Join the al-Lahham Family for Iftar in Gaza

June 14, 2018 Mohammed Zaanoun, IMEU

Ramadan is a sacred time of year for devout Muslims. The holy month began days after the Israeli military killed 62 protesters in Gaza’s Great Return March. Despite the sorrow over the killings, and despite the ongoing suffering Palestinians in Gaza experience due to the Israeli-imposed blockade, four hours daily of electricity, lack of drinking water, and chronic unemployment — families in Gaza still mark Ramadan with devotion, and with dignity.

The al-Lahham family is one such family. Hani al-Lahham, his wife Umm Ahmad, and their three children (Malak, Ahmad and Salah, ages eight, six and four respectively) live in a tent along Gaza’s seaside. Fifty-seven year old Hani is among the 44% percent of Gaza’s population who is unemployed. He moved his family into the makeshift tent three years ago, when he could no longer afford to pay rent. The thin nylon of the tent does little to protect the family from the elements. Yet, as Umm Ahmad says, she and her husband are determined to raise their children with the utmost care and respect. “It is our children’s right to live like other children, in a safe house that protects them from the winter cold and summer heat, and the howls of dogs which wake them in the night, afraid.”

Ramadan brings some hope to the al-Lahham family. Umm Ahmad is forced to cook iftar (the meal that breaks the daily fast) using scraps of wood that Hani collects from the Gaza city streets — yet Hani and Umm Ahmad gather their children each evening around a table on the sidewalk to break the fast together, as a family. After iftar, they open their family’s tea and coffee shack, in hopes of selling a few warm beverages and earning a few dollars.

“During Ramadan we wait for those who are merciful to help us,” says Umm Ahmad.

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One Broken Camera | IMEU

One Broken Camera

July 11, 2016 Daniel, EAPPI

Shuhada kindergarten may be one of the most vulnerable schools in Hebron. The school sits halfway to the crest of Tel Rumeda, the oldest site in Hebron, Palestine, where pottery shards dating to 3,500 BC have been found. Just fifty meters behind the school lies a community of Israeli settlers who employ harassment and violence to pry from the hands of Palestinian owners as many homes and as much of the land as possible. To protect the settlers, a fortress of more than a dozen Israeli military checkpoints, guard towers and mobile military bases ring the settlement and the school. Razor wire is everywhere. It lines the school’s chain-link fence and is almost invisible in the tangled weeds and brush through which the children, their parents and teachers walk to and from the school. (See photos 1-2)

By military order and under military guard, steep stairs offer the only way in and out of the school grounds: 41 steps leading up from Shuhada street and military checkpoint or 28 steps down from Tel Rumeda. These “stairs” are a treacherous, stone and gravel, ankle-breaking obstacle course at a 40 degree incline. Pregnant women and those carrying propane tanks or groceries to their homes can often manage but the elderly and disabled don’t stand a chance. (See photo 3)

Next to the school lives 11 year-old Waseem Zawiye and his family. To get to the Zawiye family home, you must walk from the stairs to the entrance gate, through the school playground and then balance beam your way across the top of a seven inch wide concrete wall to reach the roof of their home which has become a makeshift patio. The Zawiye’s front door on Shuhada street was one of the hundreds that were welded shut by the military for “security reasons” in the mid 90’s which forces them to use the school playground as the only access to the home. (See photo 4)

Five years ago in the middle of the night, three settler teens took Waseem from his bed and carried him up the steps and into a grove of olive trees where they beat him. After being alerted by Waseem’s brothers and sisters, his parents and relatives found him and called the Palestinian police and medics but the Israeli soldiers at checkpoint 56 wouldn’t let them through. At the home, the soldiers found Waseem wounded and crying and his parents hysterical. (See photo 5)

The soldier’s questions quickly foretold the outcome of the investigation. How many kidnappers were there? What were they wearing? Why couldn’t the parents identify them and what had Waseem done to provoke them? With no security camera’s in the home what proof exists that settlers were involved? Perhaps the parents themselves had beaten Waseem. This must have been a few children playing childish games. If the parents wanted to they could file a report at the police station.

Waseem’s parents filed a report the next day and fearing another attack, the Zawiye’s installed one security camera and aimed it at the entrance gate. Days later, the soldiers returned. Why had the family filed a police report? The IDF then cut the camera’s wires because it posed a threat to the security of the soldiers who work in the community. Then they arrested Waseem’s father on the charge that his papers were out of date, which was a lie. He spent the next three months in jail and his family had to pay 2,000 shekels (about $520 dollars) to get him out. (See photo 6)

If this were an isolated incident anywhere else in the world it would cause an uproar. But, this is the formulaic nightmare lived time and again by many Palestinian families in Hebron and throughout the illegally occupied West Bank. An attack by settlers where no investigation is performed by the Israeli authorities, causing a report to be filed and then the victims are retaliated against. This is the essence of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and their strategy is simple: make families as uncomfortable as possible, even to the point that they fear for their lives, then give them no one to turn to in times of need so that they will abandon their schools, homes and property – with settler families waiting in the wings.

In Hebron alone, there are dozens of schools like Shuhada kindergarten and hundreds of families like the Zawiye’s and they all deserve our attention and protection. But this is the least we can do. What the Zawiye’s need and deserve is an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. An end to the conditions that enable their daily oppression. In my humanity I am appalled at how the international community has abandoned them but my Christian faith compels me to act and to ask that everyone who hears this story to do the same. We all must do everything in our power to end the occupation. (See photo 7)

(For this article, the names of individuals and families have been changed).

Daniel is an M.Div. student in Chicago and a Member in Discernment in the UCC's Chicago Metropolitan Association. Prior to pursuing ordained ministry, Daniel was a faith-based community organizer in several states. Daniel is serving on the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier and as a volunteer with the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC.

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Christmas in Palestine | IMEU

Christmas in Palestine

December 23, 2015 IMEU

From Bethlehem to Nazareth to the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Christians — a group that many people don't know exist — are taking a breath from the daily struggles of life under occupation to enjoy tree lightings and time with family.

Palestinian Christians make up over 10 percent of the Palestinian population worldwide, and in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the largest population of Christians can be found in the city of Nazareth (almost a third of its residents). This essay takes us from Nazareth's Christmas tree-lighting, to Bethlehem, where the Sa'ed family poses in front of their tree at home, but notes that, "The King of Peace was born on this land, and in this land there is no peace."

The Palestinian Christian population in the Gaza Strip is the smallest of all, and the Al-Masris, who are pictured in the essay, are separated from much of their family by the stringent mobility limits posed by the Israeli government. But they still decorate and try to enjoy the season: "We were one family and destiny separated us, and now I'm living with my wife alone here," Tony Al-Masri says. "Now I'm happy because I see my house decorated even though I am away from my family. So I take photos and send them to them on Facebook. The biggest thing that makes me happy is when we have our permits to visit our children and grandchildren."

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Residents of Susiya Brace Themselves for Arrival of Israeli Bulldozers | IMEU

Residents of Susiya Brace Themselves for Arrival of Israeli Bulldozers

July 21, 2015 Claire Thomas

Following a ruling by Israel's High Court of Justice on May 15 allowing the army to demolish the entire village of Susiya and expel its residents to Area A of the Occupied Territories, the people of Susiya now prepare for the imminent destruction of their homes.

After years of threats and multiple demolition orders, the villagers refuse to give up hope and continue to fight for their legal right to remain living on their land.

