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PEACE, OR PIECE BY PIECE?

My team and I report on human rights abuses for three months. We live in the ancient village of Yanoun, but also work in surrounding villages and in the Jordan Valley, all in the West Bank in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Today my breakfast consisted of grapes that we received from a Palestinian shepherd as we passed him and his flock of sheep earlier this morning plus some pomegranate seeds, raisins and almonds.

We do daily walks to monitor the roads of Yanoun. This is a pleasant task, especially now that it is no longer so sweltering hot. With our binoculars we search the hills for anything out of the ordinary such as new (illegal) structures or the presence of (often armed) Israeli settlers.

The sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and the olive, fig, almond and pomegranate trees stand by as we watch over the farming community. We, in turn, are watched from another hill by members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) – who should ensure peace on both sides, but often collaborate with Israeli settlers.

Providing a protective presence to the Palestinian people is one of our main priorities.  Local farmers lived and worked here since the eighteenth century but today there are only 75 inhabitants left after Yanoun was nearly wiped off the face of the map in 2002. Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced everybody from their homes. According to Mayor Rashed Murrar “They came with dogs and guns, every Saturday night. They beat men in front of their children. One Saturday they said that they didn’t want to see anyone here next Saturday … the whole village left that week.”

Some families returned but only after intense international media focused on their plight and with the assistance of an Israeli peace group, Ta’ayush.  Since 2003 EAPPI members have provided a protective presence to the villagers.

However, Israeli inhabitants from the nearby Itamar settlement still harass the town. Six months ago, on the 5th of March, they polluted the water well (the only source of water for the inhabitants).

A month later, on the 27th of April they invaded the village with dogs. During the night, on the 2nd of July, settlers together with over 30 armed IDF soldiers launched a full incursion into the village to search, allegedly, for stolen sheep (which was never found, the crime never proved, the harassment never interrogated). Last month, on the 7th of August, when confronted by the EAPPI team, the armed settlers and soldiers claimed to be carrying out “research” at the Palestinian water well.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967. All settlements are in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Peace talks came to a standstill a year ago precisely due to Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements. Between the start of the peace talks and now, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled – they now number just over half a million people, living in 121 settlements, at approximately 100 outposts and they control more than 42 percent of the West Bank.

The settlers gradually, piece by piece, confiscate land in the West Bank and cultivate it with water at Israeli State subsidized rates. All this while Palestinian houses, roads, wells and clinics are demolished and they themselves are denied building permits and free access to roads, churches, mosques, hospitals and schools.

Many of the Israeli settlers come from different parts of the world and have no immediate genetic affiliation with the land.  Yet they claim: “This is the land of our fathers and grandfathersThis is the land of Israel” – these are slogans on posters placed by Israelis on the main road between Hebron and Jerusalem, in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since my arrival in the West Bank two weeks ago, I have witnessed many forms of humiliation and oppression. In fact, on my third day here, I attended the funeral of a young Palestinian man who was shot in a nearby village after Israeli settlers damaged the olive groves for a third time in three weeks, during prayer-time on Friday.

I write this as I sit outside the community center with the mayor of the village.  We are waiting for a delegation from Ramallah to discuss the construction of a road on Palestinian soil that settlers began work on early this morning. He has already contacted the Palestinian District Co-ordination Office but they in turn need to ask the Israeli authorities to intervene.  There was no response from the Israeli authorities. “Maybe the Red Cross would help,” the mayor said, “maybe.”

We both watch the settlers and their tractors work on their new road that snakes downhill. We need no binoculars to do so, they are so close. I do not know what to say to the mayor.  I am thinking of the shepherd who gave us grapes, the women from whom we buy almonds, yoghurt, cheese and eggs, the children who play in front of our house at night.

Tonight we shall sleep under the bright security spotlights that light up the houses and gravel roads. I do not sleep well here.

(as published in the Sunday Independent of 2 October, 2011 by Marthie Momberg)

UPDATE: ISRAELI SOLDIERS AND SETTLERS HARASS UNARMED FARMERS

On Saturday, 7 July 2012 at approximately 3:00PM (GMT+2) Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Itamar approached three Palestinian farmers in Yanoun who were harvesting their wheat and grazing their sheep. The settlers were armed with knives and killed three of the farmers’ sheep.

