Video blog: Farmers access farmland for the first time in 16 years!

Featured

By EA Maria, South Hebron Hills team. 

On the 13th of May 2016, Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) responded to a request for protective presence from Palestinian farmers living in Al Simeri, Shi’b al Butum in the hills south of Hebron. Mahmood Yosif Jabareen, his brothers – Hamad, Ali, Khalil and Yosif – and two nephews were planning to plough one of their fields. However, the 13th of May was no ordinary day in the fields for the Jabareen family. The 13th of May was the first time in sixteen years that the Israeli courts granted them unhindered access to their land.

Hamad told us: “this story is very good for me, because we come to the land…” 

Continue reading

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.

The Sleepover

Bir al ‘Idd is a village with only one family left. Protective presence is constantly needed to keep this small village alive.

by Hans, South Hebron Hills team

Bir al 'Idd. Photo EAPPI/V. Rochat.

Bir al ‘Idd. Photo EAPPI/V. Rochat.

Every Friday night the EAPPI team in the South Hebron Hills goes on a sleepover. While it is cozy, like any other sleepover, it is also protective presence for the only family left in the village of Khirbet Bir al ‘Idd.

Bir al’Idd is located in one of the most vulnerable places. It lies on the edge of Masafer Yatta, a large area declared a firing zone for the Israeli army (despite the scattered villages still there). About a kilometer in each direction lie Israeli settlement outposts, known for violent attacks on Palestinian farmers. And in a small valley in between, Bir al’Idd lies like an eagle’s nest desperately fighting to hang on.

Khirbet Bir al ’Idd lies between the Israeli settlement outposts of Matzpe Yair and Nof Nesher. Photo UNOCHA.

Khirbet Bir al ’Idd lies between the Israeli settlement outposts of Matzpe Yair and Nof Nesher. Photo UNOCHA.

Abu Tariq and his family lives in a cave. They have a few provisional buildings to house their animals, walls built from dismantled crates, rocks and mud with tented roofs. Caves are not rare in this region. It is part of the traditional housing. It stays warm in winter and cool in summer. And, perhaps most importantly in these times, they are a lot harder to demolish than buildings. They have some electricity, thanks to the NGO Comet ME that provides solar and wind power to the villages in the area. The solar panels in Bir al’Idd were broken by the nearby Israeli settlers, but they still provide enough electricity for some light in the evenings, and for Abu Tariq’s family to follow their favorite Syrian soap opera.

When we arrive in Bir al’Idd we are greeted by smiles and hugs. We sit outside and make staggering conversations in Arabic and English, helped by our phrasebook. When the sun sets, we go inside the cave and sit around the beautiful carpet Abu Tariq’s mom wove.

The family brings us food, yoghurt from their sheep, bread from their small taboon, rice and soup. It is simple, delicious and extremely humbling to see how gladly they share what little they have. Saying “no, thanks, I’ve eaten” is not an option, they would see it as an insult. After dinner it is TV-time and we watch the aforementioned Syrian soap in great delight. They, because they’ve followed the series for twenty years. Us, because of the wonderful and theatrical expressions of the actors, and the Arabic words we can recognize.

Between 8:30 and 9:00 we go to bed. The sons in the family make our beds in a small mud-walled hut above the cave. It is simple, but we are treated better than at a five star hotel, and we go to sleep to the sounds of sheep stamping and hyenas howling.

In the morning we eat breakfast with the family before they take their sheep to graze, and while the sun rises over Jordan in the distance, we go off for other duties, promising to return next Friday.

Bir al’Idd was there under the Ottoman Empire, under British and Jordanian rule, but in 1999 it was laid desolate. Harassment and threats from Israeli settlers forced the fifteen families who lived there out in a ten year exile. Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) engaged lawyers and after a long-fought battle in the courts they won their right to return in 2009. But the two Israeli outposts were still there, and only five families chose to return. It was not an easy choice, and they did not choose an easy life. Despite near constant follow-up from RHR and Tay’ush, they have been expelled from their grazing lands, their roads have been blocked, they have suffered violence at the hands of Israeli settlers and the Israeli army, and eventually, one after the other, all but one have given up.

Abu Tariq is happy when he is working in his land. Photo EAPPI/B. Thiel.

Abu Tariq is happy when he is working in his land. Photo EAPPI/B. Thiel.

Abu Tariq tells us he does not want pity. He is a strong and proud man, and considers himself rich as long as he is working his land. But with only one family left, there is no school in Bir al’Idd, and most of Abu Tariq’s children live alone in Yatta. The lack of parental guidance has affected their grades and their health. The pressure is too much. Staying away from their children is extremely tough. It looks like the last family of Bir al’Idd has succumbed, and when the harvest is finished, Abu Tariq seriously considers to pack his things and go. It will be yet another Palestinian village laid to waste by landgrabbing settlers.

 

Want to know more about issues facing the villages in the South Hebron Hills? Read HERE.

