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Collective Punishment & the Violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention

by Mutter Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 12:03 PM
iwpspalestine@netscape.net.

The international community does nothing to enforce Fourth Geneva Convention and so the confiscations go on, slowly changing the landscape and dispossessing the Palestinians; confining their existence to smaller parcels of land while the colony-settlements expand. One more way for the Israelis to pressure the Palestinians to move away. It is wrong and wrongful and does nothing to perpetuate peace.

IWPS Report # 36

The village of Zawiya:

Zawiya is a village in the Salfit area of the West Bank in Palestine. Its history goes back thousands of years to the Canaanites. There is an ancient part called Deir Kassis (meaning Church of (Christian) priests). The village still has a few Roman ruins around an area called Sericia, and villagers relate how several years ago, the Israelis, using helicopters in an operation that took more than a month, destroyed or removed most of the Roman ruins in the area with the help of two helicopters. It may have been part of Operation Scroll, as it was called, which took place around 1994, before the Israelis handed back occupied territories that were to be put under Palestinian control in accordance with the Oslo accords. Today, of course, it appears to have been an exercise in futility as the Israelis are back in control of the whole area.

The village of Zawiya, built on 770 dunums of land, currently has around 5,000 inhabitants. It used to have a population of around 7,000 but in recent years there has been a kind of voluntary transfer arising from the restrictions on the freedom of movement. If the inhabitants worked in Ramallah, it became increasingly difficult with the roadblocks, closures and checkpoints to make the journey every day. A 40-minute trip would be extended into several hours as they waited in line at checkpoints with the very real possibility that they may be turned back even with a permit. So families stayed in Ramallah and made their home there. Some families moved to Jordan.

Many men in the village used to work in Israel, but that has now finished since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada. Other than that, there is some employment for officials working for the PA.

Nowadays, most of them try to make a living from the land. Previously, the income from farming, mainly the cultivation of olive trees, was seen as a welcome supplement to their incomes but now it is their sole income.

Zawiya has two girls' schools in the village and 2 boys' schools. The nearest university is in Salfit. The village has two clinics and a maternity hospital that also serves the nearby villages of Rafat and Deir Ballut.

In the past 55 years, Zawiya has seen its lands shrink. The village lands used to go from north of Highway 5 built through their lands to 15 km away towards Kafr Qasem (a town lost in 1948 to Israel). There were 25,000 dunums in all. The village has lost land through various ways: road expropriations to make roads for settlers only (Highway 5), settlement building (the settlement of Elkana), expropriation by the military, and simply making access so difficult, the land can not be used by its rightful owners.

Since 1967, land close to the Green Line, around 3,000 dunums, has been used by the military for training practice. With the many fires from explosives, the earth is polluted there and the farmers have no possibility of using the land. Besides, they are forbidden access except on Saturdays. When you farm the land, a one-day visit per week means you can no longer farm the land.

In June this year, a rocket landed and penetrated the roof of a house in the village causing extensive damage. Luckily, no-one was killed, but that was only by chance that the family were not sleeping at the time the rocket landed on their house.

Also in June this year, a rocket landed on land outside the village causing a fire burning olive trees. The army did not allow the villagers to put out the fire saying it was a military zone. The farmers worry that they will lose this land too. They cannot farm the land and the Israelis may later maintain that the land is not used and, taking advantage of an ancient Turkish law from the Ottoman period, will confiscate the land. This particular law states that farmers who do not work their lands for three years do not deserve it and so it will be confiscated. The same Ottoman law states that land worked for 10 years entitles one to the land. This law is conveniently ignored by the Israeli government.

Land was taken for the settlements of Elkana A and Elkana B. The settlement used to be a Jordanian military base that was then taken over by the Israeli military and gradually transformed into a settlement 20 years ago. Villagers from Zawiya still have land 300 m. away from the settlement, but the farmers cannot pick their olives - settler-colonists pick the olives. One villager in Zawiya said how settler-colonists tried to steal his land and turn it into gardens. He has taken them to court ten times. Every two years, they take his land and he takes them to court. Nevertheless, he has lost over 100 dunums over the years as land was taken for roads, pipes, water, electricity. One "positive" outcome of his court cases is that he, and only he, is allowed to have a permit to give him access to land that lies beyond the settlement of Elkana B. There is a fence around the land and gates, but it is forbidden for anyone but the grandson to enter. Every year, half of the land

is set on fire by the settler-colonists. In spite of that, the grandson goes to tend the trees and tries to keep them alive.

