West Bank Farmers Ruined
- West Bank farmers face ruin after trees uprooted
JEET, WEST BANK,, 27 April 2008 (IRIN) - It was difficult for
87-year-old Jamil Khader to discover that nearly all of the 1,400
olive trees his extended family planted in February had suddenly gone
missing, having been uprooted and stolen.
"He became very ill when I told him. He was hospitalised
and was in bed for a week," his son Khalil, from the small town of
Jeet in the northern West Bank, told IRIN.
The family reckon that the trees were uprooted in March but they did
not find out about it until 16 April, when they got to the land, which
they do not do regularly because of its proximity to the nearby
Israeli settlement of Kedumim.
"We only go to work the land in coordination with the [Israeli]
military. I am afraid to go alone, as the settlers have pulled guns on
me in the past," Khalil said.
The family and aid workers blamed settlers from Kedumim for the
"There have been many violent incidents against Palestinians in that
area of the West Bank," said Emily Schaefer, a lawyer from the Israeli
rights group Yesh Din, which specialises in such cases.
"In the three years we have been operating, not a single [Israeli] was
convicted for uprooting or damaging Palestinian olive trees," she
said, noting that from her research she was doubtful anyone had ever
been brought to justice by the Israeli authorities for such crimes.
Jamil was born in Nazereth, in what is now Israel, in 1922. During the
spring of 1948, as the first Arab-Israeli war waged, his family became
"We left Nazereth with nothing at all," he said, retelling his life as
a policeman with the British during World War II, a soldier with the
Arab armies in 1948 and later as a police officer with the Jordanians
when they ruled the West Bank.
The last job gave him enough money to purchase the plot of land near
Nablus, which has become the family's most important possession. They,
like others, have become increasingly dependent on agriculture for
their livelihood as harsh restrictions on movement have cut them off
from their former jobs as labourers inside Israel.
Reliant on agriculture
"I am completely reliant on agriculture; I don't have any other work,"
said Khalil, who is also registered with UNRWA, the UN agency for
"The olive trees and the other products from the land help support my
family and my brothers and their children."
With the local economy faltering, aid agencies had stepped in and
tried to help: Of the missing trees, 1,000 had been donated by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which said Jeet and
the neighbouring villages were especially vulnerable due to their
limited land access and proximity to Israeli settlements.
"It is very disturbing to see that the farmers yet again have had
their trees uprooted. Unfortunately it proves how difficult daily life
is for these people," Helge Kvam, a spokesman for the ICRC in
Jerusalem, told IRIN.
This was, in fact, the fourth time in a decade that the village's
agriculture had been attacked. In the 1990s arsonists burnt down many
hectares of olive trees. In 2005 another wave of violence destroyed
most of the remaining trees.
In 2007 the Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights purchased and planted some
500 olive trees, hoping to improve the local economy. But over the
following four months nearly all those trees were destroyed or
uprooted and taken away.
With the ICRC donation now missing, residents feel at a loss and do
not know if it will be possible to continue counting on agriculture as
a source of livelihood, which was their fallback option.
In response to the incident, the Israeli military said it fell under
the jurisdiction of the Civil Administration which in turn asked IRIN
to contact the Israeli police. A police spokesman could only say that
as the Palestinians had filed a complaint the case would be
investigated, and suggested contacting the military.
***This item comes to you from IRIN, the humanitarian news and
analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those
BORN TO DEMOLISH
It was another of those routine tragedies that are never publicized.
At eight in the morning we at ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against
House Demolitions) received a call that the Border Police, Israeli
police and Jerusalem Municipality bulldozers were massing below the
Palestinian village of Anata, poised to begin another day of home
demolitions. We never know of demolitions ahead of time. The Israeli
authorities responsible for demolishing Palestinian homes the
municipality and the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem, the "Civil"
Administration in the West Bank and the army do not provide advanced
warning to us or, indeed, to the families themselves. Tens of
thousands of Palestinian families live with demolition orders on their
homes, some 22,000 in East Jerusalem alone, where fully a third of
Palestinian homes face demolition at any time. When we received word
of preparations for a demolition that morning, however, we knew
precisely which home would be targeted first: that of the Hamdan
family, the elderly parents, their married son and daughter-in-law
with their five children, and an unmarried son. It was a home we had
rebuilt for the second time in last summer's ICAHD work camp, when
Israeli and international peace activists joined with local
Palestinians to rebuild as an act of political resistance to the
In fact, we had been present at the original demolition two and a half
years before, a report of which, entitled "The Miserable Occupation on
a Miserable Morning," appeared on our website. At that time, 6:30 on a
very cold and rainy morning in late November, 2005, ICAHD staff,
volunteers and activists had rushed to Anata to witness, document and
resist the demolition of the Hamdan family home and subsequently of
their next door neighbor. By the time we arrived the area had already
been blocked off by the Israeli Border Police, so we had been unable
to approach the houses. We watched from afar as a bulldozer
systematically demolished the homes, leaving a pile of rubble and the
shattered families standing amidst their belongings in the freezing
rain, wondering where to go, where they would sleep that night, how to
survive without a home and any financial resources. Later that day we
learned that another five Palestinian homes had been demolished: three
in Beit Hanina, one in Isawia and another one in A-Tur. The home of
yet another family suffered an even more grotesque fate. In a
"compromise" with the court, the family is to demolish half its house
with its own hands, while the other half will be sealed while the
family attempts to obtain a building permit.
