EA Poem: “The sound of an early morning in Susiya”

by Leif Magne Helgesen, Summer team,

10.07.15. South Hebron Hills, Susiya, Watering olives at dawn, Photo EAPPI / P. Mercer

10.07.15. South Hebron Hills, Susiya, Palestinian farmer watering his olive trees at dawn, Photo EAPPI / P. Mercer

The morning is full of sound

dogs barking

roosters crowing incessantly

a donkey gives a full throated bray

A butterfly breaks the sound barrier

it flys quietly and disappears

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Susiya: ‘another day of seeking and working for a just peace’

by EA Rev. D. Etherington​, Susiya

Just 14 months ago, I said my goodbyes to the residents of Susiya.  And now I have returned to this village in the South Hebron Hills as it faces threats of imminent demolition and a forced removal of all those living here. I have returned to Susiya at the invitation of the World Council of Churches to be part of a team of internationals providing ecumenical accompaniment and protective presence to the village in hopes that a demolition and removal may be put off.

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, photo EAPPI by L. Magne Helgesen

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, Photo EAPPI / L. Magne Helgesen

My arrival in Susiya coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the most holy time in the Muslim year, a time of fasting for the month. This month of fasting begins with the daily call to prayer in the pre-dawn hours and ends at the sunset call to prayer. This period of Ramadan will end July 18 and is a time of reflection and reformation of the soul.

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It’s all about land

by the South Hebron Hills Team

We recently went on an excursion into the countryside with Nasser Nawaja a local contact and resident of Susiya. Nasser is a field researcher in the South Hebron Hills for B’Tselem an Israeli-Palestinian human rights organisation. Through his work he knows the fragmented pastures around Yatta like the back of his hand. While touring with Nasser he pointed out a number of restricted “security zones” around the settlements and explained how the grazing land is divided up between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The first thought that struck me, while he spoke, was that there really should be no “division” as such, nor any dispute over who goes where; the UN has after all officially recognized Palestine as a country.

Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore

Hilltop showing patches of land which have different access rules for Palestinians and Israelis. South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore 2015

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 lands have been expropriated from their Palestinian owners under a variety of pretexts in order to allow the building of settlements. There are approximately 150 settlements in occupied Palestine. Significantly these settlements have large ‘buffer zones’ around them which Palestinians are denied access to.

“The fenced or patrolled areas of settlements cover three percent of the West Bank; in total 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.” UNOCHA 2012

Compulsory purchase orders have been enacted which have taken advantage of legal frameworks dating from the times of the Ottoman Empire.  According to Ottoman law all land belongs to the State unless someone can specifically prove ownership in writing; further clauses have allowed the confiscation of land that has not been used or cultivated for three years. These laws tend to work against Palestinians living on the “seam zones and security areas”, where they are often denied permission to cultivate the land. Additionally when a dispute arises over the ownership of a particular tract of land, any use of the land is prohibited. This results in further loss of land and livelihoods for local herding communities.

“You see that brown patch of land down there in the valley?” said Nasser, pointing into the distance. “That and the green corridors extending away from it in both directions is an area closed to everyone. The same goes for the lush grassy area heading up from one of the corridors towards the outpost on the hill. On the other hand… the stretch of land from the look-out post down towards the road is off-limits to the settlers.” Nasser 2015

While Nasser spoke I tried in ernest to take the new information on board and to discern the logic of it all, if only so that I might remember the status quo in different strips of land on different hilltops. In the end I gave up realising it was a fruitless task and concluded “there was no logic”.

Nasser Nawaja and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Nasser and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Soon after a patrol car appeared behind us and some Israeli soldiers beckoned us over. By coincidence, at that precise moment Nasser spotted a few goats belonging to the nearby settlement, grazing in an area that was off-limits to all parties. He pointed them out to the soldiers and asked why the goats were not being driven away from the prohibited area like Palestinian shepherds often were. The soldiers had no answer to this and they got back into their personnel carrier and drove away.

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

I burst out laughing but then I felt ashamed. The situations one encounters in this bizarre patchwork quilt of hills and valleys would be comical – if it were not so tragic for so many. Each and every ‘re-zoned’ strip of dirt is somebody’s lost land.

