Last summer at a friend's birthday party I was introduced as "Anna, who works in the West Bank with Jahalin Bedouin, stands at checkpoints, plants olive trees, in short, wants to do something for peace." A friend of the house asked for more details, wanted to know about my every day work.I told him, rather tried to, but after a moment he interrupted me, not impolite but desperate he exclaimed:" But this is heartbreaking, there is no perspective, it's of no use!" And disconcertedly he asked me how I could possibly live with this "lack of success".
Had I met this man four years ago, at the start of my way towards this kind of work, he could certainly have unsettled me. At that time for me, too, politics of peace (its success and failure) was synonymous with state politics, I noticed movement and change and considered it important and successful only when the Big and Mighty were inolved. And "those" don't promise anything good recently. We observe a policy of speechlessness, of blaming the others, of violent acts, exploding buses, the building of the wall. The spiral of violence seems to go on endlessly.
So much for the facts. What else can be said?
The precious experiences of the last year have taught me something new.
I well remember the first time when I heard Gandhi's statement: "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." I did not understand then, thought it was just a play on words. Gradually, by acting and experience my understanding began to change, an idea is emerging of how much this thinking is turning everything past upside down. I sense it as a call that we have to be the change which we wish to see. Each one of us is called. It means acting here and now, and it especially requires the use of our freedom to take decisions and assume responsibility.
In my work with the Jahalin Bedouin I have encountered people of three societies, who made use of this freedom, people from Israel and Palestine who will not accept prescriptions of who has to be their enemy and when the time is ready for a dialogue, an encounter, but who move on, move towards each other even if it is still very fragile, even if it causes pain and great effort. But from this comes a new momentum, here one can overcome paralysing helplessness and depression. And perhaps this resounds in other spheres ... who knows?
I'm afraid I cannot adequately appreciate my experience with all these people. I regard them as a great gift we are constantly making each other when sharing our most precious things.
And now this work is officially supported by the Federal Ministry of Co-operation! For me this is a sign that peace activities and efforts in society, at the "roots", in real life are appreciated.
I aso regard it as the political appreciation of the special conditions of life of the Jahalin Bedouin, of the destruction fo their environment and culture and of their being crushed in this conflict. May the support of this project serve the struggle of these people for a more dignified life.
New circles and new worlds are opening up:
With the Bund für soziale Verteidigung as a partner organization I wish for a fruitful and successful co-operation in shaping the project, and especially a return movement of experiences into German society and the operations of the peace movement.
With the Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst I wish to share my practical experience and thus make a contribution to the development of the consciousness of Civil Peace Work and its importance for society.
With Rabbis For Human Rights (RHR) I became acquainted during my training for a peace worker. For years they have been supporting the Jahalin Bedouin. No they are one of the partner organizations on site and their work can be broadened and put into a wider political context.
Equally cooperation with the Palestinian non-government organization PARC (Palestinian-Agri-Cultural-Relief-Committee) will certainly gain new momentum with this public support. Beside my very own way in this work during the past years (which in a way I could only go alone) I have met many people without whose initiative and help things certainly would not be as they are now. Here I would especially like to mention with gratitude the work of Annelise Butterweck, her activities in the protestant parish of Bensberg and with the "Women in Black" of Colon. I got to know her during my training in 2000. Since 1998 she has kept contact with the " RHR" and twice a month her parish holds a collection for the benefit of work with the Jahalin. Beside many other supporters she initiated and with the parish of Bensberg funded a beautiful Caravan for the Jahalin. Moreover she brought together Jeremy Milgrom of RHR and members of PARC in the organization for establishing a small Women's Centre in the camp of the Jahalin. Today this is the "Heart" of the work and centre for meetings of people of all three neighbour societies and from all over the world. May many more of such "Hearts" grow!
In the beginning there was the political resistance against the occupying power. It was directed against the forced expulsion of the Jahalin Bedouin, who after having been driven out of Negev in 1948 had been permitted by the farmers of El Aizariya and Abu Dis to pitch their tents and graze their cattle on their grounds. But after the foundation of the settlement Maale Adumim by Teddy Kollek in 1980, when in the following year the first settlers moved in - after this Palestinian land had been declared "state property" - the Bedouin were being pushed out again. 1993 a goup of supporters was formed in solidarity with the Jahalin and demonstrating peacefully against the injustice. One of the most definite enemies of the extension of Maale Adumim at the cost of the Jahalin was Marylene Schultz, an educator from France with the orphans of the "Four Homes of Mercy" since 1967. Israelis joined, too, among them Jeremy Milgrom from Jerusalem of the "Rabbis for Human Rights", who had followed their call and since then has been supporting the Jahalin. Unfortunately this resistance was not successful. 1997 the Jahalin were finally driven out of their settlements. They were bundled off onto the "Jabal", a barren hill, just 500 metres from Jerusalem's biggest garbage dump. As Wiltrud Rösch-Metzeler writes in her book "Without Water. Without Land. Without Rights", this place is unhealthy, doctors have certified that it is "detrimental to human health to live there" (p.145). They were given no accomodation but discarded freight containers, open to one side.
