Aqraba, a large village of almost 10,000, lost over 76% of its land to Israel since the 1967 war. The confiscated land was used to build four illegal Israeli settlements, including “Natural Areas” and “Military Areas.”
Later much of this land, stretching toward the Jordan River, was declared Area C, which means Israel has total administrative and military control. Part of the confiscated land was also declared Area B, which means Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control. In any dispute, however, the final decision always is made by the Israeli military.
This village has suffered from continual clashes from nearby settlements. MPT visited the village in June 2010 where they saw the site where 2 young men from Awarta, a nearby village, were killed probably by Itamar settlers in March of 2010. [See the June blog of MPT’s visit to the village of Aqraba and the work of villagers with an agricultural organization: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/06/aqraba-76-land-loss.html]
MPT visited Aqraba on July 12th at a villager’s request, because Israeli settlers were plowing Palestinian land in Area B. MPTers met with the Union of Agricultural Works Committee (UAWC) and the mayor of the town. The land being plowed by the Israeli settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar mostly belongs to the mayor and his family.
The settlers come into the groves in the early morning and at night time to plow the land. These recent actions of sneaking onto the land to cultivate it, in an area clearly not near the settlement causes feelings of anger, frustration, fear and despair to the citizens of Aqraba. The Israeli government uses an old Ottoman Empire’s land ownership law that allows it to seize any land uncultivated for more than 3 years. Organizations such as UAWC work with Palestinian farmers to “recuperate” land by building terrace and planting olive trees in Area C and B.
As an added aggravation to the situation, the Israeli Occupation Forces [IOF] limit Palestinian farmers to only 2 days to plow the olive groves and another 2 days to harvest the olives. The farmers often need several weeks to both plow and harvest.
The mayor asked, “How would you feel if you grew a tree, and cared for that tree; then you find out someone has been entering the grove and taking the tree for themselves?”
He went on to explain, that there is nothing that can be done to protect the trees or the people themselves from settler harassment. The Palestinian Security Forces [the Palestinian military or Palestinian police] do not have any power against settler or Israeli army [IOF] illegal actions.
The mayor asked MPT to relay one message “Please tell the American people that the Palestinians are peaceful people who want to live in peace with the world. We don’t want the settlers to take our land.”