The day was clouded in Al Khader, a small village southwest of Bethlehem. Olive and almond trees lined up on terraced fields. About twenty Palestinians and two internationals (including me) walked towards a piece of land which was covered with trash and belongings of someone else: An empty baby carriage, a bicycle, a swing, a motorbike. Our group was unarmed but not the man who approached us. His gun pointed directly at us.
The confrontation took place on agricultural land outside of Al Khader. It is privately owned by 51 years old farmer Muhammad from Al Khader, who arrived to access his property. Problems started in 2012, when inhabitants of the illegal outpost Sde Boaz installed four trailers on Muhammad’s farming land. This is not a unique case: According to the UN, about 100 of these branches of Israeli settlements are spread all over Area C in the Westbank, which is controlled by the Israeli army. By installing outposts on Palestinian land, Israeli settlers break international but also Israeli law. Despite that, they are often provided with basic infrastructure by the state.
The outposts come on top of about 135 Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, which are illegal according to international law but are supported by Israel financially, ideologically as well as in terms of security and infrastructure. The construction in these settlements, which are now home to over 360’000 people, has increased by more than 100%.
It does happen that illegal outposts are later on “legalized” by the Israeli government. To get back his land and to prevent the legalization of the outpost, Muhammad brought the case to an Israeli court, which ruled in his favour. However, only a second court ruling made the settlers move their trailers away. So a few days later, Muhammad walked to his land, accompanied by friends, journalists, us internationals and the mayor of Al Kahder. We were welcomed coldly by a security guard, pointing a gun at us and shouting to stay away. The guard was soon joined by another eight men, some of them armed, some of them accompanied by dogs. We drew back and waited for the army, which soon showed up. Again we were told to stay back, while the mayor and Muhammad negotiated with soldiers and settlers.
Cigarettes were lit, dogs stroked, pictures taken and films shot. After several minutes the two Palestinian men joined the crowed of journalists and friends to inform them that the settlers needed a few more days to clean the area and that after that Muhammad would, after four years, be free to access his land. Muhammad had agreed to the settlers request and everyone walked back, the Palestinians to Al Kahder, we to our car and the settlers to their four trailers.
The four trailers that had been removed from Muhammad’s land were installed a few meters up the hill on land privately owned by the farmer Khadr from the village of Al Khader…