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Peace Not Walls

Israel Demolished 80% more Palestinian homes in 2012 than 2011

While the world focuses on whether Palestinians and Israelis are or are not talking at the peace table, the realties on the ground continue unabated.  Illegal settlements keep growing, while Palestinian homes continue to be demolished and populations endangered and forced off their land. 

Demolitions in Areas A, B and C of occupied Palestinian territory

Note Areas A, B and C and the demolition numbers on the top left chart. From OCHAOPT. org

According to a new report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, the demolitions occuring in Area C, as well as other Israeli practices favoring expanding settlements, “have resulted in fragmentation of land and shrinking space for Palestinians, undermining their presence.  Israeli authorities have also indicated that they intend to transfer several Palestinian communities out of strategic parts of Area C, raising further humanitarian and legal concerns.”

The report finds that “it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits (to build).  The zoning and planning regime enforced by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem restricts Palestinian growth and development, while providing preferential treatment for unlawful Israeli settlements.  They find that “70% of Area C is “off-limits” for Palestinian construction, allocated instead for Israeli settlements or the Israeli military; and additional 29% is heavily restricted.”

During the Oslo process, the occupied Palestinian territory was divided in Areas A, B and C.  Area A was under Palestinian control (although Israeli incursions still occur there); Area B, which was under Israeli administrative control and Area C, which was under Israeli control.  All areas, however, are part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and it is illegal under international law for Israel to transfer its population onto the territory or remove the local people living there.

Palestinian family of 12 faces eviction from Silwan home of 30 years

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) and many other groups are working to keep the Palestinian Sumarin family of 12, including 5 children, in their home of 30 years. They have received notice that they will be forcibly evicted on or after November 28 if they do not vacate the property.

The home is in the controversial neighborhood of Silwan, right next to where the settler group Elad – which is also involved in this affair – is expanding the archeological site of the City of David. Elad built the visitor’s center of the “City of David” tourism site next to the Sumarin family’s house. Therefore, the house is a strategic site for settlers, as it would give them a large contiguous area at the entrance of Silwan.

The Custodian of Absentee Property took control of the property, following the passing of the house owner Musa Sumarin in 1983. At the time, his sons resided in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and according to the Abandoned Property Law (established to expropriate property from Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, following the 1948 war and 1967 occupation of the West Bank), the house was confiscated by the Custodian that ultimately transferred possession to Himnuta, a subsidiary company of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). A 2006 Jerusalem Magistrate Court decision, in the absence of the family, granted the JNF appeal to forcefully evict the family, and levy a 2 million ILS (roughly 500,000 USD) fine. Some two months ago the family was served with an order by the State Bailiff’s Office to vacate their home by November 28th, 2011, or face forcible eviction.

Ahmed Sumarin doesn’t know what to do.

“I don’t know what to do if they come with force. This is our home. My grandfather still lives here. Where will we go? If they take your home away, you can only go onto the street.” 

As the occupier, Israel is responsible for providing for the care and shelter of the occupied population, and is forbidden by international law from moving its own population into occupied territory. Israel claims this is not occupied terrritory because they annexed this part of East Jerusalem in 1967, a move that hasn’t been recognized by an other country.

For more information about home demolitions, see No Place Like Home from ICAHD.  For more information about the most recent practices in East Jerusalem, see this presentation by ICAHD  or this summary about a new publication “No Home, No Homeland: A New Normative Framework for Examining the Practice of Administrative Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem.”


Jerusalem’s final status affected by settlements, home demolitions

A new report from Terrestrial Jerusalem shows the increase in settlement activity in and around Jerusalem.  Currently, there are pending plans for the construction of approximately 8000 new units, and, in addition, approximately 11,000 units in the pre-statutory stage.  This, combined with the increasing number of home demolitions and Palestinians displaced by them, are affecting Jerusalem’s final status, in contradiction to the Oslo agreements. 

 Read an analysis by Americans for Peace Now about settlement construction, and an official Israeli government view on settlements.  

Listen to an audio tour from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions using a map of the Old City of Jerusalem to understand the history, process and effects of home demolitions there.

Bishop Hanson and other faith leaders visit White House officials to urge action on Israel and Palestine peace

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, and other ecumenical faith leaders met with White House officials to express urgency and encourage action on the situation in Israel and Palestine.   According to Hanson, continued meetings with the Obama administration are “a priority because of our commitment to our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. It is also carried out in the commitment we have made in the ELCA’s Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine.

“As we began our conversation with Mr. Ross, I expressed disappointment. We hear our Christian partners in the region question the United States’ commitment. They wonder why the U.S. has not been more vocal about the increased settlement construction. I told Mr. Ross that we repeatedly hear Palestinian churches say they see this as a moment of abdication by the U.S. administration.”

Hanson said afterwards that, “More progress must be made toward the goal of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Since our meeting a year ago, the prospects for peace seem to have diminished with the expansion of settlements and the absence of face-to-face negotiations.”

According to a Nov. 10 news release from Churches for Middle East Peace, the church leaders who attended the Nov. 8 meeting said they are disappointed with developments since their 2010 meeting at the White House. 

“The position of the Palestinian Christian community is precarious,” stated the release. “There are constant problems of obtaining visas for clergy who must travel outside Jerusalem and the West Bank. Restriction on movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is a problem that undermines Christian life. Church leaders are humiliated at check points.”

