Monday, September 25, 2017

The Siege of Ein Hijleh


By Mike J.C. - February 03, 2014
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Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Ein Hijleh]

Palestinian activists gather at the center of Ein Hijleh shortly after arriving to the village on Friday 1 February. Photo by Dylan Collins
 
As popular resistance committees and other activist groups across the West Bank mobilized to revive a depopulated village near an Israeli military base, the army set up checkpoints and began denying the entry of food and water supplies. The Palestinian initiative is aimed at reclaiming the Jordan Valley and denouncing the proposed framework for US-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
 
Hundreds of activists and supporters—men, women, and children—moved into the abandoned village, called Ein Hijleh, near Jericho in the Jordan Valley on Friday 1 February. The operation was shrouded in secrecy until around midday, when the first busloads of activists began to arrive and word quickly spread. Friends and supporters continued to arrive throughout the evening and into the next day.
 
Although Ein Hijleh lies in territory under the control of occupation authorities—“Area  C” under the terms of the 20-year-old Oslo Accords, constitutes more than half the West Bank—the military has not completely restricted access to the village, in part because the village is on private land owned by the nearby Christian Orthodox monastery of Deir Hajla, and the resistance organizers obtained permission from the landowners to enter the abandoned village. In addition, the village is adjacent to highway 90, the main artery for travel up and down the Jordan Valley, used by motorists from dozens of illegal Israeli settlements and just a few kilometers from the King Hussein border crossing into Jordan; the army cannot afford to completely seal off the road.
 
But the military and police continue to harass many visitors, turning some away and even detaining a group of activists from Jerusalem and Bil’in who tried to enter on Saturday evening, allowing them access after several hours of questioning. Journalists have also had difficulty entering, sometimes forced to park a kilometer or two away and walk in on foot. Vehicles and bags are searched, and water and food supplies are confiscated. The military seems to believe it can strangle the initiative, compelling thirsty and hungry occupants to leave of their own volition.
 
However, activists have been able to smuggle in a continuous supply of essentials through alternate means, and the Palestinians have no intention of surrendering the village. On the contrary, they aim to restore it and make it livable again, and works are already underway toward these ends: cleaning the grounds, restoring old buildings, and planting new trees.
 
Standing at the foot of an old stone building, now adorned with Palestinian flags and jubilant protestors, a Ramallah youth activist, going by the name Shakira, explains, “The area we are in right now, Ein Hijleh, has been deserted because of the Israeli occupation since 1967, when the residents were forced to leave. And the idea is to revive this village.”
 
She continues, “We want to clean this area so Palestinians can come for picnics, considering that Palestinians are not allowed to go to any beaches, on the Mediterranean, or even to the Dead Sea. In the end, we only have a small tiny place that we’re allowed to go to, and it’s also controlled by the Israelis. So we want to open this area. This area was very lively [before the occupation began, and] the plan is to fix it up and make sure that the monastery has control over it.”
 
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti stands with activists from Youth Against Settlements in the protest village of Ein Hijleh on 1 February 2014.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti stands with activists from Youth Against Settlements in the protest village of Ein Hijleh on Friday 1 February 2014.
 
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Member of the Palestinian Parliament and Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, was present on the scene from the beginning. “We are here to send a message that we cannot accept Israeli control of the Jordan Valley,” he explains. “Without the Jordan Valley, there can be no Palestinian sovereign state.”
 
Barghouti is referring to leaked details of the framework for peace talks being proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Under the proposal, Israel would retain long-term or even permanent control of the Jordan Valley, which makes up 40% of the West Bank, contains fertile regions and crucial water access, and lines the border with Jordan. 
 
Speaking of the larger vision, Barghouti says, “We are here proving the power of nonviolent popular resistance in Palestine, which in our belief is the only way, along with the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Campaign, that we can change the balance of power here and change the reality on the ground.”
 
The Ein Hijleh initiative is just the first in a new campaign called “Milh al-Ard,” or “Salt of the Earth,” targeting the entire Jordan Valley region. The aim is to draw attention not only to the Israeli plans of confiscation, but also to the under reported home and village demolitions that frequently target remote and vulnerable Palestinian communities across the valley region, making hundreds homeless in the last few months. Indeed, on the second day of the protest, word spread that a second protest village had been erected further to the north.
 
But the Israelis are determined to undermine the new campaign. In addition to the checkpoints and denial of food and water, they have been harassing the village during the day and night. On the first evening, military jeeps continually patrolled the perimeter, shining spotlights into the camp and firing flares over head to light the area. On the second night, they came even closer, shining flashlights and scouting the area. The army made no attempt to initiate dialogue, however, and the protestors were kept on edge, fearing the surveillance activity presaged an imminent armed incursion and forced eviction.
 
Yet Palestinian spirits remained high. Friends passed the time with stories, baking bread and making tea, and festive singing and dancing went on through the late hours of the night, only reinvigorated by the army’s harassment.

As the return to Ein Hijleh and the Jordan Valley continues, just in its opening phases, Shakira puts the initiative into context, hoping the message will reach the Western nations whose governments continue to support the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people: “We’re a bunch of women. We have children here. We have young people from everywhere that are trying to do voluntary work, to fix a monastery so that people can come and have a recreational center. At this point right now that we’re talking, you have around 50 jeeps roaming around the area. We’re blocked from having access to water. We’re blocked from moving around. They stopped every car with journalists and took food. And this is basically how it is. If you want to volunteer, and you want to do anything in Palestine, you’re stopped by the Israeli military because every action for them is seen as an attempt against their settlement plans, their rule, and their occupation.” 

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