A clash then ensued, in which the settlers and farmers began throwing stones at one-another. When EAs arrived to the scene, three fires were ablaze in the fields, but it was unknown whether the flames were intentionally lit by the settlers or were started by teargas canisters that the Israeli military fired at the farmers. Nonetheless, two wheat fields and one olive grove were burnt, and when other Palestinian farmers arrived at the scene to turn out the flames, Israeli soldiers and police prevented them from reaching the fields by firing more teargas at them.

In total six Palestinians were injured, and five were hospitalized:

  • Jawdat Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten and stabbed multiple times by settlers, then shot in the face and foot by Israeli soldiers. He was then handcuffed by Israeli soldiers and attacked again by the settlers while the soldiers pursued other Palestinian farmers. After being attacked, the military did not allow a present ambulance take him to a hospital or care for him for approximately 3-hours.
  • Ibrahim Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by a soldier on his head with the butt-stock of an M16 rifle, causing damage to his eye, and was later beaten by settlers while handcuffed.
  • Hakimun Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was shot in the arm at close range by a soldier.
  • Adwan Bani Jaber (Hospitalized): was beaten by settlers with clubs.
  • Ashraf Bani Jaber: was beaten by a soldier with a club.
  • Jawdat Ibrahim (Hospitalized): was handcuffed, beaten by Israeli soldiers and then released for the settlers to attack as they watched. He was then tied up by the settlers and left on his land; he was found the next morning (Sunday, 8 July 2012).

Rashid, Mayor of Yanoun and long-time EAPPI local contact (pictured above), expressed fear that settlers initiated the clash to enforce new invisible boundaries, which would de facto confiscate much of the area’s wheat fields to the Itamar Settlement.

What the International Humanitarian Law says:

The International Court of Justice has stated that the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War applies to the occupied Palestinian territory.

All Israeli settlements are illegal according to Article 49 the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Thus, according to International Humanitarian Law, Israel has the duty as an occupying power to protect Palestinians from settler attacks.

Report from Rabbis for Human Rights on the settler attack.

READ MORE: Why this village needs constant protection

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Yanoun: peace and quiet?

Lower Yanoun (Area B, thus under Palestinian administration and under Israeli security)

Yanoun means “peace and quiet”.  It is easy to believe this when one’s eyes follow the contours of the  landscape.  But the hilltops are dotted with settlement outposts.  All movements in this ancient village are watched from the illegal Israeli settlement Itamar and its outposts.

The illegal Israeli settlement, Itamar

The village is situated in the hills south-east of the city of Nablus.  Ancient ruins in this town is considered by Biblical scholars to occupy the site of the ancient town of Janohah which belonged to the Tribe of Ephraim.

It is one of the smallest surviving villages in the occupied Palestinian territories after it was nearly wiped off the face of the map in 2002 when Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced the men, women and children from their homes. Mayor Rashed Murrar remembers the events of 2002:

They came with dogs and guns, every Saturday at night. They beat men in front of their children. One Saturday they said that they didn’t want to see anyone here next Saturday and that we should move to Aqraba. The whole village left that week.

The families returned to Yanoun following intense international media interest and with help from an Israeli peace group called Ta’ayush. (Living with Settlers, Thomas Mandal, 2006).

The International House (my home) in upper Yanoun (Area C, thus under full Israeli occupation and control)

Since 2003, at the invitation of the village mayor, there has been an international protective presence in Yanoun provided by the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

Friday 23/9: Patrolling the road between upper Yanoun (Area C) and lower Yanoun (Area B)

The EAPPI presence has created some breathing space for the villagers of Yanoun and the level of settler of violence has reduced in recent years. Nevertheless, the underlying problems of lack of development due to being in Area C and the constant illegal confiscation of their land (and therefore their livelihood) remain massive challenges for the villagers.

The Yanoun farmers and their families still face regular intimidation and harassment from armed groups of settlers from Itamar settlement.

Hundreds of acres of land belonging to the villagers have been gradually stolen by the settlers – the villagers now  to grazing their sheep on the last remaining few acres of land in the valley. The hilltops and fields beyond are off-limits to the Palestinian farmers. If they attempt to reach their land they risk being shot on sight. Meanwhile, the Israeli settlers, supported by the Israeli government and army, construct agricultural facilities, houses, roads, and infrastructure to connect their illegal settlements and outposts, making a two-state solution an impossibility.

Late afternoon, herding the animals home.

The road to Nablus, reserved for (illegal) settlers only. Townsfolk from Yanoun use a different route which takes more than double the time it used to.

For a follow-up on an incident in July 2013 with armed Israeli settlers,
click here.