A new Chapter...
... and with it a new link in a chain of initiatives began when we, the Bensberg Protestant Church, entered into a partnership with "Rabbis for Human Rights" in 1998/1999. The incentive came from our parson - Wolfgang Graf. He had asked me one Sunday, since our partnership with a parish in the former DDR (German Democrtic Republic) had ended, if I could find a Jewish community to establish a new partnership. I liked this idea and agreed, but added that Palestinians should also play a part in this. That was no problem, so I put out feelers towards "Rabbis for Human Rights", for I wished to connet two things: Intensifying the Dialogue between Chritians and Jews on the one hand and taking part in the work for peace and human rights in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I wrote a letter to Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, who belonged to this group, but whom I only knew superficially. It turned out that he was enthusiastic about this idea. It came to pass that he was going on a lecturing tour of Germany that year, and there was a date open at the end, so he could finish his journey preaching in the Bensberg Protestant Church. He delivered a fascinating sermon on Jakob and his dream of the ladder to heaven, which was met with gret applause. People had never before experienced a Rabbi preaching in their church. The Council of Presbyters were quickly resolved to enter into partnership with "Rabbis for Human Rights". From now on every fortnight a collection is being held in church for this purpose. Of course on his following visits he told us in detail of the Jahalin and their fate. Once in a moving letter he asked for a special contribution for a Jahalin woman who had to be operated for a brain tumor. The One-World-Circle of Bensberg also supported the Jahalin again and again with financial contributions, but also by sending fair trade footballs and volleyballs and solar radios. What we lacked, however, was a constant, definite project, as we did not want to spread the collect money indiscriminately. And here follows another link in the chain of initiatives: the founding of a women's project with the Jahalin.
This happened in January 2002, when I took part in the campaign of the "Rabbis for Human Rights" of planting olive trees. After we had also planted some trees with the Jahalin I took the chance to get in contact with PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee). This is a Palestinian NGO, of which I had already heard through "Bread for the World", and from which I had got valuable Information for a school tour to Neve Shalom.
Now, together with several experts and Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, I could get a start for our "Women's Project". Invisibly present was Suleiman, first speaker of the Jahalin Committee, for when I had once visited he had said: "Our women want to work" - a sentence I had carried with me ever since. Initially I had thought of a chicken farm, but the PARC people convinced me it would be good to put a caravan on top of Jabal for conducting courses for alphabetization, sewing and beauty. Thus we could lay the foundations for the women to be able to apply for jobs. Later the project was corroborated by the Bensberg Council of Presbyters. The money from collections did not suffice, however, so I added the greater part from my savings at "Oikocredit". Still it took a full year for the Caravan to be finally stationed.
This event was duly celebrated. I rejoiced:
The caravan is there!“
And our parson turned poet too:
"First it was definite: then and then! But - never came a Caravan.
Then doubts were uttered now and then: Whenever comes the Cara-when?
Now it is clear to every man: the Cara-when turned Cara-then!
Get up to learning: On and on!
Also Jeremy Milgrom gave his comment:
"Two dozen men and boys assembled to watch the caravan being set up. My daughter Kinneret and I joined those inside the caravan by traversing the room, admiring the new addition to the hill site: now there are seven similar buildings on top of the hill: five for the school, one that sometimes serves as a clinic, and now this. 'At last', I said, 'okay, out with all the men - this is for the women!' So it may be God's will."
But then we had to wait for another half year until the caravan filled with life and the planned courses could be held. The alphabetization course must be mentioned specially: PARC had not found a teacher, so the women took the initiative and indeed, they found somebody. It was Suleimans wife they had picked. He later told me that first he did not at all agree to this idea, but she and the other women had prevailed, and when he saw that the course was well accepted and the women learned reading and writing with great enthusiasm he had been convinced it was right. A little victory over patriarchal behaviour! After my great disappointment in spring of 2003 that I didn't see any activities yet it was a great pleasure for me when in autumn I could sit in on Um Musab's classes and observe the shining eyes of the women glad to be able to learn reading and writing at last!
One step further ...
