In the southern region of Hebron city, on the southwestern side of the Kiryat Arba settlement, residents are surrounded by settlers, settlements, and military watchtowers. Palestinian families live there with fear and anxiety on a daily basis, fearing settlers who pass by all the time, walking through Palestinian neighbourhoods to swim in a pool near the Israeli military tower.
We visited families near the army base and others who live by the swimming pool for settlers. These families and their neighbourhoods are subjected to all kinds of violence, including settler attacks, military storming and searching the houses day and night, arrests, and settlers cutting down and destroying trees at night.
Amer*, an elderly man who owns farmland in the area told us about his crops of vegetables and olive trees. We walked together near the land he cultivates while he spoke sadly about how the settlers cut the olive trees he had planted years ago and how can he is unable to graze his sheep on his land because he is too close to the settlement fence. Settlers have previously stolen one sheep and killed four when the herd was close to the fence. He has also received offers from the settlers to sell his home for large sums of money, but he refused. Amer is committed to his country and land. He compares himself to the olive tree, steadfast here on this earth. For Palestinians, olive trees represent peace. The settlers cut down the olive trees because they mean a lot to the Palestinians.
We walked together a few meters to see his land from the south. As we stood there, two soldiers came to ask us what we were doing there and if everything was okay! The lives of Palestinians are surrounded by fear and danger on all sides. But our friend Amer told us that he will not leave his home and land, no matter what happens, “we will stay here steadfast like olive trees.”
Amer continued to tell us his stories. Once, the settlers hid on his land at night between the olive and fig trees, carrying with them a saw to cut down trees. “We saw them though, and we quarrelled with them,” he said. “Then one of my sons was arrested because he quarrelled with the settler who planned to cut down our trees.”
Another time, settlers uprooted the vegetables that Amer had planted on the land. “I saw a settler who cut down all the vegetables that I had planted according to our household needs for sustenance, and also to prove that this land is not abandoned, there is someone who cares for it, despite its proximity to the settlement and the repeated attacks on us. The strange thing about this house is that it is surrounded by settlements, even the road leading to it is also used by settlers,” he noted.
There is no option for self-defence. When settlers attack, said Amer, “the army and police protect them during the attack. If we photograph them or defend ourselves, the army and police will arrest us. If the settlers attack you, you must not defend yourself, because you will be arrested.” Even though there are security cameras for the army in the area—because the house is close to a military base and watchtowers—the camera evidence that the settlers are the aggressors is not enough. Under all circumstances, Palestinians are always the guilty ones. Amer continued, “life here is like hell, there is no calm during the day and always anxiety at night. I fear for my family that the settlers will attack or harm us, especially at night. All this to get us off our land. I teach my grandchildren that no matter what happens, we will not leave our land, we plant this land with trees for future generations.”
*Name changed for security reasons