Here we go on frequent visits to vulnerable communities living in Area C to give our support to families whose homes have been bulldozed or who are awaiting demolition. Many have received demolition orders because their homes have been deemed too close to either an Israeli settlement, a military firing range or an archaeological site. Access to land in area Area C, where the Israeli government has full control, is severely restricted. In fact, less than 1% of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development and construction is heavily restricted in 29% of Area C. UNOCHA 2013

Just a few days ago, our team rolled up our sleeves and joined the locals who were working to clear the demolition rubble away from the foundations of a house that had been leveled. The Israeli military carried out the demolition of a dozen homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Khair in October 2014. Umm al-Khair is bordered by the Israeli settlement of Karmel.

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

This particular family does not intend to leave and share their hopes and plans for rebuilding. They tell us that they will not build on the site where their previous home stood since the early 1960s, but right next to it. Many victims of demolition do this in the hope that the time it takes for a new building application to go through the courts will buy them some time in their new home. The temporary emergency shelters which the families now live in have been funded by both the European Union and the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and although this international support is greatly appreciated the residents say that they expect that these shelters will also be demolished before long. This is rural life in Area C in Palestine.

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Approximately 99% of all Palestinian planning permission applications are rejected. Significantly, while old Palestinian houses are being demolished on regular basis, settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law, are being expanded at a steadily increasing pace. In some cases entire villages are under threat of demolition. The one that is probably closest to the heart of us EAs in the South Hebron Hills is the small community of Susiya, which has recently been featured in the pages of Israeli and Palestinian and international newspapers.

Susiya: a community at the heart of the struggle

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Some 550 people live in the village of Susiya. Their main source of income comes from farming and animal husbandry. From the outside, the village might look like a ramshackle tangle of tents and shacks, but it has a soul and a school and a whole lot of children. Village community life flourishes.

The village of Susiya was here at its original location from the early decades of the 19th century. In 1986, the Israeli Civil Administration declared the village land was an archaeological site and the residents were expelled and the land was confiscated. Since then the village’s history has been one long chapter of nonviolent struggles against demolition orders. Just some weeks ago, the Civil Administration announced it had quashed the last legal obstacles to the complete destruction of the village. “Complete” in this case would not just include their makeshift homes but livestock barns, water tanks, solar panels – everything in the village.

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Things are rather different at the neighbouring Susiya settlement, built on village land from 1983 onwards. Life in the Israeli settlement carries on without any threats of the demolition.  The story of Susiya is one of many in the South Hebron Hills region, where too many people live from day to day never knowing when the next expulsion will come.

On the 10th of May the Civil Administration began ‘mapping’ Susiya – residents fear imminent demolition. Click here to learn more.

Take action box 2

 

Sign and spread the Avaaz Petition started by Susiya resident Nasser Nawajeh, Save My Village!

You can help their cause by sharing their story and spreading B’Tselem’s appeal through social media using #SaveSusiya.

 

Patience runs out in the sand

by Leif, South Hebron Hills team

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Karmel settlement is seen in the background. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

I am going from Jerusalem to our house in Yatta. It is easy to move with the local Palestinian small buses. The buses do not follow a schedule, but go once they are full. If you have to wait an hour, no one cares about it. Time is plentiful. Waiting is a part of life in the West Bank.

“I’m optimistic in the long term,” says the man next to me in the bus.

He points out that no country with such a system has ever survived in history.

Still the waiting erodes patience.

In the village of Um al Kher the taboun, a traditional outdoor oven, has given fresh bread for over fifty years. Such an oven is a focal point. A lifeline. Bread gives life. Water and bread. And some sheep, chickens and donkeys.

The land which the village is located on was bought for 100 camels after they fled in 1948 from what today is Israel. It was a high price. Since 1981, the village has been under pressure from the Israeli military and settlers. Today the price is not counted in camels. Today it is about the village and the children’s future. It’s about people’s lives.

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

Children play in the ruins after the demolitions in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Early on the morning of Monday 27 October, Israeli soldiers and police went into the village. They were joined by two bulldozers. Five houses were demolished as well as the taboun.

The next day, Tuesday, villagers build a new taboun to bake their bread.

The following day, Wednesday, Israeli soldiers return and destroy the new taboun.

