Although I couldn’t imagine living in the conditions I saw there, my hostess—Emarat Qandil—smiled throughout my visit as if she had nothing to be worried about or depressed about. "I’ve gotten used to hardship,” she shrugged. “If I gave up on life, what would my children do? They need me.”
Palestinian youth will share their visions of peace before Congress on February 5th, 2019 in Rebuilding Alliance’s fourth #ICareAboutPeace congressional briefing. Help maximize the impact that our brave young speakers will make by making a donation to support our ongoing advocacy efforts. Following the visit to Congress, the children and their parents will remain in the US for two more weeks to do a multi-state speaking tour along the Eastern seaboard. I am looking for caring individuals like you to donate to Rebuilding Alliance so that we can continue to spread this important message. Contributions to Rebuilding Alliance are tax-deductible and every little bit helps.
“This is the biggest challenge we have faced since the creation of UNRWA [in 1949],” says Amir el-Mishal, LSU chair. “First, the agency lost about US$446 million, causing it to stop hiring, terminate many contracts and change others from full to partial. That not only negatively impacted agency employees in Gaza, it also led to a decline in the quantity and quality of services we offer refugees."
You can change life in Gaza — that's what Artist Maysa Yousef and her husband came up with when we asked Gaza artists to design a logo for the #GazaLightMessage campaign.
I am honored to announce that the Local Staff Union - Gaza is co-sponsoring this campaign each Wednesday night and, via Facebook and email, is inviting its 13,000 members to participate from their homes, then post photos and messages using hashtags, غزة_رسالة_ضوء# #GazaLightMessage. The members of the LSU are employees of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and with their commitment, professionalism, and expertise, they are a key to Gaza's future.
Gaza's social media activists have joined too, another key to Gaza's future. (see the article below).
Over the next seven weeks, I invite you to click "Going" to our Facebook event, and respond to the weekly hashtag messages posted by the people of Gaza (to do this, go to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and paste #GazaLightMessage or or غزة_رسالة_ضوء# to see them and post a comment). After January 3rd when the new Congress is sworn-in, we'll send you an Action alert to help you press Congress to restore the U.S. aid cancelled by President Trump, recognize Palestinian planning rights, keep the U.S. Consulate open in Jerusalem, and lift the blockade on Gaza.
I perked up when I was told by We Are Not Numbers that its partner NGO, the Rebuilding Alliance, was going to distribute Little Sun solar lights to people in particular need of light at this dark time of year in Gaza. It has been a long time since I had participated in community service, so—despite the early starting time, which goes against my nature—I jumped at the chance to participate. When I see people in need receive help and witness happiness bursting from the depth of their hearts into their eyes, I forget all of the tragedy and suffering that dominates life in Gaza.
However, although I have participated in many charitable activities during my years, this one was really special. I found myself wishing that everyone—both inside Gaza and out, where they often don’t understand us—could have accompanied me during this experience and felt what I felt. So, let me try to share a little of it with you.
The warmest and kindest salute
First, we visited the Al-Amal Society for Rehabilitation, which serves hundreds of deaf and mute students in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip. The pride they felt upon receiving the gift of the Little Suns was evident as we began distributing the solar lamps. One little girl kept staring at her Little Sun, without a single blink, as if she had been given the most valuable prize in the world.
“I haven’t just lost a job. I feel like I’ve lost my life,” says 39-year-old Raeda Younis, who has worked for UNRWA, the U.N. agency charged with aiding Palestinian refugees, for 16 years.
Osama Naseer, 48, agrees.
“It is our right to live in dignity like anyone else,” fumes the 17-year employee. “It is time to tear down the wall of silence and tell Donald Trump we will not surrender to his racist policies even if we die of hunger.”
Raeda and Osama are among nearly1,000 U.N. employees whose contracts were terminated or who will be transferred to part-time work by the end of the year. The cuts came after the U.S. government, UNRWA’s largest funder, eliminated its contribution of $125 million. And now, the agency says its schools and health centers might soon have to shut down.
