Home to approximately 40 people, Yanoun is an idyllic small agricultural village from which one can witness some of the most stunning sunrises and warm, generous ahlan wasahlan’s (welcome). However, no more than 500 meters (1640 ft.) to the neighboring hilltops sit the illegal outposts of Itamar, Gavot Olam, Outpost 777, 836, and 782. Yanoun has had a dark history due to these outposts, which are home to some of the most radical Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
In 2002, Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced them out through violence and harassment. Routinely, the settlers would come Saturday evenings with firearms and dogs, beating men in front of their families, damaging village property, and overrunning family homes. They told the people of Yanoun to leave within the week, and the entire village fled. Only with the help of international and Israeli peace organizations providing 24/7 protective presence in Yanoun were the families able to return a year later. Though there have not been any recent outbursts of violence, the settlers continue to deeply impact the villagers through harassment, limiting their freedom of movement, damaging property, and stealing the village’s land.
Over 70% of Yanoun’s land has been confiscated due to outpost expansion. Within the village itself, the people of Yanoun are not permitted to build due to Area C restrictions imposed by the Israeli military. These confiscations dramatically reduce the quality of life for the people of Yanoun and create unnecessary challenges such as having to confine their shepherding to small areas. Even in doing so, they risk being intimidated and harassed by settlers, which recalls the violence they previously endured. Rashed, the head of the village, told us that multiple times this year, he and the other men of the village had been stalked by settlers while shepherding, an intimidation tactic that sometimes forces the men back into the village.
December is a time in which Palestinians cultivate their land for next year’s harvest. As Ecumenical Accompaniers with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), we were asked to provide a protective presence for Rashed and others while they plant wheat. On the other side of the village and over one giant hill near the Jordan Valley, Rashed owns dunams of land for agricultural purposes. Before the outposts were built by Israeli settlers, it was merely a thirty-minute tractor ride to reach the land. After, however, it now takes over an hour of travel to reach land that is directly on the other side of the village.
While accompanying Rashed to sow the fields, the morning was quiet and ideal. As the sun warmed the Jordan Valley and Rashed planted the wheat, you could sense the deep bond he, like most Palestinian farmers and shepherds, have with their land. There was a looming feeling, however, knowing that at any minute, the situation could change and become tense, and surely, it did. Right above the land is an entry road leading up to Itamar settlement- a settlement known to many villages for its land grabs, violence, and intimidation. The road was a reminder that there should be no false sense of security, even on your own land. As the morning continued, a truck full of settlers stopped by the field and exited the vehicle. Though they did not approach Rashed or the other farmers, the settlers lingering created a sense of intimidation.
The settlements are illegal by international law and a direct violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.” However, despite being a party to the Geneva Conventions, the Israeli government continues to provide water, electricity, roads, and infrastructure to the settlements and outposts while shirking responsibility for the crimes settlers commit against the Palestinians. The outposts are even illegal under Israeli law. Even so, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation recently approved the advancement of a bill that would approve 66 outposts and settlement blocks built in the West Bank within the last 20 years. In plain words, there are currently 640,000 Israeli settlers living within the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 130 government-approved settlements, and 100 unapproved settlements in the West Bank. And with varying plans to annex, the number will rise. For villages like Yanoun, illegal settlements and outposts confiscate land and introduce violence, threatening the existence of their futures.
Bless those who are responding to the plight of humanity and the needs of their communities. I pray that you walk with the people of Palestine and Israel. Please, open our hearts and minds so that we may rise towards peace and justice.
Jess served with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC nor Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).