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OPT: Reclaiming Water in Qarawat Bani Hassan

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End of December, accompanied by soldiers, Israeli settlers driving bulldozers started carrying out significant construction works in the area where is located the Neweitef Al - Majur spring, central source of water for farming the land of the nearby West Bank town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, in the Salfeet governorate, 30 km southwest of Nablus.

Moeen Rayyan, Media Coordinator of the PGFTU (Palestine General Federation of Trade Union) works in Nablus, but he was born in Qarawat Bani Hassan and frequently returns to his native town to visit his family. He immediately reached the area when the bulldozers arrived where the springs are located and he was there on another occasion when several dozen of teens from the nearby outpost rushed to the area. He had the chance to take photos of this second incident.

Moeen accompanies us hiking through a path that descends from the last pave road of the town to the springs' hollow. The landscape is terrific and the vegetation lush. When we arrive to the large hollow where the pools for the water collection are, huge trails of bulldozer's wheels are still visible on the ground as well as rocks obstructing the access to a mountain's cave that Qarawat's residents used to have a cool breath from the sultry summer's days and that was bombed with dynamite.

According to Moeen's opinion, the intent of residents of the close outpost, whose wires fencing the border are very close to the hollow, is to "expand the outpost for the construction of a community park for its settlers. They came with engineers in December, they took photos of the entire area, they are planning a project."

Residents say the bulldozer's incident was preceded in the last years by several attacks on shepherds, who are usually threatened and occasionally detained and released after few hours. Since the outpost has been enlarged, Mohammed, a shepherd of Qarawat, is frightened to lead out his 300 sheep and goats to pasture on that mountainside.

The construction of a tinplate shelter for night recovering his animals has been several times under the threat of been demolished by Israeli soldiers. "Some time settlers come at night and steel materials or sheep." he says. In the past the supply of water for his animals came from the nearby spring "but now the ground water is contaminated by sewages from the settlements and I take the water from the town."

Ayoub Assi, a farmer of Qarawat shows us the houses of Havot Yair, the illegal outpost located on the hill top, 2 km from the valley and adds: "6 months ago just few caravans were there, recently they have been replaced with real houses". Many residents do not come to this area anymore because they are frightened. The town is located in area B (approximately 11%), but the agricultural land is considered area C, under the complete control of Israeli authorities and plenty of evidence show that their agriculture work is interfered both by settler presence and Israeli soldiers, patrolling the roads around.

Moeen's father, Izzat, 52 years old, worked in an Israeli constructions company for 10 years. Since 1980, he has never entered again Israel and reverted to farming and cultivating his extended lands around the town. Indeed, agriculture and sheep farming are the primary sources of economical income for Qarawat' residents (3.700 inhabitants according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2006, nowadays 6000 according to local sources).

His properties are unbelievably close by the water spring, he goes in the area almost daily and this explains why he is an exhaustible reference for having a clear overview of settlers' violence on local residents, especially farmers and shepherds and of restrictions imposed by Israeli Army.

"Just two days ago, my neighbour was prevented to enter his property by soldiers, for security reasons. I am lucky, I can speak Hebrew and deal with them and with settlers too. Sometimes both farmers and shepherds can be arrested while farming and taken to Huwwara checkpoint (the checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Nablus) for one day or more." A new procedure applied from the IDF requires residents call the administrative section of the IDF to inform authorities if they want to reach their properties. "It is something very new, explains Izzan, we did not experiment this procedure in the past years".

None of the residents have ever received written order notifying they could not enter their property. According to IWPS figures (an international team of women based in the Salfit Governorate providing international accompaniment to Palestinian civilians, and documenting human rights abuses), none have ever received notices of confiscation. But 4 settlements construction surrounding Qarawat first and outpost extension later have gradually reached most of the citizens' private lands.

For further info about IWPS click on: http://www.iwps-pal.org/en/index.php