Tuesday April 5 : Jerusalem - Shu’fat Refugee Camp - settlements

Thursday 8 March 2012
popularity : 99%

Cold rainy day in Jerusalem. Some of us have already started coughing and blowing their nose: our clothes don’t fit this Belgian weather. We thought there would be sunshine and summerish temperatures here!...

Today, we are first going to Shu’fat refugee camp. Then Daoud has organised a sightseeing tour by bus (good idea!) so that we can better understand what the Israeli government is planning to do with Jerusalem in the coming years. In spite of the thousands things he is in charge of, he has managed to free himself so he can spend these two days in Jerusalem with us – he will catch up with his work during the night and after we have left.

After a few minutes, our mini-bus drives through a roadblock, in fact the checkpoint that is at the entrance of Shu’fat refugge camp and through which anyone wishing to enter or leavethe camp has to go: chicanes, (out of use) barriers, soldiers sheltering in their breeze-block hut, a narrow passage full of water-filled potholes. It is raining, raining and everything looks so grey...

Visit of Shu’fat Refugee Camp, East-Jerusalem

We get off the mini-bus in one of the narrow streets of Shu’fat. We have an appointment with Adil, a 30-year-old Palestinian who works as a dentist in the free Health Centre of the camp. To get to the centre, we have to walk up a back-alley, or rather follow a torrent, single file. The sky is emptying itself on our heads and water is pouring down the slope without finding a way to get into the soil. There are no gutters, no sewers: the inhabitants have piled up sand sacks against their front doors… We jump from one stone to the next one and finally reach our destination… with not too wet feet. The contrast with the “houses” of the camp is striking: the Health Centre looks new: clear tiles on the floor, fresh ceiling boarding, all this at the costs of the UNRWA.

Adil is still busy with a patient so we settle in the entrance hall and use the old sofa and the chairs some people kindly bring for us. Then we listen to Adil tell about his camp in… French!? Indeed, he says to us, he studied in Liège!... We take out our notebooks: ready? Go, Adil! “The camp dates back to 1965, when it was established on lands leased by the UNRWA from the government of Jordan to relocate the refugees crammed in Mascar camp. This camp used to be in Jerusalem’s Old City but it was closed because of its unsanitary condition. Its residents originally came from 55 villages in the Jerusalem, Lydd, Jaffa and Ramalah areas in pre-1948 Palestine.”

Fifty-five villages invaded or destroyed! It is just inconceivable…

Adil goes on: “Shu’fat is surrounded by Jews-only settlements that are all illegal with regard to international law. It is choked by the (illegal) wall and its checkpoints and considered a "separate and unequal" place. This camp is one and a half square kilometer large and is overcrowded. Its population has increased from 10.000 to 35.000 inhabitants in very little time. The main reason of this increase is that life here is cheaper than in Jerusalem. This means that not only refugees live here but also the “poor people” of the city, all of them of course Palestinians”

“Shu’fat is the only West Bank camp that lies within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Its refugees have Jerusalem identity cards but they are considered as “residents” only, which means that Israel doesn’t recognize them as Israeli citizens, with everything this implies as to the absence of a certain number of rights. The camp is “in charge of” the Israelis, which means, for example, that the Israeli authorities should guarantee security. But in reality, they don’t take care of anything, and leave the area alone. Because the situation inside the camp is problematic (you find here all the crime problems that are usually linked to poverty), the inhabitants have tried to get some help from the Palestinian Authority. But the PA is not allowed to intervene on the Israeli soil… So, we are all alone.”

“As I told you, the inhabitants of Shu’fat have Jerusalem identity cards and so, contrary to the inhabitants of the West Bank, they can go out of the camp. Well, theoretically because in reality, if they do, they risk losing their ID… It is quite easy to leave this place: you can get a visa quite easily if you want to, for example, go and study abroad. In fact, a sound pressure is put on the young people of the camp so they leave it. They are held out the prospect of the many opportunities that exist “outside”… And it is true that if you have started a life abroad, if you have found a job and founded a family, it is difficult to come back and live in "this shit"... This is what you call brain drain.”

