'Azzun, Sat 12.1.13, Morning
09:30 Leaving the Rosh Ha-Ayin train station
09:50 Eliyahu Passage. A Police car parks on the side. A sparse flow of Palestinian cars which pass without problems.
10:00 By way of Nebi Elias to Azoun. We began at Azoun because of reports about unrest which prevails there during the last days, and from there we planned to pass on to a number of other villages. Our plan could be executed. During the moving meeting with the director of the council house, his friend Muhamed and the head of the village, we understood we couldn't tear ourselves away and that we had to hear the complete story of Azoun.
The meeting was carried out in an atmosphere of openness and trust , to a large extent owing to Nadim, who not only translated but took an active part in the conversation.
Azoun – the saga of a village under occupation
Within the framework of our activity at Machsom Watch, we often hear difficult descriptions of the effects of the occupation, but such a collection of stories and events is just shocking.
The entrance to Azoun is misleading: the barrier at the entrance is open, the main road bustles with activity. Most of the shops are open, the cars slowly plod along. Near the council house there is a coloured ceramic signboard on which there is noted the distance to Jerusalem – 47.45 kms. Exactly. Near the signpost there is a small shop of a money changer. Quite a rare sight in a village in the West Bank. The council house itself, three storeys high is very trim, and exceedingly clean. On the second floor there is a spacious hall for meetings, which can hold 50-70 people. We go up to the director's room. He, together with his friend ( later the head of the council joins them too) spreads out before us the story of the village under the Israeli occupation:
Because of its strategic location – on a clear day one can see from afar regions within Israel – the village was selected during the period of Jordanian rule to serve as a military camps. This location is today the village's detriment, a good reason to be surrounded on all sides by settlements, and be subject to incessant scheming by the army, which blocked the road by which the inhabitants of Azoun used to drive to Nablus. In order to restrict the inhabitants' freedom of movement, a road is planned from Alfey Menashe to Ma'ale Shomron. The Palestinians were promised that on the new road a bridge would be built. And that as usual, the vehicles of the settlers would move on the bridge and those of the Palestinians beneath if. In the meantime an enormous electric pole has already been put up on the road's delineation, a fact which arouses worries for the inhabitants.
The village of Azoun, with its 13.000 inhabitants, is considered by the army as "dangerous" and this is way the army's involvement is very intensive there especially, during the days and nights.
According to our hosts, as per statistical date, 40% (!) of the total number of detainees in the West Bank, are residents of Azoun. When a person is detained and is put on trial, serves a prison sentence and is finally released – his punishment becomes collective: all the members of his family become "security preventees". As such, as is known, they have no possibility to work and to support their families. In fact, almost in every hous in the village there are family members which are marked as "preventees". That is their reason for the fact that in Azoun there is a particularly high percentage of unemployment, as compared to other villages in the West Bank.
Moreover: Before the occupation the plots of the village amounted to 24.000 dunam. Today only 8000 dunams remained in the hands of the village's inhabitants. These include also the built area on which the houses of the village stand, as well as the agricultural land, most of which is situated beyond the fence. Who works the agricultural plots? As most of the family members are preventees and cannot pass through the fence on their way to their plots, the authorization to process the land is given to the "family father", in most case an old and weak man. In the period of the olive harvest the army displays generosity and bestows an authorization also on his old and weak wife. (The help of volunteers to the village during the olive picking period is critical. Without it even the sparse income from the crop will be taken from the families).
Is this the end of the scheming and plotting? Regrettably, not yet. The army doesn't refrain from the demolition of constructions which were designed to add a bit of flavour to the hard life.
Some years ago the municipality initiated the building of a pool and a small colourful playground for the children. On the day of the inauguration of this, immediately after the end of the festive even, a bulldozer came and destroyed all. Why? "because the facilities were built on the C zone". Until now no authorization to rehabilitate the "dangerous" site has been received.
Another enterprise was the building of a football field. Does this harm anybody? It seems it does. A military hummer stands there permanently and prevents access. Moreover, sometimes the army uses the field as a landing strip for helicopters.
Talking about demolition: a few years ago 20 house-owners received demolition injunctions, under the well-known argument that their houses were built on "Zone C". And here a great surprise awaited us: who is the lawyer who deals, for a fee of course, with the revocation of the decree? A woman settler from Kedumim, called Batya. How is this possible??? The answer isn't clear. "a contractor who carried out work at Kedumim recommended her"…We promised to try and find a possibility of clarification and help at "Yesh Din".
But all the evil designs which were described to us, pale compared with the relatively new phenomenon:
Recently children, aged about 12-16 are caught on the street, in the middle of the day, by soldiers, seemingly at random. They are lifted by force on to a military vehicle which leaves the village hurriedly. When the children do not return home for long hours, and the searches for them are in vain, the petrified parends turn to the Red Cross with the request to find them. After complicated investigations it turns out that the children were detained under the accusation of "stone throwing" (although they were not caught red handed) and while the parents looked for them they were already judged and and convicted for a few years' imprisonement and sent to jail (section 2 at the Megiddo prison, or Tel Mond prison). Firsthand testimony: Muhamed's nephew, 16 years old, was convicted for 10 (!) years.
It is very surprising that after the terrible descriptions of the suffering and the evil they undergo, our hosts are able do declare their wish for peace. M. who has spent 6 years in an Israeli prison and since he was released he is "a preventee" and jobless: "of course there is hate after all the designs of the army and the settlers. But one has to overcome all this. One must live together. There is no choice. One must reach peace". The head of the council, whose family has been expelled in 48 from a village near Ra'anana, and he himself spent 16 years in prison: "of course one needs peace. It would be good if there were two states one next to the other, but we shall not give up the land that belongs to us. Let the settlers live in the Palestinian state". May that be…