Deir Istiya: No Room to Move
Deir Istiya continues to face restrictions on movement, and access to agricultural roads. Today, villagers reported continued construction on the settler road that surrounds the village, and the introduction of a flying checkpoint at the village entrance.
In 2015, the Israeli Ministry of Public works began a project of expanding and adding guard rails to the settler road which runs through the village’s land. The addition of steep ditches and guard rails closed access to seven agricultural roads that connect farmers in the village to 20,000 dunams of olive groves and grazing land. Crossing the road with animals had already been a risky process. In recent years a farmer and donkey from Deir Istiya was struck by a settler and killed. The guard rails don’t diminish the risk of accidents for farmers who need to access the other side, but it does prevent them from bringing animals, tractors, or any heavy farming equipment across without making a detour of several kilometres.
Deir Istiya residents and supporters, including Israeli activists and journalists, held weekly peaceful demonstrations every Friday for three months to protest the loss of access to their land. Protests started with a communal prayer, after which villagers beat the metal guard rails with sticks and rocks, sending a message to the military and passers-by that the barrier was not welcome. At first, it seemed successful; the Israel administration promised to open access to two of the seven closed roads, and to create an underground tunnel, that would make it safer for farmers to cross with donkeys, goats or sheep.
As of today, not only had the Israeli DCO refused to open more than one access point, but the construction of guard rails –a process that had been on hold for several months – was resumed. Israeli soldiers accompanied a team of labourers from the Israeli Ministry of Public Works to bring in steel barriers and support pillars. The Public Works team installed approximately 50 meters of new fencing, showing no signs of opening access to agricultural roads as part of their mandate.
Shortly after the work began, two military jeeps arrived at the entrance of Deir Istiya to set up a flying checkpoint. For several hours all cars entering and leaving the village were stopped, and the passengers forced to produce identification. While no one has been arrested or detained as a result, flying checkpoints are often enacted as an intimidation technique. The military may be using this one as a subtle warning to villagers who are upset about the ongoing construction.
Officials and land owners have made numerous complaints to the Palestinian Authority over the restrictions to access, but there is little optimism that complaints and legal interventions will be effective against Israel’s strategy of creeping occupation. Many in the village now believe that there is only one way to combat the gradual encroachment on their land: resuming the weekly demonstrations.
‘’They [Israelis] are planning for the long run. This is not innocent work,’’ Noted Abu Nawwab, a former mayor of Deir Istiya. His words ring true. For outsiders to the situation, the installation of guard rails might seem like a positive development and the closure of agricultural roads a small price to pay. For the farmers of Deir Istiya, it is a matter of access to their chief source of livelihood, and an encroachment on Palestinian sovereignty.