Villages: Duma, Qusra
MAIN PROBLEMS: The main problem in both villages is working the land on the slopes close to the Israeli settlements. Either the Palestinian farmers are afraid of harassment by settlers, or the IDF has closed off the area and the farmers can’t access their own land. The other problem which plagues all of the Palestinian territory is the high unemployment rate, affecting especially the large numbers of young people who have completed university studies, but have no hope of finding work.
Duma: We spoke with M. the head of the Council. The village has about 3,000 people. They owned about 18,000 dunams of land—500 dunams of which is the the village’s area. But settlers’ encroachments have reduced their farmland to about 2,000 dunams.
Problems: The near-by settlements—Shilo and Shvut Rachel—located on the ridge overlooking the village have caused many problems. First, farmers who have land on the hillsides near those settlements cannot get to their land. The Civil Administration has marked off those plots and claimed that they are “government land.” Secondly, in the past the village had large herds of goats ,and grazed them on the hillsides. Cheese making was then a profitable line of work. But when settlers took their pasturelands, and they were no longer able to graze the herds—- they had to sell almost all the herds, so this line of agriculture is now no longer profitable. Third, during the olive harvest season, settlers steal the olives from the groves near them. Fourth, villagers are also not permitted to build on this land, and if they did, the houses would not be connected to either the water network or the electricity. Finally, in this now empty area, is an important spring of water, called Beit Zayit—formerly used to water their goats—has also been taken away from the farmers. They are no longer allowed to use it.
WATER: During the winter, water isn’t a problem. Most of the houses have water reservoirs that fill up with the winter rains. Most of the time the pressure is OK. However, they only receive 190 cm a month for their 3,000 residents. Sadly, they seem to have got used to living with this insufficient amount of water.
ELECTRICITY There isn’t enough electricity. Twelve years ago they paid half a million shekels for a generator. But the last test for the generator was not satisfactory.
Moreover, they are going to pay 10,000 shekels to move the generator from the village center to near the entrance to the village; the Israeli technician who comes to read the meter is afraid to go into the center of the village. Perhaps the price of the electricity will then go down.
EDUCATION: There are three schools in the village. Through 3rd grade the boys and girls study together. After that, the boys go to their own school where they stay through high school. The girls remain in the elementary school through 5th grade, and then go to their high school. The boys’ high school is an old building—built poorly in 1967, and not well maintained. It is now unsafe, even in some respects dangerous for its 400 pupils. The village is in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to obtain funding for a new building. At one time the European Union gave funding for educational purposes, but that funding stopped 3 or 4 years ago.
Many of the students go on to university studies, but there are very few jobs available, even in Nablus or Ramallah.
IDF: The army sometimes closes the main entrance to the village. There is a back road to go in and out, but it is a dirt road, narrow and in poor condition. The village would like to pave it so it could be an alternative, but the Civil Administration does not allow them to do that. And now it is closed. There are some other very poor, very round-about dirt roads that the villagers use.
The closures, the poor roads they are forced to use, together with insufficient public transport—all of these difficulties make them feel closed in, and cut off from Nablus—at a distance of 45 Km— and Ramallah; so few men go out to work in these cities. Unemployment is very high among the University graduates, and in general.
We asked about the child of the Dawabsheh family who survived the arson attack on his family home. He is doing fine. He goes to school, but he is still getting treatments for his burns.
A Solution to the Conflict: “Peace, only peace. Just give us what belongs to us. Israel only looks for wars.”
Qusra: We spoke with M., the Council head, A., the city engineer, and O., the vice Council head. Qusra has a population of 5,418 people, according to the 2017 census. I joked that perhaps another baby was born while we talked, and O. said that possibly several were born. The village is located in areas B & C, and has a total of 9,000 dunams. Of this, 3,000 dunams are in the built-up area (area B), while more than half of the total area is located in Area C.
PROBLEMS: The settlements of Migdalim and Esh Kodesh are situated on ridges above Qusra. The proximity of this hostile population is causing problems to two groups of farmers. First, 3 or 4 farmers—whose groves covering an area of 40 to 50 dunams are very near the settlements—are afraid of their neighbours’ violence while they work their groves. To the second group belong the owners of almost all of the village’s groves, which are in area C, altogether about 4,500 dunams. These farmers must have permits from the DCO in order to harvest their crop; this year they received permits for 21.10.18 to 25.10.18. In those few days they had to complete the work. But an additional problem afflicted them this year: because of last winter’s relative lack of rain, and the resulting spread of a pest, the harvest was smaller than usual, about ½ the amount. Therefore, the price of oil is going up and the farmers are worried that they won’t be able to sell as much as usual. Since olives are still the economic base of the village, their income will be even lower than usual.
Water: An existing water line from Mekorot serves Shilo and Migdalim but not the village itself. Mekorot did distribute water to Qusra for 15 years, but two years ago they stopped doing so. They claim that because someone stole some of the water pipes, they closed the entry point. In the summer they distribute some water once or twice a week, but obviously this is not enough. The village has asked them to re-open the entry point.
On the other hand, since 2005, thirteen villages in this area formed a collective to share a natural source of water; they all agreed to set up a joint service council for water in Aqraba. The water comes from a spring in Rujeib, near Nablus, and this supplies water to the 13 villages: Rujeib, Jalud, Talfit, Quariyut, Duma, Osarin, Qusra, Kabalan, Jurish, Majdal bani Fadil, Aqraba, and Yatma. There is enough water in the winter, but not quite enough in the summer. Some houses have reservoirs and some buy extra water brought in by tankers from Ramallah. This water from the tankers is very expensive, 50 shekels for 1mc.
Electricity. There is no problem with electricity. Qusra is connected to the same line as the nearby large settlement of Migdalim, which has large high tension towers.
EDUCATION: There are three schools; in the four higher grades, boys and girls study in separate schools. Two of the school buildings are in good condition. They have received a grant of $200,000 from the Palestinian Authority to rebuild the secondary boys’ school.
EMPLOYMENT: M. told us that all three of his daughters have finished studying for their BA degrees, but there is no work for them in their professions. Some young men find work in agriculture in the Jordan Valley, in the date groves, for instance. For work in Fatsael, in the date groves, a worker can earn 100 shekels for a day’s work. But a man who was present at our meeting said that though he has been working for many years in these groves, he is still paid this same price: his salary has not been raised. Not less important, there is no security either. If someone falls that is the end of it. No compensation is paid for work accidents, which can often be very serious, and can leave a family without any income.
Some people manage to pay the fee that is required for a work permit to work in Israel. A few men work in Kalansua, in Israel, without a permit. This is very risky, but there is no employment available in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Solution to the Conflict: “Give us employment! There will be no real solution as long as Israel sees Palestine as weak and Israel as strong.”
As we were saying good-bye and thanking the men for their participation, A., the young civil engineer very happily gave us some news about himself. This week he is going to South Korea. He is one of 18 young Palestinian professionals who have been invited for a 2 week seminar to learn about digital aerial mapping. All expenses are being paid by the host country and he is obviously very proud to have been chosen for this opportunity. We congratulated him and wished him a great trip.