Huwwara, Udala, Awarta

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

Main Points: In all three villages the people talked about the constant harassment and damage caused by settlers from the settlements of Yitzhar and Itamar. The Palestinian farmers cannot work their groves and their fields properly. They cannot harvest their crops as they would have done, if not for the harassment and the illegal appropriation of their land. The Jewish religious establishment has declared certain grave sites in Udala and Awarta as holy to Jews. Religious Jews gather at these places at night and their noisy revelling disturbs the villagers’ sleep.

Huwwara:  The head of the Municipality had to attend a funeral and could not meet with us. We spoke to some other representatives.

The most pressing problem for the people of Huwwara is the constant harassment and damage caused by the settlers from Yitzhar. Just the past Saturday, settlers came into olive groves belonging to Huwwara, and broke the trees. What is astounding is that people from Huwwara came to the groves and someone video-taped the hooded settlers swinging from the branches of the trees until they broke off. The vandals didn’t seem to care that their activity was being taped; they seemed to be enjoying their “sportive outing”. 50 trees were broken in groves belonging to 5 farmers. We were shown the video by one of the men we were speaking with. We hope to receive the video from him. The day before our visit some farmers from Huwwara were in their groves to care for the trees. Settlers from Yitzhar came in with sticks and beat the farmers to drive them out of their groves. On the day that the settler from Havat Gilad was killed, settlers from Yitzhar came into Huwwara and were smashing cars randomly. All the information on these incidents, and the video were sent to the Palestinian Authority.

We asked what these Palestinian men thought of President Trump’s announcements. “Jerusalem doesn’t belong to Trump! Who is he to say what will or will not be with Jerusalem!” We asked why more Palestinians don’t demonstrate in the streets and the towns. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t want us to demonstrate, that is why so few people went out to the streets. “What can we do alone. All the Arab countries have to demonstrate against Trump’s policies.” We also asked if they will be hurt by Trump’s decision to give only half the amount of money to UNWRA, and they said that it will certainly hurt all the Palestinians. As an example they mentioned that the main road, (Road 60) that goes right through Huwwara, is in need of resurfacing, but the PA doesn’t have the money, and cannot do the work.

The garbage from Huwwara they used to dump and burn close to Beita. The settlers of Yitzhar complained about the smell of the smoke from the dump, and impounded the only garbage truck the town had. The municipality had to pay 5,000 shekels to get their truck back. Now they take it to Zeita which is 70 klm. away, which makes it very expensive. Another place is nearer, Delisia, but there is no road, only a path, and in the rain the truck gets stuck in the mud. Therefore, when it rains there is no garbage collection.

About 80% of the university graduates in the town cannot find work in their field, and take any work they can find. There is 20% general unemployment in the town. Many young people leave to find better conditions abroad.

Udala: On our way to Awarta we picked up a man who could show us the way. He is from Udala, and told us about the village. It is very small, 2000 residents, and it borders on Awarta. The Council was usually closed because the Council head and members work without a salary. The unemployment in the village is very high, with no work for university graduates. This man had not been given a permit to work in Israel since 2006, although he had worked for years in Israel and had no complaints against him, or security problems. There is a real problem getting permits for work in Israel. The other pressing problem is that Kever Yosef is in Udala. Religious revelers come at night with singing and chanting and with music accompaniment until morning. They disturb the sleep of the entire village.

A lot of the land belonging to farmers in Udala (and Awarta) is on the eastern side of the village, near the settlement of Itamar. The farmers cannot go to their land without a permit from the DCO. During the olive harvest there was constant harassment from the settlers of Itamar. Since the murder of the settler from Havat Gilad, settlers even harass people on the streets of the village, and the villagers don’t go near their eastern plots.

Awarta: We were warmly greeted by the Council head and some others who remembered us from a previous visit. The problems in Udala are repeated in Awarta. 12,000 dunams of land are on the eastern side of the village which they can’t even get near. There is a large map on the wall of the Council chamber which they explained to us, and which shows very clearly the large swath of land that has been taken over by Itamar (see photo below). The farmers do not often get permits to work their land. The trees are dying from lack of care, the olives fall off and the crop is lost. Even when the farmer gets a permit it is for one week which is never enough time to do the work. One month ago settlers came into fields owned by villagers. These fields were used for growing crops other than olives, but now the villagers cannot use their land.

There is an army base near Itamar, also on Awarta’s land. There is a group of houses on the eastern most part of Awarta. We were told that those families live in fear of what might happen to them. The entire village feels closed in. They are unable to build any new homes for their population.

In 2000 the army closed the road that leads from Awarta to Nablus. Now the villagers can go out on this road, but to return to the village they must take a long way around. In 2010 two very poor villagers were gathering old unused pieces of metal to sell and get some money. They got into the area claimed by Itamar and they were shot dead by the army. There is a place in Awarta that the Israelis claim is holy. Settlers come at night and disturb the villagers’ sleep.

When the murder of a family took place in Itamar some years ago, two men from the Awad family in Awarta were accused of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. About half of the families in Awarta are of the Awad family. This family is now blacklisted and anyone from the family might be punished at any time. A few days before our visit the army had set up a temporary checkpoint on the road to Awarta. Two young boys with that family name were beaten by soldiers at that checkpoint.