“Can I take a picture?”. I ask the usual question, waiting for approval, before placing the camera lens in front of her face. We are sitting in the living room of Hanan Soufan, head of a 16-member family, getting the details of last night’s events. The evening before a group of settlers came harassed the kids and cut down some 20 olive trees. Her house and grove is just downhill from the Yitzahar-settlement, where settlers have tried to drive the family away from their home for years. The incident has attracted the local media, human rights organization, and even the spokesperson for the Nablus Governate, has come to see the damage with his own eyes. While we are there, a military car arrives within a few minutes. It backs up, and drives away again. The military has full control over the area from their outposts on the hilltops. The question then arises; where were they when the settlers attacked?
Throughout the years Hanan and her family’s situation has been the in the spotlight of many organisations. She has received a special honorable reward of her courage from President Abbas himself. Hanan has been through this several times. “ Even president Obama has heard of me,”, she laughs. Our question and answer session is a routine for her. The tremendous courage and the steadfast determination has just become stronger with every attack. “We will not leave, this is our home”. Protecting her family and home has come with a price. Some years back, in a settler attack on the house, her husband died of a heart attack followed by the shock.
Besides the intimidating and petrifying sides such attack, one has to understand the devastating consequences of the destruction of olive trees. The olive tree, in addition to its symbolic and cultural importance, needs constant care for about seven to ten years before it becomes productive. For some families the trees are all they have. As their land has been taken over the years, the few trees left become their life source. And if one takes in account the number of years invested by people, who don’t have much to begin with, it becomes clear that the obvious consequence of this development, is the slow strangling of the people.
“The trees are like our children”, a farmer said to me. In a village where settlers had cut down 220 trees, four families lost their livelihood in one night. When I take pictures of the incidents, I go close up to the trees. The straight cuts indicate the use of a sharp object such as an axe. I can only imagine the group of, probably young men, coming down the hill in the middle of the night, cutting, ripping and destroying the trees one by one. They know that they are being watched. They know that no one will say anything. Now, the relatives of the Palestinian families will help them somehow, and the Palestinian authorities might support them with new trees, but for how long can people hold on like this?
2011 was by far the most violent year when regarding settler violence, seeing a 39 percent increase from the previous year. 2011 started with extremely violent two months, and showed no indication of slowing down. One could ask if the increase in the violence could be a response to an increased violent tendency from the Palestinians. During this same period, however, Palestinian violence in the West Bank dropped significantly with about 95%.
The Nablus area (north of the West Bank, which we live in), have seen an increasingly larger portion of settler violence than pervious years. Violence has also increased in other places in the north of the West Bank, including Ramallah, Qalqilya and Salfit which accounted for about 20 percent of incidents in 2006 and about 30 percent of incidents in 2011.
The types of incidents we have reported on has mostly been destruction of property, attack on shepherds, intimidation of local population, and confrontation on land borders. The Israeli settlers use a variety of methods to attack Palestinian civilians and their property. These were som of the various types of incidents reported last year:
- Arson, stone throwing, destruction of property, vehicular attack, shootings and other physical attacks.
Hanan and her family sees almost daily some sort of infringement on their daily life. The other day, the settlers had put up a sign next to the water well where they get the water for their animals. A dirt road is being developed right next to the land. “If they want, they can stay inside their own property. Its the robbery of our land that is unacceptable.” And that is what remains the frustrating side of it all; the impunity with which these criminal acts can continue to flourish. I keep thinking that there is a physical limit to this development. There is a limit to how close you can get to someone’s house, before you’ re standing inside it.
Sources: UN OCHA, Palestinian Monitoring Group (PMG)