Susiya is a small, peaceful village located in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank, home to approximately 350 men, women, and children.

On July 15, community spokesman Nasser Nawajaa received a document from the Israeli military giving details of the structures that are scheduled to be demolished. Over 30 are listed, including residential tents, a school, a health clinic, and solar panels, which are the only source of power for the village and were funded by European governments.

Approximately half of the village is due to be demolished first, with further demolitions expected to follow. Twenty-one of the buildings slated for demolition were built with funding from European governments.

Although no specific date has or will be given, the demolition is expected to take place before the 3rd of August, the date scheduled for an appeal hearing at the High Court of Justice.

This will not be the first demolition of the village. In 1986 the residents of Susiya were expelled from the original site of their village after the Israeli authorities declared it a National Archaeological Park. Determined to stay on their land, the villagers took up residence on their agricultural land. In 2001 the village was once again demolished, with the Israeli army destroying tents, caves, and cisterns, as well as agricultural land, killing the farm animals.

Remaining steadfast on their farmland, the people of Susiya again rebuilt the village with tents and caves and continued their struggle in resistance to the constant threats of demolition.

In 2012, the Israeli authorities issued demolition orders to over 50 temporary shelters built by the residents. In 2014, the residents of Susiya, represented by the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, went to court in an effort to freeze the implementation of the demolition order and submitted a master plan for the legal development of the village. The Civil Administration rejected the master plan, giving various reasons, one of which suggested that the villagers would have a better quality of life in the nearby town of Yatta and should therefore relocate there.

The result of the court case was part of Israel's policy in Area C of the West Bank to facilitate the confiscation of Palestinian land in order to build and expand existing settlements and to expel Palestinians from Area C.

The villagers live under extremely difficult circumstances without access to running water and electricity, and face regular, often violent, attacks from settlers. The destruction of olive trees by the settlers is a common occurrence.

Speaking about the activities of the settlers who prevent Palestinians reaching their farmland adjacent to the settlement and the restrictions on their access to water, Nasser Nawajaa commented: "There is no justice here for the Palestinians. They (the settlers) try to make pressure to move the Palestinians outside."

If the demolition order is carried out as planned, over 300 Palestinians will be expelled from their homes, their community, and their land, rendering them homeless in severe desert conditions.

Claire Thomas is a photojournalist from Wales, UK currently based in the West Bank. A Politics graduate, Claire developed a passion for photography while travelling and working overseas. Claire now seeks to use photography as a tool to raise awareness of social issues around the world, and works closely with a community-based organisation in Ghana that supports women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
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Palestinian Doctor and Architect Team Up to Rebuild Gaza’s Only School for Disabled Children | IMEU

Palestinian Doctor and Architect Team Up to Rebuild Gaza’s Only School for Disabled Children

April 08, 2015 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Doctor and human rights activist Bassel Abu Warda and architect Mostafa Asi started the Save Gaza Project (SGP) during Israel's attacks on the Strip last summer. They have plans to rebuild Gaza's only school for children with disabilities, Shams Al Amal, and create an alternative space to be used for classrooms while the original school's reconstruction is in progress. The school was almost entirely destroyed when warplanes heavily bombarded the Zeitoun neighborhood on the last day of Israel's 2014 offensive, which killed over 500 children and injured more than 3,000, leaving many with permanent disabilities.

Abu Warda and Asi's online fundraising campaign has received support from around the world, exceeding their original goal and allowing them to expand their reach and help more children. The partners describe how their project came to be while bombs fell on Gaza and how it has evolved since then.

Dr. Bassel Abu Warda:

We started the project because Gaza needs it - we need anyone to start doing anything. We have no economy, no houses, and people in shelters. Nothing was left after the war. We as people living in Gaza - we have to help to improve the living situation in Gaza.

After the war, things became clear and we were able to organize ourselves on the ground and we finished the needed paperwork. We had to register our organization and join forces with a reliable source. We are now a recognized part of the Ehdath Association, which has been working in Gaza since 2003.

Before the war, we only had ideas. The start-up phase began during the attacks, when we searched for volunteers and partners. We couldn't work on the ground because the situation didn't allow for that, but we focused on the media coverage and we did our best to show what was happening.

The group helped grow the success of the campaign. During the war, one of the Israeli newspapers said that Israel had triumphed over Gaza in everything except social media. During the war, ordinary people like you and me were the ones who reported and wrote the news and delivered the facts.

The Society of Physically Handicapped People is in eastern Gaza, which was exposed to artillery shelling and aircraft during Israel's attacks. It was bombed and destroyed without any reason as many of the homes, hospitals, and other targets in the region. The random shelling was probably intended in my opinion, in effort to destroy the Palestinians' spirits and their morale.

In order to rebuild the original school, we need four months to remove the rubble and two years for reconstruction. The alternative, temporary institution we are building now will provide the basics for students until then. Also, there are students who lost their wheelchairs and they depend on them so we will not wait years to provide them with new chairs. In addition, about 33% of the injuries during the war resulted in disabilities, which means we need more wheelchairs than before.

Mostafa Asi:

We had the idea during the war. Bassel was volunteering in the hospital and I was following the news for the media coverage. The situation didn't need more negativity - we needed to take the first step to move on, especially after the war set us a hundreds of years back.

The first activity was to build an alternative school for the Society of Physically Handicapped People and replace needed supplies. All their wheelchairs were destroyed in the bombing of their school.

We did not expect the campaign to succeed like this. The world has proven to us that it sympathizes with us in times of war and times of peace, so we started our goals in stages, and step by step, we got the idea of expanding the aid because there are more children that need help. With bigger goals, we will help more people and this is what we aspire to do.

All the data we collected was from the Society of Physically Handicapped People. They provide all the services needed for a decent life, including physical therapy, medication, wheelchairs, and mobility aids. It's a subsidiary of the Ministry of Health, though it's a non-governmental institute.

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Volunteering Under Israeli Fire: Gaza Man Recounts Rescue Efforts During Israel’s Attacks | IMEU

Volunteering Under Israeli Fire: Gaza Man Recounts Rescue Efforts During Israel’s Attacks

February 24, 2015 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Khan Younis was one of the areas most affected by the Israeli military offensive that claimed the lives of over 2,100 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip last summer. Ismael Ahmed Wafi, a truck driver and father from Khan Younis, worked to help rescue victims from under the rubble during the attacks and is currently assisting with cleanup efforts.

I have been working as a truck driver for more than 20 years. My income provides just enough for food. I cannot pay for anything else because it’s only enough to live day by day.

During the war, I worked under the bombs and felt that I could have been killed at any moment. The situation was very difficult and dangerous; we had to rescue people buried alive under the rubble with our trucks and bulldozers. That was more important and urgent than taking the dead bodies. We would leave them for the next morning when we would come back again.

I remember when we saved a small girl under the rubble in Al Buraij refugee camp south of Gaza City. She was the only one from her family that was left alive.

One of the most challenging moments was when we found out suddenly that there wasn't coordination between the Red Cross and the UN. It made it dangerous for us to go and try to help people while the shelling was happening and we could be attacked at any moment.

For example, there was a house bombed in Rafah and 10 people were killed from the Abu Dhair family. We went to take them out after we were told there was a ceasefire and when we arrived at Rafah, the ceasefire was broken and we were stuck there for two hours, seeing dead bodies in the street and hearing the bombing everywhere around us. Also, when we were in Al Jnena neighborhood, they bombed a house that was about 200 feet away from us and the rubble and smoke reached us.

