When they arrived, the area was uninhabited and there was little nearby, but the hill is now encircled by roads and encroaching Israeli settlements, and they are penned in to a cluster of corrugated iron and tarpaulin shelters, trying to make their living, as they always have—as shepherds. The whole village has an eviction notice from the Israeli military and they live in danger with daily harassment from armed settlers.
The hill, whose name in Arabic is Jabal al Baba and rises up with views of Bethany and the Dead Sea, was given to Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Holy Land in 1964. Most of the community is on Vatican property, and they stay there with the blessing of the Vatican.
Community leader Atallah Jahalin explains that, after 1948, they had freedom to travel in the West Bank and they had an economy based on their livestock, but that after the 1967 war with the occupation of the West Bank, Israel “started building settlements and creating new roads around us, which put our families and livestock in danger of ramming incidents and we lost lives in these incidents.”
As the Ma’ale Adumim settlement expanded, the lands that they depended on to live and graze their flocks were taken.
“This created tough living conditions” says Jahalin. “When we first arrived here, we were 20 families, now we are 70. This is natural growth but the amount of livestock has reduced from 4,000 to 600-700 because of the land and water problems.” Jahalin explains that the Israelis took over the water spring, which was the only source of water for the community.
The community reports that harassment from Israeli settlers is a serious problem. Community members complain that settlers have stolen their sheep, attacked the shepherds, and invaded their houses, and that they frequently harass and threaten the people of Jabal Al-Baba.
Jahalin adds that “when we went to complain about the continuous harassment to the Israeli police we were the ones put in jail and not the settlers.”
In 2004, the Israeli government started building a wall around the community which cut off access to all but one entrance to the community, through the village of Al-Ezariya. “The latest plan for the occupation authorities is to cut that last connection,” says Jahalin, adding that being cut off like that would effectively force them to leave.
From 2009, when the Israeli authorities started demolitions of individual houses in Jabal Al-Baba, more than 65 demolitions have been carried out. Now the threat has stepped up from individual houses to the demolition of the entire community.
Jahalin explains that the role of international accompaniers and supporters has been important for them to be able to stay and to make their case heard, adding that “we did not stay quiet, we reached the international criminal court. We launched several advocacy campaigns and made a petition with a million signatures to protect the community.”
He adds that they are also truly grateful for the support and protection from the Vatican, which has allowed them to stay on their land, though Israeli authorities still demolished the nursery and kindergarten which they built there.
Jahalin ends with an appeal “to all people who are seeking peace and justice, people who are fighting oppression, keep your eye on us, we are challenging forced eviction, please protect us. Israel is planning to kick us out. Save Jabal Al-Baba.”
This feature is one in a series of stories for an Easter Initiative by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI). People living under occupation have shared their daily life experiences of injustice as well as their hopes for the future.