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AIC: Paying for the Occupation

The Village of Husan Near Bethlehem
by Cara Loverock, 14 May 2007

In the Palestinian village of Husan , Mahmoud, like so many farmers in the West Bank, faces daily challenges in having his land close to a settlement, which brings harassment, destruction and abuse with no help in sight.

Mahmoud lives in the village of Husan, near Bethlehem in the southeastern part of the West Bank, with his wife and six children; three girls and three boys. To make a living Mahmoud and his family work their land, which has become increasingly difficult over the years. The family’s property is located in an area adjacent to Husan village in what is now the Israeli settlement of Betar Illit. Mahmoud and his family have faced a great deal of hardship from settlers attempting to destroy their land, “Many people from there, from the settlement, come and cut the trees…They damage our wall, our stone wall.”

Recently settlers set fire to his land, not only causing damage, but now Mahmoud is being charged for having the fire extinguished, “This amount that they wanted from us in the beginning was 40,000 shekels,” explains Mahmoud. He says that after many appointments with officials they had it reduced, “We succeeded to limit this number from 40 to 14,000 shekels.” Although the fire was set by the Betar Illit settlers and put out by the Israeli fire authority, without asking, Mahmoud’s family is stuck with the bill. “Their sons do the fire and their fathers come to put it out and they want from us to pay for this”, he says.

He expresses frustration at the fact that he and his family are asked to pay for the harassment and abuse that has been inflicted on them without reason, other than the misfortune of having land close to a settlement. Betar Illit was built on land confiscated partly from Mahmoud’s family and partly from the village of Nahalin , a village very close to Husan and situated between three major Israeli settlements.

As Mahmoud takes a walk over his modest plot of land, he comes across a large pile of brush just on the other side of the fence, separating his land from Betar Illit. He explains that this pile of brush is something he sees often, as the settlers regularly use these materials when they set fire to his land, “They put many, many branches and put it there…They gather many, many things, wood, anything that will be burned and took it like you see it now…When they do the fires, this will be bigger than this many, many times. What you seen now. This will be many, many bigger than this, and when they burn the fire; the fire will go everywhere.”

The settlers don’t want the fire near their houses, but because of the fence that separates the settlement from Mahmoud’s property, they can’t get on his land this time. Asked how often fires happen, he explains that they are a fairly regular occurrence, “Nearly every four or five months…just in our place, in our field.” Upon the suggestion that something can be done to stop the destruction, Mahmoud answers simply, “No, we can’t.” He says that they are able to file complaints with the Israeli authorities, but recently he was informed that they threw out his file which documented the violations the settlers had committed against his family’s land, “It was exactly two days ago that they told us that this (folder) was closed and they don’t do anything.”

“They come all the time with the rubbish and put it on our field”, says Mahmoud. Looking around, it is very clear that the settlers have total disregard for the Arab family trying to make a living here. There is rubbish strewn about across the property; a tire, a rusted oven, a mattress, a stroller, among other garbage. He’s had to cut many of his trees in order to save them after they’ve been hacked up by settlers.

He points out a fence that has been clearly cut and put back together numerous times, says Mahmoud, “More than five times it’s been damaged and we return it back…They took it on the floor, and we return it back and use iron bars to make it more strong”. Not too far away there is another part of the fence that has been completely destroyed and is lying on the ground.

Looking at all the damage is clearly overwhelming, and Mahmoud tries to explain the frustration, “We haven’t enough strength I thought.” When asked about how it affects how much the land is able to produce, he seems annoyed at the obviousness of the answer, “Of course we get less. Of course,…You have to know something…if you know that nearly all of the trees cut are olive trees. Olive trees can make oil nearly in two years, one time. What I want to say is that we are making here work more than we must do, and this work doesn’t give us the bread we eat.”

As Mahmoud continues his walk through the trees, a group of young men are off in the distance, his nephews and cousins are hard at work, landscaping on this cloudy spring morning. In the area where they are working stands a large electrical tower. Mahmoud says it provides power to the settlement and that he and his family were not asked permission when it was built. “When they come, they don’t come walking…they come with bulldozers, with tractors”, he says.

Betar Illit was built in 1984, settlers have caused trouble on Mahmoud’s land from the beginning, he says, but it has been particularly hard in the last five or six years, due to the second Intifada. “You know, because of the Intifada, they don’t allow us to come in the fields all the time and when we want to enter,” says Mahmoud. He explains that during the Intifada, the Israeli authorities came down hard on security and did not allow Mahmoud onto his land very often, allowing the agriculture to be damaged, since he was not there to try and protect it.

“We do our work, just this. They are afraid because of the Intifada, they don’t allow for us to come when we want. And because of this, because we are not there, all the time the people come and do what they do.”

Directly in front of Mahmoud’s property, there is an area that looks like a construction zone, with bulldozers and garage type buildings. He says it used to belong to his cousin, but was confiscated because his cousin was ill and the land was not being used at the time. “Of course, we tried (to get it back) and all the time the answers were the land, like this, was not good like our land. They call it government land and they have to take it. Because our land is good with trees with stone walls, they can see that someone takes care of this, they know that this belongs to someone, because of this they didn’t take it,” says Mahmoud. Although, he explains that the Israeli government did initially try to purchase the property, “In the beginning they always tried to take it. They tried to take it…although we have the trees, we have everything and when we refused they tried. They said to us, if we want to sell our land. Of course we didn’t think about this at all.”

The family has a second plot of land not too far from the first area, but they are now unable to access it, explains Mahmoud, the small access road is now damaged to the point they can’t get through. “They damaged nearly all, especially in the last three, four years, because we can’t come here. They enter with a bulldozer and enter with rubbish and do a big stone wall there and do many rubbish like what you see”, he says.

Before leaving the area, Mahmoud puts down his three year old daughter and goes over to one of the trees that has not yet been damaged. He comes back with a handful of almonds and gives them to his daughter who smiles and laughs. Her demeanor is blissful, she is too young to understand the damage around her or the threat to her family’s land and her future.