The children of Zubaydat want a playground. A slide, a pair of swings, maybe a climbing frame; not a big ask for 500 children, perhaps. But while they just want to play, the kids of this West Bank village also find themselves living under military occupation.
Zubaydat is at the nexus of a territorial conflict that – quite literally – insists on coming between the kids and their playground. Now, OneVoice Palestine (OVP), a movement of Palestinian youth, have decided that it’s time to play their role in ending the occupation and giving the village’s children their freedom to play, literally.
“The kids used to play in a small area just west of the village,” said Wasim Masri, communications officer at OVP. “But the Israeli authorities declared the area a closed military zone and told the villagers to keep their kids away from the playground.”
In 2009, the villagers requested permission from the Israeli authorities to build a new playground, but this request was denied, according to Masri.
The occupation is about more than just playgrounds and it impacts more people than children alone. The Oslo Accords classified 99 percent of the village as area C, Masri explained.
The ‘C’ classification grants Israel full civil and security control over the area which, for residents of Zubaydat, means frequent raids by soldiers, repressive building restrictions, as well as constant water shortages, because the occupation prevents villagers renovating or digging new wells. Furthermore, the demands of Israeli settlers – keen to expand their territory – lead to continued confiscations of Palestinian land, including Zubaydat’s old playground.
As part of a program of activism to prevent further confiscations and save the viability of a Palestinian state, OVP activists in Jericho marched to Zubaydat to protest settlement expansion. Land around the village continues to be seized for the nearby Israeli settlement of Argaman.
The activists, joined by locals, civil society organizations, community leaders, and Jericho’s governorate office, marched to the separation wall south of Jericho, carrying trees and Palestinian flags to plant in an area threatened by confiscation.
Townspeople and youth leaders from different cities in the West Bank set the village of Zubaydat, north of Jericho, as a the starting point for the activity. According to OVP youth leaders, their initiative comes in response to the Israeli policies, which prevent farmers from reaching their lands in areas where agriculture is the main source of income, such as Zubaydat.
OVP Executive Director Samer Makhlouf expressed the need for these types of actions.
“Palestinians will continue carrying out non-violent resistance against the occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank in order to deliver a message to the world that we are the owners of this land,” said Makhlouf. “Settlements are the biggest obstacle facing the two-state solution and the peace process.”
The youth leaders and townspeople, cheering and showing support for one another, proceeded to plant many trees near the separation wall.
“Our goal is to support the citizens of Zubaydat,” said OVP’s youth leader and the village’s own Hamza Zubaydat.
Indeed, the OVP youth leaders have promised their campaign won’t stop until a viable and independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital is created. Only when the occupation is ended will the villagers of Zubaydat gain the freedom to farm on all their land, dig the wells they need for water, and rebuild their children’s playground.