Za'tara (Tapuah), Jurish

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Aliyah Strauss, Naomi Benzur (reporting)

9:45 we set out from the Rosh Haayin train station.

We travelled on road 5 to Tapuach Junction. The entire way no military vehicles were to be seen. The junction was empty. By the bus stop to Ramallah there were 2 armed soldiers, male and female. Opposite them another armed soldier stood outside the camouflage draped post. Our aim for the day was Jurish village, which is in area B. At Tapuach Junction we turned to road 458, from which the side-road to the village comes off. The entrance to this side-road that leads to the village is blocked with huge boulders. Not only that, a secondary path that goes around the boulders and leads back to the road to the village, is very steep. A driver, in a hurry, endangered his car by using the path, but he came out alright. Nadim, our practiced and careful driver, tried the path and saw that the car could not make it up the steep incline. A farmer, plowing his small field with a donkey and a hand-guided plow, directed us to a long and winding road that would lead us to the village. Since the barrier of boulders has been in place that is the way that the villagers have had to take to get to and from the village.

On our way to Jurish the road goes through Qusra. According to several people whom we spoke to along our way, the hoodlums from “Esh Kodesh” who were extricated from Qusra by the IDF about 2 weeks ago, bloodied and  shamed, had learned a lesson: since that event they have not come near the village, at least not until now.

After a rather long ride we came to Jurish, a village with a population of about 1600. An older, religious man with a long beard, dressed in a galabiah, who for religious reasons does not shake hands even with peace women, welcomed us to his small vegetable and fruit shop opposite the Council building which was closed.

He told us that the barrier of boulders had been put in place just about one month ago. Before that there had been a regular metal gate barrier that had been taken away. In his opinion the barrier was to stop the villagers from entering or exiting the main road which is in area C. Does the fact that the village is in area B give them immunity to the army coming into the village whenever they want?  Not at all! Soldiers enter the village during the day and at night and arrest people for interrogations. Two months ago, late at night, soldiers intruded into our host’s home, searched the house, woke up the children and got them out of bed, and then left just as they had come. Soldiers also uprooted olive saplings that had been planted on land owned by people in the village that was close to the main road, with the excuse that the land there was in area C.

Are there any disturbances by settlers? About three months ago almost one hundred settlers, from Shilo or Esh Kodesh, entered the village and began to go wild. Since then most of their acts have been uprooting or breaking olive trees near the road. Also settlers from “Migdalim”, who are not among the extremists, participate in taking over land belonging to the village. Their sewage pipe was laid on land belonging to our host’s family.

The village has a problem of water: the main well in the village has been contaminated by sewage water that has seeped into it. The villagers receive water from a well in Awarta, brought to the village in tankards, and distributed to the houses. The water problem should be solved soon. A network of water pipes is being laid through the help of a donation from Germany. When the work is completed the people of Jurish will have running water in their homes. What luxury!

How do the people of the village earn their living? Most of them live by agriculture: olives, almonds, lentils and wheat. (They are lucky that they have unhampered access to their agricultural lands.) Some of them have small businesses, and some are employed in the Jordan valley.

Is this a complete view of their employment?  It turns out that it isn’t.

We took leave of our host and walked to a new building very near – a women’s center. The names of the donors of the building were on a sign above the door: The UN Organization for Women, and the government of Saudi Arabia. Here awaiting us was a special surprise; one that we had not seen in any other of the villages we had visited in the territories: the best of Palestinian feminism.

The place was spacious, very clean and heated. (It was a very cold day.) The women were nicely dressed, though some seemed not to follow the usual rules so closely, but were more permissively dressed. Some were wearing pants without a dress over them. And one younger women, more bold than the others was wearing “skinny” jeans, a body hugging shirt and high heeled shoes.  But the difference between them and the women we have met in our work in other villages was not only in their dress. Their body language was assertive, their eye contact was direct, and their way of talking was decisive – they radiated self-confidence. Yes, they have good reason to be this way. Unemployment among many of the men that was foisted on them caused a steep decline in their living standard (which was not high anyhow). This awakened them to act: they initiated women’s employment that could add earnings to their families. They set up a women’s organization that is going very well. They told us, with pride, of the network they have built to sell the women’s handwork in woven straw and bead baskets and mats. There are two schools in the village, one for boys and the other for girls, with about 500 children altogether. The women have set up six kiosks by the schools to sell sandwiches, drinks and snacks to the children. “We pay special attention that the food will be healthy.”  Women who are employed in preparing the food and working in the kiosks earn 45 shekels a day. And they have more ideas that are being planned.

We checked with them if they might be interested in organizing a group for learning English and/or Hebrew and the answer was enthusiastic. Our request was that at least ten women should sign up for the lessons. The director of the organization, Iman, warns us, “Many more will sign up!” If a new learning group does come out of our visit it will be an added value to our investigations in the villages. We parted from them with good feelings of friendship and having met each other at “eye level.”

Before we left the village we had another surprise: an archaeological site – beautiful ancient buildings, some under the level of the surrounding area, have been preserved. Unlike the “Grave of Caleb Ben Yefuneh”, a Arab sheikh’s grave  which settlers have “Hebrewized”, these authentic ancient buildings attest to the existence of Palestinian life in the territories many, many years ago.