Turning an uncultivated area into farmland at Beit Ummar in order to prevent Israeli soldiers and settler-colonists from taking it over

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Observers: Tzvia Shapira, Irit Segoli, Nurit Popper (report and photos) Tal Amit (guest) Translating: Tal Haran


We reached Beit Ummar to meet Mussa Maria, a local social activist who wished to show us farmland the development of which began by an organization that Mussa has founded under the auspices of the Beit Ummar Center for Peace and Justice.

We were joined by Tal Amit, an agronomist and old friend of Mussa Maria who has been cooperating with him and extending professional help in his farming project.

Mussa Maria’s family hosted us in its living room. In the center of the space stood a wood-burning stove that lent the place its warm atmosphere. Next to it sat the father of the family, a heavy-set man whose impressive and dominant appearance was still visible. About a month ago he underwent a stroke and ever since he has been sitting, leaning on the sofa cushions, paralyzed and unable to express himself. Meaningless sounds come out of his mouth when he tries to be heard.

He was hospitalized in Bethlehem and now needs rehabilitation but the only adequate institution, in Beit Jala, is full to bursting. Mussa tells us that the man’s situation is not unusual. There are another ten people in a similar state even on their street.

Palestinian society is in urgent need of more rehabilitation hospitals but has no budget or permits to make this happen.

Road 60 is a main thoroughfare, and the village houses as well as the villagers’ lands are located on both its sides, but especially on its western side. Some of these lands have been confiscated for the Jewish settler-colonies.  South of Beit Ummar and very nearby the settler-colony of Karmei Tzur was built and marks the southern border of this bloc of land.

Road 60 is very busy, passes by residential areas and has no pedestrian crossings that would enable the villagers and children to cross it safely. We saw children standing at the roadside while a responsible adult on the other side of the road signals them to wait, and then walks to the middle of the road and signals the cars to slow down and let the children cross. And what do they do when there is no responsible adult on the other side?

We entered Beit Ummar village by the army’s pillbox post monitoring passer-by traffic. However, people exiting the village must use another route, or else be arrested. Apparently this is an easier way of controlling whoever comes and goes. Another route leading up to the village from road 60 has been blocked with 4 heavy cement blocs.

Most of the village houses are situated in Area B, but the road shoulders and wide swathes of land on both its sides are in Area C, like all central roads in the West Bank. Thus too Mussa’s project: the area he has been developing belongs to Beit Ummar farmers. It is 1 kilometer away – as the crow flies – from the settler-colony, and that is ample reason for the authorities to prevent such development. He claims that he has no intention to build there, only to plant fruit trees and other crops. Authorities reason that these pose a security threat to the settler-colonists who built their residences as near as possible to the village and its fields. The army and settler-colonists would come here to picnic and make a show of their presence.

About 7 years ago farmers, at Mussa’s initiative, began to develop the area in order to return it to its owners, by planting trees and other farm crops. They fenced the area in in spite of the Israeli army’s attempts to prevent it. Ever since there are no more picnics of soldiers and settler-colonists, but the army tries by various ways to obstruct the farmers’ attempts, and occasionally demolishes infrastructures such as an stone installation for collecting water, and this caused heavy financial losses. The army also destroys the fences that the farmers put up, and blocks access.  Although they do not intend to build there (as we know, the Israeli occupation authorities forbid any Palestinian construction in Area C), the army requires the farmers to produce permits to use the area for farming purposes.

About two years ago, the army raised a tall fence, about 20 meters long, in order to block the main entrance to this area and the way to an old structure which the farmers wished to use as a farming installation. Now it is neglected and out of use. Lately, about two months ago, the army has raised a dirt dyke at the entrance from road 60, to the other side of the area.

Mussa is determined to struggle and hold on to the ground. He means to plant 500 fruit trees. For this he needs 6750 shekels (each tree costs 13.5 shekels). A call for supporting Mussa Maria’s project will be mailed separately.