In a territory with an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, UNRWA jobs had been among the most stable and sufficiently paid. Many Gazans had been working for the agency for more than 20 years. Raeda first served for three years in on an emergency team that helped out during crises, like during wars. Then she transferred to a school and became a counselor. She never dreamed she’d lose her job so suddenly.
Zeyad Aabed has devoted his career—26 years—to running an NGO dedicated to offering education and health services to the deaf. It was, to say the least, a labor of love. But now, much of the funding on which his NGO depends is drying up. And today, he feels exhausted and depressed, fearful he will have to close the El-Amal Rehabilitation Society altogether.
The steep cuts in funding for the U.N. agency charged with aiding at least 5 million Palestinian refugees are sending myriad ripple effects across the Gaza Strip. In the news are the UNRWA employees whose jobs have been eliminated, cut back to part-time or converted to “temporary.” But what isn’t widely known is that funding from UNRWA and other international aid organizations accounts for 70 percent of the income for local NGOs in Gaza—which in turn generates a third of the jobs.
El-Amal—which means "hope" in Arabic—was established in 1992 as a school for the deaf in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip. Over the years, it has expanded to offer a variety of other programs, including a kindergarten, vocational training and adult literacy-building activities. All are free of charge, since many who are hearing impaired struggle to earn an income.
“The goal is to offer a continuum of services throughout our clients’ lifecycles,” explains CEO Aabed. For example, a 5-year-old child can join the association's kindergarten, then progress into its Darwish Abu Skarekh School, the only school for the deaf in southern Gaza. When students finish the ninth grade, they either may move to Gaza City's secondary school for the deaf, which is privately run and thus too expensive for many people, or join El-Amal's vocational training center.
What a relief! This past week in Gaza, 8,600 children, families, and the elderly began receiving Little Sun solar lights, delivered by Rebuilding Alliance's four NGO partners. They are truly Nur al-Amal — Lights of Hope. None of this would have been possible without the help of thousand of wonderful donors — to all who gave, thank you!
Good news from hard work: Engineer Majd Mashharawi left Gaza last night in time to present at TEDWomen in California, a three-day conference about the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers. She was held by Israeli authorities at Erez for 10 hours without food or water for interrogation. Even though she was in the US and Japan just last month, there was no guarantee she would be allowed out. I asked. I used every connection I know, and called Israel's COGAT too — and it worked! And right now I'm in tears because Majd's mom just received her permit to cross with her dad tomorrow to reach Amman for US visa interviews so they can attend her TED talk!
Meanwhile, our 8600 Little Sun solar lights are in Gaza, but they are being held by the Gaza Government. My NGO partners are filing the clearance forms and going to each of the 20+ signatories required. We saw the shipment, even touched it. The Little Suns are all there.
Look, my team and I don't give up. We persevere. We find a way. I need your help to keep on doing this work.
Our Leadership Learning Mission to Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is now scheduled for Dec. 27-31st and this is now entirely focused on the incoming Congress-members.
Because I helped Eng. Majd Mashharawi get through the blockade for her TED Talk, I am thrilled to be here at the TEDWomen Conference. Last night, Marian Wright Edelman spoke about bringing Robert Kennedy to Mississippi to visit HeadStart and see the empty cupboards. She told him, "You will see hungry" — well, that's what the Congress-Elect will see in Gaza.
In light of Universal Children’s Day, tomorrow from 9-10 AM Rebuilding Alliance is honored to announce that we will be co-hosting Globalgiving’s twitter chat #ListenToKids: Lessons from Children Around the World.
We'll bring forward our work bringing Palestinian children to speak to Congress to present their vision of peace, in person in Washington DC. These young people have also been hosts for visits by Congressional Leadership Missions to Jerusalem and the West Bank, and by conference call with Gaza.
Join the conversation with the hashtag #ListenToKids to learn how kids around the world are stepping up to create positive change in their communities.
Wow! Thirty-nine newcomer Congresswomen and men, and 5 newcomer Senators are going to Capitol Hill in January!
Click Here Now
to invite your Representative and Senators to experience Palestine in December!
