Travelling through the West Bank you don’t go far without spotting an Israeli Settlement; modern buildings, in regimented rows with red roofs. Located on hill tops they are heavily heavily fortified and have something of the medieval castle about them.
The means by which the are created and the reasons for their development are highly controversial and a major stumbling block along the road to peace. The following is the summation told to me, separately, by a number of International volunteers who have spent many years in the West Bank:
In the middle of the night ideological settlers (Zionists driven by the belief that the land belongs to the Jewish people) park their mobile homes on a hill top. This land has, generally, been used or cultivated by Palestinians for many hundreds of years. The collection of mobile homes are set up in a defensive formation and is called an Outpost. Outposts are illegal under Israeli law, however in practice the State is either unable or unwilling to stop their creation. These Settlers are aggressive towards the local Palestinians as a means to drive them from their villages and seal their claim over the land. I was told of stories of harassment, beatings, poisoning of livestock and water sources, shootings and killings.
Once an outpost has become established the Settlers start to demand amenities from the Israeli authorities – water, electricity, roads and schools. Over time an Outpost turns into a fully fledged settlement with full Israeli government backing. Established Settlements are supported by the Israeli state by giving people economic benefits to live their – thus creating a new breed of Settler – the Economic Settler.
Last week we made 9 shows in and around the small town of Salfit which is located just South of the second largest Settlement in the West Bank – Aerial population 30,000. Looking at a map of the West Bank (for more details) you can see Aeiral Settlement is the nail of a finger sticking out into Northern West Bank almost cutting the territory in two.
Travelling to villages in the Salfit area meant that we would very often have to go many miles out of our way to traverse the length of the finger, and when we got to the tip there was a check point to keep track of movements. Another feature of the development of Settlements is the construction of segregated roads. Palestinian plates? Drive on narrow, winding, damaged roads. Israeli plates? Please use straight, smooth, duel carriage ways. The new road to Aeiral mans that the residents can commute to Tel Aviv in under an hour.
It was great to get out to some small villages and make some great intimate shows. At one village called, literally, Little Chicken we had a film crew from Al-Jazeera Children record the show and us teaching some skills. Watch this space for a clip!