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Wave of arrests continue in Burqa village

7 January 2010

The Israeli army has abducted another young man from the northern West Bank village of Burqa. Muhammad Samir, 21 years old, was stopped outside the village by soldiers as he returned from his workplace in Tulkarem and arrested. Arrests and military invasions have surged this past month in Burqa, with Samir becoming the 22nd person taken since the beginning of December.

Samir was returning from his work at the Tulkarem offices of the Palestinian Authority at 10am yesterday morning when he was stopped at a flying checkpoint between Burqa and the neighbouring village of Bisaia. Upon checking his ID he was immediately place under arrest by soldiers. He was released from prison just two years ago, serving a two-year sentence from the age of 17.

The wave of arrests, primarily carried out in night raids on the village, have robbed Burqa of 22 young men in the past month alone. The village’s 4,000 residents sleep uneasily now, unknowing of who may be taken the next time the military comes. It is the standard story in hundreds of cases of its kind: young men, generally aged 16 or 17 and in their last year of school, arrested and charged with throwing stones at military jeeps when they enter the village.

International solidarity activists have initiated a nightly vigil in Burqa, joining local residents in keeping watch until the early hours of the morning in the hopes of documenting and de-escalating the violence of the night raids. During the invasions soldiers enter either by jeep or on foot, surrounding the homes of wanted people and preventing residents from leaving their home. Residents report extreme violence at the hands of the soldiers during invasions, with shots fired as the family is usually forced in to the bathroom for several hours and their home torn apart by soldiers, searching for weapons or other incriminating possessions.

Burqa has long been a target for Israeli Occupation Forces and its residents are no strangers to the senseless violence meted out by soldiers. The village itself became a training ground for Israeli soldiers preparing for battle in the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the village’s topography resembling that of southern Lebanon. Residents recall almost nightly invasions during the period, with soldiers storming the homes of families who were forced out in to the street, handcuffed and ID’d, only to be informed that they were participating in an Israeli military training exercise.

Atop the mountain overlooking Burqa sits Homesh, an Israeli settlement built on the village’s lands and evacuated by the military in 2005 as part of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from 4 West Bank settlements and the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza. Not that Burqa’s farmers have been permitted to recommence work on their lands – the area was declared a military zone following the settlement’s original evacuation, and so it has remained.

Nor has the evacuation of settlers from Homesh been maintained in the years following the disengagement. A campaign of reclamation, spearheaded by the extremist “Homesh First” organisation, has been growing ever since and has ensured a significant settler presence still active in the area. Despite the military’s repeated attempts to disperse the settlers, nothing has successfully prevented the Homesh First supporters from attempting to repopulate the area, particularly during Jewish religious holidays when settlers converge in their thousands on the site. Thus Burqa farmers’ goal of land reclamation is not just borne of the legitimate desire for vital lands to be returned to their legal owners, but also out of a real fear of resettlement of the site by ideological Israeli settlers.

Farmers of Burqa continue live under constant threat of violence at the hands of the settlers, vengeful in their attempts to lay claim to the stolen land. Over 5000 fertile dunums remain inaccessible to the Palestinian population. For the last two years the village has co-ordinated an annual trip to the contested area, re-planting and cultivating 95 dunums of land. Settlers have descended each time on the area soon after to destroy the farmers’ work, uprooting trees and destroying new wells built for irrigation. 25 dunums of the original 95 remain.