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5.31.2009

Wadi Qana - A Shangri-La

This past week, an MPTer joined three other international groups to visit Wadi Qana, a picturesque and fertile valley in the Salfit and Qalqillya districts. Wadi Qana, Valley of Canals, contains about 10,000 dunums or about 2,500 acres of agricultural land that is perfect for citrus trees. Eleven surface springs are located in

the valley, however many are unusable because Israeli hilltop settlements use the valley to dump their sewage. There were seven illegal Israeli settlements on the hilltops around Wadi Qana, with a total population of over 10,000. The first settlement was begun in 1978 and the last in 1991, but now in addition there are outposts with these settlements.

http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=924]



The red line indicates where the illegal apartheid wall is planned for construction. Outposts are not clear on the map,but several were seen on the walk. Colony = settlement.
[Click the map or a photo to see a larger and clearer version.]

http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=924


Deir Istiya is a village/small town, now home of Rizeq


Rizeq points out where the illegal apartheid wall is
planned to be constructed.


Rizeq , a Deir Istiya villager, who began this walk near his village, first took us to a place near the Revava settlement highway sign. He demonstrated where his land was and showed where the illegal apartheid wall would be built. The wall would cut off a part of the highway that he and other villagers of Deir Istiya need to use to reach their land. Several Deir Istiya families, totaling 200 people, own land in the Wadi Qana area.


The international group walks through recently plowed olive groves.

An illegal Israeli outpost

Villagers put thorny bushes around new olive trees to protect them
from the wild pigs brought in by Israeli settlers.

Rizeq explained to the international group that in May 2008, with olive tree plants donated by Rabbis for Human Rights, he and other villagers had come to this area to plant the trees. The Israeli occupation army declared the area a military zone and allowed no planting. They threatened to fine their driver 1000 shekels [about $285] if he did not leave with the plants and another 1000 shekels if everyone did not leave. The Mayor of Deir Istiya, the Israeli District Coordinating Officer [DCO], International Women’s Peace Service [IWPS] were present, but all left. The driver was fined 200 shekels, but everyone contributed something to pay it. Our guide was pleased that IWPS could write a report on this human rights abuse.


Rizeq told the history and problems of the area as we went through it. He noted that the illegal settlement of Revava started on November 20, 1990. This was the same day that U.S. Secretary Baker came to “interfere” [Rizeq’s word] as a consequence of the First Intifada. Baker was trying to gain support in the Middle East for the First Iraq War. At the time, the USA recognized the Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO].


In 1985, the Israel Civil Administration, but in reality the Israeli occupation army, announced in an Israeli newspaper that the area near Revara, the area of Wadi Qana, was Israeli land. It was state land. Rizeq went to court in 1985 concerning this decision. The court case lasted from 1985 until 1992 and he won the case. The land was his. However, before that could be acted on Israel was able to buy a piece of land from a Haris villager, which then gave them a toehold into the area, and a claim to all the area. [This Haris villager was later killed.] Building of settlements continued in that part of Wadi Qana.


In 2008, Rizeq began another court case against the advancement of the settlements. He and other Deir Istiya villages were helped by the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and both Israeli and Palestinian lawyers for a case that will go to the Israeli High Court. The villagers of Deir Istiya held a public meeting regarding the situation, but decided not to have future meetings because they did not feel safe with two people at the meeting, one of whom they considered an Israeli collaborator and another who was Palestinian Authority [PA] intelligence. The village decided to support the court case and not have demonstrations or actions.


However, Rizeq stated there had been that had been two actions, or two challenges to the claim that the land was Israeli. Between 1986 and 1989, more than 1000 olive trees were planted in the area. [It takes 12 -15 years for an olive tree to be productive, but they live 100s of years.] This was a statement that the land was Palestinian, that it belonged to the villagers of Deir Isrtiya.

Another illegal Israeli outpost, but below on the hillside are
the young olive trees planted on Rizeq's land, which is still disputed land.