... on the way was done when last summer (2004) I succeeded in founding a kind of women's committee, additional to the existing men's committee. When Suleiman heared of this idea, he was - again! - strictly against it: "We cannot talk - or cooperate - with our women" was his argument. But Jeremy Milgrom, who had also attended the meeting, found a solution worthy of Solomon: They should let the trainees participate as well as the Jahalin women. This idea was agreed upon, even by Suleiman. The idea was topped by Marylene's sudden decision to become a member of the committee, too. Thus we got a multi-coloured mix: Two Jahalin women, the alphabetization teacher, a Jahalin student, a Palestinian trainee of PARC, an Israeli trainee and Marylene, the French woman. From the point of view of religions, it looks like this: three Muslims, one Jew, one Christian. thus the courses can go on, they can be paid, and many other tasks can be discussed and tackled.
Still another link in the chain of initiatives was created when we "Women in Black" of Colon applied to our town authorities for funding of a small library. We got it, having to provide 25% ourselves. Some dedicated women, among them a school principal from Akko, organized the purchase of two cupboards and books in Arabic and English, but also bi-lingual youth literature in Arabic and Hebrew. When in summer 2004 four women, three from Colon and one from Wurttemberg, went to the Jahalin, we could catalogue the books bought in the meantime, with Abu Iyyad doing the Arabic. This work has to go on, since many more books have arrived to be catalogued, and a librarian has to be found, too.
To further develop the sector of education the women, again with the help of the town of Colon, shall get a computer and thus a further incentive to get on with their education, like the Bedouin women in Jordania. And finally, not too far into the future, a nursery school shall be built on "Jabal" to fulfill a much cherished wish of the women. Yussef Abu Shadia is already making room for it between the pillars of his newly built house. We "Women in Black" of Colon will also support this project financially. Thus with our aid, too, the Jahalin vision of building a proper village with everything belonging to it can gradually become reality. For to our surprise last spring the Israeli government gave permission to build houses of their own, maybe as some recompensation for the past multiple expulsions. Our aid in the establishment of a proper infrastructure together with the Jahalin building activities, who already built a school and a mosque, complement each other very well.
It must not be forgotten ...
...that this project is emdedded - from its origins as well as its continuation - into the work of partnership that was created through the cooperation between Israeli rabbis, Palestinian experts and our parish, with all the difficulties that cooperation of such divers partners entails. Thus in our parish ther will be a seminary, in which Jews, represented by Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, also speaking for the Jahalin, i.e. the Palestinians, and Christians of different denominations will discuss the problem in which way Germans after a decade-long - more or less intense - Christian-Jewish dialogue can responsibly express their views concerning the difficult Israeli-Palestinian conflict and can commit themselves.
In the chain of initiatives, the links of which I have listed above, a very important element would be missing if I did not mention here the wonderful work of the peace worker Anna Crummenerl of Colon. As she told me herself, she got the first notice of the "Rabbis for Human Rights" from her teacher in Hebrew in Colon (whom I know personally myself). When she heard that in Autumn 1999 Jeremy Milgrom had held a sermon in St. Anthony's church on the Jahalin as invisible people at the margins of society and our parson Wolfgang Graf had brought her into contact with me, I could tell her of our partnership and pass her information material. In connection with her training as a peace worker she did an internship with this human rights organization and thus got to know th Jahalin. During that time when she taught the Jahalin children, principally in English, her commitment became more and more intense, and she also told about it in Confirmation lessons in Bensberg. When finally the caravan stood on Jahal, she engaged in a great number of activities benefitting first of all the women in the newly established women's centre. She then discovered a new field of action: the surprising fact that a couple of women students of the Jahalin studied at Al Quds University at Abu Dis made her establish a support network for them, in which also some Colon "Women in Black" are involved and women of the One-World-Circle of Bensberg contribute by selling Anna's Jerusalem Diaries. She also took part in the furnishing of the library by ordering the bookshelves.
So it has become clear that right from the beginning there was a mutual cooperation between her and ourselves, still continuing. But here I do not want to tell more about her commitment and her concept, as she will present her own report.
