Marthie Momberg, an Afrikaans author from Stellenbosch,
is currently participating in an international humanitarian initiative in the
Holy Land on the SA Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompanier Programme (www.eappi.org). She writes from the West Bank,
Palestine. This article appeared in the Sunday Independent on 2 October 2011
Settlements in the West Bank: Peace, or piece by piece?
In his recent address to the United Nations, Palestinian
leader, Mahmoud Abbas, referred to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories (OPT) as “a systematic confiscation … that is eating up large
tracts of [Palestinian] land, dividing it into separate and isolated islands
and cantons, destroying family life and communities and the livelihoods of tens
of thousands of families.”
My team and I report on human rights abuses for three
months. We live in the ancient village of Yanoun, but also work in surrounding
villages and in the Jordan Valley, all in the Occupied West Bank.
Today my breakfast consists of grapes that we received
from a Palestinian shepherd as we passed him and his flock of sheep earlier
this morning. We do daily walks to monitor the roads of Yanoun. This is a
pleasant task, especially now that it is no longer so sweltering hot. With our
binoculars we search the hills for anything out of the ordinary such as new
(illegal) structures or the presence of (often armed) Israeli settlers. The
sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and the olive, fig, almond and pomegranate trees
stand by as we watch over the farming community. We, in turn, are watched from
another hill by members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) – who should ensure
peace on both sides, but often collaborate with Israeli settlers.
Providing a protective presence to the Palestinian people
is one of our main priorities. Local
farmers lived and worked here since the eighteenth century but today there are
only 75 inhabitants left after Yanoun was nearly wiped off the face of the map
in 2002. Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced everybody from their
homes. According to Mayor Rashed Murrar “They came with dogs and guns, every
Saturday night. They beat men in front of their children. One Saturday they
said that they didn’t want to see anyone here next Saturday … the whole village
left that week.”
Some families returned but only after intense
international media focused on their plight and with the assistance of an
Israeli peace group, Ta’ayush. Since
2003 EAPPI members have provided a protective presence to the villagers.
However, Israeli inhabitants from the nearby Itamar
settlement still harass the town. Six months ago, on the 5th of March, they
polluted the water well (the only source of water for the inhabitants). A month
later, on the 27th of April they invaded the village with dogs. During the
night, on the 2nd of July, settlers together with over 30 armed IDF soldiers
launched a full incursion into the village to search, allegedly, for stolen
sheep (which was never found, the crime never proved, the harassment never
interrogated). Last month, on the 7th of August, when confronted by the EAPPI
team, the armed settlers and soldiers claimed to be carrying out “research” at
the Palestinian water well.
Israel has occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East
Jerusalem since 1967. All settlements are in violation of Article 49 of the
Fourth Geneva Convention. Peace talks came to a standstill a year ago precisely
due to Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements. Between the start of the
peace talks and now, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled – they now
number just over half a million people, living in 121 settlements, at
approximately 100 outposts and they control more than 42 percent of the West
The settlers gradually, piece by piece, confiscate land
in the West Bank and cultivate it with water at Israeli State subsidized rates.
All this while Palestinian houses, roads, wells and clinics are demolished and
they themselves are denied building permits and free access to roads, churches,
mosques, hospitals and schools.
Many of the Israeli settlers come from different parts of
the world and have no immediate genetic affiliation with the land. Yet they claim: “This is the land of our
fathers and grandfathers…This is the land of Israel” – these are slogans on
posters placed by Israelis on the main road between Hebron and Jerusalem, in
the Occupied Palestinians Territories.
Since my arrival in the West Bank two weeks ago, I have
witnessed many forms of humiliation and oppression. In fact, on my third day
here, I attended the funeral of a young Palestinian man who was shot in a
nearby village after Israeli settlers damaged the olive groves for a third time
in three weeks, during prayer-time on Friday.
I write this as I sit outside the community center with
the mayor of the village. We are waiting
for a delegation from Ramallah to discuss the construction of a road on
Palestinian soil that settlers began work on early this morning. He has already
contacted the Palestinian District Co-ordination Office but they in turn need
to ask the Israeli authorities to intervene.
There was no response from the Israeli authorities. “Maybe the Red Cross
would help,” the mayor said, “maybe.”
We both watch the settlers and their tractors work on
their new road that snakes downhill. We need no binoculars to do so, they are
so close. I do not know what to say to the mayor. I am thinking of the shepherd, the women from
whom we buy almonds, yoghurt, cheese and eggs, the children who play in front
of our house at night.
Tonight we shall sleep under the bright security
spotlights that light up the houses and gravel roads. I do not sleep well
Marthie Momberg writes in her personal capacity
Marthie Momberg currently works for the South African Council of
Churches as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views
contained in this e-mail and in her blog are personal and do not necessarily
reflect those of the South African Council of Churches or the WCC. If anyone would like to publish the
information contained here or in her blog, or place it on a website, please
first contact firstname.lastname@example.org
or the EAPPI Communications & Advocacy Officer (email@example.com) for permission.
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