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Christmas Stories from Occupied Palestine

  1. Christians, Jews and Muslims Meet on the Road to Bethlehem
  2. The Tent of Defiance
  3. The Palestinian Outpost Strikes Back!
  4. Trailer Evacuated and Removed But Bil’in’s Outpost Remains
  5. Christmas lights in Bil’in
  6. Detained Peace Activists barred from accessing Bethlehem
  7. Does Santa get through the checkpoint?
  8. Bil’in In the Israeli Press – four articles

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1) Christians, Jews and Muslims Meet on the Road to Bethlehem

By Father Firas Aridah
Originally published in the Toronto Globe and Mail
December 24th, 2005

As a parish priest in the West Bank village of Aboud, my Christmas preparations include recording the identity card numbers of my parishioners to request permits from the Israeli authorities to allow us to travel to Bethlehem.

Some may be denied permits and prevented from worshipping there. While decorating our church for the joyous birth of Our Lord, we also prepare banners for the next protest against the wall that Israel began to build on our village’s land a month ago.

Aboud is nestled among terraced olive groves in the West Bank, west of the city of Ramallah. The village has 2,200 residents; 900 of them are Christian. Within the village are seven ancient churches and the oldest dates back to the third century. We believe that Jesus passed through Aboud on the Roman road from Galilee to Jerusalem.

The wall that Israel is building through Aboud is not for the security of Israel. It is for the security of Israeli settlements in our area.

The Israeli government continues to claim that it is building the wall on Israeli land, but Aboud lies six kilometers inside the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. The wall will cut off 1,100 acres of our land for the sake of two illegal Israeli settlements.

Sometimes the Israelis give special treatment to the Christians in our village. Sometimes they give them permits to go through checkpoints while they stop Muslims. They do this to try to separate us but, in reality, we Muslims and Christians are brothers.

Our church organist Yousef told me: “Some foreigners believe that Islam is the greatest danger for Palestinian Christians rather than Israel’s occupation. This is Israeli propaganda. Israel wants to tell the world that it protects us from the Muslims, but it is not true.”

In Aboud, we Muslims and Christians live a normal, peaceful life together. Last week our village celebrated the Feast of Saint Barbara for our patron saint whose shrine outside our village was damaged by the Israeli military in 2002. We invited the Muslims to share the traditional feast of Saint Barbara. They also invite us to share their traditional Ramadan evening meal. We have good relations. Muslims are peaceful people.

With signs, songs and prayers, our village has been protesting against Israel’s apartheid wall. Through peaceful demonstrations and the planting of olive trees, we want to tell the Israelis and the international community that we are against Israel taking our lands. We are working for peace here, but still the Israeli soldiers have attacked our peaceful protests with clubs, sound bombs, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.

Two weeks ago, we were honored with a visit to Aboud by the highest Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. Patriarch Sabbah, a Palestinian, planted an olive tree on the planned route of the wall, and told 1,000 peaceful protesters, “The wall doesn’t benefit the security of either Israel or anybody else. Our prayers are for the removal of this physical wall currently under construction and the return of our lands.

“Our hearts are filled with love, and no hatred for anybody. With our faith and love, we demand the removal of this wall. We affirm that it is a mistake and an attack against our lands and our properties, and an attack against friendly relationships between the two people.

“In your faith and your love you shall find a guide for your political action and your resistance against every oppression. You may say that love is an unknown language to politics, but love is possible in spite of all the evil we experience. We shall make it possible!”

Just after Patriarch Sabbah left, an Israeli protesting with us was arrested by Israeli soldiers as he planted an olive tree.

We have good Israeli friends. We do not say that every Israeli soldier is bad, because they are just soldiers following orders.

Yes, there are Palestinian Christians here in Aboud, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza. We are the Salt of the Earth.

My religion tells me that I have to love everybody and accept everybody without conditions.

We have here good Jewish people, good Muslims and good Christians. We can live together. This is the Holy Land.
If we in Aboud can send a message to the world this Christmas, it is that Jews, Christians and Muslims have to live together in peace.

