A Christian Human Rights Monitor Describes the Horrific Realities of Life Under Israeli Occupation

A Christian Human Rights Monitor Describes the Horrific Realities of Life Under Israeli Occupation

“Don’t they treat us like animals?”

It’s a hot Friday morning, in the third week of Ramadan, and we’re at Qalandiya checkpoint, monitoring access for Palestinian women, children, and the elderly (including men over 45) who are traveling to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at al-Aqsa.

It is for one day only, and men under 45 are not allowed through, because the Israeli authorities have identified them a “security risk.”

“We just want to pray,” a Palestinian man exclaims, as he tries to argue with the soldiers.  “How are we a security risk for wanting to pray in al-Aqsa? You can check me! I’m carrying nothing!”

Men under 45 are not allowed through, because the Israeli authorities have identified them a “security risk.”  “We just want to pray,” a Palestinian man exclaims, as he tries to argue with the soldiers.  “How are we a security risk for wanting to pray in al-Aqsa? You can check me! I’m carrying nothing!” tweet

I’m here with a Christian program, monitoring occupation related human rights abuses in the West Bank, and three times a week, we monitor the access–or lack thereof–through Qalandiya checkpoint.

Outside of the men’s entry to the checkpoint, many men under 45 are gathered.  Some try and pass through, even though they know that they will be rejected.

At first I ask the men coming back why they have been rejected, but after a few hours I’ve moved on to asking how many times they’ve tried to pass through.  “Ten times now,” says one man, smiling broadly.  I am encouraged by him; I see it as a peaceful kind of resistance, to attempt to do something which should be your right, despite knowing you won’t be allowed to.

At first I ask the men coming back why they have been rejected, but after a few hours I’ve moved on to asking how many times they’ve tried to pass through.  “Ten times now,” says one man, smiling broadly.  I am encouraged by him; I see it as a peaceful kind of resistance, to attempt to do something which should be your right, despite knowing you won’t be allowed to. tweet

As soon as someone nearby hears that I, despite my Scandinavian features and big blonde hair, speak Arabic, a big group of teenage boys bombard me with questions. Two topics are reoccurring:  Whether or not I am fasting, and if I think what I see happening is right.

Do you fast, they ask me. No, I’m a Christian we fast in or before Easter, I tell them. Is this right what you see here, they ask me. Every time I answer the same way:  No, of course this is not right. How can you put an age limit on the right to pray?

A relationship with God is an undeniable, inalienable human right.  Praying is an undeniable, inalienable human right.

A relationship with God is an undeniable, inalienable human right. Praying is an undeniable, inalienable human right.    tweet

The next day I am walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, and as I pass by, I overhear a man leading a group of Muslim pilgrims say, “And remember to buy from Christian shop owners too; they are also oppressed by the occupation, and need our support as well!”

I smile, and think of the many examples of interfaith relations between Muslims and Christians here in the Holy City, and how the occupation brings them together in strange ways. The occupation does not care if you are Christian or Muslim; it oppresses both, and sometimes, even Jews as well.

The occupation does not care if you are Christian or Muslim; it oppresses both, and sometimes, even Jews as well. tweet

One of my neighbours in East Jerusalem, named Nur Amro, says “It’s a holy place here, for all of us.  We live right where people of all faiths pass by in order to reach the Old City.  On every holiday, my kids used to stand under a tree outside, and hand out water and sweets to people of all faiths passing by, but they can’t do that anymore, because when the soldiers demolished my house, they also tore down the tree.”

One of my neighbours in East Jerusalem, named Nur Amro, says “It’s a holy place here, for all of us.  We live right where people of all faiths pass by in order to reach the Old City.  On every holiday, my kids used to stand under a tree outside, and hand out water and sweets to people of all faiths passing by, but they can’t do that anymore, because when the soldiers demolished my house, they also tore down the tree.” tweet

There is no denying that wars between groups belonging to the three main religions–Muslims, Christians, and Jews–residing here have been fought, and has shaped the city.  But in modern times, the co-existance between Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem–and all over Palestine–is, in my eyes, built on friendship and respect.

But in modern times, the co-existance between Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem–and all over Palestine–is, in my eyes, built on friendship and respect. tweet

“I have worked with Christians in Damascus Gate for ten years,” says my friend Firaaz.  “Never have I seen any of them smoke or drink water outside during Ramadan; they respect us.”

