of their dwelling while family members scrambled desperately to remove furniture and other items. Another home nearby was also levelled, two more examples of an ugly Israeli tradition that occurs on average 2-3 times each month. A teacher in Bethlehem, Hadr Rabah tells me that the village is very united against the Occupation, so there is no shortage of people offering to take in family members temporarily at least. When I asked why the earth-movers left the front of the home intact, his reply was “they were afraid of the electric”.

It’s not hard to see why Israel desires this land that overlooks Jerusalem and a couple of illegal settlements that used to be parts of Beit Jala and Walaja. As one neighbour -himself in receipt of a destruction order- said…”This land is beautiful, so Israel needs it”. Another neighbour explained that the Israeli government …”needs to have the ground without the people”. In the distance towards Jerusalem, I could see the zoo, complete with giraffes wandering in their pen. After a couple weeks in Hebron, listening to Tel Rumeida settlers refer to Palestinians as pigs, dogs, and animals, I couldn’t help but see the parallel: The Israeli government sees the West Bank as their zoo for Palestinians, complete with walls, fences and gates…except they would rather you did not visit. I realize the comparison is primitive and unflattering, but I think it reflects the unwillingness of Israel to see the Palestinian people as teachers, doctors, shop-owners, students, mothers and sons.

I stood with the Rabah family as they explained how Israeli officials had been out repeatedly to photograph and survey the area around their home and many others in al-Walaja. I felt awful, but was encouraged to take pictures to record and report the flattened home and the young people sifting through the rubble for household goods. Another local teacher added her thoughts about the effects on young children when they witness such events at a young age. She told me that it is very difficult for the children of Walaja to sit in their classes and focus on education while there is such upheaval in the community at the hands of the occupying authorities. “Imagine what a two-year old will grow up like”. Why is not the entire village crowded around the ruins, embracing the family? “It happens so often. If they stand here now, will that change things? People still have to go to school and to work. If I stand here until 12:00 tomorrow, will it be any different?”

When homes in al-Walaja are destroyed, it often means olive and orange trees fall as well, but what are left standing are hope and defiance. Today it appears that defiance wins over hope.