Other difficult moments for me were while recovering the dead bodies of men and women, but the hardest thing was recovering the bodies of babies and children. It was very painful and sad. I found a mother killed while holding her 6 children under the rubble in Khan Younis.

A friend of mine, whose four-story home was bombed and who only had one son after trying to conceive for many years, came to me to ask for one thing: though there were people dead in the house, he asked that I only recover his son's bicycle. I asked him why he would not buy another one. He answered that his son was crying all night for his bicycle and that he did not have money to buy him a new one.

My work became humanitarian during the war, without expecting anything in return. We lived through three wars, but nothing was worse than the 2014 war. It was the most destructive and brutal. During the 2008 war, the situation was completely different because not all areas in Gaza were affected or targeted.

These days, in the aftermath, we are working on removing the rubble from the remaining destroyed houses. We are finding shrapnel and dozens of unexploded missiles and bombs using the bulldozer I drive, and as you know we don’t have smart machines with cameras that can show us what is under the rubble — we can only rely on luck.

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Palestinians in Gaza Build Makeshift Homes While Shortage of Building Materials Continues | IMEU

Palestinians in Gaza Build Makeshift Homes While Shortage of Building Materials Continues

January 28, 2015 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

The damage Israel inflicted on Gaza during its 50-day attack last summer left thousands of Palestinians in desperate need of aid and home reconstruction. The process of rebuilding has been heavily impeded by the blockade, which prevents most types of building materials such as cement and steel from entering the strip. This shortage has caused many to resort to making repairs and building new homes with the limited supplies that are available.

32-year-old Yousef Abu Shuraitah rebuilt his own home using wood and several of his neighbors requested his assistance in doing the same for their homes. The following testimonies from Yousef Abu Shuraitah and Alian Abu Rashid, one of the many people who have asked for Yousef’s help, describe the conditions they are living in and how wooden huts are providing relief for some families.

Yousef Abu Shuraitah:

My neighbors, whose homes were destroyed in the last Israeli attack on Gaza, asked me to build wooden huts for them after they saw me do this for my own home.

The blockade prevents the entry of cement, steel, and other materials needed for reconstruction. The lack of aid from international institutions for Palestinians whose homes were destroyed prolongs the conditions. So far, I have built twelve houses in the Abu Safiya area, and the demand continues to increase.

Wood is allowed to enter through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. We recycle and reuse materials to construct the wooden huts. These are meant to be short-term shelters until real homes can be reconstructed. People are tired of living under harsh conditions in shelters.

Alian Abu Rashid:

We evacuated our house and area at the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza. We received orders to evacuate immediately from Israeli aircrafts, so we fled to the schools that were serving as shelters. After the war, we returned to area, but nothing was left. Our house was destroyed and the entire region became uninhabitable due to the destruction of electricity and water sources.

So we returned to the shelters. After some of our neighbors returned to live in our area, we went back with them. We built a shelter made of nylon at first, which is unhealthy and unlivable. When we heard of Yousef's wooden hut idea, we asked him to build one for us next to our demolished house. We are currently working on the hut, which should be ready for habitation within a few days.

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Little Evidence of Reconstruction Visible in One of Gaza’s Most Damaged Neighborhoods | IMEU

Little Evidence of Reconstruction Visible in One of Gaza’s Most Damaged Neighborhoods

January 20, 2015 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

The most recent Israeli attack on Gaza worsened crises in all aspects of Palestinian life in the area, including the healthcare system and the socio-economic infrastructure. This latest offensive by Israel went on for 51 days, killing over 2,000 Palestinians; this includes entire families, 541 children, 250 women, and 95 elderly men. The Israeli attacks injured over 10,000 Palestinians. Thousands of homes, schools, universities, farmlands, and Palestinian properties were destroyed and as a result, half a million Palestinians were displaced from their homes.

However, the oppression committed by the Israeli government did not end with the recent attacks, as the blockade continues indefinitely. Israel closes Palestinian borders, prevents reconstruction, and commits daily violations of Palestinians' fundamental human rights.

Shojae'a, which is one of the largest neighborhoods in Gaza, was also one of the most intensely bombed during Israel’s summer offensive. Before the attacks, more than 250,000 Palestinians lived there. Now, months later, few voices can be heard in the streets.

Some of those whose properties were partly destroyed in Israel's bombings returned to live in what remained of their homes. I met a group of young men playing soccer in the yard of a bombed school when I visited. I asked them how their lives had changed and how they spent their time now, and this is what they had to say.

Baraa Nabil Sersawi, 18 years old:

We try to gather the rest of the youth in the neighborhood to play football. As you can see, the school playground was destroyed by the bombings; that is why it is always full of rainwater, stones, glass, and rubble, which we have to clean every time we want to play.

I still live with my family in our house in Shojae'a, even though it is uninhabitable due to the large number of Israeli tank shells which destroyed our home. We have nowhere else to go. A few families living in our neighborhood tried to fix their houses for shelter. However, the rest of the population either had their homes completely destroyed, or parts of their homes remain standing but are completely emptied out from within.

Emad Saeed Sersawi, 20 years old:

Thank God that our house is still standing. The buildings in front were totally destroyed. We feel like we are living in the desert, because everything is destroyed and empty.

We don't have a good place to get together, because all of the areas in Shojae'a have been destroyed. They all look the same. The stadiums and parks that we used to spend time at, the streets that we used to love and play in — they are all rubble, broken glass, and broken stones. They even deprived us of our streets.

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Christmas in Bethlehem | IMEU

Christmas in Bethlehem

December 27, 2014 IMEU

The streets of Bethlehem are filled with people, lights, and decorations every season around the Christmas holiday. While the Israeli occupation severely limits Palestinian movement to, from, and within the city believed to be Jesus' birthplace, thousands of Palestinians and visitors from around the world gather and celebrate with a great assortment of daily festivities. 

PHOTOS: Suha Kunkar

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Gaza Paramedics Recall Efforts to Rescue Civilians After Israel’s Attacks | IMEU

Gaza Paramedics Recall Efforts to Rescue Civilians After Israel’s Attacks

December 12, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Amnesty International recently released a report detailing examples of war crimes committed by Israel during its summer offensive in Gaza and calling for an independent investigation — but Israeli officials continue to block human rights experts from entering. Despite such efforts to keep evidence hidden under the rubble, testimonies from witnesses of Israel’s unspeakable atrocities will continue to surface.

Khuza’a, a village in Khan Younis, was one of the many villages attacked during Israel’s ground invasion and aerial bombardment of Gaza in July and bore witness to horrific incidents of brutality. Home to nearly 15,000 people, Khuza’a covers 5,000 acres, an area roughly equivalent to one-quarter of Manhattan in New York.  

Eighty-three residents were killed, all of them civilians. Hundreds were injured. Israeli military blocked ambulance crews from transporting the injured and dead, forcing many victims to bleed to death. Decomposing dead bodies were left beneath the rubble for weeks. On the first day of August, more corpses surfaced, many of which were children.

Jehad Saftawi spoke with two paramedics with the Palestine Red Crescent Society branch in Khan Younis about what they experienced during the few hours they were allowed to work in the village.


