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Landowner visits land for the first time in years

Susya 1st September 2007

12 Palestinians and 3 Human Rights Workers (HRWs) went to visit land which is overlooked by an illegal Israeli settler colony and which has taken the old Palestinian name of Susya.

Access to this land by its owners has been restricted since 1984 when the Palestinian residents of Susya were forcibly evicted by the Israelis to form a colony. The visit was the first time the owner had been able to access the land for 7 years. The problem here is that the Settlers interfere violently with the Palestinians when they visit their land even though they carry their legal papers which show their title to it in both Hebrew and Arabic. Apart from a few olive trees the land has reverted to scrub due to neglect. There is a well on the land which the settlers are using to water their sheep. Both the theft of the water and the grazing is depriving the Palestinian owners of income and livlihood. An elderly Palestinian woman dressed in the typical clothes of the region gathers za’atar from her ancestral lands which will be a precious memento of the day for her. Normally she can’t freely gather the herbs from her own land.

45 minutes after the arrival of the Palestinian and International group, 6 youths arrive from the colony across the road. One carries a large gun slung over his shoulder. They taunt the group verbally, occasionally one hitchs the gun strap at his shoulder. Soon an Israeli settler shepherd appears with all his sheep which he runs down the hill close by us after watering them from the Palestinians’ well. He joins in the stand off and ostentatiously pulls up his tee shirt to reveal a hand gun pushed into the waist band of his trousers. This is a clear warning and indication of his preparedness to use it while out grazing his sheep on what he knows is Palestinian land.

Then 6 to 8 Israeli soldiers come in 2 army jeeps. Then a border police jeep arrives with 3 police and a final police jeep arrives with 3 more personnel. After prolonged talking on radios the soldiers ask the landowner and another for their IDs. The landowner explains his ownership of the land and shows his papers to the police. There are tense discussions. The landowner says to the police and soldiers, “We want peace, we want to come and cultivate our land, graze our animals and tend to the olive trees and harvest without molestation from the settlers.” The police advise him that he must get a permit before ever being able to visit his own land, or else?

The police and soldiers talk to the settlers now numbering 9 and they move off back to the settlement. The Palestinians leave second and followed by the convoy of army and police jeeps that has come to deal with the group of Palestinians and HRWs. The landowner explained during the walk back that he really needs to get to the land to harvest olives next month and Internationals are needed to make this less risky for him and his family who come to pick.