There are problems with sewage water from the settlement running down into Wadi Qana, which can also flood in the rainy season. In June 2008, the Deir Istiya villagers invited international, Israeli and Palestinian activist to demonstration in Wadi Qana to protest settlement expansion, the sewage problem, loss of spring wells, ongoing settler harassment and continued home demolitions. Seven homes of 40 were still standing, but had demolition orders. None of these homes had any modern conveniences and no repairs were allowed. [http://palsolidarity.org/2008/06/3201] [To see pictures of the sewage flowing in the streams and more of the valley click on: http://annainthemiddleeast.com/photos/environment/wadiqana/2408/]


Rizeq said that the settlers from the illegal settlement of Revava told the Deir Istiya villagers in Wadi Qana that the area was not state land, but belonged to Revava for natural expansion and moreover, the rest of it was a nature reserve. Villagers have differing reports about whether they need Israeli DCO permission to work on the land. The settler security says they need permission, the DCO told the Red Cross they need permission, but the Palestinian District Coordinating Liaison, which works with the DCO, said they did not need permission.


Wadi Qana is divided into three parts. One section has citrus fruit, almonds, grapes and vegetables in the summer. This is the area owned by the villagers of Deir Istiya. In 1984, Bedouins from Israel came to live in the Wadi Qana and carry Deir Istiya IDs. Another group of Bedouins moved in who are registered in Az Zawiya. Other people lived in an area until 1995.


In 1996, the settlement of Nofim began which resulted in the blocking of a Palestinian Wadi Qana access road. So, the Palestinian Agricultural Council [PARC] helped the villagers to construct a new road into Wadi Qana. This road is like a “wagon” road, just bulldozed out and leveled, but easier than going through thick brush. In 2001, this “wagon” road was blocked to make a road into the outpost Doron Yaqir. Now for villagers to reach Wadi Qana from where the international group had started would take 5 hours rather than about 2-3 hours. Driving on another road into a part of Wadi Qana takes about 20 minutes by car, but may not be possible on foot or with a donkey or other animals. [When the international group came near to Doron Yaqir, settlers came out to watch. The group was far enough away that it would have been difficult to identify them.]



This is the "wagon road" built by PARC and the villagers.


The Israeli outpost/settlement road. The outpost is in the distance.

The international group was sighted by several outpost settlers, but they did not approach the group. Note the paved road into the illegal outpost.

The "wagon road" ends because it was blocked by the newer settler road.
The group follows Rizeq through the thick thorny brush on
the "path" to the valley. This is now the long Palestinian route.


Before 1985, there were many people living in Wadi Qana. Now there are about 25 people living in one part, 39 living in another part and in the third part, no one. Three extended families of about 15 people were living in the third part, but were forced to move in 1995; however, in the summer time about 100 people come back and live temporarily.


One of the illegal Israeli settlements that surrounds Wadi Qana.

On every hill a settlement, but in the far distance
there is a Palestinian village with its high minaret.

In 2008, Rizeq and the Deir Ustiya villages went to court again to claim the right to their lands. They have titles from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate, when surveys and titles were given. Court cases take a great deal of time and money. Each one had to prove that the name on the title was his father’s and grandfather’s, then he had to prove that he inherited the land. That took two months. Then the land had to be surveyed to see that it was the same land that was on the title. The Israeli High Court costs are 1,800 shekels – about $500, which is divided among the plaintiffs. This does not include travel costs, waiting in offices, lawyers, etc.


Rizeq showed us the caves where he, his family and animals had lived after their homes were demolished. There is a cold natural spring nearby. This area was part of Wadi Qana, but on the hills above the valley. Illegal Israeli settlements filled the surrounding hilltops.


This cave was Rizeq's home when he was with his animals.

This cave was the animal shelter for the sheep and goats.

A closer view of one of the illegal hilltop Israeli settlements.

As the international group sat on the hillside viewing the red roofed Israel settlements, MPTer asked Rizeq what he thought should be done with settlements after Palestine is free. He said, “If the Israeli settlers can be peaceful, let them stay.” When it was mentioned that some Palestinians want the settlement houses demolished, he said that is a medieval idea, people can live together in peace.


