Land Theft and Settler Violence. Qarawat Bani Hassan- An Update
Two IWPS reports from 2014 on Qarawat Bani Hassan, a Palestinian town in the Salfit Governate, echo the struggles that the people of the village: population 5,500 are still facing today. Today, a breezy, cool and cloudless day as Fawzi Fayis Rayyan, a local farmer, walks us near the small shop where he now works to support the 50 family members who were previously living on the harvest proceeds from the 60 dunum of land he has numerous documents showing he owns, yet was annexed by the Israeli government as part of a ‘security zone’ around an illegal settlement that had not even been fully built at the time.
Fawzi, a father of 11 girls and one son, has spent the past 35 years struggling with land confiscation issues with the illegal settler state of Israel. A child, in 1976 he would farm beside his grandfather planting lentils and wheat. But at the end of 1979, things began to fall apart for the family when the land nearby began to be cleared for the building of the foundation of an illegal settlement. What followed were routine Israeli bulldozing of the crop land, burning of their wheat and the uprooting of 250 olive trees that the family planted and watered for a full year before they were ripped from the ground by Israeli occupation forces.
“When my grandfather was alive, we felt safe going to the land. We thought they wouldn’t hurt us if he was there. After he died, we were afraid to go to the land on our own.” And when the family got the courts involved, they were told by the lawyer that their land was safely outside of the Israeli confiscation border and they could freely farm without worry. And with this blessing from the court, along with a fistful of ownership documentation for the land, Fawzi replanted the land and when it was time to harvest the wheat, “The Israeli bulldozers came. They leveled the land and they burned it.”
This psychological abuse accompaniment to the land theft struggle the Rayyan family has been immersed in for nearly four decades is apparent in the words of Muhdia, the 75 year old sister of Omer, the Mayor of Qarawat, “…we wanted to go there without someone telling us we can’t. This is our land to harvest. Our livelihood came from that land… we lived on that land.”
Omer, the mayor of Qarawat, reflects on atrocities both recent and from half a year ago to exhibit the thread of violence and harassment that continues throughout the years, and the lives of the people of his village. “Last week the army came to the land on the outskirts of Qarawat. Farmers ploughing their land were beaten and arrested. This is part of the collective punishment they give us…” The collective punishment Omer refers to occurred in November of last year when he got a call from a Palestinian man saying the Israeli army was holding his wife. Actually, the army had arrested a total of 6 women and 9 children that they knew were completely innocent.
Omer reached the army immediately and asked why they were holding the innocents from his village. “They said, ‘we’ve got people throwing molotovs and stones. We are holding these women until you find out who they are.’ It took me three hours to convince the army that whatever incident they were referring to would never happen again before they agreed to release the terrified women and children. During the latest brutal bombing campaign on Gaza, 50 people were arrested in our village. There were many night raids.” The bombing of Gaza also opened the door for army abuse of villagers with the earth mound road blockage of one of the villages’ two entrances and the constant threatened closure of the second. “They told us if they saw any ‘activity’ they would close the other road. We would be trapped.”
As for the sewage that Omer says flows “like a rolling river” from the Barqan, Ravava and Kiryat Netafim settlements onto Qarawat farmers’ land, an issue reported on last year by IWPS; twice weekly this river flows and with it brings an unbearable smell and swarms of mosquitos.
“The issue of sewage potentially polluting drinking water is a serious one for public health in the affected villages. The Qarawat farmer says that everybody in Qarawat has amoeba and a clinic in Deir Istiya reports that cases of diarrhea and vomiting are especially prevalent now.
Israel’s human rights violations related to water and sewage have serious public health consequences. The water available to Palestinians does not meet the minimum daily standard of 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. Illegal Israeli settlements on hilltops above Palestinian villages dump untreated sewage and wastewater to the valleys below, polluting land and water. Israeli industries are also located on West Bank hilltops. At least 200 industries send untreated industrial and wastewater effluents to Palestinian streams and agricultural land below. Those polluted streams often flow uncovered through the villages where children may play. Surveys have reported infection rates from water-related diseases as high as 64% in certain communities in the West Bank with over a quarter of rural households in the West Bank including a member suffering from diarrhea.” http://iwps.info/2014/05/12/settler-sewage-kills-olive-trees-threatens-palestinian-health/
Sewage, land theft and army harassment is a part of the daily lives of the villagers of Qarawat Bani Hassan. But they have not given up. Muhdia and her nephew Fawzi have hope- but only through action. “If we go to the land, they will hurt us. Even the children. They will hurt or kill our children. We need international and local solidarity to join us during this year’s harvest. To be with us as we plough the land. If enough people join us, they will have no choice but to leave our land to us, the rightful owners.”