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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.


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.]


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

1 comment:

Michigan Peace Team said...

Wow! That's quite a walk, and hot and hungry!