My home over there

In 1948, in the war surrounding the independence of Israel, thousands of Palestinians were forced from homes and villages, often following the murder of family members. Descendants of those who sought refuge in the West Bank and in nearby countries still live in the 19 refugee camps of the West Bank or in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. One such camp in Jenin, in the north of the West Bank, houses more than 16,000 in three square kilometres. After years of attacks by the Israeli army, most notoriously in the second intifada when much of the camp was razed to the ground, life is a little calmer now. There have been no incursions for six weeks.Jawad’s home has been carefully rebuilt (though more recent raids have left bullet holes in curtains and walls) and now a further floor is being built to accommodate his son and future wife. A further floor will be constructed for his second son. With the extra floors, the view from the roof is wonderful and Jawad can now see across the plain to the city of Haifa. He can also see his village in the Carmel area where his family house is now occupied by a Jewish family. He has family members living near by and, when he can get a permit, he visits them and sees the house where his family lived before his birth. 

Meanwhile in Nazareth the descendants of the village of Saffuriyya look across the valley to the hillside where their village stood until the bombing raid in 1948 forced them to flee. Almost all traces of the village have been destroyed, apart from the Crusader tower, reconstructed in the Ottoman era, which served as the village school. The villagers fled some, like poet Taha Muhammed Ali, to Lebanon before returning to join others who had established a refugee camp on the hillside in Nazareth. They still live on that hillside, as close as possible to their old home. They are forbidden to enter the hillside, planted with fast growing non native conifers instead of their former trees: apricots, almonds and olives. Close by, a Jewish moshav has been named Tzippori and some of the homes and gardens feature stones from Saffuriyya. 

There are over 400 destroyed villages across Israel. Israelis call them ‘abandoned’. The former villagers are known as ‘present absentees’. The first picture shows the view from just above Jawad’s home. The second shows what remains of the cemetery of Saffuriya. The turf is the surviving ruined church and the final picture is the shrine established in memory of Taha Muhammed Ali by his brothers. 

On the map?

Area C is the classification for 60% of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. It is largely made up of small Palestinian villages , Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law but funded by the Israeli government,and settler outposts – temporary dwellings which settlers hope that the Israeli government will convert into official settlements, but which are illegal under both international and Israeli law. Area C is also home to dispersed families of Bedouin and Felahkheen. While their life styles appear similar – tented dwellings and subsistence agriculture – there are differences in culture and lifestyle. Bedouins tend to be shepherds and are sometimes nomadic. Felahken keep sheep, hens, geese and turkeys, and grow a range of crops including wheat. Both groups live in clusters of families. 
Both groups have lived on their land for centuries but the Israeli government has declared their living structures to be illegal. Homes are not provided with services and the villages are not named or marked on official maps. Regular demolitions of homes take place in accordance with plans to relocate families to new towns: for example, in the South Hebron hills to the town of Yatta. Aid agencies have enabled the purchase of solar panels, windmills and wells. These are regularly demolished along with the living structures. Bulldozers arrive giving families 15 minutes to clear their belongings ( including cookers, fridges and TVs ). Afterwards structures will be rebuilt with EU and UN support – until the next time. In addition settlers frequently make group attacks on fields, livestock and people. One woman I met carries deep facial scars from a knife attack several years ago. Younger families now often choose to live in Yatta: this particular woman has 5 sons,who all moved there when they married though they often return. Indeed on my visit all the daughters in law were helping the harvest over a three week period. 
The village we visited is called Susiya and has been a focus of international concern regarding threatened demolition. But it doesn’t exist on the map. A settlement called Suseya is on the map. It too is illegal in the eyes of international law. But It is provided with water, electricity a security fence and military guards with a checkpoint. 

The welcome we received at every home in Susiya will remain in my memory for a long time. Taboon baked bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes and endless cups of Arabic coffee or mint tea. 
Human rights activists, both Palestinian and Israeli, maintain a constant effort to keep the struggles of these villages in the public eye. Meanwhile a project is aiming to record as much as possible of the life and culture for the almost inevitable day when these communities are wiped off the map for ever. 

Off again!

It seems like no time at all since I came back from Lesvos, perhaps in part because of the amazing blogs and updates from people on the ground. But also its a hectic time of year in the garden and as I pack my bag for the next round of travels I am wondering if the plants currently thriving on my sunny windowsill will be better there or in the greenhouse ( which isn’t heated). But tomorrow it will be too late to worry and I will be in the queue to board a flight to Tel Aviv and onward to Ramallah. Plans are always flexible but include re-visiting places I went to five years ago as well as a number of new areas. So watch this space!

Environmental issues

Having thousands of refugees passing through an island creates a few headaches in terms of the environment (quite apart from the human problems) . One of the island-wide issues is the vast numbers of so-called life jackets of which  much has been written. At BDFM they have been turned into cushion flooring for tents as well as for make shift seat cushions. 

Composting loos now provide hot water and, although it created some problems today as water was switched off, the hot water capacity has been doubled. The pictures below provide perhaps the most creative Eco development: a boot drying system. Heat from a wood fuelled stove is driven through a tunnel to dry boots and shoes, once the have been washed free of salt. And waiting boots are dried alongside when the sun shines. But recycling otherwise still has a way to go. Nevertheless it is being worked on. 

Meanwhile ditches have been fug as part of a drainage system and after last night’s torrential rain it can be said to be effective. #environment