Peace Now West Bank Tour

October 13, 2009

On the 12th October, Peace Now hosted a group of 50 Italians representing Europe for Peace in the Middle East. The group began their West Bank tour in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheih Jarrah below a house which has been recently occupied by right-wing settlers after the expulsion of its Palestinians occupants.  The new occupants, bemused by the attention they were receiving, responded by photographing those below.  The coach then headed north, through the main checkpoint out of the Jerusalem municipality, past signs warning Israelis of entering Area A territory, as per the Oslo Accords, and stopped to observe a view of the barrier.  There, the visitors had the opportunity to meet three IDF conscripts.  In fact, contrary to their expectations, the soldiers expressed great sympathy with Peace Now’s aims, and resented having to defend the settlers.  Many of the Italians were visibly perturbed to learn that the soldiers were as young as 19.  The group then continued north to the illegal outpost of Givat Assaf, named after a settler who was killed on that spot by a Palestinian.

Following that, the group then drove further into Palestinian territory to the settlement of Ofra, one of the largest in the West Bank. The settlement is particularly significant because it was once used as an army base, but then the soldiers asked to bring their wives and family, and before long, Ofra became an entirely civil settlement under Begin’s watch.  The matter is further complicated by the fact that while the Israeli government insists that no settlement is built on private Palestinian land, thereby differentiating settlements from outposts, it has since emerged that Ofra is indeed built over such land.  This, therefore, would make Ofra illegal even under Israeli law.  After a ride through magnificent scenery, the coach stopped by the small settlement of Halamish (population 975) where continued settlement expansion can be seen.

For many, the highlight of the tour was the stop at the Palestinian village of Ni’linNi’lin has risen in prominence due to the most successful peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in the West Bank against the barrier.  For almost 18 months, its inhabitants have been staging protests every Friday against the barrier which cuts off a third of the village’s fertile land for Hashmonaim and Modi’in Ilit, Israeli settlements.  Despite intentions, the demonstrations have often turned violent after provocations by the IDF, and a number of unarmed Palestinians have been killed by live fire, such as the 10 year old Ahmed Moussa, who was shot as he tried to cut the razor wire of the fence.  The fence has since been replaced with a concrete wall.  The leader of the movement, whose own nephew had been killed, stated his intention to fight for peace, justice and coexistence, while declaring that the Palestinians are the last people in the world to be under occupation.  Teenagers displayed their gun wounds, smoke canisters littered the ground and an eight year old boy, whose mother was killed by soldiers, shamefully posed for photos by some cacti plants.  The Ni’lin tour concluded with a visit to a recently built museum, adorned with pictures of the riots, the names of villages depopulated during the Nakba, and slogans like  “Stop ethnic cleansing” and “Merkel, why should we Palestinians continue to pay for the Holocaust?”.

The tour finished with a brief stop to Modi’in Ilit, the largest West Bank settlement, (population 41,900) which was granted city status last year.  Yet again, construction work of a new neighbourhood was visible in open defiance of international calls for a freeze.  The Haredi ‘city’ had a remarkably different feel to the  isolated, hilltop settlements that had been seen earlier.

Nokdim Protest Tour

October 13, 2009

On the 5th October, a coachload of 50 Peace Now activists drove from Tel Aviv, via Jerusalem, past the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem and around Bethlehem to reach Nokdim, a small, isolated settlement east of the barrier and 8.2km from the Green line (population 828 as of 2007). Peace Now had come to Nokdim, home to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, because it is one of 34 settlements that are racing to build before a promised freeze is implemented. The military escorted the coach into the settlement and allowed the activists to protest peacefully and inspect the new construction. One youth tried to approach the demonstrators but was kept at a distance. The coach then proceeded to drive back north, past the barrier and Efrat in Gush Etzion, to the Palestinian town of al-Walajah, just south of the Jerusalem municipal border. There, three homes have been razed to the ground in the last week for not having the correct permits, while other homes are left unfinished, proving that a construction freeze seems only to apply to the Palestinians. Bordering al-Walajah is Har Gilo, another small settlement (population 462) that is attempting last minute construction work. The coach tour proved highly successful and informative, and Yariv Oppenheimer was asked for comment from a number of leading radio stations.

