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.

A trip down memory lane

Anna was an EA from Sweden in 2004.  Even 10 years later, the stories and encounters she witnessed here have stuck with her. Our EAPPI staff had the opportunity to sit down with her and hear some of these stories and here her wise advice for those who want to join EAPPI today.

A trip down memory laneWhat was it like to be an EA?

I remember feeling like work was a double challenge.  On the one hand, the situation in 2004 was extremely intense.  It was during the Second Intifada.  We lived in Ramallah, but witnessed the separation wall being built in Qalandiya. There were many incursions at night by the Israeli army into the towns that we worked in. Yet, at the same time, our work was very slow.  Some days were intense, but many we visited with people, heard their stories, drank tea. It was a challenge to have a slow job in an extremely tense situation.

Tell me about some of the people that you met

One of the best parts of our job was meeting people.  We had a lot of fun talking to neighbors in the evening and living closely with the community.  I remember one man we met.  He was a pharmacist.  He was always very afraid of germs. He washed his hands many times a day and was always tell us to be careful of germs.  One day he told us about his experience with an Israeli military incursion.  Right after telling us the story, he went right back to washing his hands and talking about germs.  He epitomized to me the fact that living under occupation became normal, as normal as talking about germs. I also felt that his fear of germs may have been a diversion. He chose to fear germs, something he could control, rather than the Israeli military.

As part of our work, we frequently visited the women and children’s center Amari Refugee camp near Ramallah.  This was the most rewarding experience.  We felt really appreciated. Even though we had a hard time talking because of our Arabic skills and we simply drank tea and played with the kids, we felt that the women appreciated us, because we had took the time to come see and share in their lives.

Amari Refugee camp was also a tough place. It was really hard to see life there. I had previously traveled to Eastern Africa and seen people who suffered from extreme poverty. But life in Amari camp was hard to see, because the people there were not only vulnerable economically, but also politically. It was tough to see this doubly vulnerability.

Even 10 years later, I remember the people, not the activities I did.  I was struck by their constant enthusiasm to change their reality, despite its difficulty.

What memory sticks out most for you from your time as an EA?

I remember the absurdity of life in Ramallah. There’s one night in particular that I remember.  In our apartment in Ramallah we had a clear view of the Israeli settlement on the other hill.  Usually at night we would watch TV, mostly The King’s News from Jordan. One night, my colleague made popcorn.  We sat down at the TV, but then thought that popcorn doesn’t really go with The King’s News.  So we went outside on the balcony. We immediately noticed that something was happening near the settlement across the valley.  The Israeli army was shoot flare grenades to give themselves light and a better view of what was happening. We didn’t know what was going on, but I just remember the absurdity of daily life in such a crazy political situation. We were eating popcorn on the balcony as we watched the Israeli army shoot flare grenades. This always comes back to me, the double life of occupation and eating popcorn.

Why did you specifically choose to join EAPPI as opposed to another group working in Israel and Palestine?

For me it was the church aspect of the program.  I had come to Israel and Palestine and 2000.  Growing up in the church, I was very interested in Palestinian Christians and wanted to come back with a program that had this aspect.

What’s the biggest change you think EAPPI has made?

Since I’m Swedish, most of the change I have seen has been in Sweden.  There, I can see that EAPPI has had a big impact in raising awareness about the situation in Israel and Palestine.  It has become a very well-known program and has sent many EAs.  These EAs have given lectures in schools, churches, and other organizations. Since I came in 2004, I’ve seen how over the years, EAPPI has had a slow, but steady impact in keeping Israel and Palestine in the minds of those in Sweden.

Why do you think it is important that internationals come to Israel and Palestine?

When things are far away from us, it’s easy to say that the situation is not bad. It’s easy to rationalize that things are not actually as bad as we hear. But when you’ve been here, in Israel and Palestine, you can’t keep things away.  You can’t ignore or forget.  We must go so that we don’t become complacent to situations of injustice.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an EA?

Do it. Absolutely do it! You won’t regret it.  But don’t do it if you expect to change the world, but if you expect to change yourself.  The solution to the Israel and Palestine won’t come from just you, but you will have the chance to be part of something, contributing to a small bit of change. Everyone who even thinks about it should just do it.