(there's even a special template for inviting Congressional newcomers)
Call their office,
Ask for their Scheduler, and
Say, as a Constituent, that you've just emailed the invitation to join Rebuilding Alliance's Congressional Leadership Learning Mission to Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza — and you need an answer before Nov. 13th when Ethics Committee applications are due.
Of the following, please call incumbents and those who were reelected:
To contact the newcomers, please check your voting materials to send them the invitation by email and to follow-up with a phone call. Again, call and ask for their scheduler, and tell them that, as a Constituent, that you are inviting them to on an expense-paid Congressional Leadership Learning Mission to the Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza on December 14-21st. The trip is sponsored by Rebuilding Alliance, a U.S. 501(c)3 nonprofit, in full accordance with House and Senate Ethics Committee rules.
The next weeks are critical. While Khan al Ahmar has this moment of pause, Israeli Army bulldozers continue to demolish homes and barns in other areas of the West Bank. To assure that Khan al Ahmar's master plan will be recognized, and to present demolitions and assure equal rights for Palestinians,
Click here to email your Senators and Representative to invite them to join Rebuilding Alliance's Leadership Learning Mission in December and also ask them to make two calls now to the Israeli Embassy and to the US State Department to press Israel to implement the village's master plan. This case will set the precedent for Palestinian rights.
My name is Lama Abed, I am 14 years old, and a student at an UNRWA school.
Last Sunday, heavily armed Israeli soldiers entered the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar to deliver notice to each family requiring them to "self demolish" their own homes — and their school — by Monday, October 1st. The bizarre notice read as follows:
"Inhabitants of Khan al-Ahmar
By the High Court decision you must demolish all buildings within the Khan al-Ahmar no later than 1 October 2018. If you refuse, the authorities will enforce demolition orders as per court decision and the law.
Any citizen who wishes to receive help in demolition or transporting goods must go to the liaison office and call this number..."
But that's not what Israel's High Court decided. On Sep. 3rd, as the court itself clarified, it specifically did NOT order demolition but merely removed the injunction preventing it. The next steps are a political decision, entirely up to the Government of Israel, so this is the time when Congress may be the only ones able to weigh in. Why Congress? Frankly, demolishing villages and schools are the political equivalent of drunk driving and friends don't let friends drive drunk.
Email your Senators and Representative NOW: https://actionnetwork.org/lette…/ask-congress-to-take-action
The villagers have already made clear that they have no intention of complying with the self-demolition orders — and they continue to bring forward a just solution through their own master zoning plan, a solution that deserves fair review and consideration. Though hard-liners in the Israeli government will press to forcibly remove them from their homes, demolition is not a fait accompli.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Israeli human rights activist and founder of Torat Tzedek, noted, "The judges took care to mention the fact that the State has committed to 'only' demolishing Khan Al Akhmar, but not expelling the residents. The court also wrote that there is nothing preventing them from continuing to try to get a master plan approved."
As Wendy Greenfield from Jewish Voice for Peace - South Bay noted in her letter to a Congresswoman's senior staff, "We know that the voices of Congress carry great weight with the Israeli government and we urge you to take advantage of these precious days before October 1st to communicate on this particular issue."
- Calls from Congress to the Israeli Embassy are very important. With staff on three floors dedicated to Congressional engagement, when Congress calls they get answers — and constituents (that's you) can expect to get a call or letter back. Those calls to the Embassy ripple up and down the line in Israel, empowering voices that otherwise are not heard.
- In addition, Congress' calls to the U.S. State Dept. are now more important than ever. Calls from Congress give State Dept. staff permission to make such inquiries their top priority — and I've been told that calls from members of Congress are noted all the way at the top at State.
Here's the message to your Representative and Senators: Ask them to intervene by making two calls to stop the demolition of the village of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar and to urge Israel to work with the villagers to accept their own master plan. If you can, please give them a call
Please, send your emails, make your calls — and on Sunday, join the twitter storm and tweet to your members of Congress to push them into action to keep Khan al Ahmar safe and standing.