We react: isn’t this looking on the black side of things only? As an answer to this, Adil tells us that, as far as he is concerned, he had to take a lawyer and spent all his money before at last, after three years, he managed to get his identity card back and was allowed to go to East-Jerusalem again without risking prison. “The fact is that we, Palestinians, have to prove all the time that we can be here”, Adi concludes.

We ask him if he regrets coming back to Palestine. He says he doesn’t, even though he admits that living one year in Shu’fat is like living ten years in Belgium, seeing the conditions and the tensions created by the presence of the Israeli army. To illustrate the atmosphere in which the refugees of Shu’fat live, he gives us an example: “Last night, a group of armed young people, probably junkies, started shooting. This is not the first time it has happened. Consequently, some inhabitants of the camp have organised a meeting to try and see what we could do to set up a system that guarantees a certain security inside the camp. But don’t think everybody is interested in the lot of Palestine: not all the people are angels, many just don’t care about what is going on, some even make profit of the situation. As for the Israeli police, they know exactly about the drug problem in the refugee camps, but they don’t do anything to stop the dealers, even when the inhabitants of the camps are calling for help.”

“The UNRWA is the organisation in charge of the Palestinian refugee camps. They manage the schools, the health centres, but they have little money. As for the inhabitants of the camp, most of them work in Israel, in restaurants, hotels or in the construction industry as cheap workforce. Some even help building the settlements and the separation wall. When people are hungry, their conscience is silenced… ”, Adil comments without judging. [1]. “These people don’t have an easy life. There is real racial discrimination, many Israeli Jews are extremely xenophobic; the workers and employees get ripped off. I know a man whom a restaurant manager owes 100.000 euros… He has never been paid. The people know it is no use grumbling: they will be accused of aggressing the Israeli bad-debtor.”

Adil stops talking for a second then adds: “The fact you are “nobody”, or in charge of nobody creates a real identity problem for the Palestinians. It is the cause of a lot of difficulties in terms of children and youth education… But the Palestinians aren’t stupid people, they get along, some even become doctors or nurses.” And he adds a bit tongue-in-cheek: “Actually, I wonder where the Israelis work apart from being in the army, in the police, at the checkpoints… They don’t like so much working in the hospitals: it is too hard, they say. So they need the Palestinians to do it…” And he tells us the story of this French Jews who had arrived in Israel and had to go to hospital: he was so shocked to be cared for by Palestinian doctors. Seeing our surprise at hearing that Palestinian doctors look after Israelis in Israeli hospitals, he simply says: “You know, the fact is that when there is no danger, people discuss and argue. But in case of an emergency, there are only human beings left...”

He goes back to the theme of education: “The Palestinian people are probably the most highly educated people in the Middle-East. Many of them go to high schools and universities. This has to do with what they have been through. The Palestinians are convinced that if they have lost their country, it is because their (great)-grand parents were illiterate and didn’t know about their rights. That is why they got ripped off. The only solution, the only answer to the situation is to be educated so as to be able to face the Israelis whom they know also put the emphasis on education. You can say that the great majority of the Palestinians have a very high political conscience.”

“There are 4 schools in this camp, which is largely insufficient knowing that 35% of the population is under 14 and 22% between 15-22. The problem is that many young people drop off school at 13 to go and work for the Israelis, who have absolutely no scruples about having Palestinian children work. In fact, these children have no rights as they don’t even have an identity card.” And Adil concludes: “The economic situation encourages Palestinian families to sacrifice their children in order to feed the family.”

To our questions, Adil answers that
- Yes, boycott helps without any doubt the Palestinian cause, even if it doesn’t help the families. The people here are ready to sacrifice their life to the cause.
- Before all the changes that are now taking place in the Arab World, the Palestinians had great expectations as to what Europe could do to help them, or more precisely to what its citizens could do, because they know that on the part of their governments there is only cowardice and hypocrisy.
- Yes, the parents in the camp pass on religious principles, rules and a morale to their children and if, in terms of social life, there may be a certain proximity with the Hamas (the importance of education, of respectability…), politically, the people feel closer to the ideals defended by the Fatah. It is in fact not uncommon to have different opinions in the midst of one family and all this mixes up gently.

