“It’s like a game for them, to see who can make our life worse the most.”

By EA Svenn.

“Ahlan wa sahlan!” Comes the familiar welcome as we meet with Abu Mahyoub on the porch of his small farm house. He greets each of us warmly and almost immediately begins handing around hot cups of thick, delicious cardamom laced coffee; perfect for taking the edge off the damp and chilly (by middle eastern standards) February morning. We’re in the midst of the rainy season and the Jordan Valley is covered in a rich verdant carpet of grasses and meadow flowers.

Abu Mahyoub on his porch. EAPPI/EA Svenn

“It’s been a good season this year?” I ask, as the conversation turns to the weather. “Yes. If only I could make use of it” comes a sullen reply from the man who minutes before was greeting us so enthusiastically. “It’s been months since I was last able to let my cows out”. Indeed, at a time when most farmers are out in the fields with their animals; Abu Mahyoub’s cows are all still in their muddy fenced enclosures beside his house. “This is not a good life for them.”

Some of Abu Mahyoub’s cows. EAPPI/EA Svenn

“Since the [Israeli] settlers and army started making trouble for us, nobody can take their animals out anymore. It’s too dangerous.”. Life has been getting progressively harder for this farming community since the construction of the illegal Israeli settlement outpost, in 2016, atop the next hill over from us. Just a few hundred meters away. “Those settlers are crazy” he explains, “they threaten us with weapons and attack our animals if they see us in the fields. Sometimes they come into the village and make trouble”.

The settlement outpost on the hillside. EAPPI/EA Svenn

“The army doesn’t help us. They just arrest us like we’re criminals” he continues. In 2017 an investigation by Yesh Din, an Israeli NGO which monitors and campaigns against human rights violations in the West Bank, found that: since 2005 only 3% of investigations of ideologically motivated crime against Palestinians (i.e. settler violence / harassment) have resulted in a conviction. What’s more, in the same report they note that between 2015 – 2016, the number of victims who were uninterested in filing a legal complaint increased from 30% to 42%. An indicator that many Palestinians are becoming increasingly skeptical of the Israeli Security Forces willingness/ability to support them (see earlier blog by EA Sophie, Violence with impunity).

“I have Tabu (ownership) papers for all of this land. Where is the justice?”. He shows us around his property, past the stacks of hay which he must purchase to feed his cows, afraid to take them out to pasture in his fields. Even the water he uses has to be bought in tankers from a nearby town, as the Israeli Authorities won’t grant him, or other Palestinians in the area a permit to connect to the nearby water main.

The haystacks, Abu Mahyoub is forced to purchase despite have acres of pasture land. EAPP/EA Svenn

Another villager, who asked to remain anonymous through fear of reprisals from the Israeli military, explained to us “I used to have 45 dunams (around 11 acres) near here for growing wheat and barley but the army keeps destroying it when they do training exercises”. Military training affects many communities in this area. The brigades often come at night and without warning, conducting exercises between the villager’s houses and in the surrounding fields. “It’s like a game for them,” he adds cynically, “to see who can make our life worse the most.” The entire area surrounding Abu Mahyoub’s house, which pre-dates Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, has been declared closed as a military firing zone. There have been 60-70 injuries and fatalities in this community and surrounding villages since 1988.

Designating Palestinian land for these purposes establishes an intimidating and potentially dangerous Israeli military presence on the ground. It is also viewed by Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem as one of a number of ways in which Israel restricts Palestinian development:

“Israel uses its control over the area to quash Palestinian planning and building… Israel has blocked Palestinian development by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks.”

Whilst Abu Mahyoub and other Palestinians in the Jordan Valley find themselves with increasingly reduced access to land and other resources, Israeli settlements continue to expand.

Back on the porch, this time with sweet sage tea, Abu Mahyoub continues “Those of us who had somewhere to go to have left. It’s like a prison here, we’re trapped like animals.” That people are being forced to leave their homes, by a situation in which the State of Israel has created, amounts to forcible transfer of a population by an occupying power, an act which is internationally recognised as a war crime.

 It is time to leave and Abu Mahyoub’s parting message rings in my ears as we drive away. “We need help from the international community. There is no other hope for us.”.

Not only is the situation these people endure a great injustice, it’s also a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. Particularly, but not exclusively, articles 13, 27, 49 & 55 of The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

Take Action!

Find out more about the use of military closures to transfer agricultural land usage from Palestinians to Israeli settlers here.

Ask your MP/TD to raise the issue of Palestinians right of Access to Land and Livelihood with the Foreign Office/DFA

Ask the UK or Irish ambassador to Israel to raise the issues of settler harassment and IDF training in, and around Palestinian communities with the Israeli Government