The changing face of Palestine

“It is the wall that has the biggest impact. Everywhere you go, you see the wall.”

When Christian World Service projects coordinator Trish Murray visited Palestine in May this year, she was struck by the expansion of the wall and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. “The wall dominates the landscape. It meanders through Jerusalem, is always in view in the West Bank and surrounds Gaza completely,” she says. “We’re talking about eight metre high concrete,” she continues. “In some places it is 12 metres. It is not a fence or wall as we would understand but a massive barrier that impedes daily life.”

The wall is making life harder and harder for the Palestinian families that CWS’s partner, the Department of Service to Palestine Refugees, seeks to assist. CWS has supported the DSPR, a programme of the Middle East Council of Churches, for over 25 years. The plight of the Palestinian people – their efforts to survive, secure basic rights and live some semblance of normal lives amidst the violence and political conflict – is the focus of their work. The programme was recognised by the Association of Presbyterian Women and Methodist Women’s Fellowship, who made DSPR’s work their special project in 2005.

Large areas of land have been cleared to construct the wall. Well-established olive groves, a main source of income for many Palestinian families, have been demolished in the process. In one village, Trish met an elderly man who used to have olive trees “over there”; the area is now an empty tract of land serving as a no-go zone around the wall. Once able to support his family with the income from the olives, he can no longer take care of them.

What struck Trish the most about these stories was the resigned acceptance of the Palestinian people. “They know there is no hope for them to stay on their land.” The growth in settlements has pushed many from their homes and farms. In Jerusalem, a city belonging to three religions, people are being cut off from the centres of their faith.

Far more life threatening is the issue of water. There are large aquifers under much of the West Bank. In such a dry, arid place, water is power. Some Jewish settlements are exercising this power, controlling the flow of water to Palestinian villages further down the valley. To help, DSPR has built tanks to collect rain water, providing families with their own water source and freeing up money for other household needs. DSPR also assists villages to negotiate water supply with local and Israeli authorities.

International politics makes others vulnerable. Abdel-Muhsen, a policeman, told Trish that like all civil servants, he had received no pay since the freeze on funds to the Palestinian Authority. He had been the main breadwinner for a large extended family. For 3 months he continued going to work, only stopping when he could no longer afford the bus fare. The DSPR provided his family with a water tank, which has enabled them to have their own vegetable garden. At least now they are able to eat well and no longer have to find the money to buy water.

In such ways, the DSPR works to improve the human rights and living conditions of disadvantaged Palestinians and Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. Their programmes include health-care (especially for infants and mothers), children’s education, water access, vocational and agricultural training, and support to establish small businesses. DSPR promotes community participation and peace within the wider communities, and through its work, hopes to support Palestinian people through the current difficulties and work towards a just political solution to this long-standing conflict.

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