Nosing around an abandoned caravan in a Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank of Palestine — a settlement that was built on confiscated land and was once used to be home to a camp for lost boys, but had been closed down because of abuse allegations (right? wrap your head around that for a second) — I found a bright but dusty Charlie Brown book for kids.
This is in fact their back yard, they say it was where their sheep grazed and they picked olives etc… but no longer.
Settlements are locations for homes for Jewish citizens of the state of Israel. They are built on Palestinian owned, village, municipal, or agricultural lands taken by military order or declared as disputed (declared by Israel).
The land where settlements have been established (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) was occupied by Israel in 1967, following the Six Day War. While settlements are officially recognized as legal by Israel, under international law they are a colony set up on occupied land, a “transfer of population” by the occupying authority. Geneva Conventions say that’s against the law.
But Sde Bar isn’t just a settlement, its a settlement outpost.
Settlement outposts, officially, “are often composed of just a few families who live in caravans whilst awaiting infrastructure and financial support from the state and other sympathetic communities both inside Israel and abroad.” Many are recognized as illegal by Israel.
There was no one playing in the basketball court. (incidentally, the kids down the hill play in dirt and around barbed wire…. it’d be nice if the settlers could maybe share?
And went inside…..
The whole place felt utterly abandoned. What was the point of taking away all this land? For some empty trailers and abandoned basketball courts? Not that its okay to take it and use it, but the eerie silence of the place was sort of a pronounced and pathetic dispossession.
Wait, the state of Israel set up a camp for troubled boys on occupied land? At least that’s what I said to myself.
Recalling settler kids in Hebron throwing rocks at me, and pondering their upbringing, I found it hard to imagine the effect of settlement living on troubled kids.
The boys we met, mostly in their late teens, two spoke English, one was tall and silent, a fourth round, dreadlocked and curious. They were nice, offered to show us around, and invited us to sit in their trailer. They didn’t ask any questions about who we were or why we had happened to walk into a settlement. One of the teens was an American visiting for the summer. He translated our questions and the other teens’ answers.
The boys, it seemed, would spend their summers and sometimes their weekends working at the camp, and at the goat farm. At least one of them had been a camper.
None of them threw stones at me. Hum.
Seems the guys would all come and pitch in at the site, and they and a few others made the goatsmilk products that were sold in Israeli markets. So despite looking pretty much abandoned, the farm was still in operation. The Israeli kid who spoke English said he lived in one of the nearby settlements, and would come into the farm after school. None of them lived there.
When asked if it was safe, the American kid noted that there were sometimes “army patrols and stuff,” since the area was “technically across the Green Line,” i.e. inside the occupied West Bank. We asked if it would be safe to drive around the area, and were instructed that as long as we stuck to the clearly labeled road signs, we’d be fine.
They said we were welcome to come back any time to help with the goats.
When we asked why the camp had been shut down, the American kid was the only one to answer, and said he thought it was some sort of “problem with the government.”
I was intrigued. First thought was that it had been closed because its an illegal outpost. But no.
Peace Now said the location “serves as an institute for youth that have been taken from their homes by court.” It was-state sanctioned and only closed, according to Wikipedia sourcing the Jerusalem post: “after an appointed commission investigated allegations of sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs.”
So, a settler outpost (in itself in violation of the Geneva Conventions) is closed down because of allegations of abuse. Woh. Did we just pick a particularly unusual outpost to walk into, or is this normal?
Benny said it got pretty lonely on the outpost, but that there was decent bus service, and it was only an hour’s drive to Tel Aviv where he’d go and party sometimes.
There was not much mixing between Benny and the four other guys hanging out at the trailer on the top of the hill.
But both spoke fondly of the camp, like it was a place they belonged and could be useful.
I had no idea what to make of it all at this point. A place where kids from troubled homes can come and feel useful. Useful making a camp on land occupied illegally. Useful keeping that land used and populated so the family below couldn’t take it back. But they didn’t know that now did they. Did they?
According to a googletranslate of the Hebrew site: “Military service is an integral part of the reconstruction of the boys. The farm encourages the boys to join and make the boys physical and emotional level with full military service. Most boys join the combat units and some elite units. They return home on the farm during their vacation from the army.”
The farm’s webiste makes no mention of the fact that it has been shut, even though it was updated in 2010, and the farm as been closed for years. It also does not mention that it is an illegal settlement outpost.
(It does, however, ask for donations so that new goats can be purchased, and how you can help keep the farm going… for the kids)
We left that day with full minds and a lot to sort out. These kids seemed decent. The camp project was complicated with a whole lot of problems. The families living down the hill were clearly present but not factored in to that life on the hill.
So, anyway. That’s what one settlement outpost looks like. Welcome to Palestine.