Adil believes in Isratine, which is a word Gaddhafi invented: one unique country for everybody. In his mind, the Israelis know that the future doesn’t belong to them.

“Sincerely”, he says jokingly, "if you put an Arab and a Russian in the middle of the Neguev desert, who do you think fits better in the landscape?... Kidding apart, Israel is in the middle of a sea of Arab people. If I were Israeli, I would already have become a Muslim! You must be a bit stupid to imagine you can remain isolated.”

Still in answer to our questions, Adil says that Islam has nothing to do with hatred. It is a religion of tolerance and forgiverness is one of the pillars of the constitution of personality according to Islam. “Yet,” Adil warns, “the notion of revenge is deeply rooted in the Arab character. Personally, I don’t agree with terrorist attacks, but remember too that defending oneself is a right the UNO recognizes.”

As for the present changes taking place in the Arab countries, Adil says it seems that power is in the people’s hands now. What few people know, he tells us, is that Israel planned to launch a new attack on the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian revolt put a stop to this plan at once... We didn’t know.

Talking about the Israelis of Russian origin, Adil underlines the fact that they are not attached to the land, contrary to the Palestinians. “The Russians in particular, have come to Israel to escape the poverty that was reigning in Russia and because life is better in Israel: they can do what they want here… Plus: to lure the foreign Jews, the Israeli governement allocates subsidies of all kinds. In fact”, Adil concludes, “sharing the idea that the Palestinians are a threat for them is a way to for the Israelis to feel like one people despite their many different origins.”

Adil suggests we went now onto the roof of the Health Centre. From there we can have a global view on all the camp. There, he shows us how indeed Shu’fat is surrounded by Israeli settlements: Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill. Then, to the east, there is an Israeli-controlled road, a military base, and the municipal boundaries of the enormous settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Adil reminds us that all of them are illegal, just like the concrete wall winding in front of us.

(détail carte)
“The wall is built much deeper inside the Palestinian territories than the Green Line shows”, Adil explains.“ It makes any development of Shu’fat camp impossible, while its population keeps growing. Remember what I told you: the camp is part of Jerusalem municipality but the route the wall follows make it stand on "wrong side”, meaning the camp’s residents (even though they have Jerusalem IDs) must cross military checkpoints in order to enter the city. This is what you had to do when you came here, and what you will have to do again when you leave Shu’fat to go back to your youth hostel in East-Jerusalem. In fact, Israel’s project is to make a continuity of settlements on the east side of Jerusalem, linking up Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill. Shu’fat camp is a problem for this plan, because it is in the middle. One day probably, Israel will say that those “on the other side of the wall” are no longer part of Jerusalem…”

“The existing checkpoint is already bad enough: it is frequently closed arbitrarily and the site of incidents of harassment (see the reports of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel): people are made to wait for hours, their documents are confiscated for no reason, they are verbally abused. But that is not it all: there are regular incursions in the camp, raids carried out by hundreds of police officers and border forces. Palestinians are arrested for not paying their taxes or kids for throwing stones. These kids are arrested without the parents knowing what for, nor how long for. The families have to pay fines for their release and not everybody can afford it."

We have heard of this, haven’t we? We did, no later than yesterday, in the Tent of Solidarity. When different people testify the same thing happening, it must be true, or? Arresting kids is probably not a rare occurrence? But on Laurie’s, and to some extent on Natalia, there is still this suspicious look when our Palestinian interlocutors testify of the vexations the Israelis subject the Palestinian population to… Adil goes on:

“Conditions in the camp are really difficult. As I told you, overcrowding is a major problem. So is housing. As the camp can’t develop, which is the case with all the refugee camps, the people build a third or a fourth additional storey on their shelters when their family increases. But the foundations aren’t strong enough to stand more than two floors… And if all the buildings of the camp are connected to public water and electricity infrastructure, many are not connected to the public sewerage system.”

We try to fit all this information in the lanscape that is lying at our feet: the winding wall-snake, the basic houses, the water-tanks on the roofs, the Girls’ school, the Boys’ school financed by Japanese donors... [2] It is time for us to leave now, and for Adil to go on with his surgery hours. We thank him warmly for everything and walk down the little alley, which is now almost dry, back to our mini-bus. Daoud is taking us on a sight-seeing tour of the settlements situated on the eastern side of Jerusalem.

