Kifl Harith, Yatma, As Sawiya
9:20 We went through the Shomron Gate where all was quiet.
As we drove past Kifl Harith we saw that the iron gate was closed and locked. There were cars parked outside and it was not clear to us since when the gate has been closed. We stopped to talk to a group of workers waiting along the road to be picked up for work. They told us the gate has been locked for 34 days. The army claims that stones are thrown at them from the village. Cars from the village have to go around through Kiri, Zeita, Jamain and come out opposite Marda.
Za’atra (Tapuach Junction): The center parking lot was empty and the gate into it was closed. We saw a soldier or two by the bus stop on road 60 to Ramallah. At the entrance to the road to Yatma there is now a red sign that warns Israelis not to enter. Isn’t this Area B?
Now we could see the settlement, Rechalim, on the hill top. We could clearly distinguish the older houses on one hill top and the newer houses on a hill top to the south. The settlement is spreading to the south, on another and another hill top. The fence that is around Rechalim has been placed along road 60, so that all of the land, from the hill tops to the road has been taken over. As we passed the road to Qabalan, to the east of road 60, we could see caravans on the hill top. They seemed to be a continuation of the settlement Eli, spreading along the hill top to the north of the settlement.
We entered the village of As Sawiya where we happen to know some members of one family. We went to a house we are familiar with, but only the wife and the youngest child were at home. The husband is looking for work in Nablus. She was very gracious but we didn’t stay very long. We went on to the Council building where we were met by a friendly man who works for the Council. He invited us in for coffee or tea and a chat. We noticed that in one room there was a group of women sitting around a large table. We could see that they were doing various handicrafts. They waved to us but they were busy and we didn’t disturb them.
In our conversation with the representative of the Council (who was later joined by another fellow) we heard some statistics about the village. In the village, with a population of about 3,000, about 10% of the men are unemployed. Some of the others have permits to work in Israel, and others work for the Palestinian Authority, teachers, medical workers, etc. For many families the production of olive oil is an important source of income. There are 400-500 children in 3 schools; the boys and the girls learn separately.
We asked about the women and their handicrafts. The European Union provides a budget and a group of about 10 women come to the Council building every day for one month. These are women whose husbands are unemployed and therefore the family doesn’t have a steady income. They are there from 8:00 until 14:00 learning various crafts, such as knitting, embroidery or making jams. The EU grant gives them 60 shekels every day for this one month, but then they are out of the program and another group of women will take their place for one month. Each month there is a different group of women. The things that they produce while they are learning they give to the more needy families.
On the wall of the meeting room where we sat and talked was a large poster with about 130 pictures of men. These are men from the village who have died in fighting Israel over the years. One of the men pointed to a picture in the last row. These are the men who are missing and presumed dead; “This is my father” he said. “In 1967 he was working in Kuwait. He tried to get back but no one knows what really happened. In October 1967 the Israelis returned the passports. There were blood stains on his passport, so the family presumed he was dead. The bodies were never returned.” In answer to our question they said, “If the Jews want it, there will be peace.” It’s a simple answer to a straightforward question.
Settlements have been built all around the village - Rechalim in the north, Eli in the east and south. The settlements are all on land belonging to As Sawiya. “Our land was even on the other side of the mountain where you see the settlements. We had 11,000 dunams of land before 1967. Now we have 4,000 dunams left.” The settlements started in 1984. In the Oslo Agreement the village was Area B, but all the land of the village around the existing houses was Area C. Building an additional house on the family’s land for a son or a daughter is against the law. Fifty-two houses have demolition orders against them, but the orders have not been carried out. The settlers have even complained to the Civil Administration that the houses haven’t been demolished.
To our question about settler harassment we got the story of how the settlers came into the village with a tractor and a wagon filled with pigs. They let the pigs loose in the village. How’s that for creative ideas! Every so often, settlers come at night and break or uproot olive trees. The army also comes into the village sometimes, especially to the school which is close to road 60. But generally the situation is quiet.
Water is a problem, particularly in the summer. There is water for drinking, but not enough for growing vegetables and working the land; this cuts down on families’ livelihood. The Council pays Mekorot for the water, and the families pay the Council. Their electricity also comes from Israel.
On the way back to Shomron Gate we saw that the gate at the road to Harith is open. The people of Kifl Harith can come out through that road also.