A South African activist working as an ecumenical accompanist in the occupied West Bank has recounted the experiences faced by Christian Palestinians at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
Soweto native, Itani Rasalanavho is current stationed in Bethlehem as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), where he provides protective presence for schoolchildren and workers in areas situated close to Israeli settlements. The job seeks to ensure that Palestinians aren’t attacked on the way to work or school.
He has previously conducted volunteer work in Hebron, that visit coinciding with Israel’s Protective Edge campaign on the Gaza Strip in 2014.
His current work in the occupied territories has afforded Rasalanavho the opportunity to spend Christmas in a city revered by Christians as the site of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.
Having been witness to the situation on the ground, Rasalanavho quickly dismissed any suggestions that Palestinian Christians were being afforded better treatment from the Israeli regime compared to their Muslim counterparts.
“Whether you are Christian or Muslim it is all the same. Palestinian Christians are being segregated, they are losing their land, they are losing their homes and facing demolition orders, they have to have permits to go to Jerusalem and they are treated just like anybody else,” he said.
He also noted that in Bethlehem itself the Christian community was fast losing land to the expansion of the infamous “Separation Barrier”, now basically running through the properties of many Christian landowners.
“They have lost access to a very beautiful valley in between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Their (Israel) intention is to extend the Har Gilo settlement, which is in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, so they can attach the two and have Bethlehem as part of a greater Jerusalem,” he suggested.
Due to a lack of employment in the West Bank, Rasalanavho said Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike were being forced to travel to and from Israel for work, waking up during the early hours of the morning to make the journey and subjecting themselves to potential harassment at Israeli checkpoints.
“The Christian Palestinians have to issue their passes like anybody else; they do not get any special treatment from the Israelis…Here it is about the establishment of a Jewish state, and the establishment of a Jewish state means that there must not be Arabs, there must not be Christians, there must not be Hindus, there must not be anyone but Jews,” he stressed.
In 2015 the West Bank experienced a major breakout in lone wolf knife attacks, leading many to compare the situation to that of a ‘Third Intifada’. However, Rasalanavho suggested a degree of sabotage in these ‘attacks’. He suspected that in many cases Israeli soldiers were deliberately planting knives on the bodies of Palestinians they have killed, possibly as a means of pinning the blame on the victims.
Whilst eager to point out that he did not condone or support any form of physical attacks, he also suggested that many Palestinians, especially amongst the younger generation, were being spurred by anger due to the conditions they have had to endure under Israeli rule.
“Young people here are getting tired of the occupation. They see it every day that they are under occupation, they see soldiers on a daily basis, and they see their land and livelihood being taken away from them every day,” he added.
You can follow Rasalanavho on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/itanicastro VOC (Mubeen Banderker)