Norwegian Students Visit Beit Ummar

siriThe Palestine Solidarity Project and Center For Freedom and Justice recently welcomed a group of 8 Norwegian students from the University of Trondheim to Beit Ummar. As part of a 10-day trip throughout the West Bank, our European guests were given a two day tour around the village, as well as through other parts of the Hebron region. This year’s visit to Palestine, which is the second so far, was organised by a former volunteer at the Centre for Freedom and Justice, making the visit both a happy reunion as well as an enriching encounter between Palestinians and Norwegian students.

On the first day, the group was led around Beit Ummar by Mousa Maria, the project manager of the centre. Firstly, the Norwegians were shown the southern part of the village, which borders the Israeli settlement of Karmi Zur. It was explained to them how the fence around the settlement has severely damaged Palestinian farmers’ livelyhoods, as they are often afraid to work in the fields which border the settlements, and are often harassed by settlers or army if they do. For this reason, many Palestinian farmers are forced to sell their land for very low prices, leading to economic, financial, and of course, psychological hardships.siri-ii

Subsequently, the tour moved to see the market project of the Centre of Freedom and Justice, which is located alongside the Israeli controlled highway ‘Route 60’. It was shown how the organisation managed to build a agricultural project, which would be used as a market alongside the road where farmers and artisans from Beit Ummar could sell their products. This project would contribute sustainably to the economic and agricultural development of the entire village. However, the Israeli occupation force has since put roadblocks and fences alongside this part of the highway, obstructing virtually every possibility of realising this project. Moreover, the site has been ordered for demolishion, of which the court case is in process.

Then, we moved to the northern sides of the village, where we had good views of the Green Line, the Kiryat Arba settlement, and the Israeli prison. Standing on the top of the hills overlooking these areas, our guests were told the history of the Green Line and shown the exact expansion of the settlements.siri-iii

In between these visits. The group was unexpectedly invited by a local farmer for tea, coffee, and food. Here the Norwegians were given the chance to talk with locals and ask any questions about the local situation, as well as experience the genuine and neverending Palestinian hospitality.

On the second day. We took the group to the Susya Bedouin camp, south of Hebron city. This camp has been under constant pressure and attack by the nearby Israeli settlement, making life extremely hard for its inhabitants. Nevertheless, they remain firmly committed to keep hold of their land by enduring this struggle to exist. Afterwards, we moved to the camp of Aml Kheir, which is located at the fence of a settlement and has suffered enormously from Israeli demolishions of their homes. All around the camp, piles of rubble marked by Palestinian flags remind the locals of what once used to be their home.

Eventually, and much to their liking, the group went to the nearby city of Halhoun to see the annual grape harvest festival. Here they came in contact with the Palestinian festivities and local traditions, such as Palestinian dance.

After about one hundred cups of arabic tea and a thousand grapes, our Norwegian friends were set to move on to other parts of the West Bank. They will now go to Hebron city, Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, ad Bethlemem, where they will do similar tours specific to those areas. In retrospect, one of the most reocurring questions we received from our Norwegian friends was: “How can we help?”, and “What can we, as European students, do in our lives to contribute to a more just and fair solution to the issues of illegal settlements, land grabbing, and economic hardships of the Palestinian population?”. These questions demonstrate our visitors’ compassion and willingness to improve the current unsustainable situation, as well as the impact of these tours on foreigners.siri-iv

The importance of these visits are invaluable. They provide internationals with first-hand experience of the situation in the West Bank, crucial information and stories which they take back to Europe and share with their families, friends, and collegues. The precense of internationals locally, as well as the spead of information internationally is a key process in changing the mainstream narratives surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, as well as the occupation in particular.

Given the success of our previous tours and all the positive reactions we received from our Norwegian guests, the Centre for Freedom and Justice openly welcomes any person or group regardless of race, nationality, or religion to visit Beit Ummar and experience the Palestnian hospitality, as well as see the realities on the ground in the Occupied West Bank.siri-v

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Demolition Orders – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

doOn September 24th, the Center for Freedom and Justice received a demolition order from the Israeli military for one of its project sites, which lies at the edge of Beit Ommar in Area C. As a matter of fact, saying that we “received” the order does not do the deed justice. In reality, we found the piece of paper by chance, as it was stuck between two bricks of a low wall on the site itself. Had we not noticed this small, inconspicuous slip of paper, we would not have any information or knowledge about this planned demolition and would not have been able to make any appeal in court.

The project site in question is one of the Center’s larger projects and is located next to Road 60, the main road that connects Jerusalem to Hebron. As part of a long-term plan, the Center has been working on making this area a future market space, where local farmers from Beit Ommar would be able to sell their agricultural products, instead of having to travel to outside towns to move their stock (which is often a problem with fresh fruits). As over 70% of Beit Ommar’s economy is based on agriculture, the benefits of such a project would thus be considerable.

In recent years, we have made much progress and managed to build a water-well and plant new trees, laying the foundation to transform this area from an arid site to a rich agricultural field. The market project would also be accompanied by the construction of a small factory in Beit Ommar, which would allow farmers to use part of their harvests to make juice, jams, and other products which can be stored and sold for a longer time. This way, the farmers would not lose considerable amounts of their harvest every year, increasing productivity, efficiency, and self-sufficiency.