Thursday, October 30, we drive into the village to see with your own eyes what has happened.

Almustasem Al-Hathaleen (26) tells what happened when they destroyed the houses and the oven. He believes the reason they destroyed the oven that did not have an demolition order was that the wind periodically blows against the Israeli settlement of hundred yards beyond. They do not like the smell of Palestinian bread, or the smell from the open fire in the taboun.

Photo of Almotasem

Almotasem stands with the remains of the taboun in the background as well as the Israeli settlement of Karmel. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

The neighbours have complained.

“We do not control the wind. It is beyond our control,” says Almustasem and shakes his head.

Not all Israelis are agree with what goes on. When we arrived at the village, there was a hive of activity to lay the groundwork to build new houses. Palestinians and Israeli peace activists working side by side. They sweat in the heat, and dust lies thick on the outside skin and clothing.

“I think the only solution is peace. When houses are being demolished, it destroys the heart. I am here for my own sake, and for my children’s sake, and to show that not all Israelis are dinosaurs”, says Israeli Eyal Shani who helped with the building.

Eyal Shani rebuilding homes in um al kher.

Eyal Shani, an Israeli peacemaker helps rebuild houses in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Eyal added that he might not live to see when there is peace between neighbours, but that someone has to start working to achieve it. He has taken a day off from his work. He hopes that one day there will be no need to do what he does.

“When children see that their home is destroyed before their eyes, it does something to them. Soon they’re teenagers. What happens to them then?” asks Eyal.

He knows that hatred grows and patience runs out. He continues to carry crushed elements of the destroyed houses to build something of that which is overthrown.

I also take a bucket and fill it with pebbles and elements of what once was a wall. Large and smaller pieces. A sweat. There is a walk in sorrow. A Via Dolarosa on the West Bank. A walk of pain at the edge of the desert.

Children stand in their demolished home.

Children stand in their destroyed house after it was demolished in Khashem ad Daraj. Two were there to witness the event. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

After a few hours in Um al Kher we drive some kilometers on bumpy roads to the village of Khashem ad Daraj. The day before they also received the visit of an bulldozer and Israeli soldiers. Some toilets, a cave, a shelter for sheep and a home was destroyed. Several more homes are under demolition orders.

Photo of tea in Khashem ad Daraj

Despite the tragic events of demolitions, the villagers of Khashem ad Daraj serve us tea to welcome us. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

We are served tea. Five children watch us. Two of them were at home when the soldiers came. The others were in school. The fear is great when strangers come to the house. They fear that soldiers will come again with guns in hand to tear down what little they have. And soon the winter will come.

*Read more about Um al Kher and its struggle to save the village taboun.

Israeli settlers miscalculate a Palestinian farmer

In an ongoing conflict, where victories for Israeli settlers and the Israeli occupation seem never-ending, one farmer prevails and succeeds in getting his land back.

by Helge, Yanoun team

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Bashar al Qaryouti dedicates his life to struggle for human rights and document violations of these rights in the West Bank. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjollesdal.

Israeli settlers from Shiloh try to build a fence on Palestinian land

Sometimes we see a case where Israeli settlers in the West Bank do not succeed in their plans of expanding their territory. Instead, Palestinians are able to show that law and regulations can prevail. However, relevant knowledge and ability to mobilize are needed in order to create a victory.

On the evening of August 11, Israeli settlers from the settlement of Shiloh, southeast of Nablus, walked down the hill to a field that is owned by the Palestinian farmer Muhammed Abed Aziz. They brought with them materials for setting up a fence and tried to install pipes for a new water system. The settlers started to cut down the almond trees on the field. They wanted to cultivate their own produce.

Bashar Alqaryouti lives in a nearby village. He has a long history of bringing his video camera for documenting Israeli settlers that are violating humanitarian and other laws. Bashar often facilitates protests against these injustices. On this day, he arrived on the scene early enough to document what happened and save it on his large memory stick.

Bashar alerted the relevant Palestinian authorities who called the local Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO). Israeli soldiers were dispatched to the grounds of Muhammed Abed Aziz. The police also arrived. Bashar also contacted the Israeli human rights organization, Yesh Din, to monitor what was happening.