Tour of the settlements on the East of Jerusalem

As we reach the checkpoint that marks the entrance of the refugee camp, Margot, who has researched a lot before the trip, tells us that a third of the taxes paid by the Palestinians goes directly to the military sector, i.e. to the defense of the country against the Palestinian « terrorists »… As we pass through the control, we can’t help noticing the gentleness with which our driver answers the soldier’s rough questions... Phew! Exam passed, we can follow our route.

It is raining again. The bus is driving towards Qalandia checkpoint (Ramallah), where we are picking up Marwan, one of Daoud’s friends. He is going to accompany us all along our tour of the settlements…

This is the first time we are going along what we suddenly understand to be “the” wall. It literally cut the road from Jerusalem to Nablus in two lengthways. It is impossible to know what happens on the other side of it: a locked-up, trapped life, houses, people, a bakery-workshop that used to be thriving, Daoud tells us, an empty greengrocer’s, a deserted school... A few more meters and our mini-bus makes a U-turn then stops on a waste land that is used as a parkplace.We get off, not knowing exactly where we are nor what we are doing there. Tanguy points to the end of the road: checkpoint. This is the place where Marwan should be coming from. When? Nobody can tell. How much time you spend at a checkpoint is one of the many things that are beyond the Palestinias’ control. So we wait. A certain time... It is really not warm, but staying inside the mini-bus doesn’t help. Laurie suggests we used the opportunity to take a picture of the group in front of the wall? Why not. Yet, there is something quite embarrassing… As she shows us the photos she just has just taken, what we suddenly realise is that, in the middle of our smiles to the camera, there is Daoud standing, Daoud who has to live with that “thing”, whose horror and infamy we are not yet completely aware of ... It is also the first time we feel what a darling soul Daoud is, what a deeply gentle and patient man, while we behave like stupid tourists.

Here comes our guide finally. Marwan is out of breath. He has been running from the checkpoint. He is sorry we have had to wait so long for him. It is not for want of starting early though, he says with a large smile… Here is another great guy, we think to ourselves, or he is being philosophical. No doubt all the Palestinians have had to become so? The fact is there is no aggressiveness in Marwan’s voice: that’s the way things are, that’s it... So here is the whole team: the tour of the settlements can begin. Marwan and Daoud take the microphone in turn to give us information about the different places and buildings we can see through the rain-dripped windows of the bus. They name the different settlements as we pass along them. All of them are still expanding, they tell us, backing onto the Palestinian districts and forming a real belt all around Jerusalem.

As we drive on, they point out the marks of what is now commonly called the "aggressive urbanisation" implemented in the line of the Jerusalem 2020 overall development plan.This plan”, Marwan tells us, “though being written in Hebrew only, is public and accessible to any citizen-resident of Jerusalem. The aim of this plan is to have the place cleared of all Palestinians (or as many as possible) by 2025. It is not something that just happens. It is something that has been thought of and planned. “Aggressive urbanization” is a real science, the one of designing cities without taking the communities other than the dominant, white, rich one into account.”

“In an interview to the Israeli paper Haaretz (2/1979), Sharon said this: "Jerusalem will no longer be the capital of Israel if there isn’t a Jewish majority. The only thing to do is to build satellites cities all around the Arab districts of Jerusalem". He wanted first to link the isolated settlements to one another so as to create a block, then link the blocks to one another so as to create an Israeli continuity, that way breaking the continuity of the Palestinian territories, and consequently the viability of a Palestinian state.”