Father Firas Aridah is a Jordanian priest serving the Roman Catholic Holy Mary Mother of Sorrows Church in the village of Aboud.
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2) The Tent of Defiance
December 24th, 2005

In a demonstration held at noon on Dec 23, the villagers of Bil’in erected a tent on land cut off from the village by the annexation barrier. The tent was meant to replace the trailer that was forcefully evacuated and removed the day before by the Israeli military. The tent and trailer are the headquarters of “The Center for Joint Struggle for Peace.”

The evacuation took place a few hundred meters away from the construction site of the Matityahu Mizrah settlement where, according to the Israeli civil administration, hundreds of housing units are being built without permit contrary to Israeli law (not to mention international law).

Some 400 Palestinians, Israelis and internationals, walked peacefully from the village to the soldiers’ lines and managed to put up the tent despite the soldiers’ violent attempts to prevent them. The demonstrators chanted and sang in the rain around the tent.

Some of the villagers tried to access their lands across mounds of rocks nearby while soldiers beat them with batons in response. Suddenly a group of soldiers went after one of villagers, Adib Abu Rahma, father of 8 children; they pushed him to the ground hitting his head strongly on a rock and then dragged behind a military jeep kicking him along the
way.

Soon after Israeli activist Yotam Ronnen was also arrested. According to Yotam, soldiers of the “Yasam” unit, beat him and Adib, focusing on Adib, while the two were sitting on the ground with their hands handcuffed behind there backs.

“Adib was already in a lot of pain from the blow to his head. I kept asking the soldiers to have the military doctor who was there with them check Adib. When they finally did this half an hour later the military doctor concluded that due to his head injury Adib requires hospitalisation. Despite this and the fact that he was clearly in severe pain the military released me after some time but kept Adib.” said Yotam.

Adib was transferred to Givat Zeev settlement police station and interrogated for five hours. At 9:00 PM he was transferred by a Palestinian ambulance to a hospital in Ramallah. He was later released to his home but was not able to comment due his condition.

Israeli activist Leiser Peles and another Palestinian activist were also beaten severely.

The route of the wall in Bil’in was designed to annex Bil’in’s lands to allow for the expansion of the Modi’in Elite settlement.
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3) The Palestinian Outpost Strikes Back!
December 25th, 2005

The residents of Bil’in have placed yet another trailer on their land across from the Illegal Metityahu Mizrah outpost. The trailer that houses “the Center for Joint Struggle for Peace” stands on Bil’in village lands that are to be cut off from the village by the annexation barrier. The Barrier is designed to allow for the expansion of the Modi’in Elite settlement and cuts village residents off from more than half of their lands.

The previous trailer that was erected on Thursday the 23d of December was evacuated and airlifted by the Israeli military that evening. This procedure took place in stark contrast to the treatment that massive settler apartment buildings, being built just hundreds of meters away , receive. These buildings are illegal even according to the Israeli civil administration as most are built without a permit but the Israeli authorities chose to turn a blind eye and assist the continued construction.

Bili’n residents have a pending Supreme court case regarding the route of the barrier on their lands. Their Lawyer Michael Sfard has uncovered that the current route was designed to protect the investment of Israeli and Canadian real estate sharks who claim to have bought the land from Bil’in residents and claim that they need the barrier to protect their ability to “develop” the land by expanding the settlement. The Companies have failed to provide any proof of the transaction and Bil’in residents deny that any land was sold.

For more information from the caravan:
Mohammed 0545-851893
Abdullah 0547-258210
Attorney Michael Sfard 0544-713030
ISM Media Office: 022971824
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4) Trailer Evacuated and Removed But Bil’in’s Outpost Remains
December 26th, 2005

Class to take place in new structure today.

At 11:00 AM the Israeli military forcefully broke into, evacuated and removed by crane a trailer placed by the villages of Bil’in on their land cut off from their village by the wall. But, the villagers of Bil’in have expanded the “outpost” neighborhood of Bil’in west and built another structure that will serve as a school.

Today at 2:00 PM the village children will attend the first class to take place in the new structure.