A Day in the Life of an EA: Checkpoint duty

Going through the checkpoint is not just a story of queues, turnstiles, and metal detectors, but encompasses the permit system for Palestinians and the sometimes arbitrary attitudes of Israeli soldiers. It is a story of daily humiliation and dehumanization, in stark contrast to every humans right to freedom of movement.

by Bron, Ar Ram team

One of our regular tasks as EAs in Ar Ram is “checkpoint duty” at the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint. Qalandiya checkpoint stands between the two Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It is on the Separation Barrier, which is at this point not on the international border known as the Green Line, but some 8 km north-east, in Palestine.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

After waiting in queues, those crossing the checkpoint must make their way through caged aisles, big enough only for 1 person, before reaching the first set of turnstiles. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Twice a week we arrive about 4.15am, as the queue of workers from Ar Ram and Ramallah begins to build up, and for three hours we monitor the queues and the length of time it takes to pass through, and count the numbers of men, women and children crossing the checkpoint.

At 4.15am, the checkpoint building is alive with birdsong, and fat sparrows hop backwards and forwards under the metal bars, doing very well on the crumbs left by men eating breakfast as they wait. The freedom of the birds to come and go as they please is in marked contrast to that of the Palestinian people.

Let me give you an idea of what is involved in crossing the checkpoint. First you wait in line in one of three metal cages that is just wide enough for one person. At the end of this cage is the first turnstile, which at busy times opens to allow perhaps 10 or 12 people through at a time and then closes again for several minutes. Once through the first turnstile you go to one of 5 booths where you wait again at another turnstile. This turnstile usually opens to allow 3 people through, and then closes again for three or four minutes. You are then at the checkpoint proper, which is a little like airport security. You take off your shoes and jacket and belt and pile your possessions on a conveyor belt. You walk through a body scanner and present your ID and permit for inspection by the soldier on duty. You may well have to have your handprint checked too. If all is in order you are free to pick up your possessions and pass through 3 further turnstiles before you reach the other side and the buses waiting to take you to Jerusalem.

 

Men, women, and children begin to line up at Qalandiya checkpoint at 4:15 am every morning. Their daily commute involves this dehumanizing treck. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The queue at the checkpoint during busier hours of the day. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

It sounds simple. It is anything but.  The permit system which controls the freedom of Palestinians to travel around their country is a story in itself – there are 101 sorts of permits for different sorts of need, many are temporary and the process for acquiring a permit is complex, time-consuming and stressful. For now let us just say that, having reached the checkpoint, you may find that your permit has expired, or that it has been revoked, or that your handprint does not match that held on the database, or you have simply been “blacklisted” for some reason that you know nothing about.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow.  Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

The numerous turnstiles are frustrating to navigate, especially for women with children or those with many personal belonging in tow. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

Or, as happened recently to families embarking on a day out, you may have been told that you do not need permits for your under-5s, but when you get to the checkpoint window the soldier on duty arbitrarily decides that you do and refuses to let the children through. (The wonderful Israeli organisation Machsom Watch  sorted that out very quickly for us by phoning the Commanding Officer).

For many Palestinians, crossing the checkpoint is a daily piece of frustration and humiliation inflicted upon them by the occupying power, Israel. For the most part they deal with it with stoicism and patience, though understandably resorting to some shouting and remonstrations when the queues stretch out to the car park and only two or three of the booths are open.Even if your permit is fine, navigating the route through the checkpoint can be an obstacle course. There is a “humanitarian gate” for women, elderly or sick people. But it does not save you a single turnstile. And the turnstiles are a menace to small fingers and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying small children or bags and a walking stick.

One of the most moving things we witness is the lines of men who, having spent perhaps half an hour or more queueing to pass the checkpoint, stop to pray on the Jerusalem side before boarding their bus.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Despite the long, daily waits, many men waiting in the queue stop to pray on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint before loading the buses to work. Photo EAPPI/ B. Currie.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state”. But as an elderly man told me in frustration as he emerged into the sunshine on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint last week:

“I am 70 years old. I was born in Jerusalem. I need a permit to go there. Half my family is in Ramallah, half in Jerusalem. I’m not from Europe or Africa – I’m from Jerusalem. And I need a permit to go there.”

The article Early Morning at Qalandiya was originally published on the blog Through My Eyes and Ears.

Photos: Images of olive harvest in Palestine

Every year, EAPPI joins Palestinian farmers in the olive harvest.  Our protective presence helps farmers access lands near settlements or in areas cut off by the wall and also helps deter acts of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their olive trees.

In this photo essay, we show various views of olive harvest in Palestine.