By returned EA Carole. Carole recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine
“Our village was friendly to the settlers….” Loay Khlaif, deputy mayor
Nabi Elyas – literally ‘the prophet Elias’ – is situated on an ancient site of cisterns and graves in the northern West Bank. Elias, or Elijah, is a prophet revered by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Until recently Nabi Elyas was known as a shoppers’ paradise, where bargain hunters, from the settlements or Israel came to shop and even find cheap dental treatment. Businesses enjoyed a brisk trade, putting Hebrew signs on their shops and priding themselves on the friendly reception they gave their visitors.
Now, though, the separation barrier and Israeli settlements (like Alfei Menashe and Tzofim, in red on the map below) have spread into Area C (West Bank land entirely administered by Israel). The nearby city of Qalqilya and surrounding villages like Nabi Elyas have been squeezed and land appropriated. Realistic planning for a growing population has become impossible. Settlers express fear of the villagers and are protecting themselves with barriers and a new road, which will be accessed from Route 55.
A map of the area around Nabi Elyas. [Photo: UNOCHA/May 2017]
The new road has created a large seam zone and divided farmers’ lands. It now takes two hours for some of the farmers to reach work. There is a small foot tunnel about halfway along it but this is inaccessible to any transport, as is the checkpoint in Qalqilya. This means that crops can’t be taken back to the village to be processed and sold. Farmers with sheep and goats can’t access their land for grazing. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli military authorities have been petitioned for an agricultural gate, but nothing has happened so far.
The villagers took a case to the Israeli Supreme Court but were told there wasn’t enough documentation to prove ownership of the land. One farmer lost almost all of his land and another 40 people either lost part of their land or had their farms divided by the road.
While the new road was under construction, Palestinian pipe lines and electricity cables were cut. The road was constructed very quickly but the damage has not been fixed. This damage violates Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva convention, which states that “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”. More land has been taken for two large roundabouts at either end of the stretch around Nabi Elyas.
Loay Khlaif, deputy mayor and Palestinian government official, knows the village well and has campaigned for it for years. Permission to take the land probably wasn’t sought, he thinks, because the Israelis didn’t want to specify an exact amount of land. No compensation has been offered. The Palestinians have been told they can use the road but, in practice, such roads are often closed to Palestinians because of alleged security risks.
Offers of help
The PA has undertaken to repair water and irrigation pipes, and electricity cables. It has replanted uprooted olive trees. Media interest in the new road, and the cost to Nabi Elyas, has almost disappeared, to the disappointment of locals who have lost land and trade, and now struggle to pay their rates.
International organisations such as Agricultural Relief (Spain) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have made offers and drawn up proposals but so far nothing has materialised.
At the last meeting with the village, which took place on 18 August, the FAO offered a road, the reinstatement of agricultural land, a water tank, a network of irrigation pipes and 150 new plants for the farmers.
Meanwhile the villagers fear that more farmers will leave their land. Some have already gone.
From the roof of the municipality building. [Photo: EAPPI /Carole]
Ensure that your local MP or TD is aware of the situation in Nabi Elyas.
Follow developments in the national press and search for related items online.
Lobby local groups.