A new battle in Nabi Samwil

The villagers of Nabi Samwil have already lost land and been displaced due to an Israeli National Park.  Now, the expansion of the National Park, means this could happen again.

by Aaron, Ar-Ram team

Children play in front of Nabi Samwil's one-room school. Photo EAPPI/K. Banks, 2012.

Children play in front of Nabi Samwil’s one-room school, which is threatened with demolition. Photo EAPPI/K. Banks, 2012.

Nabi Samwil: a holy place for Muslims, Christians and Jews

One of the main reasons people come from all over the world to visit Israel and Palestine is the large number of Holy Sites. Since we’ve been here, members of our group have been to visit the Western Wall, The Sea of Galilee and Manger Square in Bethlehem, among others. These sites are of spiritual significance to people of different faiths from around the world. They are also an opportunity for local people to earn a living and to provide services for tourists.

It sounds like a win-win situation. But like many seemingly straightforward things in this place, there is more than meets the eye…

Members of EAPPI Al Ram Team 50 have been regular visitors to a site which has been special to Jews, Muslims and Christians for hundreds of years, and is now at the forefront of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An Nabi Samwil is a small village in the north of Jerusalem. It’s reputed to be the site of the tomb of Samuel – a figure respected and revered by all three Abrahamic faiths. While the historical evidence for this is hard to substantiate, what’s clear is that a monastery and crusader church which were built there nearly 1000 years ago have since been replaced by a building which is now in use as both a Mosque and a Synagogue.

A history of land loss

An Arab village grew up around the tomb. For much of the last few hundred years, Jews and Muslims have been able to worship at the site alongside eachother. However, in 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In 1971, the village of An Nabi Samwil had about 1000 people in it. But then the Israeli Army came and announced the creation of a National Park surrounding the tomb. This meant the villagers would have to move – they had no choice. As in many other Palestinian villages, An Nabi Samwil was cleared of its population and no provision was made for those being moved. Many left the area, either to Jordan or elsewhere in the West Bank. But some were determined to stay and set up new homes nearby.

An EA walks with a woman from Nabi Samwil at the site where her home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/M. McGivern, 2011.

An EA walks with a woman from Nabi Samwil at the site where her home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/M. McGivern, 2011.

Around 250 people now live in the village, which is a few hundred metres from the old village and the tomb. Many of them still remember the old village being cleared. They could hardly forget – seeing as they walk past the place where their houses used to be every time they go to the Mosque. Israeli forces have demolished various structures in the village and the village school’s new classroom has recently been given a demolition order.

Villagers may face displacement for the expansion of a National Park

Now, there is a new threat to the community. The Israeli authorities have declared that the National Park will be extended, a new road will be built with parking spaces and provision of more services. This is ostensibly to attract more tourists and make the tomb a more popular destination. But the creation and expansion of National Parks is a tactic that has been used elsewhere to acquire more land for Israel and to take it from Palestinian communities.

Land surrounding the tomb will be declared part of the National Park, which means that villagers will lose plots which they own. It means it will be harder to find a place for their animals to go, and it will bring the possibility of large numbers of visitors – but little benefit for the Palestinian community. Because they are not allowed to build any new structures (Israel permits very little building by Palestinians in the parts of the West bank know as ‘Area C’) there will be no opportunity for local people to capitalize on the expected influx of visitors by building souvenir shops, for example.

Israelis, Palestinians, and Internationals stand with Nabi Samwil in solidarity

It is easy to see why the village is objecting. We have been supporting Aeed Barakat, a local man who is taking the lead in opposing the plans. Two weeks ago, we attended a planning court hearing at Beit El, which is the local office of the Israeli Military which runs so much of life for Palestinians.

Along with 10 others from the village, Aeed attended and stood alongside peace campaigners from around the world, including many from Israeli groups such as Peace Now, Bimkom and Rabbis for Human Rights. All of us were shocked when the architect in charge of the plans told those assembled:

“There is no village, only a few houses.”

At this point, the meeting broke up, with the villagers so upset that they couldn’t carry on. It was left to the Israeli peace activists to continue the hearing on their behalf. When the meeting finished, we asked them how confident they were of a good outcome. It didn’t sound likely.

We are now awaiting the decision of the hearing. It could come any time. But it’s thought that the plans will be approved. And at this point, the villagers will resort to court action in an attempt to preserve their land.

They’re not content just to wait and be told that their land is being taken away. So last Friday they organised a peaceful demonstration. Around 50 people gathered in the village to protest against the plans. There were local people as well as internationals, and again, many Israelis who are passionate about peace.

Four police cars soon arrived carrying 15 armed officers who told the group they had five minutes to move. Aeed simply said,

“This is our village. We won’t move.”

The police seemed taken aback by the number of Israelis who had gathered in solidarity with the Palestinian group. After several more attempts to order the demonstrators to move, the police eventually gave up and went away. Aeed was delighted. He told us, “This is good news. I hope this demonstration will now be able to happen every week.” It was a privilege to stand alongside such a diverse group, united in one aim. EAPPI will continue to stand alongside the villagers of An Nabi Samwil and many other villages like it, for as long as they want us to be there.