Head of Human Rights Committee Tom Koenigs visits Palestine
From 09 July to 12 July 2012 the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (hbs) Ramallah organised the visit of Tom Koenigs, MP of the party Alliance ‘90/The Greens and Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the German Bundestag, and Barbara Meincke, human rights advisor for the Green Party Group. Koenigs devoted four days for an in-depth programme on the human rights situation in Palestine, including various field trips in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and several meetings with local human rights activists and civil society actors.
The visit started with a discussion on the general human rights situation with experts from Al-Haq, WCLAC, JLAC, and DCI-Palestine Section. On the next day the delegation started in the very early morning to Gaza entering the Gaza Strip via the Erez border crossing. In Gaza, Koenigs visited several projects by UNRWA, including the Girls Preperatory School (Halab School) and later on the Beach Health Centre. The delegation also met with Scott Anderson, deputy head of UNRWA Gaza. Finally, Koenigs met several Human Rights activists, including from PCHR and CWLRC. Especially women in Gaza suffer from the lack of human rights. They are often not equally educated and have an aggravated access to and opportunities in the job market. Moreover, UNRWA offers different programmes to help a majority of Palestinian children who suffer from symptoms of distress. These kids grow up in an environment which affects their psycho-social well-being directly. More information about the disastrous consequences of the blockade on the Gaza Strip can be found here.
After Koenigs und Meincke returned back to Ramallah Sahar Francis, the General Director of Addameer, invited them to a timely discussion about the human rights situation of prisoners, shortly after the end of a massive hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. A recently published Amnesty International report on administrative detention describes the difficult conditions of administrative detainees.
On the next day the delegation visited the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC). Its Chairman, Dr. Ali Al-Qawasmi and its General Director, Imad Hamdan welcomed Koenigs and Meincke in Hebron to discuss the current situation of the Palestinian inhabitants. After a presentation about the work and efforts of HRC to improve the daily life in Hebron, for instance, installing playgrounds for children, restoring decayed buildings, and encouraging fugitive shop owners to return, HRC organised a tour to see the tense political situation in the city, including the Ibrahimi mosque and the “Ghost Town” of Shuhada Street, once the flourishing market place of Hebron. Since 1977, the Israeli authorities have granted permission to Jewish settlers to move from the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba into the heart of Hebron. Nowadays, there are nearly 700 highly ideologically motivated settlers in the 6 settlement enclaves in the surroundings of the Shuhada Street. The Isreali fanatic Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in 1994. In the aftermath of this massacre the movement of Palestinians in the streets of Hebron’s Old City was increasingly restricted. Consequences are grave, as inhabitants are forced to enter their houses by crawling through back entrances like windows or portholes, walking through neighbouring houses, and climbing over roofs and vehicles with Palestinian plates are forbidden to drive on the main streets through Down Town, while ambulances have difficulties to arrive in time in case of emergencies due to the severe security restrictions.
After the tour through Hebron, Koenigs and Meincke visited the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre in Silwan, East Jerusalem which is home to ca. 55,000 Palestinians. Jawad Siyam, the director of the Madaa Silwan Creative Centre which was established in 2007 to bolster the cohesion of the community in response to the lack of civil services provided by the Jerusalem Municipality to the neighbourhood, guided the delegation through the heart of Silwan which is massively threatened by the Israeli archeological project “City of David”, which is located in the heart of Silwan and already led to the demolition of several Palestinian houses. Furthermore, the Israeli archeological digs cause instability in the foundations of the Palestinian buildings which is clearly visible, for instance, at the cracks of a Palestinian kindergarten and a mosque in Silwan. Recently, a group of Israeli volunteers expedited the “historical cleansing” by starting a large-scale clearing operation of the Umayyad Palace near the south-western corner of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.
On the last day, 12 July, a field trip to Qaliqilya was organised in cooperation with George Rishmawi from the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies to the municipality of Qalqilya. During the trip to Qalqiya, the consequences of the Israeli settlement policy both on the Palestinian population and the nature became visible. Qalqilya is completely surrounded by the Israeli seperation wall and has only one narrow gap in the east controlled by the Israeli military. The mayor of Qalqilya, ‘Uthman Da’ud, as well as Ahmad Hizaa’ Shareem, a member of the legislative council, Dr. Basim Al-Hashim, vice-president, and other members of the municipality council welcomed Koenigs and Meincke to discuss with them about the infringement of human rights in Qalqilya, its poverty, the rising unemployment of currently 70-75%, its agriculture, and the rights of detainees in Israeli prisons. The delegation listened to first-hand experiences of torture during imprisonment. Moreover, they visited parts of the wall and a checkpoint particularly for farmers to cross for work daily.
Finally, the delegation arrived in Jayyous, a small town 12 km in the north eastern of Qalqilya which has a population of approximate 3,700 people. Since 1991, the Jewish settlement of Tsufeem has occupied 200 dunams (1 dn = 1,000 sq m) of the area to get access to Jayyous’ water resources. Further 8,600 dn of the agricultural lands including 6 artesian wells, 50,000 trees of figs, olives, almonds and fruits of various sorts, and 120 greenhouses cultivated with various vegetables are not accessible due to the separation wall. Koenigs and Meincke discussed particularly with the municipal youth initiative, a project which is funded by GIZ, about their aspirations.