Sunday, February 25, 2018

Women in Area C come together to resist recurring Israeli demolitions


By Ruth Regan - February 05, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [South Hebron Hills] [demolition] [women‘s rights] [Education] [school] [Human rights]

“The biggest resistance is not setting tyres on fire or throwing stones, but improving your own livelihood. It’s also the hardest,” says Fatima Alwahesh, head of the women’s committee in Jubbet ad-Dhib, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem of about 170 people.
 
Jubbet ad-Dhib falls in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Its proximity to The Herodium, a cone-shaped hill where the remains of Herod’s fortress stand, places the village under intense surveillance. Like other Palestinian villages in Area C, they are unable to get building permits and develop their community.
 
Jubbet ad-Dhib made the headlines last summer after its new EU-sponsored primary school was demolished the night before the new school year, without any court order. A tent was put up in its place, but more as a sign of defiance than a practical solution, as four grades were crowded together into one tent.
 
Palestinians activists then worked over a single night to rebuild the school. Starting their work at 11 p.m. the building was up by 8 a.m. the following morning.
 
This incident came shortly after the illegal confiscation of the village’s solar panels and only source of power, installed by the NGO Comet-ME. Ten days after the rebuilding of the school, the lights turned back on in Jubbet ad-Dhib after the Dutch government, which sponsored the panels, filed a case against the Israeli administration for their illegal removal.
 
Behind the scenes of this cat-and-mouse game of construction and destruction are a group of powerful Palestinian women who represent a change in traditional administration for this village.
 
Hamed Qawasmeh, a community worker who has worked closely with the village since 2007, explains women are most active in village life in Jubbet ad-Dhib and therefore face the brunt of the burdens, as the men leave for work across the border at 4 a.m. and come back late. About 70% of the village work in the Israeli labour market.
 
Following a workshop by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), the women decided to set up their own council committee.
 
“PMRS visited us and decided to do a mobile clinic. They came to give us training about women’s rights, caring for children and old people, cancer care and capacity building,” she said. “So we formed a committee for the village.” Fadia Alwahsh, 39, a member of the committee, explains.
“After we formed the committee we renewed two wells. It was a big achievement for us and for the village. We then had another five built to collect rainwater. Then we developed a tailors, a supermarket, a library and a business in renting out construction materials like a cement mixer and a crane.”
 
“We still needed electricity and water. Our life was very difficult and we hoped for any organisation to come to help us solve our problems, but no one came. But the trainings gave us skills and power to demand our rights, and to push organisations to visit us.”
 
After gaining, losing and finally regaining two fundamental human rights, electricity and education, the proactive women were bolstered in belief in their ability to commandeer change.
 
“This [the solar panels] was the biggest achievement for us. We saved energy through the sun.”
 
“Life before electricity was very hard. We faced many difficulties like having to wash clothes by hand. Daylight is long and we had nothing to do. No TV, no internet. Keeping food was difficult without fridges. Thank God we have it now.”
 
When expressing their village’s needs they do so confidently, arms folded and a serious expression across their faces. “This village is a model of how investing in a community is the most powerful method of non-violent resistance,” Alwahesh said.
 
“These women are so proactive. Nothing happened here for years and now they’ve formed this committee and boom,” Tajna, a volunteer of Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) also visiting the village remarked.
Initially, the reactions of the men of Jubbet ad-Dhib towards the womens actions were sceptical.
 
“They [the men] were against our participation in the workshops. But when they saw our achievements, they saw things they couldn’t achieve as men. Their minds were changes and they were able to support us,” Alwahsh explained.
 
Even so, the threat of destruction still looms in Jubbet ad-Dhib.
 
Qawasmeh explains “The women would have liked to see a playground for the school but have been advised by a lawyer that adding anything to the building would violate their injunction and risk demolition (once again) of the entire school.”
 
Children in Jubbet Ad-Dhib making their way home from a school rebuilt overnight by activists after it was demolished by the IDF. The closest school used to be 3KM away, in another village, now it is just 200M.
 
Qawasmeh also works in other Area C communities across the south Hebron Hills facing the same difficulties in access to infrastructure and development permits.
 
Zuweidin is a Bedouin village, which until 2016 had one co-ed school. Due to the conservative nature of the community, girls were being taken out of school from the fifth grade onwards, as parents did not want them studying with their male peers after this age.
 
The community sought a solution in order to continue to provide the girls with an education. But as an Area C village they were unable to obtain a permit to build a new school. Palestinian construction is limited to less than 1% of Area C.
 
A report by the European Parliament outlines:
 'Construction is banned in 31% of Area C (reserved for military use, nature reserves, barrier 'buffer zone'). Another 39% of the area remains under the jurisdiction of local or regional Israeli settlement councils. In the remaining 29% — which represents 18% of the West Bank as a whole — a military permit regime practically eliminates the possibility of obtaining building permits.’
 
Instead, a solution was found in the form of an empty home rented from owners who had moved out of the area. They gained permission from the Palestinian Ministry of Education to open a school here.
 
Since then, organisations such as the Amos Trust have fundraised to extend the school from serving just grades five through to nine, all the way up to the 12th.
 
The extensions have come in the form of caravans, common workarounds in this region as they can be put up quickly and are thus less likely to be confiscated by Israeli forces in the process.
 
Zuweidin Girls’ School is ran by Head-teacher Amina Da’ajneh.
 
“95 girls study here at the moment but as you can see, the school is growing all the time,” she said, gesturing to two new, half-complete classrooms sponsored by World Vision.
 
“It was such a joy to experience the energy and optimism from both teachers and students here, despite poverty and harassment from nearby Israeli settlements and the Israeli military occupation. There is an on-going effort in this area to force the Palestinians out of their villages into the city of Yatta. All the communities we met are determined to resist this forcible displacement. Developing local girls’ education is part of that resistance,” explained Jenny Derbyshire, a volunteer from Ireland who fundraised for Zuweidin school.
 
A similar story has unfolded in the close-by village Zif.
 
“When the Girls’ school was erected on May 2, 2016, it wasn’t expected that the girls would make use of it until the new school year in September. It was intended to teach just the girls from grades five to ten. On May 3, the day after it was built, every single girl, grades one and up, turned up at the gates” Qawasmeh remembers smiling.
 
Before the new school opened, 102 girls in Zif were going to school. By March 2017 the number attending had swollen to 130. It is now 165.
Qawasmeh notes that the boys were dominating the outdoor space at the previously co-ed Zif school. “The girls were isolated and not involved in playing sports or games. At their new school, teachers describe 'a transformation’. They’ve really come out of their shells.”
 

 

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