By EA Hannah
Risek is a farmer living in a town in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Risek used to walk from his house to his land. It would take just over an hour through beautiful countryside. The land is within the Wadi Qana Valley and in 1982 the Israeli government labelled it as a nature reserve. Because of this label Risek finds many restrictions on what he is allowed to do with his own land. Risek is allowed to grow crops such as wheat or barley, but he is not allowed to plant trees such as olive or lemon without the permission of the Israeli government. This permission can often take a long time to obtain, and isn’t necessarily granted in the season when it is needed.
Although Risek faces these restrictions, within this period the Israeli government has been building settlements in the Wadi Qana Valley – towns and villages that are usually located on the tops of the hills, where only Israeli citizens are allowed to live. These settlements are illegal under international law. They are surrounded by a wall that Risek cannot pass, so he can no longer walk his old route to reach his land. The walk would now take most of the day, and Risek does not own a car, so has to hire a taxi if he wishes to get to the land.
Risek’s family owned a small house on another villager’s land in the Wadi Qana Valley. It was built during the Jordanian rule of Palestine (1948-1967). In September 2017 Risek renovated the house in order to be able to sleep there, making it easier to work on his nearby land. However on 12 February 2018 the house was destroyed by the Israeli army. The house had been given a Demolition Order, but when the bulldozers arrived Risek was only given a few minutes warning to gather his belongings and move out of the way. Risek had been unable to appeal the Demolition Order because the house was on another man’s land, and the landowner didn’t want to risk causing more trouble in the future.
“people feel that the existence of internationals protects them”
Within the Wadi Qana Valley Risek’s family collectively own 120 dunams of land. This land belonged to his grandfather and has been shared between the grandchildren. Much of it is now next to settlements, and accessing this land comes with a risk of attack from settlers. Risek said that if the farmers are accompanied by international visitors then the risk of attack is reduced: “people feel that the existence of internationals protects them”.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention writes; “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” All of this land is within the 1967 recognised borders of Occupied Palestinian Territories. Under Israel’s own law it is illegal to build on a nature reserve. And yet, since 1976, Israel has built nine settlements in the area, eight of which are within the nature reserve land. The total population of these settlements is 16,000 and they continue to grow. Nofim, one of the settlements, is due to have a new road built to it very soon. All of Risek’s family’s 120 dunams of land falls within an area now classified as a ‘natural extension for Nofim Settlement’, meaning soon it may also be built upon.
But all hope is not lost. In 2010 a new settlement was proposed in the area, but thanks to three years of protests the plans were scrapped and the settlement was not built. Risek believes these protests are most successful when they have the support of the international community.
Risek’s case is not an isolated incident. Read more about this issue in B’Tselem’s report Expel & Exploit: The Israeli Practice of Taking over Rural Palestinian Land.
Ask your political representatives to take action on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reminds the international community that settlements constitute “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.