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West Bank Farmers Ruined

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    West Bank farmers face ruin after trees uprooted IRIN News
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2008
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      West Bank farmers face ruin after trees uprooted
      IRIN News

      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
      missing trees.

      "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
      Palestinian refugees.

      "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
      of Ma'an.


      Jeff Halper

      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
      the house.

      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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