After breakfast and morning circle our group splits. While some participate in a playback theatre workshop, the rest of us set out to visit two communities at great threat that suffer constant incursions by the occupation forces and illegal settler violence – Om Alkhair and Susya.
Just when we leave, news reach us that we need to change our program for the day and visit Susya first, and upon arrival it becomes clear why. We get off the bus next to the road from where we can see military vehicles just a little further down the road. Looking further to the right, we see a bulldozer roaming a stretch of land, what used to be a grove with olive trees resembles ruins – the occupation forces have uprooted every single olive tree and demolished homes. In disbelief we witness how homes and livelihood of people are reduced to dusty rubble and wooden splinters.
It’s tough to watch what is happening right before our very eyes, how different it is to be present, in person to witness what we usually read about. Outrage is taken to an entirely new dimension. Despite the bus and a group of people observing from a mount, the occupation forces ignore us, in fact, as they leave they mock us by waving with smiling faces from the car as they pass us.
Once we have recovered from what we had to witness, even though from the distance, we walk to the nearby community of Susya where we are welcomed with the usual warmth by the locals. You wouldn’t be able to tell that yet another demolition serving the purpose of ethnic cleansing has taken place; for Palestinians this have become a daily hurdle to take.
“Most countries have military. But Israel’s military has a country.”
In a comprehensive presentation we are shown a satellite picture of the region we’re in, it has been turned into a map by the Israeli occupation forces and with tiny tags that bear white numbers hundreds of further unlawful evictions of Palestinians from their own land are signified. A laminated sheet with small printed numbers to decide about the fate of thousands of people… ethnic cleansing tactics to drive them off their land. Most interestingly there are blue marked patches that Israel claims to be its land – in areas C, B and even A!
It makes the Oslo accord look like just another atrocious crime committed to the people of Palestine.
Permits to build have become impossible to get for Palestinians. Expensive and elaborate red tape and other requirements mean that the locals will remain forced to live in metal structures covered with tarp held down with tyres and wood to protect them in any season.
The Israeli government once approached the people of Susya by suggesting that it would be so much more beneficial if they agreed to be moved to a different area, given that here they had no facilities, no hospital and schools nearby etc. Susya’s response was that they had no intention to move, however in order to obtain access to mentioned elusive facilities they were happy to grow the surrounding Palestinian communities and connect them to the town of Yatta.
This of course is not in Israel’s interest and the authorities retorted that this was not feasible given that the “planned growth” would come from Yatta downwards, not from Susya to Yatta… go figure.
We hear about stories of how the Zionist regime uses different laws from Turkish over Ottoman to old British laws… whatever serves their purposes will do.
By the end of it everyone receives a glass of honey from Susya and we all walk back to the bus in silence, everyone is engrossed in deep thoughts.
Later that day we visit Om Alkhair, another village that is not recognized by Israel. A high fence of mesh topped with barbed-wire is the only thing that separates the Palestinian village from the illegal Israeli settlement. Settler attacks are frequent and violent. On the settlement side of the fence a yellow sign in Hebrew, English and funnily enough also Arabic, warns of “danger of death” when nearing the fence.
Hostility exudes from the houses, blinds are shut, it feels like this must be a ghost town.
The rightful owners of the land show us the papers and deeds to prove their claim to the land is legit. They tell us that originally the first members of this community had bought this land from Palestinians from Yatta. The people who purchased the land are still alive, the contract was made around 1948, yet the Israeli regime refuses to recognize the village.
As we walk around Om Alkhair, it is the first time for all of us to get this close to a settlement. In the background we see construction work – of course illegal settlers can construct to their heart’s content without any permits… In fact, oftentimes they build entire houses and receive a hasty permit by the government in the aftermath.
Our Palestinian guides explain the situation very matter-of-fact, everything said has a common underlying message: this is our land, we’re not going anywhere!
But few of us can even begin to phantom what the people of Om Alkhair must be going through on a daily basis. “Yesterday the settlers watered all their grounds for no reason.” “Why did they do that?” Our guide responds with a sad look in his eyes “Because they can.”
Every few metres the fence surrounding the illegal settlement is fitted with an even taller spike that carries a high voltage flash light lest any outsider should approach. The Palestinian community here hardly has water supplies or electricity.
Driving through the West Bank one cannot help but wonder why every Palestinian village has water tanks on the roofs of its houses while houses in Israeli settlements do not – it’s because Palestinians have to buy their own water which is against international law and defies human rights. Most Bedouin communities do not even have houses to speak of and the tanks are on the ground.
It has been a great day for learning, gathering new facts, bearing witness to Israeli crimes committed to Palestinians and for absorbing the reality of occupation and apartheid. It has been an exhausting day for the mind, most of us feel tired and some even overwhelmed by the amount of impressions to take in and digest.
This is Palestine.