True Grit

Mahmoud is one of the few residents of the village of “A Seefer”, lying on the fringe of the 918 Firing Zone in the South Hebron Hills.  I have met Mahmoud Abu Qbeita a few times and when I think about his life and his determination despite circumstances the strongest of us would find unbearable I can’t help but think of John Wayne and True Grit or perhaps Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Named Sue” and how life is going to be tough. Mahmoud is solid, weathered and the look of someone who has worked on the land all his life, which indeed he has.

Mahmoud has resided in A Seefer all of his life. His father inherited the property he lives on from his grandfather. He has Turkish land deeds, considered perhaps the amongst the strongest legal documents in Palestine to prove ownership of property. But life isn’t easy by any means growing up and raising a family in A Seefer.

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MAHMOUD’S SON SHOWING FATHER’S SPIRIT

A Seefer is a very small community inside the “Seam”. The “Seam” is land located between the unofficial border of Israel called the Green Line and the “Separation Wall”. This wall, which in some places like Bethlehem is in fact a wall much higher than the “Berlin Wall”, solid concrete and virtually impenetrable. In other locations like A Seefer the wall is in fact a tall fence topped with razor wire. This wall was build initially as a security barrier to protect the Israeli citizens from Palestian terrorists. In actuality a major portion of the wall has been build in Palestian property encompassing much of the Palestian fertile land and water resources. The wall has never been completed with the end of one section of this wall or fence being located at the Beit Yatir Check Point. The residences of A Seefer in order to legally enter their small community are required to go through this Beit Yatir Check Point which is staffed by Border Police, all former Israeli Army members.

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ROAD LEADING TO SETTLEMENT WHICH LIES TO RIGHT AND ACROSS THE TOP OF THE SMALL VILLAGE OF A SEEFER

I have gone through this Check Point several times and I can assure you that each time I go through it doesn’t get any more enjoyable. As part of our role as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs)in the West Bank we escort A Seefer school children through the Check Point on their way back from attending the only school in their area located in the nearby community of Imneizel. Each time that the children enter from going to school they undergo a physical check. Kindergarten children up to age 16 years of age are all subject to daily searches of the back packs. When we are present the children are processed fairly fast, however we are informed when we are not present it may take the young children up to a half hour to go through. Any children over sixteen years of age are subjected a more rigorous examination and are often delayed for long periods of time. No Palestian who doesn’t live in A Seefer are allowed through the Check Point ever.

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 BEIT YATIR CHECK POINT – Photo by J. Zucali

Having walked through three times taking from 20 minutes to 30 minutes each time to go through even though there were no other people on any of these occasions being processed. We are of course recognized and are wearing our EA clearly marked and identified vests but have to turn over our Passport and Visa before going to another building where we go through a more thorough check. All our documents etc. are checked for explosives. On the other side of the Check Point are Israeli Settlements that almost surround the small community of A Seefer. That is all. The one time that another EA and myself drove through with Mahmoud after having interviewed him right outside of the Check Point it took one hour to be processed. Mahmoud had only driven through, stopped for the interview in plain site of the guards and drove back after the interview. Mahmoud did say that normally if we had not been with him it takes two hours for him to be processed. Each time his car is thoroughly searched inside of an enclosed building.

Mahmoud’s ancestors came from an area called Quaryeitin, (means two villages), which was destroyed in 1948. At its peak there has been 10 – 12 families residing in this small community. When asked if he has ever considered leaving, Mahmoud stated “God forbids even now my kids want to stay in A Seefer even if we have to live in a cave. I am hoping to God that we install in them the love of the land and that we are not going to leave this land”

Living in A Seefer brings many difficulties. They can’t of course have friends and relatives over for visits. Mahmoud is particularly concerned for his daughters who he feels may have significant difficulty in being courted and eventually to be married. His son, who would like to get married will also have major obstacles in his attempts to obtain the necessary papers and permits for any future wife to go through the Check Point and reside with him. Mahmoud sais “Social isolation is a very difficult life, very isolated, nobody can visit”

There are other challenges living in this community pertaining to the Check Point. He is only allowed to bring small portions of food supplies through at one time, sufficient for only a day or two. He often cuts through his farm land where there is no fence or wall after crossing after driving back gravel roads in order to bring larger supplies of food home. He requires permits to live in the community, permits to purchase a vehicle, permits for every aspect of his life. Permits that are often delayed or refused for no reason. There are demolition orders outstanding on many structures in the community now. A mobile toilet and animal shelter were demolished a couple of years ago.

They are subjected to frequent vandalism, rock throwing etc. from the nearby settlements and outpost. The Settlers use the army to prohibit the shepherds from A Seefer from accessing their own pastures, often resulting in the shepherds being detained for hours before being released. Sheep have even been stolen from his children when they have been shepherding. The Army conducts frequent night searches in the village in hope of catching people perhaps trying to sneak into Israel through the many gaps in the fence.

Removing the Check Point would be the single best thing that could be done to improve the life of those living in A Seefer according to Mahmoud. When one looks at what exactly is being accomplished by having this Check Point located here, other than to perhaps protect the residents of the Settlements from some unknown threat, you have to wonder about what is the point of it, including the major costs that coming with having it here at one of the ends of the Separation Wall.

Talking to Mahmoud you cannot help but be impressed with his resolve, his spirit and his determination despite what seem to be insurmountable challenges and impossible living circumstances. He is staying put, this is his land, he wants to ensure his family has the opportunity to love and respect the land as much as he obviously does. I have sat and enjoyed his hospitality and tea under the canvassed covered shelter that serves many purposes, but on that very hot day permitted me to sit back, enjoy the breeze and shade and perhaps for a moment truly appreciate why he is so passionate about his land, his home.

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