Horrors of land requsition in West Bank
Ecovillage Network UK
office at evnuk.org.uk
Fri Aug 25 13:07:00 BST 2006
'The road was closed. The children in the village, who had gone to
Jerusalem for their schooling, were barred from the city. The Israelis
expanded the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality. The farmers have
become West Bank squatters illegally encamped inside Israel. It is a
neat little legal trick. Members of the community pooled their money to
hire an Israeli lawyer. But cases, even when they get to the Supreme
Court, even when they result in a decision in favor of the Palestinians,
can be immediately overruled by the state on grounds of national security.'
Israel's Wall of Horrors
International Middle-East Media Centre - Wednesday, 02 August 2006
The rage and extremism of the Islamic militants in Lebanon and the
occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza appear incomprehensible
to the outside world. The wanton murder, the raw anti-Semitism, the
callous disregard for human life, including the lives of children and
other innocents, permit those on the outside to thrust these militant
fighters in another moral universe, to certify them as incomprehensible.
But this branding of these militants as something less than human, as
something that reasonable people cannot hope to understand, is possible
only because we have ignored and disregarded the decades of repression,
the crushing weight of occupation, the abject humiliation and violence,
unleashed on Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel because of our silence
and indifference. It is the Israeli penchant for violence and occupation
that slowly created and formed these frightening groups.
The failure by the outside world to react to the years of brutal
repression, the refusal by the United States to intercede on behalf of
the occupied Lebanese and Palestinians, gradually formed and galvanized
the radicals who now occupy the stage with Israel, answering death for
death, atrocity for atrocity.
Those inside these zones of occupation pleaded over the years for help.
We refused to listen. And once they burst through these barriers,
enraged, bloodied, bent on revenge, we recoiled in horror, unable to see
our complicity. We asked them to be quiet, to be reasonable, to calm
down, and when they did not, their blood heated by years of abuse and
neglect, we condemned them to their fate.
The barrier built by Israel in the West Bank is one of the most tangible
and important symbols of this long humiliation, this strangulation of
the Palestinians by Israel. To understand the role of this barrier is to
begin to understand the rage it has now unleashed. Understanding is not
excusing, but until we grasp that these militants do not come from
another moral universe, until we face our own complicity in their
creation and the awful violence now underway in Lebanon and the occupied
territories, we cannot begin to understand the gross injustices that
fuel these militant movements. It was, after all, the $10 billion in
loan guarantees by the United States that made this barrier possible.
Ending the loan guarantees, as long as they were used to build
settlements and seize even more Palestinian land, would have done more
to blunt the rage and violence of militants than all the iron
fragmentation bombs Israel has dropped on the hapless civilians in
Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
But we react too late. We react to the manifestation of rage rather than
the cause of rage. We are as morally compromised as those we condemn, as
incomprehensible to them as they are to us. And until we become
comprehensible to each other there will not be peace in the Middle East.
Massive, cold and alien
There is a 25-foot-high concrete wall in Mrs. Nuhayla Auynaf's front
yard. The gray mass, punctuated by cylindrical guard towers with narrow
window slits for Israeli soldiers, appears from her steps like the side
of a docked ocean liner. It is massive, cold and alien. The dwarfed
shrubs, bushes and stunted fruit trees seem to huddle before it in
supplication. I struggle to make sense of it, the way I struggled to
make sense of the smoldering rubble that was the World Trade Center a
few hours after the planes hit.
We do not speak. Mrs. Auynaf lives with the wall. She is as drawn to it
as she is repelled by it. It absorbs her. She goes out on her
second-floor balcony every morning and looks at it. She implores it for
answers, as if it is a Sphinx that will answer the riddle of her new
existence. "My old life ended with the wall," she tells me.
The wall, built by Israel a year before, blocked her from the
neighboring Israeli town of Kfar Saba where she used to shop. It cut her
off from Israel. It made it hard to reach the rest of the West Bank. The
lone Israeli checkpoint with its guard towers, floodlights, concrete
barriers, dust, stench, crowds, special pass cards, intrusive searches,
rude remarks by border police were more than she could bare. She tried
to pass through once.
"I could not stand the humiliation," she says. "I turned back. I went
home. Now I never leave."
