By EA Maria, Southern West Bank.

Farming is uncertain, but it doesn’t have to be this hard.

Farming the world over has plenty of uncertainty; weather, the health of your flock, and so much more. But there should be some certainties too.  Like being able to choose when and how you access your land, and then to be able to do so safely.

Khalid had spent most of Monday cutting his wheat by hand, putting it into about 10 manageable piles, before going back to his home in Qawawis, in the South Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank. By Tuesday morning, they’d been gathered together and burnt.  He called the Israeli authorities who are responsible for the security in “Area C” in the West Bank. They came and asked if he had any dispute with his Palestinian neighbours.  He couldn’t think of any. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) were called to see the damage and hear about the incident.

Area C was demarked in 1993 as part of the Oslo peace agreement – it is over 60% of the West Bank – typically the rural areas and many small villages.  Area C was supposed to be a temporary arrangement until other parts of the peace negotiations concluded – instead of which it remains under complete Israeli control (see the United Nations’ UNOCHA website for more information).  

17.05.16 South Hebron Hills, Susiya, harvested stack of wheat burnt, Khalid Al Najar & M Kilely Photo EAPPI M Huff (s)

Khalid showing a fellow EA the burnt stack of harvested wheat on his land in the South Hebron Hills [Photo: EAPPI/M.Huff]

This part of Khalid’s land had been taken over by a nearby “settlement”. Some years earlier, some settlers had seized the land and planted grape vines – but Khalid was able to establish his ownership through the courts and regained use of the land. Khalid returned the land to wheat farming.  This is just the latest in a whole sequence of events for Khalid. You can read a previous EA’s blog from 2014 for more of the history.

Settlements: Jewish-only communities built by Israel for its citizens on Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967. The establishment of settlements by an occupying power in occupied territory violates international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits an occupying power from transferring any part of its own civilian population into territory it occupies (see the American Friends Service Committee website for more information).   

Settlers: Israeli citizens who come to live illegally in settlements in occupied Palestinian territory (see the International Committee of the Red Cross website for more information).

In a different part of Area C, in the same week, Zaid found a settler from a “settlement outpost” had brought his own flock of sheep onto Zaid’s land at Khirbet Bir al’Idd, a hamlet in the South Hebron Hills. Zaid said the settler even watered them at Zaid’s well and mimed a gun with his hand, pointing at Zaid.  Zaid did not report this to the Israeli authorities.

Later in the week, Zaid had stones thrown at him, and then the settler came back again a few days later with more intimidation.  According to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation, only about 7% of any reports of settler violence or intimidation result in formal charges – many Palestinians do not report such incidents any more.

Outposts are settlements built without official authorisation but with support and assistance from Israeli government ministries. They often appear as a single new caravan on a hill top and develop with more houses or caravans, often getting tarmac roads, power and water supplied, and protection from the Israeli security forces.  Many of these have subsequently been recognised by Israel and given retrospective planning permission (see Israeli human rights group B’Tselem’s website for more information).

Khalid and Zaid can at least – in theory – access their land anytime they want to. Mahmood has to make a special application to the District Coordinator Officer (DCO), an Israeli official, when he wants to go to some of his land in Mantiqat Shib al Butum which is near to an outpost.  The Israeli courts can specify that access to some land has to be arranged with the DCO who will normally ask the Israeli army to come and watch over the access.  We heard of one case where the authority was granted at 10pm the night before the requested date – a very late time to rally your extended family to help with this precious and short access time.

Still there was one highlight last week. Mahmood was able to access land which had been disputed for 16 years and the Israeli army did turn up to oversee the access. And to help ensure a trouble-free day, Mahmood also requested that Ecumenical Accompaniers go with him, so we were there to see his success.

13.05.16 South Hebron Hills, Protective presence at Al Simeri near Shib al Butum, Photo EAPPI M Huff

EAs providing a protective presence on Mahmood’s land at Al Simeri near Shib al Butum [Photo: EAPPI/M.Huff]