Palestinian farmland that appears to be left untended can become a target for Jewish settlers
Nader al-Taher walk across his land, which is protected within a stone enclosure, in the village of Ein Yabrud, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. Some Palestinian farmers believe that rehabilitating their land which falls in a closed military zone where Israel exercises full control, will protect it from Jewish settlements and Israeli restrictions. © Abbas Momani - AFP/File
Palestinian farmland that appears to be left untended can become a target for Jewish settlers
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Hossam Ezzedine, AFP
Last updated: August 6, 2012

Traditional stone walls help protect Palestinian land

It has taken four years for Amer Dahabreh to build a traditional stone wall around his land, in what appears to be the ideal solution for protecting it from Jewish settlers.

Within the safety of this stone enclosure, this 60-year-old farmer grows apricots, grapes, peaches and courgettes in the village of Ein Yabrud, which is overlooked by the neighbouring Jewish settlement of Ofra.

The village is located in Area C, an area under total Israeli control which comprises some 60 percent of the West Bank.

"The idea of these enclosures was handed down to us by our ancestors; they were put up to protect the land," explains Dahabreh, who owns an 80-dunum (eight-hectare/20-acre) plot of land.

"I think that the moment has come for all Palestinians to take an interest in building them because it is the ideal solution," he told AFP.

In the West Bank, Palestinian farmland that appears to be left untended can become a target for Jewish settlers looking to expand a nearby settlement or for creating a new outpost.

Legal efforts to retrieve such land are often lengthy and rarely result in the landowners' favour, so for Dahabreh, erecting a stone boundary is a fundamental way to both mark out and protect his territory.

"If all Palestinians were to fence in their land this way, we might be able to protect it from settlement," says Dahabreh, who spent 10 years living in the United States.

Much of the West Bank's farmland is strewn with rocks and boulders, making it perfect for for building such enclosures, which are sometimes also surrounded by a barbed wire fence or a makeshift metal fence.

Palestinians living in Area C are banned from using cement by the Israeli Civil Administration, a unit of the defence ministry which is responsible for all civilian affairs in the West Bank.

But crucially, these traditional boundaries, which are basically dry stone walls, do not require cement.

"They prevent us from using cement so that's why we use these old stones," Dahabreh says.

Abdullah Abdullah, an official at the Palestinian governmental department that handles issues relating to Jewish settlement and the separation barrier, said the Civil Administration has recently stepped up its restrictions on construction in Area C.

"Following the recent European report on Palestinian development in Area C, Israel has imposed restrictions like a ban on using cement without permission, and has also introduced new taxes," he told AFP.

In May, EU foreign ministers expressed concern about "worsening living conditions" for Palestinians in Area C and denounced the "serious limitations" imposed on Palestinian development there in a move which sparked Israeli anger.

"The EU will continue to provide financial assistance for Palestinian development in Area C and expects such investment to be protected for future use," a ministerial statement said, referring to the widespread demolition of Palestinian homes in the sector.

The Civil Administration did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

Dahabreh's neighbour, Nader al-Taher, has also built a traditional stone wall around a nine-dunum patch of land belonging to a Palestinian who is living in the United States.

Every day, he comes to water the plot from a well which is also on the land.

"The owner doesn't want to get involved in legal disputes (with the Israelis); he has spent a lot of money to preserve his land," says Taher, explaining that it took the workers 70 days of hard labour, with the help of a bulldozer, to gather all the rocks.

Statistics published in 2011 by the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA show that Palestinian construction was only permitted in one percent of Area C, with a complete ban in force in 70 percent of the sector and very limited in the remaining 29 percent.

Around 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C alongside some 300,000 Jewish settlers out of a total of the 340,000 Israelis who lives in settlements across the West Bank, OCHA statistics show.

Dahabreh says the local settlers from Ofra settlement were less than impressed with his stone wall project, and tried to dissuade him by firing in the area as he was building it.

"I wasn't afraid of them," he said.

"On the contrary, I continued working on my land because I feel that this is the only way to protect it."

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