Sunday, October 20, 2019

Beit Fajjar facing a “disaster of arrests”

By Felix Black - February 25, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [arrests] [Beit Fajjar] [masonry]

Since the end of the Israeli military 8 day offensive on the Gaza strip on November 22 2012, 70 of Beit Fajjar’s residents in the West Bank have been arrested and detained. The mayor of the town, Mohammad Thawbta, estimates that 60% of its inhabitants have at some point been detained by the Israeli military. 

The town has recently been described by the Palestinian Authority as facing a “disaster of arrests.” Just last week, five teenagers, Khalid Takatkah, Farhan Qawasmeh, Mohammad Takatkah, Mohammad Jihad Takatkah and Nour Thawabteh were arrested.

“The Israeli army came in the middle of the night, between 1am and 4am as is usual, and took them away,” explains stone-factory worker Abdullah Thawbta. 

“Since [the end of the offensive on] Gaza, they do this every week.”

The five teenagers remain in administrative detention—held indefinitely without charge— and will remain there for as long as the Israeli authority’s desire. As is commonplace in many of the West Bank’s towns and villages, it is difficult not to talk to someone who hasn’t been arrested. Of those that have not spent time in Israeli prisons, they have family members or know of friends that have. 

Tareq Billo, a teacher in a school in Bethlehem, details the army’s regular invasion of the village.

“When they come, they don’t knock. They put a charger on the lock of the door, and then one minute later, it explodes. They come in, shout and break things, and turn off all the lights. The only light for us is from the scope on their rifles.”

“They vandalise and destroy everything. They arrest or take details of the people living there, steal money and valuables, and then leave.”

The effects on the economy of Beit Fajjar

The town rests on a hilltop overlooking a large area of the West Bank that stretches from Hebron to Bethlehem. It is surrounded by five illegal Israeli settlements and outposts. 14.3% of the land is designated under Area C, with the Israelis having complete security and administrative control.  The remaining 85.7% is under Area B, with the Palestinian Authority having responsibility for public order, and the Israelis for security matters. Under the Oslo Accords, none of the town’s land was assigned as Area A, whereby the full public and military control would be managed by the PA. 

They kept me in a prison room, with nothing but a chair thirty centimetres off the floor. The chair had a sloping surface. They made me sit on it, handcuffed in a position

Beit Fajjar also lies on 1.5 kilometers of raw limestone. The town mines the stone to build its infrastructure, and then sells the surplus. The quality and strength of the stone qualifies it as some of the best in Palestine and the 1948 territories. 

“Due to the cost of the stone, nobody will buy it except the Israelis. In order to live, we must sell it to them,” explains Abdullah.

In a cruel paradox, the Israelis are also doing everything to harm the stone industry of Beit Fajjar. When they aren’t invading the town to arrest its inhabitants, the army confiscates the materials and equipment used by the stone workers. The Israeli authorities repeatedly declare that the equipment is being used on Israeli owned land, in Area C. Despite this absurd claim, the stone factory owners are forced to pay penalty fines to reclaim the equipment and materials. 

According to the town’s mayor Mohammad Thawbta, the subsequent delay in output and the breaking of contracts brings disruption to the stone-factory’s economy.

The arrests and night raids also takes its toll on the workforce and general population. Work schedules have to be in a constant state of flux. The mayor himself was once a stone-worker. Now in his late 30’s, he has been arrested three times. 

“They kept me in a prison room, with nothing but a chair thirty centimetres off the floor. The chair had a sloping surface. They made me sit on it, handcuffed in a position. When I was released [after several months], my back was in so much pain. They sent me to the prison doctor, who gave me just, expired aspirin.”

Despite his release, his back problems meant he could no longer work in the masonry industry. He states how his experience is not isolated. The night raids scare and weaken the population, making work in the stone factory’s all the more difficult. 

To further compound the issue, none of the former prisoners can travel freely anymore, even if they are looking for new areas of work. If they are caught by the Israeli military, which has a checkpoint on the junction to the town, it is likely they will face another lengthy imprisonment. Mohammad stated that the last time he left the town was three months ago. 

Equipment confiscation, forcible arrest and prolonged detainment have become powerful mechanisms that Israel uses to force the population into submission.

As the army hassles the town during the working weekdays, the settlers attack at weekends.

“We work Sunday to Thursday in the factories with the stone. But when we go and work on our [agricultural] land on Fridays and Saturdays, the settlers attack. They know we work on the land on these days, so they always come,” explains Tareq.

“Sometimes they shoot, sometimes they throw stones to intimidate us. The reason to why do they do this is to affect our psychology.”

This isolated town, encased by occupation, and devastated by arrests, is too often missed out in international media articles about the West Bank and Gaza. Yet the sheer scale of arrests, and the continued disruption to its daily life, is something that needs highlighting as a severe violation of human rights. The people of Beit Fajjar deserve it so.

Photo by Ahmad Takatka.

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