Go now to Peace Now‘s Facebook page to see photos of the event

Report: Bypassing the Settlement Freeze – Semi Anual Report

August 23, 2009

Semiannual Report on Settlement Construction, January-June 2009

New neighborhood in the settlement of Na'aleAccording to a Peace Now inspection, construction within the “settlement blocs” continues as usual, with no freeze to be seen on the ground. Conversely, construction at isolated settlements continues through various settlement-freeze “bypass” tracks:

a. Actualizing old plans – some of the new construction seen in the last months, especially in the isolated settlements, is construction based on old plans that were approved years ago. This is meant to bypass the “settlement freeze,” without needing to approve a new plan that must receive the defense minister’s approval.
It is important to explain that it is within the power of the government to prevent construction that was approved in the past However, it is politically easier for the government to allow the construction while turning a blind eye, with direct or indirect encouragement, and continue claiming there is a “settlement freeze,” when it comes to actualizing an old plan.
Presently new neighborhoods are under construction on the basis of old plans in Kochav Ha’shachar (plan from 1995), Matityahu (plan from 1984), Ma’ale Michmash (plan from 1999), Tqoa (plan from 1997), Elkana (plan from 2001), Na’ale (plan from 1999), Kfar Etzion (plan from 1993), and Barkan (plan from 2003).
According to the Spiegel Report, an official report by the Defense Ministry, there are more than 40,000 housing units in plans that were approved in the past but have not yet been actualized. Some of those plans are not relevant or need further approvals before being implemented. Theoretically, it is possible to double the number of settlers in the settlements without approving a single new plan. A real settlements freeze must include a freeze on actualizing construction and not only on planning procedures.

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Partial Freeze On Israeli Settlements Reason To Be Cautiously Optimistic

August 23, 2009

Hagit OfranPresident Obama, following his meeting with President Mubarak, said yesterday: “There has been movement in the right direction” referring to the reports in the Israeli media that the government of Israel agreed to freeze construction in the settlements and not to issue new construction-tenders until the end of 2009. On one hand, we should be happy, because such a freeze proves that even an extreme right wing government cannot ignore the White House and run wild and build in the territories without limits. But on the other hand, the tenders which the government is freezing, are only a small part of the construction in the territories. On the ground there are several projects under construction in the settlements.

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Illegal construction in the Settlement Kochav Yaakov on the outskirts of Ramallah.

August 12, 2009

Arial photo An illegal trailer neighborhood is currently being built within the settlement Kochav Yaakov found just to the east of Ramallah. The trailers are being built on private land owned by the Palestinian village of Akeb and are not part of any approved valid plan for building and construction. There are approximately 15 trailers being built and work is already underway to connect them to the rest of the settlements infrastructure.

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The Shepherd Hotel Story: Netanyahu Is Hard-Pressed

July 22, 2009

The Shepherd HotelSomething went awry for Bibi Netanyahu. He thought he could play the game his predecessors played and fool the Americans on freezing the settlements (“of course we’ll freeze settlements; only not those in settlement blocs, and not natural growth, and not within the “construction boundaries” of the settlements, and neither the projects that have already started, nor the plans we’ve already approved…. In short, we’ll go on building as we please”).

Trying to avoid a clash, he was stalling. He sent Barak time and again, with such or other compromise formula on the settlement freeze, hoping that in the meantime, his friends in the US Congress and media will manage to somewhat shake President Obama’s determined stand and the extensive support he has. That too is not working all that well.

