I am sat in the hamlet of Yanoun, 15 kilometres to the south-east of Nablus reading the words of Rashed Murrar – the mayor of Yanoun – describing how the village almost ceased to exist, “They came with dogs and guns, every Saturday night. They beat men in front of their children. One Saturday they said they didn’t want to see anyone here next Saturday and that we should move to Aqraba. The whole village left that week”.
On a good day it is hard to imagine that Yanoun was nearly wiped off the map or even that it is facing any problems. I am currently on the hillside overlooking a stunning landscape with interweaving rolling green hills. It is the most beautiful place I have visited in Palestine. It feels so incredibly peaceful and remote. Just as I am writing this article however a military jeep comes up the valley and drives up to every house in the hamlet. Looking across the valley there are further clues that everything is not quite right here. On the horizon there sits a handful of buildings that make up one of many illegal settler outposts in the area.
The Israeli peace group Ta’ayush describe the events leading up to the 2002 dispersion as, “years of unrelenting harassment, destruction of infrastructure, armed patrols and threats of shooting” (from the EAPPI publication ‘Living with Settlers’). An entire Palestinian village, the first since 1967, was up-rooted and displaced.
As a result, at the invitation of the mayor, there has been an international presence in the hamlet since 2003. Sadly however, attacks and harassment are still part of life here.
In addition to the attacks, Yanoun has lost hundreds of acres of land. This is either because the settlers have claimed it for their own or because it is deemed a ‘closed military zone’ by the Israeli military. The term ‘closed military zone’ is used with derision throughout Yanoun. Most people here understands the IDF to be on “the side of the settlers” as one resident commented to me. One former EA in Yanoun commented that they saw “soldiers sitting down and having a picnic with settlers on Palestinian land”.
The settlements remain illegal under international humanitarian law; Article 49, of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. For this reason, the settlements are condemned by every major nation in the world (except Israel). The Israeli NGO Peace Now describes these illegal settlements as, “the biggest obstacle to a two state solution”.
The three main settlements that surround Yanoun are Itamar, Yizhar and Bracha. Yizhar was the home of the infamous Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the author of “The Kings Torah”. The Kings Torah offers a theological basis for the killing of non-Jews. According to the Rabbi, non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks on them “curb their evil inclination,” while babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us”. The Israeli tabloid Ma’ariv described it as the stuff of “Jewish terror”.
Although not all as extreme as Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, many of the residents are extremely hostile to both Palestinians and internationals. They see the fields and valleys as “their land” – some believing it is literally their God given right to be there.
Attacks from people living in these settlements are common place in Yanoun and the surrounding villages. As a result of the settlement, there are a series of de facto invisible boundaries surrounding Yanoun that cannot safely be crossed by either Palestinians or internationals. All the hilltops and fields out of the valley bottom are no go areas for fear of violence or provoking ‘revenge attacks’ on Palestinian villages.
It is equally inspiring and terrifying to be here, to see how a community live their lives perched perilously close to having their homes and livelihoods eradicated. Already though I felt a resilience here – a living embodiment of the phrase “to exist is to resist”.