The villagers have been provided with a permit from the Bil’in village council verifying that the land is legally owned by Bil’in residents and that the council approves the structures.

The trailer removed today was placed yesterday December 25th and replaced another trailer that was established and removed the same evening on Dec 23d. Both trailers served as “the center for joint struggle”. The evacuation procedure took place in stark contrast to the treatment of massive settler apartment buildings, being built just hundreds of meters away. These buildings are illegal even according to the Israeli civil administration as most are built without a permit but the Israeli authorities chose to turn a blind eye and assist the continued construction.

Bil’in residents have a pending Supreme Court case regarding the route of the barrier on their lands. Attorney Michael Sfard, representing Bil’in residents, has uncovered that the current route was designed to protect the investment of Israeli and Canadian real estate brokers who claim to have bought the land from Bil’in residents. The Companies have failed to provide any proof of the transaction to the court and Bil’in residents deny that any land was sold.
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5) Christmas lights in Bil’in
By Maria and Anna
Bilin: December 26, 2005

On Christmas day, a day representing love and hope for millions of people around the world, the brave people of Bilin put a new caravan on land that they have been wrongfully cut off from by the Israeli authorities. The first caravan was evacuated by the Israeli military and police on Thursday 22 December, only a day after it was erected. Bilin’s land has been marked for confiscation for the construction of the annexation barrier and the expansion of the Modi’in Ilit and Matityahu settlements.

This time the people of Bilin decided to build a “house” (only a single room) near the caravan during the night. Nine people, members of the Bilin Popular Committee against the Wall and the Settlements and Israeli activists spent the cold and rainy night in this little Palestinian “outpost”, a few meters away from the settlements.

This morning, December 26, the Israeli military and police, in the presence of settlers’ security personnel, evacuated and removed the new caravan as they had the previous one. Two ISM volunteers (us) who were inside had to get out before it was lifted by a crane. As for the “house”, it has been given a 10-day notice by the Israeli military and police before they demolish it on 5 January.

During these 10 days (and cold nights!) there will be locals, Israelis and international
activists in and around the house. Bilin’s Popular Committee is determined to keep on building a new house every time the previous one gets demolished. It is really a great irony that the Israeli authorities are going to demolish the tiny Bilin house built on Bilin’s land when at the same time they allow massive construction in the settlements nearby to carry on against international and even Israeli law.

Bilin December 27, 2005

Luckily the weather got better and the rain stopped (rain is good for farmers but uncomfortable for activists!). A welcoming fire kept on burning in front of the “house” and we had a good time telling jokes and eating nuts and sweets around it. All this time an Israeli army jeep was very close with its headlights straight on us, making a very loud noise from time to time in order to scare us or just annoy us. The settlements have so many lights!
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6) Detained Peace Activists barred from accessing Bethlehem
December 27th, 2005

Four human rights campaigners who have spent Christmas in an Israeli jail were denied access by an Israeli Judge today to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem to attend a peace conference.

The four are experienced peace campaigners who were on their way to the “Celebrating Non-Violence” conference beginning on 27 December in Bethlehem. They were stopped by Israeli immigration police at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, on December 20th.

Three of them are from Britain: Theresa McDermott, 42, from Scotland; South African Michael Horsell, 42, from South London; and Sharon Lorke, 33, from Hebden Bridge. The fourth, Vittorio Arrigoni, 32, is from Italy.

Vittorio Arrigoni, 34, was injured when Israeli authorities tried to deport him and two other detained UK residents, from South Africa and Australia, by force, according to Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky. Lasky added that the authorities failed to notify her or the consulate of Vittorio’s injury and originally instructed their guards not to allow the three detainees to communicate with their attorney or consulate representatives.

Israeli Judge Mudrik of the Tel Aviv District court decided that the three constituted a security risk based on secret evidence presented to him by the state.

