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How Some of the Food Israelis Eat Gets to Their Tables - a West Bank Story

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Fawzi Ibrahim on his land near the outpost of Esh Kadosh in 2013
Fawzi Ibrahim on his land near the outpost of Esh Kadosh in 2013Credit: Moti Milrod

A farmer plowed his land. Fawzi Ibrahim and his sons Mohammed and Mahmoud, who live in the village of Jalud south of Nablus, plowed their land last week. Hallelujah. (This is not a big reason to rejoice, because our illustrious army did not allow Ibrahim and his sons to get to their wheat on time. They let him wait until the wheat had completely dried out. But more on that later.)

Only in our Jewish and democratic country between the river and the sea is such a sentence worthy of becoming a news item. Because “Jewish” means we do everything possible to prevent “fallah,” a farmer, in other words a Palestinian, from working the land that has belonged to his family for generations.

And by saying “fallah,” we of course refer to tens of thousands of farmers. And “democratic” means that it is still permitted for us to write about the shrewd methods by which we prevent the farmer from making a living off his land, and the Israeli media are free to ignore it. I still have the democratic right to write: Anyone who wants to know something about terrorism should go and learn how Jews (as individuals and government institutions) prevent Palestinians from working their land.

Ibrahim, 62, is one of my heroes. He has been fighting incessantly the powerful, land-grabbing institutions. Now his sons are following in his footsteps. I attribute his deteriorating health primarily to this struggle. His exhausted visage touches your heart. So when we met in his home last week I decided not to photograph him.

I met him first in 1998, at the same time the new unauthorized outposts in the West Bank sprouted and the phenomenon of vandalizing orchards and harvests of Palestinians expanded. At the hands of unknown people, of course, or maybe invaders from outer space, who knows. Our illustrious police could not track them down.

In 1997 and also in 1998, these unknown people sawed and vandalized his olive grove. West of the grove are the settlements Shiloh and Shvut Rahel. During roughly the same period, Shiloh’s satellites began to grow – the outposts east of Jalud. Ahiya was established in 1997, Adei Ad in 1998 and Esh Kodesh in 1999.

From the end of 2000, Ibrahim’s access to his land was blocked, the same way access was blocked to other residents of Jalud and villages in the area, and everyplace else in the West Bank where the settlements, and in particular the outposts, are built nearby.

Intimidation, harassment, vandalism, arson, physical attacks

The methods of preventing access have been intimidation, harassment, vandalism, arson, physical attacks by unknown people who look Israeli, who come down from the outposts. Then our brigade and battalion commanders and generals order the closure of large areas to their legal owners and farmers – the Palestinians, “for fear of friction.” A golden opportunity for the outposts to take over those lands, or part of them. Just around Jalud and its neighbors, some 10,000 dunams (2,500 acres) of Palestinian land have been lost.

True, I have written about it before. But it is my democratic right to repeat myself: First, because you are consuming the agricultural produce of those very outposts and settlements, which, thanks to violence, had managed to take over land and water sources and usurp the livelihoods of dozens of villages. Second, because our illustrious army completes the work. The High Court of Justice may have ordered the authorities in 2006 to allow the farming of the land (by escorting the farmers a few days a year). But the brigade commanders can always say, Oops, for security reasons (meaning we don’t want to upset the settlers) we are unable to escort farmers or allow plowing, planting, spraying, reaping or harvesting at the required times.

This is what happened, for example, to Ibrahim: At the end of 2016 he requested permission to plant wheat in February on about 250 dunams, two kilometers from his house. The problem: The outposts Ahiya and Esh Kodesh overlook the area.

After postponements, he was allowed to plant only on March 1. The scientific experiment succeeded: The wheat sprouted. In May Ibrahim submitted a request to coordinate the harvest, escorted by the army. Two kilometers from his home, but it was impossible to take the risk and harvest without a military escort. The settlers there sit in permanent ambush from above.

Instead of permission for June, he received permission to harvest the wheat at the beginning of August. The experiment failed: The wheat had already withered completely. Time, great amounts of work, hopes and some 250,000 shekels ($70,000) went down the drain. As compensation, he and his sons were allowed to plow. Ibrahim described it as the system’s way of wearing you down: “Today we will ask to coordinate plowing. We will travel to Europe, visit every country and their tourist sites. We will return and find that our request is ‘under a security check.’”

Since 2006, attorney Quamar Mishirqi-Assad (formerly of Rabbis for Human Rights, today as part of the nonprofit Haqal – United in the Defense of Human Rights that she and Rabbi Arik Ascherman founded a year ago) has been helping him faithfully.

We tried to calculate how much time she has spent defending Ibrahim’s right to return to his land (including reclaiming a plot of his that Yiftah Strock, an Esh Kodesh settler, took over). It is difficult to quantify. At least 1,000 letters to the authorities, two court petitions, an appeal to the IDF’s Civil Administration, an undocumented number of telephone conversations to coordinate the military escort, meetings with officials and traveling to the land.

No farmer could afford such legal assistance if it was provided on a private, commercial basis. So there are lawyers from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli nonprofit organizations. But the budgets are not enough to employ the number of lawyers needed to battle the army of theft. It’s no surprise many farmers give up in despair.

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