Overall, the project will contribute greatly to the sustainable development of agriculture in Beit Ommar, and will be a step forward for the community’s self-dependency and economic empowerment. Despite our progress and future aspirations, the Center’s activities on the market project have been halted due to the demolition orders. The legal base on which these demolitions take place however, as is commonplace in the Occupied Territories, are not mentioned, either on the order slip or in courts. All that is mentioned is that the site, at some unspecified point in time, will be bulldozed.

The fact that the Israeli military places (if not hides) its demolition orders away from plain sight does not change the authority of the military to take action. In other words, in cases where local Palestinians do not see or find the demolition orders, the military can still come at any given day and demolish the building or site without any prior knowledge of such actions from the Palestinian side.

Legally, Palestinians are allowed to build projects on their land located in Area C, given that it is for agricultural purposes. Yet although our project falls within these criteria, our site is currently ordered for demolition, with exact and concrete reasons lacking. These evasive legal and military tactics are consciously designed to make Palestinians feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. While inaction to these orders eventually leads to loss of land and thus livelihoods, engaging in court by challenging demolitions are economically paralyzing, as they are costly procedures that most Palestinians cannot afford.

In spite of the financial burden of taking legal measures, the Center for Freedom and Justice will continue to challenge the demolition orders in court. By remaining firmly committed to the principles of universal human rights, international law, and non-violent action, we aim to regain full control and freedom over our land and work constructively on the sustainable development of Beit Ommar.do-iii

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Beit Ummar Children Summer Camp 2016: When the Laughs of Children Occupied the Territories

scThe life in the Occupied Territories is a daily struggle for its people and unfortunately, children are too often the first innocent victims of the repressive policies implemented by the occupier. However, even in the darkness of this unjustified oppression, the laughs and insouciance of the children of Beit Ummar remind us all that in Palestine not everything is about politics.

For several years, the Center for Freedom and Peace of Beit Ummar has developed a Summer Camp project for the children during the school holidays, which features various activities such as painting, dancing, theatre, yoga and of course diverse playing games. This wonderful project will not be possible without the incredible work from the instructors and volunteers, who are dedicating time and energy for the kids. The way they succeed to transfer their own passion to them is very impressive. In addition to the common games activities, some classes intended to develop creativity, imagination and self-reflection among the kids, such as the drama workshop.sc-ii

The theatre class was an ambitious project to put in place but it provides many benefits for the children and its impact is simply prodigious. Without any doubt, the drama class goes beyond the “simple” task of memorizing a text and reciting it in front of an audience. Indeed, this class offering more to the kids, it offers a medium to express their joy, their anger, their fears but also their hopes. The particularity of this class is its objective to develop the children creative skills as well as to work on their abilities to express themselves and communicate with others, which will be needed in their future life. The power of drama is that it allows the children to enhance their confidence as well as to promote teamwork. For instance, during the classes the children discovered the importance of sharing their ideas but also to listen the ones from the others. The main objective was that every child has the opportunity to express his own opinions and feelings without being afraid of doing so. More importantly, drama classes enable children to learn about empathy and understand others feelings. This is an important outcome to highlight because sharing emotions, identifying them and expressing them, is a critical factor to create solidarity, cooperation and fraternity among children.

In addition to the drama classes, the children have the chance to be introduced to yoga, which was taught for the first time this summer at the camp and was a great success. A final activity, which needs to be highlighted is the dabke classes, which offer to the children to learn and practice with proud their traditional dance and to perpetuate a dance, which is deeply anchored in the Palestinian culture.sc-v

It is less to say that the annual camp in Beit Ummar was a success and an indispensable activity for the children during the summer as it brings a mix educational activities and fun. However, it is relevant to note that this year the Center struggled to fund the Camp and its survival was only due to the instructors and the volunteers as well as the tenacity of the direction of the Center for Peace and Freedom, which despite the financial obstacles were determined to organize it. Therefore, this report wants to acknowledge their fantastic work and thank them for offering such joie de vivre to the Beit Ummar children, which allow them to forget for two weeks the hardship of the daily life in the Territories.sc-xvsc-xii

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Seedling success!

Center for Freedom and Justice has finally finished the work of planting 2200 seedlings in the land next to the main road – Route 60. This work was supported by the Palestinian Voluntary Work Committee and the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature as part of their One Million Trees Campaign (MTC).

Thousands of acres of Palestinian aseedling2gricultural lands have been razed and trees uprooted since 1967 by Israeli bulldozers to make way for illegal Israeli-only settlements, Israeli-only roads and the separation wall.

Replanting tree seedlings on damaged lands and supporting Palestinian farmers in maintaining ownership of their land are the main goals of the MTC Campaign, launched in 2001. Beit Ommar is a large agricultural village, with many families relying on farming for their livelihood. Center for Freedom and Justice supports farmers so that farming remains an economically viable option.

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Launch of Planting Campaign

On 30 October, Center for Freedom and Justice together with the Palestinian Voluntary Work Committee began the planting of several seedlings.

This project is part of the One Million Tree Campaign promoted by The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature. The planting was first stage of our campaign and will be followed with further planting days until all the seedlings are in the soil.planting

Together with local volunteers and with the sun shining upon the workers, we planted apricots, quinces, peaches and grapes. More peach seedlings will be planted in the upcoming days.

A big thank you to all the volunteers who participated in the project!

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