Founder and Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance
Written by: Fadi Al-Naji
I was eager to meet the 20-year-old disabled athlete, Ahmed Abu Namous. I heard about him from Eid Shaqoura, director of the Al-Basma Club. Eid told me about Ahmed’s strong spirit and his fierce refusal to let his disability impede him from achieving his goals.
A term that means “smile” in Arabic, Al-Basma is a Palestinian nonprofit established in 2005 by Eid to bring parasports to Gaza. His ultimate mission: to develop the skills of people with disabilities and reintegrate them into all aspects of life—particularly sports and recreation. And with the number of amputees created by the violent Israeli response to Gaza’s Great Return March at a staggering 54, his “business” is booming.
When I arrived at the school yard in Beit Lahia—a town in the northern corner of the Gaza Strip—I heard the coach whistle during a wheelchair-basketball match. One of the players, situated well in front of the basket, took two throws—with the ball sailing in successfully. The crowd erupted, whistling and applauding raucously. I realized it was him—Ahmed Abu Namous!
Ahmed’s right leg was amputated in 2013. He was just 15 at the time and thought he could slip right through the fence separating Gaza from Israel. However, the second he got too close, he was shot with an exploding bullet by an Israeli sniper.
On that day, he lost his leg, not his love of sport or his determination to play. And his drive paid off: Ahmed was named best football (soccer) player in a 2017 competition for disabled people in Gaza and is working hard to become a professional [para] basketball player so he can participate in global contests held in Turkey (assuming he is allowed to leave).
Ahmed said,“Joining the Al-Basma Club was the turning point in my life after my injury. I had little contact with the community until I found it. Watching other players deal with their hardships taught me a lesson about my own suffering. Now, I can compete even with normal players. Whenever I play basketball, I feel strong and free.’’
In addition to wheelchair basketball, Al-Basma organizes competitions featuring volleyball, marathons, javelin and swimming. Periodically, the players train with and even compete against able athletes, to better integrate them socially.
“Every detail of their daily life is a challenge,’’ said Eid Shaqoura. “Our main goal of this club is to work with love and spirit. Disabled people shouldn’t feel ‘odd’ or like outcasts. We believe the best way to accelerate their rehabilitation is by helping them integrate into society and make sure their voices and views are heard.’’
Mohammed Dahman is one of the basketball coaches and manages a team of five disabled players.
“These disabled players are learning fast. They have the capability to sharpen their skills and win many contests in the future. But our major challenge is a lack of equipment, courts and wheelchairs,’’ Dahman said. Recently, the club asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to donate wheelchairs for more than 40 disabled girls.
Eid agreed, saying, “A lack of funding is the organization’s main obstacle. International donor organizations want to contribute or finance food and clothes. But activities like sports are important too, to build self-esteem and pride.”
In addition to a shortage of proper equipment, the funding shortfall also means the club cannot accept more than its current 150 members.
Due to the lack of funding, I can’t work properly. For instance, I can’t achieve my suggested project to let our players play in public areas such as squares and corniche. It’s a simple project which doesn’t need much funds, but I struggle to find enough donors.
Another challenge faced by the club and its members is a lack of electricity. Currently, power is on only an average of four hours per day due to a shortage of fuel.
However, thanks to t Rebuilding Alliance, solar-powered lights have been donated to the Al-Basma Club as part of the “It’s Time for Light” campaign. These “Light of Hope” (Nur al-Amal) solar lamps have been distributed to all of Al-Basma’s members.
“Now I can light up my room when I return home and can give up using candles, which are dangerous because they cause fires,’’Ahmed said. “In a way, it’s a symbol. It’s a light of hope like the club has been for me.”
Written by: Ali Abusheikh
A job that pays enough to survive and support one’s family is valued above all things in Gaza, and no wonder. The overall unemployment rate currently hovers at 49% and reaches nearly 65% amongst teenagers and young adults (15-29 y/o). It is also important to mention that, 85% of all unemployed individuals are women. That means, 2 million people in Gaza- 53% of their population -live in poverty.
