Neil Rogall is in Palestine as part of a visit organised by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA). Here he describes his experiences in the first few days – subsequent reports can be found here, here and here.
Sunday: The Wall
Nothing compares to being here. The reality is so tear drenchingly shocking. A day in Abu Dis, surrounded almost completely by the wall, with the settlements not in the distance but on top of you, the endless checkpoints for no reason except to demoralise the Palestinians. The ruined farm land destroyed by Israeli sewage, the half demolished homes. The tiny specks of farmland desperately held on to by the Palestinian farmers. Nothing prepares you for it, not all the words or the books or the speeches.
The photo shows cars by the wall. It’s not a random thing. This is the site of a demolished Palestinian Village. But, sumud, the refusal to leave, means the villagers are now living in their cars.
Monday morning: A school attacked by the army
This morning in Abu Dis we visited a primary and a secondary school. Education here is at the heart of resistance. Even when the Jordanians ruled the West Bank between 1948 and 1967 there was no support for education. Under settler occupation it is even worse. And remember 70 percent of Palestinians are under 20.
The building of the wall made things even worse for the Palestinians – 2,500 young people could no longer go to school in Jerusalem and 1,500 teachers lost their jobs. There was already a cultural society running a primary school in Abu Dis. This had to expand enormously. We visited classrooms and saw the small children learning English. But by far the saddest thing was the room full of crutches and wheelchairs. Even little kids are victims of the Israeli military.
Then we visited the boys’ secondary school run by the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army regularly attacks students at the school and even invades classrooms with teargas and rubber bullets. When this happens the teachers try to negotiate with the soldiers, but they often get beaten up themselves.
Three weeks ago the army came with a deliberate intention to arrest students – so teachers locked the students up in their classrooms and got their families to take them home. The Israeli Army is less inclined to attack their mothers and sisters.
Finally this morning we visited the elected Fatah mayor. His father was killed under the British mandate by Zionists, His son was killed by Zionists during the first Intifada. A fellow 40 year old councillor has spent 20 years of his life in Israeli prisons. The mayor told us the town is floating on a sea of sewage but Israel refuses to allow a sewage system to be built in Abu Dis for ‘security reasons’. The mayor may hold office but in reality he has no real power, not even enough to deal with sewage!
Two very sad pictures in the street in Abu Dis yesterday. Mohammed (on the right) had just finished his towjehi (end of school exams) when he was shot by Israeli soldiers in Abu Dis on 20th July 2017. Yousef (next to him) was killed the next day in clashes that followed Mohammed’s death.
Monday afternoon: Forced eviction
This afternoon we visited Jabab Al Bab village. The Bedouin here are facing forced eviction and transfer because their home is a block to Zionist expansion. Their settlement is directly in the way of the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, a crucial Israeli project. The expansion of this settlement bloc and its joining up with other Israeli controlled areas and Jerusalem will allow the Israelis to finally annexe the whole of an expanded Jerusalem to 1948 Israel. It will also divide Palestine east and west, north and south preventing any contiguous territory under Palestinian control. It will be the final nail in the coffin of a Palestinian state, leaving nothing but a moth eared collection of tiny scraps of land for the indigenous population.
But the Bedouin here are themselves 1948 refugees, displaced from their traditional home in the Negev from which they were evicted. Even now their traditional life as herders has been severely curtailed by settlement expansion and planning restrictions. Their nursery and school was demolished along with many homes by the Israeli army. The photograph is of me with the Palestinian flag and one of their community spokespersons on a barren hillside where they live with few comforts overlooking the Israeli settlement with its incongruous western homes and swimming pools. I felt a mixture of rage, anger, despair but also hope. Hope because they are still resisting, as are the majority of Palestinians against the overwhelming power of the colonial settler state. For us around the world it is our duty to support the struggle of the Bedouin of Jabab Al Bab with every method at our disposal.