The House Team Reports describe in writing and pictures what day to day life may be like for IWPS volunteers in Palestine.
In contrast to the Human Rights Reports, which are written objectively, House Team Reports allow volunteers to tell the human side of the Palestinians living under a brutal, illegal Occupation, as well as times when IWPS women have the opportunity to spend time with Palestinian friends, leaving the Occupation in the back of our minds for awhile.
IWPS has been in Palestine since 2002; the house reports are the stories of the teams on ground throughout our (almost 10 years!) of living, struggling, laughing, resisting, and standing strong with our Palestinian comrades, other international and Israeli activists groups.
House Report No.40
A village tour around Salfit
A local contact from the village of Bruqin invited IWPS and ISM on a two-day village tour around the Salfit district. The purpose of the tour was to make new contacts and review the situation in those villages. Three people from the ISM and three from IWPS met in the municipality in Bruqin on Sunday 12 May. Bruqin, just like every other village in the area, has had settler problems for the past few decades.
Day One; Iskaka
First we visited a Bedouin family who live on the hills close to the city of Salfit. Originally from Beersheba (in the Naqab desert, southern Palestine ‘48), in 1948 they were forcefully transferred to al-Khalil (Hebron); from there, some 2 decades ago they were again transferred to the Salfit district; in 2004 the family were once again forced to leave as their village was destroyed by the Israeli army. The family has not been allowed to come back to the Naqab since their first eviction.
The family of ~60 spans three generations; they graze sheep, which are their main source of livelihood. The Palestinian owner of the land the family now live on lives in Salfit city; he has stated he is happy for them to live on his land, as by doing so they’re protecting it from the Israeli army and the illegal settlers. The father owns two dunums nearby, but because the land is now zoned as Area “C”, the Israeli military will not allow the family to have any standing structure. Almost every week, the family is given verbal eviction and demolition orders from the Israeli army which claims that the family lives and grazes their flock illegally and that the land belongs to the illegal settlement of Ariel which is soon going to utilize the area when they expand their industrial zone. The lack of water in the region is another huge problem for this family of herders; they have to buy it from Salfit city and it is very expensive for them.
The family identifies themselves as refugees and has two lawyers, one from the Palestinian Authority and another from UN OCHA. They refuse to be transferred yet again, this time to the Jordan Valley, where they hear the Israeli military is forcibly relocating Bedouins.
The second stop of the tour was the village Iskaka, with a population of 1,200; houses in the village are in Area B, while the surrounding land is classed as Area C. The villagers there are terrorized daily by wild pigs, which they state were placed on the land by the settlers. It is illegal for the Palestinians to kill the pigs or otherwise get rid of them, despite the animals consistently damaging Iskaka’s crops, gardens, and plants, and attacking villagers. More than 300 dunums have been stolen from Iskaka by the neighbouring illegal Israeli settlements; the illegal settlement Nofei Nehemia, close to Iskaka, is an extremist religious one. Settlers frequently attack Iskaka and its residents; they also prevent villagers from working their land.
The Israeli army allows one or two days annually for the villagers to collect their olive harvest; the permissions are usually given to children, which causes delay in harvesting and enables settler abuses. In 2012 the settlers came during the olive harvest and stole it.
The main – and only – road in/out the village of Iskaka is frequently closed by the Israeli army which sets up a checkpoint, effectively blocking the access to Salfit or Nablus. Six dunums of the village’s land were destroyed by the construction of a paved road. The power lines that supplied electricity to Iskaka were destroyed during the construction of the settler-only road, forcing the village to construct underground electricity lines that cost much more. The DCO recently informed the municipality of Iskaka that a new settlement will be built between Iskaka and the illegal Israeli settlement of Rechelim.
Our last visit of the day was at the Red Crescent local office in Salfit. There are around 75,000 in the Salfit district; it has a total of 19 Palestinian villages and 24 illegal Israeli settlements. More than 60% of the total income comes from olives. The district has plentiful water resources, yet they have been stolen by Israel which then sells the water back to the local Palestinians for much higher prices.
