A lifetime of Palestinian history

Hajj Ibrahim Jaddallah has witnessed 97 years of Palestine’s tumultuous history.

Hajj Ibrahim Jaddallah has lived under foreign occupation for nearly a century
He said: “It was very difficult, there was no food and no jobs and people had to serve in the Ottoman army.
“I was too young to fight myself, but one of my brothers was killed fighting for them.”

Stolen land


Since the more recent 1967 occupation of Khirbet Zakariyya by Israeli forces, the main threat comes from the nearby settlement of Gush Etzion, residents say.


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 The settlement, which was founded within months of the end of the 1967 war, has gradually encroached on Khirbet Zakariyya, leaving the villagers with little more than a scrap of land.


Mohammed al-Shallah, a 48-year-old farmer in the village, says the process is always the same.


Al-Shallah said: “The Israeli army come and issue a confiscation order [for] the land, saying it needs to be used for military purposes.


“They don’t give you any time at all to leave it.


“But soon, settlers start putting their caravans on it – I have lost 750 dunums [750,000 square metres] of land.”


British empire


After the Ottomans, the British empire controlled the village, from 1922 until 1947.


Jaddallah describes life under the British as “excellent”, saying that “if you stayed in your house and didn’t do anything to them they didn’t bother you”.


He said: “They gave people wheat and food and gave people jobs. But it was only to keep people under their control.”


Jaddallah says the British were working with “two faces”.


It was the British, Jaddallah said, that sparked the Jewish settlement of the area by granting 99-year leases to Jews who wanted to move there.


Two worlds


Today, the contrast between the two areas is clear.


A clear disparity between Khirbet Zakariyya,
front, and Gush Etzion, back [STOP THE WALL]

Gush Etzion is made of leafy suburban streets that would not seem out of place in California or Australia.


A vineyard, complete with visitors’ centre, stands at the entrance to the settlement, which is surrounded by lush green fields.


Khirbet Zakariyya, however, is made up of small dilapidated houses and tents. In some, six to seven family members share one room.


The land itself is barren and dry.


Even the mosque does not have a dome – banned, residents say, by the Israeli military.


The call to prayer has also been stopped after complaints from the settlers, villagers say.


1967 and after


In 1948, fighting between Jewish and Arab armies took place around Khirbet Zakariyya.


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The Jewish forces arrived at Jaddallah’s home in the middle of the night, and he, along with all the other men in the village, was forced at gunpoint to walk to Bethlehem, about 15km away.


Mines had also been laid on the land and two exploded near him, with one injuring his hand.


Jaddallah also described life under the Jordanians as “excellent”.


“But during the 1967 war there was a lot of fighting near the village. There was fighting and shelling and helicopters flew overhead, soldiers were getting killed.


“We couldn’t leave our homes and just sat in the doorways and watched the whole thing.


“After the war, the Israeli military occupied the area, and after just the two months, the settlers began to build their houses in what is now Gush Etzion.


“We were weak and no one could help us – not the other Arabs – no one.


Resident’s say Khirbet Zakariyya’s mosque has
no dome because the Israeli military banned it

“The first confiscation of land began about one year after war.


“Israeli tanks encircled between two to three thousand dunums of our land and declared it a military area that no one could enter.


“But soon the settlers started to use it.


“Seventy-five cars full of people from the village went to see Moshe Dayan [the Israeli defence minister] in Jerusalem to ask what was happening.


“Dayan told us that our land was need[ed] for military use and that he would give us more land elsewhere.


“But we told them we didn’t want any other land and we didn’t want money for it.


“That this land was ours and that they would have to take it by force.


Home demolitions


That is exactly what has happened in Khirbet Zakariyya, with villagers facing what they say is a campaign of intimidation to force them to leave.


In one incident, the settlers came onto Jaddallah’s land and he went to confront them. He said they beat him with iron bars, leaving him needing hospital treatment for a damaged eye.


Gush Etzion has taken 750 dunums of his land.


Villagers complain that children on their way to school have been physically harassed by the settlers.


In March 2006, they say, settlers attacked two girls on their way to school.


Homes have also repeatedly been demolished by the Israeli military, which has forbidden any new building in the village.


Jaddallah said: “In 1979, the army came early in [the] morning and told me to leave. I refused, so they dragged me out [of] the house and then bulldozers knocked it down.


“I rebuilt it but the same thing happened a year later.”


‘Only god knows’


“I hope this oppression will end because now there is no peace and no safety and there is no law”

Hajj Ibrahim Jaddallah

The future for Khirbet Zakariyya does not look bright.


The village is now ringed by caravan outposts and other full-blown settlements on every side.


Residents also fear Israel‘s separation barrier may be erected in the area, further limiting their access to the outside world.


Their lives, they say, are characterised by uncertainty and humiliation.


Jaddallah said: “I hope this oppression will end because now there is no peace and no safety and there is no law.


“No one has any hope. But the only one who knows is God.


“It is not in our hands.”

Source: Al Jazeera