Six international volunteers were arrested on Sunday while accompanying Palestinian farmers to their land to prepare it for crop planting in Safa village, north of Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank.
On Sunday, a group of eight international activists, along with three members of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, joined Palestinian farmers to prepare their land to replant the Safa Valley, near Beit Ommar, in the district of Hebron.
As farmers and volunteers were plowing and burning shrubbery with controlled fires, one settler from across the valley was heard screaming at the group in Hebrew.
Three hours later, soldiers called out to the delegation that they must immediately stop their work. Four soldiers detained the Palestinian farmers and international volunteers.
They were escorted back to the village and met with six military jeeps, a police vehicle with 15 soldiers, security and police officers, two of which were very high ranking officials, according to local witnesses.
Officers with the Israeli military’s District Coordination Office (DCO), which controls the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, arrived with military-issued maps of the area. The soldiers said they had reports that ‘vandalism was done on Israeli land’ — referring to the clearing of brush by Palestinian farmers in their ancestral olive groves. All of the West Bank is Palestinian land, and the Israeli settlements built there are in direct contravention of international law, so the Palestinians who were present said the military maps dividing the West Bank into ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ segments are irrelevant, because they violate international law. In addition, farmers in Safa village hold documents proving ownership of the land in question. Nevertheless, the Israeli military has informed the farmers on various occasions that their land has been declared ‘state land’.
In the incident on Sunday, six internationals were arrested outside a house, at the edge of the farmland, while standing to the side and taking photos.
They were taken to the police station in the Gush Etzion settlement, and were held for three hours.
No charges were filed against them, and the police finally informed the internationals that they were on ‘unregistered land’, and warned them against accessing the area in future.
Last year, a co-founder of the PSP explained, soldiers showed an unclear map and handed the farmers papers saying that the area in Saffa, where the delegation was working, is not Palestinian land. Members of the PSP contacted lawyers of the farmers, who dealt successfully with a very similar issue in 2009, and say they will need to follow up on the next steps of the new case.
The Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) launched the campaign last October 3rd to replant the Saffa valley, which was destroyed by settlers in 2009 and is currently under threat of annexation by the Israeli military. Over the first two months of the project, groups are involved in working the land for planting trees in the winter.
For more than a year, the PSP has coordinated accompaniments of farmers by internationals and Israelis in order to deter settler and military violence. Saffa is a Palestinian agricultural community near the illegal Israeli settlement of Bat Ayn, and the farmers are frequently subject to harassment by both settlers and the Israeli army. In April 2009, 250 settlers came with the army from various settlements and attacked a number of houses in the valley. Settlers and soldiers used live ammunition against villagers, saying that they had to avenge the earlier killing of a settler in the area.
In June 2009, settlers from Bat Ayn destroyed much of the cultivated land of the Saffa Valley by cutting down trees and setting fire to the remaining olive groves. Several Palestinian farmers were reported injured. Since last year’s settler attacks, the Israeli military started claiming that the land between the settlement and the village is ‘state land’, which Palestinian villagers say is an indication that they plan to annex the valley to the Bat Ayn settlement (where no fence in fact marks the colony’s boundaries).
In 2009, the army also began issuing ‘closed military zone’ orders prohibiting the farmers access to their fields, and attempts to reach the land have been violently suppressed. After suspending international accompaniments in the summer of 2009, the PSP decided to resume them over the winter 2009/10.
Last January, the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) organized the re-planting of over 2000 trees in Safa in order to replace the ones destroyed by settlers.
In February, the Israeli military threatened to uproot the newly planted trees claiming that the ownership of the land has not yet been determined — ignoring, as before, the Palestinian owners’ deeds to the land in question.
This winter, the PSP says they plan to plant 3.000 trees on the land that Israel intends to annex in order to expand the settlement.
Ahmad, a member of the Popular Committee, noted that, one week ago, settlers attacked the area and hurled stones at the farmers.
The villagers were particularly afraid as some of these same villagers were violently attacked last year, and two elderly men suffered critical head injuries.