The wall reduces her world to its ugly perimeter. Her five boys beg to
go to the seaside. The wall makes this impossible. No one goes to the
sea anymore. There are days when the checkpoint is sealed, days after
suicide bombings or days when the Israeli soldiers shut it down abruptly
without explanation. On those days she sometimes gathers up her children
and walks the empty streets, wandering like prisoners in a circle. Other
families do the same. It gives her a sense of movement. Families pass
each other two, three, four times in an afternoon. All are thinking the
"The town would rent buses to go to the sea," she says. "We would go for
the day. We would stand in the water. We would look at the rocks and the
waves. This was before."
The house is pleasant. It was finished at the start of the uprising,
when business was good and peace seemed possible. The floors are marble.
The kitchen has a counter and white appliances. The sofa and chairs have
muted blue and beige stripped fabric. We sit in the living room. A large
window fan, set on the floor in front of the open door, provides a weak
breeze. The door frame is filled with the expressionless gray face of
the wall. It draws our eyes to it, the way a muted television screen
distracts me during conversations. Sometimes we turn to look at it, as
if it is a presence in the room, someone who should be offered sweet tea
or a glass or water or asked to leave. We want it to speak to us.
Her son Ibrahim, 6, sits on her lap. He has a scar on his leg. He was
shot two years ago by Israeli soldiers. It happened at dusk. The
soldiers were firing at a group of Palestinian workers who were trying
to slip into or out of Israel without proper work permits. He was
watching from the front yard when a bullet went astray. He stays close
to his mother, especially when he hears the sounds of gunshots. He does
not like to leave home. The world frightens him.
The family was one of the wealthiest in Qalqiliya before the wall ruined
them. They spent $200,000 on their home, with its sloping terra cotta
tiled roof, its pleasant garden. It looks like the homes in the
middle-class suburbs outside of Tel Aviv. Once the wall went up, the
family's car parts business was wiped out. Mrs. Auynaf's husband makes
less than 10% of what he once earned. He has trouble shipping car parts
into the walled enclosure. He often cannot reach suppliers. Customers,
those in Israel and those in other areas of the West Bank, can no longer
get to his store. He does not have a permit to drive the family car
through the checkpoint. He must stand in line, often for several hours,
to go in and out. He is away now. He is trying to salvage his business,
but it cannot go on like this. She hopes he will be home tonight. But
she does not know. The lines are long. Sometimes the soldiers get tired
or bored or surly and turn people away until the next morning.
"We talk about how we are going to survive, what we are going to do,"
She hangs laundry on the balcony. Her only view is the wall. The other
morning she was hanging laundry to dry and she heard singing. The song
was by Fadel Shaker, a popular Arab singer. The singer had a sweet voice.
"You who are far away, why do you forget those who love you?" the words
go. "When I fall asleep I think only of your eyes. I think only of you."
Her five boys were in the yard. They began to sing. There was a chorus
of voices, the sweet voice and the voices of the children. She peered up
into the glaring sunlight to see the singer. She saw an Israeli soldier
in his green uniform standing on top of the earthen mound on the Israeli
side of the wall, the mound the army drives jeeps up to peer down on
those below. He looked like an Olympian god. She thinks he was a Druze,
the tiny, nominally Muslim sect that lives near the border with Syria
and serves in the Israeli army and border police.
"He waved when the song finished," she says. "The children waved back.
Then he disappeared behind the wall."
She was on the balcony a few days later. She was pinning up cloths on
the line. The wooden shutters were open into the house. She looked up
and saw a soldier watching her from the top of the mound. There was no
singing. His raspy voice crackled over the megaphone mounted on the
jeep. He ordered her to go inside and close the shutters. She obeyed.
Her wet laundry lay behind in the basket.
"I live in a zoo," she says. "They come and watch me. I am a caged
animal. They have the freedom to come and go, to look or not look, to be
kind or cruel. I have no freedom."
She fears madness. She points to an elderly woman 200 feet away
squatting under a fig tree.
"The wall was the end," she says. "When it was finished she went mad."
We watch the woman. She is keening slightly. People are being destroyed
by the serpent's teeth of the wall, springing up from the soil of the
West Bank like the evil warriors sown by Cadmus. This for me is the
story, not the amount of concrete or coils of razor wire or razed olive
groves and villages, but what all this is doing to human souls.
