Madama residents received a special, one-day permit from the DCL to plow their fields near the Yitzhar settlement. Because of serious concerns about harassment by the settlers, we were asked to come to the village and be with them while they plowed their fields at the foot of the settlement and the violent outposts. We hoped our presence would prevent interference with their work. After about three hours in the lovely area belonging to the village, while the residents worked the land without interference, we left.
On our way back we were notified that soon after we left settlers came down and, backed by soldiers, stopped the plowing. Apparently they watched us from above. When they got the signal – they came down. Two valuable hours of work were lost.
10:30 We left from Rosh Ha’ayin in two cars and a larger group of eight Machsom Watch members, on our way to the village of Madama to be present during the plowing. The previous evening Petahya received an urgent message that the next day they intended to plow land they own, which hasn’t been cultivated for a long time. They’re very afraid that nearby settlers would come down as soon as they see the tractors working, and won’t allow them to continue. They have a permit from the DCL, at short notice, so we understand, for a single day of work, on March 1st, from 10 AM until 4 PM. When we received the notice we put together two shifts, one with Nadim and the other in someone’s car, to go to the village, be there since they have asked for our help. We saw it as proof that the relationships we’d developed with the villagers during our many visits have in fact created a foundation for trust and cooperation.
We reached the village at11 AM. Locals accompanied us to the fields. The area is lovely, bisected by a wadi. Green hills surround us. The green is splattered with wildflowers of many colors – anemones, cyclamens, very many irises and other species. A sense of spring.
We could see from above four tractors among the hills, working at full tilt. A flock of sheep grazed in the wadi and children rode around on donkeys. The atmosphere was pastoral.
We parked the cars up the hill and came down to a wild area with no obvious path toward the tractors. A bulldozer soon arrived to clear an easier route.
In speaking with the farmers we learned that most of the landowners were afraid to come and plow their lands, and only three farmers came with tractors and workers.
On the ridge above us to the southwest we could see the houses of Yitzhar settlement. Unidentified figures were visible from a distance. We understood we were being watched. At approximately 1 PM one of the tractors began working an area below the settlement about 400 meters from the nearest outpost (a neighbor of Yitzhar, Shalhevet). At the same time a group of soldiers came down the hill to where the tractor was plowing. Together with some villagers we approached the soldiers to support the work. One of the villagers, who speaks Hebrew, worked many years in Israel and is now barred, approached and spoke with the soldiers. After a discussion, while the tractor continued plowing, we were ordered to descend to the wadi.
At 2 PM we parted from our hosts. They thanked us warmly and were disappointed we wouldn’t return with them to the municipal building for the reception they’d planned.
As we drove home on Highway 55, we received a phone call from one of our contacts – 20 to 30 settlers, wearing identical shirts and masked, descended and stopped the work. The soldiers were also there, although they told the settlers to leave after the villagers called the DCL and complained about preventing the work that had been approved in advance. Bottom line, valuable hours of work went to waste and they had to stop two hours before the time they’d been allotted.
The information was confirmed the following day in a telephone conversation Petahya had with the head of the village. A meeting at the municipality was arranged for Thursday’s shift. We’ll get details about what happened after we left in their report.
Something to consider and wonder about: why do residents who own lands require a special permit to access them. Why are they only allocated a short and limited period of time to cultivate them. There’s no gate or wall, but it turns out the virtual fences are no less effective than the sophisticated separation fence.