Fahime wept as she showed us round her land. Unlike in Britain or IreIand, in the West Bank, farmers live in the villages with their farmland at a little distance surrounding the village and we had driven to the farm after a delicious lunch of flat onion bread with almonds, olives and salad. Fahime and her husband Abu Zudhi both come from families which owned considerable land round the village of Azzun Atme. For three generations, Fahime and Abu Zudhi’s families have grown substantial amounts of citrus fruit, peaches, apricots, grapes and olives on this land.
Ten years ago, 13 dunams (13,000 square metres) of this land was confiscated to build the settlement of Oranit. Though this land is situated well within the West Bank, the settlement is exclusively for Jewish Israelis. When the settlement was being constructed, Fahime and her husband were promised a gate in the perimeter fence so that they could access their olive groves on the far side of the settlement especially during the olive harvest. It has not been forthcoming.
They had received very little warning that more of their land was about to be taken. Even then, until very recently they had held out the hope that the separation barrier would be a fence in which it is easier to put a gate and that they might still get access to their land on the settlement side. However this was not to be.
Fahime became so distressed I tried to stop her continuing but she was determined to show us everything. She took us to see the wall. It rises as towering slabs of raw concrete cutting right across her land. The olive trees growing beside it have been cut down to a height of about a metre. They are beginning to sprout but it will be some time before they bear fruit again. At the moment there is a pause in building work, so you can walk round the end of the wall. On the side facing the settlement the wall has been textured to resemble bricks and is painted to soften the outline. The contrast is stark.
Further up the hill, in the part which will soon disappear behind the wall, Fahime pointed out the ruins of their house where the family used to rest during long hours in the fields. Here was the site of a small stable for their donkey; here where she had her taboon – the outside oven where she baked her bread. You can still see the outlines on the ground but that is all. It was demolished by the contractors and the stones broken up to form the foundation of the road which will run along the settlement side of the wall. Further up the hill, there is a tangle of broken water pipes. They are all that remain of a comprehensive system of water tanks and irrigation pipes, bulldozed through when they were clearing a route for the wall and the road. Fahime began to weep again as she saw her dying trees.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in about 133 settlements, in addition to 100 outposts built without official authorisation. About a third of the land within the settlements is privately owned Palestinian land. They are all illegal under international law.
Politicians speak of settlement building in the West Bank. It is a political bargaining tool at diplomatic level. This is what it looks like on the ground. It is not the fault of individual settlers. This is government policy. There are plenty of places where communities such as this might be developed within Israel. The government has decided to develop and consolidate here. When the new houses are built and people begin to move in, like all communities, there will be a mix of loveable and unlovable people. I have no doubt that most of them will honour their fathers and mothers, raise their children to be kind and honest citizens and that were I to turn up at their houses during one of the festivals which are currently taking place they would extend to me that renowned Jewish hospitality. But I wonder how many of them will pause to think about how the land on which their homes are built was acquired or wonder about who lives on the other side of the wall.
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt firstname.lastname@example.org for permission. Thank you.