Beit Ommar: a Palestinian Town Constantly Fighting the Israeli Occupation
Beit Ommar is a small town (population 18,000) located in the Hebron District of the occupied West Bank, approximately 11kms north of the city of Hebron. Israeli forces occupied the town in 1967, and since then, residents have suffered from the pressures of the occupation. The main road leading into the village has a permanent watchtower guarded by the Israeli military.
Despite the oppressive presence of an occupying army, Beit Ommar villagers have a strong history of popular resistance, with active participation from the area during both the first and second intifadas. Today, Beit Ommar is famous for its regular demonstrations and its ongoing resistance.
The settlements surrounding Beit Ommar
Settlement expansion is an obstruction to daily life in the town of Beit Ommar. Continued land grabbing has been at the expense of Palestinian farmers, who have seen their land slowly annexed.
Gush Etzion, the overarching name for the Jewish colonies in this particular area, is comprised of 14 Israeli settlements, including Migdal Oz, Karmie Tzur and El’azar, Bat Ayin, Alon Shevut and Kafar Etzion. These settlements surround Beit Ommar from three sides and have cut off many of its natural connections to the neighboring Palestinian villages.
In addition, Israeli settlers have often violently attacked the civilian population in Beit Ommar, making local farmers afraid to tend their land at the outskirts of town.
Daily life in Beit Ommar
Several hundred residents of Beit Ommar are currently political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and the village is subjected to weekly late-night raids by Israeli forces. For a glimpse into the life of young Beit Ommar boys, after being released from Israeli prison, check out the 2012 Norwegian documentary “When the Boys Return”.
The Israeli army’s presence in the village of Beit Ommar is highly visible. The army closes of the village’s main entrance on a regular basis, which violates the freedom of movement of the local Palestinians.
As over 70% of Beit Ommar’s economy is based on agriculture, water is key to the villagers’ livelihoods. All water resources are controlled by Israel. As a mean of discrimination, Israel provides less and less water for the Palestinian villages and thus, farmers in Beit Ommar are suffering from the shortage of water for their crops.
In addition, agricultural projects in Beit Ommar face the threat of demolition by the Israeli army. While inaction to such demolitions orders, given by the IDF, eventually leads to loss of land and thus livelihoods, engaging in court by challenging demolitions are economically paralyzing, as they are costly procedures that most Palestinians cannot afford.
In this period, they constructed a wall around the existing tower and expanded their presence there by building two extra interrogation and holding cells. The construction of these structures has, in turn, narrowed the street by 1,5 metres, drastically hindering traffic in the main entrance of the town.
In other, unrelated happenings, on Sept the 27st, four ‘Apache’ helicopters flew southwards over Beit Ummar. This is not a new occurrence. However, what is novel is that they flew unusually low over civilian houses. When Apache helicopters fly so low, it is often seen as a scare tactic, making people on the ground feel very uneasy and threatened.
For the past five days, the Israeli occupation forces have closed off the main entrance of Beit Ommar. Deploying soldiers, army jeeps, roadblocks, barbed wire, and tire spikes, they are now seemingly reinforcing the existing military tower and building a new construction, the purpose of which is currently unknown. They do not allow anyone to come close to the obstruction, and threaten anyone who dares to do so. The effects of this blockade are significant. The inhabitants of Beit Ummar must now take alternative, longer roads to leave or enter the town. Palestinians and internationals looking to visit or do business in Beit Ummar are scared away by the big army presence. And local farmers and merchants are less capable to moving their products in and out of the village.
There is no concrete information as to when the blockade will be lifted. So far, it has been paired with economic struggle, as is obstructs trade and the freedom of movement. It is important to mention that the current roadblock coincides with the annual grape harvest, which Beit Ummar is famous for throughout the West Bank. In this period, local farmers depend on selling their grapes outside the village, a business that has now been made harder by the Israeli obstruction of the village’s entrance.