The flat top of the small hill is deserted, as we walk among the gutted concrete buildings. The graffiti on the wall declares that "the Jews will keep this land". This is Ush Ghrab, a small piece of land in Beit Sahour, south of Jerusalem, and a target for religious settlers seeking yet another colony in the Bethlehem region.Ok, that's the colonists, what about the natives?
I was walking around the site with my friend Saleem and his colleague Jason, who both work for Paidia, an NGO focused on educational play. Their work has been, and continues to be, primarily social, yet they are now forced to join other locals in defending the site from attempts at colonisation.
For decades, this piece of land was used as a military base, first by the Jordanians and then by the Israelis. In 2006 the Israeli army closed down the base, and the land reverted back to the Beit Sahour municipality, which in co-operation with NGOs proceeded with plans for the development of the site.
In May 2008, on Israel's 60th anniversary, Jewish settlers turned up one morning, and announced their intention to create a new settlement on Ush Ghrab. Ever since, rightwing groups such as Women in Green, have been holding events on the hill as part of their open drive to get the land back to its "rightful owners" – the Jewish people.
In parallel to these efforts by settlers, there has also been a huge variety of events held on Ush Ghrab organised by an informal grouping of Palestinian activists in Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. These have included barbeques, bingo, kite flying, bird-watching, music, tree-planting, ecumenical religious services and leadership training activities.And a view from the ground:
In recent months, however, Ush Ghrab has been quieter. The winter slowed things down, and local activists also decided to give the municipality some time to pursue a more "official" track with the Israeli authorities. Apparently, the Beit Sahour municipality had expressed its displeasure with an intense level of events on the land, arguing that such activities merely provoke the settlers and attract unwelcome attention.
Those like Mazim Qumsiyeh, a professor, author and Beit Sahour resident, disagree with this assessment because "in our humble opinion the settlers are driven by their own agenda and aren't driven by what Palestinians do or don't do". Qumsiyeh believes that "pressure works", and points to places such as Bil'in and Ni'lin where activism has "slowed down" Israeli colonisation and brought about some changes in the path of the wall: "There have been no Supreme Court interventions in other cases where villages didn't offer resistance, or weekly demonstrations."And the need for international solidarity?
Yet Qumsiyeh is also well aware of how the struggle in Beit Sahour is ultimately part of a bigger picture: "If the agreement between Nentanyahu and Lieberman is as stated in the newspapers, the Israeli government is going to focus on developing E1 [an area of the West Bank]. This is pure speculation, but maybe this buys us a couple of years here. The Israeli government won't want to receive the flak for too many things at the same time."
The hard reality for the Palestinians of Beit Sahour is that, alone, they are unable to resist the theft of their land, should the Israeli government support the settlers' initiative. Khalilieh, whose job at ARIJ means he oversees the daily documentation of Israeli colonisation, says that while the Beit Sahour residents' protests "send a message", they are "probably useless" without international pressure.It's a funny old thing that almost everybody was claiming until recently that they support a two state solution and yet the action that Ben White has written about here, clearly precludes the idea that a national state could be established on the West Bank. That's of course ignoring the fact that people who speak of Israel and Palestine existing "side by side" when the Palestine bit wouldn't even be side by side with each other.
So without pressure from those powerful states that have supported Israel through every crime from its establishment, through all of its wars, through its colonisation of occupied territory, its array of racist laws, its international crimes like kidnappings, shootings, even the bombing of synagogues, through the ghettoisation of Gaza, without pressure from the states that have supported, covered for, even funded and equipped Israel in these things, Israel will get away with yet another Jewish only colony, yet another microcosm of itself. So who pressures the pressurers?