The Dare to Struggle Film Festival celebrates the stories and struggles of individuals, groups and communities trying to improve the world and create a fairer and more just society.
DARE TO STRUGGLE NEWEST FILM PROJECT
The Dare to Struggle Film Unit is making a documentary about the struggle of Palestinian people against Israeli settler colonialism, the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the essential role of international solidarity in winning justice for the Palestinian people.
We have just completed more than two weeks of filming in Beirut and Palestine. For security reasons we have chosen to only publicly release details of our work after leaving the region. Over the coming weeks we will share with you, via Facebook and website posts, our extraordinary journey with people on the front line of the struggle for #FreePalestine.
We hope to launch the documentary, which will be freely available for Palestinian solidarity events, before the end of 2023. The Maritime Union of Australia and the Dare to Struggle Film Unit have provided financial support for the project. Australian participants paid their own travel and accommodation costs. Participants in this project: are film makers, John Reynolds and Jill Hickson, Dr Peter Slezak UNSW Honorary Associate Professor of Philosophy, Rand Darwish, Palestinian student activist, former Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon and Bashir Sawalha, President of the United Australian Palestinian Workers Association. Thanks to Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini, From Frontyard Films, for filming our early morning (3am at Sydney Airport) departure.
A consistent message Palestinians conveyed to us from the refugee camps in Beirut to the front line in the battles to stop house demolitions in Jerusalem and the West Bank was – “please take word of our struggle to the world”.
Days 17 to 20 – 18 to 24 June 2023 – Baka Valley, outside al-Khalil (Hebron), Old City of Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv
In their final week in Palestine, the Dare to Struggle Film Unit team continued with their busy program filming people’s stories and gathering footage. On Day 17 we headed back to the Hebron region with Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), to visit the family of Atta Jaber, who lives in the Baka Valley. Atta’s house has been demolished twice in the last 20 years. Atta and his family are still living on their land in their own home thanks to ICAHD members, who have rebuilt Atta’s house after both demolitions.
Atta’s house could be demolished again as it was rebuilt without a permit and is deemed to be illegal by Israeli authorities. In the occupied Palestinian territories building regulations are set by the Israeli military. This is another example of how the Israeli state harasses Palestinian citizens by making it near impossible for them to gain approval to build or renovate. Atta tells his story of fighting the Israeli government to stop being evicted from his land. The first time the soldiers turned up to demolish his home it was winter. Rain was pouring down and Atta had his infant son in his arms. When it was clear the bulldozers would demolish his home Atta attempted to give the baby to the officer saying that without a house in winter he could not look after the child and for the soldiers to take him.
The soldiers arrested him and beat him up. He was charged with assaulting a soldier with a child and was gaoled along with his entire family who live nearby. Today Atta’s son – the infant child held in his father’s arms many years ago – is now in gaol. In the 1990s, the Israeli authorities stole nearby land owned by Atta’s family and have built illegal settlements on it. The intention was always to seize land on both sides of the road but Atta and his relatives’ resistance in remaining in their homes have so far blocked Israeli’s attempted land theft and occupation. Atta says they are attacked daily by illegal settlers from across the road. For Atta and ICHAD volunteers, like Jeff Haller, this is a campaign of resistance. Atta spoke of his determination to remain with his family on his remaining land and to fight against further demolitions and theft.
On Day 18 the film crew visited Nora in East Jerusalem in the Old City where she and her husband are under threat of eviction. We returned to catch up with her latest news. Nora explains that they have now exhausted all legal avenues to stop the eviction despite weekly protests outside her house by Palestinian and Jewish activists, Nora explained they were under constant threat of eviction as Israeli soldiers and police could turn up to evict her and her family at any time. Every Palestinian family who had been living in her block has already been forced to leave. Their homes are now occupied by illegal Jewish settlers, who with the support of Israeli authorities succeeded in having the Palestinian families evicted. Nora says her life is a torment made worse from the harassment and abuse by the surrounding illegal settlers. Nora tells us that the previous day a tour guide, speaking to a Jewish tour group, who had stopped outside her home, described her home as the last Palestinian family on this block and they would be gone within two weeks. Subsequently Nora received an official letter stating their last legal option had failed and they had two weeks to leave their apartment. Nora told us that she and her husband were determined to stay till they were thrown out having battled for years to stay in their home. Nora suffers from severe physical and mental pain. Nora and her family were very generous with their time. She outlined how their plight is part of Israel’s plan to escalate the forced removal of thousands of Palestinians from their homes across East Jerusalem. Israel’s intent is to change the demography of the area so there are more Jewish families than Palestinians. Many people we met spoke to us about this issue.
Nora and her family and their supporters all had a similar message – their resistance to the eviction would continue. We left hoping they would be successful but knowing that be tough to achieve. (Postscript: Nora and her husband were evicted on July 11. They were the 54th Palestinian family evicted in that neighbourhood since 1967. After the eviction, Nora received a bill of 50,000 NIS (AUD$19,500). In October Nora addressed the United Nations about the situation and Israel’s plan of ethnic cleansing Palestinians from their land and homes.)
A few days later, our film crew was back in Ramallah for work with Wattan TV, a secular independent media outlet in the West Bank with 3.6 million followers on Facebook. Our aim is to produce a short film about Wattan TV’s work on the West Bank so the day was spent interviewing workers, presenters and technical crew. We also accompanied a Wattan TV film crew working around Ramallah where they were filming a short media piece on domestic violence. They were seeking the opinions of men about why they thought Palestinian women suffer high levels of domestic violence.
Finally, the film crew traveled to Tel Aviv to film one of the large demonstrations opposing the judiciary changes Netanyahu is proposing that if adopted would remove any oversight body with the power to veto government laws. The protest was massive and it grew even bigger as groups marched from all parts of the city into the central gathering place. Among the mass of Israeli flags, there were a small number of Jewish groups protesting and giving out information about the situation for Palestinians like Combatants Against the Occupation. A few people with Palestinian flags and banners, who were distributing materials, were part of the protest. We did not observe any harassment or hostility directed to this section of the protest. We interviewed some of them and others at the rally.
A number of people we interviewed on the West Bank expression skepticism about these protests as they view this as a dispute between two groups of Israelis arguing over about a legal system, but none of them are challenging how this system is deeply bias against Palestinians. The way the legal system is structured is one example of how Israeli apartheid operates.
The film crew headed home tired, exhausted and concerned for the safety of many of the Palestinians and their supporters who assisted this project. So many people are regularly harassed by Israeli authorities. We also left inspired with wonderful memories of a growing resistance movement for #FreePalestine.
Now in the wake of the current onslaught of violence on the Gaza population we are determined to get the films out soon and get cracking on helping to grow the movement of international solidarity.
Day 16 – 17 June 2023 – al-Khalil (Hebron)
Our time in Palestine is coming to an end. Some of the Dare to Struggle Film Project team are heading back home. Others will stay a little longer to catch up with local family members. At our last dinner together in Palestine we reflected on all that we have experienced. The amount of excellent footage we have will make not one but many films about Palestinians experiences living under a military occupation and an apartheid system.
For the next few days our film crew are continuing to work. Today they headed back to Hebron. The Human Rights Defenders Association (HRDA) organised for us to interview young people living in Hebron – in the midst of a belligerent, often violent, illegal settler community who are supported by thousands of Israeli military personnel and a massive number of security cameras that track every move of local Palestinians. However, HRDA has an innovative project that tracks the Zionist crimes in Hebron. They are also using cameras to document settler and soldier violence at the exact moment that the atrocities occur. Imad Abu Shamsieh has been arrested and gaoled many times. He is a key figure involved with this project. 30 cameras are operating in the community. Imad explains that since their footage has been regularly released to the world he and others involved in this project are facing greater harassment and more arrests at the hands of the Israelis. For Imam this shows the Israelis don’t want the world to see the truth.
The first attack on his 10 year old daughter in 2010 while she was on her way to school involved a settler throwing a stone which hit her and suffered a fracture to the skull and jaw. Settlers prevented an ambulance from reaching his daughter so Iman carried her to the hospital.
