Israel’s Civil Administration forbade Palestinian farmers from working their land last month because the area, which they had been farming since the fifties, had been declared an antiquities site during the British Mandate period.
The brothers Nader and Rasem Abu Aleiyeh, residents of the West Bank village Al-Mughayyir, which is adjacent to Ramallah, said the Civil Administration confiscated their tractor indefinitely and without any warning, and that as a result they have lost their source of income. They said their family has worked the land since the 1950s and that they were never forbidden from working it.
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An officer of the administration’s archaeology unit issued a report on January 2 that stated the reason for the confiscation was “plowing within an archaeological site without permission.” According to the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration, all agricultural work in the area is banned, based on an order forbidding digging, planting trees and irrigating.
Both archaeologists and the family acknowledge the status of the site declared by the British prior to 1948, but the brothers told Haaretz that they were never told there was a need for such a permit. “Everyone knows we work the land and they never told us anything,” Nader said. “Soldiers in the past would come and drink tea with us while we were working the land.” The brothers say plowing is done on the surface in a manner that doesn’t harm the antiquities in place.
Nader said they were first informed about the ban when the tractor was confiscated. “We can’t do anything now. We have no other tractor,” he said. “We have other plots with olive trees and other crops, but we have no way of working them since the confiscation.” He added that the order was given when he was working with his brothers on the plot, in which they grow barley and wheat for their sheep.
Relatives assert that the administration issued the order under pressure from residents of the adjacent illegal settlement outpost, Malachei Hashalom, which was founded in 2015 on an abandoned military base. Since the outpost was established Palestinian residents of the area have complained of harassment by settlers, including making noise to drive away the shepherds’ flocks, blocking tractors and stealing an archaeological pillar from the site.
The Civil Administration responded to an inquiry from the family in a letter to its attorney, Kamer Masharqi, that the brothers are suspected of harming antiquities and that the tractor was confiscated as evidence by the police, and that therefore it could not release the tractor. Masharqi told Haaretz: “It’s another method of driving the Palestinians from their lands. Working the land does not harm antiquities, and the state also never made such an allegation. The archaeological claim was only invented after the establishment of the outpost.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories commented: “The tractor perpetrated illegal acts in an archaeological site in Area C without the necessary permits and permission. The confiscation was carried out in coordination with the authorities and according to procedures.”
The Israel Police did not respond to this report.