The organizers of the peace conference, Nonviolence International and the Holy Land Trust, have issued the following statement:

“Israel is stopping people from attending a conference about nonviolent activism because they are nonviolent activists. The Holy Land Trust and Nonviolence International believe that by consistently denying access to the Palestinian Territories, Israel is isolating the Palestinian people and is not acting in the interest of peace. We call upon the Israeli government to change its policy of denying entry to international visitors who seek to support a non-violent solution to the problems in Palestine.”

In Bombay, India, the Israeli Consulate also denied visas to five other conference participants. Hundreds of human rights workers have been denied access to the Occupied Palestinian Territories by Israeli officials in the last three years.

Another British man, Andrew Muncie, 31, from Fort William, Scotland, has been in jail in Israel for almost a month. He is resisting deportation from the Palestinian Territories by Israel. He was arrested while acting as an international observer in the West Bank. (www.theherald.co.uk/news/51950.html)

For details of the conference: www.celebratingnv.org
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7) Does Santa get through the checkpoint?
December 26th, 2005

Huwarra checkpoint is the main checkpoint to the south of Nablus, and probably one of the worst ones that I have experienced in Palestine.

Every time I pass through, people are being humiliated in many ways: screamed at, beaten, detained, forced to wait for no reason, arrested, you name it. Some days it is open, some days closed. Some days women can get out, some days not and if you are from one of the refugee camps, you might as well forget about being able to get through Huwarra, even on a good day.

So approaching the checkpoint sometime around 4pm, we saw just what I feared; the checkpoint was crammed with people, all of them crushed in a mass trying not to get wet in what was a day of constant rain and bitter cold weather, as well as suffering the beatings and abuse of the soldiers manning the checkpoint. Having been stuck there before in a similar yet less intense version of this situation for at least an hour (but in good weather), I decided that we should just use our privilege as foreigners and just walk through the checkpoint. I had never done this at Huwarra, or any checkpoint, for that matter, but with the weather nasty and the checkpoint even nastier, I just had to do it. So we walked confidently (and inside quite guiltily) past the hundreds of Palestinians, who had been waiting there for hours, and flashed our passports to the soldiers there. They waved us on, but then changed their minds and said to check in with the officer at the end of the checkpoint. We went to him and he asked us the usual stupid questions;

Q: Did you get special permission to be in Nablus?
A: Sir, we were let through the checkpoint when we arrived.
Q: Where did you stay? A hotel?
A: Yes, at the Yasmeen hotel.
Q: Is it a five star hotel?
A: Sir, I have no idea how many stars it has, it is a good hotel.

And more like that; stupid questions asked by young boys with guns that have a slightly hard time mustering up the kind of racism and nastiness that comes easily when questioning Palestinians. After a very poor search of our bags, we passed through Huwarra. Just before leaving, I stopped when I saw that 3 or 4 young male Palestinians were being detained in a small area of the checkpoint. I turned around and asked the soldier that had just let us pass “How long have those boys been there? Why are they there?” The soldier said to me “They hit a soldier,” and made a motion like a slap.

This just made me so angry inside I can’t tell you. Myself and every other person I know that went through that checkpoint that day saw soldiers hitting and beating Palestinians. Of course, I’ve seen it many other times as well; activist friends of mine have been arrested for allegedly beating a police officer, which are just plain lies told by the police (even the Israeli judge in one case stated that he was “outraged” by the behavior of the police). It seems a logical axiom that if one is charged by the Israeli military for beating a soldier, that means a soldier assaulted you.

“They hit a soldier,” he said. So, in response to the officer, I mustered as much sarcasm as I could manage without screaming, and said “Well, that’s too bad,” and walked away.
And so I left, angry, guilty, just plain revolted at the injustice and brutality of it all. If this was my daily life, what would I do with all these emotions? How would I survive?

Next was to arrange a ride to Ramallah, the next large city before crossing into Jerusalem. What followed was a crazed and dysfunctional process of getting either a taxi for the two of us or waiting until enough people trickle through the checkpoint to fill up a shared taxi.

