Sitting in one of the houses of Jeb al Theeb, a small village south of Bethlehem, a Palestinian woman describes the living conditions. She is a teacher but in the darkness it is difficult to determine her age. Her home, just as the entire village, is without electricity. The only light that arrives comes from the mega-illumination of the adjacent settlements of El David, Nokdim, and Sde bar.
Can you tell us more about life here in the village?
Jeb al Theeb is a simple Palestinian village inhabited by 150 people, most of whom are young. We don’t have many older people here. The village lacks all types of basic infrastructure and the only roads are unsuitable for cars, forcing the people to travel on foot. There is no school, the children must walk a long way to the nearest one, even in winter with the rains. We no longer have access to our land, shepherds cannot graze their sheep in the pastures and children cannot play in the fields. We have no electricity and therefore cannot use computers or television. The children are unable to study after school, and, as you can see, at 5pm it is already dark. Studying by candlelight creates problems with their eyesight.
We’re staying in a house nearby and we have electricity, as do other homes in the area. Why don’t you have it here?
The houses a little further away from the settlements are supplied with electricity simply because they do not represent a direct threat. Our village, on the other hand, is located right next to the Israeli settlements, whose strategy is clearly to deny us electricity as well as other basic necessities.
In addition to electricity, what other basic necessities are you denied?
They often shut off the water and also damage the pipes, which creates many difficulties for us. Water is already scarce here, then we are forced to ration what little we have stored in tanks.
Who do you call when there are problems with the water?
We are located in Area C, so we have no choice but to call the Israelis. They come but they do nothing, nothing ever changes. We have no faith in the Israeli authorities.
In recent months there has been much talk of construction and expansion of the settlements. Are you allowed to build?
Absolutely not. In addition to not being allowed to build or even complete work already begun, houses are demolished by the Israeli authorities. My brother’s house was destroyed.
The other day we saw a settler in a pickup truck enter the village. Do they come here often?
It is as if they live here. They do what they want, when they want.
Do they come to intimidate you? To scare you? To provoke you?
They come for all these reasons. Just the other day, as I walked to work early in the morning, I saw a settler turn a hundred of his goats on the olive trees belonging to a man near the village. The day before, that same man had defended his right to access his lands. The goats damaged both the trees and the olives.
We’ve noticed that the settler are armed. Do they ever attack people in the village?
Unfortunately, yes. One of the most serious cases was that of this elderly man beside me who was beaten with a stick and hit with stones for nothing more than attempting to graze his sheep on his land. As you can see, he suffered a deep wound to the head. He received no immediate treatment due to the isolation of the village. It was only later that he was taken to the hospital in Ramallah where he underwent surgery. Fortunately, he recovered fully.
Was the settler who attacked him prosecuted?
We called the Israeli authorities. They came and wrote a report of the incident, but they did not take any action. It is clear that there is collaboration between the settlers and the Israeli forces.
When was it that your village began to have problems?
More or less 15 years ago when they started to build settlements. As a child I remember playing in the fields, there were flowers in the spring.
How exactly were you informed that you could no longer access your land?
They came to us presenting an official government document, according to which, from that moment on, we were not allowed to enter our lands. The same document gave the settlers the right to shoot anyone who tried. They communicated this to us in person.
Who brought you the document? The IDF soldiers?
The Israeli civil authorities?
No, it was the settlers themselves. As you know, they receive orders from above. The government also provides them with a series of incentives that help them economically. They have sheep, tractors, horses and camels, they have everything.
Now that you can no longer access your land, what is its current status?
I think the settlers go there to take our olives. They certainly take their sheep there to graze, and they eat the leaves and the olives off the trees.
What is that large metal building we see a few hundred meters from here?
It is a plant producing fertilizer that was built two years ago. As you may have noticed it also produces a horrible smell not to mention the fumes coming from its smokestacks. We shut the windows and doors to our houses but the smoke still gets in. Furthermore, it is dealing with chemical substances that cause serious health problems, especially for our children.
Do you think is was located here on purpose?
Maybe. One thing is certain, they don’t not care about us. They just want us to leave and will be happy when we do so.
And have people left the village?
As you can see, there are many houses that have been abandoned by their owners who were tired of the continual harassment and hardships they endured. Life here is impossible. How can it be that in the 21st century we are forced to live without electricity? We don’t have internet, we cannot send email, children cannot watch cartoons on TV.
But I’m not leaving. I could certainly have a more comfortable life elsewhere, but this is where my family is, this is my land. I remain also to keep hope alive.
I am strong. We resist.
Interview by the volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project
Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International – Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers provide international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat from the nearby illegal settlements and settlers.