Monday, July 20 2009 The Struggle over Safa

The (temporary) Victory

Since June 27th 2009, Safa farmers manage to cultivate their lands, generally without harassments from the settlers or the military.

Background

Over the past few years, after a series of struggles and confrontations, the farmers of Khirbet Safa have worked their fields without disturbance. Since the murder of a 12-year old youth in the neighboring settlement of Bat Ayin on the 2nd of April (and despite the arrest of the murderer), the settlers of Bat Ayin have subjected the residents of Safa to a living hell. The settlers have entered the village armed, caused serious damage to property and injured several residents. Two off-duty soldiers fired their army-issue weapons and injured two Safa residents during a pogrom in Khirbet Safa by Bat-Ayin settlers to mark 30 days to the murder of the youth. The soldiers were arrested for some time and then released without pressing of charges. All of this was parallel to repeated violent attacks on farmers from Safa – among them women and children. Every week in the past few months, Israeli and international activists have attempted to accompany local farmers to their lands in order to work and harvest there. In most of the cases, the army issues a ‘closed military zone’ order and evacuates the activists and farmers, using violent means which have become more extreme from week to week, and arresting numerous activists (excepting once, all of whom have been released within several hours). In some cases, settlers attack the farmers and activists with stones, while the army watches from the side. Not a single time, though the army and police could easily have detained the rioters, did they choose to do so, and instead arrested left-wing activists who had come to accompany the farmers. In addition to preventing access to the lands, the settlers with army support have systematically damaged the village farmers’ trees and grapevines. These actions reached their peak on the night between the 21st and 22nd of June, when settlers destroyed over 120 trees – a plot which supports an entire family. This despite the fact that the army and police were both provided a week and a half earlier with a videotape in which this act was clearly threatened by rioting settlers. In all cases, the army, police and General Security Services (Shabak) has chosen not to investigate or deal with the violence and vandalism of the settlers, but rather to crack down on the farmers and activists.

The failure of law enforcement against the settlers is accompanied by gross violations of a decision of Bagatz (The Israeli High Court of Justice). In the High Court’s “Mesik” (Harvest) ruling, the justices explicitly forbid use of ‘closed military area’ orders in order to prevent Palestinian farmers from accessing their lands, and furthermore forbid the army from using settler violence as an excuse for issuing the orders in this arbitrary manner – recognizing that this practice gives a free hand to settler hooliganism (which, in practice, complements the soldiers’ hooliganism perfectly). Yet, as in other cases, despite the fact that the High Court phrased rules of conduct for the army in a clear and learned way (because in an enlightened society like Israel’s it takes honorable judges to express in thirty pages what should be obvious) – army commanders choose to systematically ignore the court’s instructions.

Following is a (partial) chronological list of accompaniment actions in Safa over the last months, written by activists in the field:

June 27, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

June 22, 2009
Settlers destroy over 120 fruit trees belonging to farmers from Safa

June 20, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

June 19, 2009
Another attempt to damage the plots of Safa’s farmers

June 13, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

June 6, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

May 30, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

May 23, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

April 28, 2009
Accompanying farmers in Safa

harvest