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.

Planting olive trees: a nonviolent act of perseverance and steadfastness

by Ken, Yanoun team

 

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

It’s 9:00 am on a warm sunny morning in Burin. The weather is unusually mild for the time of year and the farmers are complaining about the scarcity of rainfall.  We’ve been asked to accompany the villagers while planting new olive trees to replace the ones Israeli settlers from the Yizhar settlement destroyed. Our transport arrives: a tractor and trailer containing about 50 olive tree saplings. The many passengers make room for us as we climb aboard and, precariously balanced, we set off on a 2 kilometre long journey across the valley and up a steep incline to arrive at a ploughed field just 300 metres from the fence surrounding the settlement.

Mamoun, from the rural development association in Burin and also one of the coordinators of this event, shows me the blackened remains of olive trees burned by Israeli settlers in an adjacent field. He believes in a conspiracy theory that I’ve heard before: that this arson is not a random act but part of a coordinated attempt to undermine the Palestinian rural economy.  He explains that “they know what they are doing. There is some genius thinking for them”. He also cautions us that farmers are often “beaten” in this area, especially if they get too close to the fence.

There is more to this event than just planting trees: it is both a memorial and a political statement. Attached to the saplings are photographs of Palestinian nationals. Some are long-term prisoners in Israeli jails; others have died in resisting the occupation. One photograph is of a local boy, aged about 10, who recently died of a brain tumour in spite of eventually receiving expert Israeli medical care. I realise that the man standing stoically alone in front of the tree is the boy’s father. At the risk of intruding on his private grief, I offer my condolences on his loss and a prayer for him. He thanks me for my concern in a most dignified way but then continues his vigil.

Planting trees is hard, sweaty and tiring work and our team pitches in. At a scheduled break I search for a stone to sit on, mindful of an earlier conversation with Mamoun about the local flora and fauna in which he mentioned that there were “many snakes” including a “Palestinian cobra”. Mamoun senses my anxiety: “don’t worry”, he says, “it’s winter and they’re sleeping”.

I ask Mamoun about his organization. He explains that it’s primarily concerned with improving agricultural productivity, and especially in helping farmers to become self-sufficient despite the diminishing amount of land accessible to them. It also organizes a women’s handicraft cooperative, promoting health education, and setting up a savings scheme to help parents pay for their children’s university education. All this depends on volunteer help without external funding.

This initiative seems to worry the Israeli military intelligence, as if being a community activist is somehow subversive. Mamoun’s office has been subjected to no less than six night-time raids by the army. He and, by association, his family are on a ‘black list’. When his 64 year old father enquired as to why his application for a permit to work in Israel had been rejected the answer was “ask your son”!

The planting ends ceremonially with the unfurling of a ‘solidarity’ banner and the obligatory taking of photographs. Everyone is in a jubilant mood. The trees have been planted without provoking a reaction by the settlers, and the army has kept its distance even though it has captured everything on video from beginning to end.

Mamoun sums up the feeling of the workers when he says “for every one tree they [the Israeli settlers] destroy, we will plant ten trees more”.

I’m convinced that against all the odds this continuing emphasis on nonviolent resistance will eventually win the day for the Palestinians as it did for Gandhi in India and Mandela in South Africa.

Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, about what he calls a ‘third intifada’ believes that “it is the one that Israel always feared most – not an intifada with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott”.

The final word naturally belongs to Mamoun: he warmly thanks our team “for your support and for showing solidarity with us”, and the other workers beam in agreement.

Life on Shuhada Street

This is part 2 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

 

Today, the once lively Shuhada Street in Hebron is a shell of its former self. Welded shut doors, rusty awnings, graffiti-sprayed walls, weeds, and caged balconies characterize this once active and busy street. The street was essentially shut down during the second Intifada and access to the street denied to Palestinians. Despite Israeli pledges to reopen the street, Shuhada Street remains closed and eerily empty.

Shuhada Street stretches from the entrance to H2 from H1 at Checkpoint 56 to the opposite side of H2 and Checkpoint 209 and is home to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. There are three settlements on Shuhada Street: Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. The location of these settlements is what makes Hebron such a unique city as they are situated in the heart of a Palestinian city and Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinians because of it.

Life on Shuhada Street for Israeli settlers is quiet. There is no traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, there is excessive security ensuring safety, there is a coffee shop, school, and museum. Residents of Beit Hadassah deliver snacks and hot tea to the soldier at Checkpoint 56 below their building each morning. Children wait at bus stops for the school bus to collect them. Worshippers walk up Shuhada Street to the synagogue and the Cave of Patriarchs. Tour groups of settlers and internationals peruse the street with interest and intrigue. As a settler, life on Shuhada Street is normal.

Life on Shuhada Street for Palestinian residents is a struggle. Those still living on the street are forbidden from accessing the street and therefore using their front doors. As a result they are required to search for alternative access to and from their homes, which often means dangerous careering across staircases and rooftops. Many, if not all, of the balconies are encased in fencing with the goal of preventing stones and eggs reaching their belongings.

Cordoba School, for Palestinian children, is situated above Shuhada Street and access to the school is a steep staircase at Checkpoint 55 that also marks the border of Palestinian admission to Shuhada Street. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor this checkpoint and Checkpoint 56 two times a day during the school week. Israeli soldiers and settlers often harass children walking down Shuhada Street to school. EAs attempt to prevent such agitation by providing protective presence and in the process develop relationships with the children and teachers of Cordoba School.

From the staircase leading to Cordoba School to the access road of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Palestinians are forbidden from walking or driving on the Shuhada Street. Approximately 30,000 Palestinians and 700 Israeli settlers live in the H2 partition of Hebron. For Palestinian residents, Shuhada Street is a clear symbol of the occupation. Israeli authorities use the Palestinian nationality as a weapon to control where they walk, how they live, and where they exist. The empty Shuhada Street epitomizes the Israeli occupation.

Life on Shuhada Street is a dream for some and a nightmare for others. For the Israeli settlers inhabiting Shuhada Street is a dream of access, peace, and protection. For the Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street life is a series of humiliating checkpoints and restrictions. It is a conundrum of rights and a skewed priority of safety.

* Read Part 1: The Story of Shuhada Street.