The best of the jobs in Gaza- with fair, relatively stable salaries -are with international NGOs, including the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, which alone employs nearly 13,000 residents. However, the decision made by the U.S. administration of Donald Trump to cut funding for UNRWA from $365 million to $65 million has jeopardized even these “safe” jobs.
This month, UNRWA announced that they are immediately laying off 113 of their employees and transitioning close to 600 full-time workers to part-time employment. The employees' union estimates about 1,000 jobs will eventually be slashed.
Among them is, Anwar Hamad, a 31-year-old social worker and mother who has been employed by UNRWA for about six and a half years.
Anwar states, "I worked very hard to get this job. I went through a long, tiring process of exams and interviews until I got accepted. The thought of losing it now paralyzes me. I worked too hard to lose it so easily!”
Anwar’s job is to identify and categorize families in need of UN aid such as food. She questions, "Who will do this once we lose our jobs? Who will make sure these families are served?"
Anwar, the mother of four children, has been informed that her contract will be terminated by the end of the year and that in the meantime, her pay will be cut- from $900 to $450 monthly -in. Not to mention that, $400 of that $450 will go to the bank in order to repay a loan she took out two months ago to build her own house.
"I feel insecure and lost,” she says. “I gave up another job offer so I could get this job. I thought I would feel safe in this one."
Anwar’s husband is an employee of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which means he only receives half of his salary due to cutbacks imposed as part of the PA’s campaign to force the government in Gaza, Hamas, to surrender their authority.
"We can no longer afford the rent on our house; how can we pay our expenses without my job?” Anwar asks. “We have to move out by the end of this month. I will go to my mother’s, along with our kids. But my husband will have to live with his family. My family will be separated."
To make things even worst, Anwar’s job with UNRWA has allowed her to be the backbone of her entire family. However, now that she has been laid off, her family will no longer be able to afford school expenses for their children; and, she will struggle to continue financially helping her mother, nine sisters, and two younger brothers who are unemployed.
"When I got the email saying that I would no longer have a permanent contract, it was the worst moment in my whole life,” she says. “I went home and couldn’t eat or drink. The email felt like my execution."
UNRWA employees fear that more layoffs are coming and are overwhelmed by the large amount of work they have been faced with as a result of the layoffs that have already taken place. That’s why they are protesting.
Although the layoffs were triggered by U.S. funding cuts, Anwar and her coworkers also blame UNRWA management. They insist that the agency’s efforts to raise money from other sources had been going well and that there are ways to save resources other than firing staff. In particular, they question why the first employees to be laid off were those assigned to emergency programs, such as social workers, security guards, and school counselors.
"UNRWA was created to help Palestinians and create work opportunities for them, not the opposite,” says Anwar. “What is going on doesn't make any sense.”
One of the many consequences of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a lack of income. According to the World Bank, annual income per person in Gaza fell from $2,659 in 1994 to $1,826 in 2018. In large part, that devastating statistic is due to unemployment—which is the highest in the World Bank's database.
So, what does this look like on a human level? An example is Nedal Hutthut, 47, who lives with his wife, three sons and two daughters in a tiny cement house in the al-Shati Refugee Camp west of Gaza City. Like many other in the neighborhood, the home is scantily furnished.
For the six of them, there are two bedrooms, a living room, a small kitchen and one bathroom. An old fan, an even more ancient TV and a few armchairs are all they have for furniture. They sleep on the floor.
Nedal is unemployed and the U.N. aid they receive every three months is insufficient. “I used to sell things like groceries from a cart, but then the owner went bankrupt. I am still looking for another job, but I can’t find any. I don’t even have a single shekel for us to buy water to drink,” he says, referring to the fact that the water from their faucets is undrinkable.
“I go to the market very late so I can collect food [that is discarded or has fallen] from under the sellers’ carts. I can’t find other ways to feed my kids,” he explains. When his wife prepares meals at home, the ingredients are usually donated by neighbors or relatives. Cooking is difficult even with donations, however. Cooking gas is too expensive.
Um [mother of] Muhammed, Nedal’s wife, adds, “Our neighbors sometimes help by paying for the cooking gas. We need help with everything. I just returned from my family’s house in Khan Younis and they gave me some sugar.”