His seven year old daughter was brutally assaulted by a settler who poured a flammable substance on her head and set her alight. Imad’s wife has also been beaten and arrested a number of times. One of Imad’s sons, Awni was arrested six times before he was 14. He is now 22 and is banned from entering the H2 area which is controlled by Israeli forces. This is where more than 35,000 Palestinians live, so he is cut off from his community. Iman explains that being arrested is not an easy matter as detainees are subjected to assaults, torture and intimidation from the moment of the arrest. Imad says the worst experience is when they beat up your son in front of you with an officer describing it in obscene language. The HRDA camera project is having a positive impact. Imad tells us that through their video documentation dozens of children have been freed from detention.
The local Zionist media play a shocking role. They regularly publish photos and names of local Palestinians and call for their arrest and deportation from Palestine. They incite violence against them. For Palestinians this results in even longer delays at checkpoints, and harassment, abuse and assaults in the streets. Iman explains the intent of this Israeli policy is to harass Palestinian families into leaving so the illegal settlers can occupy more Palestinian homes. Our film crew faced considerable difficulties entering the closed settlement area to interview young Palestinians. At the first checkpoint they were refused entry. This meant a long walk through the markets to Iman’s house. They noticed Israeli security cameras everywhere. Local children explained what they live through every day. 12 year old, Farah Jaber, told us of the time she and her brother were walking along the street and the soldiers stopped them. They beat up her brother for no reason. She describes screaming and crying and feeling helpless as she could not stop what was happening to her brother. He eventually managed to run away. She says they live in constant fear. She also described the horror of the Hebron checkpoints. The long delays mean they often miss classes. They have had their school materials confiscated and the contents of bags thrown on the ground. Farah said worst of all are the body searches, including strip searches, the Israeli soldiers subject them to.
10 year old, Imran Jaber, who lives in the main street of H2 zone, also spoke to our team. He described how a soldier hit him in the head a number of times at a checkpoint, and how illegal settlers throw stones at them as they walk to school. Sometimes they have resisted and then the Israeli soldiers spray them with tear gas and even fire bullets at them. When Imran was asked about his future, he said he could see no future and no life. Zain Abu Rumaila, a 16 year old high school student, talked about life in the middle of a Zionist settlement which was once a thriving Palestinian suburb with markets and stalls. Now it is closed to most Palestinians and illegal settlers walk around with M16s. The Palestinians who still live there suffer daily violence and abuse. Zain faces regular harassment and intimidation as she goes to and from her school and to the shops. She has missed exams when she is held up at a checkpoint. Zain described the humiliation of being searched. Her academic grades have suffered because of the fear she lives with. When we asked her about the future, Zain spoke about the wonderful and creative future her country could have if it was liberated and the occupation removed.
Iman’s 17 year old son, Saleh, told us about his experience at the hands of the military and about the dangers the young people face as a result of the occupation, the settlers and the checkpoints. He was once accused of throwing stones. The Israeli army came to his house and arrested him. The soldiers beat up his mother and father and a soldier smashed his rifle on Saleh’s right leg before taking him to detention. Like his older brother, he has now been arrested many times. Saleh told us Palestinians resist the occupation because they want to live on their traditional lands.
Our work today ended at the HRDA office. Iman had a strong message for global human rights and solidarity organisations. He called on them to recognise, support and fund the work of HRDA. They need this assistance if the world is to learn about the abuses and crimes of the Zionist occupation. If the world is to understand what Israeli authorities are allowing illegal settlers to inflict on Palestinians the local people need to have the tools – like the HRDA camera project – to document these crimes.
Our film crew returned to Jerusalem quite subdued reflecting on the Israeli military and settler violence and brutality against the Palestinians living in Hebron. The stories of the Palestinian children had been harrowing.
Day 15 – 15 June 2023 – Nabi Samwil, Palestinian village, West Jerusalem
Zionist apartheid is enforcing an extreme level of dispossession and segregation in Nabi Samwil, an ancient village in West Jerusalem. If a resident of this village is caught in Jerusalem without a permit he or she will be fined or gaoled. And this is only one example of the abuse local Palestinians are forced to live with. The story of Nabi Samwil was another reminder for us as to why we need to make this film and help build a mighty global Palestine support movement.
In the 1948 War the Zionists failed to take control of this village. However, in the 1967 War Nabi Samwil was finally brought under Israeli control. This locality is considered an important historical site for Jews as they believe that the Tomb of Solomon is under the local Mosque. This claim has never been proven, but that has not stopped Israeli harassment of Palestinians. Since 1967 many, fearing for their lives, have fled the outer areas of Nabi Samwil leaving their homes vacant. In 1971 Israeli forces took over one floor of the Mosque, turned it into a Synagogue and quickly demolished all the houses surrounding the Mosque. This resulted in another wave of Palestinian displacement. Many moved to empty houses around the village. Zionists claimed that because the residents have no history in these houses and don’t own their homes they are illegal residents. The Israeli authorities have served eviction notices on dozens of Palestinians.
We met local Councillor, Eid Barakat, who took us on a tour of the Nabi Samwil village to see people’s homes and the local Mosque. We viewed some of the worst Third World conditions we have seen. The whole area is surrounded by settlements, which are well maintained with abundant services available for settlers. In contrast living standards in Nabi Samwil are appalling. There are no street lights and the sewerage system is broken. On top of this serious health hazard the Palestinian residents are regularly attacked and abused by settlers while their freedom of movement is enormously restricted.
Residents here are classified differently from the rest of Jerusalem residents as it is deemed that they live in Zone C. This means that they are under Israel’s control but because they are outside the Apartheid Wall they are only allowed West Bank ID. This puts major restrictions on their movements and way of life. On top of this there is only one checkpoint for residents to enter and leave Nabi Samwil. All resident’s names are listed at this checkpoint, which is used to further restrict their movements. They cannot work outside Nabi Samwil. If they leave for any reason like to study, they lose their status and cannot return.
Similarly if they marry outside, they lose their status. To add to the daily discrimination they suffer they are restricted to bringing in only small quantities of food and fuel. If one breaks these rules the punishment can be extreme. Councillor Barakat’s son worked in Jerusalem, just a few kilometres away, but an illegal destination under Israel’s rules. He was caught and served six months in prison.
While we were touring the Mosque, we witnessed ugly fanatical behaviour. We came across a tour group of Jewish people from the US. One of the tour party approached us screaming that all Arabs were liars and murderers of Jews. He was very aggressive.
He appeared to be inflamed by the t-shirt worn by Rand that simply said, “Palestine”. The man repeatedly yelled that Palestine did not exist. Following this we were followed by a man with a gun. Later the Israeli police spoke to Councillor Barakat. We left the Mosque soon after these incidents.
The change in Nabi Samwil’s population numbers are telling. A 1948 survey identified 3,000 people living in Nabi Samwil. Today there are just 300. Nabi Samwil has been declared a national park as has most of the 530 villages where Palestinians were displaced by Israeli authorities in 1948. Also Palestinian residents are bound by a range of restrictions with regard to any construction or additions to their houses, including repairing infrastructure like the broken sewerage system. No store is allowed to operate in the village so the residents have set up a truck that acts like a store with a few items for sale. Residents are also not allowed to use their land for any agriculture purposes. This means Nabi Samwil residents are dependent on food being brought in by family members. If one of the residents wants someone to visit they are required to make an application. Approval for the visit usually takes about two weeks. The residents have held regular Friday protests calling for an improvement in their living conditions and for their basic rights. Each week at these protests they are attacked by the settlers. The attacks escalated after the Minister for National Security, Ben Gvir, visited Nabi Samwil. He addressed the settlers, inciting them to increase their efforts to get rid of the Arabs. Zionists use the term “Arab” as part of their tactic to refuse to recognise the existence of Palestinians. We left the tour feeling confronted by the shocking living conditions Nabi Samwil residents are forced to endure, but also enormous admiration for the dogged resistance of Palestinians to resist Zionism in all its forms and remain on their traditional lands.
