July 25th, 2007. Palestinians, International Human Rights Workers and Israelis recently went to the village of Wadi Rahul, which is near Bethlehem, to document a number of Israeli settlers that intended to initiate a new illegal settlement on a hill beyond the Efrata Settlement on Palestinian land.
It is understood that this was their second attempt and on this occasion they have sought to assemble a large number of people through the internet, inviting people throughout Israel and the settlements. We received information of the hour and the place of where they would leave, on foot since the police organized numerous “check-points” to intercept them. However the Settlers had sufficient information to avoid these meaningless preventative measures and were able to access the land.
Towards 16:30 we divided into two groups to be able to observe from two farmers homes which hill the Settlers wished to occupy. It is understood that one of the farmers had been notified by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) not to leave his property after 5pm.
During the previous evening, the army and the police had implemented a gate along the road the Settlers wished to take. During the day this particular road had been filled with police and military vehicles, the number of which increased significantly during the build up to the event.
Towards five in the afternoon, it was possible to see hundreds of Settlers begin marching towards the land they wished to occupy. They obviously hadn’t been dissuaded by the checkpoints or gates and had found suitable alternative routes to enable them to get to their chosen site.
Shortly after, they appeared in a cultivated field, still walking. They formed a row and passed across a field in the direction of the hill they wished to occupy. They appeared to be walking in the middle of the fields to avoid interception by the police or the army.
In the other location where activists were based to help protect Palestinians, it was also reported that Settlers had thrown rocks at the property and there had been an attempt to detain someone, however they were later released without harm.
Originally we maintained our observation of events from the roof of the Palestinian home, however we moved to the outside of the house close to where the Settlers were passing to ensure they didn’t act unnecessarily aggressive.
Whilst the Settlers trespassed onto Palestinian land, a few Settlers attempted to converse with the Palestinians however this was very much limited to stating that the Palestinains should leave as, “it is not their land”. A further Settler claimed that the land had been given to the Jews by God.
The march continued toward the hill, where the police and the army were expecting them. At this point the Settlers scattered in many directions and the security forces were incapable of preventing the Settlers from passing around them to continue their march. It is worth noting that the soldiers made little effort to use the “crowd control” devices they tend to employ at Bil’in, on their own people. ie. sound grenades or tear gas.
Among the participants there were people with backpacks and what appeared to be camping equipment, indicating the Settlers were likely to remain in place. It’s difficult to determine the exact number of Settlers that participated in this event due to the numbers being so dispersed across the hills, however it is estimated there were approximately 600 Settlers.
The police managed to stop the march from passing before it arrived at the second hill which was on slightly higher ground. When an activist approached to see what was happening, it could be seen that many of the Settlers were beginning to return and had begun to leave the area.
A number of buses appeared to remove the demonstrators from the land however many chose to leave on foot.
Later HRWs returned to the house with the Palestinians, and we remained there to be able to cover possible aggressions later that evening by any remaining Settlers.
Until well into the night, until at least 1am, many bus trips were made to remove the remaining Settlers from the area. There was a large military presence maintained and a significant attempt to remove determined Settlers who wished to stay on the Palestinian land.
There were many groups of people patrolling the area through the night, causing great anxiety among the Palestinians (in the house we were in, all the family watched from the balcony, and they only felt comfortable enough to sleep when three more internationals arrived.)
Throughout the night, soldiers, Settlers and Police continued to move throughout the surrounding fields, sometimes using flares to determine positions of each other and settlers.
Even in the morning it was still possible to see Settlers remaining in the fields from the previous day.