Llanidloes - As-Sawiya Friendship Association

Visit to as-Sawiya and Palestine in October 2013.

In October 2013 I visited Sawiya, the village in the illegally occupied West Bank which is 'friendship linked' with Llanidloes as part of a 3 week trip to Palestine. The village is a 20 minute drive south of Nablus, the old capital of the West Bank. There are 4 Israeli army checkpoints on the main road (Highway 60) between the city and the village. The road is regularly closed by the army and can lead to hours of waiting until it is opened again. The village has a population of about 3000 and sits on a hillside on the west side of Highway 60 with its agricultural land on the opposite side of the road. Land is fertile and has been used for growing wheat, olives, herbs, grapes, figs, oranges, olives, lemons and for animal grazing. Palestinian farmers have made their living from this land for many generations but production is now severely limited or impossible due to occupation.

Land is stolen for the building of illegal Israeli settlements; it is continually contaminated by sewage from the settlements which runs down the hills onto the land below. Land is stolen and fenced off from its rightful owners. In 1998 Ariel Sharon (Prime Minister of Israel from 2001-2006) called for militant settlers from the extreme right-wing Tsomet Party to "move, run and grab as many hilltops as you can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them". (Extract from As-Sawiya Village Profile 11.2004).

I stayed with Arafat abu Ras, who visited Llanidloes in 2012. Hospitality came in abundance from Arafat's family despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis. His father Ahmed, whose house stands almost at the top of the village, pointed to the land across the highway and with profound sadness in his voice said "they have stolen my land". On the hilltop opposite lies the settlement of 'Eli' that straddles several hills. There are 7 (illegally built) settlements surrounding the village which leaves them vulnerable to regular attacks on their businesses, machinery, cars and homes.

I went in October specifically to help with the olive harvest alongside other international volunteers affiliated to or members of organisations such as the Quakers, EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme Palestine & Israel) and ISM, International Solidarity Movement. The presence of internationals acts as a deterrent against settler violence against Palestinian farmers going about their lawful harvests. I picked for 2 days with Arafat abu Ras's family and with another family from the village who appreciated the help we could offer. All over the West Bank villagers harvest olives from their own land only when permits have been granted by the Israeli government! Sometimes they are 'granted' 2 days to get the harvest in. This is apart from restrictions throughout the year for necessary regular maintenance of the trees and ground. Groves are subjected to regular burning, uprooting, poisoning and chopping down of trees, particularly those close to settlements. (See United Nations Olive Harvest Factsheet Nov.12).

Arafat organised visits to the 2 secondary schools and I met 2 members of the village council. LLASFA has supported projects in the village as well as in the girls secondary school and I was able to see how the money which local people in Wales have given, has been spent e.g. the installation of a loudspeaker system in the girls school so that when soldiers arrive the youngsters can be gathered together quickly and led to safety. I met the psychologist at the girls' school who told me many families are separated. Fathers and brothers are imprisoned or have to work away or live in exile. What is clear is the commitment to teaching and learning in spite of being subjected to daily acts of harassment by both settlers and the army. This is all part of the Israeli government policies to ethnically cleanse Palestine. In Nablus where I stayed for l0 days there were flash bombs going off at night over the city. Flash bombs are further examples of the psychological war perpetrated on Palestinian communities day after day.

I met Ruba and Najat the 2 teachers from the village who had stayed with me when they visited Llanidloes in 2012 which was delightful. Again the generosity of both of them and their families was endless. Ruba organised for me to visit the primary school where she taught. I spent a morning with her and the headteacher and we gave a donation of £500 to buy specific teaching aids for the children. There is a shortage of basic teaching aids; there is no safe playground; wire mesh fencing which sits on the wall of the primary school to protect the children from falling 20 or 30 feet onto the road below is badly broken in several places and the staff fear daily for the safety of the children. The headteacher used some of her summer holidays to paint 19 blackboards, one for each classroom, because they were in such poor condition and money for whiteboards was not available. Basic needs like adequate cover from the summer sun (over 30C) in the playground cannot be provided.

The headteacher of the boys' school showed me the videos he takes of the harassment by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) of the children as they come to and leave school. Soldiers stand either side of a 3 metre pathway into the school and physically harass the young people. The headteacher told us that the son of the family we picked with had stopped attending school aged l4, two years ago, because he was frightened by the soldiers. He has not returned to study. EAPPIs stand witness to the actions of the army at the start and end of the school day and submitting reports on what they see to the UN and to other international organisations.

Despite the illegal occupation and daily fear of attack, children walk to school in the sunshine laughing and playing games. Dawn fires are lit, women make bread for the day; sheep are milked and yoghurt and cheese is made; life goes on…….

I came back with life stories from Palestinians with whom I spent time: taxi drivers, women on the bus, staff in shops and organisations, ex soldiers (on both sides) about the personal difficulties and tragic loss of life as a result of being caught up in the occupation and conflict. I came back with a very heavy heart wondering how this conflict could ever be resolved. I wasn't able to go into settlements and it is "illegal for Israelis to enter the West Bank" so I wasn't able to talk to any Israelis about the situation for them apart from one ex combatant from the IDF who had given up arms and is campaigning for peace. "Combatants for Peace" is a growing force in the region. Hope lies in the hearts of all the Palestinians I met and their courage to wait and endure is immense.

Marg Munyard Member of LLASFA (Llanidloes as-Sawiya Friendship Assoc)
December 2013

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  Llanidloes - As-Sawiya Friendship Association  Chair: Sue Prince     Secretary: Marg Munyard     Treasurer: Angela Scrase
  Sue: 01686 413753 | Marg: 01686 413513