Visit to the villages Turmus Aya and Sinjil
MAIN POINTS. The main discussions were about the incursions of the Israeli settlers from the settlements on the hills overlooking the two Palestinian villages. The constant harassment is very disturbing. Another issue was that in an autonomous Palestinian state the university educated young people would be able to develop a thriving economy.
Turmus Aya: we spoke with L., head of the municipality.
HARASSMENT FROM ISRAELI SETTLERS: There are a number of Israeli settlements and outposts on the hills and ridges overlooking the town. The settlements are Shilo, Eli, Shvut Rachel, Adei Ad, and Ma’aleh Levonah. The outposts are on the hill tops between the settlements. On Wednesday, the week before we came, and Monday, the day before our visit, settlers came down to land belonging to farmers from Turmus Aya, and began removing stones from the fields. This could be seen as preparation for ploughing and cultivating the fields. Farmers from the town came out to the fields to confront the settlers. The soldiers who were accompanying the settlers demanded that the farmers show them documents proving the fields belong to them. The Palestinians asked the Israeli soldiers why they didn’t demand documents from the settlers. The answer was “That’s none of your business!” Someone from the town called the Israeli police who came and positioned themselves between the two groups until the soldiers and the settlers left the fields. Of course, this does not mean that the settlers will not come again for the same purpose. They probably will come again. That morning, while we were there, a lawyer from Jerusalem, from a Palestinian human rights organization, came for a pre-arranged meeting with L., in order to renew the farmers’ documents of land ownership. We continued our conversation with S.
S. told us about six strategies used by settlers to vandalize olive groves and harass villagers. First, expropriation continues with new ruses. Israeli settlers have seized all the ridges overlooking Turmus Aya to the east and north-east [– about 3,000 dunams of villagers’ land]. The real owners, village families, no longer have any access to it. Similarly with lands near an expanded settlement: settlers try to prevent farmers from working there.
Altogether, villagers have been expropriated of about 5,000 to 6,000 dunams. Secondly, the farmers, whose groves are further down the slopes, are now allowed access to them to harvest olives only 4 days each year.
Recently, vandalism has become a first step to expropriation.There are three stages: first, settlers cut down olive trees, then the Civil Administration declares the area “abandoned land,” and finally the nearest settlement appropriates it. This happened recently three months ago, two months ago and 3 weeks ago. Finding 300 of their trees, some 30 years old, cut down, several farmers see there is nothing left to harvest. The nearest settlement soon seizes these so-called “abandoned lands.” This latest strategy or ruse of expropriating Palestinian land in fact legalises vandalism.
A fourth practice is criminal and dangerous— settlers come with machine guns and shoot into the air to frighten farmers. One settler even said, “I will kill every one of you!” Worse, soldiers come with them to protect them. If the police are called, they form a barrier between the settlers and the Palestinians until the Palestinians go back to their town.
A fifth form of vandalism is perpetrated against cars belonging to families in the town. Settlers come into the town at night and slash tires of cars parked by houses. E. (another man in the room joining the conversation) told us that his tires had been slashed and that the town had paid to have them fixed. The municipality had called the DCO for several hours but had received no answer.
A sixth despicable strategy is using small children, even babies, as a weapon. Sometimes when the settlers come down to the fields for a confrontation, women and children come with them – even babies in their mothers’ arms. If, heaven forbid, any of the children are hurt in the confrontation, of course the Palestinians are to blame. However, the older Palestinians, on the contrary, do not take any children to a confrontation. They call young men to go with them.
WATER AND ELECTRICITY. There is no problem with electricity. And now, during the winter, there is also no real problem with water. However, the town would like to build a reservoir to keep all the winter rainwater, but the Civil Administration has not given a permit to build such a reservoir. During the summer villagers sometimes have running water only 1-2 days a week. A reservoir would certainly help them.
EDUCATION: There are several Kindergartens for boys and girls together. There are three schools – 1 elementary school for boys and girls, and 2 high schools, 6th grade through 12th grade, 1 for boys and 1 for girls. Most of the pupils go on to study at the universities.
EMPLOYMENT: Since there are very, very limited possibilities for employment of university graduates in the Palestinian territories many of the young people go abroad to find work in their professions. Most of those who go abroad, go to the USA. He said that about 70% of them have American citizenship, but they are very involved and connected to Turmus Aya. During the winter the town has a population of about 3,500 people. During the summer about 7,500 come back for visits. At least 95% of those who currently live abroad feel that they belong to Turmus Aya. S. himself was in the USA for a number of years. (He talked with us in fluent English.) Then he returned to the town so that his children would acquire Palestinian culture and identity. We have heard this again and again in the villages we have visited.
S. has eight children and seven of them are married and in the US. One daughter is a computer scientist and one son is a biological engineer. A Palestinian state could prosper if all the professional sons and daughters could come back permanently and develop the economy. It is something for Israelis to think about.
A Solution to the Conflict? “We, Palestinians,” our host says, “are looking for a peaceful solution to the conflict. In the early years of 2001-2 we thought it was close, but now it seems harder and harder. When the Jews came back to live in this land they found a people living here. We must divide the land into two states. We, Palestinians, want peace, but we feel that the Israelis do not. If the Israeli government really wanted peace it would be an easy task. Where are the Oslo Accords? Where is citizenship for the Palestinians? Where are our human rights? Where is the Israeli peace movement? But we and you must not give up hope.
The village of Sinjil is across road #60 from Turmus Aya. We spoke with M. who is the engineer for the Council.
SETTLERS’ HARASSMENT: Sinjil suffers the same harassments from the same settlements as Turmus Aya. These settlements have also expropriated Sinjil’s land. Not content with that, lately they are more aggressive. One night, Maaleh Levonah settlers came into the village and slashed the tires of 34 cars. They also sprayed hateful and racist graffiti on walls and houses. Moreover, the Council’s complaint to the DCO was not even answered.
In the plots of land that are near the settlements there are always problems with ploughing and working the land, even after the farmers coordinate their work days with the Civil Administration. The village Council wants an engineer to map out the exact borders of the village, in order to prove exactly which plots of land do belong to Sinjil farmers. To realise this project, the engineer must first take measurements of the land. Much to their frustration, though not surprisingly, he is not allowed—even just for this purpose—to get to lands which are near settlements.
The olive harvest was coordinated with the DCO. The farmers were told that they could work from 8:00 to 16:00, but on the first day, the settlers arrived to chase the farmers out. The next day the army came at 10:30 and expelled them. The farmers waited 2 hours and when the army left, they went back to harvesting. There were problems daily. Taking out his pistol, a settler threatened a farmer.
Road 60 has divided Sinjil’s homes and plots into two parts. Some houses and plots are not in the main part of the village, but on the opposite side of this road. The families who own them are those who suffer the most from settlers. The Village Council has now found maps on Google and Internet where Israel has marked out lands that belong to the village. This is very disturbing. The village originally had 14,000 dunams. When the settlements took over their land, they lost 4,000 dunams. Now they worry that the settlements will probably grab another 3,000 dunams that are now marked as being in Area C. If that happens, they will have lost altogether half of their land.
WATER: The village has 20 wells that fill up with rain water. Under most houses there is a reservoir which they rinse out with the first 2 rains, and which the next rains fill up. Every house also has a water tank on the roof. However, during the summer they might have no running water for 20 days, and then have water for 48 hours before Mekorot again shuts it off. Often, the water pressure is also reduced, and then the houses that are on plots higher up the slopes do not get any running water at all.
We were sorry we could not talk longer as we had to get to our train, but we will return to Sinjil in the near future.