Day 14 – 14 June 2023 – Ramallah
Today we headed back to the West Bank. Our first interview with Reem Abboushi, a feminist living in Ramallah, was about the current situation in Palestine. She started the interview on a topic that has come up often in our interviews, meetings and informal chats – the Israeli plan to expel all Palestinians from their land and their homes and replace them with Jewish people. She explained how this colonial project is using racism to justify the view that the Jewish people are the chosen people (by God). As a feminist, Reem keeps abreast of the situation for women in Palestine. Only 19 per cent of women are in paid employment. As a result economic hardship is severe and is impacting on the daily lives of women and their families. With the dominant narrative that women’s role is a homemaker and childcarer, the choices for women are limited. Many Palestinian women are highly educated with more women than men graduating from university level education. Yet these women have the highest rate of unemployment. Reem detailed the issues they fight in the workplace – sexual harassment, unequal wages and discrimination. Many women in Palestine are the breadwinners for their families. Often their situation is dire as their husbands are imprisoned or killed by the Israeli military. Reem identified one of the huge contradictions that feminists and progressive groups have to contend with – living under occupation with the associated violent attacks from Zionists makes it more difficult to fight for and win women’s rights. Reem was clear that both struggles need to go hand in hand. She detailed the current upsurge in the youth resistance movement.
Reem is a passionate supporter and spoke of the hope these struggles are giving to Palestinians particularly the younger generation. She explained that for decades Palestinians have participated in non violent protests. This has not achieved the change Palestinians have a right to enjoy. What has changed is that there are more violent attacks by the Israeli state. Illegal settlers and the Israeli military are killing and injuring Palestinians in increasing numbers.
Reem explained that there is much discussion in Palestinian communities about the merits of engaging in armed resistance. While some disagree others support this movement. Reem told us she believes that the current Palestinian leadership has to be challenged. Since the Oslo talks in the early 1990s there has been a massive shift in the tactics of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation leadership. Today their credibility is greatly diminished as they often act at the behest of Israel, sometimes arresting and killing Palestinian activists. Reem spoke of her respect for the new young people’s resistance groups. They have no links with the Palestinian Authority or the PLO. This new resistance movement came from grassroots communities and remains integrated with these groups across the West Bank. Reem explained that it’s clear that these young people are willing to sacrifice their lives in the struggle for Palestinian justice. Already they are making huge achievements as they are giving Palestinians hope that the resistance can achieve a just future for all Palestiians.
We also interviewed in Ramallah, Omar Assaf, from the Palestine Popular Conference. The Palestinian Popular Conference is a coalition of Palestinian political and civil society activists, who come together annually to discuss problems with the Palestinian struggle and with the current PLO/PA leadership. At the November 2022 Conference, attended by over 1500 Palestinians, the demand for a general election for all Palestinians irrespective of where they live was agreed to.
This means the worldwide Palestinian diaspora and all Palestinians in refugee camps could vote to determine the leadership of the Palestinian movement. The Conference is also calling for reform of the PLO. The PA is worried by this development as they detained Omar on the first day of the Conference in what he described as “an intimidation attempt”.
He was told not to take part in the Conference. He refused and after four hours was released. However, the Conference still faced obstacles as the Ramallah Municipality bowed to the pressure from the PA and cancelled all meetings in their locality. Omar told us that he wants the international community to become more informed about the injustices occurring in Palestine. He believes that the Right of Return for refugees is at the core of the Palestinian issue. He pointed out to us that the intransigence of the Israeli state to any form of compromise, its denial of any middle ground or place for coexistence with the Palestinians, makes it impossible to work with them. Omar also spoke about the Palestinian resistance. He started by quoting Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who said that the “old would die and the young would forget”. Omar pointed out that the young Palestinians today have not forgotten the setbacks caused by 30 years of negotiations. Palestinian leaders accepted less than 22 percent of their land. Legal ways forward provide no justice for Palestinians and the United Nations provides no protection for Palestinians. There are no consequences for Israel when they engage in violent abuse. Omar believes that many young Palestinians have concluded that the only way to move forward is to resist the Israeli occupation and to resist involves all means. The need for this resistance is demonstrated by the fact that Israel is increasing its military attacks on Palestinian refugee camps and West Bank suburbs where they believe the Resistance leadership operates from. Omar spoke about the “Axis of Resistance”, a loose formation of Palestinian groups who are working together, across most political parties. Omar told us that he believes these young Palestinians are capable of winning Palestinians their rights and achieving a new balance of power in Palestine. (Thanks to Fathi Nimer for the translation Hamza Zubeidat for arranging the interview with Omar.)
Day 13 – 13 June 2023 – Lifta village, Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem
Our day in Lifta, a Palestinian village, on the outskirts of Jerusalem stands as a memorial to the crimes of the Zionist 1948 violent attacks on Palestinians and their property. These attacks were at the heart of the 1948 war that established Israel. We toured Lifta, perched on the sides of a deep valley, with a former resident of this village, 83 year old Yacoub Odeh. Yacoub described his memories, as an eight year old, of the day hundreds of men, women and children arrived in their valley in a state of terrible distress. He learnt that these people, from neighbouring villages, were fleeing from a terrible catastrophe. A nearby village, Deir Yassin, is the site of one of the many 1948 massacres. More than one hundred men, women and children were murdered.
Yacoub described to us the delights of his early years – swims in the valley’s spring water, abundant fruit in the numerous orchards, agriculture terraces producing numerous crops and lots of friends to play and attend school with. Figs and oranges were a favourite for Yacoub and his friends. Yacoub explained how villagers cooperated with irrigation, harvesting and general food production. He said he felt like Lifta was one big family. This all changed so quickly for Yacoub, his family and friends.
Our walk though Lifta revealed the evidence of the Zionist militia’s crimes. While many ancient stone buildings are still standing the attack left them uninhabitable. Yacoub described what became of his home and all the Lifta buildings. The Zionist forces smashed in roofs and the critical keystone bricks were removed. (The keystone literally holds all the stone work in place to form the beautiful arches that once graced most of the Lifta buildings.)
Yacoub pointed out the location of Lifta’s mosque, winepress and bakery. Excess produce was sold at a nearby Jerusalem market.
After the attack by Zionist gangs, all buildings were left in a dangerous state. It was very moving to hear Yacoub’s memories. It was easy to imagine life once humming in this valley. Jacob has strong memories of family and village life, but his happy childhood was shattered. News of the massacres of tens of thousands of Palestinians was spreading. Hundreds of residents fled as they were fearful they could be massacred by the Zionist armed gangs. Yacoub explained how he lost so many friends following the forced evacuation. In a relatively short period the 3000 inhabitants of Lifta were gone, and the 300 homes and shops deserted with about 60 buildings remaining in stages of deterioration. Lifta has a tentative standing on UNESCO’s world heritage listings. However, this provides no protection against the continuing Zionist threats.
Yacoub pointed out new structures, permitted under Israeli law, have been already been built, and the whole area is under notorious Israeli Land Authority, which has a development plan for the Lifta area that would use the construction of luxurious villas, hotels and shops to further alienate this land from the original owners, Palestinians.
Lifta Boutique Hotel, catering for wealthy Israelis and cashed up tourists, has taken over one of the stone buildings and a major complex for horse breeding is also operating in the valley. Lifta stands as a monument to the ongoing Nakba and also as a beacon for the “right of return” campaign for all Palestinians who wish to return to their homes and villages. Spending time with Yacoub was a further reminder of the many facets of the Palestinian resistance.
Day 12 – Monday 12 June 2023 – Silwan, suburb of East Jerusalem
Our visit to Silwan, a Jerusalem suburb, a few kilometres east of the Old City was another confronting day. One of the Palestinians we met said to us: “In 1948 and 1967 our grandparents and parents left when the Zionists invaded. We have learnt from their experience. We don’t blame them for leaving, but we will never leave.” These words sum up the sentiments of so many of the people we met today.
Despite ongoing acts of cruelty inflicted by the Israelis so many Palestinians said to us they would not move. We met many families living with the threat of bulldozers arriving to demolish their homes. The fear and uncertainty this puts these Palestinian residents under is palpable. Mass actions organised by local Palestinians are the common response to the demolitions. These protests expose how the Israeli apartheid policies that permit Israelis to expand their homes, very rarely allow Palestinians to even renovate. So many of the Silwan residents we met had similar stories about Israeli demolition threats. We were shocked to hear that some residents who have had their homes demolished have had to pay all the costs of the demolition back to the Israeli state – this includes the hire charge for the bulldozer plus petrol, costs of soldiers and any other security. The costs usually range between $200,000 and $300,000. Many described that they felt like they were living in a war zone with Israeli soldiers taking their land and homes by force. If the Palestinians speak out, protest or throw stones they can end up in long term detention. Young men and boys from so many families fill the gaols or have served time. For Palestinians they are effectively living through a war: with land theft on a massive scale enforced with killings, beatings and torture.