Mohammed Ghazi Alhessi, 39 years old, Director of the Red Crescent Ambulance Center in Khan Younis

On July 17th, while Israeli forces sprayed the streets with artillery and smoke bombs, they dropped leaflets in the streets of Khuza’a to warn of an impending military bombardment. People were permitted to leave their homes during a five hour time frame between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. to escape the ground invasion planned for the following morning, which is when we evacuated a lot of families.

Al Qarrara was overtaken when Israeli forces raided the neighborhood on the morning of July 18th. The Red Crescent ambulance center received many phone calls from people who hid in their houses, but we were unable to reach them unless granted permission by the Israeli military. Requests to intervene were left unanswered for five days.

We received the first response from the Israeli army on the 23rd. Before then, the phones were ringing non-stop with desperate pleas from people who were injured and wanted to evacuate.

We wrote down every appeal we received and contacted the Red Cross. They told us to be ready the next morning at 6 a.m. We met them in Khan Younis, then headed out with 10 ambulances and two Red Cross jeeps.

When we finally arrived at the entrance, Red Cross employees contacted a branch in Tel Aviv to let them know we were ready to go in, but we were told to wait until 8 a.m. They then said we couldn’t enter the village and we had to go back.

We tried for the second time at 10 a.m. We waited for two hours before Israeli forces saw us and started shooting. They fired three shells right in front of our cars, so we had to go back. When we withdrew, they hit a house right next to us.

At 3 p.m., we tried for the third time. They began firing again. After waiting for an hour and a half, our request for intervention was rejected due to ‘clashes.’

At 10 p.m., they said we could enter Khuza’a from the southwestern edge of the village. We waited for over two hours before we were told to walk across a sandy road alongside tanks only a couple of meters in front of us.

There was absolutely no respect for the badge of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent. Normally, we wouldn’t wait for any order to allow us to intervene. When it comes to ‘closed military zones,’ it is Israel’s responsibility to provide health services to the people they’ve trapped there.


Mohammed Ishaq Al Jabri, 39 years old, Ambulance Officer in Khan Younis

Before the first successful coordination on July 24th, we received many calls from the neighborhoods of Al-Najjar and Abu Rjeila, and areas around Al-Radwan and Al-Tawhid mosques.

We took note of their appeals and contacted the Red Cross to coordinate our intervention, but most of those attempts failed. On several occasions, we’d receive an order to prepare for entry the next day and head to the Red Cross headquarters in Khan Younis where we would wait for hours. They’d then inform us that we simply weren’t allowed to enter. We tried six times. None of our attempts were successful.

At 8 p.m., we coordinated an entrance from al Fukhari Street at the south of Khuza’a. We travelled along a bumpy road where we were met by Israeli forces who said they would clear the way for us to enter. We waited for five hours. At around 1 a.m., they told us to go back. Even when a Red Cross coordinator accompanied us, we weren’t allowed to pass and they would send us back.

On the 24th, we heard that some people managed to escape the town. We picked them up and dropped them off at a safer location. At 6 a.m., we prepared to coordinate another intervention, which was accepted two hours later.

A large sandpile blocked our entry point. Israeli soldiers teased us, telling us we were at the wrong street. We explained that other streets were blocked and that we had already wasted a lot of time, but they argued with us and made us wait another 30 minutes to an hour for a bulldozer to arrive. Then, instead of moving the sand, they bulldozed a farm to clear the way. 

At noon, we finally entered Khuza’a. We reached a hole in the ground and our jeep broke down, so only two ambulances managed to proceed. We saw Israeli soldiers surrounding a sandhill. Some stood on top of it as others encircled nearby houses. They searched our cars and ordered everyone to step out. The Red Cross jeep I was in was searched for 20 minutes. The ambulance cars faced a far more humiliating search that lasted over an hour.

We arrived at Dr. Kamal’s clinic in Abu Rejeila. We found two people on the sidewalk. One had passed away and the other, a child named Anas Qudaih and nicknamed Bader by the community, was on his last breath. He was foaming at the mouth and his skin was very pale.

“I want water. Don’t leave me,” he said. We tried to comfort him by telling him he was going to be alright and put him in the jeep to transport him to the closest ambulance. We were stopped at the Israeli checkpoint, where ambulances were still being searched. We couldn’t waste any time given Bader’s condition, and I explained the urgency to the Israeli soldiers. They told me to shut up. We were forced to wait for another 20 minutes.

Bader died in the jeep.

By the time our jeep was allowed to pass, it was too late, and the ambulance received the body of a dead boy.

We were then permitted to bring two ambulances back inside Khuza’a and access most of the village. I remember the gun shots we heard in the neighborhood of Abu Rjeila. They were so close by that it sounded like they were fired directly at us. While I was treating someone, Israeli soldiers shot a man right in front of me and my colleagues as he was leaving his house to ask for help.

After nearly an hour and a half, were told to leave. In such a limited amount of time, we only managed to treat three injuries and retrieve three dead bodies. As we were leaving, we were shocked to find that the checkpoint and road we entered from was obstructed by sand mounts. We were stuck. Israeli soldiers ordered us all out — even the injured and the dead — and we complied. They kept us there for over three hours and prohibited us from making phone calls and communicating with the outside world. Amal Al Owaini, a Red Cross employee, was yelled at and insulted when she tried to make a call. Even the injured were interrogated before we were allowed to give them first aid.

It was very hot. We were fasting, but we were not allowed to rest in the shade as we waited for the soldiers to give us orders. They refused to clear the way and told us to carry the dead and injured by foot, so we climbed the hills of sand with their bodies on our backs.

On July 28th, the first day of Eid, we managed to coordinate our second intervention. We entered the town at 11 a.m., but were banned entry from the most heavily affected areas. Despite repeated requests, we were never allowed to tend to the southern part of Khuza’a, where most emergency calls were made.

We needed to go to Al-Taqwa mosque, but the tanks blocked us. When we tried to return to the main street, they opened fire on us. Basically, we were only allowed in the outskirts of the village. We had a bulldozer to clear any roadblocks, a truck to hold the decomposed bodies, and as many ambulances as we could possibly obtain. Although we were ready to evacuate the remaining people stranded in the village, we were still prevented from entering neighborhoods nearby. Tanks blocked us for a half an hour before we could safely evacuate people from homes, supermarkets, cemeteries, and factories.

Bodies were decomposing. We found a man named Tawfiq killed by a bullet to his heart and thrown in an unfinished bathroom of his house. Another man who was mentally disabled was sniped in the street.

We saw so many decomposed bodies. The smell was pungent. When we tried to carry them, their remaining parts turned to liquid in our hands. 

We worked in Khuza’a for an hour and a half before we had to leave. Yet again, the Israeli army held us for several hours before our exit.

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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Testimony from Gaza: Witness to a War Crime | IMEU

Testimony from Gaza: Witness to a War Crime

September 26, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Omar Mohammed Shaheen, a father of four, describes what it was like returning to his neighborhood in Beit Lahiya, Gaza after taking shelter in an UNRWA school during Israel’s latest assault.

During the first humanitarian ceasefire, I set out to go back home to check on the area and to collect more clothes and necessities for my family. I drove my car from the UNRWA school shelter where we were staying to the area near Sheikh Zayed Towers, which is close to Al-Nada Towers where I live. I had to stop and park my car there because the Israeli tanks were very close, so it was too dangerous to drive. I walked the rest of the way home. When I got to my apartment building, telecommunications and electricity were cut off completely and there was no means of communication working.