The international group descends into the valley.

Citrus trees grow well here.

As the international group was picnicking at the end of the walk, Rizeq told of their Zetuna Free Trade olive oil organization, partnering with British supporters. They have been able to plant about 20,000 trees in five years. They send virgin, extra virgin and organic oil to the British supporters. The villagers involved in this agreed that there would be a sharing with those who owned the land and those who picked. The first couple years it was 50%-50%, but last year the yield was so great that the pickers [who do not own the land] took only 30% and made as much that year as they had with the 50%. [Some made $5000 in the one month of harvest, but that could be much of their earned income for the year.]


There is such a demand for olive oil outside and inside Palestine, so that they earned almost 3 times as much per kilo in 2003 as in 2002. Thus, villagers are more willing to live in the disputed area. Fifteen people are ready to go to the higher area – more near the outpost. The villagers are asking their British supporters to help them with a micro-lending project for goats for these people.


A personal note here.

The international group started this walk at 11:30 a.m. About a half hour in Rizeq told the group it was about “an hour more” and then lunch would be waiting. The walk continued up and down hills of plowed olive groves at a fairly rapid pace to keep up with Rizeq.


There were cool breaks along the way.

Hours later, the group is on the “wagon” road and it is still “about an hour more. “ At this point the road ends and the group is trudging through tall brush with thorns and huge rocks, and yet “only an hour more. “ The group sits in the shade below spreading branches of trees on the gorgeous hillside and is aghast at the beauty. However, there is some complaining. Rizeq sights a spring used by the family previously and all eagerly drink the pure cool water from the mountain top spring. At each stop now, it is “only an hour more or less.” A little more complaining, but at each shady tree rest spirits are revived.


Fresh cold water from a hilltop well refreshed the spirits.

A cave is reached which was once a home with a hilltop well nearby, but settlements mar the view on all the hilltops in sight. Then the descent into the valley and the transportation expected is not at this point yet. As the group walks down the valley, they marvel at the orange trees and lemon trees spread along the river and shining in the evening sun. They greet the people who are there on a Friday holiday.


It is 6:00 p.m. The group walked only “an hour more” for about 6 ½ hours. The lunch providers have left because the group was too slow, but delightful nieces, nephews and their families share their barbequed chicken, bread, tomatoes, onions, and cookies. An exhausted, but most grateful international group went home.


The international group walked without incident through this disputed land into a fertile valley, declaring with the Palestinians that this land is Palestinian land.

[For more information on settlements go to the Foundation for Middle East Peace website – www.fmep.org For an excellent map on settlements from FMEP http://www.fmep.org/maps/settlements-population/settlements-established-evacuated-1967-2008-feb-2008/fmep_v18_map_settlements.gif/image_view_fullscreen

5.28.2009

Awarta: Half its Land Stolen by a Settlement

A cloudy spring day in Awarta, when all is green and fresh.*

The main road to Nablus stretches out across the top of the photo. Awarta vehicles are not allowed to pass through the Huwwara checkpoint to go to Nablus.*

Awarta, a Palestinian village of 6,500 people, lies to the east of the infamous Huwwara checkpoint and very close to the Israeli occupation army base. This village had a total of 20,000 dunams or about 5,000 acres. The nearby Israeli settlement of Itamar took 12,000 dunams from the village, leaving the village 8,000 dunams or about 2,000 acres. The illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar occupies the tops of many hills. It is the highest and longest settlement in the West Bank.


In the early morning, the red roofed houses of the nearby settlement are easy to see.*

The MPTer who visited Awarta with Zakiraya, MPT Palestinian contact, met Qis, the head of the Awarta village council in his office. As in every visit to Palestinians, guests receive several cups of tea, coffee and juice or pop. The ancient desert tradition of warmly welcoming guests is very much honored. Qis gave an overview of the problems of the village.


Qis, the head of the Far'ata Village Council informed the MPTer of the difficult situation of the Far'ata villagers.