While we were haggling over prices, we had a surprise; who shows up, but our friend who left hours before us! He had arrived at Huwarra at 1pm, and did not pass through until 4pm!! Even he had tried to use his passport to get ahead of the line, but to no avail; they told him to wait his turn, and that he did. Needless to say, he was happy to see us, and I could not imagine what I would be like mentally after 4 hours of being crushed in a sea of people, in that weather, while watching soldiers beat and abuse people the whole time.

He joined us in the shared taxi, but our travels had not ended yet! Off we went from Huwarra in the pouring rain and thick fog, which did slow traffic from its usual somewhat too fast driving pace, but as a lovely Christmas present to Palestine, the IOF had a few more hurdles to get past. Usually, the next manned checkpoint is at Zaatara, not too far down the road from Huwarra. But on this day, there was an impromptu “flying” checkpoint, as they are called, both before and after the Zaatara checkpoint. It usually consists of an army jeep/truck blocking the road with soldiers out waving people to stop or keep going.

Sometimes taxis alert each other ahead of time and they can be avoided, sometimes not. So, before getting to Ramallah we had to show our IDs and be assessed by soldiers at checkpoints three times. Each time is much like the other, the humiliating experience of being treated like possible criminal just for traveling in Palestine. And as awful as all these experiences were for me yesterday, it is nothing compared to what a Palestinian has to go through. My time here has given me the barest, most basic taste of what it is like, but I would never claim to ‘know’; in the end, I am a foreigner, and eventually, I will leave Palestine with my all powerful passport and white male privilege intact.

And then to Ramallah we arrived. After a walk in the rain, we got our things organized for the next leg of the journey, the crossing at Qalandia checkpoint into the ‘Greater’ Jerusalem area which the Apartheid Wall is annexing to Israel as we speak. Qalandia Checkpoint has always been another one of those nasty, abusive and in the past, makeshift checkpoints, and with the construction of the Apartheid Wall, Qalandia is out of control; blocks of cement, railing, piles of gravel and dirt, fencing, razor wire, sniper towers, and plenty of subversive graffiti, of course. Right next to this is the most surreal thing; where there was once a hill, the hill is no more, and a brand spanking new, shiny and gleaming terminal-like building has been constructed, along with a parking lot and a large sign with a picture of a flower, next to which is written in three languages “The Hope of Us All.” Myself and other activists who have seen this feel that it is only a matter of time until: “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Despair all ye who enter here” are spray-painted in its place.

This is the new (improved?) Qalandia terminal, paid for by US tax dollars, of course, and it is a cruel joke. I don’t know which is worse, walking through a random assortment of concrete and steel while soldiers point guns treat you like dirt, or a spotless post-post-modern cross between an airport terminal and a sanatorium, with soldiers sitting behind bullet proof glass and yelling commands through a machine while they sit comfortably, as if you are some infected microbe that they dare not be in the same room with. The walls are complete with screens that say “welcome” and other signs saying “please keep the terminal clean,” and “enjoy your stay.” Who was it that designed such a cruel joke? This checkpoint is miles past the 1967 green line, well into Palestinian land, and no one has any possibility of ‘enjoying their stay’ while they are being humiliated, whether up front or by remote control.

So, do you think that that is it? Nope, one more checkpoint, a quick stop while taking a bus to Jerusalem. Everyone on the bus has the process down: lifts up their IDs, the border policeman comes in, looks at them, and then waves us on (on a good day of course). It was close to 9pm when we got to the hostel, a journey of 60 kilometers took about 5 hours (for Aaron, 9 hours) and we had to pass through 6 checkpoints in the process.

And people ask, when will peace come to the Holy Land? God only knows, when people are forced to live like this.
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8) Bil’in In the Israeli Press – four articles

1.There’s a system for turning Palestinian property into Israel’s state land
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=662729
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz

2.Bilin: Illegal outpost may become school
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3190350,00.html
By Ali Waked, Ynet

3.Bil’in demonstrators return to outpost
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1134309646601&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
By Erik Schchter, Jerusalem Post

4. Palestinians, left-wing activists rebuild ‘outpost’ in village of Bil’in
http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/662203.html
By Jonathan Lis and Meron Rappaport, Haaretz Correspondents
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