Today, May 17, two international and one Israeli human rights activists joined a small group of Palestinian farmers in their non-violent action of cutting up 50 meters of a 500 meter long barbed wire fence. A fence the Israeli army illegally had set up the previous day on Palestinian owned land.
Together with the two other international activists I reached Beit Omar early this morning. We met up with Ahmed, one of the owners of the land that was now defaced by army barbwire. We bought some food and water and then went altogether in a car to Ahmed’s fields situated just outside the village of Beit Omar, opposite the farmers university of Arob village. It was a hot morning and we all sat down in the shadow of Ahmed’s grapevine, pear and all kinds of other sorts of trees to eat and he started to tell us the story of his land and the newly set up barbed wire.
He tells us that the land we’re sitting on belongs to him and his family and that the surrounding parts of the field belong to two other families. In total the size of the land of the three families is 6000 square meters and altogether 40 people are living off and depending on the products and the incomes this land is bringing them.
The previous day the army had come and set up a 500-meter long barbed wire fence crossing straight through the bottom part of the lands of the three families. It effectively makes it impossible to enter the field with a tractor and all the farmer equipment necessary for the work. And though it’s possible to get around the fence by foot, even this is a disrupting and unpleasant 500 meters hiking in difficult terrain. Ahmed continues, “It’s spring! We’re soon going to harvest. If we’re not able to work in the fields now and prepare for harvest and then not even be able to do the actual harvesting, 40 people will starve this year!”
When Ahmed asked the army commander, Izik Affasi in charge of the military operation, for a reason why the barbed wire was set up he got the answer that there had been Palestinian kids throwing stones from this land on settler cars on the close by settler bypass road. When Ahmed then asked the commander for papers proving that there was a court decision behind this operation he was told they didn’t have any papers right now but that they would bring him papers the following day.
When we, the internationals, later had the possibility to speak to the commander in question he made it clear that there were no accusations on the landowners or their families of throwing stones. The commander even said he knew that the kids came from another village close by, but then he added that the army still holds the landowners responsible for what ever happens on their land at whatever time.
Whether there had ever been any kids throwing stones from Ahmed’s and the other families’ lands or not we could all agree on three things. First of all there was no legal papers shown to the landowners when the barbed wire was set up, so there was no reason for them to let it stay there. Second of all the stone throwing accusations weren’t directed to the farmers or their families and they should therefore not have to be the ones suffering for it. That’s called collective punishment and is, from what I know, illegal by international law. Thirdly the barbed wire doesn’t, in any way, fill the purpose of keeping stone throwing kids away. It’s perfectly possible to stand either in front or behind the barbed wire and throw stones.
When this was made clear the internationals started to cut up the fence and effectively removed all barbed wire from Ahmed’s land.
At 11 o’clock soldiers showed up and though they were obviously angry, after awhile, they actually started to listen to what the farmers had to say. As showing the soldiers the damage the barbed wire has caused on his groves Haj Mahmoud, one of the neighbor landowners, argued the absurdity of the barbed wire being put in the middle of his land “Why does it have to be here, in the middle of our fields? Put a high wall on the side of the road instead!” To demonstrate Haj Mahmoud picked up a stone from the ground and threw it on the now empty road “Even me, an 80 year old man, can reach the road with a stone from this side of the barbed wire!” A couple of hours of discussions actually made them agree on our arguments and it was decided that all of the remaining barbed wire could be removed and instead a wall will be set up on the side of the road, allowing the farmers full access to their land. No one was arrested.
We’ll have to wait and see if this agreement will be kept to or not.