Success! Farmers Access Their Land Without Interference in Saffa

30 June 2009

successful pickFor the first time since the beginning of April, members of the Soleiby family have successfully cultivated their land in Saffa, Beit Omar, without the interference of soldiers or settlers. After a violent attack by the Israeli military Saturday morning that resulted in the arrest of 26 activists and the injury of dozens more, the army has agreed to provide protection for the Soleiby family as they cultivate their land near the Bat ‘Ayn settlement.

The Abu Jabber, Abu Mohammed, and Abu Fahed Soleiby families are of Palestinian farmers from Beit Ommar with land in Saffa. They are regularly attacked by settlers from the illegal Bat ‘Ayn settlement, who live on the hill overlooking the Soleiby’s fields. The Bat ‘Ayn settlers are some of the most violent extremists in the West Bank; home to the “Bat ‘Ayn Militia” who attempted to blow up a Palestinian girl’s school in Jerusalem in 2002.

In April, 2009 Abdullah Soleiby was beaten in the head with a rock by a settler, causing serious head trauma. Since then, Israeli and international activists have accompanied the family to their fields on a weekly basis. The settlers frequently harass and abuse the farmers and activists, throwing stones and vicious insults. Last Monday, settlers cut down and set fire to over 125 of the Soleiby’s grapevines and fruit trees.

Rather than arresting the settlers or interfering in the attacks, the army has responded by issuing a series of “Closed military zone” orders that forbid anyone, including the farmers, but not the settlers, from entering the land. These orders have prevented the family from accessing their primary source of income. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled such orders illegal, but the army has continued to implement them.

Every Saturday morning, an entourage of between 30 and 50 activists have accompanied the farmers into their fields, where they have usually picked for about an hour before being beaten, arrested and expelled from the land. In the last month, 37 Israeli activists and 5 international activists have been arrested in Saffa. The soldiers seem to have finally agreed to provide protection for the family, and have set up a tent on the road between the fields and the settlement. For three mornings in a row the farmers have safely picked their fields, hearing only the distant shouts of angry settlers. Relying on the Israeli military for protection of Palestinian farmers can never be counted on, but for the time being it seems the military would rather protect the farmers than deal with 40 Israeli and international activists every week.