“We will rebuild”: Hebron family resists unrelenting settler violence

Jawdi Jaber’s son works to restore his family’s car, destroyed by Israeli settlers a few weeks ago. 

Emily Lawrence The Electronic Intifada

On a winter’s morning in the hills east of Hebron, a young Palestinian man works on the ruined engine of a burnt-out car, his hands black with grease. In front of him stands a small white house built into the hillside, and behind the house a barbed wire fence crowns the hilltop, marking the boundary of the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The Jaber family’s car was destroyed by settlers just weeks ago. It was the latest incident of repeated violence to which the family has been subjected from the settlers from Kiryat Arba, which was built on confiscated Jaber family land in the southern West Bank’s Baqaa Valley.

Settlers attack the car

During the night of 9 January, a group of settlers came from Kiryat Arba, firebombed the car and pelted the family with rocks from above to prevent them from saving it. “It took five minutes, the car was burnt,” Atta Jaber, 49, told The Electronic Intifada. “We even called the Hebron fire service but there was no time.”

“We used the car all the time,” Jaber added. “My mother has asthma and we must take her to the hospital. We are far away, 25 kilometers from the hospital. And it’s very difficult to get the ambulance to come to the house. When they hear that settlers are attacking the area, they don’t come, because even the ambulance is scared to come near the settlers. They attack the ambulances.”

Settler violence in the occupied West Bank is becoming increasingly frequent, particularly in the Hebron area. According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and damage to property increased by 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by more than 165 percent when compared to 2009 (“Israeli settler violence in the West Bank,” November 2011 [PDF]).

“This is not the first attack or the last attack,” said Jaber. “For ten or twelve years the settlers came and daily attacked us and this house … It’s not the first house they attacked. The settlers attacked many areas, they cut down the olive trees, they burnt the mosque, and this is one of these attacks. They want to demolish the Palestinian society, the Palestinian economy, Palestinian life.”

Although settlers are frequently violent, they are rarely arrested or prosecuted. While the car was being attacked, Atta’s brother, Jawdi Jaber, 51, called the Israeli police, whose station is five minutes away from the house, inside the settlement of Kiryat Arba. The police arrived after three hours, by which time the attackers had already left. There was no further investigation, despite the fact that the Jabers filed a complaint at the police station.

Home demolition

This is not the first injustice the Jaber family has experienced at the hands of Israelis. The family has faced constant violence from settlers, and their homes have been repeatedly demolished by Israeli forces. In 2000, settlers invaded Atta Jaber’s home, stayed overnight, burned and desecrated Quranic passages on the walls, and then left. The entire incident happened under police protection.

“I didn’t do anything bad to the Israeli government or the Israeli settlers,” said Jawdi Jaber. “Now my children cannot go outside after 6pm. We have to close everything, because they are scared. My daughter is 24. She doesn’t go outside. My wife too, she is too scared.”

Jawdi Jaber’s home was demolished in 2002, after he was accused of not having a permit to build. But the home was rebuilt, and now provides a home for twenty family members — Jawdi and his wife and children, as well as their elderly mother and now Jawdi’s brother and his family. Atta’s home has been demolished three times, rebuilt each time with the help of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

The Jaber family, whose homes are in Area C — sixty percent of the West Bank under total Israeli military control — are just one of many families to suffer home demolitions. ICAHD estimates that 24,813 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the West Bank since the start of the occupation in 1967; in the same time period, more than 151,000 housing units have been illegally built for Israeli settlements (Statistics on house demolitions, 1967-2010).

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 88 Palestinian homes were demolished in 2011 alone, leaving 626 persons homeless (Statistics on demolition of houses built without permits in the West Bank).

While Palestinians in Area C are almost always denied building permits, Israel readily grants them to settlers living nearby.

“We have a deed to the land from Turkish times,” Jawdi Jaber said. “But now they say we need a permit from Israel to build here? They demolished my home because they said I didn’t have a permit. If I applied for a permit they would not give me a permit, never.”

“They say this is state land, belonging to Israel,” said Atta. “They come to bulldoze, they don’t even give you time to negotiate, or to go the municipality or the court. Even if you were here before the Israeli people, even if you were here a million years ago, and you own this land and stay in this land, you cannot get a permit from them. We cannot succeed in this system.”

