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Nizam Mu’tan from the village of Burqah talks about his family’s inaccessible land and their financial difficulties due to village road closures.

Nizam Mu’tan next to one of his plots of land. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem
Nizam Mu’tan next to one of his plots of land. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem

I come from a family that lives off farming and shepherding, and I’ve been working in farming since I was 13 years old. I have six children. The eldest is 15. They all go to school and I’m the sole provider. When I was a child, we grazed our livestock on my father’s land in the eastern part of the village. We had more than 150 sheep and goats and a large grazing pasture. After the settlers started taking over land, we couldn’t reach that area anymore, especially since they set up the Migron outpost in the early 2000s.

At first, I still grazed my herds on the land that’s in the middle of the outpost, but the number of caravans gradually grew and the outpost expanded, so I stopped going to those grazing pastures. By 2006, they wouldn’t let us go there at all. Now, no one can graze their herds in the area where they built the outpost. My grandfather left me half a hectare of land that’s now just outside the outpost’s fence. The new bypass route that was built for Road 60 in 1996 crossed our village’s land from the east, and since then we’ve been unable to reach the grazing areas to the east of the road.

As grazing pastures shrank and animal feed became expensive, we had to sell some of the flock because it wasn’t financially viable anymore. Luckily, I’m also in the animal feed business, so I was able to provide for my family. But the closure of the old road from the village to Ramallah in the beginning of the second intifada, in 2000 or 2001, made earning a living difficult. Instead of reaching Ramallah in less than five minutes, we now have to take a long detour, through a few villages and roads like Deir Dobwan, Beitin, ‘Ein Yabrud, Dura al-Qar’, Surda and al-Jalazun. When the al-Jalazun road was closed, we had to go through Silwad or ‘Ein Yabrud, or through ‘Ein Siniya and Jifna and from there to Abu Qash. It took a whole hour.

I drive a slow truck with animal feed or livestock and the trip takes a long time. This route also makes it more expensive. Diesel for the trip to Ramallah used to cost me 50 shekels (approx. 13 US dollars). Now it costs 150 shekels (approx. 40 dollars). I have to absorb the difference because the price of livestock and animal feed doesn’t change. Until the Surda road was opened in 2008, we would waste hours at the checkpoints if they decided to detain us. It got worse in 2006, when the Givat Assaf outpost was built at the old entrance to the village. The outpost prevents any chance of opening the road again.

Apart from all this, over the last three years, settlers from the outpost have been harassing the farmers, assaulting them, destroying their crops and kicking them off their own lands. I have a 0.3 hectare plot in this area called ‘Aqbat Ibn Barek . About six years ago, I built a stone fence there, dug a water well and planted olive trees, fig trees, grape vines and almond trees. I care for the trees like you’d care for a child, and I wait for their fruit. But the settlers come, break them and vandalize the plot.

Nizam Mu’tan's orchard, vandalized on 5 Feb. 2014. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem.
Nizam Mu’tan's vandalized orchard. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 5 Feb. 2014

On 11 July 2012, settlers cut down about twenty of my fruit trees, and on 27 July 2012, they cut down ten more trees and vandalized the fence around the plot. The day after, when we went to see what damage had been done, they attacked us with stones, and we fled. The fourth attack was on 22 September 2013, when settlers cut down ten of my fig trees and grape vines. On 10 October 2013, they attacked again. They burned my car and two other people’s cars and sprayed “price tag” graffiti on the mosque fence. On 5 February 2014, in the daytime, I saw settlers going into our lands and vandalizing trees, but I couldn’t catch them. I called a neighbor and my children to go chase them and kick them out. After all these attacks, I contacted your organization, the Red Cross, and the Israeli DCO. I filed complaints with the Israeli police. They came to investigate with the army, but it was no use. I was getting frustrated and depressed because of all the useless complaints I’d made. I always try to find a way. I ask for help from human rights organizations, lawyers, the police and other official bodies to put an end to these attacks, but it does nothing.

Although the settlers try to make me leave my land, I can’t abandon it. It’s become a part of me and I’ve put a lot of money into it. The trees I planted seven years ago are already bearing fruit, and the pain I feel when I see how the settlers vandalize them is unbearable. Every time I go to my plot, I’m scared the settlers will come and attack me. I wait for a time when they’re not around to go to the plot and tend to it. Officially, I don’t have to coordinate my arrival at the plot (with the army), but imagine that you have something you own right in front of your eyes and you can’t reach it or enjoy it.

We’re also scared that they’ll attack the house. We live in constant fear, and since they burned my car, I can hardly sleep. Sometimes, I sit on the porch at night to guard the house. My whole family is as worried as I am. We think about the house all the time, afraid the settlers are going to attack us. Is this a normal life? Can you imagine yourselves living in constant fear and anxiety for so many years? It’s really hard for me. God only knows the suffering I endure. I have a small animal feed packing factory near my house; there’s machinery, vehicles and a sheep pen as well. I put a lot of money into this, money I’ve worked for my entire life. I wanted to make sure my family has a living, and a future. I worry that the settles will damage my property and destroy it. I also have another 0.3 hectare plot across from the plot I was talking about. I wanted to farm it and plant trees, but I gave up because of the settler violence. We have guard dogs, and when they bark at night, we wake up thinking the settlers are coming. The children wake up spooked, asking what’s going on, and I try to calm them down so they go back to sleep. Luckily, so far, my children have been acting normally, but I worry that, God forbid, this situation will harm them mentally.

Although the settlers try to make me leave my land, I can’t abandon it. It’s become a part of me and I’ve put a lot of money into it. The trees I planted seven years ago are already bearing fruit, and the pain I feel when I see how the settlers vandalize them is unbearable. Every time I go to my plot, I’m scared the settlers will come and attack me. I wait for a time when they’re not around to go to the plot and tend to it. Officially, I don’t have to coordinate my arrival at the plot (with the army), but imagine that you have something you own right in front of your eyes and you can’t reach it or enjoy it. We’re also scared that they’ll attack the house. We live in constant fear, and since they burned my car, I can hardly sleep. Sometimes, I sit on the porch at night to guard the house. My whole family is as worried as I am. We think about the house all the time, afraid the settlers are going to attack us. Is this a normal life? Can you imagine yourselves living in constant fear and anxiety for so many years? It’s really hard for me. God only knows the suffering I endure. I have a small animal feed packing factory near my house; there’s machinery, vehicles and a sheep pen as well. I put a lot of money into this, money I’ve worked for my entire life. I wanted to make sure my family has a living, and a future. I worry that the settles will damage my property and destroy it. I also have another 0.3 hectare plot across from the plot I was talking about. I wanted to farm it and plant trees, but I gave up because of the settler violence. We have guard dogs, and when they bark at night, we wake up thinking the settlers are coming. The children wake up spooked, asking what’s going on, and I try to calm them down so they go back to sleep. Luckily, so far, my children have been acting normally, but I worry that, God forbid, this situation will harm them mentally.

In addition to what the settlers do, the occupation authorities also have a negative impact on us. My land, for example, where my home is built, is right on the border of the village master plan. It’s at the end of the village, and I have a building permit. Two dunams (0.2 hectares) are outside the master plan, and I can’t use them. It stops me from putting on additions to the house, developing and preparing for the future.

Nizam ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Mu’tan, 40, a married father of six, is a resident of Burqah in the Ramallah District. He gave his testimony to Iyad Hadad on 18 March 2014 in Burqah.