“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” ~Ariel Sharon (2001)
by Michaela, Bethlehem team
A sight I will never forget
It’s Thursday morning. A Palestinian man clutches a microphone that is attached to a mobile PA system in the back of a van. His voice escalates until he is yelling. He says that everyday his son asks him when they are coming to knock down his home. He has been issued another demolition order after his home has been rebuilt three times already. It is not necessary to understand all of his words, his face and tone say everything.
As the man pours his pleas for mercy into our cameras, a couple of international reporters walk away with tears streaming down their cheeks.
On the horizon behind him a crane lowers a new caravan onto the illegal outpost settlement of Sde Boaz.
It is a sight I will never forget.
Al-Khadr severed by the wall, a road, and surrounded by settlements
We are with a group of 30 journalists as well as the Governor of Bethlehem on a tour to highlight the issues faced by Al-Khadr, a municipality in the South West of Bethlehem.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 the population of Al-Khadr was approximately 10,000, 41% of whom were under 15 years of age. The town was named after the local monastery and for a town of such little notoriety, it has a fair share of attractions including the famous Solomon’s Pools and other significant historical ruins and religious sites. It is also known for quality grape and olive production.
85% of Al-Khadr land is under full Israeli control and thousands of dunums of agricultural land have been severed from the village by the concrete Separation Barrier and the Route 60 bypass road. On top of this, since 1979 Al-Khadr has become increasingly surrounded by the settlements of Neve Daniel, Efrat and Elazar. These settlements are like small cities with thousands of residents.
All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under International Law. The Fourth Geneva Convention calls upon the occupying power not to transfer it’s own population into the occupied territory and UN Resolution 465 declares that Israel’s settlement policy is an obstruction to a just and lasting peace.
There is more to settlement expansion than red-roofed houses built on Palestinian land
In 2002, settlers also took over a hilltop North of Neve Daniel, planted a shipping container and encircled it with barbed wire and guard dogs. It has since grown into an unauthorised settler community called Sde Boaz (Field of Boaz). Despite the fact that these outposts do not have official Israeli authorisation, some enjoy basic infrastructure such as electricity and water. Recently, some of the containers were removed as the result of a High Court order although we witnessed another being added this week. On researching Sde Boaz, the information states that the community is made up of “23 Jewish souls living and working together for a common cause”
Since 1967 Israel has established 150 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem as well as 100 ‘outposts’ which are built without official authorisation from the Israeli government.
There is more to settlement expansion than the increase of red-roofed Jewish only towns and cities being built on Palestinian land. Each settlement results in more human rights violations for the Palestinians such as displacement, home demolitions and confiscation of land as well as obstacles to access and movement.
The villagers of Al-Khadr suffer from increasing settler attacks and vandalism, their buildings are destroyed and trees uprooted. They often have to pass through security measures and show permits to access and tend to their own land as well as put themselves at risk of violence at the same time.
Multiple levels of violence
Last week, we were privileged to hear leading Israeli journalist Amira Hass speak. She has analysed settler violence over the last twenty years and states that “they are acting within the DNA of the system”. She talked about ”circles of violence” which include individual violence, bureaucratic violence and the violence of the Israeli court system. She also talks of the accompanied violence of the Israeli Army and Police and claims that settlers are assisted with ”deliberate eye closing.”
We met Yassin, a farmer from Al-Khadr, whose remaining land is next to one of the settlements. On February 14th, 150 of his olive trees were uprooted. The trees had just been donated by the YMCA. Yassin went to the Israeli police to report the theft and was told that there was no Captain available. He went back the following day and was told that the Captain was available but didn’t speak Arabic and he was sent to an office in Hebron. When he got to Hebron, he was told by the authorities that they didn’t believe he had trees on the land and that he needed to prove it. Yassin made another trip, this time to the YMCA to get a photograph that they had luckily taken. He has since handed the photograph in, telephoned twice and is waiting for an outcome. Bureaucratic violence?
Peace talks continue while human rights violations continue
After 9 months of talks, the deadline for the realisation of a framework for a peace agreement is April 29th.
Today, figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics say that the number of housing starts in the West Bank more than doubled in 2013.
Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to persuade the Palestinians to extend the negotiations for another 6 months. President Abbas and other negotiators have stated that they will not agree to an extension as Israel’s settlement activities prove that they are not seriously committed to the peace process.
Meanwhile, Yassin and the residents of Al-Khadr will carry on looking at their hilltops from behind a 12ft concrete wall. They will continue to have to justify every aspect of their existence while experiencing the theft and destruction of their land and livelihoods.