Um Muhammed does not visit her family very often, since she can’t afford transportation; she usually goes only when food or other aid is needed. Their financial state isn’t that good either, but they try to help whenever possible.
The couple’s oldest son, Muhmmed, is 23 and thus could normally work and contribute an income. However, he was in a car accident when he was a child, and one of his feet was injured—requiring insertion of seven platinum rods and making it difficult for him to stand for very long. This has made it hard for him to find paid work.
“He tries so hard to find a job. He doesn’t like burdening us,” Um Muhammed says sadly. “But his handicap is, sadly, an obstacle.” All Muhammed wants is a project such as a cart from which he can sell tea and coffee to passersby on the street.
“It hurts to see my kids jobless and uneducated,” says Nedal. “They stopped going to school because we can’t afford the expenses. They even tried to find jobs to support us, but in vain. My youngest daughter is the only one who goes to school.”
Also making it difficult for his children to learn is the lack of electricity for up to 20 hours a day, which leaves them in the dark. They can’t afford a generator to provide back-up power. Instead, however, they have received help through five solar-powered lights donated by the American nonprofit Rebuilding Alliance and distributed by Gaza’s Youth Vision NGO. The nur al-amal (light of hope) allows them to read and do chores in the evenings, when otherwise they would be plunged into darkness.
Um Muhammed says, “We are so thankful for those who bought such useful lights for us. Our home is finally full of light at night.”
RAYYAH HAS LIVED in Khan al-Ahmar all of her 47 years. She raised nine children there, and 24 grandchildren; one more is on the way. Her family and neighbors, members of a Bedouin community known as the Jahalin, found refuge on this scorched patch of rocks and dust in the 1950s, after they were expelled from the land they had inhabited for generations, in the Negev desert, following the establishment of the Israeli state. The land Khan al-Ahmar stands on was under Jordanian control when the Jahalin arrived. Today, this smatter of tin roofs and tarps sits on the side of a highway in the occupied West Bank, surrounded by a fast-growing ring of Israeli settlements, which — while illegal — have become de facto suburbs of Jerusalem.
The village, which is home to less than 200 people and where the only building with walls is a school made of mud and old tires, has become the latest front line in a conflict over land that for decades has determined the fates of Palestinians like the Jahalin. Israel wants the village razed, its residents evicted, and their land annexed to its ever-expanding settlements. Khan al-Ahmar residents say they are not going anywhere and have been able to rally remarkable international support around their cause, delaying demolition through a yearslong legal battle that remains nonetheless stacked against them.
While Khan al-Ahmar’s plight is hardly unique, what is exceptional about the embattled community — which is surrounded by the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim, Ma’ale Adumim, Alon, and Nofei Prat — is its position as one of the last-standing obstacles in the way of a decadesold plan to establish a contiguous Jewish presence between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
On August 1, Israel’s Supreme Court confirmed an earlier ruling authorizing the village’s razing but temporarily delayed demolition, giving the Israeli government five days to come up with more suitable relocation plans than those it had previously offered — near a dump, and without any land the Bedouins could use to graze their animals.
A day after the deadline, on August 7, the government proposed moving Khan al-Ahmar residents to temporary tents before relocating them again to a new site south of Jericho along with other Bedouin communities facing demolition — but only on the condition that they would leave Khan al-Ahmar voluntarily. Israel forcibly removed other Jahalin Bedouin communities in the late 1990s, and while violent evictions of individual Palestinian families have continued since then, Israeli officials have tried to steer clear of large forcible transfers — an ugly spectacle, as well as a war crime.
In a statement, Tawfiq Jabareen, an attorney representing Khan al-Ahmar, rejected the proposal, which he said proved that “the plan of the state of Israel is to evacuate all Palestinian Bedouin and move them near Area A,” closer to areas under the Palestinian Authority, “in order to expand the Jewish settlements in places that will be emptied of Palestinians.” Khan al-Ahmar residents have made clear that they have no plans to leave their homes, making forcible eviction a likely outcome.
