The road that blocks other roads

by the Tulkarm Qalqiliya team. 

In the North-West area of West Bank, in the Governorate of Salfit, lies Deir Istiya, a Palestinian village which has about 4000 inhabitants. The village is located in close proximity to seven Israeli settlements. This community’s livelihoods are being undermined due to access restrictions and land confiscations imposed by the Government of Israel. [1] [2] [3]

In November 2015, Israeli authorities started constructions works to broaden Road 55 located next to the village. While the broadening of the road has improved the connectivity of settlements in the area, the freedom of movement of the residents of the Deir Istiya have been severely curtailed. When the authorities broadened the highway they closed all of the agricultural roads previously used by farmers. As a result residents of Deir Istiya have been cut off from about two thirds of the village’s farming lands on the other side of the road. Crossing this busy road, with tractors and livestock, is now almost impossible. The only way that farmers can access their land is through a rain water tunnel, roughly five feet high,that runs under the main road.

10.3.16, Abu Abdullah shows EAs the new access for residents of Deir Istiya under the main road. EAPPI A.Dunne_

10.3.16, Abu Abdullah shows EAs the new access for residents of Deir Istiya under the main road. EAPPI/A.Dunne

The new road has metal railings and ditches which prevent farmers from crossing the road with vehicles. The detour that they’ve had to take since the road was “improved” takes about two hours. Locals tell us that the problem of accessing the farming lands would not be solved just by removing the railings. The worst part of the road – and the actual place of protests – lies in the valley between very steep hills. Cars, buses and trucks often drive down these hills at very high speeds which make this an extremely perilous place to cross.

In March 2016, villagers of Deir Istiya started to hold nonviolent demonstrations by the side of the road to demand access points be installed along a highway the Government of Israel has built to service nearby settlements.

The Israeli military were present at these Friday demonstrations and took pictures of people who attended the protest. These protests, were completely nonviolent and were attended by a number of Israeli peace activists who support the locals in their demand for safe access to their private lands. The demonstrations usually started with a speech, and after that the people gathered beside the railing with their banners. When the time came for midday prayer, all the men would kneel on the ground by the side of the road and start praying.

On April 15th, a settler driving on route 55 stopped his car next to the demonstration and started to shout at the villagers. An argument broke out and the soldiers used pepper spray on peaceful protesters. After that incident locals asked Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) to offer protective presence during their nonviolent protests.

After a few weeks, the protesters added a new element to the demonstration. After praying, the men and boys would pick up small rocks or sticks and start banging the metal railings at the side of the road. The banging made a lot of noise but did not hurt anybody. It both sounded and looked quite impressive, young men with stones in their hands, but using them as a completely nonviolent protest.

After twelve weeks of Friday prayers by the road, on the 27th of May, we came to the usual place of demonstrations to offer our protective presence. However, no one was there. After a while, a military jeep arrived at the site and two soldiers came to us and asked us to leave the place saying that “It is dangerous here.”. As we made our way back to the village we received a phone call from one of our local contacts who told us that the demonstration had been cancelled. The reason was that the Israeli authorities had agreed to install the access points requested by the farmers. The mayor of the village had received a phone call from the Israeli Authorities just an hour or two before the demonstration was due to start. He was told that if the villagers stopped the weekly protests, the Israeli authorities would open three access points over the road. Locals were also warned that if the protests continued, two bulldozers belonging to the village would be confiscated. The villagers had held an impromptu meeting and decided to give the Israeli authorities a chance to show that something will really happen.

To date, protests along road 55 are still suspended and constructions of new agricultural roads and accesses have started. The organizers say that the nonviolent resistance is more complicated than violent or armed resistance: it needs more planning and it is harder to convince people of success of the method, but that results can come with persistence. The occupation has not yet ended, and the everyday presence of Israeli settlements and military in the West Bank will continue to cause problems and hardships for many communities. [4] However, we hope that the case of Deir Istiya can provide be an example of successful nonviolent resistance not just for the people of village but also for a larger public in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

More information:

Haaretz: Palestinian Villagers of Deir Istiya Fear Roadblock’s Creeping Permanence

Haaretz: Israel Lets Unauthorized West Bank Outpost Encroach Into Nature Reserve

Haaretz: Israel Halts Work on Illegal Road Through West Bank Nature Reserve

UNOCHA: Fragmented Lives: Humanitarian Overview 2015

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