Everything and nothing
“They have everything, we have nothing.”
The words are spoken by an elder in the village of Khallet Sakariya. The Bethlehem team of Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) visited recently to find out how people there are coping with life under occupation.
It is a small village, about 125 people, wedged between four Israeli settlements. Many of the homes have got demolition orders. In an effort to claim that the houses are only temporary, they don´t have concrete roofs. Instead they are covered with simple zinc slates which barely protect the inhabitants from the heavy rains in winter.
There is a kindergarten in the village, with 15 children attending. The kindergarten is in one room of the house of a village leader. The villagers cannot get a permit to build a kindergarten, so this is the only way to run one. Many of the young people are leaving the village in order to live in Bethlehem, since there is no room for them in the existing houses and no permits are given for new homes.
Across the valley there is a settlement outpost – a few porta-cabins on the hilltop. They have been there for a couple of years, protected by soldiers despite being illegal even under Israeli law. The houses in the village are threatened by demolition, but the outpost stays put in spite of Israeli pledges to remove the 102 similar outposts that are scattered throughout the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). The current settlement “freeze” announced by Israeli PM Netanyahu has had little impact here.
Some of the houses in the village go back to the Ottoman times, and are not threatened by demolition. We visited one of them. It was dark and damp inside, making it hard to breathe. The woman living there was suffering from severe asthma and had high blood pressure. Such ailments, often caused by stress, are common in the village.
The villagers planned to renovate the old houses to get rid of the dampness. They were promised money for the renovation from an international organisation. But the Israeli authorities said “No.” No renovation; no reason given, but Israel rarely grants building permits to Palestinians in Area C.
According to a report by a UN agency on 15th December, Israel effectively prevents construction by Palestinians in some 70 percent of the West Bank. Read the full report here.
There is a school in the village, it is threatened by demolition. It is too small and more rooms are needed. The villagers started to build, but were stopped by the Israeli authorities. We stand outside the school and look across the valley to one settlement, barely 200 meters away. We can see a big school there, newly built, and a swimming pool.
The village leader with us heaves a sigh and says again, “They have everything. We have nothing.”