Soleiby Family Begin Grape Harvest in Saffa

5 August 2009

On Tuesday, August 4th at 8am, eight international activists and members of the Palestine Solidarity Project committee accompanied Abu Jabber Soleiby and his family to his land in Saffa near the Bat Ayin settlement. While the farmers had enough time to harvest a small amount of the year’s first grapes. the international activists were forced to make a detour around a small group of Israeli soldiers at the edge of the built-up area in Saffa before they joined the Palestinians in the valley. After the farmers had been in the valley for more than an hour, one Israeli military jeep arrived between the settlement and the Palestinian agricultural land. The farmers, satisfied with their small collection of grapes, decided the head back to the village.

After returning to near the edge of the Palestinian village, well away from the right-wing Israeli settlement that has been the source of violence in the area, the group of Palestinians and internationals were stopped by approximately 15 Israeli soldiers who blocked their return into Saffa. Soldiers asked what the internationals were doing with the farmers in the valley, insisting that soldiers were always there to protect the farmers when the Bat Ayin settlers came to harass them in the past (though just that morning it had taken the soldiers more than an hour to arrive in the valley, which is out of sight from the group of soldiers at the edge of Saffa who seemed more intent on not letting solidarity activists in than keeping settlers out). Abu Jabber Soleiby showed his bruises and scars from settler attacks in rebuttal and insisted that when settlers and soldiers were both present during past attacks, soldiers protected the settlers. The soldiers let the farmers and their supporters past, after threatening two activists with arrest and 20 minutes of negotiation.
Just over three weeks ago, settlers set fire to roughly 160 dunnums of land, including hundreds of valuable fruit and olive trees. Combined with the cutting of over 125 trees in June, and an earlier fire, in the last 2 months settlers from Bat ’Ayin settlement have destroyed nearly all of the land that provides income for 125 extended family members of Abu Jabber, Hamad, and Abdullah Soleiby. Dozens of Israeli and international solidarity activists have been arrested since May while attempting to accompany the farmers in Saffa against brutal settler attacks. Two weeks ago, 3 teen-agers were reportedly arrested by Israeli police for ’disturbing the peace’ though police said only 1 settler was arrested after threatening a police officer.

International and Israeli accompaniment of farmers in Saffa has been necessary to prevent violent attacks by settlers on the elderly farmers of the Soleiby family. When attempting to farm in the valley on their own, farmers have come under attack on several occasions in the past 4 months, including an attack in April that left 81 year old Abdullah Soleiby with a cracked skull.