At dawn last Wednesday, February 22nd, between 250 and 300 Israeli soldiers came through the occupied Palestinian village, Al Aqaba, as part of their training. They were going on little to no sleep, so they took the opportunity to sleep in their jeeps, on the street, and between village houses. After they awoke, they proceeded eastward towards the valley. I’ve posted an account of their presence in the village in my blog, FilisteeNola
I’m reporting as a live-in volunteer in the Jordan Valley village of Al Aqaba. I’m starting a visitor and volunteer program from our Guest House, and our fundraising campaign just went Live on Indie GoGo! To support us, please visit our page.
This is the letter to the Israeli people written by mayor, Haj Sami, translated into English.
February 26, 2011
Dear People of Israel,
I am the mayor of Al Aqaba, a small peaceful Palestinian Village in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank Area C. I write to you in Hebrew, learned over the years I spent in an Israeli hospital. I am writing to tell you about your army’s training in our village last week. I hope you will feel reassured by my message and help, as so many of you helped over 10 years ago, to assure the future of our village.
On the morning of Wednesday February 22, 2012, the biting cold greeted us before dawn as we headed to morning prayers. To our surprise, Israeli occupation forces in three jeeps and military vehicles were parked in front of the main door of our mosque in our Village of Al Aqaba. We were afraid to approach, and their unanticipated presence caused a twenty-minute delay of the adhan, the Islamic prayer faithfully recited five times a day.
We hoped that the military vehicles would move — but no. As we walked past the military jeeps to attend the dawn prayers, we were surprised to find the jeeps running and the soldiers inside in a very deep sleep. Even after the call to prayer, they remained asleep. They must have been very tired. As we departed the mosque in the morning light — workers, famers, and students starting our day — we were stunned to see hundreds of soldiers, laying down and sleeping throughout our village, on our roads and in our fields, some right next to our homes.
Although the sleeping soldiers were a rare sight for the village to behold, we decided not to disrupt the soldiers and prevented any harm or disruption to the soldiers while they slept. But it was such a curious sight and we did not know what the work of the soldiers would be when they woke up, so I asked friends to quietly film.
The soldiers’ presence in our village raised a lot of fear and anxiety, especially given our history and the 2001 Israeli High Court decision that prevents soldiers from using our village for training exercises. Later many of Aqaba’s villagers found themselves wondering, ‘Where else could soldiers have parked, camped, and slept peacefully, safely watched over by Palestinian villagers? And why, if they trust us enough to sleep here among us, why do they still want to destroy our village?”
The Israeli Army has issued demolition orders against more than 90% of our village. Within a month of Israeli Brigadier General Moti Almoz’ December meeting with the Governor of Tubas and with me here in Al Aqaba Village, 29 more demolition orders were issued.
Because international organizations can call the Israeli Army, I asked Rebuilding Alliance, an American organization that is raising funds to help us rebuild our homes, to call them. An Israeli Army contact denied the soldiers were even in the village and again warned Rebuilding Alliance that any new homes in Al Aqaba will be destroyed. They said American towns would do the same as they — but, as Rebuilding Alliance replied, “American town councils create town plans, issue building permits, and inspect new structures. That’s what Al Aqaba is doing in its town, on its own land, land to which they hold clear title.”
The people of the village of Al Aqaba have been bearing the pain of life under occupation and theft of property since the 1967 war. As a result of the military maneuvers conducted with live ammunition by the Israeli army and settlers, the agriculture has been impacted greatly by the destruction of our citizens’ crops, growing isolation of the citizens from outside resources, home and road demolitions, and the denial of essential services to our small village, particularly safe, clean drinking water and the right to build our homes – basic human rights that every human being is entitled to.
Last year Occupation Forces twice destroyed our Peace Road, the road our school bus uses to get the children to school. Additionally, seven families were made homeless by destruction of their modest homes, and their goats had to sleep in the cold too when their stables were destroyed. These senseless acts of destruction especially frighten our children.
People of Israel, we are not a threat to you. We are your neighbors. Please recognize Al Aqaba’s town plans. Help us build a secondary school and a rehabilitation hospital. Come visit us and stay in our guest house.
We ask your help and we welcome you.
Haj Sami Sadeq Sbaih
Mayor of Al Aqaba Village
Near Tubas, Jordan Valley, West Bank, Palestine