Tour of Haram Al Sharif and UN OCHA

A small contingent of our Interfaith Peace Builder Delegation went to Haram Al Sharif together.  The site encompass 35 acres of the old city of Jerusalem, and contains the well known Dome of the Rock, also known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque.   Before we could enter we went through security and had our bags searched.  Our tour guide Said told us they where looking for religious items, or national flags, as well as the obvious things that could be dangerous.  I was excited to visit this architectural marvel, and was disappointed to learn I could not go inside.  Said explained that because the site is considered holy for Jewish and Muslim people there are frequently Jewish people demonstrating in the site.  There have been examples of people trying to hang flags, religious items, or desecrate the site.  To help prevent other religious groups from taking over the mosque, all non-Muslim people are prevented from entering.  During our visit a group of Israeli residents were walking around the site with their own security.  They were followed by religious Muslims chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) in protest.  We were informed that this happens on a daily basis.  It was a strange and slightly unnerving site in what otherwise was an amazing experience.

collage

Later that day we went to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Here we learned a great deal about the conditions of people living in both Gaza and the West Bank.  OCHA works to advocate for and help the worst humanitarian situations.  The Jerusalem office and field offices in West Bank have had a presence, coordinating relief efforts in the region for 10 years.  Approximately 40% of the Palestinian population lives within the West Bank and Gaza.

The area of Gaza is 6km – 10km wide and 400km long.  Many of the residents are not originally from Gaza.  Around 1/2 of the entire population is under 18 years old.  There are no Israeli residents inside, and no military base.  Israel has control of the sea, airspace, and checkpoints around Gaza.  The Southern point is controlled by Egypt, but it is not open.  Since 2014 all checkpoints remain largely closed.  There are restrictions on the import and export of goods to Gaza.  The checkpoint Karem Shalom is the only place for trade of goods, but is frequently closed.  The closures prevent people within Gaza to get basic supplies.  DSC_0201The other checkpoint for people is Erez crossing. An exit permit is required for individuals to enter or leave.  Permits are only granted with a medical referral, to business merchants, or senior humanitarians.

There is generally a 100m buffer from the fences or walls surrounding Gaza.  In some areas the distance is greater or frequently changes depending on the time of day.  It is usually unclear what the limits are, and residents must figure it out through word of mouth.  As a result many people have stopped farming or switched to low maintenance crops.

Since Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, 200,000 people in Gaza have been displaced.  Entire city blocks have been completely flattened.  The region is not developing and is going backward.  Construction materials are restricted and not reaching people fast enough to help rebuild.  Visit this page for a visual map and graphics depicting the movement of goods and people.

Residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem do have more freedom of movement but there are still restrictions..  Around 18% of the West Bank is considered a military zone.  If a resident of East Jerusalem ID  is revoked the individual is not permitted to move to other parts of Palestine.  People are often pressured to leave or asked to move.  Palestinian traffic is pushed off of main roads and pushed onto poorly developed side roads.  People are restricted from entering surrounding areas.  Development is slow in the region because only 2% – 5% of building permits are approved by Israel.  Building without a permit often results in the demolition of homes or business.  Bedouin tents also require permits.  Many Bedouin people have been forcibly transferred, which is a break of the Geneva Convention.  (UN Officials: Israel must halt plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouins)  The restrictions on movement and construction in the West Bank has resulted in poor economic growth.

“Although there has been a reduction in the levels of violence in recent years, many Palestinians continue to have humanitarian needs that are created by ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including threats to life, liberty and security, restrictions on access and movement of people and goods to and within the OPT, and the risk of forced displacement.” – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ochaopt.org/content.aspx?id=1010055, August 24, 2015.

You can find additional information, including maps of the region at this site – http://www.ochaopt.org/.

The main website is – http://www.unocha.org/

-Stephanie