On a number of Silwan streets, illegal settlers have moved into apartments once owned by Palestinians. Here we again saw apartheid in action. Unlike the Palestinian residents in Silwan, the Zionists face no threat of house demolitions and no restrictions on building extensions or undertaking renovations.
The mass scale of the evictions and demolitions – estimated at about 20,000 Palestinians – that the Israeli state is attempting to inflict on residents of East Jerusalem demonstrates how the settler colonial tactics of 1948 continue. Israel is attempting to create a Jewish demographic majority to help drive Palestinians out of Palestine and maximize control over those who remain. Israel tries to justify the house demolitions with the excuse that the confiscated land will be used to develop green areas around East Jerusalem. Israeli sponsored archaeology digs are also used to harass Palestinians into leaving. A number of residents described to us how the walls of their homes and businesses have cracked due to subsidence linked to an underground excavation. The Israel Antiquities Authority halted the dig for a short time but there has been no compensation or assistance provided to impacted Palestinians. Many residents said that it is very hard for them to hold down a job because of the uncertainty about where they will live if their home is demolished. Some decide to demolish their house themselves so they don’t have to pay demolition costs to the Israelis.
Thousands of boys and young men from Silwan have been detained and gaoled. The impact this is having on families is immensely sad. Israeli’s new strategy is to put the young teenagers they arrest, put under house arrest. Some parents described how destructive this has been to their sons and their whole family. When the teenagers are restricted to the house they can see their friends outside and they come to blame their parents for stopping them playing with their friends and in some cases for not stopping the abuse of the Israeli authorities. One father said his son calls him “his gaoler”. In the photos below you can see a number of houses in Silwan with giant eyes painted on their front walls. This is a protest tactic to tell the Israelis they are being watched. The Palestinians are using hand held and mounted cameras to monitor every move of the illegal settlers and the Israeli military and security forces.
The Palestinians in Silwan are suffering under Israel’s judaisation plans for East Jerusalem. They are on the front line of the war Israel is waging to evict them from their homes and drive them off their land. By far the majority of Palestinians we met – young and old, men and women – had a clear message, “we are not leaving” and “please tell the world about Israel’s crimes against us”.
Day 11 – Sunday 11 June 2023 Jerusalem
Today we met up with Osama Risheq, a lecturer at Jerusalem Al Quds university. He will be our guide for the next few days. Today. East Jerusalem, the Old City is our canvas.
The Old City of Jerusalem is enclosed by an outer wall and is approx one square kilometre. We begin at Herod’s Gate. The history of the wall dates back to Roman times and over the centuries the wall got higher and higher as new conquerors added greater height.
As we walk through the narrow city streets, we hear about the extent to which the Israeli government is legislating to make it difficult for Palestinians to continue living in their homes in the Old City.
Osama told us that nearly every Palestinian house in the Old City and surrounding suburbs have had eviction notices served on them. If they don’t comply the Palestinian residents are issued with large fines. This forces Palestinians to fight the eviction in the courts resulting in more costs from high legal bills. The best this can achieve is a delay in the eviction. The government grants very few construction permits for Palestinians to build extensions to their house or even to make repairs like to broken sewerage pipes. If they do any such work their houses can be declared illegal and demolished. These are some of the tactics used by the Israeli authorities to pressure Palestinians to pack up and leave. Once Palestinians leave they cannot return. Their home is immediately renovated and Jewish settlers move in to replace them. And so it goes on…
Osama explained that in Jerusalem’s Old City there were never any divisions or so called “quarters”. Now there is the Jewish quarter, the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter and the Muslim quarter. The Jewish quarter is expanding rapidly at the expense of Palestinians. Evictions are the main tool used to remove Palestinians. For Palestinian families that stay they face constant harassment and violence from Jewish settlers they live amongst.
We stopped by the Burj Al-luglug Centre. Here we met with Muntaser Edkaidek, the executive manager of the Centre. He explained the history of the Centre. In 1990 Ariel Sharon confiscated the land the Centre is on, claiming it would be the largest Jewish settlement in the Old City with 240 apartments which would change the demography of the city. Sharon fought in the 1948 Palestinian war and was a former prime minister. The local Palestinians rejected this plan and for seven years fought off the Israelis construction plans. In the courts they proved the land belonged to Palestinian Jerusalemite families, not Jewish owners. Locals occupied the land, putting up tents and sleeping on site and running activities in the daytime. In 1998, the Knesset decided that the settlement would not be built. This was a big win for the community and all Palestinians of the Old City.
Muntaser took us to where there was a children’s playground. He explained that in 2004 there had been a kindergarten school for kids with special needs. The Israelis bulldozed the kindergarten destroying it completely. In defiance, the Centre put up extensive tent structures and carried on with the school.
The Centre is under scrutiny by Israeli security at all times. Cameras that surround the Centre point inwards in order to monitor that the Centre’s activities adhere to the strict Israeli guidelines. They are not allowed any programs that are jointly sponsored with a Palestinian organisation.
Muntaser explained to us that they were living under occupation and that the Centre is a defiant example of resistance. We left understanding that all associated with this community will continue to resist every attempt to displace the Centre.
We then visited a man and his family whose house is now surrounded by Jewish settlers who want him evicted. He described the intolerable situation they face – harassment from settlers, a broken sewage pipe under his house which he is forbidden to fix, and the threat of daily eviction. When we went up onto the roof of his building, a number of Jewish men emerged from their houses to confront us and prevent us from being there. This was a place that had been accessible to all residents prior to the Jewish families moving in. Despite this intolerable situation, as a Palestinian he was determined to stay and not be displaced from his traditional home. We heard about similar acts of defiance from many Palestinians we met.
We finished our tour at Nora’s house where the ongoing eviction order is still yet to be carried out. We stayed and interviewed Nora’s two sons and daughter who explained the difficulties and the mental toll the stress has meant for their mother. A number of people were there in solidarity – young Jewish and Palestinian activists and NGO representatives who were documenting the eviction process. We too expressed our solidarity with the family and vowed to take their story to Australian people.
Day 10 – Saturday 10 June 2023 al-Khalil (Hebron)
Zionist activities in Hebron are notorious for their use of violence and brutal acts carried out with impunity due to the presence of Israeli troops. Hebron is situated in the south of the occupied West Bank. It has has been under Israeli military control since the 1967 War. Today it is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and occupied by about 700 illegal settlers.
We found our visit confronting. It was hard to believe that Palestinian residents in Hebron endure “crimes against humanity” on a daily basis. Zionist occupiers (settlers) are waging regular attacks on Palestinians in their homes, at work, walking to school and in public spaces. The violence Palestinians endure is exacerbated by about 18 Israeli military checkpoints in the city centre, and bans from travelling on several main Hebron streets and increased digital surveillance. Meanwhile Zionist settlers are protected by an entire Israeli military brigade believed to number about 2000 troops.
We met with members of Human Rights Defenders Group, which exposes violations of international law and injustice in areas under Israeli occupation, and Defence for Children International – Palestine. With members of these groups we toured Hebron and met with locals. Their stories were harrowing. So many young Palestinian men and boys are being arrested, detained and tortured. Palestinian homes are being demolished or forcibly occupied. Israeli troops regularly protect illegal settlers breaking into the homes of Palestinians.
Walking to school can put students in the front line of attacks. The violence can come in the form of insults from settlers and on some days physical assaults while Israeli military personnel look on. Then there are the body searches many students have to endure at the checkpoints. Some residents told us of being subjected to strip searches while taking their children to school or going to work. Palestinian children, who have been arrested, have suffered shocking abuse. Many have been blindfolded and denied adequate food, water and medical assistance, while held in detention.
