Opinion |

In the West Bank, the Tail Wags the Dog

When civilian security officers are dictating policy on the ground, to whom should Palestinian farmers in Urif turn?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A soldier talking to two settlers whose faces are covered in Urif, West Bank. March 31, 2017.
A soldier talking to two settlers whose faces are covered in Urif, West Bank. March 31, 2017.Credit: Zakaria Sadah of Rabbis for Human Rights
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The phone call came at 7 A.M. on Friday. “Were you sleeping?” the caller asked, but didn’t wait for a response. “Could you maybe come to Urif? There’s a farmer who went to work his land on Sunday and the army kicked him out. We want to go back there today. Will you join us?”

I sent my regrets. Although Urif, a village south of Nablus, is just 45 minutes from me in El Bireh, I take a break from the occupation on Friday mornings. There is an insufferable disparity here between the simplicity of the words and the mute scream of their content. You, the non-reading readers, say that the soldiers are sent to the West Bank for our security. For reasons of convenience and profit, you choose to mislead and be misled.

The soldiers are sent to the West Bank to continue appropriating land for Jews so that your children and grandchildren can move to the beautiful landscape of Urif and hundreds of other Palestinian villages. So their young people can find a maintenance job in Nablus or the settlement of Ariel and forget about the land, or just get the hell out to Jordan.

The Civil Administration in the territories, that national agency for looting and expulsion, announced last Wednesday that 1,000 dunams – 250 acres – of land from the villages of Sinjil, Luban Ash-Sharqiyyeh, Qariut and As-Sawiya had been declared “state land.” But for every official theft, there are also dozens of unreported incidents of soldiers expelling farmers and shepherds from their land every month. By prohibiting them from cultivating their land, the army and the national looting agency are laying the groundwork for a future declaration of ownership by the emperor.

Short respite from the occupation or not, I immediately called the Palestinian farmer who was about to go out to his plot to verify another few details. I also called the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit to ask why the soldiers had not allowed the farmer to work his land the day before. Yes, I told the nice female soldier who was responding to my inquiry, this is for publication. “We’ll get to work on it,” she said. “Thank you,” I responded. “My pleasure,” she added.

Later she asked for the name of the nearby community. I texted her: “The illegal settlement in the area is Yitzhar, including the illegal and unauthorized outposts in its vicinity.” I refrained from mentioning “Torat Hamelech” (“The King’s Torah”) , the book written by extremist rabbis from a Yitzhar yeshiva. About two hours later, I found out that this time as well, our brave army had prevented the 55-year-old peasant from the village of Urif from plowing. Or more precisely: Our soldiers had obeyed the orders of their supreme commander, a bearded and armed Jewish man whose name is not Gadi Eisenkot.

Later Zakaria Sada, a researcher for the Israeli organization Rabbis for Human Rights, reported that he had accompanied the farmer, a tractor driver, a council member and several villagers to the land, along with a tractor. The village water reservoir is at the edge of this plot. Village homes are about 200 meters (650 feet) away. And then Yitzhar’s civilian security coordinator arrived with three IDF soldiers from Givat Lehava (Burning Hill), one of the settlement’s outposts that forced its presence on the land.

“The civilian security coordinator is the one who began ejecting the farmer and the soldiers carried out his orders,” Sada said. A video clip that Sada filmed shows the soldier flailing his arms, waving the Palestinians away. “Come on, enough, go home. You have no license. Home. Who here speaks Hebrew?”

Referring to the area of the West Bank under both Palestinian civilian control and Israeli military control, Sada responded: “This is Area B. You know that you are violating the law.” The soldier replied: “Get out of here already. Nu? What does that have to do with it? There was an incident here. You did something that you are not allowed to do.”

What wasn’t allowed? Sada wondered. Our brave soldier asked, wide-eyed, as if he couldn’t believe that a subject would argue with him: “Do you know where you plowed? Where you aren’t allowed to!!”

Many of you will conclude that the soldier knew what he was talking about. True, the soldier knows that he has to obey the supreme commander, whose name is not Gadi Eisenkot, and who descended from the mountaintop of Yitzhar, “The King’s Torah” in hand. On his orders, the army prevents the residents of Urif from working their land in Area B (in addition to their land in Area C, which is under full Israeli control, and remains buried under of a wall of abuse and intrusion). And this is so that you, my dear Jews, will be showered with subsidies and establish Stench Hill there.

Settlers confront Arab farmers in Urif, West Bank. March 31, 2017Credit: Zakaria Sadah of Rabbis for Human Rights

On that same Friday afternoon a group of about 25 settlers walked down to that same plot and from there threateningly approached the homes in Urif. Our wonderful, sweet soldiers, our fantastic children, fired tear gas canisters. No, not at the assailants, some of whose faces were masked, but at young residents of Urif who had gone out to defend the village from the invaders. The settlers then spread the false accusation that “our forces are chasing after Arabs who tried to infiltrate the Lehava neighborhood of Yitzhar.”

Responding to the question with regard to depriving the villagers of the right to work their land, the Spokesperson’s Unit said: “Entry onto the land in question was temporarily limited for security reasons in this area. The security forces will ensure continued plowing at the site at a time that will be coordinated with the owners of the land in accordance with their needs and security needs.”

In civilian language, “entry was limited” means that they acknowledge that it is village land. “Security reasons” means the settlers’ threats and demands. “Security needs” means the soldiers’ and officers’ admiration of the settlers and their awe of them. With regard to “a time that will be coordinated with the owners of the land,” in the war of attrition being waged by our army against the Palestinian farmers over coordinating entry onto their own land, the goal is to exhaust them and have them give in. And then the land will sprout thistles, and the looting and expulsion agency will declare it state land for another settlement “on a temporary basis,” but forever.

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