“My situation is so bad here. But I don’t have another way to live,” he added. “I would like to live the same as other people, in a house with peace.”

The confiscation of land

The main trauma facing the Jabers is the confiscation of their land. For hundreds of years, the Jaber family lived in caves in the hillside.

“My grandfather was born in this cave. My father was born in this cave. I was born in this cave,” Atta Jaber said. “We have owned the land for many years, hundreds of years, we grew up here in this area.”

The Jaber family used to own approximately 400 dunams of land around these hills (a dunam is equal to 1,000 square meters). Since 1967, almost 90 percent of the land has been confiscated by Israel, mainly for the use of the settlement. The Jabers’ land now lies, untended, on the other side of the fence.

“We still have six or seven acres inside the fence of the settlement,” said Atta Jaber. “We can’t get to it to work on the land. [The settlers] leave it, sometimes they burn it. It used to be a big farm for growing grapes. It’s a lot of land, you would get tired when you walked in it.”

The family caves, now underneath the settlement of Kiryat Arba, form the storage rooms behind the house; the cool underground air makes a perfect refrigerator.

“This grain stays fresh for months,” Jaber added, pointing to a large silo of grain. “And the cool floor is the perfect place for a nap when it is hot in the summer.”

The Jabers also keep rabbits, chickens, several cats and a donkey. In one of their caves, in the ground deep below the settlement, there is a coop of white doves, gazing out into daylight from behind an iron grate.

Loss of crops and livelihood

Jawdi Jaber has built a small terrace on his mountainside, a levelled square of rich soil surrounded by a stone wall. He hopes to grow lemon trees, sage and mint in the land beside his home. As he stood on his tiny patch of earth, he produced a stack of photographs of life before the settlers came.

“This is me on my mountain,” he said, presenting a photo of a younger man, his hair black instead of grey, surrounded by his crops and olive trees. “Tending the land here, on my mountain, this is my dream. We owned this land before the Israelis were here. It’s important for them that I leave my house. The settlers want to displace all the Palestinian farmers.”

Jawdi Jaber used to grow tomatoes, grapes and cucumbers and sell them in the market in Hebron, until the Israeli authorities ripped up his irrigation pipes.

“I cannot grow vegetables,” he said. “Israel took all the water pipes, all the tomatoes, everything I planted in the ground. My life is not easy. I remember when I worked here on my mountain. They confiscated my land, my mountain, my dream.”

The remains of a vineyard can be seen in the patch of land between the house and the “black road,” Jawdi and Atta Jaber’s name for the settler-only highway which was built in 1995, carving their land in two and appropriating four dunams. The vineyard was destroyed by settlers six years before the road was built, in 1989. A few grapevines remain, and the family still makes grape jam in the ancient stone press.

“We don’t need financial help, we need to end the occupation,” Jawdi Jaber added. ”We can work if we have water. We have good soil, good land. But the occupation blocks everything.”

“We can rebuild”

The Jaber family land is rapidly diminishing. Over time it has been reduced from an expansive, fruitful mountainside to a scarred and struggling enclave, eaten up slowly by the neighboring Israeli settlement, a miniature model of Israel’s land grab in the shrinking territories of Palestine.

“There are peace negotiations but all the time there are demolitions, they are building the settlements, they are arresting people,” said Atta Jaber. “All the world is looking but their eyes are blinded. We are alone, without power, without any kind of defense to continue to live in this land.”

Jawdi, Atta and their families were born from this hillside, and their roots run deep in their land.

“Even with the occupation, we continue our lives here,” Atta said. “We still have Jerusalem and Palestine inside our hearts. We are not beggars, we have education. We can rebuild.”

The Jaber household lives under the burden of the occupation, the sprawling settlement weighing down on their ancient caves. Israel has demolished their home, swallowed up their land, uprooted their trees, torn up their livelihood, and now destroyed their car.

But the home was rebuilt, and olive tree saplings are pushing their way through the dirt. One young man with blackened hands is learning to fix a car engine. The Jaber family will resist.

Emily Lawrence is a recent graduate and independent writer currently based in Bethlehem, West Bank. She can be followed on Twitter at @EmilyWarda.