Yasuf: We met with M., the treasurer of Yasuf. On our previous visit in November he had told us about a water tower that was to be built for Yasuf and Iskaka jointly, so we asked how this project was progressing. The sad news was that the work had not even begun; there is no funding for it. The contacts had gone through the PA in Ramallah. The United Arab Emirates were to have provided 2/3 of the funding. The two villages were to have provided the other 1/3, $165,000, but they are unable to raise this amount. So the project is stalled. The water situation in winter is easier than in the summer. Yasuf and Iskaka receive 7 cm of water per hour. This amount has not changed since 1993, although the population of both villages has grown considerably. In 1993 both villages together had 2,600 persons. Now Yasuf’s population is 2,200 persons, whereas Iskaka’s population is 1,000 persons. The water runs to Iskaka for 24 hours, and is then shut down. It then runs for 48 hours to Yasuf, and then back to Iskaka, and so on. The minimum amount of water that is needed for both villages should be 20 cm/hour. What they receive is nowhere near this amount.
On January 31, 120 newly planted young olive and fig trees were uprooted and stolen overnight. The villagers replanted the trees, and they were again uprooted. This happened three times! The villagers are sure that the thieves came from the settlement, Rechalim, but they have no proof of it, and nothing has come of their complaints to the Civil Administration. During the olive harvest there were problems with the settlers. Some of the groves are only 600 meters distance from the settlement. Settlers come and try to chase the pickers away. The farmers of the village are given permits for three days to complete the entire harvest, which is a very difficult limit. The main road is often blocked and the farmers have to travel the long way around to reach their groves, and this can take a couple hours out of the work day. During the year the farmers receive permits for three work days, 2-3 hours each day, to tend their groves. This is, of course, not enough time to really take good care of the trees, and the groves are suffering.
The settlement, Tapuach, took over land that belongs to villagers, and planted their own trees on that land. The army does not allow the villagers to come near those plots. The village has complained to the authorities. They are waiting for an answer. Meanwhile those farmers have lost their livelihood. There are other villagers who own land by the Tapuach Junction. For several years they have been unable to get near their land. If they do try to go to their plots they may be caught and jailed.
M. said that until 2016 there were not many incidents with settlers about the land. But since 2016 the settlements have expanded to three times their original area. When asked what solution he would like to see to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he immediately answered, "Two independent states, and rid of the settlements.”
Iskaka: We spoke with F., the vice Council head. “Look out of the window of the Council room,” he said. “You can see Ariel. They ate almost all the land, and didn’t leave us much.” Then he added in an ironic tone, “Iskaka has expanded all the way to Ariel.” His comment is very ironic. The people of Iskaka want to build houses on their land for the growing population. Not only can’t they build, but the Civil Administration is taking more land from them to build roads for the settlers and for Ariel. Almost every day the exit from the village to Salfit and then to the main road is closed for a few hours. They are not told the reason for it. They simply wait for the road to be opened.
On Iskaka’s land there is a spring from which the village took their water. Ariel has taken it over; they have closed it off to the villagers and use it as a “mikveh”, for both men and women, (not together I suppose) several hours every day, with the army standing guard. The villagers are afraid to go near it. For use for agriculture, the village built a reservoir for water, but they have not been given permission to put in pipes to bring the water to the fields.
There are schools in the village, but only through eighth grade. After that the children go to schools in other villages.
The village has paved some new roads, on their own, without waiting for a permit, so that houses could be built for an expanding population. But they have not received permits for building. On Iskaka’s land, an area of 120 dunam has been declared an archaeological site on which the villagers may not build. More land gone.
Last week three young men, 17-18 years old, from two families, who had jobs in Ariel working in restaurants, were waiting near Ariel to be picked up and taken to work. It was a cold day and they made a small fire at the side of the road to warm themselves. No harm came to the area, but the army caught them by the fire and they were taken in. The boys lost their jobs at the restaurants; all permits for work in Israel for all 60 members of the two families were cancelled; a fine of 25,000 shekels was levied on the families. Collective punishment and extortion for warming their hands. Also, a quarrel has been generated between the two families. This is a beautiful example of justice under occupation.
We spoke with F. in Hebrew and asked him where he had learned to speak the language so well. He had worked in a ‘steakia’ at Gaia Junction for eight years, he said, from the age of 16. We asked him what solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he would like to see. He wants to live in peace and quiet, and to have a decent livelihood - for his family and for all Palestinians.