We heard tragic stories about what has happened when illegal settlers forcibly occupy Palestinians homes. The Palestinians still living in these apartments are living with constant turmoil when illegal settlers are living above or beside them. On top of daily harassment and the fear that they could also be forcibly evicted by violent settlers, they face daily restrictions. Palestinians are not allowed to drive on a number of streets which means they can’t access their home by car so they have to carry their shopping and all household goods. These illegal settlers use their homes as a base to harass their Palestinian neighbours with verbal abuse and very loud noise. The Zionist occupiers have demolished some local schools in Hebron. In others they confiscate critical equipment. Living with constant fear and violence many Palestinians have moved away. For others they described how this colonial settler violence has made them more determined to oppose and expose the Zionist criminal acts they suffer and witness.
One example of how Palestinians are fighting back is a video project, Weapons of Life. With donated cameras, young and old Palestinians are documenting how they and others are treated by Israeli soldiers and settlers. They have over 22 cameras. The results – videos of suspected human rights abuses – are providing evidence for court cases, media stories and human rights reports.
Our walk around Hebron revealed the extent of crimes being committed by the Israeli occupiers. Understandably the Old City of Hebron was a declared a World Heritage Site. Narrow winding streets, famous bazaars and unique stone structures abound but much of this ancient beauty has been desecrated by barbed wire barricades, extensive metal fencing, ugly checkpoints and thousands of surveillance cameras. And then there is the fenced in market place, where a small mesh wire covering has been stretched across this thoroughfare. This barrier is needed because illegal Zionist settlers, who now occupy what were once Palestinian homes that overlook the market, use their vantage point to hurl bricks, bottles and putrid rubbish at Palestinian traders and passers-by.
Our Hebron visit provided solid evidence of how these illegal settlers are another arm of the military structures Israel is imposing across Palestine. All of this is heavily subsidised by the Israeli state. What we also witnessed was deeply encouraging – the strength and determination of Palestinian resistance. It was inspiring.
Day 9 – Friday 9 June 2023 Jerusalem
Our base for this Palestine film project has been the Old City of Jerusalem. The location has proved to be delightful, informative and at times distressing. The heavy presence of Israeli military and police at strategic points throughout the Old City is a constant reminder of the brutality and harassment that Palestinians are forced to live with. Every day we witness young Palestinian men being targeted by these security forces.
The Zionist occupation of the Old City is readily apparent. Increasing numbers of buildings display Israeli flags and the number of occupied premises is on the increase. Today we witnessed one of the many ways the Israeli forces are forcing Palestinians out of their homes. This was not an organised event on our program.
We happened to be in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City when we came across a protest in support of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family, who are fighting to stay in their apartment.
About 50 young Palestinians and Israelis were protesting in support of 68 year old Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban and her family who the Israeli authorities have been trying to evict for over 45 years. We were keen to hear what the protest was about and get a feel for a Palestinian protest supported by progressive Israelis. The protesters main concern was that the Israeli Supreme Court had recently upheld the eviction order issued in February. This ends the legal appeal process that Nora and her supporters have been battling. Nora and her husband Mustafa have been told they must vacate their home by July 13 or face eviction. This protest has been enormously significant as this eviction is not a dispute over a single property.
This is another front line battle to stop the invasion of illegal Israeli settlers, who with Israeli government backing, are working to achieve Jewish control of the Old City and of Jerusalem.
The Sub Laban family home, where Nora was born in 1955, is in the heart of the Muslim Quarter. Their upstairs apartment looks out towards Al-Aqsa mosque. Situated half way up a slight incline the 200 year old home is in a classic Old City precinct. It is near rows of shops built with the famous archways, along narrow alleyways paved in rough-hewed stones, that so characterise this historic city.
But this area, located just a few hundred metres from the Wailing War, a sacred site for Jewish people, has been targeted for decades by Zionists, who choose to ignore the fact that sites sacred to Muslims and Christains are also nearby. Over the years Nora has seen all her neighbours forced to leave. The Sub-Lahans are the last Palestinian family in this block. If the protesters, Nora and Mustafa cannot hang on the entire apartment block will have been taken over by illegal settlers.
The struggle by Nora and so many other Palestinians fighting to keep their homes escalated enormously after the 1967 War. While the Israeli authorities attempt to justify the occupation by arguing that they formally annexed the Old City, by far the majority of countries and the United Nations, refer to Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank as the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Although it is nearly 60 years since the 1967 War it was clear from even our brief visit to the Old City that the illegal settlers are a form of front line Israeli troops occupying Palestinian land and expelling those who have a right to live and work and die on their land.
The protesters told us that the actions to stop the eviction of the Sub Lahan family in coming days would continue. Many protesters were invited by the family to live in their home to help stop the expected eviction. We said we would be back to support their protest.
Day 8 – Thursday 8 June 2023, Jerusalem
Today we took a political tour around Greater Jerusalem with members of Grassroots Al Quds. Our guide, Fayrouz Sharqawi, a former director with Grassroots, set the scene for our tour detailing how Zionists in the 1800s set their sights on establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine. This resulted in the inevitable displacement of the indigenous population, the Palestinians. Touring around we saw the ugly results of how settler colonialism continues to this day.
Fayrouz explained that it was the British colonial authorities occupying Palestine after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, who promised the land of Palestine, the land they didn’t own, to the Zionist Movement. Between 1947 and 1949, the massive displacement of Palestinians began. After the 1948 war on Palestinians that drove hundreds of thousands off their land, 78 per cent of the land of Palestine was taken by the Zionist militias to form Israel. From these early days Israel created laws to justify its crimes. One of the first was the absentee property law. This law allows confiscated property to become part of the State of Israel until the owners come and reclaim their property. This is hardly possible as Israeli authorities do not allow refugees – the owners of the stolen property – to return to their homes and land. The property is then given to settlers and settler organisations.
Our tour took us around Greater Jerusalem. Fayrouz told us how after the 1967 war, all of Jerusalem’s old city and its surrounding suburbs came under Israeli control. The Zionists quickly expanded the municipal boundaries by more than 70 square kilometres and developed a variety of methods that has enabled Israel over the intervening decades to systematically displace Palestinians out of Jerusalem. This trend is intensifying with tragic consequences. It’s a challenge for Palestinians to remain in Jerusalem. There are not enough houses, jobs, schools or hospitals. Since 1967, Israel has displaced 15,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem.
In 1970, Israel created a 50 year master plan for Jerusalem, called “Jerusalem 2020”. Israeli occupation authorities declared, shamelessly, that they want to achieve and maintain a demographic “balance” between Jews and non Jews. This is Zionist terminology, and their target is 70 per cent Jewish and 30 per cent non Jewish.
Fayrouz explained how Palestinian land is systematically confiscated by Zionists to build colonies. The sanitised language of Zionists for this aspect of their colonisation is settlements. There are different types of colonies. We filmed at many examples of these colonies. Some are built in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods on land they steal. Then they expand out by taking more and more Palestinian homes through home evictions. There are also colonies built just outside of the Palestinian neighbourhoods also on stolen land, with the idea of preventing these neighbourhoods from growing outwards as communities expand. A third type of colony that exists in the West Bank are those that are independent townships, they have their own municipal authority. The settler/colonisers from these towns harass Palestinians and constantly steal their farmlands and claim them for themselves.
Today in the eastern part of Jerusalem there are around 220,000 illegal Israeli settlers. Another ruthless tool used by the Zionists is home demolitions. Israelis claim they only demolish Palestinian homes that are built illegally. What is illegal is determined by the Israeli occupation authority, which rejects 94 per cent of Palestinian applications for building permits. This means Palestinians can rarely build or renovate. Often the only option is to build illegally. A Palestinian family will receive a notice saying they built illegally and they must pay tens of thousands in fines. Later comes the next notice which says they must either demolish their house or the authorities will demolish it for them. Those who decide not to demolish their homes and resist the Israeli police, army and bulldozers still have their homes destroyed and then they receive a bill for tens of thousands of dollars to cover the expense of the demolition of their own home. The threat of being made homeless is an unbearable economic situation for Palestinians. Almost 80 per cent of Palestinians in Jerusalem live below the poverty line.
One of our stopping points was at the Apartheid Wall. Here Fayrouz explained how the Israelis have constructed the Wall so Jerusalem is separated from the rest of the West Bank. This is having huge economic, family and community consequences for Palestinians. There have been many actions at the Wall – sections we visited are blackened from fire and covered in graffiti. To stop protesters Israeli troops are using sound bombs, teargas, grenades and rubber coated metal bullets. The Israeli army and police regularly raid Palestinian communities. To add further to the shame of the Israeli state they are using one of their latest anti-personnel inventions, skunk water to disperse demonstrators. People sprayed with skunk water report it smells worse than raw sewage and lingers on one’s skin, buildings and other structures for days or longer. This Israeli invention has been sold by Israel to governments around the world.