Only one small but devastating incident distinguished the Hamdan
demolition this past week from the normal routine. As Shaadi Hamdan
and I were standing in front of the home, we were accosted by a slim,
blond Border Policeman, probably of Russian origin. "I was born to
demolish Palestinian homes," he informed us mockingly, a big smile on
his face, a swagger in his movements. "I love demolishing homes. I
wake up in the morning hungry to demolish homes." With that he walked
away. I can't convey the mixture of anguish, anger, bewilderment and
resignation that crossed Shaadi's face at that moment. He simply stood
aside as his home was demolished for the second time.
I could not stand aside. Sensing that the forcible removal of the
family's possessions (or most of them) was about to cease and the
demolition begin, I seized the moment and rushed into the home,
planting myself in a corner of what had been the kitchen before the
surprised Border Police could react. The head of the police unit
rushed up to me sitting on the floor and ordered me to leave. My
conscience as an Israeli, a Jew and a human being forbids me to permit
this illegal and immoral act of demolition from taking place, I told
him. In fact, I informed him, I am placing you under citizen's arrest
for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 53), which
prohibits the demolishing of homes in occupied territories. I thereby
asked the accompanying policemen to arrest him. Sputtering, furious,
he placed plastic handcuffs on me and had me forcibly thrown out of
Lying on the ground as the bulldozer commenced its evil work, I noted
what I often see at demolitions: police and soldiers standing around
laughing among themselves, eating sandwiches, swapping the latest
sports news. Taking advantage of their being distracted from the
demolition itself, I suddenly sprang up and made a run for the
bulldozer. The police chased me and wrestled me to the ground. Furious
at this additional challenge to his authority, the policeman in charge
had me put in tight metal handcuffs and, since I refused to walk,
dragged down the mountainside to an awaiting paddy wagon.
Nothing, of course, happened to me, besides a few bruises. The Border
Policeman "born to demolish" paraded around me repeating his delight
at the day's events, all of which ICAHD activists recorded on film.
But we Israeli Jews enjoy a privileged position. We know the police or
soldiers will not shoot us, will not beat us, will not detain us for
long, and so we exploit that privilege in ways that Palestinians
can't. Shaadi would have been shot for doing what I did. We also know
another sad fact: that unless an Israeli like me performs such a
dramatic act, no one will notice the demolitions that take place
almost daily in Jerusalem, the West Bank and, yes, Gaza. The news
spread quickly throughout the world. I was interviewed that day, my
hands still in handcuffs, by radio stations from South Africa to
Norway. I tried, of course, to put my action in context, to stress
that my experience paled next to the crime that had been perpetrated
upon the Hamdan family by the Israeli authorities. But I knew the
truth: only the arrest of an Israeli makes the news; Palestinian
suffering, as their very claim for justice, is ignored. Still,
resistance is necessary.
The Hamdan family is now in serious debt and without a home of their
own. The three family units have been scattered amongst their
relatives. We have offered to rebuild the home, but Shaadi says he has
no more stomach for the unending cycle of building and demolishing. He
doesn't see the point of it, neither as an act of political resistance
about which no one seems to care nor as a solution to his personal
problems. Unable or unwilling to leave the country, which is what
Israel's policy of house demolitions is all about, he will sink into
the woodwork, managing to survive out of sight as do millions of other
Palestinians. Overwhelmed by the scope of demolitions, it is unlikely
we will stay in close touch with him as well. With 18,000 homes
demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and thousands more
targeted, we will do our best to resist those demolitions we can
reach. We have rebuilt about 150 homes in the past eleven years, a
drop in the bucket in terms of those needing to be rebuilt but
significant in terms of acts of political resistance. Shaadi might not
see it, and the Palestinian Authority does not pursue it, but ICAHD
has succeeded in raising the issue of house demolitions among both
governments and civil society in countries around the world. Ending
house demolitions is in the first phase of the all-but-defunct Road Map.
Still, the demolition of the Hamdan home reminds us that Israel
continues to strengthen and expand its Occupation daily, through the
demolition of Palestinian homes, the expropriation of their land,
massive settlement construction, the building of a massive highway
system that separates Israeli from Palestinian traffic, the continued
construction of the Wall and in a hundred other ways that escape
public attention all in violation of the so-called Road Map to which
the US and Europe claim to be so committed. Our struggles against the
Occupation must continue, of course, even if no solution is apparent.
Many of us in the critical Israeli peace movement believe that the
two-state solution has been eliminated by Israel's settlement policies
(unless we accept the notion of a Palestinian Bantustan, which we do
not), but we doubt that a one-state solution will garner the support
needed to become a practical program. Many Palestinians like Shaadi
feel isolated and even defeated; they persevere, but are in desperate
need of international support and protection until a solution or the
will to impose a solution emerges. We must redouble our opposition
to the Occupation in order to show Shaadi that, in fact, rebuilding
his home is part of an effective political movement that will achieve
Palestinian national rights and a just peace. We can begin with a
minimalist demand that Rice, Blair, Ban and the other international
decision-makers should have insisted upon years ago: that Israel end
the demolishing of Palestinian homes NOW.
(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <jeff @ icahd.org
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