Newsletter 2020-09: Shana Tova and updates | Machsomwatch
אורנית, מהצד הזה של הגדר

Newsletter 2020-09: Shana Tova and updates

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Saturday, 12 September, 2020


We are writing from a place of deep concern. Despite the challenges imposed everywhere by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Israel, and in the Occupied Territories, where the challenges are even more severe, we must not forget Netanyahu’s promise to annex large areas of the West Bank, a promise that led to the worsening of the relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The official annexation was to be formally announced on July 1, 2020.  This, in spite of the fact that a precise map of the areas to be annexed and the status of the Palestinians living in them were never made public. As is well-known, the annexation did not take place, and a few weeks later it became clear that it was canceled (or postponed, depends on who one asks) as part of the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that even without official annexation, de facto annexation in the Occupied Territories continues to expand as it has for many years. Palestinian lands are often transferred to settlers, settlements and roads are built for Israelis only, and the freedom of movement of the Palestinians becomes ever more restricted.

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This idyllic image of the Jordan valley hides a sad and recently even violent reality. The COVID-19 pandemic deepened the economic difficulties of the shepherd communities. The closureinfo-icon prevented them from reaching villages in order to sell their milk and meat products, their main source of income, or to buy necessary basic products. The demand for their products declined due to the generally weakened economy of the Palestinian population and many shepherd families are now destitute. In recent months MachsomWatch volunteers collected donations, purchased fruit, vegetables, and other basic items and distributed them among the many families who remain isolated in the Jordan Valley. Beyond their basic struggle for survival – without regular water supplies that are denied to them, coupled with uncertainty due to demolition orders placed on their dwellings and sheep pens – these small communities suffer from settlers’ violence. Settlers from newly established illegal outposts prevent the Palestinian shepherds from grazing in areas where they have grazed for decades. Our volunteers, together with volunteers from other organizations, used to accompany the shepherds and protect them from settler violence. This important activity, which stopped because of mutual fear of infection, has resumed recently on a limited scale. 


A Palestinian shepherd boy in the Jordan Valley
Photo: Rita Mendes-Flohr



In recent months, as the threat of annexation loomed, and despite closures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, settlers increased their attacks against residents of villages in the central West Bank. These villages have suffered for many years from forceful attacks by violent settlers who live in settlements and outposts on nearby hills. The main victims are the villages of Burin, Asira al-Qibliya, Urif, Einabus, Huwwara, and Madama, which the Yitzhar settlement and the outposts around it control from the hills above. Our volunteers visit these villages regularly and keep in touch with residents and Village Councils. We continue to receive almost daily information about damages to property and at times about persons who have been injured. These incidents have been documented by us and by others, and occasionally reach the media and appear in news reports. We get reports of stone throwing, vandalism, breaking of windows, damage to school buildings and to vehicles, as well as spraying of malicious graffiti. And there are the damages to agricultural lands, such as burning of fields, cutting and uprooting of olive trees (including ancient trees), and flattening of land with heavy equipment.  All of these acts of vandalism and violence have a purpose: the theft of Palestinian lands and the control of ever-growing areas for the expansion of settlements.

Arson in the fields in Burin 8.07.2020

Photo: Burin resident


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Over a four-year period, we identified, documented, and explored 40 Muslim heritage and religious sites – maqams (maqamat in Arabic) – throughout the West Bank. Among them are several sites important also to Jews and Christians. Our published review shows that since the Israeli Occupation of 1967, those maqams which are considered sacred and important to Muslims only, have not been recognized as heritage sites. Moreover, they have been subject to neglect and were left to acts of destruction and vandalism by settlers. Many of these maqams are now confined inside settlements, in military zones, and in nature reserves. They are not maintained, and their very survival is at risk. Palestinians are prevented from visiting these sites, from renovating them, and from conducting traditional activities in them. Most of these sites will soon collapse and disintegrate, and will thus disappear from a cultural heritage developed over hundreds of years.

We hope that this review will increase awareness of the precarious situation of the maqams and will help save them.


Maqam Sheikh Abdullah

Photo: Nurit Popper