Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LWF reports on restrictions of movement that affect Palestinians

Information about the annual report of the Lutheran World Federation Jerusalem Program came to me a few months ago. It's fascinating reading.

I'll provide a couple of criticial items here and send you to the annual report page for the rest: www.lwfjerusalem.org/ANNUAL%20REPORT%202006/LWF%20Jerusalem%20Annual%20Report%202006.pdf

For more about the ministries of the Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem, go to the website: www.lwfjerusalem.org

[From the LWF annual report] WALLED IN
Restrictions on Movement Affect Palestinians as Well as LWF Projects

A map of the West Bank looks like a knotted cobweb of walls and roads. Cutting across Palestinian territory, roads constructed specifically for Israeli settlers separate local residents from farmland and neighboring towns. Cement roadblocks and large mounds of dirt appear overnight at entrances to villages, forcing residents to use one checkpoint-controlled roadway when they travel. As more settler-only roads are built and as the Separation Barrier weaves deep into Palestinian lands, West Bankers are finding themselves caught between physical barriers, unable to move from their towns in order to work, attend school, receive medical care, or visit family and friends.

International organizations have more leeway than local West Bankers when it comes to freedom of movement, but these obstacles greatly hinder the work of humanitarian groups as well. Palestinian staff members of the LWF village health clinics drive meandering routes to reach the villages, sometimes crossing roadblocks by footand taking a taxi on the other side to reach the clinics. The permit and checkpoint system, always in flux,casts an air of uncertainty and instability over all LWF programs, as staff may be unable to cross a checkpoint on any given day. And beyond the limitations put on staff, the LWF must adjust to the needs of the people it serves.

The Augusta Victoria Hospital busing program was established for just this reason. As more and more patients spent hours waiting in line at checkpoints or were unable to reach Jerusalem altogether, AVH began busing its patients and staff in from the West Bank, allowing them to bypass the longest checkpoint waits. AVH also acts as a liaison between the patient and the Israeli ministries responsible for granting the approval and renewal of permits for patients. With each new obstacle and requirement placed on the Occupied Territories, Palestinians and the humanitarianorganizations for which they work are forced to find new ways to operate through the maze of restrictions.

VTC Works to Overcome Permit Obstacles
The LWF Vocational Training Center (VTC) has faced many changes and challenges in the past year due to the steady decline of the socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Separation Wall near the VTC was near completion as of December 2006, a major part of it standing opposite the VTC in Beit Hanina. In areas where the wall is not yet complete, temporary fences and concrete blocks have been installed, disrupting the flow of traffic between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Such measures have severely restricted the access and movement of VTC trainees and trainers between the West Bank and the center. The VTC has been geographically and demographically isolated from the West Bank, leaving the center with the challenge of acquiring permits for staff and trainees in order that they may continue reaching the center.

Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb well within the Palestinian Territories, has nonetheless been bisected by the Separation Barrier which runs two kilometers east of the Green Line, the border between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Residents who once easily traveled to Jerusalem for work or school now have found themselves arbitrarily severed from Jerusalem, while neighbors on the other side of the wall can still access the city.

Metal fencing and roadblocks act as a temporary barricade until the Separation Wall is completed in Beit Hanina, just blocks from the LWF’s Vocational Training Center (VTC). This closure was completed the second half of the year, keeping students from reaching the VTC, as well as snarling traffic between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The main road connecting the two cities was blocked, and nearby neighborhood streets are now noisy and potholedby the heavy traffic that must follow the complicated detours.

Permits were not easily granted early in 2006. Only half of the VTC trainees were granted permits, and many permits were cancelled. As a result, the VTC implemented a temporary emergency plan, contacting all trainees and staff unable to come to the VTC because of denied permits. The VTC dedicated itself to working with the Israeli civil administration to find a better procedure for obtaining permits. These efforts brought positive results when the civil administration responded by issuing permits to the majority of students and staff, although the VTC lost one trainer due to the rejection of his permit. With this outcome, the VTC managed to contain the problem of permits and sustained its educational program.

The complicated and discriminatory policies of permitsand travel restrictions directly challenges the future of the vocational program in Beit Hanina, a program that provides real opportunities for needy youth to overcome poverty.

The website - www.lwfjerusalem.org - also provides a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding the Mount of Olives Housing Project. The FAQs are regularly updated the project moves forward to help bring a halt to the exodus of Palestinian Christians from Jerusalem and to strengthen Jerusalem as a city of peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims, for Palestinians and Israelis.

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