I took everything I needed from my house and decided to return quickly because the hours of ceasefire were almost finished. When I came out of the building where I live, I watched a deliberate crime occur right in front of my eyes. A mother and her three-year-old were walking quickly out of the area and after a few seconds, I saw an Israeli drone rocket hit them directly and a big explosion followed. I stayed hiding for a few minutes and then returned to see what happened. I found the bodies of the woman and her child on the ground in many parts.

Israeli tanks were very close to the incident and could clearly see everything. I was sure they saw me and knew that I saw what happened, so I ran away as fast as I could and went to get my car from the Sheikh Zayed Towers area. I drove back to Al-Nada Towers and stopped the car next to the bodies of the mother and her child. I lifted their bodies and put them into the car, knowing that Israeli tanks were nearby and could see me. After I finished, all my clothes were stained with blood.

I drove out of the area where the Israeli soldiers and tanks were and headed to a nearby road where there was an ambulance that retrieved the bodies of the mother and child.

Weeks later, I came back to my neighborhood to find it completely destroyed, including my apartment. I now live in an UNRWA school. My family and I visit our home from time to time. I cannot forget what I have seen and I cannot understand what happened. I often think of the mother and child's last moments trying to escape.

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Three Brothers Slowly Recover from Shrapnel Burns, Unaware of Their Mother’s Death | IMEU

Three Brothers Slowly Recover from Shrapnel Burns, Unaware of Their Mother’s Death

August 14, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Sadness and shock were all I could feel when I entered the hospital room of the three Wahdan children, all seriously injured by an Israeli airstrike. The Wahdan family was one of the many that fled from border areas in Gaza in search of safer shelter only to be followed by Israeli warplanes.

The mother was killed immediately in the bombing and the father's injury is extremely critical so he was transferred to a hospital in Egypt for treatment. The three brothers —  Mosab, Omar, and Mohammed —  were injured by shrapnel that caused severe burns all over their bodies. Their relatives have not yet told them about their mother's death so as not to worsen their conditions. 

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Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural | IMEU

Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural

August 13, 2014 Art Forces, the Estria Foundation, and NorCal Friends of Sabeel

The Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural is a monumental work of public art located in Uptown Oakland on 26th Street between Telegraph and Broadway. The mural pays homage to the history of Bay Area public art and expresses solidarity with Palestinians.

The Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural adopts the image of the tree as a central motif and global visual signifier to link seemingly disparate issues and distant locations. Spanning 157 feet and reaching 22 feet high, the mural is comprised of nine separate panels, where each artist or team of artists has painted his or her own interpretation of a tree to address social and political issues.

These issues include the shared histories of colonization, environmental exploitation, internal exile of indigenous peoples, resilience and resistance to these injustices.

The twelve participating artists come from a wide array of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. They include Dina Matar, who is participating virtually (Gaza); IROT (Native American); VYAL (Chicano-Native American); Deadeyes (African American); Erin Yoshi (Japanese American); Susan Greene (Jewish American) Emory Douglas (African American); Nidal El Khairy (Palestinian); Chris Gazaleh (Palestinian American); SPIE (Asian American); Fred Alvarado (Latino American); Miguel Bounce Perez (Chicano-Pacific Islander American).

Each artist was given a broad design parameter to use within the tree motif, which is a common metaphor for life and a symbol of global commonality. From this simple directive, the artists have created imagery true to each one’s individual aesthetic. The result is a public tribute to the human spirit and its unassailable right to thrive in spite of political oppression and injustice--wherever it is taking place in the world.

The seeds for the idea behind The Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural were planted in July 2011 when Art Forces and the Estria Foundation’s #WaterWrites worked together with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) on the MAIA Mural Brigade in Palestine. A group of American youths, artists, trauma therapists and activists traveled to the Gaza strip and the West Bank to paint murals about compromised water quality at different schools, and youth centers to raise awareness for the basic human right to clean water.

Learn more.

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The Destruction of Sha’af, Gaza | IMEU

The Destruction of Sha’af, Gaza

August 11, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

After nights of watching the shelling of eastern Gaza City from my apartment window, I was able to visit one of the most heavily bombed areas on August 5 during the ceasefire. I was shocked by the scenes of destruction in Sha'af. As I took pictures of the destroyed houses and streets, I encountered what was once Wafa Hospital. I didn't recognize it at first. Because of the level of destruction, there were barely any signs of what kind of building it was in the past. I realized it only after I found some administrative papers on the ground. As I walked around, I wished that I could turn my eyes into a camera to record everything I was seeing, because I knew with certainty that my photos would only reveal a very small portion of what I was witnessing and would not come close to capturing the real size of the disaster and ruin. 

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Palestinians Find Their Gaza Neighborhood Barely Recognizable After Israel’s Attacks | IMEU

Palestinians Find Their Gaza Neighborhood Barely Recognizable After Israel’s Attacks

July 29, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

During the brief ceasefire on July 26, I traveled to Shoja'ea, a neighborhood in Gaza that was heavily bombarded by Israel a few days prior, resulting in close to 90 deaths in just one day. Dozens of houses and streets were destroyed. It looked like everything there was a target — humans, animals, and every stone. I felt like I was dreaming. I couldn't believe how much destruction there was everywhere I looked. The people's faces, some returning to their homes and some journalists, were pale and shocked. Many couldn't find their homes and in some cases, even their streets, as the features of the neighborhood had changed completely.

Remains of missiles were everywhere, many of them unexploded. I spoke to someone who was stuck in Shoja'ea for eight days. He said that he couldn't hear us clearly because his hearing was damaged by the explosions that were around him for so long. He said that he had very little to eat in the past few days, only olives and peppers, and had no connection with the outside world because the electricity and cell phone connections were both out.

After leaving Shoja'ea, I and several other journalists tried to enter the Khuzaa area in eastern Khan Younis, which was intensively bombed by Israeli tanks as well, but Israeli forces did not allow it. We heard warning gunshots and had to turn back. The stories of Khuzaa's people will stay unshared with the the world for now.

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Inside Gaza’s Shelters | IMEU

Inside Gaza’s Shelters

July 29, 2014 Lara Aburamadan

On July 25, the first time I left my house in 20 days since the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip began, I visited an UNRWA school full of thousands of refugees from Shoja'ea and Beit Hanoun. Families were sleeping on the ground and had nothing except the clothes they wore when they evacuated their homes. Many of the children had no shoes. Some told me stories about losing their loved ones. Some other people didn’t know anything about the rest of their family members and wondered if they were still alive or gone.

Israa, a 7-year-old little girl who left her home in Shoja'ea,  a neighborhood in Eastern Gaza City where Israel recently killed over 80 Palestinians, many of them children, saw me taking photos and with a smile asked me to take hers.

On my second day out, I went to shelters and homes that were hosting many families from Shoja'ea. In one case, more than one hundred people were staying in the same apartment. It was full of sad, pale faces. I felt so helpless. I was only listening and crying. I just couldn't do anything for them except say I'm really sorry and that we have to stay strong because we are all in the same boat.

I feel so bad for little Israa and all the other people I met during these two days. They are all in shock. I cannot imagine the fear and the loss they experienced and the feeling of losing everything they had. Nothing can compensate them for what they lost and what they went through.

