An armed soldier was guarding us while we were waiting for the police to arrive. “What will happen when the police arrives, I asked the soldier.”
“Nothing”, he replies. “Nothing because you have done nothing wrong.”
Spring was rapidly shifting into summer in the occupied Palestinian Territorries. We were called to provide protective presence during a grape wine and olive tree planting in Al Khader’s agricultural land. The land is hilly, not easy to arrive there with a car, especially because the main agricultural road has been blocked with rocks for more than a decade. A Palestinian girl joined us half way through. She had been trained by a human rights organization to take pictures of human rights violations and other incidents, she told me.
Upon our arrival the men started unloading new grape and olive plants. They were meant for a field on which about 300 grape plants had been uprooted some days before. Settlers from the nearby outposts and settlements were suspected but reporting the crime rarely results in criminal conviction here. The Israeli human rights organization “Yesh Din” states that from 2005 until 2013, of
“offenses involving damage to Palestinians’ trees, 97.4 percent of the investigative files in which processing has been completed were closed due to the police’s failure to locate suspects and collect sufficient evidence for prosecution of the offenders.”
While the men started planting the new grapes, the Palestinian girl, my sprightly 70 year old colleague and I started to climb up a few terraces towards the illegal outpost Sde Boaz. Sde Boaz, also called Neve Daniel North or Mizpe Hananel, is not necessarily known for hospitality. During another incident in Sde Boaz, we were welcomed with a gun pointed at us. However, a girl, a woman and an old man couldn’t be too provocative – I thought.
When we approached the entrance, some concrete buildings and a newly erected wooden house became visible. Sde Boaz was established in 2002. Despite its illegal status under Israeli law, the settlement has not been removed until now. When we arrived, a few soldiers were relaxing in a military jeep parked up the road. They jumped up as soon as they saw us. Two of them approached and told us to leave.
“Why?” I asked in English. I didn’t get a satisfying reply. “Just go.”
A familiar face showed up. White shirt, cowboy hat and gun around his shoulder, he had been the one pointing his weapon at us during the last incident. Again we were told to get lost and again now answer to my question: “Why?”
“I’ll smash her camera on her head, then she’ll know why”, one soldier said to his companion, not knowing I understand Hebrew.
A high ranking soldier and another settler, long haired and lanky, approached. The latter one was the only person besides us, who wasn’t armed. I introduced myself and to my surprise he reacted and said his name was Eli. “Can I ask you a question?” he said. “Sure,” I replied but was interrupted by the cowboy settler, who didn’t seem to appreciate conversation and just wanted to have us out.
To cut a long story short, we were asked for our identification papers and when the Palestinian girl claimed she had forgotten hers at home, we were suddenly not allowed to leave anymore.
We ended up climbing over a short agricultural wall that separated a Palestinian farmer’s land from the illegal outpost and there we waited for the police who had been called on request of the settlers. A shy soldier, who called himself Tomi, was given the duty to guard us. He didn’t look particularly happy with his new task and requested several times that his companion please stay with him. When our Palestinian friend told the soldiers a bit later that she was only 15 years old, Tomi again voiced his uneasiness to his superior, with no effect however.
The police arrived after maybe half an hour. Our passports were handed over to them by the army and one of the officers explained to me, proudly showing off his French language skills, that we needed to leave immediately. Since none of us intended to escalate the situation, we agreed. “You know, this is private property,” the police officer explained. “Yes sure,” I replied and we left.
Both, the police officer and I knew his statement was baseless. The outpost was built on Palestinian land and as Tomi told me while guarding us, we had done nothing wrong.