We left the tour with the Grassroots Al Quds team better informed and much more aware of the shocking treatment of Palestinians by Israelis. Because governments around the world are doing effectively nothing about the crimes we heard about, today highlighted for us that our Palestine film project can assist to build international solidarity at a grassroots level.
Day 7 Wednesday 7 June 2023 West Bank, Palestine
Today we head back to Ramallah in Occupied West Bank to meet with Khaled Quzmar, general director, Defence for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine).
DCI Palestine works with children and families who have been arrested and spend time in Israeli prisons. Khaled told us that today you cannot find a Palestinian family that has not had at least one member in an Israeli prison.
When Khaled was 14, visiting his older brother in prison, he was upset not to be allowed to touch or hug his brother. It was at that moment he decided to become a lawyer and work for Palestinian prisoners with or without fees taking this as his contribution in the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Khaled told us that there was no limit to the types of torture that Palestinian children are subjected to. The nightmare for the child begins with the arrest where ten’s of soldiers carrying M16s surround the house, smash the door down, beat up family members while taking the child away to prison, alone. Nobody can be with him. No one can help him, His interrogator offers him an opportunity to get out of the nightmare by demanding a signed confession. Such is the psychological situation the child is put under.
Every child is subjected to interrogation and torture. How it is put into practice is often up to the individual interrogator. Khaled told us that it has become a kind of competition between the interrogators who will use different kinds of torture in order to obtain a confession. In reality, the interrogators don’t care about the truth or what the child really did, the confession is part of the humiliation process and the signed document is often used against others.
Usually the child is aged 13-15. With the trauma of children escalating, in1997 DCI Palestine, established a psychological unit which works with the children. It was not easy to convince the children themselves that they need such kind of support and DCI works with the family to understand how to treat the child when he returns.
The traumatising of children by the Israeli military and settlers is a daily occurrence. The arrest, imprisoning and torture is continuous and escalating.
Khaled told us that it is curious that Israel considers itself as the only democratic state in the world in the Middle East when in fact it is the only state in the world, arresting and prosecuting children in military courts, hundreds of cases yearly, and torturing children, killing children.
For doing this work, DCI have been subject to many attacks from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Israeli security, and the Israeli right wing. On July 29, 2021, at 5 in the morning DCI office was raided by the Israeli soldiers.
Then when all this failed, Israel designated DCI Palestine as a terrorist organisation. But they failed to convince DCI partners and the funding and work of DCI continues.
We then head across to the BDS Office where we meet with Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the BDS National Committee.
He explains that BDS is a Palestinian led global movement on a global scale. BDS is the campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and represents the biggest coalition of Palestinian political parties, trade unions, professional syndicates and NGOs. Mahmoud called it a coalition of coalitions.
Mahmoud talked about the situation today in Palestine under military occupation. He talked about the two tools used by Israel: Apartheid and settler colonialism denying the right of return of Palestinian refugees who make up 50% of Palestinian population in and outside Palestine.
Under Israel’s system of Apartheid, the Occupied West Bank is being broken up into smaller and smaller parcels separating communities and denying owners access to their land using military checkpoints, the Apartheid wall, the building and expanding of settlements on stolen Palestinian land, the house evictions and demolitions, stealing the natural resources like water from the West Bank.While Israel guarantees any Jewish person the right of return and citizenship, Palestinian refugees whose land it is, are refused the right of return. But this is one of the most important demand of the BDS.Israel commits all these war crimes with impunity with support from key Western countries like US. This global complicity on governmental level between Israel and key countries around the world made BDS consider how to effective counter the normalisation of Israel. Mahmoud said it was decided that a grassroots global response was needed. And in 2005 there was a Palestinian consensus around launching the BDS, calling for sanctions on Israel until it complies with International law.
BDS has three demands: End the occupation; End apartheid and discrimination; and the right of return for Palestinians refugees.
These demands are the basic minimum requirement for any political solution. Mahmoud explained that BDS doesn’t have a political solution but supports the Palestinians right of self determination where Palestinians can decide what type of state they want.
In 2015, Israel declared BDS a strategic threat. Israel funded projects like Brand Israel, had Jewish groups fight BDS on campuses, everywhere they could, in the courts. Now Israel have moved to the criminalisation of the BDS movement and the false allegation of being antisemitist. There are court cases all over the world and BDS is winning every one. In Germany, there are 8 court cases, the US there are 12 cases against the BDS. Every court so far is saying that BDS is part of freedom of expression. BDS keeps building globally and is successful. Progressive Jews all over the world support BDS.
When Israel failed to stop the BDS movement, Mahmoud was arrested. At 3am, 60 soldiers from special forces with dogs and smashed down the door to arrest him. His wife and 3 kids were frightened. He was held for 19 days. All his devices were taken. He was blindfolded, interrogated every day for up to 17 hours at a time. It was torture, but psychologically it was the worst part. He was told repeatedly that he would not see his 3 year old son for years while he was in jail. They held him in a small underground cell where you can’t be heard or lay down on the hard concrete wall. While he was there there were kids were in the cells next to him, one who cried all night calling for his mum. His lawyer was allow to see him after 12 days. After 19 days they released him. He believes that the international outcry was enough to get him released.
BDS success is by not targeting individuals, but targeting commercial institutions, governments, arts and cultural events and more. It can be calling for an academic, cultural, sports, boycott targeting Israel not the settlers. This is because Israel is responsible for the land confiscations, the annexation, ethnic cleaning, building bypass roads and the apartheid regime. It can be an Israeli corporation or non Israeli corporation.
These corporations are complicit with Israel. It can be white washing, green washing, and can be part of maintaining the settler apartheid regime. Building the bypass roads, light rail, and bridges that connect Jerusalem with settlements, building the apartheid wall, building settlements, tech companies developing software for use by the Israel military at checkpoints, or to identify where you are living. By using the BDS campaign, these companies can lose millions and will often withdraw from the project.
Goods from settlements are targeted as they are built on stolen land and are stealing resources for their industries. Those companies investing in the settlements are also targeted.BDS is a human rights, anti violent resistance movement that is for the Palestinian freedom, justice and equal rights. It is all open and public.
Mahmoud talked about how how to implement the BDS campaign as part of the international solidarity support for Palestine. He stressed it was important is getting policy changed in local councils and other bodies, to get apartheid free zones, convince MP to talk about Israel being a criminal state committing the crime of apartheid.
At the Parliamentary level, push for a change in government policy on Apartheid with some bans on trade, reject any governmental work for Israel. As well at the Grassroots level they need to educate their membership and encourage them to get involved in BDS, or their own campaigns. Trade unions play a important role in supporting the Palestinian struggle.
Our return trip from Ramallah to Jerusalem provided an insight into the daily abuse, discrimination and underlying threats of violence that Palestinians face at the hands of Israeli security forces. Our bus trip that should have taken 30 minutes became hours of unpleasant and insulting interactions with the young Israeli military personnel. The challenges started when we had to leave our bus at the Qalandia checkpoint which is used by Israeli military to determine which Palestinians can travel to East Jerusalem and Israel. We alighted from the bus into a huge waste land of dust and rubbish. There is no signage giving directions. Our Palestinian companions from the bus showed us where to go. We eventually found the right building and queued up in what can only be described as cattle pens. Again no explanation of what will happen. Over half an hour elapsed.
The Israelis must have put a lot of thought and planning into making the Qalandia checkpoint extremely inhumane. It is apartheid in action. Some of our team started taking photos. At least this provoked a response from the Israeli military locked away in a glass box overseeing everyone. A voice boomed out that we must stop taking photos and to report to them immediately. They demanded that we delete all our photos. After we fiddled with our phones and watched them gesticulating at us though their glass box they waved us through and we proceeded to the next barrier. While we had deleted some photos we did not delete them entirely off the phone and the military officers never checked.
