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How Israeli Settlements Are Impacting the Palestines Rightfully Living There

Let me tell you about two places I went to in Palestine to demonstrate the impact of the illegal Israeli settlements of the people who rightfully live there...

Let me tell you about two places I went to in Palestine to demonstrate the impact of the illegal Israeli settlements of the people who rightfully live there.


I'm sat in a cool, tiled room drinking tea with a cross-party group of MPs. It's hot. Outside, grapes are ripening on trellises, dogs scratch lazily and the village elders are in the shade, chatting. The house is in Duma, Palestine, a beautiful little hill village surrounded by mature olive trees, very much like a village you'd find in Greece or Southern Italy.

The hospitable, elderly Palestinian man talking to us is gentle and dignified. He is telling us how his nephew and family were recently murdered by Israeli settlers. He says that while the family were out with relatives on the evening of 31 July settlers broke in, and graffitied the inside of their house. When the family returned, they were unnerved, but this kind of intimidation has become normal to these people. There are 13 illegal settlements surrounding the village of Duma and settler attacks on Palestinian villagers are now routine. The family did not report the crime as there was simply no-one to report it to. Duma is in the region the Israelis decided to designate as Area C, an area under Israeli military rule. The Palestinian police have no jurisdiction here, and the Israeli military have no interest.

The nephew locked the door while his wife put the baby and toddler to bed. The family have bars on the windows, so no-one would be able to get in but as they slept, the settlers returned and firebombed the house. Obviously, the family could not escape the flames through the barred windows, but when they tried to leave through the front door, they found it barricaded. Eventually, the father broke the door down, only to be beaten by the waiting settlers. The baby died of burns, the father died some time later, not from the just his burns, but from the injuries sustained as he tried to save his family. The mother was in a coma until two days after we visited the uncle, when she tragically died. The toddler is still alive, alone and still suffering from horrific, extensive burns. I don't want to think about his future.

Alerted by the screams, the neighbours came running to the house and saw the settlers fleeing. The villagers know who they are and have given statements to the Israeli Defence Force. Netanyahu called the perpetrators 'terrorist extremists' but to date, no one has been arrested or charged. Why? The Israeli Defence Force exist to protect the settlers, but no crime was carried out against a settler, so why would they be charging anyone? By having no repercussions for such attacks, the government is effectively condoning this violence.

As I walked around the burnt-out shell of this family's house, the sense of injustice was palpable. Inside, it was a modern, elegant family home with children's toys and clothes scattered around. If this atrocity had happened to my family, I would be hysterical and utterly consumed with rage, but this is what the uncle said to us:

"I want you to tell people that Palestinians are cultured, educated people. We are human. People need to understand this.

"I don't hate anyone, I'm not racist. I hope that the deaths will mark a new chapter in the two-state solution. We can live side-by-side peacefully."

Sixty-two per cent of the illegally occupied West Bank is Area C, under full Israeli military control. There are 150 illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. One hundred outposts have been set up without the official permission of the Israeli government. Before visiting, I assumed that the settlements were effectively shanty towns but both the settlement and many of the outposts are modern villages and towns with mains water, electricity and roads, all put in by the Israeli Government. Currently, 20% of the population of the West Bank is made up of around half a million Israeli settlers.

Personally, I agree with the villagers we met that the Palestinians and Israelis should strive to live side-by-side with strong borders. However, with the extent of the occupation, I believe it is unrealistic to consider any form of mass repatriation - which is often cited as a condition. That doesn't mean a two-state solution is dead, but unless the rapid expansion of settlements is stopped, it is on life-support. The Hague Convention states that occupying settlements should be only be temporary. These settlements are up to 50 years old and are clearly a violation of Article 49 which states (I paraphrase): "the occupying country can't support the spread of civilians."

Ras 'Ein Al 'Auja, Jericho

There are 7,500 Bedouin in the central part of the West Bank. They have been living nomadically in the region for thousands of years. Their existence is frugal and their impact on the landscape is negligible. With the support of Medical Aid Palestine (MAP), the cross-party group of MPs visited a tribe of Bedouin outside Jericho. MAP offers the only medical care that these people can access.

Ras 'Ein Al 'Auja was without doubt the hottest place I have ever been and I marvel at the Bedouin ingenuity to scratch a living from a seemingly barren, inhospitable land. The only thing the Bedouin need is water, so their camps are, not surprisingly, based around watering holes. The one thing the illegal Israeli settlements also need is water. And here is where the problems start.

The area in the West Bank where the Bedouin live has been designated by the Israelis as Area C - under Israeli military control and military law. This effectively means that the Palestinians have no rights and no-one to complain to. The Israelis have decided that the Bedouin need to be moved to townships and 11% have already been rounded up and moved. It is true that they are offered a small parcel of land in the townships, but if you saw how harsh the environment is, you would realise that they would need vast plains to be able to survive and to maintain their culture.

Bedouin are nomads by choice. As one said to me, forcing them from their ancestral land: "Is like taking fish from water". Bedouin consider having a fixed abode to be a form of slavery. This has been their way of living for thousands of years and it is how they define themselves.

In a cruel twist, 60% of Bedouin are already recognised internationally as refugees. As the village elder told me: "I came here when I was young because the Israelis confiscated our land. Now they want to do it again."

As I sat chatting to the tribe, they kept offering hot, sweet tea. I was acutely aware how precious a commodity this was, but to decline would be to reject their hospitality. The Bedouin have a rule that they will take care of anyone who comes to their camp, and for four days they will not ask why you are there, they will simply look after you.

Sipping my tea, I watched as a Bedouin lady walked over to a large water bowser to replenish the tea pot. I discovered that rather than using the watering hole that originally brought them to the site, they are now forced to buy water. I asked how much of their yearly income was spent on water. The village elder looked confused and we had to call on a second translator to try and explain. The confusion then became clear, they don't generate a regular income as they are largely self-sufficient. To buy water means they have to sell sheep. They use sheep for milk, wool and meat, so effectively they are having to sell their capital assets.

Of the income they need, 50% of it is going to buy water that, before the settlement came, they were getting for free. More perverse still, running through their camp is a large pipeline carrying water from the waterhole formerly used by the Bedouin, through to the settlement.

If, at a purely human level the Israelis cannot just put in a tap for the Bedouin to use, what possible hope is there of a two-state solution?

With thanks to Medical Aid Palestine and Caabu for making this trip possible.

Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham and shadow minister for preventing abuse

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