translated by Charles K.
Last week the village of Kusra, in the eastern part of the West Bank, was the top story on the news and in the press: for the first time in the history of their vandalism, the hoodlums of “Tag Mechir” found that the villagers they’d set out to attack had fought back. The villagers surrounded them, trapped in the abandoned building to which they’d fled. They army evacuated them humiliated and ashamed. Later they were quickly released by the police, “on their own recognizance,” to house arrest. Where are their homes? In the illegal outpost of Esh Kodesh, one kilometer away from the village whose residents they went to attack.
The entrance to the village of 6,000 residents doesn’t hint at the drama that took place here. Small cultivated plots of land, a display of locally-made clay jugs and pots, a school, new homes under construction, shops open, children on vacation waving hello. A polite driver detours to bring us to the municipality building. There it’s no longer calm. Photos of wounded, bandaged youths lying in hospital beds hang on the walls; a dead man, head hanging down, is carried away by a friend; an old man lifts uprooted olive seedlings, unfathomable sadness in his eyes; a man whose face was badly injured; an old woman appealing to soldiers who turn away.
Abed al-Azim, the mayor, who’s known as Abu Bilal, doesn’t describe what happened as a act of bravery by the residents; “they’d had enough.” He’s been documenting the series of attacks on the village; these photos are part of that history. Most incidents were never reported by the Israeli media.
The first attack by settlers from Aish Kodesh and Kida took place at the end of October, 2010; there have been 63 more attacks since. At first they were relatively mild – stealing a donkey, killing a sheep – and the villagers didn’t file complaints. Gradually the harassment grew more serious: burning cars, arson at the mosque, shooting Halimi Hassan who was hospitalized for 27 days at Hadassah in “serious” condition and hasn’t yet recovered; the murder of Assam Badran who was shot with an M-16 rifle; an attack on an old couple who lives on the outskirts of the village – the settlers beat them, threw them into a corner, threw glass at them and destroyed the contents of the house. Their grandchildren are afraid to visit lest the hoodlums return.
Sixty-three villagers have been wounded by live ammunition and by rubber bullets fired by settlers and by soldiers. More than 400 have been injured by smoke and tear gas grenades; some have been burned by them. In one of the more serious incidents settlers from Esh Kodesh attacked three villagers and kidnapped them to the outpost and abused them for hours, severely injuring them with rocks and hoes. After the Palestinian Authority informed the army soldiers were sent to free them, but instead of taking them to the hospital the soldiers dumped them in a nearby wadi. Only later did an ambulance arrive and bring them to the hospital in Nablus.
The villagers filed 28 complaints at Israeli police stations in Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Sha’ar Binyamin, with the help of “Yesh Din.” The complaints were accompanied by evidence from the field: documents and mobile phones the settlers had lost while conducting their terror. Not a single complaint resulted in an indictment and no settler was arrested. Abu Bilal shows us a photocopy of the ID card of one of the attackers, a resident of Jerusalem; he’d lost it while he was busy burning cars in Kusra. Would finding him be so difficult?
Most of Kusra’s built-up area is defined as Area B. Some of the approximately 70 buildings in Area C have been issued demolition orders. Even a mosque built in Area C in 2009 has been issued a demolition order. Most of the lands have been defined as Area C. The result: of the village’s 27,000 dunums, only about 15,000 remain. In addition to the lands that were expropriated, the Esh Kodesh outpost has taken over 500 additional dunums. Kida and Migdalim have also been established on village land. The olive trees adjacent to Esh Kodesh haven’t been picked for five years.
The mayor says that the residents of Migdalim “are good neighbors, older; they don’t make any trouble. They come to shop, to buy gas.” They generously allow the villagers to harvest their olives for six days during the season. They allow them five additional days to plowing and take care of the trees.
The village isn’t connected to the water grid. A German donor offered to underwrite the connection but Israel vetoed the offer. A large reservoir was built at the edge of the village as an alternative; it’s fed by rainwater and wells and supplies five villages. They don’t have sufficient electricity because, among other reasons, in 2013 the army demolished 32 electric poles (claiming they were in Area C). After dark it’s usually possible to light only one room in each house. One of the photographs shows four children doing homework by the light of a single candle.
Few villagers work in Israel; some work in the settlements of Ma’aleh Efrayim and Tomer. Three village potteries employ another 70 people. “We’re a farming village,” emphasizes Abu Bilal; “Everyone grows corn, durra, wheat on their land. That’s also a source of income.”
We say goodbye to the mayor; he sends a guide – a wise 8-year old boy – to show us the settlements. The boy leads us roundabout to the highest point. Esh Kodesh and Kida lie opposite: each has only a few buildings as well as all that’s needed to guard an illegal outpost: access roads, antennas, fences, electric poles, cameras. And, of course – a massive military presence. All thanks to, and paid for by, the government of Israel.
The author is a member of Machsom Watch.