Live from Gaza, Eoin Murray, Trócaire

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hope, under threat of demoloition.

When I left Gaza yesterday I was so angry. Not just because we sat for, waited for, almost three hours before finally passing through the checkpoint complex. Not just because as we waited we waited with sick people who were travelling to Jerusalem for hospital treatment - one of whom was a ten year old boy who had his left leg amputated from the thigh down (I need not explain the details how.)

Simply, I was angry because of what I had seen, what had boiled up inside over the course of just a handful of days there. The frustration got the better of me. I lost my temper at one of the soldiers who attempted a gesture of "what can we do?" I shouted at him as if somehow it was his fault that at 18 he had to serve for 3 years in the army - otherwise his own prospects for life would be extremely limited. If he ever reads this, I apologise to him for losing my temper - even if what I said (unpublishable here) was completely true.

I was emotionally boiling, so, when I left. Gaza. Convinced that no light existed at the end of any tunnel. No prospect for change, justice, an end to occupation and peace exist.

I almost cancelled my meeting in Jerusalem - it was my first time to meet with Rabbis for Human Rights - I thought I would make an appalling first impression if my frustration boiled over again.

But I went ahead with it all the same.

I never expected that a point would come in my life where I walked through a part in Occupied Palestinian Territory - Silwan, in east Jerusalem, - with two Rabbis and a Palestinian, each talking and laughing together. It was remarkable.

Silwan is an area of Jerusalem which has been subjected to house demolitions by the Israeli army. It sits aside the archaeological site of the city of David, an area of historical and holy significance to Jews. It also suffers, despite the fact that local Palestinians pay taxes, from the appalling municipal services offered by Jerusalem council.

Palestinians rejected the idea of participating in the local municipality because they reject Israel's occupation and annexation of east Jerusalem. So does the rest of the world, with the exception of Israel.

The Rabbis, kippahs [skull-caps] and all, explain to me how Silwan has become a victim of the policies of discriminatory un-development employed in Jerusalem (which Ehud Olmert was once Mayor of] since 1967.

They are working in partnership with a local organisation called al Bustan. Al Bustan in Arabic is an area in the middle of the desert where there is a spring. It is fenced off to protect the luxurious fruits growing on the trees - but anyone may enter and enjoy unlimited hospitality. All are welcome.

Al Bustan in Silwan, occupied east Jerusalem, is a community centre, a meeting place, a service provider, a place where residents can organise their legal battles against the occupation's attempt to demolish their homes.

It was built after the Rabbis began to organise the local community, ultimately through an election, in order to fight the house demolition orders. To date the Centre has had considerable success in building networks of supporters and keeping the encroachment of further illegal Israeli settlement activity.

It is a radical proposition - a place constructed by religious Jews and local Palestinians to fight the occupation, to become a symbol of the potential for hope.

At first Palestinians, naturally, viewed the Rabbis with considerable suspicion. Usually in these parts of Jerusalem religious Jews are there for one purpose only - to expand their settlement activities and implement the process of "silent transfer" designed to move Palestinians out of their homes and in to the West Bank. After a time, however, the presence of Kippah wearing Jews became a powerful symbol in the struggle for human rights of the local Palestinians. A force and symbol which could help prevent radicalisation of the youth who see that Jews are not just the ones knocking on their doors with demolition orders but also those who stand shoulder to shoulder with them to rebuild lives, communities and homes.

Of course the terrible irony of al Bustan Centre is that its actions to prevent house demolitions are under threat - the building the Centre is housed in has had a demolition order imposed on it.
Despite the misery of the Gaza Strip, the continued construction of the Wall deep inside the West Bank, and all the other human rights violations across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) there is some glimmer of hope for a better future.

Yesterday evening I sat for dinner with two Israeli friends and their new innocent twins - he a human rights lawyer with [Trocaire partner] Hamoked and she a religious Jew who, among other things, is a member of an organisation which tries to speak out to religious Jews to get them to stop building settlements and to focus on social and justice issues.

We spoke much about Gaza, the war in Lebanon and northern Israel and the future.

Once again, after spending time with them, I can conclude there is indeed some limited hope.
Unfortunately, Israeli occupation has imposed a demolition order on it.


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