Making bricks without straw
An early start this morning (8am), but fabulous weather and scenery as we drive down from the heights of Jerusalem to the lowest inhabited place on earth – Jericho. Despite a touch of green as a result of the winter rains, we drive through miles of barren rocky landscape dropping steeply all the way. Your ears pop as you pass the sea level marker and keep going for another 400 metres.
Our first stop is Qumran where we see a film about the Dead Sea Scrolls, then go out in the heat of the day to see the archeological site showing the life of the Essenes. We saw huge cisterns to gather the winter rain water, ritual washing baths, rooms for copying scrolls. It was another case where we could stand and imagine the people who were here around the time of Jesus. Today we also experienced the heat of the desert.
Our next stop was to visit the Palestine Bible Society. In a modest house in Jericho, Samia and Young, the couple leading this work, run a youth centre which offers socio-psycho support to children and teenagers. They also run activities to promote school attendance and healthy lifestyles. Around 60 children and 50 teenagers attend the centre, and their activities target approximately 1,500 boys and girls at school in the Jericho area. Two Christians with one helper doing a huge amount of work, mostly among Muslim children. It was a shining example of faith in action.
Our final visit is to the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign in the Jordan Valley. This small group helps Palestinians living and farming on the margins in the Jordan Valley, living alongside large Settlements growing produce.
Our coach and guide initially drove up to the elegant gates of the Israeli Settlement. Realising our mistake we retraced our steps to find the earth track leading to the Palestinian village. Here we were guided to a round hut made of mud bricks. We were offered the usual palestinian hospitality. Then our host told her story. She told us of the regular house demolitions in the area, often in the depths of winter or the height of summer, just to make things even more difficult for the displaced families. They are not allowed to have piped water, they are forbidden to dig wells, they have no electricity, no telephone landlines and no mobile signal. Yet the Settlement next door has unlimited water (drawn from wells around the Palestinian village), electricity, telephone land lines and Israeli mobile phone connections. The Palestinians scratch out a living while they watch date palms and bananas and all kinds of fruits and vegetables flourish in the Settlement. 95% of all the land in the Jordan Valley has been taken for Settlements or Military use.
It is difficult to get building materials through the checkpoints, and no building is permitted in area C without a permit. No permits are given to Palestinians. They had come up with a solution from the bible – they make bricks from mud. If the buildings are demolished, they add water to the mud, make some more bricks and rebuild the house. The Israelis make it just about as hard as the Egyptians did for the Israelites in exile.
Then we had a shock. Our host was recently driving up to an Israeli check point with a friend. She had the window open and heard a male soldier ask his female colleague if she could kill a man. The female soldier pointed the gun at the car and shot the friend dead – there was no enquiry, no accountability. It shows that Israeli soldiers shoot people at will. We heard from others that it happens all the time. (Last night a friend in the Refugee Camp told us that a girl of 12 was walking home from school two weeks ago and she was shot dead from an Israeli watch tower. Yet UK papers only talk about Palestinians being terrorists)
Everyone was shocked and asked more. It transpired that our host’s husband was arrested at a checkpoint and has been imprisoned for 6 months. There was no trial. All she has been told is that he was suspected of throwing a stone 2 years ago. Then to cap this (as if you could) she told us that she had been in prison for 4 months, of which one month was in solitary. Again she was not given a reason. Being in Area C means being under Israeli military control – the army do anything they want.
We finished our visit here with a fabulous lunch cooked by the villagers. We left with heavy hearts.
As we drove back we saw the Jordan valley in a different light. On the way there, members of our group had remarked on how lovely the valley looked, with dates and bananas and all kinds of lush fruit. Now, on the way back, they realise that everything green is in an Israeli Settlement, using unlimited (Palestinian) water on Palestinian land. You can tell the Palestinian land – nothing grows for lack of water.