“In 1992, a think tank of 250 people (university teachers, ministers…) worked on what Israel would look like in 2025 if the conflict was to continue. After a 6-year long analysis, they produced a document in which all aspects had been dealt with: demography, geography, economy… In 2000, another think tank was set up, which included representatives of the Israeli parliament. The aim was to come out with a united vision about the future of Israel: Jews should always be in majority, should always have security, etc… Most of all, the world should recognize Israel as a Jewish state, i.e. a state only for Jews, in other words, a state in which people of another religion would only be considered as residents, not citizens. This means that they would never be allowed certain jobs or positions (in the military, administration, chemical industry…) Laws have been passed to make this a reality. One of the latest is one that says that only an Israeli can guide a tourist group larger than 13 people…”

We quickly count each other: we are nine, so no trouble for Daoud and Marwan. Phew!... We ask: who are the Non-Jews? “First, all the Palestinians (be they Muslim, Catholic or even Jewish - yes there are some Jewish Palestinians [3] . Then all the churches representatives living in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, the UN and Red Cross staff, and finally all the migrant workers (about 3500 people), that is about 25% of the population in Israel.”

We are taking about Israël, aren’t we? Not about the West Bank or the Strip of Gaza? Israel, a state that wants to be Jews-only and is therefore ready to “throw away” a quarter of its population? Marwan continues: “In 2005, the population of Israel-Palestine was made of 55% of Jews and 45% of Non-Jews. The prospect is this one: natural growth will bring it to 40% of Jews and 60% of Non-Jews in 2025. That is why, since 2003, the aim is to reduce the non-Jews to 30% in the West Bank. In Jerusalem the 35% of Palestinians should be reduced to 8-12%. The idea was to build a wall outside the city, but near the Palestinian neighbourhoods, which then won’t be able to grow anymore.”

It is hard work for us to imagine that the Israelis have developed such a strategy which, we must admit, is nothing less than ethnic cleansing... How will the Israelis act in orderr to achieve their aims?

“Four strategic plans have been implemented to achieve this goal of reducing the number of Palestinians. They have been developed in a 1000-page long document that is written in Hebrew only. It includes four parts: 1. The Galilea Plan (in the North), 2. The Neguev Plan (in the South), 3. The Greater Jewish Jerusalem Plan , 4. The disengagement plan (West Bank and Gaza). There are articles on Google written by Israelis and Palestinians who are against these plans... In fact, if you are not in it, this is quite difficult to understand the planned day by day developments. Plans were made in 2000 for 2025, and in 2025, plans will be made for 2050. The only thing that can stop them is a reaction from the international community (for example through the BDS campaign).”

If we didn’t know Daoud and hadn’t seen him work and heard him speak, if we weren’t convinced of his huge fairness and intellectual honesty and of his real desire to be able to live in peace with the Jewish community, if there wasn’t this infinite gentleness in him, we could have thought he is talking rubbish, or at least, exaggerating. Conspiracy theories are always so exciting… We must admit that for a short while, on hearing him talk about these plans, we suddenly find ourselves wanting to be wary of him, to take our distance from what he and Marwan tell us about them. But these plans are published! They are even the subject of public debates and expert discussions!. [4]

We ask our two guides to tel lus abit more about the inhabitants of the settlements: who are the settlers? “They have always been an elite community who were persuaded of the possibility of a better life in Israel and who got some facilitation: for example, they pay 20% less taxes than people living in Tel Aviv. Transports and schools are free for their children, the people who start a business in the settlements pay no taxes during the first 5 years. They have swimming pools, gardens, parks, which they water generously, all things that make them feel rich (you should know that they use about 7 times more water than the Palestinians, twice as much as Israelis living in Tel Aviv). They are generally fond of trademarks too… They make the Palestinians feel they are in a terrible state (poor, dirty). This is another way of breaking their spirits, make them feel like leaving, giving up the place… Daily life can indeed be a real hell for the Palestinians.”

“A clear example of this aggressive urbanization policy is what you saw in the refugee camp of Shu’fat: there is only one main street and this one is only a one-line street. In comparison, the Israeli roads are four-line. The constant traffic jams make the refugees angry or depressed and some now go shopping on the “beautiful” side. The result being that Palestinian shops go bankrupt and have to close the one after the other.”

Again, we wouls like to be deaf, stop Daoud and tell him that he sees the worst in everything, that these are only coincidences, surely no carefully thought through plans. But we have used this damage street in Shu’fat and seen the many shops closed…

How many Palestinians are there in East-Jerusalem, and how many Jews? “55,000 Palestinians live in the Christian and Muslim quarters of the city, 15,000 Jews live in the Jewish quarter, which explains why there is much more open space in there (squares, wider streets, plants and trees…). As you noticed during your visit with Moustapha, the Palestinians, on the other side, live the ones above the others. The houses are so close to each other that it creates constant tension and social fights.”

