Monday, July 27, 2009

A Weekend in the West Bank: The Sabeel International Young Adult Conference Continues

On Saturday, the participants visited the largest city in the West Bank, Hebron. Hebron is the only Palestinian city to have a settlement inside of it. Because of the presence of these settlers, movement of Palestinians is greatly restricted in the name of the settlers' security. Certain major roads are specified for use by Israelis only. The Temporary International Presence in Hebron counted 113 checkpoints, roadblocks, and closures inside of the city. Because of these restrictions, the Palestinian economy in Hebron has become strangled. Watch this short introductory video below.

One participant from the United States, Alexandra writes:

The city is not being protected, the soldiers are plainly there for inconvenience. Blocking exists down the shops hallways, closing stores, allowing settlements to throw trash and bricks at the people below, taking homes, all in the name of security!

I do not see security, I see the basic needs of life stripped and I see prisoners in their own town. I see children living in filth much worst than third living world countries.

To learn more about Hebron, browse through BTselem's publications regarding the city.

On Sunday, the participants attended church Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem. After services, they had the opportunity to speak to local Christian families about the challenges they face living under occupation. One topic that was raised concerned water.

The scarcity of water is a major issue for Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly during the summer. Israeli citizens (those inside of Israel AND settlers in the West Bank) benefit from unlimited access to running water all year round consuming, on average, 280 liters a day. Palestinians, on the other hand, are able to utilize only 60 liters per a day. The World Health Organization recommends 100 liters per a day as the minimum quantity for basic consumption.

Israel has strong control over the area's water sources even though two of the major sources of Israel's water lie largely in the West Bank, the Mountain Aquifer and the Jordan River. Palestinians have a right to this natural resource and Israel has a responsibility as an occupying force to ensure that Palestinians receive it.

BTselem states:

The water shortage violates the basic human rights of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories such as the right to health, to adequate housing, to equality, and to benefit from their natural resources. This harm results from Israeli policy, in effect since 1967, based on an unfair division of resources shared by Israel and the Palestinians.

Next the participants toured Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. They enjoyed shopping and listening to a story of a collective act of nonviolent resistance demonstrated by the local population during the first Intifada. In response to the Israeli authorities' increase in taxes imposed on the people and the lack of services provided, the local population refused to pay and disposed of their blue identity cards issued by the Israeli government. In reaction, the Israeli government took all of the possessions of the protesters in lieu of their tax money. However, those who took part are still proud of this nonviolent act.

Tomorrow, the participants will be in Taybeh.

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