Sunday, September 22, 2019

Al-Khadr‘s monastery attacked by tear gas

By Lien S. - September 14, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Al-Khadr] [Christians ]

The gate of the monastery that was recently broken by Israeli soldiers.


In Al-Khadr, a village five kilometers south of Bethlehem, a daily struggle between the villagers and Israeli soldiers is taking place. Tear gas is a frequent occurrence in the village’s monastery and school that are adjacent to the separation wall and route 60, which the Israeli soldiers are ordered to protect. On Saturday, 7 September, the Saint-George monastery was hit with Israeli tear gas grenades.

Tear gas during mass

Father Ananias, of Al-Khadr’s Greek-Orthodox monastery, feels trapped between the soldiers and the villagers. “Ever since Land Day, kids from the village have been throwing stones at the soldiers that are guarding route 60. The soldiers then respond with tear gas. One day they even used tear gas during mass,” Father Ananias explains. 

Four days ago, the soldiers broke the monastery’s gate and threw gas bombs into the yard, setting ablaze a 1,000 year old olive tree. “Throwing stones at the soldiers is not a solution,” says Father Ananias. “It only creates a bad living situation for the villagers. Politicians from both sides need to want a solution for the problems here. Otherwise nothing will change.”

Body-searching students

According to the headmaster of Al-Khadr’s school, it is the soldiers who try to provoke the students on a daily basis. “This morning, for example, they stopped most of the students at the gate and body-searched them. When the students go home after school, the soldiers sometimes stop them as well and ask questions or search their pockets and hands for stones. Sometimes they even let them wait for half an hour or an hour.” 

“During school, the soldiers often come stand next to the class room windows, making the children nervous, and when the students are in the playground, the soldiers insult them and call them names. Two weeks ago, they even shot tear gas at the kids. The teachers try to comfort the children and teach them not to throw stones, because this only creates more trouble,” the headmaster says.

The school is getting too small for the growing body of students, but cannot expand as it lays directly alongside the separation wall. “Only the old school building is built in Area B, all other land surrounding the school is Area C,” the headmaster explains. “Therefore, we are not allowed to build new class rooms for the 2500 students.”

“A very dangerous game”

One of the soldiers claims that he is only there to do his mission, which is protecting the street. “The kids think it’s a game to throw rocks at cars, but it’s a very dangerous game, because they could be hurting families down there. It is our mission to stop this. Often kids throw stones or glass bottles at me too. When it’s just one or two of them, I try to chase them away, but when it’s a whole group, I use tear gas to scare them off. I never go up to the school when I don’t have to.”

As more and more farmers are forced to abandon their lands and try to find work elsewhere, the futures of both Al-Khadr’s people and their grapes are at serious risk. 

Vice-mayor of Al-Khadr, Ismail Issa, questions this. “The soldiers are still so young and they get bored sometimes. They say it’s just a game for the children, but this whole situation is just a game to them as well.” 

Al-Khadr: a crowded town with a separation wall, settlers and a lack of water

Not only is the school growing too small, the village itself is becoming overpopulated. Its 13,000 inhabitants live on 2000 dunums, most of which are in Area C, meaning the villagers must attempt to get a building permit from the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the West Bank. Building permits for Palestinian residents of Area C are almost categorically denied by the ICA, forcing villages to expand vertically. The remaining 20,000 dunums belonging to Al-Khadr are situated on the other side of the separation wall. At the moment, there is one access through which the villagers may reach these lands; yet, plans are in the make to expand the wall and close this passageway as well, which would make unemployment rates in the village soar. Today, between 25 and 30 percent of the population is already unemployed. 

Ismail Issa, vice-mayor of Al-Khadr, understands the villagers’ frustrations. “We are dealing with a lot of problems here,” he explains. “Al-Khadr is famous for its grapes, but it is becoming harder and harder for the farmers to work. Not only is most of the agricultural land situated on the other side of the separation wall, there are also three big settlements (Neve Daniyyel, Elazar and Efrat) and three outposts built on the village’s land. The most dangerous outpost is that of Sidi Boaz, which was constructed on an important intersection of agricultural roads, preventing the villagers from using them. Where they could reach their fields in ten or twenty minutes in the past, they now have to take a detour of up to three or four hours. Most of them can also only reach their fields by foot or donkey, which makes it nearly impossible for them to work the land and harvest their fruits,” the vice-mayor states.  

Another problem the villagers are dealing with is Israel’s controls of all water wells in area C. According to Ismail Issa, this was a very big problem during the summer. “We would only have running water for two or three days per month during which we could fill up our water tanks. But even then, it wasn’t enough water to fill the tanks completely and buying more water is very expensive.”

As more and more farmers are forced to abandon their lands and try to find work elsewhere, the futures of both Al-Khadr’s people and their grapes are at serious risk.  

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