By the Yanoun team,
My watch tells me it is just after 2am as I lie awake listening to the unmistakable sound of a digger moving rock after rock, being the only noise breaking the silence in the early hours of this September morning. Every once in a while, the sound of the digger is overpowered by the sound of barking dogs, brought down from the hilltop by the wind. With the darkness as shelter, the invisible work on the hilltop continues. It is impossible, after sunset, to know for sure what is happening amidst the houses and barns little more than a stone’s throw away from my bedroom. What will be changed when the first sunbeams strike the olive trees?
My bedroom is located in the tiny Palestinian village of Yanoun, a half hour drive South-East of Nablus in the Northern part of the West Bank. In 2002, armed settlers came down from the hilltops to the small village in the valley and threatened the villagers, who were forced to leave. They were only able to return when an international presence made it safe to do so. Since 2003, EAs, through the EAPPI programme, have been in the village providing protective presence. One of the women in the village recently told us: “I feel safe at night when I see that there is light in your house.”
The harassment from the settlers has decreased in the last decade, but building continues on the hilltops above and around Yanoun, gradually extending into more and more of the land of Yanoun village. But Yanoun is not a special case. After the six-day war in 1967, when the West Bank came under Israeli occupation, more than 250 illegal Israeli settlements and outposts have been built in the occupied territories. In 1993, the five year interim plan agreed through the Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas of jurisdiction, A, B and C. Area C which is predominantly rural with villages dotted throughout, accounts for 60 per cent of the West Bank. By a complex set of legal, military and administrative regulations the Israeli occupation authorities ban Palestinians from making use of 70 per cent of this area. It is in these areas that Israeli settlements are to be found.
To try to get a greater understanding of the impact of the ongoing settlement and outpost expansion we visited a local contact, Ahmad*, in the village Bruqin, which is close to Yanoun. Ahmad took out a large map and some smaller satellite photos. On the map we could see the village and all its buildings and facilities, including a girls’ school on the outskirts of the village. The map reveals the planned extension of the illegal Israeli settlement Bruchin. With the information from the map it is easy to imagine what the future might look like if, or indeed when, the proposed developments are complete. The map is published by Israeli authorities and identifies where the 550 new housing units are to be built. “Taking the outer ‘security zone’ into consideration the girl´s school will be on the border of the settlement” , Ahmad tells us. The land that will be used to extend the settlement is village land used for the growing of olives.
With this explanation, we can identify some patterns in how settlements are expanding. Bruchin settlement was established in 1999, not as a residential area, but rather a military camp. However, shortly after its establishment, housing units for civilians were added. According to the official 2014-map, the military camp is gone, leaving a fully expanded residential settlement in its place.
In other cases Israeli settlers establish “outposts” or occupy Palestinian houses, an activity deemed illegal by international as well as Israeli law. In both cases the military is regularly deployed to protect these settlers, even though their actions are technically illegal. The presence of the military necessitates development of infrastructure to cater for the needs of the soldiers – services, recreation, food etcetera. All of which are developments that foster further settlement expansion.
Back in Yanoun and still lying awake at 2.00 am listening to the bulldozers busy at the outpost, I ask myself: “What are they doing on the hilltop? “My curiosity and sense of despair leads me to ask: “Is there no end to this? How much Palestinian land is to be stolen and what will this lead to?”
A visit to the neighboring village of Awarta, from which we can view the settlements around Yanoun sheds some light on both puzzles. Firstly, it reveals that the settlements closest to Yanoun are all agricultural settlements, the main one being Itamar with several outposts extending from it.
Secondly, a bigger reality in the West Bank emerges showing a line of different kinds of settlements, joined by military camps and roads for Israeli vehicles only, dividing the West Bank from West to East. This change to the infrastructure and road networks leads to general immobility and a breakdown of social and economic relations amongst Palestinians in neighbouring villages and towns. One of the primary wishes of many Palestinians, being far from the reality of today, is to have freedom of movement with the ability to walk, drive and travel whenever and wherever they wish to in their own country of Palestine.
*The names in this article have been changed.
Read more eyewitness accounts of life in Yanoun from our EAs here.