Beit Omar and Shoshala: clinging to the ancestral land

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Irit Segoli (guide), Nurit Popper (video, photos) Tal (translating from Arabic and helping Tzvia up the hill), Tzvia Shapira (report), Mustafa (driver), Tal H. translator

The Park Project

We left Rosh Ha-ayin at 9:30, heading directly to Bet Umar where we met with M., a very special young Palestinian. As a youth he resisted the occupation, was in prison and thus missed his years of high school studies. After leaving and living for a while abroad he married a Jewish woman with whom he had a daughter (who still lives with her mother in the US), returned to the West Bank and founded the organization known as "Freedom and Justice". His ideology aims not for joint life but for joint resistance of the occupation. The organization's main agenda is looking out for Palestinian-owned land.

M. says: “Israel took from Bet Umar and Al Arub land to the huge extent of 5300 dunams (Al Arub is a refugee camp built on Bet Umar land, populated by refugees from the Ashqelon – Majdal – area who escaped in 1948). Bet Umar’s population now numbers 19,000, and Al Arub 11,000.  I understand that the most important thing is to create something for the inhabitants that would offer them hope, help them in their hardships under a cruel military occupation.” He decided to build a place where the residents of Bet Umar and surrounding villages could come for ‘rest and recreation’.

We went together to this immense project, that is presently under construction. With the donation funds collected by his organization, he himself planned a park lying on a huge area, where natural woods have been planted (the trees are still young), a swimming pool, large amphitheater, and special wing for physiotherapy are being built. At the center lies “The Forty maqam” – popular belief claims that 40 old men are buried there. Near it stands a huge olive tree, “the most ancient in Palestine”. The project is magnificent, inspiring and filled with hope, and we took our leave promising to visit again to see how it was coming along.

On our way we stopped for hummus at some local resturant and proceeded. In the previous report that Nurit wrote after our first visit at Shushala, she mentioned that “we heard the name of the village, Karyat Shushala, only after having climbed the hill and reaching the home of a brave family of farmers who have lived there for generations. Its land and home have been surrounded by the Jewish settler-colonies of Neve Daniel, and 16 years ago its outpost Sdeh Boaz, right in the heart of Shoshala, on the ancient Roman track between Jerusalem and Hebron.”

Shoshala is situated on a hilltop very near the main road to the Etzyon settler-colony bloc, but these colonies now make it impossible to reach the village by car from the main road. One must climb a very steep hill on foot. The few residents of Shushala who insist on living there reach it only on donkey- or horse back. We climbed on foot… I managed this difficult task thanks to the gracious help of Tal.

On our way we met a group of people who were listening to explanations, who turned out to be UN personnel working at Bethlehem, who had come to witness the unbearable situation in Shoshala. Again we heard the usual tales about the Neve Daniel security official who keeps trying to expel the Palestinian inhabitants, how at night soldiers enter through a hole in the settler-colony fence and harass them. They know that the point of all these harassments is to make them leave, but they are determined to hold on to their forefathers’ land. This time it was the granddaughter, 14-year old S., who speaks some Hebrew, and told us: “Israel is like a predator who wants to devour us, Palestinians”. She said this, and no more. In 2016 settler-colonists entered their small home, summoned the Israeli army who arrested the family’s son and freed him from prison only after a 5000 shekel fine was paid.

We entered the tiny house and were shocked at the poverty we met. There is nothing there except one bed and a pile of mattresses and blankets. How could they manage to pay such a sum? R., S.’s mother, tells us she has been living there for 20 years. They have planted olives and sowed vegetables, and bring water for irrigation on donkey back. She and her husband want their daughter to continue living there. They have only one daughter.  R. says that until April there were more residents living in homes all around, but in April many soldiers came, went from house to house, destroying the toilets, the greenhouses where they grew vegetables, and ruined the only vehicle there (we saw it). “We shall not be moved” she says.

It began to get dark. We took our leave promising we’d come again. We descended slowly and reached Mustafa’s car waiting for us across the road. Traffic was heavy on our way so we made it home by about 8 p.m.