Existence is Resistance: Continued Settlement Expansion in Beit Ommar

21 June 2012

The appropriation of land from Palestinians in Beit Ommar began in 1984, when the Israeli state authorized the creation of the settlement Karmei Tzur on over 250 dunams (over sixty acres) of Palestinian farmland. Palestinians had used this area to grow plums and grapes, and with the construction of the settlement, Beit Ommar farmers lost both their land and their source of income.

A settlement farm in Karmei Tzur built on former Palestinian land

Palestinians in Beit Ommar and throughout the West Bank lost even more land in 2006 with the construction of the so -called “Security Fence” which allowed settlers to annex a further 600 dunams (over 150 acres) of Palestinian land and cut off many more Palestinians from their lands. Following protests, Israeli authorities assured Palestinians, who need Israeli-issued permits to cross the barrier, that they would still be able to cultivate their land freely.

Currently, however, most Palestinians are allowed to cross the barrier only twice a year to plow and harvest their produce, while many are prevented from visiting their farms at all. Proper cultivation, however, requires constant access, and Beit Ommar farmers such as Abid Al Hamid Abu Maria report that they have lost over $8,000 in produce annually as a result of these restrictions.

Even where the separation barrier does not divide Palestinians from their farms, they are often blocked from visiting or working their land by settlers and soldiers who routinely harass, beat, and even kill Palestinians as they tend their crops. This violence against Palestinians, along with the restrictions imposed by the barrier, enables further land theft by the state: Israeli laws allow for the confiscation of any land owned by “absentee” farmers, even if it is the state itself that prevents individuals from visiting their farms.

In response to these confiscations and human rights abuses, the Popular Committee of Beit Ommar together with the Center for Freedom and Justice launched an agricultural project in order to support Palestinian farmers. So far this ongoing project, funded by local and international donations, has helped Beit Ommar residents build three greenhouses and plant over 1,000 olive and fruit trees. Project director Mousa Abu Maria says that by encouraging farmers to visit and tend to their lands in spite of Israeli intimidation, projects such as these are crucial in motivating Palestinians to fight for their livelihoods and prevent further land thefts from Beit Ommar.