Tour the villages Zeta and Marda

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Aliyah S. (English), Ana S. (English), Nathalie C. (Hebrew), Mustafa (driver and translator).

Main Points: In Zeta, speaking with the Council Head who is also a teacher, we heard about the impressive organization of the young people, 14 to 18 years old, for volunteer work in and around the village. The water sources for both villages that had been in use for hundreds of years have been taken over by Mekorot, and the water is piped to Ariel. Without sufficient water the villages cannot develop their agriculture or any industries. The Israeli army controls the main roads and entrances to the villages. In both villages we heard a very strong desire for ending the Israeli occupation and living in peace with Israel.

Zeta: We spoke with A., the head of the Village Council. He is also a teacher in the Junior High/High School, ages 12 through 18. He teaches during the day and then works as the Council Head from 17:30 to 19:15. He had come to the Council at 10:15 in the morning especially to meet with us, which we certainly appreciated. He also informed us that there are two women representatives on Zeta’s Council.

Because Zeta is a small village (population 3,000) and not in a prominent place, they receive too little attention and money from the Palestinian Authority. So the village has to do things by themselves. This also gives them the freedom to decide for themselves. There are 3 schools in the village – an elementary school for boys and girls together, and 2 Jr. High/ High schools for boys and girls separately. In the upper grades, ages 14 to 18, the boys do volunteer work in the village in groups organized through the school. The girls begin their volunteer work in high school. Two hundred and eighty six children do the work in shifts, on 2 days each week, for one hour each time. A lot of their volunteer work is in cleaning up various places in the village and helping where help is needed. In the middle of our conversation a group of boys entered the Council room. They were dressed very nicely in uniforms which we recognized as those of Boy Scouts. Yes, all the upper school children are organized in the International Scout Movement. They came in to welcome us.  This group was volunteering that day to clean up around the cemetery. During the summer the village organized a summer camp for the younger children.

60% of the pupils go on to higher studies at Universities. But the story is the same as in all the other villages we have visited – there is no work in the professions that they studied. They return to the village to work mostly in agriculture, construction, and manual labor. Our host tells us everyone works, there is no unemployment in Zeta.

Water: Their water comes from Mekorot, and is a serious problem. Up until 3 years ago, the water pressure was 15 bars a day, but now it is only 3.5 bars. This means that houses higher up the slopes do not get any water because the pressure is too weak. This week for 4 days they have not received any water. Why? They don’t know.

Many people have dug family water reservoirs under their houses to collect water during the rainy season.

There is a well that served Zeta and Jammain for years and years. It has been taken over by Mekorot which installed pipes there. The water is now piped to Ariel which then allots the 3,000 villagers a total of 8,400 cm/month.  This is clearly insufficient water for their daily needs, not to speak of developing industries. Our host said they need 35,000 cm water a month.

Electricity— which they receive indirectly from the Israeli Electric Company— is also insufficient. It is actually Ariel which supplies both water and electricity to Jammain up the hill—and then this village in turn sends them on to Zeta, located in the valley below it. There are not even 50 air conditioners in the whole village, but people have to be careful not to turn them on too high, or for too long.

Nevertheless, during the summer when air conditioners are in use, the main fuse may go off. Then only a recognized representative of the company, from Ariel, can turn it on again. The village has to pay 1,500 shekels for this service. Last year, the fuses went off several times on the same day, and they had to call the Ariel technician several times. They were charged a sum beyond what this impoverished village can afford: 12,000 shekels!

Harassment: In the 1980’s, land was taken from the village and given to settlements. Farmers in the village lost some of their income. But the settlements are up on the ridges, farther away from Zeta that is in the valley. So,the village doesn’t often suffer from harassment.

 “The logo of Zeta, on the Council building in Arabic, is Kfar Hashalom, the village of peace. That is who we are and what we wish for.” (Peace also happens to be the translation of the name of the person we talked with.)

We thanked the people we had talked with, said goodbye and went down the stairs.  Outside the open door, on both sides of the narrow path leading to the car, about 25 boys wearing their Scouts uniform stood at attention. I (Aliyah) was the first person by the door. The sight of these boys honouring us in this way was delightful! I saluted them and they saluted me in answer – and then we all laughed as we walked past them and waved goodbye. If only all meetings of Israelis and Palestinians could be so friendly.

Marda: We did not have a telephone number for Marda, so we had no idea if there would be someone to talk to. The conversation in Zeta had taken a lot of time, but we decided to go to Marda and perhaps have a short meeting. We came to the Council in the middle of a meeting of the Council Head with some men of the village. They graciously accepted our interruption, and we said that it would be just a short conversation. One of the men, D, spoke perfect English. When he understood who we are and why we came to Marda, he began talking and spoke for about 15 minutes without waiting for our questions.

The main problems in Marda, he explained, are caused by Ariel, situated on the ridge directly over the village. First, travel out of and into the village is controlled. There are two ways to enter and exit from the village. The IDF often comes and takes control of either or both roads at any time of the day or night, and they are open or shut as the IDF decides. If someone from the village goes out through one road, he can only enter by the other road. Even children suffer on their way to school. Sometimes soldiers stop them from getting to school on time or at all.        

Worse, in order to go to medical facilities in Nablus, a sick Palestinian from Marda has to get a permit from the Israeli authorities.

Secondly, farmers have lost many of their lands and their lives, and their income has been seriously reduced. Ariel is built on land taken from Marda and Salfit and over the years, the city has taken over more and more parcels of their land. And now, like medieval cities, Ariel is surrounded by a fence and a wall. As to Marda’s lands near the city, the IDF now controls access to them. Their farmer owners are limited to a few days a year to work their dwindled land and harvest their olives. Of course this isn’t enough time to really care for the groves properly; the land is dying.

The main road #94, serving Ariel, separates the villagers from other lands, which are now on the other side. While crossing this road to work these lands, several farmers have been killed by hit and run drivers.

And yet, in spite of all these negative blows to their daily existence, D. asserts there have never been any attacks against Ariel by anyone from Marda.     

A third problem concerns the severely diminished water supply. For hundreds of years the villagers used an underground source of water; then Mekorot took it over, built pipes, and channeled the water into Ariel. In short, this precious underground source of water and its pipes have since been closed to the villagers, who now have to spend a lot of money to buy their own water from Mekorot via Ariel.

Finally, because the main road leads to Ariel, the IDF has given an order that any new houses must be built at least 180 meters away from the road. This squeezes the village area, allowing little space for expansion.

“Israel only needs to end the occupation so we can all live in peace. You can’t come to my land and control my life and expect us to live with you in peace.” 

The meeting in Marda was short but to the point.