Qabalan and Yatma

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

MAIN POINTS: Yatma, whose area borders on the area of the settlement Rehelim) suffers from much more settler harassment than Qabalan, which is farther away. The olive harvest season is particularly difficult. Water supply is a serious problem for both villages. Water for home use is intermittent and expensive; there is no water for agriculture. Other than the olive groves both villages suffer from a lack of employment possibilities in the village. In both places we heard expressions of the desire for an independent Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel.

Qabalan: We met with the head of the local Council who told us that there is no friction now with settlers and they feel quite safe. There is one area of olive groves, belonging to families in the village, that is near the settlement Eli. These families must have permits to harvest their olives. They get permits for 4 to 5 days to do the work, so on Saturday the entire family works in the grove. Many men work all week in Israel, so Saturday is a frantic harvest day.

The only harassment he mentioned was that the settlers from Rehelim blocked the road to Qabalan for about 2 hours, one month ago. No one knew why it was done, but then it was opened and the traffic could flow. When asked how he saw the end of the conflict in our area he said, “We want to live together in peace. You have your state, and we will have ours. My ancestors have lived here for centuries and we want to continue living here in peace.”

Water supply is the chronic problem for the past 10 years. There is no water for agriculture or animals. In June, July and August they received less than 40% of their needs. Most families consist of 7 persons and the family receives 12 mc of water for a month. That works out to about 57 Lpcd (liters of water per person per day). (The WHO standard is 100 liters/day/person.) Since September the village has begun to receive more water. This is ironic in that it is now cooler and less humid and people consume less water. The village is working with Mekorot and with the PA water authority to increase the water allocation.

The Council head did not think that electricity was a problem. But he did tell us about the beginnings of solar energy projects – 2 projects for houses and 1 for a workshop. He had no exact figures for unemployment in the village; there are several workshops for making cartons, and many men work in Israel.

There are six government schools in the village – 3 for boys and 3 for girls. Most of the teachers are women. There are also 3 private schools that are run by private organizations. The official had transferred his child from a private school to a government one because he felt it was better.

Yatma: We spoke with a member of the village Council. The population of Yatma is about 5,000. It is much closer to the settlement, Rehelim, than Qabalan, and has more problems of harassment. Last year, at the time of the olive harvest, settlers broke 50 trees belonging to families in Yatma and stole the olives. The people in Yatma took photos of the destruction and gave them to ‘Yesh Din’, but nothing came of it. There are more than 100 dunams of land belonging to families in Yatma that they can’t even get to. The rest of the plots the farmers can get to all year round, but, only they manage to harvest only 50% of the olives. The settlers simply don’t let them work at harvest time. There is a dirt path leading to some of the groves. The army came and dug a deep ditch across the path so that no vehicle can go into the groves to pick up the sacks of olives. The farmers have to carry the sacks about 700 meters to get to a vehicle. A farmer who has a grove very near to the settlement Tapuach is afraid to take his children with him to help him with the work.

One house, part of Yatma, is only 5 meters from the wire fence separating it from Rehelim. The army will not allow Yatma to put up a wall to protect the family, but the army has put some cameras on the fence. The family has been threatened by settlers with knives. A row of 8 houses which we could see from the window of the Council have all been given demolition orders. Even though they are close to other houses, technically they are in Area C, and did not receive permits to build. The families have hired a lawyer and have gone to court. Meanwhile, nothing is happening.

The situation regarding water is quite difficult. Families receive water once in 10 days when they fill up containers.  The head of the Council has to alternate supplying water to the various areas in the village. He turns on the water in one part for a day, then turns it off and turns on in another part. And so it goes continuously.

The employment situation is also not too good. About 10% of the men work in Israel. Some work in the village taking apart old cars that have been junked. There is a large lot with many old cars piled up at the entrance to the village.

There are three schools in Yatma – 1 for girls and 2 for boys. There is no high school in the village.

In answer to our question about what they want as a solution to the conflict the answer was very direct. “We want to live like human beings. We want to be free and to have our own Palestinian state. We don’t want to worry every time someone leaves the house. We want to live in peace with the Israelis.”

We sensed that they feel more anxious and less secure now than on our previous visits.