By EA Lesley
The coronavirus pandemic means that many people in the UK and Ireland are experiencing new restrictions on their everyday lives. But for people in occupied Palestine, living with restrictions is a part of daily life, and human rights violations are common. Annexation of Palestinian lands, threatened by the Israeli government from 1 July, would make this situation permanent. Here EA Lesley learns about life in a Bedouin community under threat of annexation and tells the story of a peaceful protest against night-time stone throwing by their neighbours. Read to on learn more and find out how you can join us to say #NoToAnnexation.
“It was a Palm Sunday like no other in the Holy City. The streets that are usually thronged with pilgrims on the day marking the eve of Holy Week were empty.” So reported my friend, a Jewish peace activist based in Jerusalem, when I talked to her in Holy Week.
No palm-waving Christians, no donkey. All was still. No pilgrims in the holy places. No city has escaped the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an Easter like no other as the threats and rumblings of annexation continued and the inhabitants of the West Bank in occupied Palestine brace themselves for the possibility of further displacement.
Since March almost all internationals have left the West Bank in occupied Palestine, repatriated by order of their governments. All communities are vulnerable from this virus but the communities in occupied Palestine are vulnerable from the virus and also because there are not so many outside observers watching and reporting what is happening.
A few weeks ago in South Hebron Hills two sheep, belonging to the Bedouin Shepherds of Um al Khair, were intentionally killed by a settler (an Israeli person illegally living on Palestinian land). When the locals asked the settler why he had killed the sheep, the response was unapologetic: “He started laughing and left”.
Suleiman, a community leader at Um al Khair, attempted to report the crime but was foiled as the Police Office in Hebron was closed due to the virus restrictions. This lack of access to justice is common in everyday life not just in this time of pandemic. The Israeli organisation Yesh Din reports that “the reality in the West Bank is that police seldom instigate investigations of offenses committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.”
Um al Khair is located in the South Hebron Hills. The community faces difficulties on a regular basis because of the adjacent settlement of Carmel. Settlements are Israeli housing developments built in occupied Palestine, which are illegal under Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention. In late 2017, night-time stone throwing by settlers interrupted the sleep of the adults and children of the community for more than 100 nights.
The women and children of Um al Khair decided to demonstrate their requests for quiet nights to their neighbours by peaceful means. They made their requests on placards and on the side of the community tent nearest the settlement. They wrote their requests in English so that their neighbours could read the modest appeals: “love your neighbours, let us sleep, stop the stones”. Whether by coincidence relating to Suleiman’s ever-resilient attempts at reporting to the authorities or by the effect of the peaceful protest, the stone throwing stopped and the ability to sleep was restored to all. Not all settlers are stone-throwers or violent but being good neighbours requires building good relationships and the climate of occupation is sadly not conducive to creating that possibility.
As this Eastertide progressed the news of settler force continued. One farmer harvested his barley crop and when he returned the next day to gather it in, he found it had been taken by a settler. On April 6th, the UN highlighted a 78% increase in settler attacks on Palestinians compared with the previous average.
Settlement expansion continues despite the pandemic. Word comes of a mobile home and a tent erected on a Palestinian farmer’s land during the night. Unfortunately previous experience of the arrival of structures like this tells locals that this heralds the foundation of an outpost. Outposts are illegal structures often erected at a distance within view of a settlement by an individual or a small groups of settlers. The foundation of an outpost indicates the intention to expand the local settlement to meet the outpost.
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, for the first time in most people’s memories citizens have had an experience of everything changing as everyone got to grips with coronavirus restrictions and their impact on daily lives, work, school and recreation. Only three months in, many people want it to end, to get back to normal. These restrictions, for the most part, are understandable, they make sense and most people agree that they are in place for the common good. These restrictions give some sense of what it might be like to live under occupation. But they do not give an idea of what it is like when a neighbour decides to take your land.
Meanwhile Pentecost has arrived. The three monotheistic faiths have celebrated – Shavuot and Eid and the Ascension. People of each tradition are challenged by their faiths to examine how best to heal and love their neighbour and live in peace.
Last night my friend in Jerusalem connected again. She shared a poem by the national Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, “Think of Others”. As she finished, she repeated the last two lines, this time altering them to include herself as cause in the matter of shining a light for those who are oppressed. “How can I be a candle in the dark? I want to be a candle in the dark.” How can we continue to keep the light of hope aflame for the people of occupied Palestine?
Palestinian communities in the West Bank are currently under grave and imminent threat of annexation. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Share our posts and post a picture or short video of yourself explaining why you say #NoToAnnexation.