[This piece was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of La Amistad, newsletter of the Amistad Catholic Worker]
by Mark Colville
In May of this year, I travelled to the West Bank as part of a Catholic Worker Peace Team. (Intending first to enter Gaza with twenty thousand dollars-worth of medical supplies, and to interview victims of the relentless, murderous Israeli assault there three months earlier, the six-member team was stopped at the Rafah border and thwarted from completing that mission. Thankfully, we did manage to arrange delivery of the medical supplies through clandestine means.)
For what I saw and witnessed in the West Bank, no amount of study or analysis or prayer could have prepared me adequately. I was spiritually wounded by the apartheid conditions in Behtlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron. I was heartbroken by the sufferings of families who invited us into their homes, and into their daily nightmares. I was deeply disturbed at seeing people treated like animals and living as refugees in their own land for three generations.
I came home convinced of at least one simple fact: The oppression of the Palestinian people is, in the United States at least, an unheard, unpopular, and mostly ignored story. It is a global scandal, an atrocity that cries out to God for justice… And, surely, God is watching…
On a hillside near Hebron, we were hosted at the family farm of Attah and Jowdie Jabbar, two brothers whose family have lived on that same hill for five centuries. Jowdie stood in front of the ruins of his home, which was demolished by the Israeli government. The farm, too, has lain fallow this year, as the Israelis have shut off the water and confiscated the irrigation pipes. He explained that a few months earlier, Jewish settlers from the adjacent illegal Kiryat Arba settlement came to the house in the middle of the night and broke all the windows. Falling glass injured his three-year-old daughter whom he carried to the hospital several miles away in Hebron, since he had no car. The daughter was hospitalized for six days at great cost to the family, and was left blind in one eye. Jowdi said that when the settlers destroyed his house he went to the police station where the Israeli police “talked to me like a dog and to the settlers like kings.” He also told the us, ” My children have not been able to sleep through the night since this glass breaking.”
Shortly after that, Jowdi said, the Israelis came on a Friday telling him that his house was going to be demolished. Muslim lawyers do not work on Friday, their sabbath, and Israeli courts are not open on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath. Jowdi’s house was bulldozed early on Sunday. He had no resort to the courts. He said, “I never did anything to the Israeli government.” He added, “The land does not belong to the Palestinians or the Israelis. It’s God’s land.” His brother Attah agreed, “We are all guests here.”
In the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem, just a short walk downhill from the ancient holy city, we photographed the ruins of one of three Palestinian homes that were recently demolished. The family living here was given only 20 minutes to remove their personal possessions before the home was bulldozed into rubble.
There are 85 homes in the crowded Silwan neighborhood with active demolition orders. One such home belongs to Abu Dian Fahkri, a Palestinian father of 5 and grandfather of 3, whose ancestors have lived in Silwan for generations. Mr. Fahkri invited us in for a cold drink. He explained that he has lived on this site since he was a small boy. In the mid 1960’s he began petitioning for a permit to build on his own property, but was repeatedly denied without reason- this despite the fact that such permits were (and are today) routinely granted to non-Palestinians. By the mid-seventies his family had grown beyond the home’s capacity, and he decided to build an additional floor without a permit. This is the justification, he told us, that the Israeli authorities are now using to destroy his house.
“I was born here,” Abu Dian Fahkri told us. “My memories are here. A Jewish settler told me that this land is only for Jews and I should go to Jordan. I said the land is for all of us… Up to now, the municipality has succeeded in psychologically demolishing us. Every night my children ask, ‘Will they demolish our home tonight.”
The Israeli government has demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes since it occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in 1967. Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, action advocacy officer for The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), called the policy one of “quiet transfer”, intended to get Palestinians out and to increase the Jewish percentage of the population. She, along with many other Israelis we met, believes that house demolitions and the Israeli invasion of Gaza is “creating conditions in which terrorism thrives.”
Despite its continually unscrutinized crimes against peace and humanity, Israel receives about three billion dollars a year in unrestricted military aid from the United States. (Just this week, Congress has voted to condemn the internationally respected findings of the Goldstone report, a UN-commissioned inquiry into probable war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.) In the next issue of La Amistad, I’ll discuss our experience of the illegal separation wall and its devastating impact in Palestinian life. In the meantime, please seek out and support organizations like ICAHD, Rabbis For Human Rights, Jewish Voice For Peace, and the Middle East Crisis Committee; get some truth and raise some questions about unquestioned military aid to Israel. It is time to stop letting our tax dollars subsidize such oppression.