A Visit to the Villages in the Central West Bank
Approximately a year ago settlers from Esh Kodesh entered the Palestinian village of Qusra and began vandalizing and destroying property in the village. The villagers chased them, caught them and turned them over to the army. Since that incident, in which the settlers were put to shame, they have not entered the village. However, when talking about the Israeli occupation there is no "happy ending." The soldiers have now replaced the settlers. When people have to prepare their fields for planting winter crops, soldiers come to the fields and stop the people from working under the pretense that the Palestinians have no permit to work their own land. What about the fields located in Area B where there is no need for permits?
We left the train station at Rosh HaAyin at 09:00.
09:30 – Tapuach Junction – A military jeep is parked at the traffic roundabout and soldiers are standing next to it. Another army vehicle is in the parking lot. A bulldozer is preparing the ground at the back of the bus stop in order to pave a separate road for the Palestinians so that they will not drive on the present road that will serve only Israelis. Have we mentioned "apartheid"?
09:50 – Qusra – There was a lot of tension in the office of the regional council. The mayor informed us that soldiers arrived at the fields of residents of the village that are located in Area B, and prevented the farmers from continuing their work. He invited us to join him and his staff and drive to the area. We drove up the hill on a road filled with stone roadblocks. To our left a road is being paved that was begun several years ago, but was only approved a few months ago. The road surrounds the villages of Qusra, Karyut, Talpit, and Kabalan, near route 60.
In the area below the settlement of Esh Kodesh at the top of the hill we met a group of about 15 workers who had arrived from Jenin with a bulldozer. Due to the short time that they are allowed to work their land (470 dunams, about 120 acres) and the constant harassment of the army, the local residents are forced to hire outside help to get their work done on time. The Palestinians have more land that is covered with green terraces that is also designated as Area B. However, since it is located adjacent to settler's homes Palestinians are not allowed to go there. The workers were lounging on the rocks doing nothing, and three soldiers – two corporals and a first sergeant - were standing nearby. All three were armed from head to foot. A. talked on the phone with the authorities while we talked with the soldiers. The two corporals were new immigrants. One is from France and the other is from the United States. Both speak only basic Hebrew. They have been in the country only one year but have been brainwashed and have no doubts about the history of the place. According to them, the residents of Qusra are settlers. They confiscated the land from the residents of Esh Kodesh who were here first. The Frenchman tells us his version of the event in which the settlers who invaded Qusra were caught by the residents and handed over to the army: The Palestinians almost murdered the residents of Esh Kodesh. The soldiers saved their lives. Their commander, a young man just like them, did not respond when we presented them with the facts. This is the justification that the army tells these naive young people so that they will do what they are told without too many qualms of conscience. In this manner the doctrines of the settlers' leaders and their rabbis penetrate the army.
A., the mayor of the Regional Council, makes an effort to prove to us that there is no justification for stopping work? A commander who visited the village a month ago Bulie, a senior officer, said that the residents were permitted to work the land here. He continued to add additional arguments, being unable to comprehend the injustice: "The land is in Area B, so why don't they let us farm it? The Liaison and Coordination Administration also gave us permission this morning, so why have soldiers arrived and prevented people from working?"
The soldiers finally received orders to leave. The sergeant collected his two soldiers. They hid behind a nearby hill as if playing hide and seek, watching but unseen. The workers began to get organized, and the bulldozer began to work.
We wanted to believe that our presence here deterred the soldiers and that the confrontation ended this time without casualties. When we returned to the regional council office we were told about an event on Friday that did not end so well. Soldiers arrived in Area B near the houses in the village. The mayor and several residents approached them. One soldier told them to leave and shouted that they should not be there. The mayor began to argue. The soldier fired pepper gas in his face, and the result was that he was hospitalized for two days. The soldiers also vandalized the door to the village water tank and broke the surrounding fence.
The settlers of Esh Kodesh, one of the more violent settlements, are no doubt pleased that their work is being done efficiently by others. In a phone call from the mayor later during the shift we were told that that the work was continuing and that things were quiet.
11:30 - Majdal Bani Fahdal
There is no doubt that the fate of the Palestinians, their security, and their standard of living is determined largely by the location of their villages, and by the distance between them and the nearest violent settlement or road that the settlers wish to control. The village of Majdal Bani Fahdal is lucky in this respect. It is located on the eastern side of route 458 far from the group of violent settlements such as Esh Kodesh, Shvut Rachel, and others. It is also far away from the recent disturbances and the army therefore does not come there. Despite this:
We met J., mayor of the regional council, in his office. He lived formerly in Kuwait and came to Palestine because of his wife, who is a Palestinian citizen. He is mayor of a village in which the problem of immigration has also had impact: the village has 3,000 residents and 2000 others are living abroad. Most areas of the village, both agricultural and constructed, are designated as belonging to Area B, while only a few are in Area C. Like other villages in the area, there is no shortage of water. The water pipe that comes from Marjayab near Nablus provides all the water they need. The water pipe was constructed with the donations from Germany. When it seems to J. that we raised an eyebrow, he retorted, "You also got donations from Germany because of the Holocaust!" which is true. There are two checkpoints on the two sides of the village: watchtowers to the west and Maaleh Ephraim to the east. These two checkpoints are not always manned. The settlement ofGitit is also nearby, but a reasonable distance away. The most urgent problem in the village is that of demolition orders. 30 homes located in Area C have received demolition orders recently. A legal office in Jerusalem that also employs attorneys from abroad is dealing with the court cases.
G. also complains about the Palestinian Authority. They help, but prefer to help the large cities rather than the villages. City mayors receive a salary from the P.A., while mayors of villages and regional councils do not.
12:30 – Tapuach Junction: There are fewer soldiers here than there were in the morning.
We returned to Rosh HaAyin at 13:00.
Just to put you in a better mood, here are photos of a cute set of twins, the girl Rajaya and the boy Ahmed whom we met in the Regional Council in Qusra. Other photos will be sent in an additional email.