An economic heart of stone

By the Bethlehem team.

Today should be a good day in Beit Fajjar. The temporary checkpoint restricting who can leave the village has gone. The rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities is full of life, its students skilfully manoeuvring their wheelchairs around. The quarries are once again accessible and the factories stand ready to process its stone. On the surface, the blockade that began 12 days ago is finally over. But dig deeper, and a different story emerges.

29.03.16 Beit Fajjar Stone awaiting delivery to the Gulf EAPPI/K. Fox

29.03.16 Beit Fajjar Stone awaiting delivery to the Gulf EAPPI/K. Fox

‘Blockade’ or ‘siege’ might seem like archaic choices of words, but they aptly describe what happened. The Mayor tells us that for four days all roads were blocked so no one could enter or leave: over 30 students couldn’t get to University, four ambulances were turned back and classrooms were without teachers. Night raids and arrests continue.

21.03.16 Beit Fajjar The centre for disabled children stands empty while the village is under blockade EAPPI/K. Fox

21.03.16 Beit Fajjar The centre for disabled children stands empty while the village is under blockade EAPPI/K. Fox

On the fifth day, entry is allowed but no exit for locals. We meet a restless Mosa Thwapta, a physiotherapist in the deserted rehabilitation centre. As he shows us the state-of-the-art equipment that sits idle, he explains that the children can’t get to the centre for treatment. The Mayor says he cannot tell us what has happened in the industrial zone as the military are still there and stop anyone from entering.

On day seven, quarry owner Ala Altweel calls us to witness his equipment being confiscated. He shows us the confiscation order for three bulldozers taken the day before, whose loss costs him 1 million NIS. We drive to a high point and see the military supervise a crane lifting away more equipment. To get it back, Ala’s lawyers will have to pay a fine plus the costs the army charge for seizure, transportation and storage. The fines are often more than the equipment is worth but until the fine is paid it will show on Israeli records preventing him from travelling overseas or getting a permit to go to Israel. It is no wonder he saw some quarry owners breaking their equipment to prevent it from being seized.

23.03.16 Beit Fajja Military seize quarry equipment EAPPI Tomlund

23.03.16 Beit Fajja Military seize quarry equipment EAPPI Tomlund

The reason given by the Israeli army for the blockade is that two boys from the village stabbed an Israeli soldier near Nablus, about 60 km away [1]. They were shot dead at the scene.

The blockade of Beit Fajjar is collective punishment, a sanction imposed on people or their property for an action they didn’t commit. This is illegal under article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention [2], article 50 of the Hague Regulations [3] and customary international law. These international laws make clear that collective punishment is a serious violation that cannot be justified under any circumstances. International law also prohibits the confiscation of private property (article 46 of the Hague Regulations [4] and article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [5] and the right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Appropriation of property is a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court unless there is a military need demanded by the necessities of war [6].

29-03-2016 Beit Fajjar The quarry stands idle without equipment to extract the stone EAPPI/K. Fox

29-03-2016 Beit Fajjar The quarry stands idle without equipment to extract the stone EAPPI/K. Fox

When, on day 12, Fares Al-Atrash from the Municipality can finally take us to the quarry he asks us what is wrong there. It finally dawns on us that while there is stone as far as the eye can see, there is nothing with which to extract the stone. He explains that the quarry owners are too scared to bring back the equipment that hasn’t been confiscated in case it gets taken too. We stop at Taqatqa Alawel stone factory. Owner Mohammad Yousef shows us the stones waiting to be processed. He has only enough for two more days work. If the quarries don’t reopen soon the factory will shut. He has paid 2 million NIS for the stones from the quarry and will soon be fined by customers in the Gulf for late delivery. He has tried getting stones from other quarries, but the Israeli military stopped their delivery.

29-03-2016 Beit Fajjar Two days worth of stone left for the factory to process before it has to close EAPPI K Fox

29-03-2016 Beit Fajjar Two days worth of stone left for the factory to process before it has to close EAPPI K Fox

The more we find out about Beit Fajjar, the more we realise that this isn’t just the collective punishment of its 11,000 residents. Stone factories across the West Bank are running out of stone from this, their main source. According to the Mayor, the 40 quarries and 140 stone factories in Beit Fajjar account directly for the livelihoods of 6,000 people. The stone industry accounts for 5% of the West Bank’s GDP [7].

This isn’t the first time the Israeli military has seized equipment or blocked roads there but we are told it is the most systematic. Israel has given no security argument for these actions: they maintain it is Israeli land. Ala Atweel, whose bulldozers were taken, says he has papers showing he owns the land and has no connections to the boys who carried out the stabbing; he is not even from the village but from Hebron. International law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, clearly prohibits the occupying Power from penalising a group for the actions of individuals if the group members are not jointly responsible. The destruction and confiscation of private property, which has been a dominant feature of the occupation since 1967, is prohibited under international law except in case of imperative military necessity. [8] And yet despite repeated condemnations by the international community the Israeli military continues its systematic destruction of Palestinian property, including homes, commercial properties and civilian infrastructure to date.

As we leave Beit Fajjar on day 12, we see the temporary checkpoint is back and a man stands with his hands tightly bound in front of him with a plastic tie while the soldiers organise his detention. These are actions whose impact stretches across the West Bank and will stretch forward in time.

More information

Kairos Palestine: Easter Alert on the Economy of Palestine

World Bank: Area C and the future of the Palestinian Economy

Human Rights Watch report April 2016, Israel: Quarry Shutdown Harms Palestinians

B’Tselem: Military effectively shutting down Palestinian quarries in Beit Fajjar to aid de facto annexation of area

One thought on “An economic heart of stone

  1. Thanks to all who wrote this piece- it is a really coherently and clearly written account of what you rightly call the systematic and collective punishment of a whole community. It is deeply despairing for someone to read in the comfort of their EU home – what it must be like for the many Palestinians affected by it is beyond imagination.

    My only suggestion is that you would try to get wider publicity for your reports eg in the national Irish and UK press – the blog is great but I doubt it will be read by more than the already committed.

    Ann Moroney

    Dublin

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