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Honoring Gaza’s Dead in Ramallah | IMEU

Honoring Gaza’s Dead in Ramallah

July 25, 2014 IMEU

On Wednesday, July 23, 600 mock coffins were displayed in the Palestinian city of Ramallah to commemorate those killed in Gaza since Israel's offensive began on July 7.  In a demonstration organized by the Ramallah Municipality, hundreds of Palestinians carried the coffins, wrapped in Palestinian flags and labeled with the names and ages of those killed, through the city and then placed them in front of the United Nations headquarters.

PHOTOS: Thomas Dallal 
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Abu Nidal: Exhuming Hope from the Graves | IMEU

Abu Nidal: Exhuming Hope from the Graves

July 22, 2014 Vivien Sansour, IMEU
"They consider my parents’ graves, my grapes, my olives, and my old pine tree a problem. But the problem is the occupation."

Thirty years ago during a snowstorm in the village of Al Walajeh, 70-year-old Abu Nidal found a broken pine tree and nursed it back to life. In 30 years, the tree grew several meters high making it a landmark in his village and a source of pride for Abu Nidal whose life's work has been dedicated to tending the land.

Today, Abu Nidal's tree lays at the edge of one of the last remaining stone terraces on his land, which has been confiscated for the building of the Israeli Segregation Wall that cuts straight through Al Walajeh and in the heart of Abu Nidal’s olive and fruit fields.

"When the Israeli army came and began the construction of the wall, I went out to see what was happening," recounts Abu Nidal. "And that is when I saw them cutting down the pine tree in front of my eyes. I will never forget that scene. This is why I keep the tree. I know it is now just a dead piece of wood but I don’t allow anyone to touch it. It is like one of my children. I saved it and they killed it."

But Abu Nidal’s pine tree is not the only thing that has been impacted by the building of the wall. Abu Nidal’s parents’ and his grandmother’s tombs sit on the same piece of land where the wall is being constructed and were set for destruction by an Israeli military order.

In 2009, Abu Nidal filed a lawsuit in the Israeli court to try and save his parents’ and grandmother’s tombs. After a long battle, the court ruled that the army could not destroy the tombs.

While still annexing tens of acres of his land and destroying more than 140 of his olive trees, along with grape vines and walnut trees, the army built an underground tunnel for Abu Nidal so he can cross into his land to visit the tombs of his parents. The tunnel that cuts through his land and underneath where the wall will soon be erected leads Abu Nidal to his family’s burial spot, where his relative’s graves are being fenced in with electric wire.

Watching this elderly man grapple through debris, steel pipes, and rough terrain to walk through a dark tunnel to visit his dead relatives, one cannot help but think of scenes from science fiction films of realities unimagined. Clearing away leaves that have fallen on the tombstone of his grandmother, Fada, Abu Nidal recalls all the things she had taught him about life and agriculture.

"I learned everything I know from my grandmother. She was my mentor… closer to me than my own mother," he says. "She taught me how to create an abundant and diverse landscape that gives. The least I can do is honor her life by preserving the dignity of her tomb."

While it is hard to call this new reality a victory, Abu Nidal is proud that he was at least able to save a few meters that guard those he loved the most. Reciting a prayer next to his father’s tomb, Abu Nidal says, "There is no life without hope and no hope without life. They consider my parents' graves, my grapes, my olives, and my old pine tree a problem. But the problem is the occupation. They may be surrounding me by a wall now but the reality is that they are surrounding themselves."

Abu Nidal may not be as fit as he was 30 years ago when he carried that pine tree and nurtured it back to life, but he is still a steadfast spirit holding on to the things most important in life. In his small victories, he is continuing the life-giving traditions he has learned from his grandmother.

When asked about his wishes, Abu Nidal says with no uncertain terms: "I wish to be buried here, next to the ones I love." 

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Protests in Haifa: “Arabs and Jews Refuse to be Enemies” Chants Met with “Death to Arabs” | IMEU

Protests in Haifa: “Arabs and Jews Refuse to be Enemies” Chants Met with “Death to Arabs”

July 20, 2014 Diana Buttu, IMEU

Last night, there was a huge demonstration against Israel's attacks on Gaza. The demonstration — which was supposed to be a march, was sponsored by Jabha, a socialist political party. The group applied for a permit to hold a march, which was granted. A counter-protest formed in short order, after Baruch Marzel, a right-wing politician, called on Israelis to join. The counter-protesters numbered in the hundreds, and perhaps more than 1000. We were on two sides of the street with the police atop horses, policing our side and forming a human chain around the counter-protesters. 

Because it was so large, the police refused to allow the protesters to march and instead confined us to a narrow area on the sidewalk and a small park. Israeli counter-protesters hurled stones, bottles, and stink bombs our way and the police did absolutely nothing. They then chanted "Death to Arabs" and "Arabs, Go to Gaza" and "Muhammad is a pig." Our side responded with "Arabs and Jews Refuse to be Enemies." In all of my time here, I have never, ever heard "Death to Arabs" in Haifa. 

It was decided that the anti-war demonstration would end early and as people began leaving, some counter-protesters started chasing people with clubs, sticks, and rocks. One man hurled an Israeli flag (on a large stick) at a car full of anti-war protesters. The police, again, did nothing. 

The counter-protesters were praised the next day on TV by anchors for "protecting the nation." With such levels of discrimination and incitement, the situation here in Israel seems to be deteriorating by the day.

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A Tour Through the Remains of Dr. Riad Mraish’s Home & Clinic | IMEU

A Tour Through the Remains of Dr. Riad Mraish’s Home & Clinic

July 19, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

On July 16, while I was in eastern Gaza City taking photos of the many buildings recently destroyed by Israeli forces, a man approached me and asked if I wanted to enter his home to take photos of the inside.

I accepted his offer and as he showed me around, I learned his name is Khamis Mraish and that his brother, Dr. Riad Mraish, ran a clinic from the home.  As Khamis took me through each corner of the house, he described in detail the damage in every room. Most of the family's belongings, including Dr. Mraish's medical equipment, were now ruined, scattered in pieces and covered with debris.

It was horribly sad to witness his pain — and how he so badly wanted to share his story with the world. And the more people I speak with, the more I realize there is this same feeling everywhere. The people in Gaza want, and need, the world to see what they are going through.

Jehad Saftawi is a photojournalist based in Gaza City.

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The Remains of a Home in Gaza City, One of Many Destroyed by Israel | IMEU

The Remains of a Home in Gaza City, One of Many Destroyed by Israel

July 16, 2014 IMEU

Volunteers worked to extinguish fires left behind by Israeli warplanes that shelled the Hashem family home, one of at least seven Palestinian houses bombarded today in Gaza City. 10 Palestinians, including six children, were killed today by Israel's ongoing attacks, bringing the death toll since the start of this current assault on the besieged Gaza Strip up to over 220. 

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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Minutes After the Bombing of Al-Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City | IMEU

Minutes After the Bombing of Al-Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City

July 14, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Six civilians were killed when Israel bombed the Al-Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza City on Saturday, July 12. These photos, which include a father who just lost his son, were taken about 15 minutes after the strike. The United Nations has reported that four out of every five Palestinians killed during Israel's recent attacks on Gaza have been civilians. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to climb and currently stands at almost 200.

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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Once a Home for Special Needs Patients, Now a Heap of Wreckage | IMEU

Once a Home for Special Needs Patients, Now a Heap of Wreckage

July 13, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

As the death toll due to Israel's military assault on Gaza continues to climb, three disabled patients and a nurse were among those killed yesterday when a special needs facility was struck. These photos show some of the destruction left behind.

