By EA Philippa.
Yara* is sitting in the November sunshine outside her house, sorting beans. Some are for the chickens, some for planting, and some will be bought by a restaurant in the nearby town. I settle down for a chat over a cup of tea. Yara lives in a tiny village just south of the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. She is 54, with 6 children, and has lived in the village all her life, except for 2 years from 2002. Then all the villagers were forced to flee after threats from the Israeli settlers who live in an illegal settlement outpost a few yards further up the hill.
Yara is in the mood to reminisce. “The evacuation was very difficult and sad for everyone. We went to the next town to live with my husband’s family. We were very cramped and the children were unhappy. But we couldn’t stay here. My children were very small then. Every Saturday the settlers came down on horses with dogs. They would point their guns in the doorway of our house where my children were watching. They would stone the windows. Their dogs ate our chickens and they would set our sheep loose on the hill”.
The family came back home once EAs started providing a protective presence in the village; “My children still remember those days. If the [Israeli] army or settlers came, everyone was afraid. But now that has changed because they see international people coming to help… They are not afraid anymore.”
As if on cue, one of Yara’s daughters pops her head out of the door. She has seen an army jeep driving down from the settlement towards the village. I walk with another EA towards the road so that we can be seen by the soldiers. The tiny primary school is on break and the children are playing on the road – they race back to the school and the teachers head down to meet the soldiers too. Today, though, the jeep turns once halfway into the village and drives away again.
Yara and I return to our conversation. “Life here now is good – for me anyway” she says. We have had no problems with the settlers since March last year. I have my goats and sheep, chickens and bees. We still have 30 olive trees in our field – the rest are up the mountain behind the settlement. We can’t reach those ones most days because the settlers will come. But we can be free here and the village families work together to run small businesses.
“For my children life is not so good. The students who study in Nablus have to pass two checkpoints. It can take nearly 3 hours to travel 12 kilometers.
“In the future only old women and old men will stay here. All our children will be living in the town. There are no jobs here and we cannot sell our produce. We cannot build in the village [because this area is under military rule and building permits are rarely granted to Palestinians by the Israeli administration]. So our children have to move to the town when they get married.”
After our tea and chat, I leave Yara her picking through her produce, and notice her daughter’s face at the window, watching for the army’s return.