After our passports and visas were examined we were released into a long corridor. By now we were extra tired and hungry. For thousands of Palestinians this is how their working day starts. They must show their permits to pass through for work, health care, education or religious purposes. If you are a Palestinian hoping to make a casual trip to visit the Old City or see friends in Jerusalem you will not be allowed to. This is Zionism.
Day 6 – Tuesday 6 June 2023 West Bank, Palestine
Our tour around Jerusalem with David Sheen, an investigative journalist, from Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) revealed the stark evidence of the Zionist plans to transform Palestine from an Arab country to a Jewish nation.
The illegal settlements we visited are a key aspect of Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations that started in 1948. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who live in Greater Jerusalem face an uncertain future never knowing if they will be forcibly evicted or if their home will be demolished while they are at work. A chilling comment we heard was: “We never know when the bulldozers will arrive”. These barbaric acts are designed to drive Palestinians out of Palestine. Israel’s separation wall, and the numerous watch towers, add to the ominous, constant presence of settler colonialism. The wall, 12 to 19 metres high, is the infrastructure of apartheid. Zionists justify the wall as a necessary security measure, but where it has been built reveals the real intent is to confiscate Palestinian land and make daily life for Palestinians much harder.
Illegal settlements continue to be built at a rapid pace around Jerusalem
Hearing about the impact this is having on Palestinians brought home to us the extent of the crimes of the Israeli state. Residents in many Jerusalem neighbourhoods are cut off from the rest of the city, which means they are cut off from local schools, public facilities and vital infrastructure. On top of this Palestinians, who are required to pay taxes to the Israeli state, do not have access to the same level of services as Jewish people. Three to four times more money is spent on infrastructure in Jewish communities compared to areas that are home to Palestinians. Palestinians do not receive postal deliveries, they have to collect their mail from the post office. Garbage collections are non-existent in most Palestinian suburbs and water quality for Palestinians is poor and their water sources are claimed by the Israeli state and used extensively for the illegal settlements. But in West Jerusalem, dominated by Jewish people, there are regular collections, free flowing clean water, pavements and more.
The wall on the Palestinian side is ugly concrete but on the Israeli side it is beautified creating a feeling of safety, with art works and gardens adorning what appears like a noise barrier.
We witnessed how the transport system has been adapted to further entrench apartheid. Palestinians in the occupied territories can only drive cars with white or green number plates and are not allowed on Israeli roads. This allows the Israeli police and military to constantly control the movement of Palestinians. Numerous Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks are used to enforce these apartheid measures. By contrast Israeli citizens are allocated yellow number plates for their cars, which allow them to travel freely in the West Bank as well as in Israel. The apartheid policy even applies to footpaths. We observed where a footpath along with curb and guttering was constructed beside an illegal settlement. But all this stopped where the neighbouring Palestinian homes started. A dusty dirt pathway replaced the neatly concreted sidewalk. We saw what this means for school students and residents with their shopping walk down the road dodging cars.
On the illegal settlement side of the road, there are pavements, bus stations, gardens and parking areas while on the Palestinian side, there are none of these things and it is dangerous to walk along the street.
David Sheen giving the ICAHD tour of Jerusalem to the Australian team.
After thanking David Sheen for his comprehensive tour (highly recommended if you visit Palestine/Israel) we headed to the home of Jeff Halper.
Jeff, an Israeli-American anthropologist, is a political activist and Co-founder and Director of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and author of many books on the issue. He has lived in Israel for 50 years. Jeff described how the US civil rights movement, the international struggles against the Vietnam War and the politics of the radical Left have influenced him. He works extensively with Palestinians, building alliances and raising awareness of the crimes of the apartheid Israeli state. Creating joint resistance to the Zionist occupation is his priority. He and his colleagues view rebuilding houses demolished by the Israeli state and by illegal settlers as acts of political resistance.
Jeff also explored with us his ideas for building a genuine movement of liberation to create one state with one citizenship, one legal system that recognises and facilitates the right of return for all Palestinians. He recognises that many people say one state is impossible but he sees the expansion of the Palestinian movement for liberation as the key, with young Palestinians playing a leading role to work through the many challenges.
Hearing Jeff’s passion for building a single democratic, secular state in historic Palestine was a powerful end to another enormously informative day.
Day 5 – Monday 5 June 2023 West Bank, Palestine
Today we are headed to Ramallah to meet with Dr Hanan Ashrawi and Wattan TV staff.
On leaving our accomodation in the old city of Jerusalem, we had to pass a number of checkpoints where Israeli soldiers quite openly only picked out young Palestinian men from those walking by, to search, harass and arrest as part of the plan to force out the Palestinian population from the Old City and in doing so, increase the Jewish dominance of the area. And so there are a high number of Palestinians being evicted from their homes where they have lived for generations.
The trip to the administrative capital of Palestine, about 20 kilometres north of Jerusalem where we are staying, should take less than 30 minutes but our trip was well over one hour because we had to pass through the massive Qalandia checkpoint. This is one part of the apartheid network built by the Israeli state that covers occupied Palestine along with the Separation Wall and the Israeli only road network. Every day Palestinians going to work are delayed, often for hours, at these Israeli military checkpoints. Freedom of movement does not apply to Palestinians. They live under an extreme regime of racist, apartheid prohibitions and permits.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician, academic, writer and justice advocate, was the Minister of Higher Education and Research under the Palestinian Authority. Hanan currently serves on the boards of several international organisations and is the Head of the Department of Culture and Information of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. We started off chatting about Hanan’s visit to Australia to receive the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize. This award became very controversial when anti Palestinian forces in Australia lobbied hard to have the prize revoked. This disgraceful attempt to take the prize off Hanan failed. The international campaign of support for Hanan was outstanding.
Hanan, in her interview for our film, emphasised the real, immediate issues that impact on the lives of Palestinians. She said it is vital that our work for Palestine gives people hope that they can live on their own land, stop Israel’s expansionist agenda and that their refugee status will end. She spoke of the importance of the international community exerting pressure on Israel to end its use of military, security and political means to control every aspect of the lives of Palestinians. Hanan gave emphasis to the Jewish Nation-State Law that sets out that in Israel only Jewish people are granted rights. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up nearly 20% of the population, are permanently cast as second-class citizens. The fascist tendencies developing in Israel are real and worrying for the future of Palestine and the region. Hanan described the Nakba as much more than a disaster as it resulted in the total uprooting of the whole nation as it used extreme violence to target people’s lands and homes. The more than 50 massacres that were perpetrated by the Zionist militias are testimony to this. She picked up on a theme that many of our interviewees covered. Initially Jewish people who came to Palestine were welcomed. They were often called our “Jewish cousins”. In time the Palestinians saw that the Zionist aim was to take Palestinian land with the complicity of Western powers. She named “settlements” as war crimes as settlers are conducting pogroms, ripping out olive trees, killing Palestinians and committing random acts of terror. Settlers are given weapons that they use with impunity. There are effectively no consequences for these criminals. Her description of Gaza was particularly chilling. She spoke with great concern that people are being denied hope as they can’t leave – there is no future for adults or children. She asked that the plight of the people of Gaza be brought to the world’s attention.
At Wattan Media Network we met Muamar Orabi, general director of Wattan TV, Hadeel Saleh the project coordinator and many in the Wattan team. This meeting was not only informative but also of practical assistance for our film makers. Thanks to Wattan for the lend of some of their equipment. Wattan TV is a secular, independent, not-for-profit media station established to represent the interests of residents on the West Bank and in Gaza. It has survived raids by the Israeli Defence Force that resulted in the confiscation of broadcasting equipment. Wattan tells the news as it is. Their reporters are objective, committed to democratic values, promoting non-violent protests and fair reporting on local elections. As was the case with so many of our interviews there was a tragic personal story that Muamar shared with us. His son, Amal, is in an Israeli prison. For over a year he has been held under administrative detention, which means there are no charges and no trial. Under the twisted Israeli law they “justify” this on the grounds that they have secret evidence. But neither the family nor their lawyers can see this so-called evidence. Amal has serious health issues. His family with strong support is desperately trying to get him released. He is only 18 years old. The horrors perpetrated by this Zionist regime are so pervasive and so shocking.
Day 4 – Friday 2 June 2023 Beirut
From Palestinian academics to refugee families, the consistent, passionate message we heard today was that they want to return to their villages and their land.