The soldiers had no choice but to evict the settlers from the field. The police investigated and confiscated the tools of the settlers. The fence was removed. This was a total victory for the farmer Aziz. He was able to get his field, close to Shiloh, back.

Justice Can Prevail

This case demonstrates that justice can prevail when Palestinians use the system wisely. Success depends on many factors. Aziz was able to provide papers to show that his property was fully registered under his name. He proved that he was undoubtedly the owner of the land. Land registration is often difficult to document for Palestinian farmers, whose claim to the land often stems from the fact that their family has cultivated this land for generations. They often have old land registration deeds from Ottoman times or documents from the British mandate or Jordanian protocols. These kind of papers, however, differ from those required by Israeli regulations created after Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967 and they may be contested. Aziz had a keen mind to know what land registration documents are valid today.

Many farmers do not have the necessary papers after having fled as refugees during the 1948 and 1967 wars and then returning to an empty house. Moreover, the land ownership might be in doubt if it lies in Area C, 60% of the West Bank which is under full Israeli military & civil control as delineated in the Oslo Accords.

But Aziz was able to document without a doubt that he owned his field with almond trees. The settlers had miscalculated the situation and were forced to face an eviction. Bashar was there to catch the settlers’ trespassing with his revealing electronic eye.

Bashar and the case of the road blockade 

Some days later, we meet Bashar on the terrace of his fathers house in Qaryut. He spends a considerable amount of time confronting Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities who let injustice prevail. His biggest project is to remove an army blockade on a road that forces the people in nearby villages to drive an extra 30 kilometres everytime they need to go to Ramallah, which is not only time-consuming, but also expensive. The blockade has other ramifications as well. Bashar has been involved in many of the 120 demonstrations against this blockade throughout the 13 years it has been enforced.

The case of the blockade is still hanging in ”the system,” the Israeli authorities reply when Bashar asks them about the final outcome. The purpose of the blockade, according to Bashar, is to tie settlements together by aquiring land on both sides of the road. As the farmers cannot reach their land because they can not use the road, they have difficulties cultivating it. The land will become state land after 10 years without ploughing and can then be bought by new owners.

”Why can’t you take this guy with you to Oslo and keep him there so I can have some sleep at night?” Bashar’s fathers utters looking at me with a smile.

He is worried about his activist son, but evidently also proud of him for spending so much time defending other peoples’ rights in a conflict that causes so much pain.

Khallet Annahlah: Israelis, Palestinians & Internationals Working Together Against the Occupation

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

EAs and members of Combatants for Peace walking together at the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/L. Hilton.

by Liam, Bethlehem team

“Swiss Cheese land”

The Bethlehem Governorate is one of 16 administrative governorates in the West Bank. It covers an area of 658km2  with approximately 210,484 people as of 2014.

With the 1995 Oslo II Accord agreement, the West Bank was split into 3 non-contiguous areas with Area A (theoretically) in full Palestinian control and comprising 3% of the West Bank, Area B under Palestinian civil control but Israeli military control, 23-25% of the West Bank, and Area C completely under Israeli control, currently over 60% of the West Bank territory. This fragmentation, with some referring to the West Bank as “Swiss Cheese land”, was meant to be for an interim period of 5 years, until 1999, but the Bethlehem Governorate, as with all of the West Bank, is still divided, although with slightly different percentages, into these administrative “islands” of Areas A, B and C classification.

In addition, 10km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate have been illegally annexed by Israel as being within its “Greater Jerusalem” designation. This intricately complicated division, usually left not signposted, leaves only 13% of the 658km2 of the Bethlehem Governorate under full or partial Palestinian Authority control.

“A Palestinian Walking on their Own Land is a Demonstration”

What do these numbers mean in reality? Take Khallet Annahlah, a small rural village with rich fertile land close to Bethlehem. On the 16th April, one of our first duties within the Bethlehem team was to attend an incident there. We met with a local Palestinian nonviolent activist named Hassan, from the nearby village of Al-Masara, as well as members of Combatants for Peace (CfP), an Israeli and Palestinian organisation set up in 2005 from former combatants of both sides who have decided to relinquish their weapons and work together in nonviolent approaches towards ending the occupation and a just peace for both sides.

