'Azzun, Shave Shomron, Te'enim Crossing
09:30 We left the Rosh Ha’ayin train station, drove on Highway 551 toward Tayba. A few people standing at the Eyal crossing told us the laborers went through this morning as usual, but they know tomorrow and the next day (14/15 April) a closure will be imposed, the checkpoint won’t be open and they won’t be able to leave the West Bank.
10:00 Te’anim crossing. The checkpoint is empty. A few Israeli vehicles drive by on Highway 557. We see a military vehicle with soldiers near Shufa. The Anabta checkpoint, which had been dismantled along with others, is also empty. From there, via Bizariyya, we reach the entrance to the former settlement of Homesh, and then to Burqa.
Why are we going to Burqa?
First, because on our previous visit the municipal council head told us that about one thousand Palestinians were planning to go up to Homesh in response to the continued harassment of the villagers by the former settlers who sneak into the settlement that had been demolished as part of the disengagement agreement, violating the order prohibiting their entry.
Second, an article appeared in the press about plans by those former settlers to come in strength to Homesh to celebrate the “festival of the exodus from Egypt.” We wanted to see whether the army was planning to prevent the festivities (which will probably involve invading the village and harassing the residents), and whether the villagers are aware of the army’s plans. And, in fact, not only was there no increased military presence at the entrance to Homesh, but the jeep with the two soldiers that was there on our last visit had disappeared.
We meet two council members in the municipal building. They tell us that villagers had gone up to Homesh, though in smaller numbers than had been expected (about 300 people, some from Ramallah and Nablus, including students from Al-Najah University). They walked up a dirt path to the hilltop where Homesh had been built (and demolished) and held a rally. The Palestinian Minister of Tourism was also there, and spoke. After the rally the participants held a feast in the village.
The festivity planned by the settlers is an annual event on Passover. This year, because of the order prohibiting their entry, the villagers hope the settlers will be deterred and not hold the event.
The council member invites us up to the roof from which what used to be Homesh is visible in a magnificent landscape. Overcome by nostalgia he shares childhood memories – how he and his family would climb that hill on Fridays; it was a pilgrimage site for people hoping to be blessed by the sheikh’s tomb located there. He recalls that poets also were drawn to the beautiful spot seeking inspiration.
He recounts historical events related to the location’s strategic benefits: when there’s good visibility you can see from the hilltop both the Mediterranean and Mt. Hermon, an advantage that has been utilized for centuries. During the time of Salah-a-Din they’d light bonfires which could be seen for miles to warn of dangers and announce the new moon. During the Ottoman period a railroad station was built near Burqa, from which you could travel to Saudi Arabia and to Lebanon. The station closed when the British occupied the country in 1917. Hussein, the king of Jordan, established a military base there. Our guide remembers that until 1967 it had included a hippodrome – a racetrack used by the soldiers; the villagers enjoyed watching the races.
The good life enjoyed by Burqa’s inhabitants for hundreds of years was suddenly ended by the Israeli occupation; all they have left are their longings.
12:00 We left Burqa. On the way back we saw three armed soldiers at the entrance to Shavei Shomron. The checkpoint at the entrance to ‘Azzun is open.
12:30 Return to Rosh Ha’ayin.