As- salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you.
I would like to thank Imam Rashied Omar, Imam Shahied Gamieldien, the Claremont Main Road Mosque Board for the opportunity to address you today. Thank you to all those who made duah for my safety in Palestine and my safe return. Shukran Kathiran.
Most importantly my grateful thanks to the Almighty.
Please allow me to greet you as Palestinians do:
Sabbah al Khayr and you will respond: Sabbah an-nur
(literally meaning: ‘I wish you a morning of light’
Today we are celebrating International Day of Solidarity with Palestine. Allow me to give you a very short history about this day:
In 1977 the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with Palestine recognising the injustice and violence perpetrated by the Israeli regime. It also provides an opportunity for the International community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remains unresolved and the indigenous Palestinian people have yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly: the right to self- determination , national independence, sovereignty and the right to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced. Madiba very famously spoke at the 1997 UN Day of Solidarity with Palestine, stating: “But we know too well our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.
How do ordinary Palestinians view the UN?
“We appreciate the celebrations, but the UN has no muscle or political will to change the reality on the ground”. Palestinians have lost hope and confidence in the UN. In fact, according to a Palestinian Journalist, columnist for Arab news: Sharif Nasha Shibi: “Solidarity without action means nothing”.
EAPPI AND THE WCC
I had the privilege, honour and opportunity to serve as an EAPPI on the ground in Palestine, for three months. I am the first Muslim from Africa to participate in this program.
EAPPI (ECUMENICAL ACCOMPANIMENT PROGRAM FOR PALESTINE AND ISRAEL) is an initiative of the WCC (WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, based in Geneva) under the ecumenical program to end the illegal occupation of Palestine. It is a Christian organisation who intentionally work with people of all faiths and no faith and was established in 2002 in response to Israeli violence, following the outbreak of the second intifada in the year 2000.
Our tasks as EAs were as follows, on the ground:
- To offer protective presence/accompaniment
- Monitor human rights abuses
- Share eyewitness accounts with the media, UN, UNESCO, faith leaders, decision makers and international awareness to increase pressure on the perpetrators of human rights abuses and help protect civilians from these abuses.
- Witness and engage – we live with local communities and participate in daily life of the Palestinians.
- We are the voice; our very presence may deter the Israeli Military and armed settler groups from abusing Palestinians.
- We document human rights abuses, bringing direct eyewitness accounts through photographs and videos to the world’s attention.
- We bring change on the ground, but also advocate for change.
Our training started immediately after arriving in East Jerusalem. We were addressed on safety and security matters, Israeli human rights groups, EAPPI field officers, the Norwegian Council for Refugees etc. We were divided into 7 teams and posted to seven different placements in the entire West Bank. My team consisted of three EAs. Our fourth EA from Colombia was deported back on arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, without any explanation by the Israeli officials. We were placed in Yatta, a city in South Hebron Hills, about 30 minutes’ drive from Hebron – Arabic name is Al-Khalil al Rahman.
Yatta is a city/enclave of about 300,000 Palestinians. It is situated in South Hebron Hills, a predominantly conservative Muslim region, and the biggest region in the West Bank, situated at the most southernmost tip of the West Bank and about 30 minutes’ drive from the Negev desert, Palestinian name Negeb. It is very close to the Dead sea, and the border of Jordan and a one-hour drive with an eight-seater service or taxi from Jerusalem. It is a mountainous land, hence the name South Hebron Hills. Most of the outskirts of Yatta are agricultural land farmed by Bedouin Palestinians, violently displaced in 1948 from the Negev by the Israeli regime. The Bedouin Palestinians brought land from the local Palestinians who fled to Yatta, escaping the violence of the Israeli regime, but several landowner Palestinians kept their land for the past centuries, under very difficult and repressive circumstances.
Facts on the ground
The Palestinians are still living with the aftermath of the ill-fated and doomed Oslo Accords, which Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas signed in 1993 and 1995-The West Bank was divided into area A, B, and C. In Area A , the Palestinian Authority have control to a certain extent, but often call in the Israeli army, during the early hours of the morning to arrest, detain Palestinian activists who oppose the PA. In Area B the Palestinian Authority have joint control with the Israelis, but limited powers. Area C is the biggest land area in the West Bank, and completely under Israeli control. Roughly over 60% of the West Bank is under Israeli military control with the permission of the Palestinian Authority.
Divide and rule strategy of the Apartheid regime – which is a colonial practice.
The Israelis have successfully divided the West Bank into separate enclaves/ ghettos, surrounded by permanent army checkpoints, flying checkpoints, army towers, barriers, army outposts, settlements, apartheid roads. Regavim, an Israeli NGO, flies drones permanently over Palestinian land to check for any new constructions with helicopters and war planes flying daily to do training, (also a means to scare and harass Palestinian shepherds).
The different ID systems
The Palestinians of the West Bank in Areas A, B, and C have one Identity document, but are still subjected to checkpoints within the West Bank.
