Grape Harvest Continues in Saffa, Despite Israeli Military Interference

14 August 2009

At 7:00 am on 12th August 2009 three PSP activists accompanied Abu Jabbar and his family to their field in the Saffa Valley. Abu Jabber and his family which included his wife, son and daughter picked grapes for approximately 30 minutes in their field till the group was alerted by shouts coming from the direction of the Bat ’Ayin Settlement which overlooks the Saffa valley. The group spotted a few settlers talking to Israeli soldiers in a military jeep and then a few minutes later, there was another military jeep approaching the group from the Bat ’Ayin settlement. At that moment Abu Jabbar suggested to the PSP activists that they should leave from the field before the soldiers arrived. Not wanting to leave the Abu Jabbar family alone, the group walked a few metres away from the field and then stopped so that they could rush back if there was the need for any intervention. Five minutes later three Israeli soldiers approached the PSP activists and inquired about their presence and demanded that they should hand over their passports for identification. The activists stated that they were not carrying any form of identification. Without showing any legal proof, the soldiers announced that the Saffa field was a closed military zone and the activists should leave.

After walking a few hundred metres the PSP activists decided to stop again. The activists were not sure whether Abu Jabbar and his family were being detained since it had been approximately 30 minutes since they had walked away from Abu Jabbar and his family. After a gap of 15 minutes the same three Israeli soldiers from before approached the place where the group was waiting and asked them to leave from that place. At this point the activists asked the soldiers if Abu Jabbar was being allowed to leave from Saffa to which the soldiers replied in the affirmative. A PSP activist took down the name of one of the Israeli soldiers but was unsuccessful in getting any identification number. While the group was leaving from the second place they were finally joined by Abu Jabbar and his family. But the group of activists was stopped again by another army unit arriving from the Saffa valley. Another round of interrogation followed during which the activists were made to state their name and country of origin in front of a video camera held by an Israeli soldier. At the end the group of PSP activists and Abu Jabber’s family successfully left Saffa having picked a good amount of grapes.

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.