After the Gaza ceasefire was agreed the Israeli government once again turned its attention to the West Bank and announced what Peace Now has called the largest land confiscation in 30 years. The land to be seized covers a large area in the Gush Etzion settlement block and directly impacts on several of the villages that Team Bethlehem cover. I have discussed this issue in a previous post you can read here, but we have also travelled to the affected villages to meet with local contacts and see first-hand what is happening. Al Jab’a is just one of these villages and the story told here is repeated across the area.
When we first called our contact Sheikh Nasser he stated that he didn’t think it would affect Al Jab’a saying to us “they have already taken so much, we have nothing left to give”. Sheikh Nasser explained to us that they feel the village is under siege already. Most of the village is area B but parts are area C, and of the 110 houses 18 have demolitions orders against them. The “welcome to Al Jab’a sign the village put up was also in Area C and was duly removed by the Israeli Army. The road linking the village to the next closest village of Surif was closed off by the Israeli army some years ago leaving the villages cut off from each other.
Despite the grim reality, Nasser agreed to meet with us and show us the village. By the time we had arrived the information had started to come out and the impact on Al Jab’a had become clear – in the words of Nasser “now they are coming back to take the little we had left – this hurts, our village is like a big jail”. The confiscation would allow the nearby settlement outpost of Bat Ayin and Gava’ot to expand out as far as the green line, encircling Al Jab’a and cutting it off even further from the rest of Palestinian life.
A view from the top of Al Jab’a looking our towards Wadi Fukin and the settlement of Betar Illit. almost all the land is this picture has been or will be confiscated.
Nasser himself was losing all his agricultural land that belonged to his family on the outskirts of the village and he took us out to show us the land and the military signs on his land. Much of the land had already been in effect denied to them because any time they tried to work on it they would be chased off by the military who would tell that that it was no longer allowed for them to use this land. Nasser as he stood on his land said to us “you save for 10 years to buy one dunnam and then they come and take 4000 in the blink of an eye”….
Shiekh Nasser showing us the land confiscation sign on his land.
Nasser introduced s to Abu Harras, another resident of Al Jab’a who has had in the past 1000 olive trees cut down by the Israeli military. When he replanted them, they came again and said that he had a choice – to cut them down himself or they would cut them down again and send him the bill for this ‘service’. Abu Harras showed us his British Mandate era deeds for his lands, and produced volumes of paperwork relating to previous court battles over his trees and his land, all of which will be lost regardless under the new confiscation order.
British Mandate Era Deeds for the land being confiscated.
The settlements that Israel build are illegal under the 4th Geneva convention, Article 49. This fact has been reinforced by several UN resolutions declaring them not only illegal but a barrier to peace. This land confiscation and the subsequent growth will choke Al Jab’a, and pile the pressure on an already struggling village, as Nasser said to us “there is almost nothing left, will they only be happy when we are all gone?”
There is some confusion now, with rumours that the land confiscation isn’t going ahead. However, the locals in Al Jab’a point out that they have been driven off their land already by the army and the settlers. In fact, the fields already have basic water and electricity infrastructure in them ready for building. The locals of Al Jab’a believe that the Israeli government means to take this land one way or another, and if not now they will do it in smaller batches when no one is looking. As we left, Nasser said to us “Israel has a right to defend herself, but this is not Israel and this is not defence, go back to your own homes and leave us to ours”.
Water infrastructure already in place waiting for settlement expansion