On the ground at Qarnei Shomron


David Barnett

written in Qarnei (Karnei) Shomron, 11 October 1996

When I told a friend that I was going to spend 3 months in Qarnei Shomron he said, "With all the tension in the area, you really should have some background to know what you are getting into. I have some contacts who can email it to you." The contact was one Jennifer Moorehead of LAWE. She sent a huge report entitled, Fraud, Intimidation, Oppression, The Continued Theft of Palestinian Land, Case Study of Jeensafut Village—One Man's Struggle to Defend His Land, Conducted by LAWE, 10/95.

A story of Jewish villains and Arab heroes

LAWE claims that the situation is tense, the Arab villages here cannot expand for lack of water, that water pipelines are built to serve Jewish villages exclusively, that their land is progressively being taken by Jews expanding (unofficially or otherwise), and the Arab villagers are subject to constant intimidation from the Jewish settlers. LAWE provides us with an impoverished Arab victim, Abd Allah Al Bashir, heroically defending his patrimony, and a diabolical Jewish villain, Moshe Zar. Qarnei Shomron was allegedly the most aggressive of the Shomron settlements.

My investigation revealed a very different picture.

Relations between the Jews of Qarnei Shomron and their Arab neighbours

Qarnei Shomron is located about halfway along the road from Kfar Sava to Shechem. I found a warm, friendly community perched on top of a hill. They don't talk politics much here, but live their lives with considerably less tension than do people in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Long established residents have built for themselves houses which are delightfully individual. They use Arab building contractors who can offer better prices because of a privileged tax status.

I asked Qarnei Shomron's oldest resident, Joseph Fischl, whether relations with the local Arabs were really as normal and mutually beneficial as they seem. The short answer was, yes. The local Arabs respect Joseph Fischl, both because of his age and because of his fluency in Arabic. The Arabs call him Abu Yusuf. He told me about Qarnei Shomron's history.

Prior to 1967, Qarnei Shomron had been a Jordanian army camp. Some of the encampment foundation slabs are still visible. The Israelis planted pines to stake their claim to this land. Some of these same trees where cut down, years later, when houses were built on the hill.

Jews came to Qarnei Shomron in 1978 and lived in caravans. For the first three years or so they were not connected to the national electricity grid, and their water had to be brought in by truck.

As soon as he arrived, Joseph Fischl took some of his friends to visit the nearby village of Kafr Laqif. The villagers welcomed the Jews with traditional tea-drinking hospitality. The Muktar ran a one-room general store. Fischl advised him to expand his stock because he would tell other Jews about the store. The store eventually expanded to six rooms and the owner made his fortune.

Between Qarnei Shomron and Kafr Laqif sits the house of Abu `Hamad. Abu `Hamad had been a resident of Ra`ananah prior to the 1967 war. He became afraid that he would be swept away with the Jews in the impending war and fled east, over the then border, to Kafr Laqif. The villagers would not have him, so he squatted on land just outside the village. Each year following, Abu `Hamad added a few more olive trees and/or another room to his house. He had no title to the land, but the Israelis did not try to stop him nor take the land from him.

The village of Jeensafut, two miles from Qarnei Shomron, is expanding rapidly as are all the villages one passes on the main road. Contrary to LAWE's claims, Jeensafut is not constrained by lack of water. Water is supplied by a pipeline from the well dug to serve Qarnei Shomron.

Arab land sales to Jews risk nationalist wrath

When people from Qarnei Shomron wanted to build some factories and a supermarket, they purchased land from villagers who were only too glad to sell the 40 dunums of rocky, useless land to the north of the road.

Selling land to Jews exposes the Arab seller to the wrath of the PLO and other Nationalists; but the prices Jews are prepared to pay for rocky and otherwise useless land is too good to pass up. In order to realise the sale while retaining deniability, the Arab principal generally sells the land to an Arab intermediary who is prepared to risk the heat for a quick profit. The principal can claim to have sold to an Arab, not a Jew. Being an intermediary is very hazardous and many have abruptly ceased to breathe.

Recently, the fear and danger have heightened as the PA (i.e. the PLO) is given more and more authority over the Arabs of Shomron. Some middlemen, under threat of death have gone to Qalqilya to issue sworn statements that the powers of attorney, under which they operated, were falsified. Landowners who sold to Jews are scrambling to blame the middlemen. This may partly explain why Abd Allah Al Bashir chose to speak to LAWE on 29th October 1994.

Abd Allah Al Bashir

Al Bashir claims ownership of 2.3 dunums next to the 40 above mentioned. Concerning 201 dunums of his Deir Istia holding at Immanuel, he denies having sold the land to Moshe Zar or that he would ever accept money for it saying, "If you offer me all you own I will refuse; and if you offer me a golden mountain I will also refuse."

Al Bashir is, in fact, a very wealthy man who inherited from his father extensive land holdings in several villages. One plot of land which he did not inherit is the 2.3 dunums—the famous Block 11 Lot 20—which he claims. His father sold the land to another Arab some years before his death. Eventually Moshe Zar bought the land in 1981.

To LAWE, Moshe Zar is an unredeemed monster. They claim he was part of the secret group which bombed Bassam el-Shaq`a, Mayor of Nablus and imply he is a convicted criminal. This is untrue. Moshe Zar did give a ride to hitch-hiking members of the group. Because of the seriousness of the Shaq`a bombing, he was held in custody for 4 months awaiting investigation and trial.. He was released because there was not a shred of evidence that he was involved.

