My Palestine Visit – Part III

My Palestine Visit – Part III

By Irfan Engineer

After reaching Jerusalem on 5th November 2007, I went to the tourist office to get to know places of interest in Jerusalem. The map given to us by the tourist office did not show Palestine or even West Bank area represented the entire occupied territory as Israel. That evening, cultural programmes were organized to observe 40 years of occupation of West Bank by Israel. Cultural programme was inside a beautifully designed church and most of the 400 participants, if not all were Christians across denominations and churches. The priests of various denominations were dressed in their traditional attires and made a good sight. Rabbi Milgrom Jeremy also joined us in the cultural event and from there on he was with the group throughout the peace pilgrimage. Though the short speeches and the songs were in Arabic, we could follow the spirit of the energetic and graceful dances and songs. To feel the pain of the singer and the longing of the dancers for freedom, we really did not require knowledge of Arabic. The performers were cheered enthusiastically by the audience. The land can be occupied by force but the spirit of people cannot be occupied by any force or power on earth – that is the sense that I got from performance. It was heartening to see that people living under occupation and denied every human right can still sing and dance, holding on to their culture as their only possession. The programme was organized by “The Sabeel Centre” – an organization which works to make the gospel relevant today, ecumenically and spiritually to the Christians on the land where Jesus first preached message of love and freedom for all people. Sabeel also strives to empower the Palestine community as a whole and to develop the internal strengths needed for participation in building a better world for all.

Next day, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre took us to tour the historical monuments in the Old City of Jerusalem and compared the 14 stations of the last journey of Jesus Christ from his condemnation to death, to carrying the cross, meeting his mother, to nailing of Jesus on Cross and his consequent death, with the suffering of Palestinian people. The fourteen contemporary stations of the way of cross starts from the Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948 war when Israel was created) to Palestinian refugees, 1967 occupation of West Bank by Israel, devastation of lives of Palestinians under occupation, demolition of homes of Palestinians, to construction of a wall, to harassment of Palestinians at the Israeli check points, permits, Israeli violence in Gaza, to being forgotten by the International Community, and the resurrection of Jesus compared to the undying hope in the Palestinians for their freedom. Sabeel leads tours of Christians to their Holy land and Holy sites and makes them aware that their responsibilities do not end, but begin with the tour of the Holy land – to struggle for justice and peace for all.

Then we met Majid. Majid constructed a four storied building – which is aesthetically and architecturally nothing less than a monument. 22 families were residing in the building. With a great difficulty, he got permission for construction of and the plans were approved. He had to pay several lakhs of shekels to obtain the permission for construction (1 shekel is Indian Rs. 10/- and four shekels equal a US $). Majid approached the officials for slight alteration of the plans to include a porch in front of the entrance of the building. Officials told him to go ahead with the construction and the approval to altered plan would follow soon. Majid constructed the building. Israeli Court subsequently approved the altered plan. He nevertheless received notice for demolition – not of the porch – but of the ENTIRE building as the same was illegal when constructed and subsequent approval notwithstanding! All the 22 families along with children and women living in the building would be on streets in that cold weather! Not only the building would be demolished, Majid would never get permission to construct another building on that land even with approved plans. Such is the Martial law applicable to the Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem. When we queried Majid, he seemed determined to resist any demolition. Demolition, for Majid could take place on his death body. He appeared worried but confident. Several Palestinian officials came to visit Majid and express their solidarity with him and the 22 families. Next day there was a demonstration against the demolition of the building and resistance to the demolition had become symbol of oppression of the occupied Palestinian people. Even President Abbas had appealed to the Israeli state not to demolish the building and vitiate the atmosphere of peace negotiations to be held in Anapolis, US. However, the notice of demolition was not withdrawn. Though we could not join the demonstration next day on account of our schedule, one of us went to the demonstration and reported to the others that there were more than thousand persons who had participated in the demonstration.

The intention of Israeli state in giving demolition notice to Majid was to harass Palestinians and force them to leave Jerusalem. Israel wants to retain its occupation of East Jerusalem and make the whole of Jerusalem as Capital of Israel. According to UN resolution 242, Israel should be vacating the occupation of West Bank and territories occupied after 1967 war, including East Jerusalem. Jewish State of Israel wants alter the demography of East Jerusalem and make it Jewish majority territory to later lay its claim before the international community. Demolition notice to Majid was not an isolated instance. On slightest of violation demolition notices is quite common and later the land is captured. Majid’s building was on border of East Jerusalem and therefore an attractive entry point for the Jewish state into East Jerusalem and therefore the demolition notice to force Majid to sell his land to a Jew who would then construct on the land. To protect one or a few Jewish families, the Military would then put check points and restrict movements of all the Palestinians living in the area and allow them to enter and leave the area with special permits in the name of security of the Jews. This has what has happened in Hebron, which we will see in later instalments. Thus, the Jewish state would, using the demolition to Majid, capture not only that particular piece of land, but also the entire area and foray into East Jerusalem territory. Thousands of Palestinian houses have been demolished in like manner. The Palestinians have formed an organization to resist demolition of their houses, and Jef Halpar is one of the persons actively associated with the committee