A game of football

By EA Isabel, Southern West Bank.

It’s Saturday morning, a beautiful day, if a little chilly, and the view of the surrounding country from this flat-topped hill is magnificent. A battered white minibus stops a hundred yards below where we are standing and a large family group jumps out. They appear over the brow of the hill: small children helped by their mother, the men and teenagers carrying food and equipment. One of the older boys puts stones together to form a hearth and lights a fire. A kettle appears and soon tea is brewing. The little girls, all clearly dressed in their best for the outing, start to play a game down in the rocks, whispering to one another. One of the adults, meanwhile, produces a football and small boys do what small boys do everywhere and start to kick it around.

So far, so entirely ordinary.

What is uncomfortably extraordinary is that the football game has to be played near three Israeli military jeeps and their occupants: bored looking yet heavily armed young soldiers, who look as if they would rather be part of the game than shout at the children to keep their distance. When an older male family member joins in, that shouting becomes even more determined – play must not get too near the jeeps.

Children play under the watchful eyes of the soldiers

The children playing under the watchful eyes of the soldiers [Photo: EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Why take your children to play in apparent danger? Context, as always, is everything. We are not watching a family picnic but a political protest to assert land rights. The picnic is taking place on land the family owns on top of a hill at Um al Areis in the South Hebron Hills of occupied Palestine. The game of football, the lighting of the fire, the presence of the family is their way of reasserting their ownership of the land and reminding Israel, the occupying power, that most of their land is yet to be returned to them.

The family's land, showing the crops coming through

The family’s land, showing the crops coming through [Photo: EAPPI/I.Morgan]

And who is directly responsible for taking this land?

Lifting your eyes to the nearby hill provides the answer. In contrast to the scene of lively activity in front of us, there is an apparently deserted European village, farm buildings, neat alpine roofs and paved roads. Today it is completely silent – but the population (Israeli settlers permitted by the Israeli government to move into this occupied territory in direct contravention of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) have been responsible for the illegal seizure of the family’s land, harassing the family and destroying the family’s ploughing and planting.

Through sheer persistence, and protracted court action, the family has regained control of 80 dunams (a thousand square metres) of this fertile wadi; but 150 dunams on the valley sides remain unusable, seized by the settlers or illegally declared “Survey Lands” by the Israeli authorities as a means of preventing cultivation. Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that State confiscation of private property in occupied land is a serious violation of international law.

The family is joined by members of the Israeli activist organisation Ta’ayush, which supports this and other similar protests on a weekly basis. Some have been coming here for ten years, in all weathers. “This is the least we can do,” Aygel a restaurateur from Tel Aviv tells us.

i would love to call this - please can we have our ball back - but sure that's too flippant

“Can we have our ball back please?” [Photo: EAPPI/I.Morgan]

On this particular morning one of the Israelis from Tel Aviv is a film maker who takes footage of the continuing football team game. There is a strong sense that everyone representing the Israeli authorities would rather be elsewhere. The soldiers look bored, cold and a little embarrassed. The District Commanding Officer, who shows up in his official car, stands to one side, and stares off into the distance.

The dispossessed land owner – Sa’id – and his wife surely have better things to do than to transport their entire family to this remote place. Remarkably, Sa’id approaches one of the jeeps and engages members of the army in conversation. “He takes time to explain to the soldiers that this is his land and what they are doing is wrong,'” one of the activists tells us.

Sa'id explains his case

Sa’id explains his case to an Israeli soldier [Photo: EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Only the tiny footballers appear to be perfectly at ease, doubtless because they have not yet realised the importance of their game.