English

“I am strong. We resist.”

An interview in the village of Jeb al Theeb

Sitting in one of the houses of Jeb al Theeb, a small village south of Bethlehem, a Palestinian woman describes the living conditions. She is a teacher but in the darkness it is difficult to determine her age. Her home, just as the entire village, is without electricity. The only light that arrives comes from the mega-illumination of the adjacent settlements of El David, Nokdim, and Sde bar.

Can you tell us more about life here in the village?

Jeb al Theeb is a simple Palestinian village inhabited by 150 people, most of whom are young. We don’t have many older people here. The village lacks all types of basic infrastructure and the only roads are unsuitable for cars, forcing the people to travel on foot. There is no school, the children must walk a long way to the nearest one, even in winter with the rains. We no longer have access to our land, shepherds cannot graze their sheep in the pastures and children cannot play in the fields. We have no electricity and therefore cannot use computers or television. The children are unable to study after school, and, as you can see, at 5pm it is already dark. Studying by candlelight creates problems with their eyesight.

We’re staying in a house nearby and we have electricity, as do other homes in the area. Why don’t you have it here?

The houses a little further away from the settlements are supplied with electricity simply because they do not represent a direct threat. Our village, on the other hand, is located right next to the Israeli settlements, whose strategy is clearly to deny us electricity as well as other basic necessities.

In addition to electricity, what other basic necessities are you denied?

They often shut off the water and also damage the pipes, which creates many difficulties for us. Water is already scarce here, then we are forced to ration what little we have stored in tanks.

Who do you call when there are problems with the water?

We are located in Area C, so we have no choice but to call the Israelis. They come but they do nothing, nothing ever changes. We have no faith in the Israeli authorities.

In recent months there has been much talk of construction and expansion of the settlements. Are you allowed to build?

Absolutely not. In addition to not being allowed to build or even complete work already begun, houses are demolished by the Israeli authorities. My brother’s house was destroyed.

The other day we saw a settler in a pickup truck enter the village. Do they come here often?

It is as if they live here. They do what they want, when they want.

Do they come to intimidate you? To scare you? To provoke you?

They come for all these reasons. Just the other day, as I walked to work early in the morning, I saw a settler turn a hundred of his goats on the olive trees belonging to a man near the village. The day before, that same man had defended his right to access his lands. The goats damaged both the trees and the olives.

We’ve noticed that the settler are armed. Do they ever attack people in the village?

Unfortunately, yes. One of the most serious cases was that of this elderly man beside me who was beaten with a stick and hit with stones for nothing more than attempting to graze his sheep on his land. As you can see , he suffered a deep wound to the head. He received no immediate treatment due to the isolation of the village. It was only later that he was taken to the hospital in Ramallah where he underwent surgery. Fortunately, he recovered fully.

Was the settler who attacked him prosecuted?

We called the Israeli authorities. They came and wrote a report of the incident, but they did not take any action. It is clear that there is collaboration between the settlers and the Israeli forces.

When was it that your village began to have problems?

More or less 15 years ago when they started to build settlements. As a child I remember playing in the fields, there were flowers in the spring.

How exactly were you informed that you could no longer access your land?

They came to us presenting an official government document, according to which, from that moment on, we were not allowed to enter our lands. The same document gave the settlers the right to shoot anyone who tried. They communicated this to us in person.

Who brought you the document? The IDF soldiers?

No.

The Israeli civil authorities?

No, it was the settlers themselves. As you know, they receive orders from above. The government also provides them with a series of incentives that help them economically. They have sheep, tractors, horses and camels, they have everything.

Now that you can no longer access your land, what is its current status?

I think the settlers go there to take our olives. They certainly take their sheep there to graze, and they eat the leaves and the olives off the trees.

What is that large metal building we see a few hundred meters from here?

It is a plant producing fertilizer that was built two years ago. As you may have noticed it also produces a horrible smell not to mention the fumes coming from its smokestacks. We shut the windows and doors to our houses but the smoke still gets in. Furthermore, it is dealing with chemical substances that cause serious health problems, especially for our children.

Do you think is was located here on purpose?

Maybe. One thing is certain, they don’t not care about us. They just want us to leave and will be happy when we do so.

And have people left the village?

As you can see, there are many houses that have been abandoned by their owners who were tired of the continual harassment and hardships they endured. Life here is impossible. How can it be that in the 21st century we are forced to live without electricity? We don’t have internet, we cannot send email, children cannot watch cartoons on TV.

But I’m not leaving. I could certainly have a more comfortable life elsewhere, but this is where my family is, this is my land. I remain also to keep hope alive.

I am strong. We resist.

Interview by the volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project

Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International – Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers provide international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat from the nearby illegal settlements and settlers.

