We decided to go to Burka after reading Pathia’s online post about the villagers apprehending one of the Homesh settlers, during their outburst in the village. (Similar to the recent event in Kusra village.)
BACKGROUND: 36 years ago, in 1978, the settlement of Homesh was founded on 1200 dunams which were confiscated from the lands of the village Burka. In 2005 Ariel Sharon z”l implemented the Disengagement plan which included the settlements in the Gaza Strip as well as four separate settlements in the North of the Western Bank, among them Homesh. The settlement was evacuated, and the area declared a closed military zone, entry to which was forbidden both to Israelis and to Palestinians. Only one building remained, to be used as a synagogue. After the Homesh area was declared a closed military zone, the Army confiscated another 1000 dunams from the Burka lands for its own needs…
In 2010, the Burka villagers appealed to the Supreme Court through Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights, demanding the return of the 2200 dunams. The demand was rejected. In 2013, a new appeal was made and this time it was accepted: According to the decision of the Legal Counsel for the West Bank, the denial of entry to Palestinians to this Zone was lifted. (As a result of the Disengagement Plan Israelis are not allowed entry.) At last, is all well? Far from it.
09.30 We depart from the Rosh Ha’ayin Train Station, travelling on Road 55.
09.45 Izbe Taviv. A military car, with two soldiers inside, is parked near the entrance to the village. At the entrance to 'Azzun, the gate is open. Near Ma’ale Shomron, there was an accident, two Palestinian cars collided. Nobody seems to have been hurt. We turn into Road 60. Near the barrels barring the entrance, we are stopped by a man working for the Palestinian Authority. The Authority is repairing the road between Tulkarem and Shechem, and cars can’t pass. We turn to an alternative road, pass the 'Anabta checkpoint and travel on a hilly road. A lovely landscape opens up. This pastoral scenery continues till the entrance to Homesh. A Border Police jeep is parked, with two armed soldiers standing nearby. On the road are stones and signs of burning.
10.30. Burka. There are no people at this hour in the main street. Most shops are closed. Nadim locates H., owner of a shop for building materials who lives in Shechem and comes everyday to Burka to work in his shop. H. tells us what is happening in the village.
Though the settlement Homesh was evacuated and it is forbidden to live there, a group of about ten to fifteen of its ex-residents comes everyday in cars, including Saturdays and Hagim, to the area where the settlement used to be. (Perhaps the fact that the synagogue is allowed to function as before offers them legitimacy. They are not arrested by the soldiers stationed at the entrance.) They descend from there on foot for about half a km and armed, spread terror in the village. They shoot at shepherds and their herds, curse and throw stones on passersby. H. witnessed a drama which occurred a few days before our arrival: a group of armed ex-settlers arrived from the direction of Homesh. At the entrance to the village they shot a woman who was grazing her goats near her home, and then they advanced into the village, continuing to shoot and threaten the villagers. The situation got worse when one of them, well-known to the villagers, an especially violent man, holding an axe in his hand started to run after one of the children. Some of the young men succeeded in overcoming him, and handcuffed him. Later, they handed him over to the Army, and as far as is known, he was transferred to the Civilian Administration. It can be assumed that in a few days he will be “freed to go home,” and will then return to carry out more pogroms in the village.
We say goodbye to H. and go to the Council Building, a new, clean and well-kept building. The Head of the Council, with the help of Nadim and two Hebrew speakers, delineates the current situation:
After Homesh was evacuated, some villagers began to work 200 dunams (of the 2200 that had been confiscated). They readied the land and planted some trees. The Army, aware of this, did not react. But then the settlers arrived, ex-residents of Homesh: they uprooted the saplings, and polluted the wells in the area, and wrote “Death to Arabs.” The residents of the hills near Homesh suffer specially from the settlers’ savagery. The Army is also an active participant: when a villager complains of a settler’s attack, the soldiers in the area rush to protect the “attacked” settler.
About 30 villagers have been injured so far from the fire of both the settlers and the soldiers.
The Head of the Council again describes the event in which one of the settlers was apprehended and points out that this same group of settlers arrives quite freely almost everyday to the village. And when do they leave? “When they feel like it.” According to him, the villagers are also prevented from enjoying some kind of relaxation. Not far from the village there are some woods; as it is meant for leisure, some suitable buildings were put up there. The Army, as usual, hurried to destroy them. Retrospectively, it became clear that some of the buildings were erected on Area B, where building is not forbidden. Now they will try to build them again. Near the woods, there is an old railroad station built by the Turks. What a pleasant leisure corner this could be were it not for the Occupation.
The Head of the Council shows us two documents: (1) the 2010 Appeal to the Supreme Court which was rejected; and (2) the 2013 decision of the Legal Counsel in the West Bank to revoke the ex-Homesh area’s closure to the Palestinians. To test this decision, a March of 1000 Palestinians to Homesh will take place on April 5.
Apart from the problem of the settlers, the village also suffers from a lack of an adequate water supply. For the 5000 villagers Mekorot provides only drinking water---4.8 litres per person---for every 24 hours. This amount of water is supposed to suffice for the animals as well. The villagers can go out and work their fields freely, but in the absence of sufficient water to irrigate the fields, they are limited to growing only olive and almond trees. And so in a village whose tradition is agriculture, many inhabitants are obliged to work in the settlements, and some in Israel.
The ‘highlight’ for the village is the young generation: there are 3 schools, 2 for boys and 1 for girls, where some 800 pupils study. About 90% (!) of them continue to Higher Education in the Universities of Nadjah and Bir Zeit.
We, who belong to the few Israelis who are always upset anew by any additional specific eruption of “tag mechir,” how can we accept the living reality of Burka’s inhabitants, who live continually in a tag mechir of daily terror?