Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 2 - Hebron & Bethlehem area: report

August 24, 2005

On the second day of its mission, the delegation visited Hebron. Hebron (south of Bethlehem) is an occupied city with 150.000 Palestinians and 400 Jewish settlers in its midst. The settlers are guarded by about 5.000 Israeli soldiers, impacting heavily on the daily life of the civilian Palestinian population.

Since the beginning of the second intifada, the Palestinians in Hebron have experienced much hardship as a result of curfews, operations by the Israeli army and settler violence. Following military orders, about 2.500 Palestinian shops were forced to close, bringing the local economy to a standstill and increasing poverty sharply. Only a handful of shops have reopened since then.
The delegation toured the Old City of Hebron, witnessing closed shops and a heavy presence by the Israeli army. At some point, settlers through dirt into the narrow alleys of the market, hitting Palestinians and delegation members. Also, a bottle was thrown, breaking into countless pieces of glass. Yet, no one was hurt. Settlers throwing litter at Palestinians is nothing unusual. The delegation also visited the Tomb of Abraham.

The delegation stopped for a quick lunch in Bethlehem. It then continued its way to Beit Sahour, were the Palestinian olive tree campaign “Keep Hope Alive” (see also the Dutch website) was visited. A presentation was given by the organizers of this campaign, the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA Palestine.

Consequently, olive trees were offered to the delegation, a gift that all members gratefully accepted. Mr. Van Agt, former prime minister to the Netherlands, was honored with an century-old tree, that had been uprooted in August 2004 when Israel’s illegal Wall was built in the village of Beit Jala.

In the presence of a Palestinian farmer, the former owner of the tree, Mr. Van Agt expressed his appreciation for the Keep Hope Alive campaign. He described his contribution to the campaign as an “act of solidarity” and called on every one to pledge support to the suppressed Palestinian people.

The day was concluded with a dinner with Palestinian church leaders: the Lutheran bishop Munib Younan, rev. Jadalla Shihadeh and rev. Sani Ibrahim Azar.