A catastrophic blow
I walk down the road to the elderly woman. I kneel in the shade beside
her. She is missing many teeth. Her dirty hair, platted and uncombed, is
thick and white. Her name is Fatme Khalil al-Bas. She is 72. Her husband
died a few years ago. Next to us are the shattered walls of an old stone
house. It was her house. She was born in it and lived there until
Israeli tanks blew it up in the 1967 war. She and her family continued
to work the fields around the wreck of a home, never rebuilding. When
the Israelis built the wall they seized her land. She was left with a
small garden lot. Her fields, the ones where she worked as a girl, as a
mother and a grandmother, are inaccessible. They are overgrown and
untended on the other side of the wall. They belong to Israel now. She
left her small apartment to sleep under the fig tree. She has built a
shelter out of old boards placed across the branches. In the small patch
of land she grows tomatoes and cucumbers.
Much of what she says is incoherent. She rails against her husband's
second wife and than says softly, "He was a good man." She spits out the
names of Ariel Sharon and George Bush and Yasir Arafat, hissing with
anger. She vows to protect her little plot with her life, even though
she says she is afraid at night, "afraid as a woman to sleep alone on
the ground, afraid for my honor." I stand to leave. She looks at me with
plaintive eyes. I turn and see Mrs. Auynaf watching us.
"I am a bird in a net," the old woman whispers.
A dying ghetto
Qalqiliya is a ghetto. It is completely surrounded by the wall. There is
one Israeli military checkpoint to let people into the West Bank or back
home again. Only those with special Israeli-issued permits can go in and
out of Qalqiliya. It is not the Lodz ghetto or the Warsaw ghetto, but it
is a ghetto that would be recognizable to the Jews who were herded into
walled enclaves by Pope IV in 1555 and stranded there for generations.
Qalqiliya, like all ghettos, is dying. And it is being joined by dozens
of other ringed ghettos as the serpentine barrier snaking its way
through up and down two sides of the West Bank gobbles up Palestinian
land and lays down nooses around Palestinian cities, towns, villages and
Construction began on the barrier in 2002 with the purported intent of
safeguarding Israel from suicide bombers and other types of attacks.
Although it nominally runs along the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli
armistice/Green Line that demarcates the boundary between Israel and the
Palestinian-held West Bank, around 80 percent of the barrier actually
cuts into Palestinian territories--at some points by as much as 20
If and when the barrier is completed, several years from now, it will
see the West Bank cut up into three large enclaves and numerous small
ringed ghettos. The three large enclaves will include in the south the
Bethlehem/Hebron area and in the north the Jenin/Nablus and Ramallah areas.
B'tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization that documents
conditions in the occupied territories, recently estimated that the
barrier will eventually stretch 703 miles around the West Bank, about
450 of which are already completed or under construction. (The Berlin
Wall, for comparison, ran 96 miles.) B'tselem also estimates that
500,000 West Bank residents will be directly affected by the barrier (by
virtue of residing in areas completely encircled by the wall; by virtue
of residing west of the barrier and thus in de facto Israeli territory;
or by virtue of residing in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians
effectively cannot cross into West Jerusalem).
I stand on Qalqiliya's main street. There is little traffic. Shop after
shop is shuttered and closed. The heavy metal doors are secured to the
ground with thick padlocks. There are signs in Hebrew and Arabic, fading
reminders of a time when commerce was possible. There were, before the
wall was built, 42,000 people living here. Mayor Maa'rouf Zahran says at
least 6,000 have left. Many more, with the unemployment rate close to
70%, will follow. Over the tip of the wall, in the distance, I can see
the tops of the skyscrapers in Tel Aviv. It feels as if it is a plague
town, quarantined. Israeli officials, after a few suicide bombers
slipped into Israel from Qalqiliya, began to refer to the town as a
"hotel for terrorists."
There are hundreds of acres of farmland on the other side of the wall,
some of the best farmland in the West Bank, which is harder and harder
to reach given the gates, checkpoints and closures. There are some 32
farming villages on the outskirts of Qalqiliya, cut off from their land,
sinking into poverty and despair. Olive groves, with trees that are
hundreds of years old, have been uprooted and bulldozed into the ground.
The barrier is wiping out the middle class in the West Bank, the last
bulwark in the West Bank against Islamic fundamentalism. It is plunging
the West Bank into the squalor that defines life in the Gaza Strip,
where Palestinians struggle to live on less than $ 2 a day. It is the
Africanization of Palestinian land.