One of the first rules of negotiations, as well as politics, says: Try to pull the discussion to a field that is convenient for you. A crisis with the Americans in view of construction for the settlers’ children on some Samaria hill would be very uncomfortable for Netanyahu. He knows perfectly well that the world would not tolerate the continued settlement expansion, and that construction in the settlements is no longer popular even in Israel. For example, a public opinion poll that Yedioth Ahronoth carried in June 2009, showed that even some 60% of Lieberman’s voters feel he must not quit the coalition if the settlements are frozen.

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Peace Now activists assaulted on video

July 20, 2009

Some stunning footage recently became available of a settler attacking a team of Peace Now activists who were surveying West Bank settlement construction.

The assault took place at the settlement of Dolev. The incident was captured on video and reported by Israel’s Channel 2 Television, whose news team were documenting Peace Now’s work, and were also assaulted.

The news segment above was broadcast on Channel Two’s evening news broadcast.  Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran filed a police complaint against the assailant, which resulted in an arrest being made.

The violence perpetrated by settlers is unforgivable, unfortunate and occurs all to regularly.  It is dangerous and diminishes any possibility of stability and peace. 

Peace Now is the best resource for information about settlements in the West Bank, and violence like this shall not deter its activists from completing the important job of reporting the real facts on the ground.  

For the article in APN’s site
For the report in Haaretz

Epilog – Stones on Peace Now Bus

July 19, 2009

The place: Road No. 60 near the settlement of Shilo. The Time: 4/7/08, 15:00

The bus window which was stoned/ Luckily the stone hit the frame between the two windows, and did not smash at the face of the passenger sitting next to the window.  We just ended Peace Now’s tour in the West Bank. We coordinated the rout of the tour with the Israeli police, and it was approved in advance, however the policemen in the field prevented us from entering any settlement and we had to look at them from afar. Settlers started to approach our group and shout at us to spoil the tour, and the line of settlers’ cars following our buses became longer after each stop. The police escorted us and suddenly, near the settlement of Shilo we were stoned. The stone hit the window and smashed it, luckily no one was injured. Some of our activists managed to see the throwers, who were young men, wearing Kipa, probably settlers from the area. We gave the police their detail description, and the policemen said: “ah, we know them”.
Now we only need to wait and see if the police catches and punishes them or, maybe, the police would rather prevent us from have future tours in the West Bank, like what was done in Hebron: the settlers attacked our tours and the police decided not to let us in Hebron again.

CHAPTER FOUR: the Stones in the Land of Israel Are of a Special Kind

July 19, 2009

I don’t know exactly what happened in Immatin.  I only have the evidence I heard and what I saw.  But there is no doubt:  the settlers came very close to the village, at a distance of approx. a half kilometer from the outpost; they had soldiers with them; someone fired a shot and someone was wounded.
A few months ago, settlers occupied an empty Palestinian house near the settlement of Kedumim and declared this to be “the outpost of Shvut Ami”.  The police and the army has already removed them from there dozens of times.  However, even when it is an illegal outpost, the IDF feels responsible for the safety of the settlers, and if they decide to “go for a walk” in a near-by Palestinian village – soldiers accompany them and protect them.

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CHAPTER THREE: “Considered Dangerous”

July 19, 2009

Muhammad Abu Id, 14. Four and a half months in jail for throwing stones on the fenceThe place: Military Court in the Ofer Army Base; The time: 3/5/07, 11:00

There was a long line of Palestinians at the entrance to the Ofer Army Base.  Men and women, young and old, sitting under the awning or standing at the side, waiting for their names to be called to attend the session of the Military Court or to visit a relative in the prison.  This was my first time here.  It is forbidden to bring anything in, no purse, no telephone.  A careful inspection and body search – and I’m inside.  I pass through the fences and reach the caravan, the courtroom, where there is a discussion about extending the remand of a 50 year old Palestinian and his 19 year old son suffering from mental retardation.  The charge: throwing stones near their home in Hebron.

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