Dr. Annelise Butterweck
Translation: Wolfgang Wiemers
Possible Development of the Jahalin Project and its Context
When I think of the Jahalin project and the conditions of its further development, I have to think first of two grave factors without which the Jahalin refugee camp cannot be considered: the ongoing construction of the dividing wall or border installations intended to separate Israelis and Palestinians definitely from each other, and secondly Maale Adunim, the biggest settlement of the West Bank, where not a few Jahalin find work. If separation between Israelis and Palestinians is carried out rigidly, it has to be expected, as many Jahalin do, that it will be put between Maale Adunim and the "Jabal". Then the question will be if there Will still be possibilities to work for the Jahalin. Maybe access will be made possible through a gate, which like in other places will be open at certain times. Another Problem is the settlement of Maale Adunim. Will it, as the Geneva initiative suggests, be annexed by the state of Israel in exchange against other areas, or will the wish of Ella Sternberg of "ceding Israeli settlements to Arab refugees" (according to A. Crummenerl, Zwischen Welten, p.8) be realised, something that e.g. the Journalist Peter Philipp demanded years ago and Uri Avneri ardently desires in his impressing letter "Dear Settler" of 2000. There are also attempts at fraternization between Male Adunim and the Jahalin. In "Friedensforum" 4/2004 p.41 you can read:" ...This Project (i.e.the Jahalin project) shall not only help to improve the living conditions of the Bedouin, but also help to break barriers between inhabitants of the Bedouin camp, Palestinian society and the inhabitants of the near-by settlement of Maale Adunim." How is this to be understood? Should the Jahalin attest the settlers their robbing of the land was legal? And how should they get rid of the fear "to be expelled again in ten years ", as Mohammad put it. Certainly individual settlers, especially children, by meeting Jahalin in person may overcome their deeply ingrained feer, imbued by education, an anti-Palestinian propagaanda, but also the experience of suicide bombings (which, however, have never been committed by Jahalin or, as far as I know, by other Bedouin). There is also the question of the influence of the fundamentalist Chief Rabbi, who according to "The Israel Interfaith" is against ceding the settlements in the Gaza strip, because this is genuine Biblical soil. Most likely most inhabitants of this settlement have only moved there because of cheap housing provided by the government, and would perhaps, if offered enough money, move into mainland Israel (something the American-Jewish peace group "Bring the Settlers Home" - meaning to Israel - has been demanding for a long time). And the others? Would they in the discussion with the Jahalin on hearing first hand of their fate still cling to their conviction that "the Bedouin had been compensated" or "they had been given new houses somewhere else", as Marylene Schultz writes in her book "The Orphans of Bethania" on p. 146? Or would they when considering human rights and international law come to understand that the Jahalin had met with grave injustice? There is also the interesting project of entering into an interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem, coming from Maale Adunim. For some days ago, with reports about activities of Israelis and international activists in favour of Palestinians, who they helped in the Olive harvest in villages near Tapuach ("The Other Israel"), a statement of a woman from the settlement could be read in the internet: "I live in Maale Adunim, east of Jerusalem. When I came on Aliya from Australia eight years ago, my father was already living there, and it seemed just like another Jerusalem suburb. Perhaps a bit more Likud-oriented than average, but nothing like this horrific Tapuach place. I am now involved in an interfaith group in Jerusalem, bringing together Jews, Muslims and Christians, and I try to get our community centre at Maale Adumim to host Palestinians. That's a difficult idea to get across where I live." I could imagine that from such dialogues, in which the law of nations and human rights are discussed, new perspectives may emerge, and some consciousness of injustice might arise in some settlers. If even refugees like the Jahalin or even from Lebanon, where they are worst off, could participate, much would be won. Maybe a mixed community could arise made up of the most destitute of the settlers, but above all of Palestinian refugees. But these are visions that at the moment dont't seem to have any chance. But I could envisage one variation: As soon as the Jahalin village is really established, a community centre might be built, where interreligious dialogues or other events could take place, a bit after the example of the "Political Night Prayers" in Colon, without importing alien elements. One could also refer to Palestinian or Jewish "Theology of Liberation". Maybe the newly constituted "Committee of Women", in which representatives of the three Abrahamite religions are members, could be a nucleus for this. Thus from this poisoned soil, which does not even belong to the Jahalin, some small centre of peace could arise.
Our "Woman at the Place" who lives in Jerusalem and as a trained peace worker works with the Jahalin.
Kathrin Voglerhas been active in the peace movement from the 80ies on. She lives in Emsdetten und is an employee of the Bund für soziale Verteidigung. There she is in charge of the Jahalin project.
Dr. Annelise Butterweck
Dr. Annelise Butterweck is a member of the Colon "Women in Black" and of the protestant parish of Bensberg, who has supported the project from the beginnings.
Anita Mutvar is a student of Ethnology and in charge of the scientific accompaniment of the project. Students interested in the subject and willing to write a paper on the Jahalin are invited to address her.
Kai Claaßen, M.A. in Political Science can also be approached by students. Besides the scientific accompaniment of the Project he looks after this homepage.