BEIT IJZA, West Bank — Sabri Mohammed Ghraieb has seen the olive groves that once fringed his West Bank home turn into a Jewish settlement and prison-like walls but still he refuses to leave.
For a quarter of a century, the 73-year-old who goes by the nickname, Abu Samir, has stubbornly refused to abandon his home, despite Israel’s efforts to make him leave.
“They’ve done everything so that I leave my house,” he says. “They’ve threatened me, beaten me, put me in prison and offered to buy it from me. I refused,” he said.
His efforts have exacted a heavy price.
His hilltop house once nestled among olive trees on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Beit Ijza. Today it is a walled-off enclave inside the Jewish settlement of Givon HaHadasha that has sprung up on the former farmland.
A concrete wall and a fence with electronic sensors encircle his house. The only entrance is through a gate that the Israeli army can close at will by remote control.
On the other side of the prison-like barriers lies Givon HaHadasha, a tranquil settlement of 300 Jewish families living in white houses with red-tiled roofs perched on the hilltop.
It is one of more than 100 Israeli settlements that dot the occupied West Bank, communities that the international community considers illegal.
For Israelis, Givon HaHadasha offers affordable housing and lower cost of living within minutes of Jerusalem.
For Palestinians, the ring of settlements which Israel has built around the Holy City are a blatant bid to render irreversible its annexation of the city’s Arab eastern sector which the international community still does not recognise.
Gavon HaHadasha was first established in 1981, 14 years after Israel’s occupation of east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in the Six-Day War.
Back then, Amu Samir had 110 dunums (440 acres, 11 hectares) of farmland on which he cultivated grapes, wheat and olives.
Slowly the settlement expanded.
The settler regional council says that expansion occurred onto lands that were bought by a Jewish association in the 19th Century, when Zionist pioneers first began arriving in then Ottoman-ruled Palestine.
Abu Samir says that the land taken was his.
“The Jews had lands a bit further away, but they picked off mine bit by bit,” he said.
The leaders of Givon HaHadasha are not keen to discuss the details.
“We are 100 percent within our rights,” Mayor Shmulik Lederer barked before hanging up when contacted by AFP.
Over the years, the settlement crept closer and closer to Abu Samir’s house. Repeatedly he was asked to sell the property.
“I don’t want to leave it. If I leave, I’ll die immediately. I’ll be like a fish out of water,” he said.
The settlers tried to seize the property by various means, but the Israeli Supreme Court confirmed his rights to the house, according to Abu Samir’s lawyer Hassan Darwish.
His land slipped away from him, however. Two Israeli court decisions awarded 50 dunums to the settlement, Darwish said, and he was cut off from the rest when Israel built its controversial separation barrier through the area in 2004.
That is also when Abu Samir was fenced in.
The barrier that Israel began to build in the wake of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000 — “security fence” to the Israelis, “apartheid wall” to the Palestinians — was due to run in a straight line between Beit Ijza and Givon HaHadasha.
But since Abu Samir’s house is technically part of Beit Ijza, it meant that the barrier had to run around it.
At first, the Israelis put up a wire fence. Then in 2007 they fortified it with a concrete wall and the electronic sensors that make his home look like a prison today.
“When the Israelis saw that I won the right to live in my home, they built this wall around my house,” he says bitterly. “They ended up putting me in a prison in my own home, in the middle of their satanic colony.”
The only entry to the house is via a heavy yellow gate that the Israeli army can open and close by remote control.
Abu Samir has refused to have any dealings with his unwelcome neighbours.
“They used to say ‘shalom,’ but we wouldn’t answer,” he says.
“A guy who moved in a few years ago wanted to come over for a coffee, but we refused. Somebody takes your land and then wants you to become his friend? Of course not.”
Over the years, Abu Samir has been repeatedly arrested in various protests against the building of the barrier and he blames his three strokes on his ordeal, but still he refuses to give in and sell his house.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, who recently paid him a visit, called his story “a summary of our people’s struggle, its determination to remain on its land and live in dignity.”
Abu Samir puts it another way.
“My story is a thousand and one nights. It is without end, but sadder.”
By Djallal Malti (AFP)