April 10, 2008
Ms. Ann Veneman
Dear Ms. Veneman,
The people of Jayyous, a village in the West Bank’s Qalqilya district, were deeply saddened to learn that UNICEF has been accepting fundraising support from Israeli businessman Lev Leviev. Leviev is the co-owner of Leader, the Israeli company that is building the settlement of Zufim on our village’s land. Leviev’s companies are also building Israeli settlements on Bil’in’s land, and are building in the settlements of Har Homa and Maale Adumim around Jerusalem. Leviev is destroying the olive groves and farms that have sustained Jayyous for centuries, and is profiting from human rights abuses. However, we were even more profoundly disturbed that, after these facts were brought to UNICEF’s attention, UNICEF has failed to take immediate steps to reject all future support from Leviev.
Leader’s construction of Israeli settlement homes on Jayyous’ agricultural land directly violates international law and the very UN resolutions which UNICEF is committed to upholding. Leader is destroying our village, and the lives and the futures of Jayyous’ children. Jayyous was one of the most productive agricultural areas in the West Bank. Today, many farmers from our village can no longer reach their farmland due to Israel’s construction of a wall on our land, a wall intended to annex Jayyous’ land for the planned expansion of Zufim. With the land their families have worked for centuries seized for Israeli settlements, many parents can no longer afford to send their children to school. Many of our children see no hope or future in Jayyous.
In October, 1988, the Israeli military governor of our district, Qalqilya, declared nearly 500 acres of Jayyous' agricultural land "state land." The declaration granted us 45 days to prepare our landownership documents and maps in order to appeal that decision to an Israeli military court. 79 farmers from Jayyous appealed. In May, 1996, the Israeli court decided on our 1988 appeal. 18 farmers from Jayyous lost all their land, some lost part of their land, while others kept their land. In 1993, three years before the Israeli court decision which took that land away, Leader established a quarry on some of Jayyous' land that we were appealing to keep.
During this period it became clear to the people of Jayyous that Leader was our enemy. Leader used bulldozers to clear our land for houses for Israeli settlers, and TNT to detonate more than 16 acres for a quarry. They uprooted all the olive trees on that land. As a direct result of the quarry work, all the vegetables and fruit nearby were covered with dust. Leader also uprooted the olive trees on two other plots. Many olive trees died because sewage from Zufim ran for many years through neighboring plots. Other plots were annexed to Zufim.
Leader then announced that it would build 1500 new homes for “North Zufim” in a large area located 1.2 miles north of the existing Zufim settlement. In 2002 the Israel government began building its wall deep inside Jayyous, up to 3.5 miles from the border with Israel, in order to annex 75% of Jayyous' land (1700 acres) as well as six underground wells to Zufim. The land to be cut off and used for Zufim’s expansion had been used to grow fruits and vegetables which sustain our village's economy. According to the respected Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem's 2005 report "Under the Guise of Security,” "the primary consideration in determining the route of the barrier around Zufin was to leave areas planned for the settlement's expansion and for a nearby industrial zone on the 'Israeli' side of the barrier", thus increasing "the number of Palestinians who are separated from their farmland, infringing their right to freedom of movement, their right to work and gain a livelihood, and their right of property."
Despite more than 60 nonviolent protests organized by Jayyous' people, and supported by Israeli and international activists, the wall has been built on our land, destroying 130 acres of Jayyous' land, uprooting 4,000 trees and cutting off 75% of our land. 419 Jayyous residents have been denied permits to pass through the gate in the Wall to reach their farmland. More than 70% of Jayyous' farmers are now denied access to their land, which in many cases happens to be the very area where Leader plans to expand Zufim. Hundreds of Israeli activists helped us to harvest our olives this fall because so many people from Jayyous could not reach their land.
As a result, our once-prosperous farming village of 3,400 hundred souls, which once provided food for 60,000 Palestinians, is now impoverished and dependent on external food aid. 57% of Jayyous’ families now depend on food aid from international and Palestinian organizations. An even greater number, 70% of families, are in great need of food aid, and this number is constantly increasing.
Leviev's settlement and Israel’s wall have impoverished our village to such a degree that 103 out of a total of 195 students in grades 7-12 were compelled to drop out of school. Many parents explain that they find it difficult or impossible to cover school expenses like tuition, clothes, and books. Our school’s headmaster appealed to Jayyous' friends abroad, but the money raised was only sufficient to help 92 students. The rest had to leave school to look for work. Our students are no longer motivated to study hard, because their dreams of attending universities now seem impossible. In 2002, before Israel began construction on the wall, 180 high school graduates from Jayyous were enrolled in university studies. That number has now dropped to 50.
We understand that Leviev contributes to fundraising events in France benefitting UNICEF programs to educate girls in Senegal. We ask why UNICEF, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children worldwide, would accept Leviev’s support in educating Senegalese children while his companies are destroying the lives of Palestinian children in places like Jayyous?
In Jayyous, we are engaged in a struggle for justice, for our freedom – indeed, for our very lives. We fully expect that UNICEF will renounce all support from Lev Leviev, the owner of the company that is destroying our village and the dreams of our children.
The Land Defense Committee of Jayyous
The Municipality of Jayyous
cc: Bernt Aasen UNICEF Chief of Staff
UNICEF Jerusalem Office
UNICEF Middle East Regional Office
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights