Sinjil, Salfit - Danger to private lands and the social fabric of the Palestinians
Sinjil - Private lands in danger of being taken over by settlers aided by the army
On a hill belonging to residents of Sinjil villageسنجل) ) are remains of ancient stone buildings, including a maqqam in memory of a close friend of Muhammad Abu Alouf. Settlers want to turn the impressive structure into a synagogue. That’s what our friend A., from Haris, told us. We visited the maqqam over two years ago and met R., whose family owns land in the area. We felt at the time there was no threat to the maqqam since it was owned by Palestinian village residents, access was unimpeded and they held events there. That’s why we didn’t include the Abu Alouf maqqm in the review we published.
We drove with A. to meet his friend M. at the Sinjil maqqam. A. is a relative of the landowners. The family used to live in a building near the maqqam. His grandfather was born there. He noted that building stones from that ancient structure and from others had been stolen, apparently by settlers. Since the structures are in Area C, the owners are prohibited from renovating and refurbishing as they did in the past. The settlers, according to the legal regime of the Israeli occupation, do what they want.
The Giv’at Ha’roeh outpost is located about half a kilometer from the maqqam. Its location on the hill was chosen to create a territory continuous with the Shilo-Eli-Ma’aleh Levona bloc. Problems began once the outpost was established in 2003: harassment and invasion of village lands. Palestinian Authority representatives with whom the landowners and Sinjil council members met say that since the Oslo Accords they have to influence what is defined as Area C. The occupier is the final authority.
Michael Shamla, a settler, who claims to be a wounded IDF veteran, also harasses and attacks. We were told he’s the one intending to transform the maqqam into a synagogue. He arrives there with friends who behave as if they own it. Two years ago he settled on agricultural land belonging to the A. family but was removed. Now he’s next to the army base overlooking Sinjil and its lands, at a location he calls the Nahal Shilo Farm, where he’s establishing himself. He planted olive trees on private Palestinian land to strengthen his hold on the area and elsewhere uprooted olive seedlings planted by Palestinians. He and his wife plan to expand the outpost and have raised as of now donations amounting to more than NIS 380,000 for their sacred mission of expropriating Palestinian land.
Sinjil’s lands total 18,000 dunums, of which 9,500 are Area C. A’s house is in Area C, very close to the road from Ma’aleh Levona to Highway 60, near the Shilo settlement. The house was built in 1970, so the occupation laws prohibit him from expanding it. His family grew, the house is crowded, but they’re unable to build on their own land. They have 7 sons and 4 daughters. His uncle’s house nearby, built in 1963, can’t be enlarged either.
Last Ramadan, at the end of June, between 2 and 4 AM, settlers came to his home and his mother’s to throw rocks at the building and the iron door. The marks are visible on the door. A security man from the Giv’at Ha’roeh settlement came to threaten him while soldiers stood beside him as protection. In response to A’s request to detain the security man who threw rocks, he pointed a weapon at him. The settlers left only after A. called the police.
When settlers harass the residents, soldiers come and side with the settlers. Problems have increased recently. The lands are legally registered; the documents are on file in Beit El. But inaction by the authorities in preventing the harassment testifies that Israel plans to include their land in the Shilo bloc and to dispossess the residents from their homes, their lands and their ability to make a living.
Salfit district and Israeli plans to alter its social fabric
We drove with Issa to the soccer field on the outskirts of Salfit. The army caused its construction to be halted, claiming it was Area C. From there we observed the Ariel settlement which is spreading toward Salfit. Issa says Israel intends to expand Ariel at Salfit’s expense, with a neighborhood of some 400 housing units, public buildings, green areas and gardens. The plan, if implemented, will block the main entrance to Salfit. Salfit is the district capital providing administrative and commercial services to many villages north of it, and when Highway 5 was paved and has become an apartheid road it made access difficult. Blocking the main entrance will create even more difficulties for villages to access the district capital.
Issa reports on another plan that will affect the future of Haris village: to connect the Revava settlement and Kiryat Netafim. The focus is an area of 300 dunums between these two settlements. They’re afraid hundreds of dwelling units will be built there, together with the required infrastructure. That plan would isolate the villages of Haris, Deir Istiya, Kifl Harith, Qira and Marda, which have a total of 12,000 residents, along with the villages of Bidya, Maskha and Zawiyya numbering 30,000 inhabitants. They comprise the largest concentration of population in the Salfit region.
That’s how the occupation regime will destroy the political, social and economic fabric of Palestinian life in the Salfit area.