Tuesday, January 29, the Haaretz.com website reads as follows:
The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report stating that Israel is violating international law in the Palestinian Territories, and that Israel “must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the West Bank and stop further settlement building “without preconditions”. We have seen headlines like this one for years, at least since the construction of the separation wall and the first settlers arrived which has caused the infinite struggle that Palestinians are enduring still today.
However, I feel it’s more personal to try and relate my personal experience in the West Bank, how I saw the settlements damaging and causing enormous difficulties to the Palestinians, and how I met the most remarkable personality I could imagine in such region: Abed Al-Rabbeh.
It was after a week I was working in Beit Sahour, one rainy morning our friend Alice decided to take us to Al-Walaja – a town north of Bethlehem – to pick up oak seeds up on a hill nearby, and so we did. Mounted on a rocky jeep, went along a rocky road, our driver listening to funny reggae, and we reached the woods surrounding the area of Al-Walaja, and Abed’s house.
The guy who inhabits this remarkable hill is Abed Al-Rabbeh, a true hero in the Palestinian territories, he lives on the verge of a hill overlooking East Jerusalem
and the Gilo settlement (up on the hill)
Very charismatic and dedicated to simple farming life, Abed cultivates his lands with olive trees and other crops, he raises chickens, rabbits and has a white-grey donkey grazing along.
For the past 15 years, Abed has chosen to live by himself in Al-Walaja while his wife and sons stay at the Dheisheh refugee camp. This refugee camp is only a few minutes drive from his farm but as it has happened in several occasions, whenever he left his land to visit his family he had found burned trees and wrecks.
He defends his little farm from the constant warnings of land confiscation imposed by the Israeli government given the fact that his land is currently located on Area C, with a direct view on East Jerusalem and in an area which is part of a current settlement construction plan. Because of this particular location, Abed is subjected to all sorts of restrictions that have made his life more difficult as he lives isolated from electricity, water, he doesn’t have access to a sewage system, and the impossibility to build a house led him to live inside a cave.
The Gilo settlers are not the only problem for Abed, as below you can see the separation wall stretching from the bottom of the hill.
© Stanito, 2012
Little and warmly decorated, his cave walls are covered with books, photos, articles, all written proofs of his widely known struggle to keep his land from Israeli authorities. He offered us hot tea while I checked his 5 guest-books filled with support words from visitors of all over the world.
Outside there is a pavement and a canopy made by volunteers, buckets to catch rainwater and plants.
The compost toilet
and the donkey
This emblematic hill is the last remaining piece of what used to be Al-Walaja village, and because of the settlement building expansion, most of its former residents now live in the surrounding areas of Beit Jallah and Dheisheh. But Abed decided to stay as his true mission is to defend the land that he rightfully owns. With the settlements expanding everyday more, he will struggle with even more difficulties:
1- The impossibility to obtain planning and building permission: as the Israeli Civil Administration built over 18,000 settlements in the area, only 91 Palestinian applications were approved in 2011. And because of this problematic situation, many Palestinians are denied permission to invest in infrastructure, or repairing roads, or laying pipes to obtain water and electrical power.
2- He and many more Palestinians are forced to build illegally – many buildings demolished: because of the constraints in building, many Palestinians are forced to build their homes illegally, and since illegal constructions are threatened with demolition, the result is that most of these Palestinians residents take the risk to either live “illegally” or become homeless.