Qabalan, Talfit

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Natalie Cohen, Hagar Zemer (photographing), Naomi Bentsur (reporting), Nadim (driving). Translator: Charles K.


09:15  We left from the Rosh Ha’ayin train station.


Tapuach junction

A Border Police vehicle opposite the parking lot; armed soldiers within.  Two additional soldiers sit at the bus stop.


09:45  We turn right off the main road, toward Yatma.  After a short distance we’re at the entrance to Qabalan. We can already see much more activity than in other villages.  Shops are open, many vehicles on the road, in both directions, and many residents in the streets.


Kabalam Municipality

A surprise awaits us near the entrance:  an ultra-modern building faced in white stone, on which it is written (in English):  Citizen Services Center.  Next to the entrance, decorated with planters containing colorful flowers, we meet H., the municipal council head, who gives us a tour.  The building has been carefully designed for the welfare of the residents who seek services: designer glass door, which open and close automatically, lead to the waiting room.  Three employees sit at computers behind a long, elegant marble counter.  Two rows of upholstered chairs face them, for people awaiting their turn.  The queue is automated, and people take numbers and know their place in the line.  There are no arguments.  Everything’s spotless, the atmosphere is pleasant, respectful. The office of the manager of residents’ services is located behind a glass partition and farther down the corridor are three bathrooms: for men, women and the handicapped (!).  The building was constructed with donations from the United States and Germany.  There’s no doubt the money was well-spent.  We’re invited to the separate unit serving the council head and his staff.


H., the mayor, a pleasant, mustachioed man, speaks fluent Hebrew and also reads and writes Hebrew, the result of many years working in Israel.  We asked who has designed and built the service center so professionally; “Our engineers, local residents” he replies proudly.  These engineers were lucky.  They had a wonderful opportunity to utilize their skills and abilities.  But how many able Palestinians fail to realize their potential because of the occupation’s heavy hand, which blocks individual and collective development?


The mayor repeatedly refers to Qabalan, with 10,000 inhabitants, as a city.  Perhaps, if we include the 12,000 people who’ve emigrated over the course of the occupation to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and built their homes there.  Those trying to return face difficulties:  their applications to return to the West Bank are denied repeatedly.  Others who’ve come back and even obtained Palestinian ID cards are punished by not being permitted to return to the countries from which they have  immigrated.


The residents of Qabalan originally had 16,000 dunums of land.  Today, Highway 5 runs through their land and large tracts on each side have, as usual, been expropriated,.  All village land is categorized as Area B.  Land next to the road is Area C.  Residents are not allowed to build there.  In addition to the land stolen for the road, the settlement of Rehalim also took Qabalan’s land.  But the problems of security aren’t because of Rehalim but another neighboring settlement, Aish Kodesh. 


Last year settlers from Aish Kodesh entered Qabalan, burned cars, threw rocks and sprayed graffiti.  The residents called the army and police.  What did they do?  “They drove around and left,” says the mayor.  Since it’s Area B, the residents may cultivate their land.  But during the olive harvest the settlers from Rehalim and Aish Kodesh arrive first and pick the olives.  And when the army comes it chases the settlers away, but also chases away the villagers.  “Justice” must be done.


Seven locals are in prison, most because of throwing rocks (an offense which, as is known, doesn’t have to be proven).  Children are also sometimes arrested, but most of them are soon released.


The villagers’ means of livelihood are very limited: as noted, some emigrate to make a living.  Others work for the Palestinian Authority.  The less fortunate ones cross daily through the Qalqilya checkpoint to work in Israel.  “At three AM,” we note.  “Why not two AM?” the mayor corrects us.


Qabalan has six schools, separately for boys and girls, from first grade through high school.  About 60 graduates are studying in universities – Al Najjar, Bir Zeit or in Jordan.  When they graduate most of them can’t expect to find jobs in their field and they work in construction. 


Qabalan’s main problem is medical services.  A general practitioner comes to the local clinic from Nablus three days a week.  A pediatrician comes once a week, as does a gynecologist.  That’s very little for 10,000 inhabitants, as well as patients from neighboring villages where rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart ailments are very high.  We promise to contact Physicians for Human Rights and ask them to add Qabalan and neighboring villages to their rounds of specialists.


Another surprise when the meeting ends:  we’re handed a printed questionnaire in which we’re asked to provide contact information so they can keep in touch with us.


11:00  Talfit.

The head of the municipal council has gone to Mecca.  In his absence we speak to the English teacher and the municipal treasurer.


Talfit is a relatively small village with some 4000 inhabitants.  About 700 residents have moved to the United States and Jordan to try to make a living.  The settlement causing them problems is Eli, to the south.  The settlers don’t allow the residents to cultivate their land, which is categorized as Area C (only a portion of the built-up area of the village is categorized as Area B).  The villages can’t access lands near Eli.  Even when they try to reach lands far from the settlement, the settlers shoot at them.  Shepherds aren’t able to graze their sheep near the settlement because the area is defined as a closed military area.  The farmers can’t obtain permits to plow.  They are allotted only two days to harvest olives.  As a result, their sources of livelihood are very limited.


Talfit is a constant target for harassment by the army.  Soldiers invade village homes at night.  They destroy furniture and household items during their searches.  The searches are rigorous:  they tap the floor tiles, and if the tile-setter hadn’t filled the space completely with mortar the soldiers pull up the tiles searching for hidden compartments.  Soldiers searched the treasurer’s house for five hours and left destruction in their wake.


About 15 villagers are currently in prison, most serving long sentences.  One was sentenced to 37 years for shooting at settlers (but settlers are allowed to shoot?!!!).  Others got 15-18 years for possession of weapons.


Talfit also has problems with medical services.  The village has a well-babyinfo-icon clinic, and one day a week there are services for pregnant women.  Villagers use the clinic in Qabalan for medical services; as noted, it’s overburdened.


We arranged to come back when the mayor has returned from Mecca.


12:00  We leave.  The soldiers we saw at Tapuach junction in the morning are no longer there.  The lot is empty.  So is the bus stop.


13:00  Back to Rosh Ha’ayin.