Cityfront: 'Peace camp' kicks up a storm

Volunteers from around the world have come to an east Jerusalem village to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, but funding by the Spanish government has been slammed as interference by Israel.

building with arab 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of ICAHD)
building with arab 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of ICAHD)
The Spanish government is paying for 42 people to come here and help rebuild two Palestinian homes that Israel deemed illegal and tore down in Anata in northeast Jerusalem, according to the director of the organization in charge of the project. Jeff Halper, the director of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which is holding its seventh annual summer "rebuilding camp," said volunteers from all over Europe, Latin America, Spain, the US, South Africa, Asia, and Australia are in the country to rebuild the two homes . "The Spanish government is funding the camp again this year. They have paid for the 42 tickets of young people to come to the work camp, so that is pretty interesting that governments are starting to encourage people to come and resist the occupation," Halper told The Jerusalem Post. The Spanish Foreign Ministry's agency for international development cooperation, Aecid, allocated some €80,000 in 2009 to ICAHD. In addition, it allocated €80,000 this year for Breaking the Silence, €100,000 for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and has promised to allocate €70,000 for Rabbis for Human Rights. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, slammed the involvement of European governments in the Anata project. "Europe believes in peace and reconciliation, in a two-state solution with a non-violent path to that solution," he said. "It would indeed be strange if European money were going to an NGO headed by an individual who rejects a two-state solution." Regev was referring to past comments and writings by Halper, a veteran activist on the extreme Left. One Israeli-based Spanish diplomat, who did not know the details of the camp, said that while there were discussions with Israel following revelations by the Post last month that Spain was helping to fund Breaking the Silence, Spain did not receive any formal request from Israel to stop funding that organization or any other NGO. While the involvement of a European government in financing the camp has caused a minor furor, volunteers participating in the project were more concerned with the humanitarian aspects. Participant Lucir Iglesia, of the northern province of Galicia in Spain, said, "This is interesting what I am seeing, but I don't like it at all. I am seeing a lot of things that I was not aware of when I was in Spain. I don't think that Israeli and Palestinian people need to have this kind of argument. They can live in peace." 28-year old Cody O'Rourke from Michigan told the Post, "Personally, my motivation is that I want to able to contribute in a tangible way. I want to be here, in the heat, sweating alongside Israelis and Palestinians to give a Palestinian family a home and have that feeling shared with Israelis." During the two-week rebuilding camp, two homes will be built in Anata: one on the West Bank side where the civil administration has demolished homes, and one of the Jerusalem side where the Jerusalem municipality has demolished homes. According to Halper, obtaining building permits from the Israeli government is impossible in Anata, a central West Bank village split by the separation barrier. Noting this, families were forced to build out of necessity, thus disregarding ICAHD's regulations. Salin Shawamres, homeowner of Beit Arabyia, a home that has been demolished four times by the Israeli government said, "We know as Palestinians that if you apply 10 times and wait 20 years to get a building permit, you will still never get it." Dr. Meir Margalit, director of home demolitions of ICAHD, said, "The aim [of the camp] is to provide solidarity with the sacrifices made by these families. This is proof that Israelis and Palestinians are able to live alongside Jews. Israelis and Palestinians are working together. Israelis are coming over to help them rather than obstruct them." Participant Ellen Davidson, a 49-year-old American Jew from New York City, chose to participate in the summer camp as a statement against the Israeli government's policies on home demolitions, as well American support and endorsement of them. "I feel that people should be allowed to build homes and live in them. They [participants] would like to make a statement that the demolition of people's houses is not viable. Housing is one of the basic human rights, so that's why people are here building [these] houses." Participants work together in a joint effort doing manual labor that normally would be done on machines, according to Davidson. "People are making human chains and moving cinder blocks from the yard into the interior of the house. On a regular building site, this would be done with a forklift or a wheelbarrow. Everybody is pulling together in this incredibly collaborative atmosphere," said Davidson. This camp will rebuild two homes for families of Younes Mohamed Abdalla Sbaih and Saleh Nimer Abed-Ajwad. Saleh built a home of just 150 square meters in 2004 without a permit. After several demolition warnings, the municipality demolished his home. "This is terrible itself, but what is also important is that these homes were not demolished for security reasons," Halper said. "Israel tries to present everything in the context of security and terrorism, but these people were never accused of anything."