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From the field

Settlers attack olive pickers in front of soldiers, Tekoa', Bethlehem District, Oct. 2006

Ahmad Jabarin, 28

Ahmad Jabarin

I live in Tekoa', next to my brothers and my cousins. Our extended family is very large. We have dozens of dunams of olive groves in an area called Roman Mountain . The orchards have about one thousand trees belonging to the extended family. We all take part in the harvest. Once it was a special family experience for us. All of us used to go out, work, and eat together, young and old, and we loved it. It had a special atmosphere.

During the second intifada, settlers took control of about 400 dunams on Roman Mountain . They put up caravans and fenced in the land with barbed-wire. An extended family of settlers lives in the caravans. They call the place Tekoa' D. The settlers set up guards around the settlement and don't let the farmers get to their land in the area, besides the 400 dunams that they took control of. The family of settlers cooperates with the settlers in Nokdim and Tekoa', and together prevent farmers from getting to their land on Roman Mountain and in Rakhme, Sh'ayeb al-'Ayin and Qinan a-Saqer, primarily during the olive-picking season.

For three years we have been unable to get to our land on Roman Mountain , primarily at the time of the olive harvest. The settlers attack the farmers with clubs and throw stones at them with tacit approval of the Israeli army, which is in the area to protect the settlers.

In 2003, at the start of the olive-picking season, we went to pick our olives with other families that have groves in the area and with foreign volunteers. With the Israeli soldiers standing there, the settlers attacked us, threw stones at us, and beat us with clubs. The soldiers threatened us with weapons. Some farmers and foreign volunteers were injured by the settlers. We did not manage to pick our olives. In 2004 and 2005, too, we did not manage to harvest our olives.

The settler attacks have continued this year as well. Two days ago [27 October], at around nine o'clock in the morning, I went with thirty people from my family to our groves, which are situated about two miles as the crow flies from the village. Other farmers also went with their families to their groves on Roman Mountain , near our grove. Seventy foreign volunteers came by bus to escort us and help in the picking. We got to our fields and began to unload our things and equipment for the harvest. As we did, the settlement's guards, who were in army uniform, were watching us.

About a half an hour later, a limping settler who walked with a cane, and four of his sons, their wives and children, and six more guards who were protecting the settlement arrived. The settlers stood alongside the armed guards, about ten meters from us, and began to shout. They cried out, in Hebrew, "get off this land, this is our land." They began to throw stones from buckets they had brought with them. They also had clubs. We backed away to a distance of 200 meters to avoid being hit by the stones. Because of the armed guards, we couldn't do anything.

About an hour later, during which the settlers threw stones at any farmer who tried to approach, about twenty soldiers arrived. The soldiers tried to move the settlers back, but only by talking with them. They didn't use any force to compel the settlers to stop throwing stones at us and from attacking us. The soldier-guards just stood there and looked. We felt that the soldiers didn't want the settlers to get hurt, and that we didn't matter a bit to them. If one of us were to get injured, or even killed, they would have remained indifferent.

The settlers clubbed my uncle, Musa Khalef, 53, when he tried to get to an olive tree and pick the olives. A few settlers surrounded him and beat him with clubs. His nephew Fawzi tried to protect him, and a settler standing nearby hit him in the head with a stone, causing Fawzi to lose consciousness. We took him to the clinic in Tekoa'. The only thing the soldiers did was protect the settlers with their bodies. They built a kind of human wall separating us from the settlers.

An hour after Musa and Fawzi were injured, Israeli police officers arrived. They took testimonies from some of the farmers and asked us to leave our land, so that the settlers wouldn't attack us. We left our land along with the foreign volunteers, who tried to speak with the settlers and soldiers in English. The volunteers told us that they asked the soldiers to prevent the settler attacks against the farmers and their families. The soldiers told them they were forbidden to use force of any kind against the settlers, and that those were the orders they had received. We left our land without picking even one tree. I don't think we'll be able to harvest our olives this year.

Ahmad Kayed Khalef Jabarin, 28, married and a father of five children, is a construction worker and a resident of Tekoa', Bethlehem District. His testimony was given to Suha Zeid at the witness's house, on 29 October 2006.