It is also ethnic cleansing, less overtly violent than that I watched
carried out by the Serbs in Bosnia, but as effective. Thousands of
Palestinians have left, never to return. Cities such as Bethlehem are
emptying. This, Palestinians say, is the real goal, to make life
impossible and force them to leave.
The Israelis, who have thought hard about making the project as
linguistically benign as possible, call the barrier "the seam line."
They insist it is not meant to be a border. They say it will make Israel
more secure. They said that once Gaza was enclosed, suicide attacks from
the Gaza Strip would end. They promise that once the West Bank is sealed
off, terrorists will not be able to cross into Israel. The promise of
security for the weary Israeli populace is like manna from heaven.
This assumes, of course, that the barrier will separate Palestinians
from Jews. It ignores the 1 million Israeli Arabs living inside Israel,
some of whom have already elected to use their bodies as weapons. It
ignores the presence of Jewish settlers in some 200 settlements who
often live within yards of Palestinians. But most ominously, it ignores
the consequences of total enclosure. The West Bank, like Gaza, will
erupt with high-octane rage.
Hamas was an insignificant group with little following in 1988 when I
first reported from Gaza. The Islamic radicals are now the vanguard of
the resistance. Every pillar of concrete driven into the soil of the
West Bank will bring forth screeching bands of killers. It happened in
Gaza. It will happen here. Security will never come with the barrier,
but then security is not the point. What is happening is much more
If the barrier is being built for security, why is so much of the West
Bank being confiscated by Israel? Why is the barrier plunging in deep
loops into the West Bank to draw far-flung settlements into Israel? Why
are thousands of acres of the most fertile farmland and much of the West
Bank's aquifers being seized by Israel?
The barrier does not run along the old 1967 border or the 1949 armistice
line between Israel and the Arab states, which, in the eyes of the
United Nations, delineates Israel and the West Bank. It will contain at
least 50% of the West Bank, including the whole of the western mountain
aquifer, which supplies the West Bank Palestinians with over half their
water. The barrier is the most catastrophic blow to the Palestinians
since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The barrier itself mocks any claim that it is temporary. It costs $ 1
million per mile and will run over $ 2 billion by the time it is
completed. It will cut the entire 224-mile length of the West Bank off
from Israel, but because of its diversions into the West Bank to
incorporate Palestinian land it will be about 400 miles in length. A
second barrier is being built on the Jordan River side of the West Bank.
To look at a map of the barrier is to miss the point. The barrier
interconnects with every other piece of Israeli-stolen real estate in
Palestinian territory. And when all the pieces are in place the Israelis
will no doubt offer up the little ringed puddles of poverty and despair
and misery to the world as a Palestinian state.
Traveling the barrier
I traveled along the completed parts of the barrier for 10 days. It is
being built in sections. When I go into and out of the West Bank, often
passing through multiple Israeli checkpoints, it takes three or four
hours. The northern sections were completed in July 2003, although the
Israeli Defense Ministry was still razing houses and fields along the
barrier in the north for a buffer zone when I visited. Bulldozers,
trucks and backhoes belch diesel smoke and lumber across the landscape.
Where there is no barrier there is often a wide dirt track being graded
and smoothed for construction. On either side of the emerging barrier
are the dynamited remains of markets or homes and the blackened stumps
of destroyed olive groves. It is one of the most ambitious construction
projects ever undertaken by the state, certainly one of the most costly.
The small town of Mas'ha lies in the path of the barrier. It has been in
decline since the start of the uprising three years ago when Israel
blocked the road leading from the town to Tel Aviv. The closure ended
the businesses of the dozens of fruit and vegetable sellers who lined
the road with shops and markets. The closure trapped most Palestinians
inside the West Bank and because of this the barrier for Israelis is an
abstraction. It does not slice through any Israeli land. It does not
change Israeli life. It only solidifies the status quo.
The Baddya Market on either side of the small asphalt road is empty, the
tin-roofed sheds and warehouses that once had piles of fruits and
vegetables for sale abandoned. The town's population has fallen from
7,000 to 2,000 since the closure of the road.
