Huwwara, Duma, Homsa The harsh and cruel hand of the colonists

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Daphne Banai (report), Tamar Berger (photos)

We went to see the Huwwara bypass road and southern entrance to Nablus. So much money has been poured into this road, that will serve perhaps 1000 persons in two colonies and several small outposts. Right now, its our lanes are sped on mostly by Palestinians. The road goes right next to the Palestinian village of Beta, whose considerable areas of land and olive groves were confiscated for paving work. I just hope Palestinians will not be forbidden to use it, as was done with Road 443. Beyond the wall/fence being erected alongside the road, there are amusement park facilities and perhaps the village children could have fun there.


The main entrance to Nablus from Huwwara (which used to be Huwwara Checkpoint) is now locked with a pair of orange iron barriers, sporting posters calling to avenge the death of colonist-boy Achimeir, as well as posters advocating Israeli sovereignty of the Palestinian Jordan Valley, now. As it is locked, the main road to the large city of Nablus is deserted.


We turned to the apartheid road leading to colonies Itamar and Alon More. About 300 meters later, a narrow, potholed road crosses it from Awarta village. A long waiting line of Palestinian cars stood there, the end of which we couldn’t see. On the other side of the potholed road, soldiers inspected every single car. Apparently this miserable, whacky place is now the main entrance to Nablus.


We visited Duma, the village that was attacked by hundreds of colonists and soldiers on the Saturday following the murder of the youth Benjamin Achimeir. They torched houses while inhabitants were inside, and dozens of cars. We wished to ask how they were and see what has taken place since. One of the three houses torched at the entrance to the village has already been cleaned, and we sat in the porch with the elderly people living there and shared tea with them. The old woman said how her husband, who can hardly walk, hid in the storage space underneath the house for fear of the colonists and soldiers. She showed us the window smashed by the thugs, that already has new panes. The house torched with its inhabitants inside is not inhabited right now, as the family moved to live with relatives in the village.


We reached the Palestinian Jordan Valley. The first thing we did was to head for the water checkpoint near Hamra, that prevents Palestinians free access to Area B which they need in order to buy and carry water in tankers. As everyone knows, the inhabitants of the northern Palestinian Jordan Valley are ‘water prevented’. The gate - supposed to be open all day after a talk with the commanding officer of the area - was locked. No soldiers in sight. Several water tankers and other vehicles stood and waited for soldiers for two hours, according to the truck driver. On the other side stood another tanker connected to a tractor. We called activists who have contacts in the army, and soldiers arrived 20 minutes later. Another 20 minutes were spent doddling around, another military car arrived unloading the soldiers a water jerrycan. Israeli soldiers stood and meticulously studied the jerrycan. No one is in a rush or bothered that Palestinians who only wish to bring water, the most basic necessity in the world, stand in the sun at 30 degrees centigrade and dehydrate.


We proceeded to Homsa. We were warmly welcomed by the women, who took a break from their chores and hosted us in their hosting tent. When we wished to leave, they begged us to stay for they are lonely and enjoy visits so much. Only on the holiday (Eid Al Fitr) do they get visits by their brother. The rest of the year they are on their own, busy cooking, milking and cheese-making. The place is operated as a commune and the three sisters share the work. One day Falastin cooks, the next day Yusra, and the third day Laila. Thus they break up the daily chore routine. They are rather satisfied with the place to which they moved two years ago, when the State of Israel demolished their home again and again and confiscated their belongings. The only thing that really troubles them is the live-fire practice that the Israeli army carries out nearby, lest they get shot with bullets and shells.


On our way we saw vast golden wheat fields, that belong to Tamun and Tubas residents. The wheat is high and ripe early, ready for harvest. Since they have no combines, they need to rent some beyond the checkpoint, in Area A or B. This requires a permit and the rent is costly. One combine already stands near the field, ready for action. The problem repeated every year is the fear of fire in the fields that might reach the living quarters, because of the nearby army maneuvers (the fields are not included in the firing zone). In previous years we saw fires that were probably ignited by the army and witnessed its total refusal to help put out the fires with the fire engines present in every army base.


N. called us and said the army came to his home three days ago and confiscated his car. It is at the checkpoint, but the soldiers - who gave the owner no paper attesting to the confiscation - are not willing to speak with them. Having no other choice, since the soldiers have refused to speak even with us lately - we advised him to turn to the Palestinian DCO who would contact the Israeli DCO.


We visited the family of Mahmood, in custody because of some rather innocent post he shared on Facebook. The father said that yesterday he drove to Nasaria, beyond the Hamra Checkpoint in Area B. On his way home he encountered a long waiting line, and the checkpoint soldiers were so slow inspecting cars headed for the Palestinian Jordan Valley, that he came home at 3 a.m. His wife did not join him. “I vowed not to leave home until Mahmood (sentenced to 5 months in prison) returns”. He, too, is a kind of kidnapped hostage. We have not yet raised the funds needed for his legal representation. Donations would be most helpful.


On our way back, we decided to drive through the huge area lying between the Palestinian Jordan Valley and Itamar colony with all its outposts. Most of this area is empty, wild, but fenced. The colonists have taken over a tremendous area between the Valley and Nablus - unhampered. A small part of this area is settled with farming ranches, mainly wineries, and a part is tended. They do not have enough manpower to tend the thousands of dunams expropriated for themselves, so the area lies empty and deserted. The view from there to the Jordan Valley in the east, overlooking Beit Furiq, Salem, Beit Dajan and Nablus, is fantastic. The farms seem very enjoyable, the colonist children run around outside fearless and without a responsible adult, and in the middle of Itamar is a large swimming pool for children where we saw women with the customary religious headdress, and plenty of joyful children. We drove back on the Huwwara bypass road.


On our way, crossing the apartheid road, again we saw the endless lines from Awarta, waiting to cross the road and checkpoint that prevents access to Nablus.