By EA Lucy.
In a town in the West Bank, not far from Hebron, our team of EAs meet local Palestinian, Um Nasser, to hear about life living by a memorial, which often draws hostile visitors.
A fundamental problem in Palestine is of course land ownership and access to land and this town is no exception. Like many areas across occupied Palestine, Palestinians live here alongside Israeli settlements. Settlements are Israeli-only housing units in the West Bank. They have been built on Palestinian land and are therefore considered illegal under international law.
We’re told by locals about an incident in 2003 during the second intifada – a time of heightened tension in Palestine and Israel. Two Israeli security men working for the local settlement were clearing nearby caves. Israeli soldiers were patrolling the area and thought that the security men were Palestinians, posing a security threat. In response, they shot and killed them both.
In memory of these two Israeli security officers, a monument was built near the site of the shooting. It was erected without the consent of Palestinians who live on the land.
Now, every Friday morning at sunrise, which is 04.30 in the summer, Israeli settlers come with an armed military escort to visit this memorial. The visits can last three to four hours, sometimes overnight. They take place on the holy rest day for the local Muslim population and are a constant worry for many.
The Israeli settlers bring the threat of challenging behaviour. The impact is felt by the nearby town but especially Um Nasser and her family who live just 600 metres away. Um Nasser’s family are subsistence farmers, they have a small flock of sheep, olive trees and some arable land. Over the years, when trying to live her life and take care of her land, Um Nasser has endured psychological and physical threats and actions, vandalism to her property and abuse by the visiting settlers. The Israeli military have responded to this with impunity.
The family have asked EAPPI for protective presence, which has helped to lessen the threats and vandalism they have experienced.
The Nasser family expressed their worry that the visiting settlers will eventually establish an “outpost”. Outposts are small settlements, which are illegal under even under Israeli law, but which are increasingly being given resources and a permanent, legal status by the Israeli government.
According to Israeli NGO, Yesh Din:
“When an outpost is created, it grabs territory, which later becomes the core of the outpost. This territory often includes private Palestinian land… Every time one of them is legalized, it creates a precedent for the legalizing the next outpost, and creates incentives for Israeli civilians to seize more land.”
Nasser and her family live in fear of violence and dispossession. They and other local Palestinians here cannot access their land safely, as it is used by settlers and patrolled by the Israeli army. The issue is commonplace throughout the West Bank.
Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. They are entitled to extensive protections under the laws of war and occupation. Yet there is minimal protection for vulnerable families and farmers like the Nasser family. They live under Israeli military law, side-by-side with Israeli settlers, who have the rights and protections of civil law. As quoted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI:
“The ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems‘ report reviews the prevailing legal situation in the West Bank under Israeli rule, and explains how decades of “temporary” military rule have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between the two population groups living in the one territory – Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.”
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.