Qabalan & Yatma - insufficient supply of water and electricity. Farmers have limited access to their land
MAIN POINTS. Violations of several of their human rights together combine to deprive villagers of Qabalan and Yatma of a healthy, peaceful and quiet life. Limited access to farm some of their own lands (Yatma), very acute and severe deprivation of water not only for agriculture, animals, but even for basic personal needs: drinking, showers, cooking, laundry. Many have NO WATER for as long as 2 weeks (Qabalan & Yatma). Israel’s Electric Co. indifferently ignores requests to renew the old, insufficient infrastructure in Yatma dating from 1984 which obviously in 2019 is inadequate to meet the needs of an increased population with modern machinery. Thousands pay expensive bills and are condemned to spoiled food in non-cooling fridges, weak lighting, and no A/C to alleviate the heavy heat. Neither enough electricity nor enough water to use their washing machines. 50 houses are to be demolished (Yatma).The last straw: building of the new apartheid road around Huwarra is to start in a few months. Villagers in the area, including Yatma’s, will again see big amounts of their own farmland grabbed to satisfy the whims of subsidised, privileged settlers who enjoy a surplus of water and electricity.
POPULATION: 9,000 people. Our host tells us proudly that Qabalan’s municipality, was last year finally recognized as a baladia. This means that both the mayor and all the council members are paid by the Palestinian Authority to take care of the public issues and needs of more than 5,000 people. Whereas places with less than 5,000 people have majdeles, and the mayor is paid, while many others work as volunteers.
SOLAR ENERGY. Answering our question about their 2017 solar project, our host said that the Palestinian Authority and foreign donations paid to install a few solar panels. One on the roof of the old municipality—where people still work—generates electricity but only for this building. There are also small solar panels atop street-light poles. Residents are encouraged to install panels on their home roofs; the few who can afford the expense share with neighbours the electricity generated. Unfortunately, Israel’s ban to install solar panels in Area C is blocking—in this and in other villages—a widespread use of this important ecological device.
EDUCATION. There are six government schools in the village - 3 for boys and 3 for girls; and 3 private schools. Some women take care of groups of younger children in their own homes.
RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES. There are private summer camps, but they are expensive, so only 5—10% of all the schoolchildren from first grade to the end of secondary school attend. The rest stay home; boys from age 13 help in their family farms. Sadly, the football field cannot be used till it is repaired.
Adults: at the weekend, some go on day trips, some men sit at the cafe. No other entertainment is available.
MEDICAL SERVICES. A family Dr. and a nurse work in a clinic everyday except on Saturdays. For the few who can afford it, there are also private doctors and specialists. Medical Insurance costs 600—900 NIS @ year. The Palestinian Authority used to pay for those who were unemployed, but since approximately 2018, it no longer does so. However, we are assured, someone without an insurance who needs an operation can go to Shechem Hospital and either pay whatever sum he can afford, pay later or not at all.
WORK. As a result of several factors, the unemployment rate is high at 30%.
Israel has revoked many work permits; few men work in settlements. Ramallah doesn’t offer many positions, and most pay low salaries—1,000-1,500 NIS, which are insufficient for family men. A severe lack of water has limited farming, the traditional occupation. No water is available for animals or plants, not even for their small garden plots.
WATER is a very critical problem, the mayor says, their worst one now. Mekorot sends them their village allocation once a month: even less than in the winter, this is a very insufficient amount in the summer with its greater needs. This water is distributed on a rotation basis, in the neighbourhoods: some have no water for 2 weeks. The small amount they all receive is kept for drinking. Other sources are: (1) water tanks are expensive and the water quality is unsuitable for drinking. A cube contains 1000 litres and costs 20 NIS; poured into their private wells, it enters the water pipes, and they use it for showers, cooking, washing and other domestic needs. (2) They also buy from some neighbours who have big private wells. Only 10% of residents have private wells. Neither of these 2 water sources is potable, i.e. good for drinking.
SETTLERS. Surrounded by other villages, such as Jalud, Talfit and Yatma, people in Qabalan feel safe, life is quiet on the whole with two exceptions. From time to time, settlers uproot some olive trees. And if anyone drives in the evening on the Zatara road—-Rechelim settlers throw stones at their cars; they recently broke the windshield of the mayor’s car.
In the mayor’s absence, we speak to the accountant, and later the ex-mayor joins in. Both relate how the village’s living conditions have been worsening in several ways.
ELECTRICITY: unlike Qabalan, the supply is too weak and insufficient for most of Yatma’s 5,000 people. Ten years ago, the municipality requested that the Electrical Co. solve the problem, but the Co. did not even answer. The problem is that the village was connected to Israel’s electrical network in 1984, and the infrastructure hasn’t been changed in the 35 years since. And of course the demands for electrical power have increased in at least two ways: first, in the greater number of residents, and secondly, in their use of refrigerators, washing machines, A/C, and computers. There’s only one electrical supplier. Those who live near it have enough electricity, but those who don’t, can only use one device at a time, which works very slowly, and the lights are weak. Moreover, weak electricity also costs more. Some 150 homes now are connected to Qabalan’s network, but most people aren’t and they suffer from an expensive and inadequate supply of electricity.
WATER. In the long hot summer, Mekorot perversely supplies less water than in the winter, rainy months. They lower the water pressure, which means houses high up the hill have NO water for 2 or 3 days. Everybody has to pay a lot of money to water tanks, for water unsuitable for drinking.
BUILDING of new homes BANNED. Villagers want to increase housing to meet the needs of their growing population. The Israeli Military Govt. grants no building permits in Area C and new housing runs the risk of demolition. The owners of 50 houses built without such permits have already been warned the houses will be demolished.
SETTLERS. About 30 years ago, at the time of the Intifada, recalls our host, on a road near the village an elderly woman was killed when an Israeli bus was overturned by accident. “All of the village was accused of causing this accident; as a collective punishment, they built the Rechelim settlement on our land.”
Now these settlers try to shoo off shepherds grazing their herds on their own lands. Farmers have limited access to those lands which are at a distance of 1 Km from the Rechelim settlement. They are only allowed 3 days @ year for ploughing these lands, 3 days @year for harvesting their olive trees.
For about a year, the projected APARTHEID ROAD for settlers bypassing Huwarra has been worrying villagers. But recently it was announced that they are actually going to begin building at the end of this year. For people in the surrounding villages, among them Yatma, this spells an approaching disaster increasing their anxiety. This means that an unknown amount of land—hundreds, if not thousands, of dunams of residents’ private lands—will be seized.
VIEW OF the SITUATION. “Israel is interested that we Palestinians should live with insufficient water and electricity,” the host points out “in Rechelim, 50 settlers enjoy [having] more water and electricity than our village receives [for all of its 5,000 residents].” He added “We want peace, we want to live, we want a state of Palestine.”