Part of Awarta is in area B [Palestinian Authority and Israeli army control] and part in area C [total Israeli occupation army control.] In area C, the northern part of the village, no new building permits are allowed. There is a possibility that a new power station will be build by Israel to bring better electricity to ten villages. [The settlements must need better electricity!] It is probable that the Israeli army District Coordinating Office [DCO] will allow power lines for Area B, but not for Area C, according to Qis, village council head.


Besides no new construction being allowed in Area C, no improvements in the infrastructure can be made. The village council hopes to build a needed road in this area, but fears the military will then destroy it. Many of the farmers in Area C need to work in their olive groves, but the Israeli army will not give them permission to plow or harvest there.


Traveling from Awarta to the nearby villages of Agraba and Yanun was a 10 to 15 minute trip in the past, but now takes more than 40 minutes. The road previously went through Awarta, but now the new direct road is a settler-only road, so villagers take longer round-about side roads. There are some roads that Palestinians can use only when they have permission for farming in an area. Palestinians who used settler-only roads risk arrest. This is all part of the illegal apartheid occupation.


Schools are a source of pride for a village. They are also a site of conflict when Israeli soldiers come there to taunt the high school boys.*


Qis, Awarta Village Council Head, stated that although Muslims have lived in the village more than a thousand years, Israelis settlers come once a month to two holy places in the village, harassing the village with each visit. Qis said there seemed to have been an ancient Hebrew prophet, Abel Aser, who lived in the village. [This area would have been Samaria in Biblical times. Various names are given to the Hebrew prophets who may have been buried here. There are some tomb-like structures.] Israeli settlers usually come in the middle of the day before the school lunch break and the Israeli occupation army accompanies them. They come to the area behind the village high school or close to the main road, blocking it, so that students cannot go home. The Israeli army often shoots off tear gas bombs. [The taunting of high school boys is a common tactic of the Israeli occupation forces.] The village has two high schools, one for girls and one for boys, and two grade schools.


There is constant harassment by Israeli settlers. In September 2008, settlers burned more than 400 Awarta olive trees.[ See http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/30aced5b563941357762b51f5d06c42f.htm

[Reuters – information from INIR – UN OCHA press.]


Villagers sometimes get permission to plow their land that is near an illegal Israeli settlement. In April 2009, MPTers accompanied a Awarta village farmer plowing his olive groves. After only about 20 minutes of plowing with two hired tractors the Israeli occupying force stopped the plowing. Even though the man had 1947 [before Israel was a nation] titles for his land, he was not allowed to work his land. An Israeli settler who appeared on the scene told the Israeli army that the land did not belong to the Palestinian since he had sold it. [ See: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/04/plowing-olive-groves-under-israeli.html ]


Qis explained other problems of the village. The Israeli army will allow all West Bank cars to pass through the Huwwara checkpoint to Nablus, with the one exception of Awarta cars. No Awarta cars are allowed to pass. There is only one source of water for the whole village and five other villages and slow pumps, so villages must buy water from tank trucks. Before the Itamar settlement the village has free access to many wells.


Qis said that the villagers mainly farm, working in their olive groves, but some work in Israel. This work is illegal and can have serious consequences if one is caught. [ For the blog on an MPT visit with an Awarta villager who had tried to enter Israel to work click on http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/05/trauma-of-barbed-wire-beating.html ]


MPT’s business card explains well MPT’s mission, but the MPTer emphasized to Qis that a large part of MPT work is educating USA citizens about the situation and suffering of the Palestinians. Qis said he knew of the USA involvement in Palestine. He said the Israel occupation army was supplied with military equipment and financial support from the USA. He had recently heard that Israel was going to put Palestinian prisoners in the same type of orange jump suits used in Guantanamo. The MPTer said most Americans are ignorant of the existence and extent of USA involvement in the oppressive Israeli occupation of Palestine, but felt truly sadden by any assistance given to the occupation.


