Video: “Without land, we are nothing”

Sabry Manasrah has worked in Jerusalem for 25 years, but his heart always belonged on his family’s farm in Wadi Fukin.

“In Wadi Fukin, all of our life is about caring for the land — planting trees and caring about the land,” he says of this small village southwest of Jerusalem. “Without land, we are nothing.”

In 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, some of Manasrah’s family fled to Jordan, leaving their land behind. This land, planted with more than 2,000 sage and thyme plants, was watched and cared for by the remaining family.

In 2010, Manasrah purchased 17 dunams (one dunam is approximately 1,000 square meters) of this land from his cousins in Jordan and began to plant almond, olive and other fruit trees. An adjacent plot of 60 dunams continued to be shared by the family.

“They’ve stolen the land”

Shortly after Manasrah began cultivating his farm, he was given notice that his property and that shared with his relatives had been declared state land by Israel.

In 2011, Manasrah took his case to an Israeli court, but the judge ruled in Israel’s favor. “It’s not state land,” Manasrah says. “They’ve stolen the land. The judge gave it to them. This is something normal [in an Israeli court], to give it to them.”

In the early morning hours of 15 June this year, three bulldozers and five military jeeps, flanked by approximately two dozen Israeli soldiers, turned up on the Manasrah property and began to destroy nearly 800 mature trees, and various structures on the land.

When Wadi Fukin residents turned out to protest, the soldiers fired tear gas and sound bombs.

Manasrah estimates the loss of income to his family at $8,000.

Shrinking island

An adjacent piece of Manasrah’s 17 dunams, separated by a village road, was not bulldozed. It’s planted with grapevines, peach trees, lettuce and cucumbers. On this land, Sabry’s grandchildren trail behind him in an idyllic setting, learning the rudiments of farming.

Wadi Fukin is sandwiched between the Green Line — the 1949 armistice line between present-day Israel and the West Bank — and one of Israel’s largest settlements, Beitar Illit.

About a year ago, Israel declared an estimated 1,000 acres in the Bethlehem area as state land, including approximately 250 acres in Wadi Fukin. It is believed to be one of the largest land grabs in the West Bank in years.

Wadi Fukin, like many Palestinian villages in the West Bank, is becoming an ever-shrinking island.