Sunday, September 24, 2017

The surrounded town of Beit Ommar


By John Space - February 18, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [popular resistance] [Palestine Solidarity Project] [Beit Ommar] [Mousa Abu Maria] [Settlers]

This article is part of a series on the weekly popular protests that take place in various West Bank villages. Each week, the Palestine Monitor will profile a different village where the Popular Struggle has taken root. The Monitor will explore the unique challenges facing these villages and the unique responses of the Palestinian people to the injustice of occupation.

The village of Beit Ommar is effectively under siege. The town is penned in by settlements on three sides, and the fourth is dominated by an Israeli guard tower, severely restricting freedom of movement and access to land for the residents.The people of Beit Ommar hold demonstrations every Saturday and are often met with a violent response from settlers and Israeli security forces. The demonstrations are organized by the Palestine Solidarity Project, a popular resistance group based in Beit Ommar that was created in 2006. 

PSP founder Mousa Abu Maria said the group made a conscious decision to hold the demonstrations on Saturday, as most popular resistance demonstrations are held on Friday, and the PSP didn't want to take demonstrators away from other protests.

Soldiers, settlers and the Wall threaten Beit Ommar

The weekly demonstrations allow the villagers to voice their opposition to two of the main threats facing Beit Ommar: violent settlers and aggressive soldiers."The soldiers, they control Beit Ommar from the entrance, so many times they enter Beit Ommar and they attack people and arrest many young people and they put them in prison, under bad conditions. Most of the time [they do that] without reason," Abu Maria said. 

Abu Maria himself spent seven years in prison for participating in nonviolent resistance against the occupation.The soldiers are nominally in place to protect the settlers from the people of Beit Ommar, but it is the people of Beit Ommar that need protection from the settlers.

"Most of the problems we have here are from the settlers. When they attack our farmers, like every year, they cut olive trees and pour sewage water [on our lands] in the summertime that damage our fruit," Abu Maria said. 

The PSP has extensively documented the aggression of soldiers and settlers in Beit Ommar. Their website features video of myriad human-rights abuses, such as soldiers firing live ammunition at a funeral procession.

Beit Ommar is a farming community, with the majority of residents living off the land. But Israel plans to extend the Apartheid Wall through Beit Ommar, a land grab that will deprive the villagers of the agricultural space they need to support themselves.

"The land here is like our family because most of the people here, they are farmers. So they work very hard on the land," Abu Maria commented. "We are not allowed to go to work on our land, because it will be inside the wall.

"The land theft that will be a result of the construction of the wall is part of a long-term Israeli strategy to force the Palestinian people from the land they are tied to, Abu Maria explained."The high goal of Israel is that they want land without people. So every year, they make a decision to steal land from us, because they want to make the settlement more bigger," he said. 

Most of the problems we have here are from the settlers. When they attack our farmers, like every year, they cut olive trees and pour sewage water [on our lands] in the summertime that damage our fruit

The Suleibi family in Beit Ommar owns farmland in the village. But due to settlement expansion, they have lost access to their land even though construction of the wall is not yet underway.

"My father has around six acres or eight acres. Now he cannot enter to his land because there is a siege around his land and he cannot pick up his fruit or his vegetables," said Ameer Suleibi. "We cannot live in our homes like other people in the world…We cannot sit and have safety like other people."

A three-pronged strategy for social justice

According to Abu Maria, the popular resistance in Beit Ommar uses three tactics in the overall strategy of nonviolently resisting the occupation. The first is to support farmers, through actions such as accompanying them to their land while they harvest vegetables. The second tactic is to train people in nonviolent resistance, and the third is to cooperate with international media.

Abu Maria said the international media is a critical force in the struggle for justice in Palestine because it can focus the world's attention on the struggle of the Palestinian people.

"We know the international media is very important in our struggle. And we are sorry because they don't mention the struggle in Palestine," he said. "Many people in Europe or the United States, everywhere, they know nothing about the reality here. So the media is important to be part of our struggle because we want the media to talk about our situation. Not just to talk about [how] 'he Palestinians are 'violent’ and the occupation is 'good.'" 

The demonstrations often attract Israeli and international activists, and Abu Maria often hosts internationals who come to Beit Ommar to add their voices to the call for freedom. He said Israelis and international activists have provided a strong base of support for the demonstrations in Beit Ommar.

"There are many people inside Israel who also hate the occupation. They want to do something with us. But they don't know the way. They don't have the key. And the key, it comes from us, when we start to cooperate with them and we invite them here," he said. "We start to work together, to think what we can do to end the occupation. So they start to be part of our nonviolent struggle, from 2006 until now. And I saw the Israeli soldiers, many times, arrest them from the demonstrations, put them in the prison, sometimes they beat them, because they don't want them to be with Palestinians."

The mayor of Beit Ommar, Nasri Sabarna, said international activists are important to the struggle because Western governments provide financial and logistical support for the occupation.

"The people in the Holy Land, whatever their religion is, are suffering from the politicians, especially in America, Britain and Canada—those who affect the decisions of the United Nations council," Sabarna said. "We are affected by the decisions [of those governments  So we want you to work for peace."

The Israelis must respect the rights of the Palestinian people because, whatever the outcome of the conflict, the two people will have to live together, Sabarna said.

"It is a fact now, the Israelis and the Palestinians are living on the same land. So they must live. And they must solve the problem or the issue, with the help of the international law and the international communities," he said.




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