Thursday, July 16, 2020

Women of Asira al-Qibliya create cultural center to resist the Israeli occupation

By Fatima Masri - July 13, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [Occupation] [women‘s rights] [Water] [settlements] [Israeli army]

Sign for Retaj Cultural Center, occupied Palestinian territories.  All photos by Fatima Masri 

The Retaj cultural center in the Nablus District of Palestine is a meeting place where the women of Asira al-Qibliya gather to support one other and deal with the hardships of the occupation. The town of Asira al-Qibliya is surrounded by Israeli settlements on three sides and is subject to daily episodes of violence provoked by the settlers.

On Wednesday July 10th – about six weeks after its official opening – the Retaj Cultural Center organised a series of workshops, ranging from music therapy to psychological support. The women, led by a trained psychologist, gathered to relieve the ongoing stress of being mothers and wives in a town where the threat of violence is constant. In a separate room, young girls expressed themselves through music and games. 

In one workshop an officer from the Palestinian Civil Defence was invited to train the girls on how to behave in case of a fire and how to limit tear gas inhalation. Questions were posed by the officer in the form of a game. “What do you do if your house is full of gas and you can’t breath?” The girls, some of which are no more than six or seven years old, rushed to be the first ones to give the correct answer.

Attacks by settlers and by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are a daily occurrence in Asira al-Qibliya. The settlement of Yitzhar -populated by some of the most extremist settlers in the West Bank - extends atop a hill overlooking Asira al-Qiblia. From there, settlers ignite car tires and roll them down the hill setting fire to the Palestinian houses below.

Women from Asira al-Qibliya sits outside Retaj cultural center

The Israeli Human Rights Center B’Tselem documents attacks committed by the settlers, which in Asira al-Qibliya include the burning of olive trees and firing live ammunitions at the villagers. B’Tselem has denounced the soldier’s indulgence towards these acts of violence. Instead of putting an end to the acts of vandalism, the IDF instead shoots tear gas to disperse the villagers who attempt to defend their properties against the settler attacks. 

The daily episodes of violence are part of an increasingly unbearable living situation for the residents of the village. Since 1990, the town of Asira al-Qibliya has been unable to use its running water because of an amoeba contamination, which villagers blame on the settlement of Yitzhar. “We are forced to buy water tanks, each one costing 130 shekels”, says Hakima, one of the founders of Retaj. “Palestinians have large families, to comply to our needs we would have to buy two or three tanks per month, but we can’t afford it”.

A project for the construction of an aqueduct, which would restore the town’s access to water, is currently being funded by the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID). However settlers constantly threaten its workers and damage the structure. Villagers claim these actions are part of a strategy, initiated in 1990, designed to deprive Palestinians of their livelihood in order to drive them out of the area. 

A study conducted by the non-governmental Israeli organization Peace Now concluded that, unlike what the Israeli government claims, private Palestinian land accounts for over 32% of land used for the construction of settlements in the West Bank between 1967 and 2006. The Yitzhar settlement is no exception, with 35% of its land located on private Palestinian property. Construction of settlements in any area of the West Bank is deemed illegal by the United Nations, in accordance to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel refuses this interpretation and claims its expansion to be legal within the limits of the Elon Moreh law of 1979, which prohibits the seizure of private Palestinian land. Yitzhar strikingly violates both Israeli and international law, yet this has done nothing to ease the suffering caused in villages such as Asira al-Qibliya.  







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