I stand on top of one of the two dirt mounds that block the road to Tel
Aviv. There is an army base on a hilltop in front of me. There is an
electric fence that runs around a settlement a hundred yards up the road
on my left. Two green Israeli army jeeps lie parked at an angle blocking
the road a few feet beyond the second mound. The two dirt mounds and
strip of empty road between them are filled with old cardboard boxes,
broken bottles, empty wooden vegetable crates, cans, plastic Coke
bottles, tires, shredded remnants of plastic bags, a broken chair and
the twisted remains of a child's stroller.
A young boy is loading three cardboard boxes into a shopping cart. An
elderly woman, standing on the mound a few feet from me, is helping him.
When the cart is full the boy begins to push it to the other mound about
50 feet away. The woman follows. When they get to the other side he
lifts out the boxes for her. She drops a silver shekel in his hand for
payment. He goes back to the other mound to wait. He does this all day.
It is the only way goods move up and down this road.
I walk into a small shed where a man is seated at a table. The shelves
around him are bare. He has two boxes of tomatoes in front of him. There
are cold drinks in a large refrigerated case with glass doors. A single
light bulb hangs from a wire, casting a soft hue over the gray stubble
on his face. Fat, languid flies buzz nosily. It is the only sound I
hear. I ask him if he will speak to me. There is a long silence.
"Why?" he finally says. "It won't do any good."
I walk up the road, over the two mounds, and turn left to go up through
the opening in a post fence with loops of barbed wire. A rainbow flag
flies from a post planted in the ground along the fence. The dirt in the
yard is pitted and gouged with tread marks from heavy earth-moving
equipment. I hear the squelch, grunts and guttural moans of engines at
work. I cannot see the machinery. The sky is clear, that searing
crystal-like clearness that makes the light of the Middle East
unforgiving and overpowering.
There are tarps in the yard in front of the house. Under the tarps are a
collection of dirty mattresses and foam pads. Piled around the
mattresses are backpacks, some with tickets from European airlines. A
blue backpack has a tag with the letters SAS. There are plastic water
coolers under the tarp. There are plastic cups scattered on the ground.
Several young men and women, many in baggy cotton pants and sandals,
lounge on the mattresses speaking quietly. Some are asleep.
I go to the door of the house. Munira Ibrahim Amer, who lives there,
takes me upstairs to the flat roof where laundry is hanging and there is
a large water tank. The heat on the roof is withering. I edge my way
under a narrow eave to capture some shade. A young woman with short
blond hair and glasses holds a video camera. She is wearing a green
T-shirt and green cargo pants. She has a small pouch strapped around her
waist. She says her name is Maria. She says she does not want to give me
her last name.
"Thousands of us have been denied entry visas by the Israelis at the
airport," she says with what I suspect is a German accent. "Many of us
who get picked up are deported. If I give you my name I will be on their
blacklist. They will not let me in. They will put a 'No Entry' stamp in
She has been in and out of Palestine, she says, for over a year. She was
one of the first internationals to get into the Jenin refugee camp after
the Israeli attack against armed militants that left scores dead and
sections of the camp destroyed.
"I could not breathe because of the smell of the dead bodies," she says.
"I saw children collect body parts of their parents. None of us could
eat. It was terrible. And the world stood by and did nothing."
She was an Islamic studies major. She speaks Arabic. She became involved
in protests in Italy against the occupation. She joined a group called
International Women's Peace Service, which sends activists to protest
the construction of what it terms "the apartheid wall." She lives in a
house with other activists in the Palestinian village of Haras. She has
been in and out of the West Bank and Gaza for over a year, surviving on
the meager funds given to her by the organization.
Ten years of work, bulldozed
The activists surround the house when the bulldozer, belching smoke and
groaning, lumbers through the yard on the way to grade the track on the
hill below. Three activists chain themselves to a shed next to the house
when they think the bulldozer might turn to attack. The shed next to the
house, the family has been told, is about to be destroyed. When Maria
speaks of the bulldozer it is as if it is a living object, some
Leviathan rising out of the bowels of the earth to swallow up Palestine.
"When we do an action it is beautiful," she says. "It is what life is
about, living together, not fighting simply for our own happiness. The
real pursuit of happiness is not about making me happy. It is about
living together and sharing."
