Deir Istiya, Qarawat Bani Hassan
09:00 We left from the Rosh Ha’ayin train station.
09:30 Deir Istiya, the municipality building. A., the head of the municipality, welcomed us. She’s well-dressed, feminine, the style and color of her clothing appropriate to this summer’s fashions and very flattering. As we felt on our previous meeting, A.’s appearance is very unusual compared to that of other women in the village who adhere to a strict traditional dress code. Still, her outward appearance, though violating the accepted religious and customary norms, didn’t prevent her from being elected to the high office of municipal head. While speaking with us she firmly runs municipal affairs; listens attentively to the applicants’ needs but cuts short unnecessary arguments. When she’s free we hear her own story:
Her son has been jailed since January after being sentenced to six months for throwing rocks and fined NIS 4000 (the heavy fines accompanying most jail sentences are an inseparable component of occupation policy: along with the military steamroller and ignoring harassment by the settlers, weakening the economic condition of the Palestinian population that’s poor and burdened by unemployment). She hasn’t been able to visit him since he was imprisoned. Her repeated requests didn’t even receive a reply. The only one who received permission to visit was his younger brother because he wasn’t yet 16. Another draconic rule invented by the Israeli legal system.
She tells us of an incident a few weeks earlier: a group of some 70 (!) soldiers entered the village on foot with the excuse that a grenade had been thrown at them. They arrested one man, and when his brother came to his aid, arrested him also. When she tried to intervene they attacked her and cursed her insultingly. Then the soldiers blocked the entrance to the village with rocks: no one could enter or leave. Even people who weren’t village residents weren’t allowed to leave. One was a qadi. When the soldiers were asked to open the roadblock for him, because of his status, allow him to leave, they replied: “Even if Abu Mazen shows up we won’t let him out.” How much power is given to young men who’d only recently been in high school, and how that power corrupts their souls.
In another case soldiers stopped a car with a father and son. They accused the son of throwing rocks, which he immediately denied. As a condition of letting him off they demanded he incriminate friends; this is an evil technique that turns every person into a potential suspect because of denunciation by friends and relatives and thereby severely undermines social cohesion.
The education system is the pride of the village. Unlike other villages, here boys and girls are separated through high school, so they’re not distracted and can concentrate on their studies. One member of the municipal council who joined our conversations said that the system proved itself: one villager studied medicine, trained as a heart surgeon in Germany and is now a senior surgeon at Makassed Hospital. He says that bypass surgery that takes two hours in Germany will take eight hours in a West Bank hospital because of a lack of appropriate equipment.
H., the coordinator of women’s activities, joins us. We arrange that after Ramadan we’ll coordinate the start of English and yoga classes.
11:15 Qarawat Bani Hassan
To our embarrassment, and that of various organization like ours addressing human rights issues and opposed to the occupation, no one has ever come to this village to hear about their lives in the shadow of occupation. The head of the municipality is, for some reason, very excited to meet us and orders many refreshments. He remembers many injustices committed by the soldiers and settlers against village residents and he wants very much to tell us about them.
For example: Netafim is the closest settlement to the village. One hundred fifty dunums of village land, registered in the tabu to 70 families, were expropriated to establish it. The settlers erected a fence around the lands and the army doesn’t allow villagers to access them. One of the settlers built a house on the expropriated land. “Why doesn’t the army eject him?” the municipal head asks angrily.
About a month ago a village resident whose land is located one kilometer from the settlement’s fence came to cultivate it. The settlers called the army. The man was accused of throwing rocks, was beaten by the soldiers, taken to jail and released only five hours later. The army is doing the settlers’ bidding.
The municipal head was personally involved in a confrontation with the army: a group of women, including his wife, walked with children in an area that’s part of the village. Soldiers detained them and demanded that the head of the municipality appear. If not, the women and children will be arrested and access to the village blocked. When he arrived they accused him: “They threw rocks at us.” He asked: “How do you know who threw rocks?” The answer: “There are cameras.” After a long discussion the women and children were released.
Half a year ago, at 02:00, there was a loud knocking on the door of his house. When he opened it he found himself facing a gun barrel aimed at his head. They wanted his son. The soldiers took him, he was jailed for four months and the family paid a fine of NIS 2000. In view of the relative lightness of the sentence we can assume the son had committed no “crime.”
At the close of the meeting the municipal head says: “We’re under a double occupation, one by the army and the other by the settlers.”
We parted, promising we’ll soon return again.