It takes courage, perseverance and grit to keep fighting for your rights for nearly two decades. Palestinians have a word for it – ‘sumud’. This translates as ‘steadfastness’.
Muhammad and Salim Sabah are Palestinians farmers with sumud in spades. An illegal Israeli settlement has been established on land owned by their family, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. For 18 years, the Israeli military have prevented the family from accessing their lands.
Due to a successful legal action through Trócaire’s partner organisation Haqel, Muhammed and Salim have recently been able to enter their agricultural land again after so long.
“Even if our people were killed here, we would come back” says Muhammad. “It’s like the air for us. We used to live here for many, many years.”
The Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Rehavam was established in 2001 on their land. This is a painful memory for the farmers. Prior to that, the Zir and Sabah families lived on 90 acres of land here and grew wheat and barley. They used to store grain in caves and used cisterns for watering their crops and flocks of sheep.
“We used to come here and no-one would prevent us from coming here. In the spring and the winter, we came here because it’s warmer, so we used to live here for at least six months” the family tells us.
Since the establishment of the Israeli settlement, the farmers became afraid to access the lands as a result of violent attacks and theft. The settlers used firearms and vicious dogs. The family say that one of their cousins was even killed. Following this violence and harassment, the families felt unsafe to try and access the land, and the settlers took over the land.
“We came with our sheep and we were violently attacked” says Muhammad of an attempt he and Salim made to visit the land in 2014. Salim, 61 at the time, says he was pushed to the ground by the violent settlers and threatened with a gun. They were worried for their lives.
The experience of the Sabah family is not unique. There are over half a million Israeli settlers now living in settlements built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. As settlements expand, Palestinian families have their homes demolished, or are unable to access their olive groves or their farms. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and are a major obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.