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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A Family in Gaza Sifts Through the Rubble of Their Home | IMEU

A Family in Gaza Sifts Through the Rubble of Their Home

July 11, 2014 IMEU

Israel's ongoing assault on Gaza has left over 100 dead and about 700 injured so far. These photos, taken yesterday, capture an example of the resulting destruction and a family's search of the remains of their home in attempt to collect whatever valuables they find salvageable.

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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A 13-Year Wait for 30 Minutes: One Woman’s Struggle to Visit Her Imprisoned Husband | IMEU

A 13-Year Wait for 30 Minutes: One Woman’s Struggle to Visit Her Imprisoned Husband

June 25, 2014 Jehad Saftawi, IMEU

Dozens of Palestinian prisoners recently ended a two-month-long hunger strike in protest of systematic human rights violations in Israeli prisons. Their demands include the halting of administrative detention, improved access to health care, and ceasing the practice of solitary confinement, which is used excessively on Palestinian prisoners, including children.

Saadia Hourani is married to prisoner Imad Saftawi. She was forced to go 13 years without seeing her husband due to Israel’s draconian web of restrictions on family visits for Palestinian prisoners.

She was born in a refugee camp in Jordan after her family was displaced from their Palestinian village in 1948. She grew up in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria before returning to Gaza after getting married.

Saadia shares her story:

I went back to the Gaza Strip with my husband, leaving behind family and my childhood memories inside the camp.

My husband Imad used to work in the Ministry of Religious Endowments and the nature of his work requires travel from time to time to participate in conferences.

My husband was arrested from the Rafah border crossing on December 13, 2000, while he was returning from Dubai. I was unaware of his whereabouts for 24 hours. The Israeli prison contacted me the day after his arrest.

The caller told me that he was an officer working in the Israeli army. He said that my husband had been arrested yesterday while he was arriving in Rafah crossing, and I must inform the authorities of this.

Then, they started directing many accusations against him. He was held for 6 months under administrative detention. Due to the lack of evidence against him,  the Israeli authorities renewed his administrative detention for two more years. He never had a trial. During this period, the Israeli authorities inflicted both physical and psychological pressure on my husband in attempt to get a confession from him.

I have three sons, Hamza, Jehad, and Asaad and two daughters, Sarah and Lin. Sarah was two years old when her father was arrested and she does not remember anything about her father. Lin came into this world knowing her father only through photos. I was three months pregnant when her father was arrested.

Lin, who is 13 now, was able to visit her father only once when she was four years old. We have been unable to get permission for her to visit since then.

We have been told that only family members under 10 and over 45 are permitted to visit.

I wasn’t allowed to see my husband for 13 years. Finally, less than a year ago, I was able to visit him for the first time. It was like a dream.

The Red Cross buses picked up the families of the prisoners at five in the morning, and we didn’t get back until eight o'clock at night. You do not need that much time to go there as it only takes four hours, but the rest of the time, we were put through humiliating inspections and waited for long hours, and all of that just for a half-hour visit.

When I finally got to see my husband, there was a glass wall between us and we could only talk over the hanging phone. I could not touch his hand or hug him. All I could do is cry behind the glass and try to hold back the shock and overwhelming emotion. How could I express the longing of 13 years in half an hour?

PHOTOS: Jehad Saftawi/IMEU

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221st Presbyterian USA General Assembly Votes in Favor of Divestment from Israeli Occupation | IMEU

221st Presbyterian USA General Assembly Votes in Favor of Divestment from Israeli Occupation

June 25, 2014 IMEU

Last week, at their biennial general assembly in Detroit, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to divest from three US companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions) that profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. The historic vote was the culmination of a decade-long process and marked one of the most significant victories for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement in the United States.

PHOTOS: Christopher Hazou/IMEU

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Israeli Forces Invade Palestinian Homes in Hebron | IMEU

Israeli Forces Invade Palestinian Homes in Hebron

June 20, 2014 Ola Tamimi

For the past seven days, Israeli occupation forces have been breaking into houses in Hebron (al-Khalil), with reinforcements making daily raids into downtown Hebron. As of this writing, people have reported that around fifteen homes been occupied by the army and turned it into military bases. For example, the army occupied a five-story house belonging to the al-Qawasmeh family and forced the family to use only two floors of the house.

People are reporting that Israeli soldiers are stealing computers, eating, bathing, and relaxing in Palestinian homes while the owners are locked up in one room for hours. During the past six nights, soldiers have blown up the front doors of several houses, markets, and shops, which they then entered to carry out arrests.

When invading homes, Israeli intelligence officers are interrogating the women, girls, and children as a form of pressure and punishment. On Tuesday, a 13-year-old girl, Fida' Kubabji, had nervous breakdown while she was being interrogated. During the interrogation of Faouzi al-Joulani, 26, an Israeli officer threatened to inject him with an unknown substance if he did not cooperate with them and give them information.

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Tortured as a Child in the Israeli Prison System: One Man’s Personal Account | IMEU

Tortured as a Child in the Israeli Prison System: One Man’s Personal Account

May 14, 2014 Vivien Sansour, IMEU

"Before I went to prison I was not afraid of anything, but after - I feel like something in me has died." These are the words of Muayad, who was taken from his home in the Azeh refugee camp in Bethlehem by Israeli soldiers just a few days after he turned 16 years old in 2008. Muayad, who is now 22, spent more than a year and a half in an Israeli prison.

Describing the details of his arrest, Muayad recounts the moment they blindfolded him on his doorstep: "After shackling me with tight plastic handcuffs, they blindfolded me and then ordered me to sit while hitting me on the legs and throwing me on the floor. After searching our house a soldier who grabbed me kept hitting my head with a helmet until we reached the army jeep. When the jeep drove off I tried to figure out where it was taking me but I could not because I could not see anything. I could only feel when the car would turn or slow down."

Muayad says he was taken to an unknown location where he waited for hours on gravel before he was taken to an interrogation room. "I was placed in a room that looked more like an underground attic where I was forced to strip naked. I was complaining of pain in my knee from when the soldier beat me in front of our house but they did not pay my complaints any mind. I was so confused. I didn't know what was happening. I felt so afraid. I was so young and my brain was trying so hard to process what was happening. I was losing my mind."

Things became even more confusing when he was transported to another location, which he now knows was Al Maskoubeyeh interrogation center in Jerusalem. Upon arrival, Muayad recounts, "A soldier took me while I was still blindfolded and placed me in a narrow opening in a wall. It was less than a meter wide. A part of my body was exposed and then he started beating me up. Later that day I was taken away to a room where another man who was dressed in civilian clothing took off my blindfold and asked me to cooperate with him because he had saved me from the bad guy."

For a month, Muayad was held in solitary confinement and interrogated while being denied access to his parents or a lawyer. "Twenty-five days in solitary confinement destroyed me the most. I found a mouse and I played with it when I was not being interrogated. I began to feel that I was going to die in this dark room. I did not know if it was day or night for the whole time." Muayad was eventually sentenced to a year and a half in prison for throwing stones. "In the interrogation room the interrogator does not ask you if you threw stones, he asks how many stones did you throw."

As part of a policy to crush all resistance to its policies in the occupied territories, Israel has systematically targeted Palestinian minors for arrest and imprisonment. Once in Israeli custody, many Palestinian children face mistreatment and abuse that human rights organizations have labeled "torture."

