by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute
A few weeks ago, my colleagues at work and partners came together in a restaurant in the countryside to the west of Bethlehem. The Qassieh family owns a land there of the size of a soccer field, about half an hectare. They exploit a well-known restaurant, the Makhrour restaurant, called after a broader valley to the west of Beit Jala. It is area C – the over 60% of the West Bank lands under complete Israeli control.
It is a bit far located, and so Mary and I had never visited the restaurant. However, the Arab Educational Institute created an opportunity at the occasion of the departure of the German volunteer Fabian, sent out by Pax Christi Stuttgart and Aachen, who was with us for a year. The food during the early evening tasted good and the environment was pleasant, with plenty of green trees and bushes around us, away from the noisiness and the many cars of Bethlehem.
The memories were good, too. Makhrour is an area where Mary and I, family and guests from abroad are used to hike, from Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem to the beautifully located village of Battir – a few years ago made into a world heritage site partly to prevent the erection of the Wall. It is graced by Roman-time terraces and archeological sites, with spectacular views over agricultural fields and valleys, and an old railroad and small station. Many years ago the Makhrour was an area where the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Beit Jala used to sleep under the trees in the summer and afterwards during harvest time; sometimes even for weeks, as my Arabic teacher used to recall not without nostalgia.
At the end of the dinner we felt rested and promised ourselves to come back, with or without hike.
The Qassieh family is one of those who display sumud or steadfastness by staying on their land. As so many others – the Nasser family of the Tent of Nations immediately comes to mind – they have been absorbed by Kafkaesque Israeli High Court proceedings which last for many years, if not decades. However, they hung on, even though several dwellings on the land have previously been demolished. Many lands in area C are not formally registered though well-known to belong to certain Palestinian family owners. Add to this that almost no Palestinian gets a building permit in area C from the occupier – the Israeli army/Civil Administration.
The Jewish National Fund suddenly came two years ago with proofs of land ownership nobody knew about. Supposedly the family land was sold almost 50 years ago. In a statement about the case, the Israeli organization Peace Now speaks about the Jewish National Fund as the “Fund for the expulsion of Palestinians.” The Israeli High Court did not allow for any further appeal by the family. On Sunday the main house was demolished, live on Facebook for Bethlehemites and anybody else to see.
Don’t forget the context. These years house demolitions have been happening in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem at an exponential pace. A few weeks ago, at least 70 apartments or houses were demolished in the village Sur Bahir to the east of Bethlehem. They were not located in area C, but in area A and B, under Palestinian civil control, and built with permits. The excuse for demolition there was that the houses happened to be in an area of 250 meters on both sides of the illegal Wall which the army has designated as ‘security’ area.
Where there is a will there is a way, especially when all power is in your hands.