By EA John, Northern West Bank
On a clear day the Mediterranean can be seen from the West Bank village of Shufa, some 12km beyond the ‘Green Line’ – the de facto border between Israel and the occupied Palestine.
Traditionally a subsistence grazing community, new livelihoods have developed over the years, but where they can, shepherds still traverse the rolling terrain. Indeed, as we arrive in the village and approach Abu Omar’s house, to the right we see his sheep safely secured in their pen.
We are served tea and freshly baked bread as Abu Omar begins to tell of the day this community began to change. He opens a bundle of papers and maps and traces the historic village boundaries as he speaks of the day in 1987 when without notice four caravans appeared on one of the village’s hillsides.
Occupied by settlers, the Israeli settlement of Avnei Hefetz was established and began to rapidly expand. Settlements within occupied Palestine are unlawful according to international law, confirmed most recently by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 on 23rd December 2016.
In January 2017, the Israeli Prime Minister confirmed permission for a further expansion of thousands of housing units in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem.
Today Avnei Hefetz , it’s settler-only road and adjoining military base is built on land covering more than 3,500 dunams in area (about 3.5 km²), all of which belonged to Shufa and the neighbouring village of Kafr el Labad.
Between 1997 and 2013, Avenei Hefetz’s population more than tripled to over 1,600 and further clearance of the surrounding land confirms the reported plans for 1,000 residential units.
Abu Omar has invited us here to talk specifically of last week’s visit by the army to the village.
He introduces us to a young man who has been building a house for his grandfather. Much work has been undertaken, proceeding as monies earned financed the next step. But last week the military turned up in Shufa, delivering a ‘stop work’ order. The order requires the immediate cessation of building, pending a formal application to court for a permit failing which a demolition order will attach to the structure.
But Shufa lies in Area C (falling under Israeli civil and military control, following the Oslo Accords that were intended to provide an interim framework pending final status negotiations). Permits in Area C are required to build, but the process is expensive and long. Moreover, the chance of obtaining such a permit is near impossible, as independently documented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
So natural family growth and the need to maintain livelihoods puts Palestinian families in a near impossible position. A few hundred metres away another man has received a similar notice– one of eight served this week in Shufa – and relating to his business .
He has just purchased a recently completed a concrete base. It lies alongside a working chicken shed and he wished to develop a similar livelihood, spending a substantial sum of money buying the base from a friend and neighbour. But his work too must now stop.
We are taken to another house and up onto the rooftop of a family home in progress. Abu Omar translates as the young man tells his story before he received a stop notice last week. He has saved, then built. Saved and then built some more. But it is all uncertain now.
Abu Omar then leads us some 100 yards across an olive grove. He points outs a bulldozer crawling up and down a hillside adjacent to Avnei Hefetz. He explains the heavy work being undertaken – the carving of roads that will serve the new units soon to be added to the expanding settlement.
“We are the owners of the land but we cannot build!” exclaims Abu Omar. Said with real feeling, the urgency in the voice of this mild-mannered man is striking.
As striking as the glaring contrast between the supported expansion of the settlement of Avnei Hefetz and the broken plans and stifled visions of Shufa’s new generations.
Within eyesight of an ancient community. And in view of Resolution 2334, in plain sight of the world.
Find your UK MP and email them easily through this website: www.theyworkforyou.com to:
- Ask them to attend the debate in the UK Parliament tomorrow (Thursday 09 February) on Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine.
- Ask them to ask the Foreign Secretary what the UK government is doing to end trade with settlements