Eight Days in Palestine – Day 5 continued…

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A new feature with excerpts from a Diary by “Ted from Liverpool”.

Day 5 – Arrival in Al Asawyia

Thursday 5th November 2009

We had a warm reception from the mayor of this small village at the local community centre/ council office – he was accompanied by other leading men and a group of women who had been involved in the twinning appeal. After a speech from the Mayor, translated by Abed, we retired for a meal and were then entertained to traditional Palestinian dancing, something akin to our Morris dancers. This was performed by eleven boys whose leader Isaac, a boy of about 14, performed with great skill and elegance in a routine of about 20 minutes. The tone was a little lowered when he invited Ted to join them in an intricate stick and arm routine.

The Mayor told us that the village formerly occupied an area of 11,500 dunums (3,000 acres) but more than one third of its farming land had been confiscated for settlements, Like Azzoum, this had also been an agricultural community, the main source of income being its olive and fig trees, renowned for decades

Further land (and produce), he said, has been destroyed – the settlements use it as a dumping ground for sewers and garbage –forming a health hazard.

Formerly recognized for its interest in education and farming, but relatively poor, because of its location far from major towns and cities and lack of industries, the confiscation of its farming land along with natural demographic growth had caused a severe rise in unemployment.

Afterwards we were again addressed by the village elders who spoke of the loss of land to the settlements and also how the IDF regularly entered their school to cause disruption, bringing trauma to the children and teachers also. On one occasion a teacher had been killed. After nightfall, we went onto the roof of the Community building and were shown the brightly lit settlements which ringed the village

We stayed the night at the house of Arafat’s father, a local former landowner – a man in his late sixties. His wife told us of a harrowing experience at the hands of a security guard from one of the nearby settlements. She had gone with her daughter and donkey to their remaining olive grove (the bulk was on the wrong side of the settlement security fence) to gather in their olive crop. When the guard saw them he shouted at them to leave – the wife said it was their own grove and that they were entitled to be there. Nevertheless he went to them and ordered them again to go, whereupon the wife started to lead the donkey away – the guard then started to pull the donkey the other way. She still resisted whereupon he hit her with his baton and she fell to the ground where he then proceeded to kick her viciously. He left with the donkey and she has never returned to the grove.

This procedure seems to be a pattern with settlers on the West Bank – not content with illegally occupying the villagers’ lands – perversely preventing the Palestinian from utilizing those remaining lands which lie immediately adjoining the settlement fences.

This attack on the Palestinians appears, in microcosm, a replica of what seems to be the Israeli tactic of seeking to lower the morale and to break their spirit. In this they seem not to be succeeding in that perhaps shared adversity is strengthening the bonds which tie these villagers together – they are also much tied together by family relationships.

In the morning Mary and Karen, the Llanidloes ladies, with Ros who was to find a twinning village at Yatme, left to look more closely at the village and the two schools, together with Rob who would take further photos. The Mayor also wanted them to look at the 68 homes which the Israelis had scheduled for demolition – these plans are currently being resisted through legal action, although destruction of part of some of these homes has in fact commenced. One is occupied by a carpenter who makes goods for sale in his home – apparently IDF soldiers enter and break up these goods regularly. The reason for the demolition order is that these 68 houses have been built without building permission – notwithstanding demographic growth none has been given since 1992. This is an Israeli decision and if implemented will leave several hundred people homeless.

There are two schools – long established; we later saw, when leaving the village on the main road to Nablus, how the main gate approaches off this road had been bashed and padlocked by the authorities.

Jon and Ted went for a walk round the village which consists of widely scattered houses on these hillside sites and we were warmly met by Isaac and some other boys with whom Ted had danced their traditional Palestinian dance the previous evening.

We later made our way to the Council offices where Ted wanted to email the Arabic version of the Mayor’s address to Nahida for translation. However the offices were not open, it being their Sabbath. Whilst we sat outside we spoke with a man who had been collecting some litter in a bucket outside the newly built mosque which lay opposite. He told us he had been working in Kuwait for 20 years as a production manager and had returned 5 years earlier to live in the village and build his own house.

Opposite the mosque there was a fine looking stone faced house which belonged to his brother who was working in Saudi and behind which lay his own equally fine house; these were men who were of some substance and our new friend told us how he helped to build the mosque by bringing in the materials and also in organizing the work.

We also met a well dressed man, Abdulrahim Khalil, who told us he ran a ‘human rights and women empowering’ group in Ramallah.

We were later invited to a nearby house where the owner showed us a traditional bread oven in an outhouse and we then took tea with him and some of his neighbours. He also had worked abroad, as a tiler, and spoke good English. He had returned to the village to raise his 7 children, 4 of whom were at university, the eldest going on to train as an anesthetist. The fifth daughter was handicapped in that she was either deaf or dumb, I am not sure which, but who attended a special school in Ramallah. Her father proudly showed us her exam results for the year end, she being 16; her overall mark was 98% and her headmaster had written to say how exceptional were her results.

This man was very good company being resilient in the light of his troubles; he had damaged his back and could not work full-time – resulting in a much reduced income – his wife was in hospital, having lost a breast to cancer. Everywhere we went we were struck by the resilience and fortitude shown by all to the daily misery administered by the Israelis = in addition to the normal ups and downs of life. Perhaps his clever daughters, particularly the fifth, will in future keep him in the luxury which he presently does not have.

Another man joined us at this house, he had been successful in an import/export business until the 2nd Intafada – it was he who spoke of the Israeli down-grading of Nablus as the power-house of the West Bank

During the morning we left for Bil’in.

Ted from Liverpool – A visit to the West Bank
1st November to 8th November 2009

Arranged by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association

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