Nestled in the hilltops of the central occupied West Bank, an ancient Palestinian Christian village is gearing up for a fight against the Israeli occupation that it has all too much experience with.
In late July, the village of Aboud, whose existence dates back two millennia, was handed an order by Israeli authorities confiscating some 324 dunums (80 acres) of land shared by Aboud and its neighboring village al-Lubban al-Gharbiya.
Israeli authorities confiscated the land under the pretext that it would be used to build an Israeli-only road between the two illegal settlements of Beit Arye and Ofarim — both of which are built on the lands of Aboud.
The villagers however, insist that this time, it is not an ordinary tale of land confiscation — something they have been subject to for decades.
“There is already a road that exists between the settlements, so they are lying to us when they say they are taking the land for this purpose,” 70-year-old Abdullah Sharqawi, a resident of Aboud, told Mondoweiss.
“It is clear what they are trying to do,” he said. “They want to use the land to build new houses and create a settlement bloc in the area.”
Sharqawi’s predictions were more than just a speculation held by one elderly man.
His fears were echoed by other villagers and local officials who spoke to Mondoweiss, each of whom recounted stories of decades of land confiscation and settlement expansion that has led the village to its current state: a dwindling piece of history fighting to stay on the map.
‘As long as the settlers are happy’
Located just 10km east of the Green Line, the Tel Aviv skyline visible through the mountains even on a hazy day, Aboud is a quiet village filled with Muslims and Christians, whose families have lived on the land for centuries.
Thousands of dunams of land have been confiscated by Israel from the village over the years for different purposes, including the building of illegal settlements and outposts on Aboud’s lands, the construction of Israeli bypass roads in order to connect neighboring settlements, and the Israeli separation wall.
Over 760 dunams of village land, around 5.2% of the total village area, has been used for the
construction of Beit Aryeh to the north and Ofarim to the southwest, which are home to more than 4,000 settlers.
According to the Applied Research Institute — Jerusalem (ARIJ), Aboud was divided between Area B (16.8% of total area) and Area C (83.2% of total area), the latter of which falls under complete Israeli civilian and security control, making it “illegal” for Palestinians to build on the land.
“All of the village residents live in the borders of Area B,” Yousif Mas’ad, the former Mayor of Aboud, told Mondoweiss. “The rest of the land, that is Area C, is agricultural and used by farmers in Aboud.”
Mas’ad told Mondoweiss that Israeli forces began working on the land that was confiscated almost immediately after the village was given the notice last month.
“They have been working on this road everyday, non stop, except on Saturdays,” he said.
“But it is hard to believe that they want to use this for yet another road,” he said, highlighting the fact that the Israeli government has already confiscated dozens of acres of the village’s land for existing bypass roads, which according to ARIJ, number to three roads.
“The settlements of Beit Arye and Ofarim are only two kilometers away from each other, and there is already a road that exists between them. Why do they need another one?” Mas’ad asked earnestly.
Mas’ad pointed out that while the settlers have several roads to choose from, the road connecting Aboud with its neighboring village al-Lubban al-Gharbiya has been permanently closed off since the Second Intifada.
“What should be a less than five minute journey for us, actually takes 30 minutes,” he said. Laughing, Mas’ad remarked “but as long as the settlers are happy and comfortable, right?”
“Our fears that they will use the land to create a large settlement bloc on this land, much of which is privately owned, doesn’t come from nothing,” Mas’ad said, as he pointed to existing massive settler conglomerates in the West Bank like the Gush Etzion bloc in the Hebron district, and the Ariel bloc in Salfit. “This has been done before.”
As he sat among some of his former colleagues in the village’s municipality office, Mas’ad began to list all the farmers and their families who would be affected by the land grab.
“More than 45% of the villagers work in the agricultural sector,” Mas’ad said. “If they lose this land, it will not only affect their personal livelihoods and that of their families, but also the entire economy of the village.”
A bleak future for farmers
Seventy-year-old Abdullah Sharqawi, the patriarch of one of Aboud’s Christian families, is one of the local farmers who potentially stands to lose the most as a result of the land confiscation.
Sitting in his Ottoman-era stone home, where pictures of his children on their wedding days hang on the paint-chipped walls, Sharqawi wipes his brow as his wife prepares fresh lemonade, with lemons picked from their garden.
“My family has owned hundreds of dunums of land in Aboud for centuries. Our roots date so far back, I cannot even count,” he told Mondoweiss.
“In 1948, when we saw how much land was being taken and how much was being destroyed by Israel, my grandfather and father decided that we should plant our land, because surely, we thought, they cannot destroy land that is planted and grows fruits of the earth,” Sharqawi said.
The hopes of preventing the theft of their land began to fade away with the construction of Beit Arye and Ofarim in the 1980’s.
“First they would take the land, and say ‘oh you can still come to farm it’, but slowly, as time went on, they began to push us out completely until we were not able to reach some parts of land at all,” he said.
“At one point, about 10 years ago, they uprooted 26 olive trees to make way for a settler road,” Sharqawi told Mondoweiss, as he expressed fears that the land he currently has access to, which falls under the confiscated area, will suffer a similar fate.
“On that land, which they said they are using to build the road, we have 400 olive trees, 200 almond trees, grape vines, fig trees, everything,” Sharqawi said. “These trees support the livelihood of 15 people in our family, and provide food to the people of the village and people all over Palestine.”
For Sharqawi, even if the land is used to build another road, it is only a matter of time before new settlement houses start popping up alongside it.
“For now maybe they will let me access the land. But inevitably, with time, they will tell me no, it is not allowed,” he said.
Faint hope of justice
According to Mas’ad and other officials in the Aboud municipality, the village has collected all the necessary paperwork and has hired a lawyer to being proceedings to fight the confiscation.
“We cannot stand to lose more and more land like this,” remarked one municipality employee, who asked to remain unidentified.
“The least we can do is try to fight it, even if we know deep down, the possibility to win is very low.”
Mas’ad and the others in the office nodded in agreement. “But, at the end of the day, this is a huge injustice,” Mas’ad said.
“We know it is a difficult case to win, but maybe we have a chance because we have the documents proving that the land is privately-owned, meaning that settlement construction on it is even illegal under Israeli law.”
As the municipality workers went back and forth, exchanging theories and weighing possibilities, Sharqawi brushed off the plan to file a case in Israeli court against the settlers.
“If the Israelis are the ones who are taking away the land, how can we possibly trust that they could deliver us justice?”