Ecumenical leaders at this year’s White House meeting included Hanson; Katharine Jefferts Shori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church; Denis James Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Neil Irons, executive secretary of the Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, director of compassion, peace and justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
The meeting was arranged by Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 24 national church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. government policies that promote a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read full ELCA story

US Accompanier Chris Cowan: This is Living Under Occupation

In the mix of the muddle over the Palestinians’ UN statehood bid, something often gets lost.  The US – and others – are adamant that the only way to Palestinian statehood is negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, probably brokered by the US.  But this is not negotiation between two equal parties.  One is the occupier and one is the occupied.   It is an illusion to think that they sit at the same table with equal power.  One has the unquestioned support of much of the world’s power – and $3 billion a year from the US, which is supposed to be the honest broker.  The other doesn’t, and has watched while illegal settlements and land reserved for their future growth and infrastructure have eaten up half of the land supposedly reserved for their future state.

Chris Cowan, a Luther seminarian, is an accompanier for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) living in the Southern Hebron Hills, protecting Palestinian school children and villagers from some of the violent settlers there.  Read her reflections and follow her days at her blog    The Lutheran church sends a big percentage  of the EAPPI-US program.                        .

But for now, read her observations about what it’s like to live under occupation.  And think about what you would do if you lived under those circumstances.    Perhaps you would do something as “unilateral” as appealing to the most multilateral peace organization in the world – the UN – for some protection, some hope and a fulfillment of the almost 60 UN resolutions supporting international law and a just peace.

Dear friends,

Today, I want to reflect a little bit on the experience of living in a militarized environment.  It goes without saying that Jesus himself lived in such an environment, when 1st century Palestine was under Roman occupation.  So it’s worth spending a few moments thinking about how it feels to experience this.

Of course, I can’t know, really know, how it feels because I have a 3 month visa and a foreign passport.  I am clearly and visibly an international and am treated as such. This isn’t my country, no matter how much I love it, and I know every day that in a short time I will go back to the “land of the free”.  As for being in “the home of the brave”, however, I am already there.

We were stopped by the Army yesterday as we drove to a village.  And we were stopped by the Army today as we drove to a village. And also yesterday, in the Old City of Hebron, we walked past several soldiers, their guns pointed at us as we approached, because they were in the process of detaining a man in that place. We kept a wide berth between the guns and us.

When you have guns pointed in your direction, however casually, you are not free. You are not free, for instance, to openly take photographs, although you might try to take one on the sly.

When you have guns pointed in your direction, you have to do what you are told. Show your ID. Leave the road. Get out of the car. Go over there. Come with me. Wait here. Answer my questions. The conversations may even seem friendly but the guns send a different message.

When you have guns pointed at you, you feel tense, and it’s a little hard at that moment to interpret exactly what is happening.

For instance, it’s a confusing experience to be told by a soldier, while other soldiers train their rifles on you, to “be careful because it can be dangerous here”.  It’s an interesting experience to be told by a soldier wearing a gun that you can’t go into a place of prayer because you are wearing a peace vest.   Really?  Really?

This is living under occupation.

This is not the land of the free, but I am already in the home of the brave.  In such an environment, continuing to be civil, continuing to be hospitable, continuing to be hopeful, continuing to be loving, continuing to rebuild, this is courage.

Today I hope to use my freedoms and to act bravely. 

Blessings on your journey,

Chris Cowan

Recent Announced Expansion of Gilo Settlement Shows Larger Plan

The recent expansion of the Gilo settlement is part of a larger plan to encircle Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements.


The recent 1100-unit expansion announced for the south of the Gilo settlement – on the heels of the US and Quartet plea to resume negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis and that neither side should carry out provocative actions – reveals yet another chapter of the expansive illegal settlement enterprise surrounding Jerusalem.


See for more on the status of Jerusalem, click the photo for a presentation specifically about the Mordot Gilo South expansion.

“Budrus” film shown free online Wednesday night Sept 21

The award-winning documentary “Budrus” will be made available for free online for 24 hours at on September 21st, the International Day of Peace, accessible by anyone living in the US.

Budrus is an award-winning feature documentary film about a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites local Fatah and Hamas members along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction by Israel’s Separation Barrier. Success eludes them until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women’s contingent that quickly moves to the front lines.  Struggling side by side, father and daughter lead the local non-violent movement that wins a small victory, evidence of the strong and growing Palestinian non-violent movement.

Palestinian leaders are calling for non-violent protests Friday when Palestinian President Abbas is expected to present a bid for statehood  to the UN.  The IDF has been working with settlers and arming them with stun grenades and tear gas in preparation.   Some settlers are reportedly preparing to take the initiative and march on Palestinian towns   

We pray for this to be a peaceful time that moves the peace process forward and breaks the stalemate in the situation.

IDF to Arm and Train Settlers in Anticipation of Palestinian Unrest this Fall

Settlers near the Palestinian village of Yanoun.

Israeli settlers near the village of Yanoun are reported to come down to the village with weapons to make their presence known, according to the Ecumenical Accompaniers who live in Yanoun.

 The Guardian says that the IDF is training and arming settlers with tear gas and stun grenades in anticipation of Palestinian violence that might occur this fall when the Palestinians attempt to become a recognized state by the UN. 

Residents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal according to international law, are already often armed and/or have private security teams guarding them.  In addition, they are in constant coordination with the IDF.  Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups like Rabbis for Human Rights and BtSelem monitor Israeli settler violence against Palestinians as an ongoing problem that is not adequately dealt with by Israel.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a program of the World Council of Churches in which the ELCA participates, accompanies Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent actions and carries out advocacy efforts to end the occupation. Participants monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. They offer protection through a nonviolent presence and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. Find out more about the US Ecumenical Accompaniers and how you might participate.