By Eoin, an EA in the Southern West Bank.
Abu Anwar is the mayor of Kisan, a small Bedouin village to the south east of Bethlehem with about 1000 inhabitants.
“We are suffering”, he tells us.
Along with many Palestinian villages, Kisan found itself stranded in Area C after the Oslo Accords of the mid 1990s, meaning that, though designated for eventual inclusion in a Palestinian state, they remain under Israeli control. The Palestinian Authority has no power here. Since then it has seen its land squeezed as settlements have appeared and expanded into the land used by previous generations.
Israeli settlements in Palestine are considered illegal under international law but nonetheless Kisan now lies between the three growing, sizeable settlement towns of Ma’ale Amos; Ibei Hanahal and Ibei HuNahal. The establishment of Ibei HuNahal even fails to meet Israeli legal standards.
Over the years, Abu Anwar has seen his house demolished three times by Israeli authorities. Three times he has rebuilt it and it remains at threat of being demolished again and again.
Even inside, a westerly breeze carries the stench of the nearby landfill. Though this is pleasant compared to the effects of a wind blowing thick dust from the opposite direction.
Just to the east of the mayor’s house, about fifty metres away, lie approximately 600 acres of Kisan land that was confiscated a few months ago. Israeli authorities declared it be state land and it can no longer be used by the villagers.
Now this land is undermajor construction, a large factory and some residential units are being built here. The construction currently taking place on confiscated Kisan land will serve to directly connect the settlement town of Ibei HuNahal to the larger Ma’ale Amos settlement bloc. Already, Kisan villagers are reporting sightings of contractors measuring Kisan land for construction beyond even the recently confiscated 600 acres. Expansion is likely to continue yet further.
The construction poses other immediate problems When the wind blows from the east, sweeping over the factory into Kisan, it brings with it a thick white dust from stones being crushed.
“We can’t plant or even open the window with the dust from the factory”, Abu Anwar tells us.
Even in the intense heat of summer, villagers must keep their windows closed Outside,the dust covers plants and crops, depriving Kisan of the small source of income that it once had. Most worryingly, the people of Kisan breathe this dust into their lungs and serious health problems are beginning to manifest themselves.
Many communities like Kisan throughout Palestine face this widespread problem. Israel’s illegal settlements continue to expand rapidly and in doing so deprive Palestinians of more and more land, of their resources and threatening their livelihoods
For example, the vast settlement of Gush Etzion is rapidly absorbing the Palestinian land around it. Soon, another large settlement block around Ma’ale Adumim is being expanded to stretch from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. This would result in the Palestinian West Bank being split in two, severely damaging any prospects of the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
Abu Anwar is defiant but his sense of abandonment is clear.
He tells us that “we were here before Mahmoud Abbas, we were here before Israel. We are like trees here”.
Nonetheless, he admits that many families are unable to cope with the many pressures of life in this village. Furthermore, “people are scared by settler attacks, like in Duma (a reference to the recent deadly arson attack on the Palestinian Dawabsheh family by Israeli settlers that killed an 18 month old infant along with both parents)”. A large number are leaving.
Their departure makes further expansion from the nearby settlements all the easier. Villages like Kisan are on the front line, they experience the harsh effects of Israel’s ever expanding settlements. They are not only seeing prospects of achieving a viable, independent Palestine dwindle but are seeing their very way of life disappear. They are simply being squeezed out. Unless something changes, villages like Kisan may soon simply cease to exist.
You can find out more by reading the Israeli organisation Peace Now’s report on the settlement expansion policies of the Netanyahu government here.