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Elderly Palestinian resists Israel’s settlement ambitions

A 76-year-old Palestinian has been resisting Israel’s attempts to confiscate his land in the Jordan Valley for years.
Members of the Humsa Al Baqai'a Beduin community.

JORDAN VALLEY, West Bank — Near the border of the Palestinian territories with Jordan, Palestinian Hayel Mahmoud Bisharat, 76, has lived for 42 years on a high peak in Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta, which is a Palestinian Bedouin community within the Tubas governorate and the northern Jordan Valley in the northeastern West Bank.

Along with members of his family, Bisharat is trying to resist Israel’s greed, as he lost vast acres of his land that extends over an area of ​​200 acres in favor of settlement expansion projects that already forced 38 members of his family to flee to the neighboring villages of the Tubas governorate.

Israeli forces constantly invade the hill stretching over an area of ​​five acres to demolish the houses Bisharat repeatedly builds and ravage his sheep pens, which are the main source of livelihood for Bisharat and his family.

He currently lives on top of the mountainous hill, which is surrounded by Israelis on three sides — namely the Hamra settlement, a training camp for the Israeli forces and an Israeli military checkpoint in Hamra.

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(A view of Hayel Bisharat's home and land on Sept. 10, 2021, image courtesy of Mahmoud Bisharat)
(A view of Hayel Bisharat's home and land on Sept. 10, 2021, image courtesy of Mahmoud Bisharat)

Meanwhile, Israeli forces continue to build settlement outposts on parts of the Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta lands they confiscated amid increasing settler attacks against the Bisharat family and the 140 remaining residents of Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta.

In addition to settlement expansion around Bisharat’s lands, Israel has also offered financial compensation to his family in return for leaving the land they have lived on since 1979.

Al-Monitor met Bisharat at his house on top of the mountain peak. He was with his wife; his son, Mahmoud (who volunteers to monitor violations by Israeli soldiers), and his family; and two of his daughters. Israeli forces were deployed at the Israeli military checkpoint in Hamra, which is only 250 meters (820 feet) from his house.

“In September of 2018, I was surprised that three officers from the Israeli Civil Administration broke into my house, introduced themselves and made me a financial offer worth $2 million in exchange for leaving my land and house,” Bisharat said.

“I did not give them the chance to go on. I furiously made it clear that their money was by no means worth the value of the olive trees planted in my land,” he added.

Israel later made the same offer again and even suggested a vacation to the French capital, Paris.

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(Hayel Bisharat and his wife in their home on Sept. 10, 2021, image courtesy of Mahmoud Bisharat)
(Hayel Bisharat and his wife in their home on Sept. 10, 2021, image courtesy of Mahmoud Bisharat)

“On the same day, the Israeli Civil Administration officers returned and tried to lure me by offering the same amount in exchange for leaving my land and traveling to Paris for vacation. Likewise, I immediately made it clear that I shall not leave my land and olive trees until I die,” he said.

“The occupation did not settle for the financial offer. And when I strictly refused their offer, Israeli bulldozers demolished and confiscated a mobile home that was housing my family members,” the elderly said.

In the face of Bisharat’s refusal, Israeli forces imposed more arbitrary measures aimed at tightening the siege on his family and issuing more decisions to demolish their houses and ravage their sheep pens.

Bisharat asserted that Israeli attempts to control his land through financial offers are still ongoing via a constant siege, restrictions, and demolition and confiscation operations and orders.

He said the goal behind the arbitrary practices is to expel him from Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta and annex his homes and agricultural land in order to expand the Hamra settlement by building more housing units just half a kilometer distance from his land.

Following the financial offers they made to him, he said Israeli forces issued in 2020 demolition orders on the houses in which he lives along with members of his family. Orders also prevented any further construction on agricultural and pastoral facilities he handles.

Bisharat said his agricultural crops were bulldozed and burned to the ground by settlers.

“The occupation claims that my land is located within archaeological areas, but the truth is that it considers my land to be strategic, as it directly overlooks the Hamra military checkpoint, the Hamra settlement and the Israeli army training camp. It aspires to control that area in order to annex it to settlement projects in Khirbet Humsa al-Tahta and the northern Palestinian Jordan Valley areas,” he added.

As he spoke, Bisharat pointed to the ruins of his homes and sheep pens.

“The occupation allowed settlers who came during the month of April to Al-Hamra settlement to build settlement outposts and mobile homes in an area close to our houses. They also let them release hundreds of sheep I owned," he said.

Bisharat said Israeli forces brought large numbers of settlers to the settlement after conducting settlement expansion operations, as they carried out attacks on his family and their property with the aim of forcing him to leave his land.

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