Past Monday the 14th of July, an approximate 100 to 150 settlers, a number of them heavily armed, marched up the hilltop of the deserted military base of Oush Grab to set up camp. They arrived just before 7 pm and came well prepared with tents and plenty of food to last for a number of days. The action was widely published on settler webpages and blogs beforehand and according to those sources it is part of the first steps in creating a continuous Jewish presence on the site in order to eventually build a new settler outpost named ‘Shdema’.
Oush Grab is a new public park built on land owned by the Beit Sahour Municipality. The military order that covered the area was lifted so that this public park with special facilities, such as a climbing tower for children and a picnic place for families, could be built. On the top of the hill some structures of an old Jordanian and thereafter Israeli military base remain in place. The base was abandoned in 2006, but it is still covered by a military order. This order prohibits anybody from developing the space in the Area C section; full Israeli administrative and security control. However, plans are on its way to find proper use for the space and the Israeli civil administration has now granted permission to built a new children’s hospital on the slope of the hill. Last year, the ngo CURE international pledged to invest 16 million dollars to build the much needed hospital.
Besides these ongoing developments and the fact that the land on which the military base stands belongs to the municipality of Beit Sahour, settlers have different intentions:
“We, representing the majority of the Jewish people, of course, have not given up on those lands, understanding that all of the Land of Israel, whether labeled Area A, B or C, belong to the Jewish people. The day, please G-d, will come when we will have a new leadership that will abolish all the withdrawal agreements and will reinstall Jewish sovereignty over all of Eretz Yisrael. That leadership will make it clear to the Arab enemy that they do not belong here, but rather must go back to their 22 Arab states.
Until such a government comes to power, we must at least make sure that all lands in Area C in Judea and Samaria stay in our hands. It is inconceivable that Shdema would be given over to the Arabs. The struggle for Shdema is a microcosm of what is going on in this country, of the Arab takeover over of all that belongs to us.” (link)
Despite the fact that the settlers intentions are public knowledge and that their actions are illegal under both Israeli and international law the Israeli Defense Forces present at the site took no action. Instead the handful of soldiers and policemen merely escorted the settlers up to the site to secure their presence. The soldiers only intervened when a settler boy attacked one of the few journalists who made it up to the site. The army blocked entrance for journalists and also blocked the road between the public park and the base with two military jeeps.
According to the reporter from Ma’an news, who did make it through to the site, the settlers came from the surrounding settlements Efrat, Har Homa, Gush Etzion and Tekoa. The reporter quotes a teenage boy who stated the settlers intentions: “We’re here to build a Jewish city, with the help of God”.
In the meantime the local Fakouz festival was going on a few hundred meters away from the armed settlers who were taking over the hilltop. At this festival Palestinians and internationals gathered to give a response to the settlers presence and stated intentions. The strategy followed was clear from the start when settlers first arrived at the scene at Nakba Day, May 15: a creative non-violent, non-confrontational and non-political response aimed to integrate the area into the community and to show that the presence of settlers is not accepted. So far this strategy had been successful and applied to numerous events by playing bingo, playing animal games, organizing a tour in the area and painting the old structures over and over again in response to racist graffiti(as reported in one of my earlier blogs).
The day before, on Sunday the 13th a group of Palestinians and internationals already painted and paper-marchéed over the racist slogans covering the old military structures that an approximate 60 settlers had made on Friday the 11th. The creative response was undone by the settlers on Monday yet again as they spray-painted over the peaceful drawings with racist slogans for the fourth time and hoisted a huge Israeli flag up the old water tank.
Because we wanted to avoid any confrontation with the settlers, as they are not only armed but unpredictable (they do not answer to the Israeli government or to the army). Therefore we decided to stay within the limits of the public park and make their intended sleepover as sleepless as possible. The day before we had sprinkled juice all over the military base in order to attract mosquito’s and at the night itself the only confrontation would be formed by sound and light. We would blast music all night and three spotlights would be shining at the military base. Unfortunately, at about 10.30 pm the municipality withdrew its initial support for the action because we might wake up the local Palestinian neighbours. The fact that almost all were present seemed to be overlooked.
With a group of Palestinians and internationals we stayed the whole night to at least ensure that the settlers would not come down to the public park. At about 6 in the morning the settlers decided to leave themselves.
Still, frustration runs high as they will surely be back to take the next steps in their plan of creating a new settlement outpost. Their armed presence threatens the entire environment and the first days of the children’s summer camps already had to be cancelled due to their presence.
I am afraid that I have witnessed the first steps of the birth of a new settlement and there is so little that we can do besides continuing with creative non-violent responses while soldiers stand by and allow settlers to act as they please.
Examples of the graffiti left by the settlers after mondaynight
Posted By Rianne Van Doeveren
Posted Jul 17th, 2008