“The Bedouins are used to being in the sun, they have lived their whole life in the sun. If Israel demolishes their homes, they’ll stay here anyway,” Eid Abu Khamis, Khan al-Ahmar’s leader, told The Intercept. “If they put up a boundary — a meter away from it, this is where all the women and all the children of the community will stay.”
“If the children die from the heat, I didn’t demolish their homes, they did.”
A Strategic Wedge
Israeli authorities routinely demolish homes built without permits — which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain — and often use demolitions as collective punishmentagainst the families of Palestinians who attempt attacks against Israelis. In July, Israel demolished a daycare and a women’s community center in Jabal al Baba, another Bedouin community outside Jerusalem, as well as several homes in the village of Abu Nawwar, near the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, leaving 64 people, mostly children, homeless.
But Khan al-Ahmar sits in a uniquely strategic position close to what Israel refers to as “E1” — an area it intends to expand to create spatial continuity between the West Bank settlements and Jerusalem. So far, those plans have mostly stalled following international pressure, but advocates fear Khan-al Ahmar’s demolition will be the first step toward implementing that plan, which would further fragment Palestinian areas, isolating Palestinian-majority East Jerusalem and splitting the occupied West Bank in half.
In the 1970s, when Israel expropriated the area surrounding Khan al-Ahmar, Uri Ariel, a founder of the Kfar Adumim settlement and today the country’s minister of agriculture and rural development, made no secret the move was part of a plan to establish “a Jewish corridor from the sea, through Jerusalem, to the Jordan river, which will put a wedge in the territorial continuity of Arab inhabitation between Judea and Samaria” — the names used by Israel to refer to the occupied West Bank.
“This is a particularly strategic wedge because it’s in the narrowest part of the West Bank, and because it will complete the process of isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank,” said Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, pointing to Khan al-Ahmar on a map dissected by an intricate pattern of current and planned separation barriers and settlements, and Palestinian areas under various forms of Israeli control.
“It’s fragmenting the society itself,” he added, noting that Israel can easily control isolated Palestinian enclaves by blocking access to their entrance and cutting them off entirely. “From a control perspective, that is very efficient, because if you want to disconnect their access, all you need is a military jeep. You put the thing on the road and that’s it.”
Israeli workers place container houses near the town of Al-Eizariyah in the occupied West Bank on July 9, 2018, to absorb residents of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, who are set to be evicted.
The plan to force the Bedouins out so the settlements can expand is hardly a secret: In May, days after a court largely made up of settlers upheld demolition orders against Khan al-Ahmar, the Israeli government approved the construction of a new neighborhood in Kfar Adumim, “reaching 500 meters from my home,” Abu Khamis told The Intercept.
Israel argues that Khan al-Ahmar’s school and homes are illegal because they were built without permits or an approved zoning plan — hiding behind a façade of legality the reality that Palestinians have virtually no access to either, and that what is illegal is the Israeli occupation of their land. Since it occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israel has declared 347,000 acres of occupied territory — nearly a quarter of the West Bank — as state land. But 99.7 percent of the state land Israel has allocated for public use so far — some 167,000 acres — has gone toward the development of illegal Israeli settlements, the watchdog group Peace Now recently learned through a public records request. A meager 0.24 percent of that land was allocated to Palestinians.
After the Oslo Agreements, in the 1990s, the West Bank was divided into Areas A and B, which are under the limited control of the Palestinian Authority, and Area C, under exclusive Israeli military control. While the arrangement was supposed to be temporary, Israel has effectively treated Area C as its expansion grounds — and some 400,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements there, protected by the military. With Palestinian chances of obtaining building permits in Area C “slim to none,” according to analysis by B’Tselem, most have given up on the process altogether.