A beautiful peaceful sunset belies the struggles of the villagers of Awarta.*

[To see a website dedicated to the settlement Itamar click on http://www.friendsofitamar.org/slides.html ]



All starred * pictures came from the website below. This website is a pictorical history of the area. The MPT arrived too late in the day for photos

http://www.palestineremembered.com/GeoPoints/_Awarta_574/Picture_25974.html




5.26.2009

Far'ata: Attack by 50 Settlers


This roof of a home in Far'ata is a fairly typical one.
Families build up rather than out to save land.

After passing through a flying checkpoint [The Israeli occupation army stops and checks IDS at random.] on the road leading to the village of Far'ata, the MPTer and Zakiraya, MPT Palestinian contact, were warmly welcomed by a Far'ata village family. The family served them several rounds of drinks and snacks. The cool drinks were much appreciated on this very hot May day. The Palestinian village of Far’ata, population 700, is located about six miles south of the village of Jit.

The village has a grade school. The older students go to high school in the nearby village of Immatin. Far’ata village lost land in 2002 to the Israeli outpost of Havat Gil’ad, which lies to its north. The villagers are now under constant attack by the settlers of the outpost.
[To see the Havat Gil’ad home page go to http://havatgilad.rjews.net/index.html ]
[To view a propaganda video on Havat Gil’ad click on:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDNs-wgIUeQ ]
[For a Guardian article on the outpost read
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/oct/17/israel ]


This is part of the illegal [illegal even under Israeli law] outpost of Havat Gil'ad. Additional caravans [simple housing] were added to this in the last 2 months.
Only six or seven families live here now. Outposts eventually become settlements.

Credit for photo http://www.pbase.com/rdavid/image/64609379

Two years ago, some Far’ata villagers were beginning early in the day to harvest olives not far from Havat Gil’ad. Zakiraya, a Jit villager who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, had been called to accompany the Far’ata villagers. An Israeli army jeep came to a group of villagers, questioned what they were doing and when the villagers responded that they were harvesting olives, the army jeep left. A few minutes later an Israeli settler rode in on horseback, then left. Then 50 settlers from Havat Gil'ad and other West Bank settlements came to attack this group of Far’ata villagers. Five villagers were seriously injured, one suffered a head injury after being beaten by a metal pipe. He was taken to an Israeli hospital for a mandatory ten days of treatment. He went home after two days, but rested in his home without working for one month.

This man suffered a head injured when hit by a settler with a metal pipe. He was hospitalized and then spent one month in bed rest.


Palestinian newspaper photo of the stone throwing between settlers and villagers.


Palestinian newspaper photo of the man injured
when hit by a settler with a metal pipe. His mother is beside him
.


This past week, when Palestinians farmers from Far’ata were plowing their land, Israeli settlers from Havat Gil’ad came to stop them. The Israeli occupation army arrived and ordered the villagers to stop plowing or they would shoot them. The villagers had plowed only a few minutes before the incident occurred and could do no more that day and perhaps none in the future. The Israeli District Coordinating Office [DCO] has not allowed these Palestinians to plow their fields in the rainy season [December - April], which is the best time to plow. The DCO continues to allow little or no plowing.

The Israeli settlers added new trailers or caravans to the outposts in the last two months. These caravans are roughly constructed houses whose purpose is to claim the land for a new settlement, hence the word outpost.

Every week ten or more Israeli settlers, many of them armed, from Havat Gil’ad come on horseback or walk into the village at any time of the day or night. They harass villagers and often steal or shoot goats. The people of Far’ata try to confront the settlers. Groups of villagers try to move the settlers out of the village. However, what can a few villagers do against armed settlers?

The lighting is terrible in this photo, but ...
in the lower half of the photo shows the illegal outpost of Havat Gil'ad.




Looking out from the hilltop village of Far'ata, the illegal Israeli settlement
of Qedumin lies to the north and west.



Downhill from Far'ata to the west is the village of Immatin.
Far'ata youth attend high school in Immatin.


For information on a January 2008 attack on an elderly shepherd by settlers from Havat Gil’ad and more details on the outpost, click on http://imeu.net/news/article007498.shtml