By EA Philippa
Umm Nasser has tended her beautiful small farm for almost 60 years. She has also raised 14 children. Now 80, she has passed the land, on the outskirts of Beitillu village near Ramallah, onto her sons. She still plays an active role in the farm, however. Welcoming our team of EAs into a shady courtyard filled with flowering trees, she settles down to pour tea and tell us what’s been going on in the area. (Her husband, who is 88, is off doing business in the village.).
Israeli settlers (who live in Israeli-only communities in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law) often hike through the valley close to her house, and sometimes attack the family. “If you asked me to explain all the problems we’ve had here with settlers and the army, I’d never finish,” she says. Over the years her house has been invaded by the army and stoned by settlers. “Now we get less bother. But they still come to swim in our water cistern. Once my husband went out to tell them not to swim in our drinking water. They beat him and left him on the ground even though he was alone, an old man. We have put a fence around the pool and they haven’t come back so far.”
When she was first married, Umm Nasser lived in the village and came out to work the land when it was needed. “In 1967 we decided to move here permanently to protect our land from the occupation. When I was young it was so much better. We could go anywhere. We were not afraid to go out, even after dark. Now all of them [Israeli military and settlers] carry guns.”
“I have eight sons and all of them have been in prison,” she tells me. This is not surprising; Military Court Watch states that 750,000–800,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained since 1967. Palestinians are tried in military courts, and over 99 per cent of cases end in conviction. “Military courts … serve as one of the central systems maintaining Israel’s control over the Palestinian people.” (B’tSelem).
She sighs and shrugs. “Inshallah we will take our freedom one day.”
We sip more tea and ask her about her recipe for success in a long marriage. “As we’ve grown old, we have loved each other more and more. We think about our life, and all we’ve gone through together, and our marriage gets stronger. And if he divorces me now to marry someone younger, no girl will take him! Or if she did, she would make him a lot of trouble.” She chuckles at the thought.
“I hope we have no more troubles from the occupation. I just want to continue this life with my husband. I hope we die together, because he won’t manage without me and I do not want to be without him. I just want to live in dignity with my husband until I die.”
Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention gives Umm Nasser the right to live in dignity, protected against the threats of Israeli settlers. “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof.”
However, as Umm Nasser has known through the course of her life, legal remedy is rare in occupied Palestine. Statistics compiled by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din in 2015 show that in over a thousand complaints filed by Palestinians against Israeli settlers for violence or property crime, 92 per cent had been closed without charge, and only 1.9 per cent resulted in conviction.
Umm Nasser will carry on though, resisting violence and injustice in her own way – by continuing to joyfully live with her family, tending her beautiful farm, for as long as God gives her.
Find out more about the two tier legal system that governs Israelis and Palestinians by visiting the website of Yesh Din .
Please write to your elected representatives and ask them to put pressure on the Israeli government to halt their expansion of illegal settlements, and to put in place effective measures to protect the Palestinian population from violence and harassment by Israeli settlers.
Read B’Tselem’s summary of the impact of the occupation in its 51st year