Haaretz: Transfer's real nightmare
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Transfer's real nightmare
As these words are being written, Khirbet Yanun still exists. Or
maybe not: 15 of the 25 families that lived in the village are still
there. This is not an insignificant number: If the reader recalls,
on October 18 only two old men remained there, having refused to
leave even after the last families departed, holding on by their
fingertips to the village despite the abuse of settlers. The others
had decided to take their possessions and move to the nearby town of
However, Khirbet Yanun's existence is still frail and incomplete.
There is still no electricity or running water, the houses are
without furniture, the presence of residents sparse, their security
unassured. At the beginning of last week, volunteers from Israel and
abroad - Jews and Arabs who belong to the Ta'ayush movement - were
still on site, but their presence there was transitory. Come the
next attack by settlers, which will happen sooner or later, Khirbet
Yanun may be emptied of its residents for good.
Many Israelis who are committed to a life of peace and justice in
this country are convinced, it seems, that despite all the horrors
of the occupation and the violent conflict, there are still certain
red lines that they will not allow Ariel Sharon and his government
to cross: Transfer will not be permitted to happen. When the
critical moment arrives, they will stand up and stop it.
But transfer isn't necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when
people are expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not
necessarily a planned and well-organized 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.
The main component of the process is the gradual undermining of the
infrastructure of the civilian Palestinian population's lives in the
territories: its continuing strangulation under closures and sieges
that prevent people from getting to work or school, from receiving
medical services, and from allowing the passage of water trucks and
ambulances, which sends the Palestinians back to the age of donkey
and cart. Taken together, these measures undermine the hold of the
Palestinian population on its land.
When the water trucks don't make it to the villages, when every trip
to work becomes an adventure with an unforeseeable end, when schools
are closed and hospitals in the nearby urban center begin to grow
further away - the local fabric of life begins to disintegrate. Some
of the young people, who used to work outside the village and then
return home every night, remain outside, choosing not to attempt to
pass through the succession of roadblocks each morning. Families
that are able to do so move to safer places, closer to their sources
of income, inside the population centers.
And the number of instances are mounting up: the butcher from
Jerusalem, who despairs at the attempt to cross the Qalandiyah
roadblock and who has closed his shop that is situated north of it;
the taxi driver who moved out of his home in northern Jerusalem to
live, crowded with the rest of the family, in his parents' home in
the Old City, in order to have a chance to get to work; residents of
a West Bank village whose son was about to begin studies in the
nearby city of Nablus, but because it is no longer so accessible
even by public transit, are poised to leave their village and move
to the city. All of these cases signal how the hold of the
Palestinian population on the land is being weakened.
Not an isolated case
What the army's closures and sieges don't achieve, the settlers do:
Every new settlement and outpost requires security, of course, and
the meaning of security to settlers is eviction of Palestinians from
the surrounding area, and transformation of the agricultural lands
to death zones, for whoever enters them to pick olives or work the
land may end up paying for the act with his life. In order for a
handful of settlers to dominate almost half of the land of the
occupied territories, an organized action, a conquest of the land, a
tower-and-stockade thrust is required. Armed, subsidized and
organized, hey systematically rough up residents of the villages,
very much like the paramilitary units employed by hacienda owners in
Latin America to inflict a reign of terror on the peasantry. They
are above the law.
The campaign against the olive harvesters was therefore an important
component of the settlers' attempt to pull out from under the legs
of the villagers the little that they still have. It is also
intended to show them that the settlers are the real masters, that
they can pick the olives of the villagers with impunity, and drive
off with gunfire anyone who tries to stand in their way.
Khirbet Yanun is not an isolated case. Dozens of villages in the
area of Tul Karm and Qalqilyah, Salfit and Nablus have been
subjected to intense existential pressure for several months. This
is not necessarily marked by dramatic incidents causing death and
casualties, but by organized abuse, constant deterioration of living
conditions, tightening of the stranglehold, and increased isolation
from the economic, cultural and political centers of Palestinian
All of these long-term structural processes, which gradually
undermine the population's hold on its land, are clearly expressed
at Khirbet Yanun. It is a small and isolated settlement that lies
only a few hundred meters from the outposts established by the
settlers of Itamar. The outposts were established in the hills above
Yanun in the late 1990s, under the auspices of the "peace process."
Akrabeh is situated a 15-minute drive way, via a poorly maintained
dirt road that is easy to block off.
Venture out at night into the streets of Yanun. The little village
is dark, the landscape pastoral. But even in the village itself,
residents are not alone: On the hill opposite, the settlers'
watchtowers can be seen, and from the hill on the other side, the
caravans and cars are visible. The lights of the patrol vehicles can
be seen from far away. Here in their homeland, the people of Yanun
sit surrounded, as in a sort of reserve whose days are numbered. The
settlers may appear at any moment, and they do: The children hide
whenever they hear the sound of their all-terrain vehicles. The
residents freeze in place in the olive grove whenever the settlers
This, too, is not an isolated case: If you find yourself in the
southern Hebron hills along the edge of the desert, along with
Palestinian residents living in their tents in Susya, here too you
will find that there is no room for the local residents. Look up and
you will see a star-studded sky, but all it takes is a glance around
you and you will understand that you are surrounded - army vehicles
patrol the road, which the Palestinians are not allowed to approach.