There is something wistful in this, as if she knows much of human
sadness, which I later find out she does. Activists, like aid workers
and foreign correspondents and soldiers, are often orphans running away
from home. I was one. They seek new families and new reasons to live,
often messianic reasons that are intense enough to blot out the past and
keep the darker clouds of memory at bay.
She wears a piece of silver jewelry around her neck. It comes from
India. "I put my fingers around it and hold it when I am scared," she
says, wrapping her fingers over it. "I have grown superstitious. I
risked my life more than once last year. I understand why Palestinians
believe in God. When you feel your own impotence in the face of Sharon
and the United States you have to believe in something bigger. It is the
only way to survive. I don't believe in God. I believe in this."
There is the sudden roar and screech of army jeeps. A dozen Israeli
soldiers pile out of the vehicles in helmets and flak jackets. They
spread out along the road, facing the activists, who now are rousted
from their mattresses. Three men grab the chains and run for the shed.
The soldiers cradle black M-16 assault rifles.
"Oh hell," she says quickly, pushing the start button on her camera and
pointing down at the scene below us, "and another jeep is coming. I have
to call the media office and alert them."
The ragged band of 45 activists spread out in the yard. The soldiers
watch, silent, bemused, the way a child watches a line of ants he is
about to crush. In a few moments the soldiers depart.
The activists wait in the sun for a few minutes and then go back under
the tarps. Maria joins them from the roof. They begin to discuss
tactics. Someone proposes singing "Give Peace a Chance" if the soldiers
come again. Another suggests building a small model of a Palestinian
village in the path of the bulldozer. They begin a heated discussion
over what to write on their banners. When people agree, rather than
clap, they raise their arms and flutter their fingers. A member of the
group suggests they write condemnations of the wall uttered by world
leaders including President Bush. The mention of the American president
raises the temperature of the debate.
"I don't agree that we put phrases by George Bush on our banners," says
a woman with an Israeli accent. "George Bush don't fucking care about
this, about anything. I really hate this man. I don't want any fucking
thing he said on any action I participate in."
There is a sea of fluttering fingers. I admire their commitment but find
them too sanctimonious, infected with the fanatic's zeal that they know
what is good for you, good for everyone. Their anger springs, in part,
from the fact that no one will listen, as well as the damage, the damage
many I suspect nurse internally and wish to heal.
I go into the house and sit with the family. The family lives surrounded
by the madness. The bulldozer severed the water pipe to the house. They
have spent the last few weeks carrying water into the house in plastic
buckets. The children have turned one side of the house into an outdoor
toilet. It sinks of human feces.
Munira Ibrahim Amer and her husband, Hani, have four boys and two girls.
They scamper around the room, often shouting to be heard above the noise
of the heavy machinery busily tearing up the earth outside. I feel I am
in an Ionesco play.
"I spent 10 years working in Saudi Arabia to buy this land and start our
nursery," says Hani. "In a few hours the Israelis bulldozed my
greenhouses and my plants into the ground."
The family moved into the house in 1981. They made a decent living. They
had many Israeli customers. They grew things.
"A year ago army jeeps appeared in the village and scattered leaflets
around the mosque," he says. "Soldiers came to our house. They told us
our house was in the way of the fence and would be demolished. They said
they would compensate us."
But he does not believe them. He says the Israelis determine the worth
of the land and property and he says other Palestinians tell him the
Israelis usually never pay.
"They will build their wall and they will take revenge on me and my
family for allowing these internationals to protect us. They will
demolish my home." It is dusk. I leave. The activists, fearing a
demolition, sleep under the tarps. I speak with Maria the next morning
by phone. She tells me her real name. It is Maren Karlitzky. She is
German. She reveals her name because she is sitting with the other
activists in a police station in the Jewish settlement of Ariel. The
Israelis have taken her passport. She is under arrest.
She tells me that at 7 a.m. about a hundred soldiers surrounded the
house. They pushed the activists onto buses. The activists watched the
bulldozer demolish the shed. The group was kept awake all night.
Everyone was questioned.
"When I was called in for questioning they told me I could stay [in
Israel] if I collaborated with them," she says. "I refused."
At 4 in the morning the police presented the group with typed Hebrew
statements and told the activists to sign them. The statements said that
none of them would again enter the West Bank or attempt to renew their
visas. They signed the papers.
"It was a mistake," Maren said. "We were tired."
I ask her what she will do next. "Guess," she says.
