GREENWOOD: Fight for survival in the West Bank October 31, 2009

The Jaber family says clashes with the Israeli authorities are a regular occurrence

by Phoebe Greenwood  -  Aljazeera -  31 October 2009

A major new road joining Jerusalem to Israeli settlements in Hebron bisects land owned by the Jaber family.

They have farmed these fields for 300 years. They once owned 60 dunums (60,000 square metres) but now have four (4,000 square metres) – the rest has been confiscated by Israeli settlers. The Jabers fight to farm on the land they have left.

As his family clashes with workers from Israel’s water authority, employed to rip up the irrigation systems for their tomato plants, and the Israeli soldiers protecting them, Yosri Jaber, a school teacher, explains: “These clashes with the Israeli authorities are a regular thing; they happen every two to three months or so.

“The Israelis don’t allow us to water our plants. We pay them four shekels ($1) for every cubic metre of water.

“We have a water regulator, which we share with the eight other houses to irrigate our plants and get water to our homes. We’ve paid for it but we can’t use it.”

Palestinians in many areas of the West Bank are not allowed to irrigate their land. Nor are they allowed electricity, to build water cisterns, or indeed, any new structures without a permit from the Israeli authorities.

Crops destroyed

These permits are difficult to come by. According to the Jabers, the Jewish settlers living on what was once their land get water for free; they don’t need a permit to irrigate their crops.

Yosri says: ‘the Israelis don’t allow us
to water our plants’

During the clash on the tomato field, Jaber’s 47-year-old sister-in-law, an asthmatic, is pushed roughly to the ground by one of the men she was trying to prevent from tearing up her field.

Her eight year-old daughter Lara is in tears as she watches her being stretchered away by paramedics through a still volatile crowd, many of whom are pushing, shouting and throwing mud.

The Israeli labourers not involved in the altercation continue their work, ripping up water pipes and destroying them immediately.

Jaber says: “We have 25 kids living in our household; they witness this violence every day. This is the tragedy we suffer.”

Water supplies

Hebron, on the south eastern slopes of Palestine, near the border with Jordan, holds one of the largest underground water supplies in the West Bank.

According to new research published by Save the Children this week, Palestinian families living in high risk areas such as this are poorer, less protected and more vulnerable than anywhere else in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The numbers of Palestinians forced from their homes by Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is on the rise, says the UK charity.

At least half of those living in what the United Nations identifies as “high risk” areas who spoke to the organisation said they have been forced from their homes at least once since 2000, the last major period of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

In the West Bank, most demolished homes are cleared to make way for the Separation Wall that Israel is building to divide Israeli and Palestinian land.

Or the properties are destroyed for “administrative reasons”, such as not holding the correct Israeli permits.

Aside from these demolitions, lack of access to basics like water, sanitation and food is forcing vulnerable families from their homes in ever great numbers.

Accusations denied

Mark Regev, spokesperson for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, denies any further Palestinian homes are under threat from settlement expansion.

The Jaber’s irrigation system was removed under the watch of Israeli troops

He says: “Israel is not building new settlements in the West Bank nor is it expanding existing settlements. There is no more expropriation of land for settlements and we have got rid of all illegal settlement buildings.

“We are aware of pirate activity by settlers in the West Bank and Israel is tackling illegal settlement activity by taking down any illegal settlement constructions.

“Those who break the law will face the full wrath of the law. There are dozens of cases of settlers in the courts currently who are being held to account for their illegal activity.”

Regev could not explain why the Jaber’s irrigation system was being removed under the watch of Israeli troops.

Atta Jaber, Lara’s father, speaks about the difficulties his family face with barely contained fury.

He says: “The Israelis have demolished my home twice. We want peace but they need to stop building settlements on our land and stealing our property.

“I studied hotel management and speak five languages. I worked in a hotel in Israel for eight years but was stopped from working in Israel by the authorities. Now all I have to live off is our land, which I cultivate with my children.

“We aren’t able to reach the market because of the Israeli restrictions on our movement so we sell our tomatoes right here by the side of the road. We have waited all year to harvest these tomatoes. This is how we support ourselves.”

‘Children traumatised’

Under international law, it is illegal for an occupying power to change the demographic situation of the territory they have occupied and yet Israeli settlers continue to arrive in the West Bank.

Their settlements have contributed to the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinian families.

Salam Kanaan, Save the Children’s country director in the occupied Palestinian territory, says: “Without a secure future, the lives of Palestinian children living in high risk areas like Hebron are blighted.

“Constant fear of upheaval, combined with a daily struggle for basics like food and water has left children depressed and traumatised. These children are in urgent need of help and protection.”

Atta says his family is harassed everyday by settlers

Atta Jaber claims his family suffer daily harassment from the nearby settlers, he says: “They threaten my children all the time. They ride up on their horses every night and circle our home, threatening us.”

The Jaber family insist they have reported this abuse to the Israeli police but see no change in the settlers’ behaviour.

They have filed a legal case against the confiscation of their land, which has now reached the High Court, but have little hope it will be successful.

The High Court Judge in charge of their case, they claim, is a settler.

“What kind of life is this? No nation, no people can live like this. They want us to leave our land but whatever they do, we will never leave.

“Today’s events will repeat themselves, as they do every day in the West Bank. We just have to survive, one way or another.”

Phoebe Greenwood works for Save the Children UK, a global children’s charity.

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