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Grapes withering on the vine

International Solidarity Movement

17 May 2010

Souad has lost access to the land that provides her livelihood

Souad has lost access to the land that provides her livelihood

Souad lives in the beautiful village of Safa, south west of Bethlehem, close by the path of the apartheid wall. From her house in the village it is only a short walk to her land – an entire, rolling hillside, the summit of which has been stolen by the Israeli colony/settlement of Bat Eyn. No fence separates her fields and terraces from the settlement: Bat Ayn is one of only two colonies without such a fence in the entire West Bank, designed to make it easier, without a defining border, to make future land grabs.

The title deeds to Souad’s hillside have been in her family for over 100 years. Not that it does her any good – she cannot even graze her sheep without risking being fired upon by the settlers. She can only watch from a nearby hill while her peaches and grapes, soon ready for harvest, wither and rot on the vines and trees, or are stolen by settlers. She needs to work the land, to ensure the proof of continuing ownership and to keep the soil in good condition, but fears for her life if she was to venture there. She has watched helplessly as hundreds of fruit trees, replanted with help from international donors after the original trees were torched by settlers, were dug up and taken back to the settlement to be planted there.

Our presence on this nearby hill was soon noticed by Israeli soldiers patrolling nearby roads and we decided to move back to the village, lest the soldiers enter and fire tear-gas into the village as punishment for the presence of international observers. As we left Souad ruefully remarked, “My hill is gone. Where we are standing may be next.”

It is difficult to see how villagers such as Souad can carry on. She may say, “With God’s help we will survive”, but, dependent wholly for her livelihood on what her land produces, her future is precarious in the extreme. From these hillsides it is possible, on a clear day, to see well beyond the Green Line and, they say, to Tel Aviv. Such a beautiful land. The Stolen Land. And the disappearing land.