Living Next to Settlers
Last week the Hebron team (Simphiwe, Elaine and I) made it a priority to visit the Da’ana family in Wadi al-Hussein. We soon discovered what it was like for an isolated Palestinian family to be located beside a settlement. The Da’ana family (17) live on an isolated farm land with no Palestinian neighbors. Their land and house is located very close to the Harsina settlement in the Wadi al-Hussein valley. The gravity of the situation is marked by the presence of a huge Russian winter tent in their garden, where ISM, other internationals and Israeli peace activists often sleep over to support the family and provide a protective presence.
While the world is aware of the effects of the so called “security barrier” or Wall, we got a glimpse of what the effects of separation fence has had on the Da’ana family. Erected in 2004 the fence cut the Da’ana land in two resulting in the loss of 200 olive trees. The economic effects of cutting his lands in half is such that he loses 50-60,000 NIS per year in loss of earnings. Psychologically speaking it has and continues to be extremely damaging on Khalifa’s heart when he sees settlers picking and eating his olives. This is very difficult for him to handle. I ask him how he manages to deal with the anger of what is happening to him and his family. The father is at a loss, and while it makes him feel crazy he doesn’t do anything because he says he can’t do anything. What he does do is files police report after police report. Khalifa then took out his copies of police reports to show us the level of violence his family has been subjected to. The sheer volume of reports astonish us. It is a remarkable testament to his resilience that he continues to abide by the laws and file police reports instead of reacting in an aggressive manner. Khalifa files police reports after police reports fully in the knowledge that it is merely paper work and that nothing will be done.
When I asked him whether there had been any dialogue with the settlers over the past 20 years, the father said that he considers a few of the settlers as his friends. Although a minority, some of the settlers continue to ask after him and pay him greetings when they meet. They have in the past given the Da’ana family water and have said to him, that our heart is with you. It is not the case that the Da’ana family has always suffered problems with the presence of the settlement. The father traces the beginning of his problems to the arrival of settler Friedman who arrived four years ago, stating that “before that it was quiet”. This gives me hope that without such barriers and with good people it is possible for both communities to live side by side in peace.
However this hope is not shared by Khalifa who tells us that he is “waiting for the day when they leave”. He then looks us in the eye and asks us a direct question, “when will I see that day?” He waits for an answer but all we can do is sit in silence unable to muster a response. Khalifa informs us of recent developments in which settler boys had erected an orange flag with the Star of David overlooking his house. The purpose of the flag is clear as it is located on what used to be Da’ana family land but which now is located on the settler side of the fence. That young boys are engaging in this type of activity does not bode well for the future.
Turning to politics Khalifa is harsh on the role of the International Community stating that, “they have done nothing for (Palestinians in) the last 20 years”. This is a man who has lived his whole life in the occupation. Having seen the (non)-effects of the international community over the past 20 years one can forgive the father from displaying a high level of cynicism. He believes that European governments and the American government are against the Palestinians and are protecting those who take Palestinian land, build on it and then do not allow Palestinians the visit their lands. However the father does not end his harsh treatment of interested countries there. He vilifies the Arab nations who also have done nothing to help the Palestinian people. “What do I expect from Germany, when my brothers do not help me”.
We were deeply moved by the Da’ana families’ experience of living beside the settlement. While we all have had experience of what the Wall looked like with the Da’ana family we saw another side to the concept of the Wall. In this all it takes is for a simple fence, erected in 2004 for “security” concerns in order to cut the Da’ana family’s income in half. The fence accounts to nothing else than a land grab and that the family have to watch the settlers pick harvest his olive trees and eat his fruit must be so hard to bear.
Who will give the Da’ana family back their land that was taken from them? You? Me? The Arab states? The International Community? Israel? The Palestinian Authority? The Da’ana family is still waiting…
PHELIE MAGUIRE, from Ireland, is a member of the Hebron team of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. EAPPI was set up in June 2001 by the World Council of Churches in response to a call from the Jerusalem Churches to have an international presence in the West Bank and to: observe and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, show solidarity to Palestinians living under the Occupation and engage in advocacy upon returning from the field. His main tasks involve accompanying the school children to and from the Cordoba School in Tel Rumeida, visiting vulnerable families located in H2, and accompanying shepards in the South Hebron hills who are located beside settlements. He can be contacted through www.phelieinpalestine.blogspot.com where he will be posting further reports.