There are more than 150 Palestinian communities in Area C without zoning plans and therefore at constant risk of expulsion, including 12 — some 1,400 people — around Khan al-Ahmar, according to B’Tselem. But while Bedouins living in the area around Jerusalem are particularly vulnerable, similar efforts to cut off Palestinian areas of the West Bank are also underway in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills. “What Israel wants and has been striving toward very consistently is maximum land under its control, minimum Palestinians on it,” said Gilutz. “For the most part, Israel has been creating this coercive environment, trying to force people off of their land as if by their wish, while avoiding the textbook example of a forcible transfer, which is clearly a war crime.”
“They Want to Scare Us”
Israeli efforts to make life in Khan al-Ahmar so difficult that its residents leave of their own volition started when the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim was built in the early 1980s. The settlers took over areas the Bedouins had used to graze their animals. If sheep or donkeys wandered into the settlement, settlers would take them and sell them back to the Bedouins, Rayya said last month, surrounded by some of her daughters and grandchildren. “If we went too close, they started shooting.”
Rayyah spoke to The Intercept from her home — three shacks of tin, tarps, and scrap wood she shares with her large family. Like many Palestinians in Area C, Khan al-Ahmar residents are not allowed to put up new structures or bring in construction material, so when Rayyah’s sons got married or new children were born, everyone squeezed into the structures they had already built, even though they, too, are subject to demolition. “If I put something up, they’ll come and destroy it,” she said, adding that a drone flies over the village every day, photographing anything new that residents may have built.
Recently, Israeli officials came into the village and confiscated solar panels that an aid organization had donated. Then last month, they came in with bulldozers and leveled the areas between tents and huts into a dusty road that residents speculate will be used by the army when it comes to drag them away. Tensions flared that day, and several residents, including an 18-year-old girl, were arrested. Since then, the Israeli military has kept a close eye on the village. “We can’t sleep. Maybe they’re not doing anything, but their presence there, it’s creating tension,” said Rayyah. “They come because they want to make us leave, they want to scare us.
Palestinian Bedouin children at the school in Khan al-Ahmar on July 26, 2018.Photos: Samar Hazboun for The Intercept
Rayyah was particularly worried about the school, which a group of Italian volunteers built in 2009 with the help of kids from the village, who painted their classrooms with hand prints and drawings of books and flowers. Before the school was built, children from Khan al-Ahmar would leave at 6 a.m. and walk on the highway waiting for rides, or trek to schools in Jericho. “It was very difficult for them,” said Rayyah. “They’d have to wait in the sun for a long time.”
Israeli authorities have destroyed or confiscated at least 12 Palestinian school buildings since 2016, and 44 Palestinian schools, including Khan al-Ahmar’s, are currently at risk of demolition, Human Rights Watch found. Over a third of Palestinians living in Area C don’t have access to primary schools and are not allowed by Israeli authorities to build any — leaving 10,000 children to attend schools in tents or other temporary structures with no heat or air conditioning.
But the mud walls of the school in Khan al-Ahmar — a sign of permanence — bothered neighboring settlers, and shortly after it was built, representatives of Kfar Adumim and the pro-settlement group Regavim petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to enforce earlier demolition orders against the village. As the Supreme Court first upheld and then froze authorization to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, life in the small community carried on between hope and fear, while delegations of activists and Palestinian and foreign officials made trips to visit.
In July, addressing several foreign diplomats under a large tent in Khan al-Ahmar, Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called Israel’s plans to demolish the village and evict its residents “ethnic cleansing.” “You begin with evicting and demolishing the community of Khan al-Ahmar, and one day you may destroy Dura, Jericho, parts of Ramallah,” he added, referring to some of the West Bank’s most populous cities.
Bedouins live largely removed from the rest of Palestinian society, and it took some time for Palestinian leaders to take on Khan-al Ahmar’s cause. “Lately they have woken up,” said Abu Khamis, adding that Israel’s plan to dissect the West Bank would effectively put a nail in the coffin of Palestinian plans to build a state there. “They understand that if this corridor is built, then their government is over.”
To Rayyah, talk of a Palestinian state in the West Bank seems far removed from the reality at hand — the only home she has ever known slated for demolition, and her 24 grandchildren facing displacement.
“We have faith. Without faith we can’t go on,” she said. “We’re going to pray. And we’ll stay.”
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