Friday, March 16, 2012

The Village of Khallet Sakariya

The village of Khallet Sakariya is located in a beautiful, agriculturally fertile valley just south and a bit west of Bethlehem. Five illegal settlements completely surround this small village, leaving one passable road that will soon be permanently closed.

Nadir, who is the advocacy officer for EAPPI in Jerusalem, invited Hannah and me to a meeting that was sponsored by UNHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and included representatives from UNICEF, YMCA, representatives from the Danish and Belgium Consulates, ACTED, ICADH, (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), and the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of this meeting was discussion of the laws regarding Absentee Land Confiscation. Instead it focused on annexation, a much more serious legal step.

The meeting took place in the home of one of the villages' families. The home is a one-room stone structure impeccably kept. There were about 50 of us in a home that is probably 15 x 15' that includes a bed, a table for cooking, no indoor plumbing whatsoever, minimal electricity for the hot plate and tea kettle. We were standing, sitting on chairs, on the bed, on the floor. Palestinian hospitality greeted us with coffee as we entered, then sweet tea, home baked pita bread, and sweet bread, all served by the matron of the home and two adult daughters.

There are a few factors that make this village a different type of case study as it is the victim of systematic, well-planned, well funded settler violence led by the Women in Green, a legal not-for-profit organization who solicits via its web-site for donations sent to New York City. On its web-site this group states as if fact that the Palestinians are well funded by Saudi Arabian oil money and money from the Arab League. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The web-site also lists the number of Israeli casualties caused by the terrorists, failing to cite that Palestinian casualties are more than ten times the number of Israeli casualties at the hands of the Israeli military. The disturbing aspect is that this organization, funded through The Central Israeli Fund, is among right-wing groups targeted in a recent publication of MAAN located at This is a direct quote:

Im Tirzu, which describes itself as "an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values", requests that supporters send contributions to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), a non-profit which funds a number of right-wing Israeli groups.

These include Amitz, which funds settler militias; Magen Yehuda, which assists with military training for settlers; and Women in Green, a right-wing group which opposes the return of land captured during the Six Day War of 1967 and promotes the "transfer" of Arabs to neighbouring countries.

As reported by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, Women in Green supports a yeshiva whose leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, has tried to justify the killing of gentile babies because of "the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents."

"What we're seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "One of Israel's outstanding strengths has been its vibrant civil society and its flourishing public debate, so these developments are particularly worrying."

An IPS investigation into tax records has revealed a number of the biggest donors - those who gave more than 300,000 dollars - to the CFI since 2005. Contributions to the CFI are tax-deductible.

The Palestinians have deeds for the land dating back to the early 1900's during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. The Israeli settlers claim ownership of the land as given to them by G-d. The two parties have engaged in a back and forth: one week the settlers uproot all of the olive trees and plant their own crops. As soon as the villagers can get it together, they go and uproot the plantings of the villagers and replant olive trees. The settlers once more uproot the olive trees and so on. The Women in Green receive funding through the Central Israeli Fund to continue to purchase plants and trees. The villagers, on the other hand, have few resources and cannot continue to play this game which deprives them of a livelihood of an olive harvest. It is also ironic that the settlers choose to target the olive tree which is a universal symbol of peace.

A new twist arose in the conversations and this is regarding the annexation of this land by Israel and is being negotiated by the Palestinian Authority which may be willing to swap this piece of land for other concessions in the peace process. This totally blind sighted me and many others as while we had observed the maps, the separation barrier, and the apparent surrounding of this large part of the West Bank that is inside the 1967 green line, and thus illegal as per International Humanitarian Law. We had viewed this as land that Israel felt necessary to protect the settlements and the settlers. Each village within the wall has been fully focused on its own problems and has not talked about or mentioned annexation, at least not to us. This annexation would put over 24,000 Palestinians inside Israel with no rights to their land. The Israelis will be in a perfect situation to starve out the Palestinians as they control water, electricity, the roads, and passage from one area to another. We have seen in another village (Al Nu’man) that the Israelis can enforce the inability for the villagers to bring in goods for their own sustenance, for feeding animals, and for bringing in fuel to burn for heat. The Israelis totally control who can come in and go out of the village, splintering families where a daughter marries a man in a neighboring village. The daughter may be allowed to return to visit her family if her name has been on the list, but the husband will not be permitted to enter. Israelis and internationals have the ability to come and go as they please.

The villagers in Khallet Sakariya are getting tired of challenging the settlers because they get fined for their actions and have no money to pay the fines. The participants in this meeting identified one serious issue as being the Women in Green and propose an all out campaign to discredit them. They also identified advocacy work as critical to bring this issue forward to world leaders to put political pressure on Israel. I personally fear that the diversion that Netanyahu has placed on the immediacy of Iran is a cover for action to annex this land while the world focuses on nuclear weapons and Iran.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary! Thanks for your excellent blogs! You do well allowing us to see through your eyes. You personalize the systemic injustice of the Palestinian situation. Thank you!