Daoud suggest we stopped for a few minutes at the « Mall », in fact a luxurious shopping centre. The fact is we need to go to the toilets. Yet, to be allowed in, we have to go in single line through an off-putting control post where soldiers search our bags. Inside, the shop signs and the atmosphere are so American… We are surprised too to see some customers who clearly are Palestinians. But we remember what Daoud told us: luring the Palestinians, diverting them from their own economy, strategies…

Once we are back on the mini-bus, Marwan goes on with his “talk”:

(détail carte)
“The wall is another example of aggressive urbanization: it has forced some people to be part of Jerusalem, and some other to stay outside. Then, there is this idea of making a big military camp for training”. He quickly reminds us of the facts: “Historically, all settlements started as military camps. Then, there were buildings for the militaries. The same happened with the Hebrew university, which you can see now on your left. It is illegal as it is built on Palestinian land. Most of the people who studied there don’t even know that… The same is true with this building over there, the Ministry of Interior, and that one here, the police centre: all of them are in fact in the West Bank! The lands were confiscated under military or defence pretexts to be subsequently used for completely different purposes. ”

We drive past the Hebrew university of Jerusalem, which was created well before 1948 - it is quite important (large buildings and a park), then in front of the Ministry of Interior and the police station: illegal with regard to international law…

“You must know that if, indeed all the embassies are still in Tel Aviv, all the administrative buildings have been moved to Jerusalem, which means that more and more Israeli employees will come and live in Jerusalem.” But of course! The official capital of Israel is Tel Aviv. We hear about Jerusalem so often, in all sorts of speeches, that we would end up forgetting about Tel-Aviv being the capital...

The bus stops on a little park-place. “The buildings you can see now belong to Ma’ale Adumim. Ma’ale Adumim is the biggest Jewish settlement. It is three times larger than Tel Aviv and the Israelis consider it to be part of Jerusalem (which means there are more Jewish inhabitants in the city, which in turn means Jerusalem is Jewish…). But the USA refused to accept this, which created some tension between Netanyaou and Obama.”

We look at the settlement from a distance, trying to imagine the people who are living in there. What do they know about their Palestinian neighbours?... Marwan resumes his information: “This aggressive urbanisation is only the first of the two axes of Israel’s plan to empty the country of the Palestinians. Next to it, there is the development of the tourist industry. There are projects aiming at filling the hills and mountains around Jerusalem not only with settlements but also with tourist attractions”. Daoud can’t help making a comment here: “It is so crazy to build more, as there are already so many empty buildings and houses (= not enough settlers). The land is in fact being occupied without the need for it.”

Another short stop (the weather is so cold! Rain and wind all the time) on a site from which we have an open view on the south and the east of the old city.
Marwan continues: “Five big hotels, a fish aquarium, all kinds of tourist attractions are planned… The tourists’ money in fact fuels colonization. About six million tourists come every year to Jerusalem, half of whom are Jews, the other half Christians. The aim is to make it 10 millions. If each brings in 1,500 $, this is good business for the Israeli state indeed.”

We look at each other: we are staying at the youth Hostel, whose manager is Palestinian. We eat and drink, travel and buy our presents from Palestinians. And anyway none of us has 1500 dollars to spend… But we have questions. Is it true that the USA help Israel financially? “The fact is the USA has given three times more money to Israel than they put on the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe after WWII…” Waouw… And what about the wall? “You must know that the wall builders use professional equipment and in fact experiment it in Palestine. If it is OK, then they will build other walls elsewhere (Mexican border…). This is a huge “homeland security” industry, developing on the idea of a threat against which to protect oneself….”

Palestine, a laboratory!?... Daoud smiles at us gently: he knows that we, the young ones, are taking it all in our stride. He would like to comfort us but this is the way things are, the way the world goes. Everything is linked, unfortunately. We studied that at school: thanks to their oil, the Arab countries make billions of dollars profit. With the money, they buy weapons, which, in turn creates work for people in Europe. How can that be stopped?... In our ears, two lines from a song: All we are saying- Is give peace a chance…

We get off the bus on the top of Mount of Olives, from where we have another great viewpoint on the old city. Marwan is leaving us now. We thank him and whern he answers “you are welcome”, we know he means it.