Moshe Zar

Moshe Zar is a veteran with a phenomenal tenacity to life. In the battle to take the Mitla Pass in the 1956 Sinai campaign, Moshe Zar was badly wounded. He lost one eye and carries shrapnel in his belly to this day, but his passion to develop his homeland was unabated. Today he has many grandchildren to love and continues to build. He has shown me the documents relating to his land dealings mentioned by LAWE. All transactions are attested by a minimum of three Arab witnesses.

2.3 dunums sold by Al Bashir's father

Al Bashir claims title to the 2.3 dunums sold by his father. It is interesting that he does not appear to have made this claim until after the Arab owners sold it to Moshe Zar, a Jew. At one stage Al Bashir brought papers which turned out to be forgeries; he had purchased them recently in Amman. The Jewish owners decided not to prosecute him for fraud. The alleged actions concerning this land in the Israeli High Court, referred to in the LAWE report, are fictitious.

Al Bashir did bring actions in the Arab court in Nablus. No summons was sent to Moshe Zar for either hearing but that would not have mattered since both hearings were held on Shabbat (9th November 1985 and 8th February 1986).

Land sale plot

Abd Allah Al Bashir did not confine himself to simple fraud. In 1983, he sold 201 dunums at Immanuel (from his holding in Deir Istia) to Moshe Zar for 42,000 dinars (about $200,000 at the time). It was the usual intermediary transaction—both halves have the recorded attestation of 3 Arab witnesses. The transfer to the intermediary took place on 20th March. The transfer to Moshe Zar took place on 23rd March. There is a map, signed by the Muktar of Deir Istia, delineating the land which was sold.

But Al Bashir thought he could keep both the land and the money. He hired Abu Sa`ad to murder Moshe Zar. The attack took place on 25th March 1983 (just 2 days after completing the sale and receiving the money).

Murder attempt

Moshe Zar was a familiar in the Arab villages. He knew Abu Sa`ad. When Abu Sa`ad opened his attack, Moshe jumped into his car and drove in a zig-zag to try to avoid the bullets. Eventually he slumped and the car came to a halt. Out of bullets, Abu Sa`ad continued his attack with an ax-like knife, striking his victim's chest, head and neck. Moshe tried to protect his neck with his hands but Abu Sa`ad succeeded in gashing his throat. Moshe fainted and Abu Sa`ad fled, convinced that he had killed Moshe. Moshe regained consciousness and managed to start his car with his left hand. He drove down to a petrol station, all the time his lungs filling with blood. With his throat slit, Moshe was unable to speak; he just leaned on the car horn.

When the ambulance came, they opened Moshe's throat completely and used a tube to pump out the blood from his lungs. He was taken to intensive care in the Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. For two weeks, by a mere thread, was he hanging on to life. When he regained consciousness, Moshe was able to write the name, Abu Sa`ad. They found Abu Sa`ad asleep at the house of Abu Tafesh, his uncle. Under interrogation, the Al Bashir connection was revealed.

At trial, Abu Sa`ad's lawyers used an insanity defense. Abu Sa`ad spent 2 1/4 years in a sanatorium (regularly visited by his 3 wives). When he was released, it was to a new house and a substantial pension (paid by the PLO).

Moshe Zar's scars from the murder attempt are visible to this day. The LAWE claim that Moshe Zar suffered no personal or bodily injury is patently false.

Moshe Zar has never received a penny of the NIS 510,000 damages awarded by the court. The court made Abu Sa`ad and Al Bashir jointly and severally responsible for this amount (meaning whatever Abu Sa`ad doesn't pay of his share for lack of funds, Al Bashir must pay). There are liens on Al Bashir's lands as surety for the damage award (which has been accruing interest).


Fraudulent reports like this one from LAWE, filled with impressive details, are spewed out daily and believed by a credulous world. I was fortunate in being able to check their fabrications on the ground.

The Jewish settlements in Shomron are built on land which was not in use by anyone else. For example, Qarnei Shomron was an ex-Jordanian army post, and the land for Immanuel was purchased privately. Where eminent domain has been used to take private land for roads, compensation was paid, and the money accepted. Any olive trees destroyed in the process were assessed at the value of 25 years peak future production—the money was paid and accepted.

Shomron is starkly beautiful with its steep hills and valleys. The land is very rocky and quite unsuited to modern mass agriculture. Even grazing and olives are not always possible. Yet our Jewish ancestors populated this area surprisingly densely. Terrace agriculture was their solution; on some slopes, the pattern of rocks still suggests the ancient terrace walls.

Sitting here in Qarnei Shomron, I can see no evidence of settler harassment of local Arabs; quite the opposite - there is considerable commerce. Nor do the Arabs feel at all constrained - I have seen shepherds lying on the ground sunning themselves on the slopes of Qarnei Shomron. Moreover, Arab settlements are expanding rapidly in contrast to the freeze on Jewish settlement expansion.

Incidents emanating from local Arabs have been few—even counting a couple of stones thrown one evening after Arafat denounced the Hasmonean tunnel. One should not take the cynical use of violence by the PA and `Hamas to mean that the local Arabs are generally hostile.

I should like to see governments and self-styled leaders get out of the way. Mutual self-interest and commerce are what make for peace.

© David M. Barnett


This page revised 5 August 2002