On the other side are the settlers of Susya: Woe to anyone who gets
too close to the fields adjacent to the settlement. And Susya
continues to expand. An illuminated security road passes behind you,
in the wadi, and if you take a look northward, you will see the
lights of the nearby army base and hear the announcements crackling
from the loudspeakers.
This reality conveys an unambiguous message: Residents of the
reserve - you are surrounded; it would be best if you surrendered.
And these are also the explicit words uttered by the settlers to the
people of Khirbet Yanun during recent attacks on the village, when
they broke into homes, when they beat Abd al-Latif Bani Jaber in
front of his family: Get out of here, go to Akrabeh.
Complaints lodged by Yanun residents to the police provide a
documentation of the process by which their village has turned into
a ghost town. The village is situated in Area C, which is under the
full security and administrative responsibility of Israel, but in
the opinion of local residents, there is a tacit agreement between
the army and the settlers. All development in the village is
blocked. Indeed, since 1992, the Israeli Civil Administration has
forbidden any construction there. The fields have become unsafe. The
settlers used to come down the hill and treat the village as if it
were their own. Local residents quote one of the settlers from
Itamar, who told them that he and he alone ruled the area. I will
remain here, he said, when the police and the press have gone.
According to residents, it was he who led the raids on the village.
And so, long before they burned the electrical generator in April
2002, the infrastructure of daily life was increasingly being
undermined. The children of Khirbet Yanun used to go to the
elementary school in Yanun a-Tahta, which is near Akrabeh. When the
raids grew worse and the road became unsafe, a small school was
opened in the village, less than two years ago. This school was
closed when the last families left the village. The walls were
closing in on the daily lives of the villagers. The nearest high
school is in Akrabeh, which has become so much more distant. So
anyone who wants his children to stay in school is compelled to
leave Yanun and move to the town. But even without this
consideration - who is going to decide to stay in a village where
settlers come and go as they please, day and night, marching on the
roofs of the houses and breaking into the homes?
On Thursday, October 17, the principal of the small school in
Khirbet Yanun bade farewell to his last students. The next day, the
last six families left town. Two days later, Ta'ayush volunteers
arrived in order to enable residents to return to their village.
Most of the residents are still there.
Khirbet Yanun sends a danger signal that should not be disregarded:
Tens of thousands of people are liable to become displaced persons
and refugees. In addition, Israeli "security sources" repeatedly
leak reports that in time of war or escalation of the conflict, the
Sharon government may try to displace many others, on an organized
basis. The pain of displacement will not be soothed by time. For
years to come, Israeli society will have to contend with the violent
cost of this displacement, which is added to previous rounds of it.
Yanun is a warning sign not only to Israelis but also to
Palestinians. The danger of transfer is tangible. In order to
eliminate it, there is a need for serious work in the field and a
strengthening of the local economy. First and foremost, there should
be a focus on rejuvenating the social fabric and strengthening the
internal solidarity within Palestinian society. Without these, a new
wave of refugees is liable to be added to the old camps or join
existing urban centers.
The foundation that is required for tsumud (the stubborn clinging to
the land, the determination to hold on in spite of the occupation)
will not be found in symbolic actions, in focusing on international
public opinion at the expense of dealing with the distress at home,
or in armed demonstrations of power. In order to contend with the
creeping process of transfer, Palestinian society must enlist its
human resources in order to struggle over every meter of land and
every goat. Will this effort find loyal Israeli allies in the civil
struggle against dispossession?
Ta'ayush volunteers came to Khirbet Yanun for two weeks to fend for
the residents, to facilitate their return home and to roust public
opinion out of its state of apathy. Fifteen families have returned
to their homes, albeit hesitantly and fearfully, and their return is
During our stay here, the army has been compelled to demonstrate its
presence. But past experience teaches the residents that despite
their calls for help, the maltreatment will not end. During our stay
here, the Itamar settlers succeeded in swooping down on the village
and severely beating two residents and four volunteers. None of the
rioters was arrested. A sign of things to come.
Our presence in Khirbet Yanun was temporary. It is impossible and it
is wrong for the presence of Israeli citizens to be the only
guarantee to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian
village. Unless people in Israel stand up to the injustice and
support the people of the village, they will remain at the mercy of
the settlers. When will the next attack come? Will it be after the
residents leave? Will they blow up the houses of the village? Or
move into the houses? And where will they stop?
The sights from three weeks ago remain with us. On the moonlit night
when we arrived in Yanun, we walked through the abandoned Arab
village. The residents had time to prepare themselves, to take their
belongings, gather light fixtures and pull out the electrical
wiring. There wasn't even the sound of a single dog barking in the
village. Still, wherever you turn, you see open homes, broken-down
doors, yawning black voids. And on the surrounding hillsides, the
watchtowers of the settlers of Itamar. More or less, this is how the
Palestinian villages looked after 1948. Fifty-odd years later, we
are here again, Israelis and Palestinians, captives of a history
whose bitter lessons we have forgotten.
The writers are members of the Ta'ayush - Arab Jewish Partnership
By Gadi Algazi and Azmi BdeirBy Gadi Algazi and Azmi Bdeir
NEWS AND VIEWS DISTRIBUTED HERE ARE THE AUTHOR'S RESPONSIBILITY
AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE OPINION OF WORLD VIEW