After talking to Red Crescent Salfit’s representatives, we drove back to Bruqin with our local contact and had lunch with his family. He then showed us the polluted river in the village; sewage from the illegal settlement of Ariel makes the water stinky and undrinkable. In other surrounding villages much higher than average cancer cases have been recorded (with children and the elderly particularly affected); the villagers attribute this to the chemical and human waste from Israel’s illegal settlements that contaminates their rivers, and with them, their lands, animals, and families.
Day Two; Az Zawiya & Mas-ha
The next day two people from IWPS and one from ISM attended the tour. We went to the town of Az Zawiya to meet its current mayor. Our contact also took us to a mobile clinic that travels around the Salfit area. Twice a month it stops in Az Zawiya; more frequently in bigger villages and towns. The clinic sells medical supplies for low prices (around 3 NIS) and offers free medical exams.
Az Zawiya’s youth centre has a variety of programmes for youngsters from the village and the surrounding area. While at the centre, we were shown a film about local women farming. The Israeli army and illegal settlers cause a lot of trouble for Az Zawiya; for example, the army forbids women to take their sons with them to farm “for security reasons”.
In 2004-2006 the village held daily demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall being built right next to homes, 3 metres from the secondary school. Through organizing and demonstrating, the villagers saved over 8,000 dunums of their land; the Wall was eventually moved 2 km west of Az Zawiya, but it stole 200 dunums of fertile farmland from the local people.
After Az Zawiya, we went to the village of Mas-ha whose water has been seized by the Israeli military for the use of nearby settlements. Mas-ha and other villages in the area are now forced to import water from Azzun, which is twice as expensive as before. The area used by Israel for the construction of the fence and the security road is stolen Mas-ha farm land. Villagers the Israeli government will replace the fence with a concrete wall, destroying even more olive trees and stealing even more land.
House report #34
IWPS was informed about a settler demonstration organized by a group of religious settler women who call themselves “Women in Green” that was to take place at the Zatara checkpoint on May 5th at 09:00. Having arrived at 09:00 at Zatara, the team waited for two hours near the Zatara checkpoint, observing Israeli military preparation for the demonstration. Up to 12 army vehicles and border police cars gathered in the central area of the checkpoint. By 10:30 it became clear that the “Women in Green” had relocated their demonstration to the Yitzhar illegal settlement. By 11:00 all except one military vehicle had dispersed. At 19:00 the Israeli army had gathered at the checkpoint with around 50 soldiers. IWPS was informed that following the “Women in Green” meeting/demonstration at Yitzhar the group came en masse to Zatara and threw stones at Palestinian civilian cars. The settler demonstration was organized in the name of a recently deceased settler with the intention of constructing a new illegal outpost in the area.
House report #33
*On Sunday, April 28th Alex and I and a friend from ISM met with a woman from the village and Qabalan at the Tanwen Center in Nablus. During an
earlier meeting, she asked if we would like to visit and discuss teaching some English classes. As we had never been to the town, we were very interested in going. On the service ride there, the women in the back seat told us to ‚‘be prepared to be stared at!‘‘ As Qabalan is a fairly conservative place. When we arrived, we met with the woman‘s family and they treated us to lovely sweets and fresh fruit from their garden. The mother and younger sister insisted on dressing us up in hijab before we went to the center in the middle of the town. The Qabalan municipality established the Wabalah youth council nearly a month ago. There are approximately 100 members between the ages of 18 and 24, though anyone who wants to use the center is welcome to. The center serves a number of functions. There are English lessons, classes for women, children and students. Members also organize activities with the municipality. The membership elects 11 members to the leadership council, both men and women and there is a weekly Friday meeting to plan events and workshops. When we arrived an English class for youth had just finished. A young profession from Bin Zeit University is regularly volunteering from time to come and teach. It was nice to hear her speak about what motivated her. She genuinely wants to help her people independently not through any organization, just for the well being of Palestine. After the youth council we visited a few people around the town before returning to home in Deir Istya. In the future we will stay in contact with the English instructor directly who said it could be nice if we come one day to practice speaking with the students.