Karmei Tzur Settlement Steals Beit Ommar Land with Intimidation and Fences

Damaged grape vines on Ahmed's landDead treeAhmed Khalil Abu Hashem near his remaining plus trees

Representing just a tiny piece in the enormous puzzle of settlements that litter the West Bank, the settlement of Karmei Tzur is striving to expand.  Founded just 25 years ago by students from the Zionist Har Etzion Yeshiva, 120 families, or 700 settlers – out of a total settler population of roughly 500,000 – currently inhabit Karmei Tzur.  However, the settlement has several obstacles in the way of its desire to increase in size, notably its distance of only 100 meters from the large agricultural village of Beit Ommar with almost 15,000 Palestinian inhabitants.
Surrounded by rich agricultural land Palestinian farmers have been using for centuries, Karmei Tzur is gradually expropriating this land through the insidious use of “security fences” guarded 24/7 by the Israeli Occupation Forces – the IDF in the occupied territories – and armed settlers.  When the fence was expanded in early 2007, incorporating the land of many Palestinians, the Israelis promised that the farmers weren’t losing their right to use their land and that they could continue to access it.  Majdi Za’aqiq is a Palestinian who owns land on the settlement side of the fence: “They say you can go Saturday or Sunday, ‘Just tell us and we will let you go,’ they say… but I don’t need permission to go to my land.  If I want to go in the morning, in the evening, whenever, it’s up to me.”
The army ordered that for one person to work one day – with limited hours – on the land, the Palestinian owners would need to give two weeks notice.  Knowing full well that the majority of Palestinians would refuse to collaborate with the occupying forces, thus giving up their land to be legally taken by Israelis three years later, most of the land lies fallow.  “All farmers with land on the other side of the fence refuse to cooperate with the settlement security,” Za’aqiq said.  Even in cases where Palestinians have tried to access their land in the way proposed by the Israeli military, they were consistently denied access or harassed by the army and armed settlers.  Anti-occupation international and Israeli groups like Anarchists Against the Wall used direct action tactics to destroy parts of this fence in several instances throughout 2007.
Most of the remaining Palestinian agricultural land on the southwest side of Beit Ommar, which includes olive trees, plum trees, fig trees, and grapevines, still lines the valley along the “security fence” surrounding the settlement in a zone between Jala, an area where Bedouins live which only recently got running water for the first time, the project paid for by a foreign government, and the settlement.  Yet, as Palestinian farmers naturally continue to cultivate the land on their side of the separation fence, intimidation tactics continue as settlers and soldiers occasionally shoot live ammunition at farmers working in the area.
Ahmed Khalil Abu Hashem is a 42 year old farmer with eight children who has six dunnums – or roughly two acres – of farmland, four of which are destroyed by settlement bulldozers, without warning, every year.  The last incident of destruction took place in April 2008 in which soldiers and settlers cut 260 trees including 200 old grape vines and 60 young olive trees.  Like most Palestinians, he recounts these unbelievable events calmly as he sips his coffee on the veranda of his house with a view of the red-roofed villas in Karmei Tzur.  Besides the two dunnums of remaining plum trees, Ahmed has only three or four olive saplings left.
We accompany Ahmed on his daily trek down a dirt road to the land.  The route is bumpy, rough, and covered with large rocks that could easily pop a tire.  An open air landfill sits on the side of the road just waiting to be set alight.  Stopping just 20 meters from the fence, Ahmed leads us down to the damaged crops, only slightly recovering from last year’s attack, which end at the razor-wire fence with two rows of barbed wire in front of it.  On two occasions since last year’s destruction of the trees and vines, soldiers and settlers have shot at him with M-16s, he claims.  The most recent event was in April when six settlers arrived with their rifles and started shooting, forcing him to run and flee the field.
“The army protects the settlers all the time, no matter what they do,” he says.  When I ask Ahmed if he’s scared to come down into the fields, referring to the threat of attack and constant Israel army presence on the road just on the other side of the fence, he responds “No!” before I can even finish constructing the question in Arabic.
After just fifteen minutes on the land, an armed settler sees us and calls the army on his phone, notifying them of our presence.  Not wanting trouble for Ahmed, we leave.
Fifty meters further east along the security road which follows the fence, tractors are hard at work constructing a new street leading from the road to the settlement’s villas perched on a hilltop.  Just yesterday bulldozers were seen entering the Palestinian farmland there, though no damage was caused.  Rumors circulate in Beit Ommar that the settlement is planning to build a second security fence closer to Beit Ommar, potentially expropriating dozens of acres of some of the village’s best farmland.  Mousa Abu Maria owns land stolen by the existing settlement fence: “The Israelis lie.  They say we can apply to go to our land inside the settlement fence but this is a lie.  They say they build a new fence for security but then they build new houses.  That is Israel.”

Settlement "security fence" with villas and fruit trees on stolen land in the backgrounSettler security alerts the army of our presenceValley leading to Bedouin area of Jala

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