Then, pointing at the old town, Daoud tells us about the project of building a road and a hotel at the foot of Al-Aqsa Mosque.We shake our head in disbelief… Just in front of us, the old Jewish cemetery. On our right, on Mount of Olives, an Israeli flag fluttering in the wind, right in the middle of East-Jerusalem! [5]

It is really cold in the wind and we are huddling together to protect ourselves and try to keep warm. You would think we are penguins rehearing for the film « La marche de l’Empereur »… We laugh at the thought of it, we are so cold. It has been whimpering for hours and our clothes don’t at all fit this horrible weather. But there is Daoud’s smiles: we feel so good with him. We sak him again: tell us, what can we do to help, apart from testifying? Daoud thinks for a while then says: “You know, in history, the occupation of another country always had trade as first cause (spices…) and occupation ended when the profits were not so high anymore. Here, in this case, there is a need to make people go on making profits from the occupation. So, probably, one of the ways to make pressure on Israel is that international companies boycott the country…” And he adds with the gentleness that is so characteristic of him: “In these days, it seems public opinion can really lead politics. The citizens can really make pressure on their government.. [6]

OK, but it is still so difficult to know what is going on. When we watch the news on television, we don’t always know what we should think. “Yes, I know”. Daoud takes a deep breath: “Words, words… The Israelis have mastered the art of manipulation and subverting the meaning of words, and the foreign media often disseminate their message. The Israelis, for example, call the checkpoints “terminals”. But terminals are what you find in airports, and civilians work in them. Checkpoints are in fact nothing more than military bases. Of course in the media, you hear or read that the Hamas fired rockets on Israelis “terminals”…”

Back to the old town

Before we enter the old town again, we go and have a bite with Daoud in a snack-bar situated next to the bus-station in front of the Jerusalem Hotel. A well-known address for the 2009 group: Tanguy and Anne-Claire are happy to meet the boss again and order shawarmas (spicy or not), falafels (with or without vegetable) and... French fries for everybody. Mint-tea in conclusion: we’ll come back!

We now go towards Damascus Gate where we meet two young Palestinians of about our age whom Daoud contacted for us. Together with them, we worm our way through the crowd of the souk up to a tea-room where we can sit and have a cosy conversation.

Tea, semonila pudding, honey biscuits, almond and pistachio cakes: we loosen up and enter Amer and Razi’s world. They tell us about their studies. Razi explains that he is studying Economics at the Hebrew University (in order words, in Hebrew!).

Together with other students, they have set up a Palestinian Students’ Council and try to organise cultural activities, but most of their initiatives are banned by the direction. They tell us about the difficulties they meet with their Israeli fellow-students, how, for example, on the anniversary day of the Naqba, the Israeli students displayed Israeli flags everywhere, while any hint at the Naqba is forbidden in Palestinian schools. We look at each other: this is so violent! Forbidding the victims of a tragedy to commemorate the event is nothing less than going on wiping them from the surface of the earth, blotting them out of the memory… Razi also tells us about his life, his dreams and on our insistance, he shows us a picture of his fiancée…

Some of us now go back to the youth hostel to refresh while Caroline, Sébastien, Marie-Gaëlle, Margot and Anne-Claire follow Daoud in the souks. Sébastien would like to buy a narghileh (or chicha). Daoud is going to provide him with silver foil and coal: tonight they will all have a nice smoke together on one of the terraces of the youth hostel, weather permits. But before that, let’s have a great"Jerusalem Mezze" in the Lebanese restaurant Amigo Emil, another well-known address for the 2009 Taayoush group. We try (and enjoy!) a thousand and one delicious things, all served in tiny rectangular porcelain dishes. Natalia doesn’t venture too far and has some pasta. Too bad.

Then, Laurie, Natalia and Anne-claire decide to go and have a good night’s sleep at the hostel while the most courageous ones of the gang decide to have a late-night walk on the remparts of the old town.

