By Alistair Avon/ ISM/ Hebron/
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on Thursday 18 July stormed Al Baqa’a village, east of Hebron, and destroyed an irrigation system that carries water to two agricultural fields, growing around 10,000 tomato plants each. This land has been farmed by the Jaber family for generations.
The son of the owner of one of the fields, Ghassan Jaber, 40, told ISM that about 30 soldiers arrived in five military jeeps at 7am on Thursday. When he asked the soldiers to show him a military order, they would not speak to him, instead forcefully evacuating him and his family away from the tomato fields.
The soldiers cut the majority of the pipes that make up the irrigation system, crushing tomato plants in the process. They confiscated three of Jaber’s pesticide machines, which each cost 4000 NIS (1100 USD). The family are currently watering the plants and administering pesticide by hand, which has greatly increased their workload. Since the incident, many of the tomato plants have died. This week, Jaber and his family are replacing the cut pipes. He estimates that this will cost about 40,000 NIS (11,000 USD), not including the additional labour costs. When ISM met him, Jaber and his sons told us that they would be working for the next 24 hours to replace the pipes in time to save the crops.
The IOF alleged that Jaber’s farm is diverting water from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba. The farm has traditionally taken its water from a well owned by the Jaber family, situated on their land. In 2009, the IOF blocked the well with rubble rendering it unusable. It cost Jaber about 30,000 NIS (8500 USD) to replace this well, and last winter the IOF blocked it again. Jaber decided to build a hidden groundwater well so that the IOF would not be able to find and destroy it. This cost Jaber about 150,000 NIS (42,500 USD). It is this groundwater well that now supplies the irrigation system. Because the IOF do not know the source of the farm’s water, they have assumed Jaber is illegally using settler water. On Thursday, Jaber told the soldiers that he is using his own groundwater but they went ahead with the destruction regardless.
Jaber told us he is concerned that once he replaces the irrigation system, the soldiers will return and destroy it again. The extended Jaber family own and farm a lot of the land around Al Baqa’a, which is the most fertile land in Hebron. It falls in area C, under Israeli control. Kiryat Arba, the biggest illegal Israeli settlement in Hebron, is very close by, making this highly contested land. The Palestinian population in this area is small, but they own most of the land. The IOF have banned the construction of new homes on this land and have previously demolished houses here, most recently in 2010. A month ago, the IOF confiscated 24 dunams of Palestinian owned land in this area.
Jaber says that this incident is not just about his family, farming and water but is linked to bigger political tensions. The IOF, he says, are targeting the Palestinian people’s sources of income and self-sustainability. They are damaging the local food supply: he predicts that as a result of the incident the price of tomatoes in Hebron will rise. This systematic assault on the everyday lives of Palestinian people is part of the Israeli government’s comprehensive warfare against Palestine.