“We are not in Israel”

Close encounters at the entrance of the Nokdim Settlement

On October 27, a Palestinian family living in Bethlehem but originally from the village of Jeb al Theeb asked for our help in harvesting olives on their land adjacent to the settlement of Nokdim. For the past ten years they have been forbidden to access or cultivate the land. They showed us a document in Hebrew, dated June 17, 2010,  certifying ownership of the property. At dawn the following day, twelve men from the family, young and old, came for us. With video and digital cameras in tow, we were ready to get involved in helping defend their rights.

As we arrived at their fields, unlike other times when some distance separated us from the settlements, this time we were right in front of the entrance to Nokdim, a long yellow gate with several armed guards on the other side. A continuous flow of settlers passed in and out, and judging from their gaze, they were somewhat surprised to see us. On the land just outside the gate, along the fence of the settlement, the olive trees of our friends were withered dry and uncultivated, while nearby there was a large outpost in which there appeared to be three permanent buildings.

We approached the guards explaining we were there to harvest the olives from the land belonging to our friends, showing them the document in Hebrew. The settler security guard asked: “Is this what you came to Israel to do?” The only possible response was, of course, “We’re not in Israel!” We were told to wait, while being served the usual explanation: “This is our land and you cannot access it because this a closed military zone.” In the meantime, a settler on a motorbike stopped to speak to us and was so infuriated that his upper lip began to tremble. He said something to the guard in Hebrew and then told us, “I asked him if I can shoot you.”

Shortly afterwards another settler passed by in his car, lowering the window to talk with us. He asked for our phone number as he was very interested in setting up a time to talk. It was clear that he saw us as naïve Europeans and wanted to enlighten us on what he believed to be a reality we couldn’t possibly know. He continually referred to “the Arabs”  as he spoke, while we stressed that it was Palestinians he was talking about. Then he continued: “They don’t understand that I decided to live here because this is the land of my ancestors. You people don’t know what you’re talking about, you come here from Italy and do not even speak Arabic. But I know the Arabs. I often go to their houses for coffee.” At this point we objected, “And you also live on their land and support the State of Israel that uses violence, weapons and military force against the Palestinians.” End of discussion. The settler put his car in gear and sped off, clearly left with no arguments.

Tired of waiting around for permission to access their own land, together with the Palestinians we headed toward the olive trees. Just then the IDF soldiers arrived. Three of us, along with most of the Palestinians, were stopped immediately, while others proceeded to the fields.

On our way to the trees, a car with a family of settlers stopped to ask where we were going. When we told them, the woman replied sarcastically and sardonically: “Hmmm. OK … though I do not think you’ll find many olives. Anyway, good luck!” This prediction of few olives was repeated again and again, also by the settlement guards.

Once we reached the trees, we realized there were indeed few olives. We nonetheless began checking the trees but there were simply none to be found. Two IDF soldiers began speaking with the Palestinians and as we approached we were told to go back to the road where the others had been stopped or risk arrest. We stalled as long as possible, until our Palestinian friends suggested we go back while they continue to speak with the soldiers. After a short while, however, they, too, were are forced to return. One of the older men, visibly distraught, showed us a handful of olives, all that he had managed to pick, the only ones left.

The soldiers informed the Palestinians that the document showing ownership of the property would be recognized as valid only if accompanied by a map indicating the precise location of the property, complete with an official stamp.

Back at our house we continued to talk about the incident over tea, making arrangements to meet again as soon as they had their papers in order, ready to support them in their steadfast, peaceful endeavor.

The Volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project

Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International – Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers will be providing international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat by the nearby illegal settlements and settlers.

The Quiet Strength of a Palestinian Woman

Umm Khaled, at first glance, is a Palestinian woman like many others: black clothing drapes over her body and head, her face marked by the years making her look older than she probably is. Yet this woman, who according to Western stereotypes should be ignorant and submissive in a patriarchal and oppressive society, possesses an uncommon strength, a strength that only those who have known suffering, yet face difficulties with their heads held high possess.

We met her in Jeb al Theeb during a meeting we had scheduled the previous Saturday with the residents of the village in order to explain our project and who we are as well as offer our help for the olive harvest in this area under threat by the illegal settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim. The turnout for the meeting was less than expected, despite our best efforts (including a flyer, translated into Arabic by our local coordinator, which we distributed in Zatara, the village where we are staying and closest to Jeb al Theeb) due to the funeral for a woman from the village who had died suddenly. There were just a dozen adults, surrounded by the ever-present children.

As our coordinator began speaking with those present, even without the occasional translations between questions and answers, it was clear to all of us that these people, after years of harassment and cowardly attacks, were understandably afraid. However, one woman, who had just minutes before underlined the very real risks she and her family face, decided to give it a try. This woman is Umm Khaled, and, in the light of the kerosene lamp (Jeb al Theeb is denied electricity by Israel), her face sums up the modern history of Palestine: the pain of abuses suffered unjustly, the hope of living one day a life of dignity and the awareness of the need to continue to resist. Arrangements were made to meet at 7:30 the following morning.

