Sinjil, Qabalan

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Natalie C., Naomi B. (reporting), Nadim (driving) Translator: Charles K.

09:00  We left from the Rosh Ha’ayin train station.

More soldiers at Ariel junction than last week: armed pairs stationed at each of the four points.

Two soldiers at the road to HarIs that leads to Qedumim and Emanuel.

09:30  Tapuach junction.  Three soldiers in the parking lot, two more at the bus stop.

We turn onto the problematic Highway 60.  The many settlements spread along the road, this main route on the West Bank connecting Nablus and Ramallah, view it as their property, and for a long time they’ve been attacking Palestinian vehicles driving on the portion south from Tapuach junction.  They also threaten the workers in the garages along the road and residents of villages near the road.  Today the trip is quiet.  Scattered settlers stand hitchhiking along the road, unconcerned.  They’re the only representatives of the occupation at this hour.  We see no military vehicles on the road.

To the right, plowed furrows are already visible in the small plots of land belonging to the village of A-Sawiyya near the road, and supports have been erected for the grape vines.  Only time will tell whether the residents will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

09:45  We reach the Sinjil municipality on a paved and well-equipped local road – traffic signs, crosswalks, two marked lanes.  The first impression is of a stable, well-organized village: lovely large homes scattered over a large area.  Many new buildings under construction.   Solar water heaters on most roofs, a taxi stand.  A sanitation worker rakes trash from the roadside, a rare sight in West Bank villages.  An impressive ceramic picture of an olive tree on the wall of the municipal building welcomes visitors.  The municipal building, opened in 2014, is very clean and kept meticulous.  An exhibit of local landscape photos decorates the walls.  We meet A., the head of the municipality, in his well-equipped and well-maintained office.  He’s an impressive person, pleasant, speaks fluent English after 25 years in the United States before returning to the village and building a house.  He’s been the head of the municipality for six years; he thinks the current period has been the most difficult.  Not only is the village located next to Highway 60 but it’s also surrounded by some of the most violent settlements:  Shiloh, Eli, Ma’aleh Levona and Giv’at Har’el were established on lands expropriated from the village.  5000 dunums were taken, and there are another 10,000 dunums to which villagers have access only twice a year, for two days each time.  Fortunately, the village has connections to international organizations and Palestinian groups whose members come to help, particularly during the two days of olive harvest.  And also Israeli groups like Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights.

The village has about 8000 residents.  Twenty thousand people have emigrated, starting in 1967 and continuing during the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Most didn’t return within a year to renew their IDs, as required by the occupier’s regulations.  So their documents became invalid, and their holders lost the right to return to live here or even to visit their families in the village of their birth.  The only exceptions are those who obtained foreign citizenship.  Most of them have American passports; they’re allowed to visit.  About 4000 former villagers live in the United States.  Others found refuge in Jordan, the Gulf States and in Europe.  We’ve already seen the phenomenon of the “wandering Palestinian” in many other West Bank villages.

In recent years the security situation has become much worse.  We were all shocked by the terrible brutality of the arson in Duma in which an infant and his parents were killed and the boy, the sole survivor, was severely burned and is still hospitalized.  A similar arson occurred in Sinjil a year and a half ago:  settlers infiltrated the village at night and set a family’s house afire.  The parents and their five children managed to get to the roof.  500 villagers showed up, chased away the settlers and saved the family.  They were unhurt but were left homeless.  Two years ago settlers tried to burn the mosque.  Since then villagers have established security shifts 24 hours a day, and almost every night confront settlers who try to infiltrate the village under cover of the army which backs them up.  The soldiers fire tear gas at the homes, particularly those near the road, and rubber-coated bullets at residents defending themselves.  Two days ago a man was injured by rubber-coated bullets.  He’s still hospitalized.

The soldiers also invade homes at night and arrest people.  Five were arrested a week ago.  The Red Cross helped us determine where they were taken.  Today 22 villagers are in prison.  Fortunately, none of them are children.  “We, the parents and the teachers try very hard to prevent the children from throwing rocks and getting into trouble.  So far, we’ve succeeded,” A. says.

He describes collective punishment:  cutting off water to homes.  During this summer’s heat wave the village had no water for thirty days.  Some wells provided a little drinking water.  Most of the residents are farmers; others are employed by the Palestinian Authority.  Villagers don’t work in the settlements.  Those who work in Israel must cross daily through Qalandiya checkpoint, itself a torturous procedure.

The entire village is defined as Area C, which means building is restricted and the army enters freely.  “But that’s not important,” says the head of the municipality.  “The army freely enters even villages to our west, like ‘Aru’er or ‘Amoriyya, that are defined as Area A.  So what difference does the definition make?”

11:30  Qabalan.  A lucky village, located a few kilometers from Highway 60, so its security situation is less serious.  H., the head of the municipality, whom we know, was in Holland, so A. hosted us.  He has a master’s degree in planning and development from Al Najah University.  That’s his job in the municipality.  He worked in Israel for two years, during which he became fluent in Hebrew – speaking, reading and writing.  He also tells us the army comes to Qabalan at night, primarily to frighten the residents, and also erects occasional checkpoints, but the villagers are particularly apprehensive about leaving the village.  There are frequent incidents at Tapuach junction of firing by settlers and soldiers.  When villagers arrive on Highway 60 from Ramallah, settlers throw rocks at their vehicles.  A. shows us photos of a car whose windshield has been punctured by stones.  But, as you know, those settlers have immunity.  The army won’t chase after them and the legal system won’t imprison them.  After all, they’re not Palestinian children…

How do the villagers make a living?  Most are farmers.  This year they received permits to harvest olives for four days, during which they managed to pick most of the trees planted at some distance from the neighboring Rechalim settlement.  Others work in Israel (but only, according to the laws of the occupation, if they’re married and own homes), and some in the Barkan industrial zone which they must reach via the Tapuach checkpoint.

Qabalan is a center of medical services for area villages like Yatma or Talfit.  In the absence of sufficient medical personnel, it’s difficult for the staff to provide the necessary services for such a large population.  But, A. reassures us, “We have students studying medicine who will join our medical staff when they finish.”  When we left we saw an ambulance parked opposite the municipal building on which was written boldly in English: “Qabalan Ambulance.”

12:30  A police car was parked on the Tapuach junction plaza on our way back and four soldiers were at the bus stop.

A surprise greeted us at Ariel junction:  A private car passes flying two Machsom Watch flags.  We weren’t able to identify the riders.

13:15  Back to Rosh Ha’ayin.