Hajj Ibrahim Jaddallah: “We have to defend each centimeter that is left to us.”

Community Voice, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, March 1st, 2007

Zakariya is located south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank and is now completely surrounded by the Gush Ezion settlement bloc. There are only 58 buildings in Khirbet Zakariyya, 18 of which were built after the Occupation extended its grip to the West Bank in ’67. Since then, the Occupation forbids the villagers to construct any new buildings but as the population grew they built simple constructions of rough cement and zinc roofs to house families and basic services. All of those 18 buildings are now under demolition order, including one school and the clinic inside it.

Hajj Ibrahim Jaddallah is 97 years old. He lives in Khirbet Zakariyya, south of Bethlehem, and has witnessed many different events and periods in the village’s history. The stories that have affected the village and the resistance of the villagers are etched in his memory. Since his youth he has been an active member of the community and has spent his life fighting against the occupation’s plan to annihilate the village and to expel its’ inhabitants.

Jadallah begins the story of his village long before the Occupation came.

The History of the Village

Hajj Ibrahim recounts “I was born on this land. My grandfathers lived here before me. The village founder was one of my ancestors. He came from Irtas, another village located south Bethlehem, and some 200 years ago he bought the land from the owners in Surif, in northern Hebron district. Since then it has been inherited by each new generation. Since he bought this land, our clan has been living in the houses here.”

The lands on which Khirbet Zakariyya is located today had been inhabited for centuries. The newcomers built houses next to those already there or lived in the large and comfortable caves the area is famous for. Some families preferred to cultivate the land during the day and to leave during the night for Surif. But with the ghettoization caused by the Wall and the checkpoint system those small distances are now impossible to travel on a daily basis.

Work and Agriculture

In the beginning of the village’s history the land was mountains and not cultivated. His father and grandfathers claimed the land with their hands and were distributing the work in the village between the people. Some of them cultivated the land and planted it with grapes, peaches, plums, almonds, wheat and hops. Others raised animals and produced the milk products for the village. A small number of people were working outside the village.

The villagers regularly went to the markets in Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem city where they could sell their agricultural and animal products and buy the things not available in the village.

Hajj Ibrahim remembers how life during that time was hard but simple and peaceful. “There were not many problems to burden us. We had all we needed. We were working, eating, drinking and the world around us was open for us. Any kind of transportation could be stopped on the road and would bring our produce to the markets. There we would find a lot of traders coming from everywhere, from Yafa, from Syria, from Amman… They bought all of our products and paid us cash. If we needed anything, we bought it and returned back to the village.”

After the Six Day War in ’67, the simple life in Zakariyya started to become complicated. Zionist settler groups started to steal their land. They used force and threatened the villagers with their guns. They stole the land from the owners and started to plant it and to build their houses and schools and infrastructure on it. Day after day the people lost their land confiscating a total of 750 dunums by force and confiscation orders. The settlements built a chain around the village.

This loss of agricultural land alone was an assault for the village and its inhabitants. However, the settlers were also attacking the village, beating the people with sticks, stones, guns and knives. They destroyed houses, breaking the doors, the windows and the furniture. They ran after the women and the children in the village and beat them. “The settlers were attacking us constantly; we were fighting them to defend ourselves. Every day there were problems with them. They beat me with an iron bar. You can still see the scar on my face – from my eye to my mouth – and my broken teeth. If they saw any girl or boy on his or her own, they would hit him or her. They wanted to expel us in this way but despite this torture the people didn’t leave. Everyone continued to work their land, when the soldiers and settlers came and beat them and forced them to leave their land, they left it but never for more than for a couple of days.”

Resistance on the land

The settlers’ assaults had no effect on the psyche of the people. They knew exactly what the Zionist plan was and what the Zionists wanted. They had learnt from the experience of expulsion in 1948 and knew that if they left their village they would not be allowed to return back.

