Saturday, December 22, 2007

Visit to Jenin Refugee Camp and Faqqu'a village

From the office of the Governor of Jenin, our Australian delegation was escorted on a tour of the infamous Jenin Refugee Camp, and then out of town to Faqqu'a Village, where Australian humanitarian aid delivers water to Palestinian homess.

At the Refugee Camp, bombed by Israeli air and ground forces in 2002, we met two of the local civic leaders (pictured at right). They acknowledged with gratitude the emergency food and medical aid received from Australia, and commented on the strong relationship between the refugees, the Near East Council of Churches, and the Christian World Service ministry of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

But they also had sad and shocking stories to share. They told of life in the refugee camp, with alleged nightly raids by IDF troops armed with guns, grenades and dogs, often working systematically through the community from 1.00 am until dawn, using loudspeakers to disrupt sleep, ordering people out on to the street, using "sound bombs" (see here for more information on these weapons), and electronically-equipped attack dogs in futile searches for terrorists. The effect, as one might expect, is physical and psychological damage to Palestinians, sleep deprivation, depression, increased violence among children, and increased hatred of the illegal occupation forces. Children especially were scared and traumatised by these Israeli activities.

"Israel is bringing us back to the stone age," said one local leader. "We are suggering tremendously as a result of these nightly raids." It was understood that these Israeli incursions were retribution, or collective punishment, for fierce Palestinian resistance to the 2002 invasion of Jenin.

"They will turn us into criminals, and there will be violent response to this oppression," we were warned, if Israel did not cease its terror activities.

On the use of attack dogs by the Israel Defense Force click here.

From the Jenin Refugee Camp, we travelled by bus north to the Green Line, and the little hill-top village of Faqqu'a. Previously its residents had worked in what is now Israeli territory, but the Security Barrier now prevented this and the village suffered 60-70 per cent unemployment. The best arable land, previously owned by Palestinians for many generations, and within the Green Line, now lies out of reach beyond the Barrier (pictured at right, with trench-and-fence barrier beyond the near field).

In addition, there is a problem of water scarcity because Israel forbids Palestinians in the region to access artesian water supplies, which are reserved for Israeli settlements and therefore protected by the Israeli military as strategic resources. To use artestan water around Faqqu'a (and in many other places), one requires a permit from the Israeli military.

We were told that, during summer, a Palestinian family may be expected to consume ten cubic metres of water per month, whereas an Israeli settler family on average would consume 128 cubic metres of water per month.

There are warm smiles on the faces of the local Palestinians we meet today, but there is little sign of hope in their eyes.

Two important website resources for further information: