Avigdor Lieberman’s home settlement of Nokdim.
Jeb al Theeb, a small West Bank village south of Bethlehem, is under constant threat by the illegal Israeli settlements surrounding it. The small house we called home for a month had a view of the so-called Lieberman Road, which connects Jerusalem with the settlement of Nokdim, where Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lives, and the settlement of Tekoa. Construction in these two settlements continued during the partial settlement freeze, while the Palestinians in the area, as in many other cases throughout the West Bank, were not permitted to build houses or roads allowing access to their land.
On our first day in Jeb al Theeb as part of an Italian civilian peace intervention project during the olive harvest things were already hot.
Four of us were accompanying two of the village farmers to their olive trees, when before even reaching their land we were stopped by two armed settlers who immediately called for reinforcements. Within minutes two jeeps with IDF soldiers as well as border police arrived, which then grew to be roughly 20 soldiers as several more jeeps arrived on the scene.
The soldiers presented us with a document written in Hebrew, including a map of the area. They informed us that, from 7:00 that morning until 7:00 the following morning, the area had been declared a closed military zone, preventing the Palestinians who were with us from picking olives on their own land. They repeatedly refused to provide further explanations or copies of the document, specifying they don’t deal with “leftists.” When we asked, “Can you show us where we are on the map?” the commanding officer solicited help from none other than the settlers! “Shouldn’t you know where we are?!”
We were told to leave the area within 5 minutes or face arrest. But one of the farmers insisted, asserting his right to access his land. After lengthy discussions with the soldiers, interspersed with endless phone calls to their commanders as well as our demands for explanations, the officer in command finally allowed the Palestinians access to their land to harvest their olives.
We were not permitted to accompany the Palestinians because, as the soldiers explained to us, our presence would “irritate the settlers, causing clashes.” The IDF therefore blatantly demonstrated that they respond directly to the settlers and not the law. As further proof, it should be noted that while the area was off limits to us as closed military zone, the settlers, with machine guns slung over their shoulders, circulated freely. In fact, these same settlers followed the soldiers who went along to monitor the Palestinians.
We waited under the sun until the farmers returned, and after all the commotion above, their “harvest” was nothing more than a handful of olives, five uprooted trees and two iron fence poles found on their land.
As we started making our way back to the village, the settlers, unhappy that the Palestinians had been allowed to access their land, decided to have the last word. They claimed the fence poles the Palestinians were carrying belonged to them! After yet another round of discussions, the farmers were forced to carry the fence poles back to the exact place where they were found, escorted once again by the soldiers.
While we were at least successful in obtaining “permission” for the Palestinian farmers to access their own land, we immediately made plans to go back to the same spot the following day at 7:00am when the order for the closed military zone was set to expire.
However, the next day got off to an earlier start than we had anticipated. We were awakened by the shouts of two children of the village who were banging on the door to our house screaming the few words we knew in Arabic: “zeitun, mustauten, YALLA YALLA!” (“olive trees, settlers, let’s go!”).
We threw on some clothes and followed the children as they charged up the hill near our house, dreading what we were to find. As we arrived at the scene of the crime, one of the two Palestinian farmers we had accompanied the day before told us what had happened: at dawn a settler had set loose his goats among the olive trees belonging to the Palestinians, destroying the olives as well as the trees.
By the time we arrived, the settler had already fled, most probably because the Palestinian owner of the land was armed with a video camera from B’Tselem, whose camera distribution project provides Palestinians with a way of recording the realities of the occupation. We watched the video and recognized the settler from the previous day’s encounter. He would become a recurring theme during our stay in Jeb al Theeb.
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 will be providing international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat by the nearby illegal settlements and settlers. raccogliendolapace.wordpress.com