Izbat al-Tabib village resists land confiscation, demolition orders

Moussa Tabib stands in front of his family and village’s ancestral land slated for confiscation.

ST McNeil

One may not expect to see construction in a village where approximately 80 percent of the homes are currently pending demolition. But in Izbat al-Tabib, a small village less than ten kilometers away from the green line, Israel’s internationally-recognized armistice line with the occupied West Bank, and the wall-confined city of Qalqilya, that is just what one will find.

Despite a direct prohibition against any construction or development issued by the Israel Civil Administration, residents of Izbat al-Tabib have continued to build homes and develop much-needed infrastructure — including a school, park, water supply and independent electricity sources.

“This will help people to stay here and resist — if they have a kindergarten, they will resist in their lands,” said Bayoun Tabib, the mayor of the village.

Tabib sat at a picnic table in the middle of a forested park. A few meters away, school children bobbed up and down on a seesaw and play on swings.

Tabib explained that this park was created a few years ago, as was the municipal building across the street that, among other uses, houses a school for grades one through seven.

“Before, the children had to walk to the [neighboring] Azzun city to go to school,” said Bayoun.

Building illegal since 1967

Izbat al-Tabib lies in Area C — under the Oslo accords, Israel retains military authority and full control over building and planning permission in Area C, which accounts for 62 percent of the West Bank. Izbat al-Tabib is also considered an “unrecognized” village; in 1967 Israel zoned the village exclusively for agriculture.

For Israel, this means any construction or development is expressly banned, barring a permit — and no permit has ever been granted.

For Bayoun and the rest of the villagers, this means that Israel could come in and destroy the village at any moment. “They don’t acknowledge that we’re on the map,” said Bayoun.

Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, Izbat al-Tabib has been under progressive attack. Village land has been confiscated for the building of the neighboring settlement Alfe Menashe, the construction of Route 55, which Palestinians have limited access to, and Israel’s wall, which separated the village from 45 percent of its farming land. This week, Israel began installing a concrete wall that will separate the villagers from an addition 40 dunams of their farming land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters).

Economic consequences of land confiscation, closure

Izbat al-Tabib continuously suffers from the deleterious economic effects of being relegated to Oslo-designated Area C.

However, the division of land in the occupied West Bank into areas A, B and C is one of the provisions of the Oslo accords that has expired, according to Jamal Zakout, adviser to the appointed Palestinian Authority prime minister on media and civil society affairs. Unlike “final status” issues such as refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water, according to Oslo II, signed September 1995, the Palestinian Authority should have assumed control over Area C by March 1997.

“The everyday needs of the people must be taken into consideration. By preventing the [PA] from working there, Israel is not taking responsibility for the civilian population,” Zakout told The Electronic Intifada.

With this in mind, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office has spent the last three years touting the tagline “We build, they destroy, we rebuild” as they implement infrastructure-building initiatives in Area C villages.

Izbat al-Tabib used to be dependent on electricity and water form the neighboring city of Azzun, but since 2004 the village has had its own water supply and nearly half the residents are connected to the new sewage network.

At present, a municipal office, school and health clinic that were made possible by such initiatives are all facing demolition orders.

According to Zakout, his office attempts to coordinate with Israel to implement their projects, but the Israel Civil Administration ignores them. “We can’t be quiet if they don’t approve,” he said. “We can’t be quiet when our people don’t have water. They have a right for schools, health, transportation.”

Village resists construction of wall

While the PA prime minister’s office offers some financial support, when it comes to standing up to the Israeli military, the village is on its own.

The most recent confrontation came on 1 May 2011, when villagers and international solidarity activists set up a sit-in tent to protest the construction of a wall slated to be constructed between the village and 40 dunams of agricultural land that lie next to Route 55. The army claims it needed the wall to create a “buffer zone” in order to protect settlers’ cars from rocks thrown by Palestinians.

The village petitioned the Israeli high court as soon as they received notice of the plan to build the two-meter-wide and 500-meter-long wall, but the court rejected the petition on 23 April 2011.

Bayoun was not surprised by the court’s decision. “The high court is one of their the hands of the occupation,” he said. “It helps the army take lands to give to settlers, to make roads. We went to the high court so we could at least have the rejection of it — for our history. We want the people all over the world see how they take our land.”

After a violent confrontation between protesters and soldiers, during which one American activist’s wrists were broken, the army halted construction and told Bayoun that it would reroute the fence to the other side of the land.

While the villagers and international activists rejoiced at this announcement, Bayoun was not reassured. One week after the Electronic Intifada met with Bayoun, his skepticism was vindicated: on 23 May, fifty Israeli soldiers entered Izbat al-Tabib with a bulldozer and jeep to begin constructing the wall.

Again the villagers protested, and were met with violence. Bayoun informed The Electronic Intifada over the phone that two Palestinians protesters had been seriously injured.

Moussa Tabib, the head of the popular committee in Izbat al-Tabib, is one of the farmers whose lands will be confiscated by wall. The popular committee of the village has worked actively with residents and international solidarity activists to mobilize against Israeli incursions.

Walking through his olive orchards, Moussa said, “It wouldn’t be possible to come here if they built the wall.” Moussa has lived in Izbat al-Tabib his entire life.

Moussa is one of the several residents who are building a home in defiance of a demolition order. As he stood on the roof of his unfinished home he pointed out the handful of homes that were built after Israel started doling out destruction orders.

Remaining on the land has been a quiet but significant form of resistance within Palestine since pre-state Zionist militias began implementing their various methods of expulsion in 1947. The people of Izbat al-Tabib have chosen to ignore the threats of destruction and confiscation and keep building.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in the West Bank. She can be reached at charlottesilver A T gmail D O T com.