“I hope that I die on my land”

Fatima Yassin watches looks on as Israeli occupation soldiers prepare to invade her home in Bilin. (Hamde Abu Rahme)

Fatima Mohammed Yassin, 49, is a farmer from the Palestinian village of Bilin in the occupied West Bank. In spite of Israel’s occupation and construction of its wall in the West Bank, including on Bilin’s farm land, Yassin and her husband continue to work their land on a daily basis. Jody McIntyre spoke to her for The Electronic Intifada.

Jody McIntyre: Do you have land behind the wall?

Fatima Yassin: Yes, before Israel started construction of the wall in Bilin, my family had 45 dunams of land [1 dunam equals approximately 1,000 square meters], all of it filled with olive trees. My husband’s family had 50 dunams, which were a mixture of olive groves and vegetable patches, as well as another 50 dunams of land that was stolen after 1967 [Israel’s occupation of the West Bank began after the June 1967 war].

When the Israeli army was building the wall on our land, they stole land from many people, but only on my husband’s land did they steal his olive trees as well! We still go to our land every day to plant vegetables and look after the soil, because we will not allow the Israeli government or the settlers to claim that our land is unused. If we don’t go to our land, they will say it is unneeded and confiscate it so that they can expand the settlements, which are already built illegally on our land.

JM: Does the Israeli army create problems when you try to go to your land?

FY: Yes, sometimes they don’t allow us to enter, but my husband and I will wait at the gate for one hour or two hours; if they don’t let us through we will stay there from the morning until the evening. We won’t go home until they let us go to our land. The soldiers once told us that it was illegal for us to go to our land and that we should go back home, but I simply replied, “I don’t want to go home, I want to go to look after my land.” Sometimes when our sons come to help us on the land the soldiers beat them or try to arrest them. We’ve had these problems many, many times, but in spite of this, we will not stop resisting this occupation. We are not afraid.

JM: Do the settlers create problems when you are on your land?

FY: Yes, they came and set fire to a small room that the people from Bilin built behind the wall — [they did this] four times. One of the times, I had just gone to make coffee for my husband — they were watching me and when I left went they went in and set the fire. But every time they damaged the room, we went to fix it again.

JM: How did you feel when you first heard Israel wanted to build the wall in Bilin?

FY: Everyone was angry when they heard the news, and sad because we knew it was a ploy to steal our land, so we started to protest against the construction of the wall. The first time we heard that it was being built, all the people from the village went to our land and said that we would fight against its confiscation by the Israeli army. We could see the bulldozers uprooting our trees. For the last five years we have been fighting against the wall, and for justice, and we will always continue.

JM: Do you attend the weekly demonstrations against the wall in Bilin?

FY: Yes, of course! My entire family goes to the demonstrations, me and my husband, our five daughters and our five sons. These demonstrations are our way of nonviolently resisting against the wall, the settlements and the confiscation of our land. We are not going out there to kill people, we are going to return to work on our land — to take back what they have stolen from us.

JM: Have any of your family been injured at the demonstrations?

FY: Of course! All my sons have been injured. The first one to be injured was Helme. He was injured at the very first demonstration we had in Bilin. [The Israeli army] shot him with a tear gas canister in the neck. After a few weeks, he was injured in the leg with the same weapon. A couple of months later he was arrested, becoming the first person to be arrested for our village. But even while in jail they couldn’t crush the rebellious spirit in his heart. [The prisoners] started a protest against the terrible conditions in the prison, and the soldiers shot Helme in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

My son Hamde was shot next, in the leg also with a rubber-coated steel bullet, and then Mustafa was shot with a tear gas canister. My youngest son, Mohammed, was just 14 years old at the time, and he was injured three times by rubber-coated steel bullets, twice in the legs and once in buttocks.

The last one to be injured was Khamis, my eldest son. He was shot in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister, a new weapon at the time, and was left in a coma. I was very sad when they shot Khamis.

So all my sons have been shot in the demonstrations, but we will not stop until we return to our land.

JM: Has your house even been invaded by the Israeli army?

FY: The first night raid was at our house, when they arrested Helme. Our house is very close to the wall, so if there are any problems at the wall the army immediately comes to our home. Once they came during the day when I out working on my land, broke down the doors to my house, beat my daughters and arrested my 10-year-old nephew. He wasn’t wanted for anything.

The next time they came was to arrest my eldest son Khamis. As always, it was because he dared to nonviolently resist against the confiscation of his family’s land. Sometimes they come and don’t arrest anyone, just to harass us, to wake us up in the middle of the night and to intimidate us.

My son Hamde photographs the night raids, to show the world what is happening here in Bilin. Of course I am proud of what he is doing, but it makes me worry about him and I cannot sleep. I’m afraid that a soldier will shoot him or arrest him. I know that he has been beaten many times while taking photographs. The soldiers are very violent during the night raids, so I worry about him.

Another time, when Hamde was away, they invaded [the village] at night and stayed in our home for three hours. When I saw all my sons lined up outside, and the soldiers trying to beat them and joking together about when they had shot Khamis in the head, laughing about how he had nearly died in the hospital. When I heard them say this I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying in the hospital myself. Because Hamde was abroad, I was scared that they were looking for him and would arrest him at a checkpoint on his way back into the country.

Once they invaded the house in the day, and the army commander came over to me and said, “One day, I am going to come here with a bulldozer and destroy your house.” They came two days later and started searching the house, but they didn’t find anything — because we don’t have anything!

It’s like we can’t sleep during the day or at night now, because of the invasions. All we can do is sit awake.

JM: After all the oppression the people of Bilin have suffered at the hands of the Israeli army, do you think your campaign of nonviolent resistance can continue?

FY: Yes, we will certainly continue. My husband and I will continue to go to our land every day. We will go until the last moment. I hope that I die on my land.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk, where a version of this article was originally published. He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.