Fatima Mohammed Yassen, aged 49, is a farmer from Bil’in. Despite the crippling Israeli occupation of her village, she continues to work her land, along with her husband, on a daily basis. Jody McIntyre spoke to Im Khamis, as she is known to local villagers, in her home in Bil’in:
Did you have land behind the Wall?
Yes! BeforeIsrael started construction of the Wall in Bil’in, my family had 45 dunams (1 dunam = 1000 square metres) of land, all of them filled with olive trees. My husband’s family had 50 dunams, which were a mixture of olive groves and vegetable patches, as well as another 50 dunams of land which was stolen after 1967 (after the war of this year, Israel began it’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza). When the Israeli army were building the Wall on our land, they stole land from many people, but only on my husband’s land did they steal his olive trees as well… We still go to our land, every day, to plant vegetables and look after the soil, because we will not allow the Israeli government or the settlers to claim that our land is unused. If we don’t go to our land, they will say it is unneeded and confiscate it so that they can expand the settlements, which are already illegally built on our land.
Do the Israeli army make problems when you try to go to your land?
Yes… sometimes they don’t allow us to enter, but me and husband will wait at the gate for one hour, two hours etc. If they don’t let us through we will stay there from the morning until the evening. We won’t go home until they let us go to our land.
The soldiers once told us that it was illegal for us to go to our land and that we should go back home, but I simply replied, “I don’t want to go home, I want to go to look after my land.” Sometimes when our sons come to help us on the land the soldiers beat them or try to arrest them. We’ve had these problems many, many times, but despite this, we will not stop resisting this occupation. We are not afraid.
Do the settlers make problems when you are on your land?
Yes. They came and set fire to a small room the people from Bil’in had built behind the Wall, four times. One of the times, I had just gone to make coffee for my husband – they were watching me and when I left went they went in and made a fire. But every time they damaged the room, we went to fix it again.
How did you feel when you first heard Israel wanted to build the Wall in Bil’in?
Everyone was angry when they heard the news, and sad because we knew it was a ploy to steal our land, so we started to protest against the construction of the Wall. The first time we heard that it was being built, all the people from the village went to our land and said that we would fight against it’s confiscation by the Israeli army. We could see the bulldozers uprooting our trees. For the last five years we have been fighting against the Wall, and for justice, and we will always continue.
Do you attend the weekly demonstrations against the Wall in Bil’in?
Yes, of course. All my family go to the demonstrations, me and my husband, our five daughters and our five sons. These demonstrations are our way of non-violently resisting against the Wall, the settlements, and the confiscation of our land. We are not going out there to kill people, we are going to return to work on our land – to take back what they have stolen from us.
Have any of your family been injured at the demonstrations?
All my sons have been injured. The first one to be injured was Helme – he was injured at the very first demonstration we had in Bil’in; they shot him with a tear gas canister in the neck. After a few weeks, he was injured in the leg with the same weapon. A couple of months later he was arrested, becoming the first person to be arrested for our village’s campaign of non-violent resistance. But even whilst in jail they couldn’t crush the rebellious spirit in Helme’s heart – they started a protest against the terrible conditions in the prison, and the soldiers shot Helme in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet.
Next, my son Hamde was shot with in the leg, also with a rubber-coated steel bullet, and then Mostafa was shot with a tear gas canister. My youngest son, Mohammed, was just 14 years old at the time, and he was injured three times by rubber-coated steel bullets, twice in the legs and once in buttocks. The last one to be injured was Khamis, my eldest son. He was shot in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister, a new weapon at the time, and left in a coma. I was very sad when they shot Khamis. So all my sons have been shot in the demonstrations, but we will not stop until we return to our land.
Tell me about the night raids in Bil’in; have they ever invaded your house?
The first night raid was at our house, when they arrested Helme. Our house is very close to the Wall, so if there are any problems at the Wall the army immediately come to our home. Once they came in the day when I out working on my land, broke the doors to my house, beat my daughters and arrested my ten year old nephew. He wasn’t wanted for anything, they just presumed he was. The next time they came was to arrest my eldest son Khamis. As always, it was because he’d dared to non-violently resist against the confiscation of his family’s land. Sometimes they come and don’t arrest anyone, just to harass us, to wake us up in the middle of the night and to intimidate us. My son Hamde goes to photograph the night raids, to show the world what is happening here in Bil’in. Of course I am proud of what he is doing, but it makes me worry about him and I cannot sleep. I’m afraid that a soldier will shoot him or arrest him… I know that he has been beaten many times whilst photographing.
The soldiers are very violent during the night raids, so I worry about him. Another time, whilst Hamde was away, they invaded in the night and stayed in our home for three hours. When I saw all my sons lined up outside, and the soldiers trying to beat them and joking together about when they had shot Khamis in the head, laughing about how he had nearly died in the hospital… when I heard them say this I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying in hospital myself. Because Hamde was abroad, I was scared that they were looking for him and would arrest him at a checkpoint on the way back into the country. Once they invaded the house in the day, and the army commander came over to me and said, “One day, I am going to come here with a bulldozer and destroy your house.” They came two days later and started searching the house, but they didn’t find anything – because we don’t have anything to find! It’s like we can’t sleep in the day or the night now, because of the invasions. All we can do is sit awake.
After all the oppression the people of Bil’in have suffered at the hands of the Israeli Occupation Forces, do you think your campaign of non-violent resistance can continue?
Yes, we will certainly continue. Me and my husband will continue to go to our land every day. We will go until the last moment… I hope that I die on my land.
Do you think you will ever reach the peace you are fighting for?
The Israeli Government don’t believe in this thing called peace. I want there to be peace so that I know my children are safe. We are not violent people, but the Israeli Government steals our land, kills our brothers and arrests our children. Is that their way of making peace?
Photos: Hamde Abu Rahme.