In East Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians and Muslims have different Identity documents. They are subjected to checkpoints in Christian and Muslim quarters in the Old City and in Jerusalem. There are Israeli police and soldiers at every street corner, and security cameras everywhere. Palestinians from the West bank and Gaza cannot travel to Jerusalem, unless they have a permit obtained from the Israeli Authorities, which is virtually unobtainable. The Gaza strip is totally isolated, and the West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to enter Gaza and vice versa. We were not allowed to visit Gaza either, even though our placement was a 20-minute drive away from Gaza.
What are the daily aggressions Palestinian live under?
- Palestinians are under civil, economic, religious and military rule of Israel and the Israeli regime has the power to render their status as legal or illegal.
- They are not allowed to construct any new buildings or add on a room on their own land, if so, they are forced to demolish their own home, or the Israelis will do it.
- The Army and settlers undertake violent night searches, at about 3am in the morning, arresting and confiscating anything they deem suspect, but it is more to harass Palestinians for them to abandon their land.
- Water cisterns are destroyed, water wells that are dating back to Roman times are destroyed, solar panels are confiscated, water pipes are destroyed. The natural water resources are totally in control of the feared DCO (Israel’s civil administration), the military body that runs the occupation, ruling over millions of Palestinians. Any new sheep pens are destroyed, even tents. Bedouin caves are bombed.
- Schools are demolished.
- Landfills are placed in Palestinian territories. Israel and Israeli Settlements dump their waste and garbage in the West bank, which is done under military escort.
- Most times it consists of medical waste, poisonous solvents and metals; sewerage sludge.
- Chemical factories have been moved from Israel to the agricultural region of the West Bank polluting farmland and water resources.
- Daily harassing of teachers on their way to school. Children are attacked by armed settlers on their way to school.
- Palestinians are not allowed to travel to the Dead sea which is an hour’s drive on dirt roads from Yatta. Very often schoolteachers are hampered on their way to school, because roads have been bulldozed during the night, by the Israeli DCO.
- Agricultural land is used for quarries by the Israelis, extracting stone called “White Gold” which is exported to Germany, and then sold internationally with the profits going to the Israeli regime.
- Dispossessed farmers are forced to become labourers in Israel doing construction work and building settlements. They are forced to go through daily check points at 3am in the morning and work for exploitative wages with no labour rights. Their Israeli employers can cancel their permits at will without notifying them.
- Olive trees are burned, and land confiscated at whim.
- Accessibility to land is virtually impossible, especially when it comes to harvesting time.
- Churches and mosques are demolished to make way for archaeological explorations by the Israelis. Always using the excuse that they have discovered remnants of a thousand-year-old Hebrew temple.
How do Palestinians under occupation live purposeful lives?
The Palestinians are sociable people, known for their generosity and love entertaining visitors. They try to lead normal lives and have dreams, like us, about their children having an education, a good job and getting married. They knowingly, live life with uncertainty. Their circumstances can change any minute under occupation. Weekends are meant for families, socialising in restaurants and tea houses with friends and families. Palestinians are resilient and fight the occupation with zeal. Whenever we visited families of demolished homes or children that have been arrested by the Israeli army, you sense their strength, their resolve and steadfastness to rebuild again, and again, and the sacrifices they are prepared to make, for a free Palestine. With grace, they would offer us black tea with sage, Arabian coffee, and taboon bread- they have this intense trust in the Almighty, which is infectious. It is a nation who loves to celebrate. They often spoke of the Israelis in a humorous manner. In fact, one elderly farmer, after his home was demolished, remarked: “how can the Israelis love this land when they are so quick to destroy it…. We will rebuild it, even if they demolish it again …” They have accepted the fact, that this is their reality, and day to day living should be lived to the fullest.
They were surprised that I could not speak Arabic and many times, they would ask me to recite a surah, testing me, whether I am a real Muslim. We spent many happy moments with the Palestinians, especially at Ju’muah lunches, weddings and the funny moments after olive harvesting. I constantly reminded myself that this is an occupation and our time of living during apartheid in South Africa. Despite the oppression, we aspired to live normal lives, filled with joy and happiness like the Palestinians.
Israel as a colonial power
Israel is a colonial power linked to the destabilisation of many countries: providing arms, resources and training to militias, colonial regimes, and is very supportive of our local government in the Western Cape. We are still, as communities of colour, confronted with a legacy of ills and scourges left by the former colonial, apartheid regime. We are grappling with the destabilization of our communities, who are already facing extreme poverty, the lack of resources and are confined to living in war zones within ghettos. There is no empathy from local government. The drug wars and crime related activities have aggravated the dire situation and have led to the destabilization of communities and this has resulted in countless innocent deaths. Local authorities have no conviction or political will to resolve these challenges.
Martin Luther King said: Our lives begin to end on the day we become silent about things that matter”.
Ma’assalama- go with peace.