With Hassan & CfP, we walked on the farm of Mohammed Khalil where a new Israeli settler tent had appeared, in the land that he was born on and now fears will be confiscated – either by settlers or the Israeli authorities. The tent was put up in the middle of the day, with unabashed impunity, on a hill across from the already established “Blue Tent”, so-called due to the settler choice of colour. The first tent appeared 6 months ago and now has developed into a caravan-tent lodging big enough for one or two families.

Hassan then took us further along and we entered the farmland of Ziat Zenat though we couldn’t make out where his farm actually was as, on 11 April, the Israeli army bulldozed all of his stone terraces that were used to grow a variety of herbs, such as sage.

While speaking with Ziat, 3 Israeli settlers in a white car saw us on a hill opposite with binoculars and made a phone call. Within 10 minutes, 4 army vehicles had rushed on the scene, each full of soldiers – at least 13 in total – with the settlers following behind. The settlers and soldiers were all heavily-armed and the Commander of the soldier’s unit was seen laughing and shaking hands with the settler behind the wheel of the car. We have come to learn that it is not unusual to see soldiers and settlers fraternising together. A soldier, originating from Los Angeles who has been in Israel for 3 years, questioned us over our presence despite being with the landowner on his land, and accused Hassan of trying to do a demonstration.

Hassan protested:

“A Palestinian walking on their own land is a demonstration”.

A court case on the 24th April declared 300 dunams (3 hectares) of the area as “State Land” but this is currently under appeal so no action should have been taken by Israeli authorities to destroy Ziat’s stone terraces. The declaration of private Palestinian property as “State Land” is a former Ottoman-era policy used consistently by the Israeli authorities to claim large swathes of Area C in the West Bank if the State deems them to be “uncultivated” or without documented ownership.

According to the Israeli human rights NGO, B’tselem, only 9% of the total area of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) was registered as being owned prior to Israeli occupation in 1967. Nonetheless, Israel defines “State Land” as being for the benefit of the local population, which would be Palestinian. However, since 1967, the Israeli Civil Administration own figures state that Palestinians have been allocated only 0.7% (860 hectares) of “State Land” in Area C whilst the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), which develops illegal settlements, has been allocated 31% (40,000 hectares). Approximately, 21% of the total West Bank defined as “State Land” (BT’Selem 2013); land that Palestinians have little hope of being authorised to utilise. In this way, Israeli authorities reappropriate land by misusing old laws whilst disregarding international laws regarding the occupier’s responsibilities to those occupied.

“A Demonstration without Media does not Exist”

On the 18th April, recognising the strategic importance of the area, a nonviolent demonstration was led by Combatants for Peace (CfP) member Udi with Hassan and other local Palestinians from the village to make a public statement of the illegality of the settler’s actions. When organising the demonstration, the local media are always invited to ensure that as many hear about it as possible.

CfP member, Larry, says:

“A demonstration which does not make the media, does not exist”.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

An Israeli peace activist with Combatants for Peace joins the demonstration. Photo EAPPI/C. Holtan.

The Israeli peace activists parked up on the road, blocking the entry to the land, and walked quickly over to the settler tent holding two Palestinian flags. Speed was of the essence as everyone knew how quickly the soldiers would be called out by the settlers. The white settler vehicle could be seen observing the demonstration and, again, within 15 minutes; the soldier’s jeeps could be seen driving towards us in the distance. Udi and the other Israeli peace activists placed the Palestinian flags over the settler tent to “reclaim” it, and its land, as Palestinian. Udi then announced through a megaphone that the settlers are on Palestinian land and that they are even outside of the artificial border Israel has created through building the Separation Barrier.

Observing the Israelis and Palestinians working together towards a common goal; it was possible to see that both members are equal with neither instructing the other – even if the law is not applied equally to them. Only Israelis can dare to place their cars blocking the road and risk putting a Palestinian flag over the settler tent because the soldiers only have jurisdiction over the Palestinians, who live under martial law, whilst the Israelis live under civil law which means that they fall under the authority of the Israeli police. This dual legal system over the same territory is inherently discriminatory and disenfranchises Palestinians.

