A combination of busyness and poor internet access has prevented me from contributing to the blog for over a week. So many stories have built up in that time that it is impossible to tell them all here. For the sake of ease, I will start now with just the story of the place I am currently stationed: Beit Omar, a small town just north of Hebron. I am working with the Soleiby family, a family of Palestinian farmers living near the Saffa valley. They are regularly attacked by settlers from the 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. In April, 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, from entering the land. These orders have prevented the family from accessing their primary source of income. The supreme court has ruled the orders unconstitutional, but the army has continued to implement them.
Every Saturday morning, an entourage of between 30 and 50 activists accompany the farmers into their fields, where they usually pick 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 the Saffa valley. But the confrontation this past Saturday, which resulted in the arrest of 26 activists, seems to have had a different outcome. The soldiers 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 the past two mornings, three of us have gone down with the farmers and safely picked their fields, hearing only the distant shouts of angry settlers. We don’t know how long this trend will last, but if it continues it could mean a profound change in the lives of the Soleiby family. Perhaps there is hope after all.