“”From A Military Firing Zone To A Vineyard” sounds like it should be a good news story.  But sadly, it’s not!

The issue is that rather large portions of the Jordan Valley are designated military firing zones.  As you drive through the valley, you see these cement pillars along the roads warning people that the land has military purposes.  

It is land that was previously in the hands and in the control of local Palestinians, who had been on the land for generations.  And it doesn’t matter that they can produce land titles from the time of the Ottoman Empire.  In a military occupation such deeds mean squat!  And they get treated like squatters!

Then, suddenly, those pieces of land — particularly if they are near an Israeli settlement — can over night become property for settlers to develop.  

It’s a common pattern: Take the land for so-called military purposes.  Use it for military purposes, or just hold it under the oversight of the army.  Dismiss all protests and legal challenges.  If necessary flex the muscle of the army to enforce the designation. And then — seemingly out of the blue — turn it over to settlers!

Today, July 27, we were called to see a 170 dunums (42 acres or 17 hectares) parcel of land that had suddenly shifted from a military firing zone to a new vineyard.   It was an amazing transformation!

Our team had actually driven by the site on the 19th — on our once-a-week tour through the Jordan Valley — and noticed that the field had been plowed.  But to our surprise on the 27th, it was fenced, irrigated, and the center section planted with young grape vines.

 The boxes that must have been used to transport the tender vines were piled up in the corner of the field.  

 

After a quick look at the property, to avoid detection by the nearby military, we met with Abu Sakkar, a community leader in the local Palestinian village of Al Hadidiya.  (Al Hadidiya, sits right next to the Ro’i Israeli settlement, but Al Hadidiya was there first.)

We met Abu Sakkar in his tent, surrounded by some of his family. He explained that the land belongs to three brothers in the nearby city of Tubas.   While the brothers inherited the land from their father, and grew wheat and barley, they lost the use of the land in 1977 (10 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank) .

Until the last week, or so, it was designated a military firing zone, even though no military activity ever took place on the land, said Sakkar.

“It’s a huge area,” he exclaims, “But around here, if they need any part of the land, they just take it.”

He said settlers showed up, added the fencing and irrigation pipes, and then the vines.

“Everyone had a gun,” said Sakkar.

So there was no protest from the locals.

Ironically, a military firing zone warning pillar still stands right next to the vineyard.  It’s comic, if it wasn’t so tragic for folks who lose their family farms to military firing zones.

Sakkar said before 1977, wheat and barley was grown on the land.

“In 1977, that’s when they planned to take more land for the settlement.  Now it’s too late, the political plan is to empty all the land from the Palestinian people.  We are being driven from our land,” said Sakkar.

“Up to now we are charting a peaceful course, but with more and more pressure on us, there will be a lot of trouble here for the Israelis here,” said Sakkar.

“At some point things will explode!” he added.

No doubt.  Everyone has their breaking point.

And no doubt their occupiers might welcome that “explosion” as the long-awaited provocation to come down even harder.

(Actually, I am in awe of how much is just absorbed — sucked-up — by the Palestinians as they go about their daily lives peacefully.) 

So we pray and work for peace and understanding and justice.

In the meantime, I’m going to pay more attention to where my grapes come from when I purchase them. 

Grace and peace,

Jim 

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post, or to publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct requests, via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!

Advertisements