Those of you who have been following the work of the Brighton Tubas group for a while might remember a place called Al Mazra’a Al Qibliya. The people there are living under constant threat from the growing settlement Talmon B, which surrounds, and eats into, the village land. Last year one of our delegations joined Al Mazra’a in a demonstration against the settlement’s land confiscation –an act which was met with serious violence from the Talmon settlers (for previous information about this issue see node/115 and node/18 ). Since then the village’s situation has only gotten worse. This year, the Brighton delegation decided to spend some time in Al Mazra’a assisting them with the olive harvest. This proved to be a sure way of witnessing the everyday intimidation, terrorisation and physical attacks that the settlers and the army impose on the Palestinian population.
On the first morning we set off with a family who want to attempt to harvest olives which are planted in what, according to the Israelis, has become a ‘closed military zone. These “zones” tend to appear in areas surrounding settlements and prevent Palestinians from reaching any of their land which the army considers to be within it. We start marching up the hill towards the families olive groves but, sure enough, we only make it about 50 meters before four soldiers appear, with reinforcements visibly present in the surrounding bushes. For a Palestinian there is no such thing as a gentle stroll -take one step over the Israeli regulated line and the people from the watchtowers will come to question you.
A discussion between the Palestinians and the army ensues. Although it only lasts about 20 minutes, the soldiers manage to give the farmers at least four different ultimatums as part of some cruel psychological cat and mouse game: “maybe you all can go to the harvest, I’ll have to check with our commander”, “You can go but the internationals can not come with you”, “You can only harvest the olives over there”, “Now we have stood here so long no-one will be allowed to go…”. As we are all forced to leave some of the Palestinians decide that they want to try to harvest in another area belonging to the family instead. They know this is a risk - last time they attempted to reach this land they were viscously attacked.
Although we have been told at great length about settler behaviour it makes it no easier to deal with the reality of what happens next. Within two minutes of us reaching the olive groves three masked youths show up, circling the Palestinians in decreasing circles. These are not nut cases who were randomly passing –they are out hunting. They start by going for the “protective” video camera held by one member of the Brighton delegation –then they aim for the Palestinians. The couple attempting to harvest at this stage is a man and a woman in their seventies. While the settler’s threats and violence is deeply scary and concerning, it is their dehumanisation of all Palestinians which is most disturbing. As one settler youth takes aim and spits at Amenia- a 73 years old woman who inherited this land from her grandfather- in the face it is difficult not to fight back. Amenia, however, is hardly a timid old lady. Her passion, voice and walking stick are her weapons: the telling off she gives this young, strong and powerful bully is one I would not wish on anyone (else).
Despite the fact that we have seen the army observe the whole incident from the nearby watchtower they do not show up until after the event, then coldly ignore the papers we show them which outline a high court decision about the army’s obligation to protect the Palestinians. “We don’t understand what the high court means” they claim, until we show them the same paper in Hebrew. All the while the settlers stand next to us pulling faces and miming cut throat gestures unhindered. It is only later that we find out that one of the settlers is Moshe Benbenishti, the man who in March this year shot dead 18 year old student Mohammed Shreitih from Al Mazra’a during a peaceful demonstration. So far there has been no prosecution for this crime.
Eventually the army agrees to let the Palestinians return to their land with army protection. They go back only to discover that all their land has already been harvested by the settlers.
This account covers only one day of reality in Al Mazra’a. For the people living there every day is a struggle. Only a month ago 14 settlers came in to the village and smashed windows, attempted to burn down a house and overturned a press car. The last two years have seen the settlement release hyenas in the surrounding hills. Two weeks before our visit the army entered one family’s house in the middle of the night, blindfolded two fourteen year old boys and forced them to run around the olive groves. So much for army protection.
When we mention to Amenia that she was very brave to confront the settlers the reply is the same that we have heard from so many others in the West Bank: “What other option do we have? It is our own land and we have to fight for it”. The sad thing is, most of the time they have to do it completely on their own.
Al Mazra’a al Qibliya is not within the Brighton Tubas twinning area. The Municipality are desperately looking for a dedicated group to twin with them exclusively. If you or any group that you know would be interested to twin with Al Mazra’a and the Al Zaytonah Municipality, please get in touch with the Brighton Tubas Group for more information.