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Palestinians erect new tent village ‘Ahfad Younis’

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By Felix Black - March 22, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [ Bab al-Shams ] [nonviolent resistance] [Popular struggle committee] [US President Barack Obama] [Mustafa Bargouthi] [Ahfad Younis]

Photos by Lazar Simeonov.


Over 400 Palestinian activists have erected a tent village, on a hillside overlooking the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummin, on the eve of the United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Ramallah.

The village, composed of three large structures, ten small tents, a playground, internet zone, and medical center, is located within the Israeli-dubbed 'E-1 district’ of the West Bank, a narrow strip of land between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adummim which the Israeli government pledged to build more settlement units in. 

Yet as Jamil Barghouti, the mayor of Bab al-Shams describes, “This is not a new village, it is part of the Bab al-Shams neighbourhood. The Palestinian Authority has recognised Bab al-Shams as a legitimate Palestinian village, and so have cities in France, like Paris, and Italy.” 

The tent village of Bab al-Shams was erected earlier in January of this year, and destroyed a few days later by the occupation forces.

Hundreds of activists on Wednesday, March 20 streamed past an on-looking Israeli military contingent and began erecting the structures and a huge 10-meter long Palestinian flag.

The neighbourhood was officially opened at 2 pm., and named “Ahfad Younis” (the grandchildren of Younis) after the name of the main character in the Bab al-Shams novel by Elias Khoury. Obama landed in Tel Aviv around the same time.

Around 4 pm, two Israeli military vehicles drove into the neighbourhood and issued Mohammad Khatib, a leader in the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, some papers written in Hebrew and a map. It declared the entire E-1 region a closed military zone for two weeks, with no un-authorised person allowed to enter it, and the neighbourhood of Ahfad Younis having until 8 pm the same night to remove itself or face forced eviction.

Palestinian facts on the ground

International law states that the occupying power can never transfer all or part of its civilian population in the territory it occupies. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, marked a bilateral attempt to legitimize the already established Israeli settlements in order to pave the way for a Palestinian state by 2002. Eleven years on, Israel continues to construct settlements in the occupied West Bank, destroying any possibility of a viable Palestinian state and thereby invalidating the order created by the Accords. It is currently working under the false pretence that Area C—which makes up 62% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli civil and military control— is recognised as “legal enough” to build settlements on.

The Palestinians have not been allowed to build a single new village since 1967.

This is being built to say to Obama that this land is our right, this is our land, Palestinian land, and we have the right to it

It is within this context that Bab al-Shams, and the four other tent villages that followed it, have been erected. The lands they are built on are Palestinian, with the neighbourhood of Ahfad Younis being established on land historically owned by the people of the nearby town Eizariya.

The whole project is an attempt at establishing Palestinian “facts-on-the-ground”, to coin the term used by the Israeli government to legitimize the establishment of illegal Israeli settlements. 

Furthermore, the Bab al-Shams or E-1 district has gained notoriety, especially since the latest Israeli military offensive on Gaza last November, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the construction of 3,000 new housing units in the region, effectively physically joining Jerusalem with Ma’ale Adummim. Given the fact that Palestinian-registered cars cannot travel on Israeli roads, and the tight restriction on travel anyway, the development of the site would affectively cut the West Bank into two land segments. 

It is for these reasons that the eviction order was met with disgust and promptly discarded by many Palestinians in the new neighbourhood.

Many activists and commentators spoke about the duality between the E-1 region and Obama’s visit.

Shadi Hedawi, a Palestinian activist present at the opening of Ahfad Younis, stated, “This is being built to say to Obama that this land is our right, there will be no E-1 building here, this is our land, Palestinian land, and we have the right to this land.”

It seems that the very establishment of Ahfad Younis infers the Bab al-Shams project is somewhat of a sticking point for the Israeli high command.

The New York Times implied how President Obama’s visit is deterring the army from evicting the village, considering the images a violent eviction could produce.  

Yet the resurrection of a physical structure in Bab al-Shams in the light of recognition by the Palestinian Authority and other countries may also have a role to play in Israeli apprehension towards forcibly removing the site. This could be wishful thinking, but the Palestinian effort to revive the contentiousness of the site should not be overlooked.  

"You cannot ignore Palestinian rights"

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, was present at the construction and opening of the neighbourhood.

 “We are here to send two messages,” he said. “First of all, the Israeli destruction of Bab al-Shams did not stop us [from] rebuilding it again, and as we promised we will come back again and again and again. This is the third time we have come back, and this is the proof of the effectiveness of the popular Palestinian nonviolent resistance.”

“The second message is to President Obama. You cannot shy way from the situation here, you cannot close your eyes from the system of apartheid and segregation and the threat that these settlements are making to the possibility of Palestinian statehood. It’s time for you to see the value of the popular Palestinian nonviolent resistance and it’s time for you to condemn the Israeli violence against our popular nonviolent resistance.”

“Obama cannot ignore Palestinian rights and he cannot ignore our popular nonviolent resistance for freedom which is similar to the struggle which Martin Luther King did against the segregation system in the United States, the success of which was the only reason why President Obama could become president,” Barghouti added.


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