Israeli Settlements and the Suffocation of a Palestinian Community (part II)

(This piece is a part II of this blog)

The organisation I am here with, EAPPI has been the sole constant international presence here since 2003. Since our arrival, attacks on the village are down by 90%. In the absence of physical violence the settlements still enforce a form of structural violence on the village that is slowing squeezing the life out of the community. In conversation over sweet Arabic coffee, Rashed tells me that Yanoun’s land covers 16, 450 dunams (over 2,500 acres). As a boy he grazed the family’s flock across the hills as far as the Jordan Valley, where they would sleep in caves. Now, the village has access to about 30% of this land. The rest is either being farmed by the settlers, or is no-go area as decided by the settlers. The boundaries that separate the farmers from their land are not physical. There is no fence, or wall, or sign. Walking along a path in the village you see that the fields go from harvested to overgrown, here marks the point where everyone in the village, down to four year old Selma, knows that they must not pass. These boundaries were laid by settlers who came and toldthe villagers where they could and could not go on their own land. And thelimits of access have grown tighter over time, so that the village has nowbecome, as Rashed’s brother Yasser said, “a prison”. Squeezed into theshrinking valley, the farmers are forced each year to sell off some of theirdepleting livestock in order to buy feeding to sustain the remaining flock,which they are unable to graze on the hillsides. Every summer there areshortages of water and the farmers are forced to buy tanks of water. Rashed also has land in the Jordan Valley but he can only access this area via a narrow backroad, too narrow for harvesting machinery, and which is also often closed without warning. To get direct access to his land he must get permission to enter the Jordan Valley. Having been prevented from reaching his own land within the village he took the case to the high court in Jerusalem (helped by Rabbis for Human Rights). Even now with paperwork to prove the land is his, he must get a permit to work his own land. This has been occasionally granted for short periods, but even then the settlers come, armed with M16s, and harass him from his own fields. Rashed has witnessed the violence they are capable of and is not prepared to risk it.

The question of the future is a difficult one to raise with the people here. Smiles quickly fall and the weight of the presence of the settlements becomes painfully apparent. Rashed is clearly anxious when asked, and questions what hope there is when no new buildings are allowed* (the most recent was demolished during the second intifada (Human Rights Watch, 2010); that family have since left the village), not even animal shelters. He asks how his children can stay when they cannot build their own homes and farming is providing so little income when crops are limited and animals need to be bought feeding. When I ask Yasser if he has any hope of getting his land back, his face drops and he grips his arm with his hand and shakes his head, his eyes downcast, not speaking. In spite of all of this, the villagers that remain are insistent that they will not be forced to leave. As Rashed puts it “the land and the trees are in my heart and in the hearts of my children”, they cannot leave. This is a sentiment I hear everywhere we go here, and echoed in the words of the poet Palestinian Tawfiq Zayyad “If we get thirsty we’ll squeeze the rocks, if we get hungry we’ll eat dirt, and never leave”. In spite of their courage, it is hard to imagine a future for this stalwart village unless people wake up to how the settlements are silently eating into these communities and the Israeli government is forced to remove them. Far from the riots and noise of Jerusalem and Hebron, small villages like Yanoun are being smothered out of existence with little or no media attention. Boycotting settlement produce, and indeed the debate over the law against this boycott, at least means that attention may be brought to the slow and insistent eradication of these communities by the settlements. If attention isn’t focused and changes made soon, communities like this will be obliterated. I will finish here with a commentary made by the Ta’yush group in the wake of the 2002 exodus from the village, which remains troublingly relevant today:

“Transfer isn’t necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people areexpelled and flee their towns and villages. It is not necessarily a planned and well-organised move with buses and trucks loaded with people, such as happened in Qalqilyah in 1967. Transfer is a deeper process, a creeping process that is hidden from view. It is not captured on film, is hardly documented, and it is going on right in front of our eyes. Anyone who is waiting for a dramatic moment is liable to miss it as it happens” (quoted in Mandal, 2011).

·        I will return to the system of permits and associated demolitions in a later blog

References:

Mandal, Thomas. Living with Settlers: Interviews with Yanoun Villagers, EAPPI, 2011.

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