In Muayad's case, he was lucky to get out after a year and a half and to have his family waiting to help him put his life back together. But the scars of this experience will likely haunt him for the rest of his life. Six years later, Muayad is still trying to finish school. His dream is to one day study journalism and maybe become a photographer, but for now he works in a local cafe making coffee and sandwiches.

Part of a generation of young men who have lost not only years of their lives but the spark of youth, for Muayad the nightmare is not over. Thousands of Palestinians still languish in Israeli prisons and Palestinians in the occupied territories live a life of confinement where checkpoints and army surveillance make it difficult to imagine living in freedom. Muayad says patience is the key to survival. "Solitary confinement taught me patience. A kind of patience an average person could not know if he had not endured the silence of the prison cell."

For more information about Palestinian child prisoners, see this recently released report from Defence for Children International: "Solitary confinement for Palestinian children in Israeli military detention"

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A Thirsty Generation | IMEU

A Thirsty Generation

April 25, 2014 Vivien Sansour, IMEU

One of the declared objectives of the United Nations’ World Water Day is to address water inequity in the world. Palestinians feel the sting of this injustice on a daily basis. In major cities, families suffer from shortages of drinking water while those in rural areas have lost their ability to maintain their farmlands because their water sources have been taken over by the Israeli water company, Mekorot, which provides unlimited water access to Jewish settlers while limiting Palestinian access to water resources in their own land.

Ahmad and his wife Latifa may not be involved in global activities and celebrations surrounding World Water Day but this couple knows all too well what unequal distribution of resources means first hand. They live with the daily reminder that less than twenty years ago, they were sustainable farmers and their lush farmland fed their extended family and dozens of other households around the West Bank. “We never had to buy any vegetables from the market, not in winter nor in summer. We had complete food security. We had eggplants, zucchini, and tomatoes in the summer and in the winter, we had beans and other legumes. We only bought extra things like fruits because we didn’t have many fruit trees. Even those who were not farmers would come to our land and pick vegetables for their homes for free. We had food in abundance and we shared it because we believe that he who feeds will always have sustenance,” Latifa tells me, standing at the edge of what used to be a large irrigation pool for her and her husband’s farm.

Latifa says that growing bananas was one of their main sources of income, but after water stopped flowing in their village, they lost that source. “This was the main crop that kept us afloat financially because we were able to sell it all year round. We used this pool to collect the water that runs down from the spring to irrigate. It costs so much money to dig this pool, and maintain it— not to mention all the hard work.” Tears running down her cheeks, Latifa continues, “Today is the first day I came here in many years. It breaks my heart to come here and see this land that was once our paradise turned into a yellow dry desert. What can one say? I have nothing else to say. You can look and see and the land speaks for itself. It’s thirsty and dry.”

Echoing his wife’s account, Ahmad turns his eyes away while describing how after water was taken away from Auja, he had to find work in a nearby Jewish settlement. “I became a worker for an Israeli settler from Argentina. He did not know much about farming. All my expertise as a farmer was put to use in his farm. And I went from being a free man to being a worker satisfying the demands of my master. It was very painful to watch water running all day long in his farm while my farm, which is only a couple of miles away, was drying out.”

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A Dugout Dream | IMEU

A Dugout Dream

April 25, 2013 IMEU

Thirteen years ago, Ramzi Quiseyeh had a dream -- when he was picnicking with his family on his land in Al Makhrour valley in Beit Jala he decided to turn his farm into a restaurant. He started living in a tent and inviting people to eat and enjoy the scenic valley until he built a beautiful structure on top of the mountain. Not long after, word of mouth gained Ramzi a great reputation for the delicious food he served and people started coming from all over Palestine to enjoy evenings, weddings, and parties at what became known as Al Makhrour Restaurant. While Al Makhrour valley has traditionally been a culturally significant place for local residents, recent years have left the valley rather isolated due to continuous harassment by the Israeli army that have left landowners and families hesitant to go to their terraces making Ramzi's presence there all the more significant. 

But Ramzi's dream was interrupted last May when Israeli army jeeps and three bulldozers came at six in the morning and demolished the restaurant under the premise that its construction was illegal. "They first poisoned our dogs so that they would stop barking and then they entered the property and started destroying the pavement and then in a few minutes the entire building was gone" says Ramzi's eldest son, Jihad. Al Makhrour lies in what is known according to the Oslo Accords as area C, which renders 60% of the West Bank under Israeli control.

Walking on the ruins of what once was the most charming restaurant in the region, trays of food that were salvaged lay on debris, broken glass and wine bottles that were busted in the process create a warlike scene in the middle of this serene valley. Rushing to save as many chairs and tables as possible before the bulldozer planted its teeth in the first section of the restaurant, Ramzi's eyes swell with tears as he says, "some people build and some people destroy." Indeed, Ramzi and his family had not just built up a beautiful place in Al Makhrour, they had also planted their piece of land with a collection of diverse fruit trees from apricots to walnuts, the terraces on which their house sits represent one of Palestine's most cherished agricultural sites where native trees continue to be taken care of while feeding the local community. But more than the restaurant and the trees, the Quiseyeh family had planted hope in the hearts of their community that perhaps their lands could be saved. 

This is why Ramzi vowed last year to rebuild the restaurant and to invite anyone who wants to join him to eat and declare, "We still have life here." It took Ramzi a little less than a year, and an $80,000 loan to rebuild his country restaurant where he started welcoming guests just two weeks before bulldozers and army jeeps moved into his land once again last week. This time, they arrived midday and closed off the road leading to the property. Ramzi's brother who came to be with him was not allowed to get through. He sat on a rock helpless as he watched the whole demolition take place from the other side of the valley. In a matter of one hour, the brand new restaurant was gutted out and leveled. 

Standing on the mountain where the restaurant once was, one cannot help but notice the growing Israeli settlement of Har Gilo that sits directly across the valley. Sounds of new housing construction pierce the ears while reminding everyone that these lands belong to the people of Beit Jala whose businesses are being destroyed to make way for settler houses that are yet to be inhabited.

Stepping into the scene just a couple of days after the demolition the place does not look like it can be rebuilt and Ramzi, who once had the determination of a strong man looked defeated refusing to speak to anyone. As his wife hands him a pill to calm him down, he murmurs, "It's over. We will be leaving soon."

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In Photos: Christmas in Bethlehem | IMEU

In Photos: Christmas in Bethlehem

December 23, 2012 Firas Mukarker

With the Christmas season upon us, the IMEU offers photos of Christmas scenes in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank. If you are a media outlet interested in hi-resolution versions of any of these photos, please contact us at [email protected].

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‘The cartoonish inner thoughts of a young brown man’: Husam Zakharia’s comics | IMEU

‘The cartoonish inner thoughts of a young brown man’: Husam Zakharia’s comics

June 08, 2012 Allison Deger, Mondoweiss

This article was originally published by Mondoweiss and is republished with permission.

My friend Husam Zakharia is a Palestinian comic artist living in California. Through his website "the cartoonish inner thoughts of a young brown man," Husam takes on Israeli and American policies, as well as the Arab Spring and consumerism. His online collection includes a few pieces themed around Palestinian hunger strikers. And with Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rekhawi carrying on the plight for detainee rights through 81 and 57 days of fast, respectively, I thought it relevant to post a few.

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