Over 20 years ago, a settler-colonist from Elkana called Moshe, approached his grandfather and asked him for 20 to 30 square meters of land for storage space. The grandfather declined. Eventually, the settler-colonist hired 5 Palestinians, gave them weapons, and they went to the grandfather, tied him up and at gunpoint forced him to put his imprint on a blank piece of paper. This was later transformed into a legal document whereby he lost 60 dunums of land. He appealed to the court, there was a lot of publicity about the incident and all five Palestinians were arrested. Moshe built anyway on the land - by force. The grandfather, angry at this type of behaviour, damaged the building. Moshe then murdered the grandfather.

The grandson asks "How come in Aqaba they talk about the main problem being terror. It is the occupation that is the problem."

To link all the settlements to Israel proper, Highway 5, the Trans-Samarian highway was built. It is a main road from Tel Aviv and called in Hebrew "Middle of the West Bank". For this road Zawiya had 3,000 dunums of land confiscated and 150 olive trees destroyed. The building of the highway also made it difficult for the villagers to reach their lands to the north - even if the military were to allow them access. There is a military installation on the top of the hill and the military will not allow Palestinians to come anywhere close. So for the villagers this land can only be looked at.

The West Bank is Palestinian land, but the road is meant for Israeli settler-colonists, a route to allow them to avoid Palestinian areas. The names of Palestinian villages are often left off the road signs along the highway so that settler-colonists can live their entire lives without knowing about, let alone entering, Palestinian villages. Many signs have any Arabic lettering defaced partially or totally. It is as though there is an attempt to wipe the existence of Palestinians out of their conscious awareness.

All of these actions by the Israeli government are against international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community does nothing to enforce these bodies of law, and so the confiscations go on, slowly changing the landscape and dispossessing the Palestinians, confining their existence to smaller parcels of land while the colony-settlements expand.

Travel is made increasingly difficult for the villagers. The Israelis put up roadblocks and the only way for them to get to Ramallah is to use the tarmaced road through Deir Ballut. People used to remove the roadblock but the army would put it back. This happened three times and now the roadblock has huge boulders, concrete cube blocks that are difficult to remove.

This restriction on freedom of movement is a real hardship for the villagers who travel to the closest town for services like higher education, specialized medical care, administrative matters.

Now there is a new problem. Just recently, the army enlarged the existing checkpoint at the Deir Ballut junction and the villagers are now obliged to obtain permits in order to pass and go to Ramallah.

Instead of taking the main road, a distance of only a few kilometers, they are forced to do a 70km detour, dealing with roadblocks by changing from car to car. If they have goods to move, it means taking out the goods, transporting it to other side of roadblock(s) and then reloading them into another van or truck. Sick people have to be carried. It has become a common scene in Palestinian areas.

Ten Palestinian families live in the area of the checkpoint - apparently, they now need to request permits to live so close to a settlement area. Soldiers have told Palestinians that they now live in a settlement area (Alei Zahav and Pdu'el) and they have to apply to the Israelis to give them permits to move around.

In the past couple of days, around the beginning of July, some villagers near the checkpoint have been prevented by the army from walking outside between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. If they disobey, they will be shot, they have been told. They worry about what would happen to them in a medical emergency.

On July 5th, 2003 an armed settler-colonist shot dead 2 sheep and stole 60 sheep from a Palestinian shepherd. A new settlement, small but rapidly growing, was set up just one year ago near the village of Bruqin. Like most settlements, it started off life as a military installation and was then transformed into a settlement populated by the more extremist settler-colonists who are willing to use violence to terrorize villagers into leaving their land.

To add to the villagers' worries, no-one knows what will happen after the wall is built. The village is in an area that is between the 48 Green Line and the wall, leaving them in limbo as to their status. The Israelis have not indicated what will happen. Will they receive Israeli citizenship, some form of ID or Palestinian citizenship - although they are on the other side of the wall? If they cannot reach Palestine easily, how can they be proper citizens? If Israel is building the wall for security reasons, they say, how can it be secure when so many Palestinians will be on the side of the wall that is on the side of Israel?

The villagers feel that the Israeli government, by taking more and more land, is trying to force the Palestinians to leave. The Israelis think that Oslo gave them the opportunity to take more land. Prior to Oslo, they were not so bold in taking Palestinian land. Palestinians feel that the village will become a camp - with no room to expand or build.

In May this year, a house in the village was demolished, an act of collective punishment for a failed suicide bomber whose family lived in the village. The demolishing took place before the trial against the son was held. Again, these are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention being a form of collective punishment, but the world does not react and it is one more way for the Israelis to pressure the Palestinians to move away.



Written by Barbara

July 6th, 2003

International Women's Peace Service

To find out about joining IWPS as a volunteer, please contact iwpsvolunteers@yahoo.co.uk.

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