Jadallah remembers: “After the settlers failed to implement the Zionist plan, the Occupation authority started to distribute military orders stating directly ‘You have 24 hours to leave the area.’ The day after, they made the same announcement: ‘If you don’t leave we will shoot anyone we see in the land or outside the build up area.’ They wanted us to leave our land and our houses but no one left. The young men told the villagers not to leave whatever the Occupation does. We didn’t leave. In the end, it was all an effort to terrify us.”

After this experiment the settlements expanded on the village land. Now there is no agricultural land left for the farmers in Zakariyya but they continue to plant the small patches that are left to defend them. Any land that isn’t cultivated for three years is by law liable for confiscation. Jadallah points out: “We have to defend each centimeter that is left to us. What is left for us doesn’t deserve the work, fatigue and the money we spend on it. The income we can get from the land today is much less than before. Further, the farmers that had 20 or 30 dunums now have only one or two left and when you sell one kilo grapes for one shekel or a half it is not the same as selling 50 kilos. Believe me, some people leave the fruits on the trees to rot but they still want to plant it. There is no land and there are no markets either. We were reaching Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem. Now, everything is closed. The Occupation didn’t leave us anywhere to go.

”The land confiscation isolated the grazing areas from the village. So the shepherds were forced to sell the sheep and give up their life and profession as it cost them more money than they could earn. Hajj Ibrahim said “We were feeding the sheep from the land and planted hops for them to store for the summer. We were reaching as far as Surif to graze our animals. We had some 400–500 sheep. We were living. But now, after the occupation, we are not living. Now anyone who has sheep must buy their food. We can’t feed ourselves, how can we feed the animals?”

“Since the Intifada started the people are besieged and this affected Zakariyya like anywhere else in the West Bank. Yet, the location in the middle of the settlements has doubled our suffering. We spent 40 days in our houses under curfew and if there was something very urgent we had to walk through the mountains to Beit Fajjar or Beit Ummar, with the danger of being shot and killed by settlers or soldiers. Anything someone bought, they had to carry on their shoulders. It was very dangerous.” The students were also prohibited from going to their schools and even before the curfew started, the settlers beat and robbed the students. The only school in the village goes until the 5th grade so anybody that wants to continue his or her studies needs to go to Beit Fajjar.

“When our students go to school, either the soldiers turn them back at the checkpoints or the settlers humiliate them on the way. They walk 7 km to Beit Fajjar under the sun and the rain. There is no transportation allowed. So most of the boys left school by their own decision and the girls have been taken out of the school by their families as they don’t want them to be humiliated in this way.

”Hajj Ibrahim describes life under occupation as it is – rife with racism, discrimination, humiliation, theft of land and sources of livelihood, laws forbidding construction of homes or access to services. In Zakariyya 18 buildings are under threat of demolition. The Occupation has already demolished 4 houses and left the families without shelter. But the people didn’t give up. The owners of the demolished homes have rebuilt them and the people are determined not to leave their land, even at the cost of continuing life in tents. As Hajj Ibrahim concludes: “The Zionists don’t want us to build anywhere. Even the graveyard is forbidden to expand. Everything is threatened to be demolished. Two days ago they came and demolished two wells. If anyone has two cement blocks and a plate of zinc and puts them together as a shelter, they will come and demolish it. They demolished my house twice – this house we are sitting in. Where should we go? They destroy and we build again. And we will never leave…”

Zakariyya will be completely isolated by the Apartheid Wall from the rest of the West Bank. It is trapped on the western side of it and not even one of the gates is planned to allow the people of the village passage. In the direction of Beit Surif, 4 or 5 km away, there might be a tunnel but no road. Meanwhile, movement to the west and Jerusalem is completely barred as the residents of Zakariyya don’t have Jerusalem IDs and thus are not allowed to enter Jerusalem.

Zakariyya is only one of 14 villages in the West Bank that the Occupation does not recognize. They want the land and refuse to recognize the people living on it and their right to exist on their land. Yet, the people are steadfast though the pressure is mounting from all sides.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: