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Settler harassment and land theft continues in Yanoun

27 November 2009

Israeli settlers have annexed a further 40 dunums of what remains of the endangered Palestinian village of Yanoun, east of Nablus. Settlers from the illegal settlement Itamar were witnessed ploughing the land in question yesterday, effectively laying claim to it and furthering their annexation of Yanoun’s land, already entirely encircled by outposts of Itamar.

Two settlers were sighted driving their plough on to land that had previously remained accessible to Yanoun farmers yesterday morning. Noticing the audience they had gained, one settler approached Rashid, mayor of Yanoun, and villagers and the activists assembled to inform them that he had legal claim to the land as it had not been worked by farmers from the village in over five years (despite the 40 dunums in question having been used by Yanoun farmers as recently as 2 years ago). Land that stands unused for this time period becomes property of the state by Israeli law, the means by which settlers have managed to claim much of Yanoun’s land, under the continued campaign of intimidation and harassment wrecked on farmers that stray too close to the settlement and its outposts. An argument ensued between the settler and villagers over who had rights to the land, which was effectively ended as a second settler arrived on the scene brandishing an M-16 rifle.

Activists were told of how just the day before, the same settler had led a tour group of 60 Israeli settlers through the village itself, frightening the villagers and forcing them to withdraw to a state of effective curfew inside their houses, an all-too-common event in Yanoun. Settlers proceeded to strip naked and bathe in two of Yanoun’s wells (few of which have not been taken by the settlement), contaminating their drinking water.

Residents of Yanoun have suffered many years of terrifying violence at the hands of Itamar settlements – the murder of villagers, slaughter of their livestock, desecration of crops, property destruction and daily invasions and intimidation by armed settlers. The increasing brutality climaxed in 2002, as settlers rampaged the village, cutting down over 1000 olive trees, killing dozens of sheep, beating Palestinians in their home with rifle butts and gouging out one man’s eye. The settlers left promising to return the following Saturday, with the threat to spare no witnesses next time. Unable to stand the fear – and indeed reality – of terrorism any longer, the entire village evacuated, most families fleeing to the nearby village of Aqraba.

An international and Israeli activist campaign was launched immediately to allow the residents of Yanoun to return to their lands. A permanent international presence was established in the village by EAPPI which has assisted in encouraging people of Yanoun to return home, and has remained instrumental in what little peace of mind Yanounis have salvaged since they were uprooted from their land and one by one, have boldly returned to.

Over the 2002-06 period the entirety of the village’s families eventually came back to their homes and attempted to start their life over in the shadow of Itamar’s ever-increasing outposts, that dot the hills surrounding the village. This number has once again begun to dwindle however, as the younger generations of Yanounis mature and seek a life of career, education, urbanisation – a life outside of daily harassment and torment at the hands of those who have stolen their land, and what, in a more peaceful Palestine, could be a means of livelihood for them. Approximately 100 people remain in the village – 40 in “lower Yanoun” in the valley, and 60 in “upper Yanoun”, whose houses ascend the hill to where just a few hundred meters away lie dozens of settlement houses and agricultural complexes.

Although the entire village is located in Area C – under full Israeli civilian and military control – and stands at risk of being slated for demolition, residents believe that the settlement’s – and Israeli government’s – strategy is what may already be underway – a gradual exodus of families and individuals as they are confined to an ever-shrinking amount of land, engulfed by the expanding settlement and its violent inhabitants.

There are some who remain though, who are determined to stay – many families steadfastly refusing to relinquish the connection to the land that is rightfully theirs. The very existence of Yanoun today bespeaks its fighting spirit, one that will hopefully continue despite the
collective punishment waged on the village.