Once the soldiers had reached the tent by foot, everyone was ordered to leave by 11am, and having achieved the objective, the demonstrators complied and returned to the village of Khallet Annahlah. Once returned, a soldier accused Hassan of assault using a word in Hebrew which is ambiguous as to whether it was a verbal or physical assault, and the soldiers seemed incensed at being prevented from stopping the demonstration. A member of CfP said that, for soldiers, “lying to them is an assault to the respect they expect”. They detained Hassan and attempted to arrest him but after an hour of negotiation by Israelis; the soldiers let Hassan go. It was clearly due to international presence and Israeli activist intervention that Hassan evaded arrest and the demonstration was a success.

Continued Protective Presence

We returned to Khallet Annahlah on 29 April, the same day settlers were ordered by the Israeli High Court to remove the illegal new tent there, to see Mohammad Ayesh, 55yrs old and his son Qasm, who own the farm next door to Ziat. Settlers had come the day before and tried to take Mohammad’s sheep and goats. He told them that they couldn’t take his animals but the settlers called the army and they detained him for 2 hours. The morning we went, at 9am, the settlers brought a horse and allowed it to eat the farmer’s crops and started constructing a barracks.

Mohammed has been fighting his case through the courts since 2004. All three farmers in the area have had their water cut off for 120 days and the Israeli authorities told their neighbour:

“We will give you water but only if you don’t associate with them [the three farmers]”.

On the 2 May, we returned once more after Mohammed had trees cut down by the Israeli authorities. Hassan explains the community’s response is a call to action:

“The settlers have taken 40 dunams, but that’s just a step on their way to take…the remaining 300 dunams [30 hectares]…We’ve decided to make non-violent and useful activities here together, to save the land”.

With the 3 families in their tiny rural village, it is easy to see the interconnected nature of the relentless number of incidents Palestinian farmers face in protecting their homes, land and livelihoods. It is also possible to see what a difference Israeli and internationals, such as yourselves, can make to ensure that their stories and acts of nonviolent demonstration are heard. CfP member Hillel told us:

“We know you [Ecumenical Accompaniers] come here and volunteer your time, working day and night, to help and we feel it’s something that we, as Israelis, should be doing. Thank you, we appreciate you”.

The tribulations of Khaled Al Najar

A tragedy in 3 parts.

by Hans, South Hebron Hills team

Khaled Al Najar is a simple, but proud and dignified Palestinian farmer from the small village of Qawawis in the South Hebron Hills. But today I saw him wipe a tear off his cheek. On May 22, two Israeli settlers torched Khaled’s entire harvest. Months of labor, 3 tons of wheat, several tons of animal fodder and the 3-4 monthly wages his family of fourteen was to live on for the summer disappeared in an inferno fueled by hate and the misinterpretation of God’s promise.

Two Israeli settlers set fire to Khaled's wheat harvest, destroying not only months of labor, but also the income that Khaled and his family of 14 intended to live on during the Summer. Photo c/o Operation Dove.

Two Israeli settlers set fire to Khaled’s wheat harvest, destroying not only months of labor, but also the income that Khaled and his family of 14 intended to live on during the Summer. Photo c/o Operation Dove.

Part 1

I was woken by a call at 5 am. Our good friend and driver, Abed, had received a call from his brother who is a Palestinian contact in the Israeli human rights watchdog organization B’tselem.

“Khaled’s harvest is burning. Should we go?” Abed sleepily said.

He is all too used to the occupation; he has never seen anything else. I immediately called our Italian colleagues in Operation Dove who live nearby. They were already at the scene, and there was nothing for us to do but to come back in the morning to write yet another report. Everything was lost. But nothing prepared me for the story I would hear.

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled's wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled’s wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

When my three colleagues from EAPPI and I arrived at 3:00 pm, a group of Israeli settlers on tour were making their way back into their bus. Apparently the misfortune of Palestinians is the newest attraction on their sightseeing tours in the West Bank. Khaled stood in the middle of his field, watching what once was his livelihood reduced to a pile of ash, with tiny flames still sparking up wherever they found some remnants to devour.

The day before we had seen him finish the harvest of his 25,000 square meters of wheat, and everything was done painstakingly by hand. He had left it on the field to dry.

