For a week now, Palestinians are supposed to be free of all agreements signed with ‘Israel’, according to the Palestinian president’s declarations in response to the occupation state’s announcement of annexing parts of the West Bank, coming July. While this supposed break-up and the accompanying EU and UN warning declarations, once more, show no concrete effects on the ground, Israeli annexation plans do. Occupation authorities have been issuing eviction orders to Palestinians living in the areas threatened of annexation, while settler attacks continue to target Palestinian lands in the West Bank countryside and the Jordan valley.
However, Palestinians in the West Bank don’t seem to be giving in to Israeli annexation anytime soon. Across the West Bank, resistance to the colonization of Palestinian lands takes many form, despite lacking support and material means.
“I have nowhere else to go”
“When the bulldozer touched the roof the first time and brought down the first stones, I felt like a knife went through my heart”. Ramzi Qysiyehh recalls the first time his house and restaurant were demolished for the first time. The 50-year-old Palestinian resident of Beit Jala has lost his home and livelihood to the occupation bulldozers, seven times already. “I inherited the land from my father” explains Ramzi. “I first built my house and my restaurant, there, in 2000. Then in 2012 they told me for the first time that I didn’t have a building permit”.
Ramzi’s land is located in Al Makhrour valley, West of Beit Jala, which is classified area (c) under direct Israeli control. In such areas, today threatened to be annexed by the occupation state, Palestinians are forbidden to build. But ramzi sees the other side of this policy; “They built an entire city in the Har Gilo settlement right in front of me. They even built a tunnel that goes underneath Beit Jala to connect Har Gilo with the settlements on the other side”, he points out, “how come settlers can build here and I don’t?”.
In fact, Al Makhrour area is located right next to the Israeli high way that crosses through Palestinian lands, linking Har Gilo and Israeli settlements in the Bethlehem and Hebron region, to the south, directly with Jerusalem. The Israeli occupation has built the settlers’ southern gate to Jerusalem right through Al Makhrour, and Palestinian families like Ramzi’s, are standing in the way. However, for Ramzi, there is only one fact that counts: “This is my land, my home, I have nowhere else to go”.
Stay, build a life, repeat…
Out of the seven times, Ramzi’s property was demolished, three were in 2019 alone. Ramzi remembers that “when they demolished it the first time, my wife and children started screaming and crying. Next minute they were pushing soldiers around and challenging them”. For most Palestinian families, building a house is a life-time project. Losing it to demolition is a loss from which many can’t recover without help. But according to Ramzi; “watching my family defying the occupation, I realized I had no other choice but to do the same”, he stresses, “There, at that moment in front of the rubble of my house, I decided I was going to build it back, as many times as necessary”.
Al Makhrour restaurant opened again in less than a year. Works weren’t over yet, but as Ramzi explains “customers were waiting for it to reopen. It didn’t take much to get the business back on the track”. But occupation bulldozers came back in 2013 and demolished everything again. “Many people told me it wasn’t worth it”, says Ramzi, “they told me it will get demolished again, that I should stop trying. But I made up my mind. No one can tell me where and how to live” he insists.
After seven demolitions, Ramzi feels “exhausted. I received no help from anyone. I live in a rented house with my family now and try to recover”. However, he remains determined: “If I was to give up, I wouldn’t have put up the fight in the first place” he affirms, “If I’m a thorn in their throats, then better. It’s my land, and nothing else matters”.
While some Palestinians like Ramzi Qaysiyeh resist practically alone, others stand in the face of advancing colonization collectively. Always depending on their local, popular ways of organizing and responding to land-grab attempts. It’s the case of Wadi Assik valley, East of Ramallah, where an entire Bedwin community along with surrounding villages, stands in front of eviction, settler activity, and land-grab.
“It was early in the morning when the settlers came and started to take measures and put marks on the ground” says 45-year-old Abu Bashar Kaabnah, a Palestinian resident of the Bedwin community of Wadi Assik. “One of them was giving instructions like he was in charge, so I approached him and asked what were they doing, and he replied that they were new neighbors”.
The Palestinian Bedwin community of Wadi Assik gathers over 200 families, in a valley located between the Eastern hills of Ramallah region. The land, originally owned by families from the Palestinian villages of Ramoun and Deir Dibwan, is a few hundred meters away from the Israeli Allon road, that connects Israeli settlements in the North of the West Bank with Jerusalem. According to Abu Maher, a local social activist in Ramoun, “It’s a very fertile land. In some places the arable soil is 12 meters deep. It contains more than 30 water wells, including Roman wells, some of which have up to 1000 cubic meters capacity”.
Everything about Wadi Assik, in addition to it being in area (c) made Israeli attempts to take it a matter of time. When the settlers came, Abu Bashar Kaabnah wasn’t surprised; “since Netanyahu announced that he will annex area (c) next July, we were expecting them” he points out, “the occupation army came to the community in the last week of Ramadan and gave eviction orders to no less than 35 families, plus the school”. The two-rooms barrack school was established three years ago, despite the fact that the occupation had it forbidden it.
“I was at home when I received a call from local youth in town, who told me that there are settlers with bulldozers in Wadi Assik” recalls Abu Maher, “I called the local imam, who started to spread the news from the mosque speakers, calling people to action, while I drove my car straight to the valley”. Abu Bashar recalls that “in less than thirty minutes more than 300 people had gathered here. They came from surrounding villages of Ramoun and Deir Dibwan and from Bedwin communities all over the region”.
The increasing crowd had its effect, according to Abu Maher: “the settlers stopped works immediately and the occupation forces arrived. They were armed to the teeth”. Abu Bashar describes the scene: “They brought gas bomb-throwers fixed on the top of military jeeps, pointed at us, plus dozens of foot-soldiers who showed up above the hill and marched towards our location, but we didn’t move”.
“Show the occupation that Palestinians are not alone”
Four hours later, the crowd dispersed, as the settlers left the place too. “The occupation came and threatened us of using force if we didn’t leave,” says Abu Maher, “it had been several hours that we stopped the settlers from working, we knew the day was over, so we began to leave slowly” he adds. However, Abu Bashar sustains that “this is only the beginning. They will come back and the only way of stopping them is this, all together”.
Abu Maher shares the same point of view; “the same night we held a meeting between representatives from Ramoun and Deir Dibwan and agreed to organize mass action to protect the land”, he points out, adding that “We decided to collectively hire a lawyer and make a case at the Israelí court, at the same time we continue to resist on the ground”. From his side, Abu Bashar believes that “if Khan Al Ahmar was able to resist, we can make it too, but only if we hold together”. Abu Maher thinks that the way to do it is clear; “The way we responded spontaneously showed that are ready. We just need to organize it”. Abu Maher takes a deep breath before adding: “we also need the support of everyone in the world, to show the occupation that Palestinians are not alone”.