Our interviews started at the American University of Beirut, where we were to meet Dr Salman Abu Sitta, the founder of the Palestine Land Studies Center. This was a major interview for our team as Salman has developed a comprehensive plan that if implemented would achieve the right of return for all Palestinians. Salman’s own life gave us more insight into the ferocity of the Zionist attacks that launched the 1948 Nakba. Salman was ten years old when 24 armed vehicles descended on his village. Many homes, the local school and the town’s water supply were destroyed. Salman described how the women of the village took all the children to hide in a riverine. He said he wondered who the invaders were. These events of 14 May 1948 was the day Salman became a refugee, emphasising that 27,000+ days later he is still a refugee.
Hearing Salman’s memories of Al Nakba in southern Palestine, and details of who took over his home was stark – first off a Russian Jew moved in, then a German, followed by a South African and Ukrainian. Today a US woman from Brooklyn is the occupier. To add to the irony she writes a blog detailing her personal “suffering” as she lives close to the border with Gaza.
Palestine Land Studies Centre
In the afternoon we were back in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp speaking with an extended family of three generations who lost their family home in 1948. Sitting together in their tiny room we heard stories of suffering and injustice that cascade through the generations.
A regular complaint was the Lebanese government’s ban on Palestinians working. While aid groups are funding programs to “improve” life in the camp, the strongest call was “help us return home”. The eldest son spoke about his grandparents, who had survived the Nakba. He relayed how before the 1948 ethnic cleansing Muslims, Jews, Christians and Druze lived together with respect. “We are human beings. We want to live with dignity.”
See comments for link to the Palestine Land Studies Centre.
And then after 4 days, we left Beirut for Jerusalem…
And thanks to Ali, Ayman, Walid and all the people who helped us get the best filming opportunities while we were in the camps.
…..off to the airport
Day 3 – Thursday 1 June 2023 Beirut
Imagine one square kilometre packed with 45,000 refugees. This is Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in the heart of Beirut, one of 12 such camps scattered across Lebanon.
The Dare to Struggle Film team spent a number of days here. From the dozens of people we talked with to the graffiti that decorates the camp alley ways there was one united message – we want to go home. Palestine is their home.
What the majority of Palestinian refugees are forced to endure is extreme – no passport, no travel papers, no right to work. Yes the resilience, the commitment, the creativity, the warmth of the dozens of Palestinians we met was inspiring. But no one should be forced to live continually in refugee camps. A visit to these camps, set up in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba, epitomise the crimes against humanity committed by successive Israeli regimes.
Many people in this camp welcomed us into their homes. Late in the day of our visit we met 89 year old Abd al-Majdi. We sat with him and members of his extended family in his tiny bedroom. He was 12 years old when Israeli terrorists invaded his village, Kuwaykat, destroying all the homes, businesses and public buildings. Nothing was left standing.
In 1977 Abd al-Majdi returned to where his village once stood. Through tears he described how he found the location of his home, how he walked around visualising the rooms where he had slept and played. He showed us a stone and a metal hoe from the ruins of his home.
Abd al-Majdi spoke of the memories he believed are now held within these objects and how they remember him and his family and asked him when he will return. This was incredibly sad.
We also visited one of the camp’s kindergartens where we met staff and sat in on some of the activities for the refugee children. The centre, run by the Australian development group, Union Aid Abroad, is so important for the children.
Please consider donating to Union Aid Abroad so this kindergarten can continue its essential work.
To donate to the APHEDA school in Beirut, use this link. https://www.apheda.org.au/donate/
Day 2 – Tuesday May 30 2023 Beirut
At 9am we met Ali to plan the day’s program. First at the Burj el-Barajneh camp where we filmed around the camp, then met Nasser Saleh, the camp manager employed by the UN which funds the camp. Nasser told us about the situation for the 210,000 refugees in the 12 camps in Lebanon and of the struggle and betrayal that has been the history for Palestinians living in the camps. He told us that conflicts inside the camps were a result of high unemployment rates especially among young people; drug use, black market operations and the general lack of hope among the population.
The Shatilla refugee camp was our next stop. This is the site of the infamous Ariel Sharon-Phalange massacre of thousands of Palestinians in 1982. We were met by an elderly man who walked us through the camp explaining that the camp was even more crowded since the arrival Syrian-Palestinian refugees to the camp. We interviewed a HealthCare manager, Mohammad Hasanin from the Al-Shehaa Medical Services, who told us there were only two functioning medical centres and no hospitals to cover the 40,000 camp residents. We also talked to residents about their life in the camp.
Our next stop was at Mar Elias, a smaller Palestinian refugee camp, established in 1952. Predominantly made up with Christian Palestinians, we interviewed a Palestinian academic Dr Souheil El Natour from the Human Rights Development Centre. Unable to work in the Lebanese courts as a lawyer and with assistance from Lebanese lawyers, he set up the Centre to assist Palestinians with legal matters. He spoke to us of the 75 years of injustice Palestinians have endured with little support from the international community.
Later in the day, the rest of the team, Lee, Peter and Rand arrived in Beirut. Due to Rand’s difficulties getting past security personnel, we had a three hour wait before finally they exited the airport, exhausted but happy to start their journey.
Day 1 – Wednesday 30 May 2023
The filmmakers arrive in Beirut two days before the others to organise the film shoot. In Lebanon the focus is Al Nakba – the Catastrophe. Burj Al Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp will be our main filming location. Today it is home to over 40,000 refugees, overcrowded into one square kilometre of land. Poverty, limited job and educational opportunities, and scarce health facilities dominate daily life. Up to four generations of Palestinians now live there. 75 years ago Zionist emigrants, most who had never set foot in Palestine prior to 1948, participated in the Al Nakba where they ethnically cleansed over 500 Palestinian villages, where thousands were massacred and 750,000 Palestinians forced at gunpoint to flee their homeland.
We met Ali, our guide and other local Palestinians for breakfast. We talked and planned out the next few days of intensive filming.
Our first visit was with Wafua and Ahmad, brother and sister, both born in the camp. Wafua was born in 1960 while Ahmad was born in 1951. Their parents fled Palestine but had since died. Wafua ‘s children and grandchildren all live in the camp and all want to return home to Palestine.
We also met Mokaram Oweiti and her son, Ahmad. Mokkaram was seven in 1948 when her family fled their home in Palestine during Al Nakba. She spoke of her burning desire to return home before she dies. Ahmad is a qualified engineer but he cannot be employed as the Lebanese government bans Palestinians from working in over 30 professions.
The narrow pathways of the camp are dusty. Motorbikes wind their way through the maze. The overhead tangle of electric wires and water pipes shocked us. Each year dozens of people are electrocuted.
What people say about the festival.
We must dare to struggle! On the streets, in our workplaces and through the stories we tell and share, we need films…
Australia’s Industrial laws criminalise union activity. Today if workers take strike action and the union defends its members by setting up a…
Not just a celebration of independent filmmaking, the Dare to Struggle Film Festival embraces the diversity of radical struggle in Australia and internationally and creates a platform that amplifies the voice of activism.
Jack Mundey, the inspiration behind the festival
Green Ban leader, Jack Mundey, has been a major inspiration for the Dare To Struggle Film Festival. Our title is taken from the slogan made famous by the Green Bans – “Dare to struggle, dare to win”.
In the 1970s Jack led the Builders Labourers Federation that imposed bans on developments that at the time were worth about $5 billion. Using a combination of strikes, direct action and negotiation, the Green Ban movement had many wins saving urban bushland, low cost housing and heritage buildings from the corrupt plans of greedy developers.
Jack was a committed environmentalist and socialist. His inclusive, respectful and courageous style of work helped build many of the great social movements of the later half of the 20th century.
The Dare to Struggle Film Festival is exactly what this city needs right now. We are seeing multiple and connected grassroots movements, all challenging the status quo. Many are coming together to build a fundamentally fairer and more sustainable future. Whether it is the women’s marches for justice, student led climate rallies or First Nations demands that are being expressed through the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a time when radical grassroots struggle is having a real world impact.
There could not be a better time to revisit the work of Jack Mundey in uniting the union, social justice and environmental movements. This is an important festival at a critical time for people and the planet and one that should not be missed.
Greens MP David Shoebridge