At about 3:45 in the morning, a worker from his village had seen a car with two settlers circling the area. But the car was already late for the checkpoint crossing into Israel, where you have to be at 4:00 am to be in time for work, and the driver was unwilling to stop.

10 minutes later another worker saw the two settlers torch the pile and make for a quick escape. That’s when Khaled was called.

“I couldn’t do anything”, he says. “When the army arrived they didn’t help, but told me to shut up and stop being so agitated”.

The police came and asked the army to move away but did little else. Khaled’s field is in Area C, where only Israeli forces have authority. They are less than inclined to use it in favor of the Palestinians. He watched it all burn, while a single fireman took his time to extinguish the, by now, diminishing flames. He reported the crime, but without video evidence we all know nothing will happen.

Khaled runs his fingers through the ashes and despairingly tells me something in Arabic.

“It was worth a fortune”, Abbed translates. “What is he going to do now?”

And this is when I see it. A solitary tear runs down his face.

I go through our standard questions, and have never felt so bad doing it. “Can I interview you? Can I take pictures? Can I use your full name?” He looks me in the eyes. “Use what you want. What more can they take from me now? I only hope Allah has mercy”. Despite the gravity of the situation, I find it surprising. The Palestinians I know are not the ones to give up.

Part 2

Khaled lifts his shirt, and we gasp. His stomach is hanging over his belt in a grotesque manner.

“It hurts for him to work”, Abbed says, “He was shot by a settler in 2001”.

I humbly ask him to tell the story.

Khaled was shot by a settler in 2001. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen

“I was out with my sheep over there”. He points toward the nearby outpost called Mitzpe Yair. “The outpost wasn’t built yet, but the settler tours in the area had already started. I was on my own land when a group showed up about 50 meters above me. They were protected by army. I was keeping my distance, because I knew how extreme they could be, even though I couldn’t see anyone armed. But suddenly one of them grabbed the gun of one of the soldiers and started firing at me. I felt a sharp pain. When I woke up I was in hospital. I stayed for seven months and ten days”. We are shocked. But surely the settler must still be in prison? Not only did he shoot Khaled in front of the soldiers, he grabbed one of their guns to do it. “The settler turned out to be an American citizen. He spent three days in jail before he was sent home. Free.”

The memories, on top of his lost harvest, are too much. He becomes quiet, sits down and lights his cigarette from some still glowing coal.

Part 3

While we stand there in silence, a small bus pulls up. Out climbs a large set Jewish man, but this is not a settler. We immediately recognize Yehuda Saul from Breaking The Silence, who has devoted the last 10 years to tell Israel and the world of the atrocities he and other soldiers have committed while serving in the occupied Palestinian territory. He has a group of internationals from different organizations with him, and starts to tell yet another story.

“In 2004 this man (Abed) came to farm his land, but found settlers planting vine ranks here. He told them it was his land, and they replied it had been given to them by God. With the laws the Israeli Civil Administration applies for Palestinians in these cases, proving what is your land is like proving that you don’t have a sister. But Rabbis for Human Rights took the settlers to court. You know how long it lasted? Seven years. And for all those years, the settlers grew their grapes here. But Khaled actually won.

And in 2011, for the first time in all of the West Bank, the settler’s grapevines were uprooted for a Palestinian to take back his land. That’s when the settlers slashed the tires of your car, right, Abbed? While the army was watching?” Abbed nods. “He lost 7 harvests. Then he had two good ones. And then this happens”.

The other internationals are as baffled as we are, but Yehuda, Abbed and Khaled has seen it too many times. They just shrug. How long does it take to live under these conditions to just shrug off such injustice?

What remains of Khaled's wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

What remains of Khaled’s wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

Khaled was shot by a settler. Settlers took his land for 7 years. Now they have torched his livelihood to the ground, and there is absolutely nothing we can do. We express our sympathies, and they feel so hollow. We shake his hand and he smiles back at us while we all walk away; him back to his family of fourteen, us to write our report.

As we get in the car I feel more than a solitary tear pressing.  There is no way I, who am going back home in three months, am going to cry while Khaled walks away so proudly, carrying all his tribulations on his shoulders.

The blog The tribulations of Khaled al Najar first appeared on Lille Ville Vestbredden, a blog of EAPPI Norway.