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Seven arrested as dozens support farmers picking grape leaves in Saffa

Palestine Solidarity Project

20 June 2009

Despite understanding that they would only be able to harvest for one hour at most, that they would be met with settler aggression, grape leaves need to be picked and so, for another Saturday, a group of approximately 30 International and Israeli activists joined Hamad and Jabber Soleiby and their families as they tended their land in Saffa, near the Bat ’Ain settlement. For yet another Saturday, the group was greeted to the land by a crowd of masked right-wing Israeli settlers.

The group of farmers and activists slowly headed down the hill and toward the orchards as the settlers hurled stones from slingshots. A group of settler girls could be heard repeatedly screaming “Mohammad is a pig!” from a higher location on the hillside. This continued for approximately ten minutes before the first army jeep arrived, which sent most of the settlers running up the hill. The first car of soldiers came in short physical contact with two of the settlers, who had not immediately moved from their positions, but no arrests or detentions were made. At that point, a group of Israeli activists and journalists crossed the valley and approached the soldiers to ask why they had not arrested the settlers for illegally attacking the farmers. This gave the farmers and the rest of the activists some time to simultaneously pick grape leaves and document evidence of trees that had been destroyed, either by being lit on fire or by being chopped down, in settler attacks that had happened the day before. A verbal argument ensued between the Israeli activists and the Israeli soldiers on the hillside as the grape leaves were picked, until 6 Israeli activists were grabbed and arrested; forced into the police jeeps. After the arrests were made, removing the rest of the group from the land became the army’s focus.

At first, the group was yelled at from the loudspeakers on the army jeeps to leave because they were breaking the law by being in a “closed military zone”, though the activists had copies of the Israeli Supreme Court decision forbidding the continuous designation of an agricultural area off limits to Palestinian farmers.. Then the soldiers came in a group on foot and began yelling, pushing, and forcefully herding the group away from the grape vines and towards the path that led back up the hillside. At one point, with no apparent motivation, the soldiers threw a sound bomb at the group.

Although moving, the group was often forced to pause behind a tractor that was also making its way out of the area. When the tractor would hesitate momentarily, though this was obviously not a deliberate act made by the farmers, the soldiers would charge towards the group, pushing and hitting with their batons and tugging people by their clothing at random. At one point, an Israeli soldier grabbed another Israeli activist by the arm and threw her to the ground before detaining her as well.

All 7 Israeli activists were held for a short period of time, before being driven to a major checkpoint and being released without charge.

Like many families in Saffa, the Soleiby family relies solely on their land to make their income. As settler violence continues to rise and Israeli army persists to declare the designated land as being a “closed military zone”, it has become nearly impossible for many farmers to be able to make a living.