As Sawiya, Al Lubban al Sharqiya villages. Rehelim sewage flows into the olive groves of As-Sawiya

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Aliyah S. (reporting), Ana S., Nathalie C., Naomi B-T, (guest). Mustafa driver and translator.

Main Points: The main problem for both villages was the often violent interaction between the pupils of the boys’ high school and the IDF soldiers. For now a solution seems to be working. In both villages the people sincerely hope it will stay that way.

As Sawiya has a serious problem of pollution with the sewage of the settlement Rehelim, that flows into some olive groves of villagers. A complaint has been registered with the Civil Authority, but nothing so far has been done about it.

As Sawiya: We spoke with A., a human rights activist who works for the Palestinian Welfare Ministry. He was also a member of the village Council, and is familiar with the problems. He knows some of the Machsom Watch women. Naomi and Nathalie both brought donations of clothes and games for the children in the Kindergarten, which A. was very happy to receive. A. invited us to his parents’ house, where we were served coffee, tea and sweets. We sat outside in the sun and talked.

The village, As Sawiya, was established 450 years ago by 7 extended families. Today the population is 3500. In the past, 60% of the men worked in agriculture on their lands. Olive groves were a very important part of their income. Today, because of the Israeli settlers’ expropriation of their land, only about 30% of the men still depend on agriculture for a living. About 40% of those who work are employed by the Palestinian Authority. Some 30% of the men have permits to work in Israel. Some villagers have gone abroad to find jobs.

The settlements that were established on land belonging to the two villages are Eli, to the south and Rehelim, to the north. Eli was settled in 1982, Rehelim in 1992. Together they occupy 10,000 dunams of land belonging to the two villages. A. suggested that when we are outside we should look up at the ridge of hills to the south. There we can see the large settlement of Eli, and seven more hills on both sides that have outposts on them. The outposts are extensions of Eli which is expanding all the time.

The Israeli Civil Authority gave permits to farmers with olive groves on the slopes near the settlements: only three days to harvest the crop. A. said that the village is very thankful to the Israeli organizations whose volunteers helped pick olives.

SEWAGE: Another really worrisome problem is the sewage coming down from Rehelim for the past year and a half. This potentially serious ecological damage and health hazard has two causes. First, both when the setttlement was founded in 1992, and later as it grew in area and population, instead of setting up a sewerage system, a sewage channel was dug to carry the sewage away into the hills. Even worse than this neglectful planning, a year and a half ago, the settlers changed the course of the sewage channel so that the sewage now runs into the village olive groves, and on to a place near the Tapuach Junction. The sewage is polluting the land and 19 trees have died already. Worse than the original neglectful planning, this settlers’ act seems a conscious aim to destroy the Palestinian olive trees, and their quality of life. But this destructive act may boomerang: the sewage may also seep into the water aquifer, which would be terrible for all of Israel, ecologically and healthwise. Unbelievably, no one seems aware of or concerned about this danger.

In October 2018 the DCO from Huwarra answered the village’s request and came to see the problem. He took pictures and wrote down their complaint and promised to look into what can be done. Since then nothing has happened and nothing has changed. A. said the officer asked the village to produce photos of the channel taken from the air. “How can Palestinians possibly do that?!” A. asked with a laugh. But the problem is not funny.

EDUCATION: There are two schools for children up to the age of ten; then they go to separate schools for boys and girls till the age of 18. The boys’ school – from both As Sawiya and Al Lubban al Sharqiya – is on road 60, the main north/south highway. Many boys walk along the road to and from school. Since we (MW women) have been coming to this area, we have heard about the problem of the boys and IDF soldiers and jeeps that line the road when the boys leave the school. The soldiers are there to guard the settlements on the ridge of hills across the road from the school. The soldiers constantly goaded the boys to throw stones at them. Then the soldiers could chase the boys and take one or more of them in as “stone throwers”, and/or shoot tear gas at them. This has been an on-going problem.

Then, on October 15 the Palestinian Authority closed the school, as demanded by the Civil Authority. The villages appealed for help to human rights organizations and to UNESCO. Finally, an agreement was reached between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli command. The closureinfo-icon of the school was cancelled. Now, every day, 7 Palestinian policemen, young men, not in uniforms and not armed, line the road opposite the school and see that the boys get home safe and sound. They are there from 8:30 to 14:00. After that, IDF jeeps and soldiers are seen in the area. Since then, the agreement is working and the situation is tense but quiet.

It is worth noting that we reported on another 2 Boys’ High Schools with similar problems: Burin (10.07.19) and Urif  (13.11 & 28.11.18). We will revisit them soon.

In 2010 Eli settlers vandalized one of the elementary schools that is near road 60. They destroyed equipment and set fire to the library in the building. Israeli human rights groups along with international groups, EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, a Christian organization)), Shalom Achshav,, and others helped to rebuild the school.

A Solution: When asked, A. suggested a solution to the conflict in our area with a rather novel idea for us. Two states– Israel and Palestine - with a border between them. The new element was that Palestine would have an open border with Jordan and there would be cooperation between the two countries. Gaza would be part of the Palestinian state, with a seaport, an airport and a connecting road to Jordan. All of this would be decided by negotiations among all three parties. (Or four.)

Al-Lubban-al-Sharqiya. The village is smaller than Sawiya, on the same side of the road, but closer to Eli. We went to the mini-market where we visited before and talked with A. the owner, who greeted us warmly as old friends. A. is a highly educated woman, with an MA degree in Democracy and Human Rights studies. She taught at Bir Zeit University, but gave that up to raise her children. She runs the grocery while being a mother. The Palestinian children are on winter holiday until January 23. There were kids running around, in and out of the shop, and up and down from the upper floor where A. and her family live. A. explained that there is a computer on the upper floor and the children were engaging in games.

The School: The boys’ school is a very important subject for A. Her oldest child, a ten year old boy, will be going there next year. She said that one month ago the Palestinian Authority took upon itself to guard the school and the village. The guards have no uniforms and no weapons. But they are a large group of young men whose presence during school hours, from 8:30 to 14:00, is very important. This is according to an agreement with the IDF. After 14:00 there might be soldiers who patrol the area. “We have our life back,” A. said, more than once.

We asked if there was no playing field where these kids could release their energy in games. A. said there is an old football field, but now it is on the main road, both in and out of the village. It is too dangerous a place for the kids to play in. The village does need a new playing field.

She also told us about two boys wounded by soldiers. A 12 year-old boy was shot in his two legs: one above the knee, the other on the sole of the foot. And now, A. adds, he can’t walk. The second, a 15 year old boy was hurt when soldiers shot into his house, opposite A’s market, wounding his face.

We didn’t stay long as A. was busy with her children and the shop. We all bought some things at the shop and bid A. farewell. It’s a pleasure each time we visit her.