The mutual respect between Muslims and Christians is key in this holy land…literally.  The keys for the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which holds the tomb of Jesus, and is one of the two holiest churches for us Christians, have been held by two Muslim families since the year 1192.

The mutual respect between Muslims and Christians is key in this holy land…literally.  The keys for the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which holds the tomb of Jesus and is one of the two holiest churches for us Christians, have been held by two Muslim families since the year 1192. tweet

In addition to monitoring the Qalandiya checkpoint, my colleagues and I also monitor access to the al-Aqsa compound every morning.

The gates are guarded–and sometimes closed–by the Israeli military, who decides who is allowed to pass in and out. Unfortunately, access to worship is not only compromised by checkpoints, but also by recurring clashes on the al-Aqsa compound, and closure of access.

My colleagues and I also monitor access to the al-Aqsa compound every morning. The gates are guarded–and sometimes closed–by the Israeli military, who decides who is allowed to pass in and out. tweet

As a human rights monitor in Jerusalem, I observe daily how Israel’s military occupation and its associated regime of control, dramatically restricts Palestinians’ freedom of worship and access to their mosques and churches here.

Photo credit: www.commondreams.org; photo by Mussa Qawasma for Reuters.

Photo credit: www.commondreams.org; photo by Mussa Qawasma for Reuters.

As we reached the end of Ramadan, I enjoyed many delicious iftaars with lovely friends and neighbours, eaten way too much qatayef, and unfortunately, witnessed many human rights violations that are direct results of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.

Despite a promise to not demolish houses during Ramadan, Israeli forces have continued to carry out so-called punitive house demolitions. Punitive demolitions are a form of collective punishment, where the house of someone who has carried out an crime, usually an alleged attempted stabbing attack against an Israeli citizen, is demolished.

Despite a promise to not demolish houses during Ramadan, Israeli forces have continued to carry out so-called punitive house demolitions. Punitive demolitions are a form of collective punishment, where the house of someone who has carried out a crime, usually an alleged attempted stabbing attack against an Israeli citizen, is demolished. tweet

A few months ago, one was carried out just down the street from where I live.

The son of a family was shot and killed while allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli soldier. As punishment, the kitchen of his family’s house was filled with cement.

My colleague was there, and told me a coffee cup used that morning was resting at the top of the cement block, which now filled half of their house.

This means that not only did this family lose their son, they also had to pay fines for their son’s crime, and had half their house filled with cement, and they had to pay for this.  This is how house demolitions work here. Your house is demolished, often with little to no warning, and then you yourself have to pay the Israeli authorities the cost of demolishing your house.

This means that not only did this family lose their son, they also had to pay fines for their son’s crime, and had half their house filled with cement, and they had to pay for this.  This is how house demolitions work here. Your house is demolished, often with little to no warning, and then you yourself have to pay the Israeli authorities the cost of demolishing your house. tweet

One week later, on the last Friday of Ramadan, my colleague returns from Qalandiya with tears in her eyes.

“I thought I expected the worst,” she says. “But this was beyond what I was prepared for.”

As usual, men under 45 had gathered at the checkpoint.  When they were denied access, they gathered at the checkpoint area and refused to leave as a form of peaceful protest.

Israeli soldiers responded by shooting tear gas canisters and sound grenades. Rubber bullets were also fired, and soldiers rode their horses into the crowd. As a result of the violence, and elderly man died of tear gas inhalation, and another 21 were injured.

Israeli soldiers responded by shooting tear gas canisters and sound grenades. Rubber bullets were also fired, and soldiers rode their horses into the crowd. As a result of the violence, and elderly man died of tear gas inhalation, and another 21 were injured. tweet

This is what the occupation is:  Daily human rights abuses, and suffering of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

On days like these, peace seems far away, but I know from meeting so many determined Palestinians and Israelis, that it is possible, and the international community must play an important role in calling for human rights to be respected.

As a Christian, I believe we must support everyone living here in finding a peaceful end to the occupation, so that among many, many other things, there will be an end to the  checkpoints stopping Palestinian Muslims from praying in al-Aqsa, and an end to the collective punishment of Palestinians.

Written by Johanna, who has requested that her last name remain anonymous for safety concerns due to the constant threat of settler harassment and violence.

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A Christian Human Rights Monitor Describes the Horrific Realities of Life Under Israeli Occupation
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