Mamilla road used to strech at the feet of Jaffa Gate, Daoud tells us. Today it has been turned into a long mall and is the seat of an Israeli shopping centre (Mamilla Center): a very modern-looking place, with a sweet music in the background, hip terraces and all possible American brands.

Daoud tells us that this pedestrian street was built right in the middle of the 1949 armistice "no man’s land", on a plot of land that overlaps the well-known green line. This place used to be a mixed district with an entire series of ancient houses whose façades were all dismantled by the municipality of Jerusalem then built up again to shelter the shops of this ultra-chic shopping centre.

Any trace of the former houses has been wiped out and the impression is that these shops have been there for a long time... Except that on the stones of many of the façades, you can still see numbers. Numbers which served for the rebuilding of the walls!

This is exactly what people have done with part of Brussels! Façadism/bruxellisation Israeli way!... Of course, anybody can come and do their shopping in here, including the Palestinians, but the main idea is the lure the foreign visitors and tourists out of the old town, in which most of the shops and stalls are Palestinian [7] What happened to the former inhabitants of this Arab quarter, in which Sefarad Jews, Christians and Muslims used to live together? They were thrown out, Daoud says. Some settled in another place, some are now still in refugee camps. [8]

As you leave the shopping-centre, you come out into West-Jerusalem, the Israeli part of the town. At the beginning of Jaffa Street, which is the heart of a project aiming at bringing new dynamism to the surroundings of the old city, we go past a former Muslim cemetery which is going to be redeveloped into a Peace Museum… Ouch… On the other side of the street, huge houses are under restoration work: Israelis want to make their house look oriental (façadisme again), but these new buildings are quite high and consequently quite far from the little houses in the Palestinian way.

Daoud informs us that these buildings will soon house hostels and restaurants, still with the aim of progressively displacing the tourists towards the West of the city. [9]

Night has fallen when Daoud, Caroline, Sébastien, Marie- Gaelle, Paul and Margot come down from the terraced roof of the youth hostel. Daoud told them about his work: he organises activities and workshops for the Palestinian kids and youths of the old city. School is the only thing they have and once it is over, they are left on their own with nothing to do, no place to go to except the street. They never go anywhere (where would they find the money to? Not to mention the fact they risk losing their ID and not being able to go back home). The Nidal centre, despite the fact it was closed in 2009 by the Israeli authorities, still continues organising summer camps for the children. Daoud tells us that he has contacts in Italy where he tries to send a few young people so they meet people of their age over there. He also works with Belgian and French partners to organise an exchange of young volunteers. Marie-Gaelle is really taken with the idea of participating in one of these summer camps in Palestine. « Inch’allah », answers Daoud, time will tell. Anyway, the most important when we go back to Belgium is to tell the people about what we will have seen in Palestine, even if we only touch one or two persons. And here is Daoud encouraging us to believe in it, even though we tell him that only eight pupils in our school (one of whom could eventually not join us) chose to take part in the Palestinian project as a sixth grade school outing, against 130 who left for Andalousia and farniente…

See pictures of Shu’fat

See pictures of the settlements in East-Jerusalem

To know more about colonisation in East-Jerusalem

Read on about the trip

[1On this subject, watch the film 9 Star Hotel by Ido Haar, about the life of a group of young Palestinians working illegally as building workers in the Israeli city of Modi’in.

[2See other photos of Shu’fat.

[39% of the Palestinians are Jewish (cf. De Volkskrant, September 22, 2011)

[4See, for example, the very interesting article "Jérusalem en 2020 sous l’oeil des urbanistes", which was written by the French geographer Irène Salenson.

[5See more photos of East-Jerusalem.

[6Cf. Campaign "BDS.

[7We got confirmation about this tourist and trade development plan during our meeting with Mary from the Alternative Information Center, see Thursday, April 14.

[8Read the "nice little story"of this redeveloped district. Or: how to clear the old centre of the cities of the poor people...

[9In this respect, it is interesting to have a look at the walk "Jerusalem, from ancient times to future times"balade "Jérusalem, des temps anciens aux temps futurs", which the Office of Tourism in Jerusalem suggests.

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