At 7:00am we begin to climb the mountain that separates us from Jeb al Theeb, and as the village came into view, we saw Umm Khaled waiting to greet us. She offers us an abundant breakfast, followed by a visit to the tiny village preschool and then we started out toward the olive trees together with Umm Khaled and her nephew. Trailing behind us was the elderly man we have written about in previous reports, who was brutally attacked by the settlers two years ago. He does not speak, but smiles and for us this indicates that he approves of our presence. Along the short walk to Umm Khaled’s olive trees, the scene is dominated by the Israeli fertilizer plant built next to the village, together with its stench. A true pity, for if it weren’t for the factory and the settlements, the view, on this autumn day, would be breathtaking.

As we reached the olive trees, our worst suspicions were confirmed: the settlers, after having denied her access to her own land, had stolen most of Umm Khaled’s olives. Not to be discouraged, we set about our work and after a couples of hours we had almost finished harvesting the few remaining olives, approximately 15 kg. Just then a settler, by now a loathsome yet familiar face (protagonist of our first encounter on October 13, who then set his goats on the olive trees of our Palestinian friend the following day and had attacked the elderly man accompanying us) arrived on the scene with his white pick-up truck, observing us from a distance, his machine gun slung over his shoulder. After a few minutes, as we continue to pick olives, he pulls out his phone and calls a certain Ariel. At this point, mindful of previous experiences, we expect the arrival of IDF soldiers, who fortunately do not arrive.

As the harvest was nearly complete, we began to make our way back to the village. The settler followed slowly behind us in his truck in a clear act of intimidation, his cohort, who had arrived just as we were coming down the ridge of the hill, arrogantly wove in and out of our group trying to photograph us. Not wishing to give him the satisfaction, we staged a sort of ballet to avoid his camera and responded to his taunting tone, while Umm Khaled continued straight on her own way without even bothering to look at him.

The two settlers eventually left and we entered the village where Umm Khaled demonstrated how Taboun, a typical Palestinian bread, is made. We ate lunch together and enjoyed the view. In the afternoon, a trail of colored aprons and backpacks came over the hill on the dirt road that leads to Jeb al Theeb as the children of the village returned from school and spent the afternoon playing with us, overcoming the initial shyness of our first encounter. Later that day we met again with Haula, the protagonist of our previous interview, and the women in our group spent the evening at her home and prepared an Italian dinner for her and her family. As the sun descended upon the horizon, we headed back home, our hearts filled with wonderful memories of the day and in hopes that other people of this devastated village will follow the example of Umm Khaled, an extraordinary woman.

The Volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project

Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International – Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers will be providing international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat by the nearby illegal settlements and settlers.

Civilian Peace Intervention, Village of Jeb al Theeb, Palestine:

Jeb al Theeb, a small village south f Bethlehem, is under constant threaten by the illegal settlements surrounding it. Our house, in fact, has a view on the so-called Lieberman road, which connects Jerusalem with the settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim, where the current foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman lives. In these two settlements, the construction of houses continued during the so-called settlement freeze, while the Palestinians in the area, as in many other cases in the West Bank, are not permitted to build houses or roads allowing access to their land.

Our first day in Jeb al Theeb…and things were already hot.

While accompanying some of the village farmers to their fields, before even reaching their land, we were stopped by two armed settlers who immediately called for reinforcements. Within minutes two jeeps with IDF soldiers as well as border police arrived, which then grew to be roughly 20 soldiers as several more jeeps arrived on the scene.

We were shown a document written in Hebrew, including a map of the area, which stated that, starting at 7:00 that morning, the area had been declared a closed military zone until 7:00 am the following morning, preventing the Palestinians who were with us from picking olives on their own land. They repeatedly refused to provide further explanations or copies of the document, specifying that do not deal with “leftists”. When asked “Can you show us where we are on the map?” the commanding officer solicited help from one of the settlers!

We were told to leave the area within 5 minutes or face arrest. But one of the farmers insisted on asserting his rights to access his land. After lengthy discussions, interspersed with endless phone calls and our demands for an explanations, the officer in command finally allowed the Palestinians access to their land to harvest their olives. We were not allowed to accompany them on the grounds that our presence would irritate the settlers, causing clashes. The IDF therefore demonstrated that they respond directly to the settlers and not the law. As further proof, it should be noted that while the area was off limits to us as closed military area, the settlers, with machine guns slung over their shoulders, circulated freely. In fact, these same settlers followed the soldiers who went along to monitor the Palestinians.

The result of the day, following the commotion above, was nothing more than a handful of olives, five uprooted trees and two iron fence poles that our Palestinian friends found on their land. As we were leaving, the settlers went so far as to claim the fence poles were theirs! The farmers were forced to carry them back to the exact place where they were found, again escorted by the IDF soldiers.

On a positive note, we were successful in obtaining permission for the Palestinian farmers to access their land, at least for this time.

The appointment is set for tomorrow at 7:00am!

The Volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project

Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International – Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers will be providing international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat by the nearby illegal settlements and settlers.

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