Too much pressure
I often have to leave my car behind and walk to villages, villages that
have not had access to roads for two or three years. Crude barriers of
dirt, trenches or torn-up strips of asphalt make the roads impassible.
Weeds grow up on either side of the roads. The crude barriers will be
replaced soon by walls and fences and ditches and wire.
I am walking down an empty dirt road. It is covered with stones. I am
walking to the farming hamlet of al-Nuaman. The farmers have been
legally dispossessed, ethnic cleansing by administrative fiat. It was a
specialty of the Bosnian Muslims, who did not want the ethnic Croats and
Serbs to go back to their old apartments in Sarajevo. So they used the
courts to strip them of their property.
There are tens of thousands of Palestinians whom Israeli courts have
declared squatters in their own homes, homes they were born and raised
in, homes which have been in the family for generations.
The cicadas sing out in a cacophonous chorus. The heat feels like the
blast from a furnace. Olive groves, with rows of thick, gnarled trees,
line the slope to the valley below me. The hilltops are rocky and gray.
There are a few patches of light green.
The road to the hamlet was closed in 1995 by the Israelis. The
bulldozers blocked it with dirt and scooped out a huge trench at the
edge of the village, tossing the chunks of black asphalt to the side.
The Israelis changed the name of the hamlet to Mazmouria, although no
Israelis live here. I see the hamlet ahead of me. It is tiny, with 26
modest homes, all with flat roofs and stucco exteriors.
I walk down into the trench. Youssif Dara'wi, a large man with a heavy
girth, is standing on the other side looking down at me. He helps me up.
He is wearing sandals. He clutches a cellphone. There is a large ring of
keys on a silver clasp fastened to his belt. I get into his car and we
drive to his house. He has set out a dozen white plastic chairs under
the one tree in his front yard. Older men, when they see us, come to
introduce themselves and take a seat.
Youssif was born in the hamlet. As far as he can tell, his family has
been here for 180 years, but probably longer. He owns about 100 acres of
olive groves, making him one of the largest landowners here. The farmers
in the village together have 1,000 acres. When they were occupied by
Israeli troops in 1967 they were given Israeli identification cards. The
cards said they were residents of the West Bank. They were incorporated
into the Bethlehem municipality. "It all began to change after the start
of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987," Youssif says.
Israeli officials forbade any new construction. When anyone tried to
build a house or expand existing ones, Israeli bulldozers tore the
structures down. After the Oslo peace agreement the pressure eased, only
to come back in greater force with the latest uprising. The road was
closed. The children in the village, who had gone to Jerusalem for their
schooling, were barred from the city. The Israelis expanded the
boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality. The farmers have become West
Bank squatters illegally encamped inside Israel. It is a neat little
legal trick. Members of the community pooled their money to hire an
Israeli lawyer. But cases, even when they get to the Supreme Court, even
when they result in a decision in favor of the Palestinians, can be
immediately overruled by the state on grounds of national security.
National security, as in my own country, is the god that is destroying
"I am not allowed to be here or to meet you according to Israeli law,"
Youssif says. "I am not allowed to be on my own land."
The water to the hamlet was cut three years ago. Water comes now from
wells and water trucks.
He pulls out a topographical map. It is marked with colored zones and
colored lines to indicate settlements, the barrier under construction
around Jerusalem, the land that has been confiscated, the land that will
be confiscated and the new demarcation lines for the hamlet. The blue
line, he explains, is the new boundary for Jerusalem. The hamlet is
within the boundary. The yellow line is the barrier, which when we look
up we can see being built down the hill in front of a new hilltop
settlement with several hundred concrete apartment blocks. He traces his
thick finger around the roads, the settlements and the barrier to show
how the hamlet will be encircled, how he and his neighbors will soon
lose nearly all their land and live illegally in a ghetto with no
running water. I have seen this now many times.
Most Palestinians carry maps. They keep them tucked into their shirt
pockets and pull them out at the slightest provocation. They spread them
on the ground and chart for you the course of their own demise. It
happens so often it gets boring, but I always listen and nod and pretend
the information is new. The ritual is repeated over and over and seems
to be part of the struggle to cope with the scale and horror of what is
A group of Israeli soldiers appeared in the hamlet four months ago. They
said Israel was willing to compensate farmers whose homes had been built
before 1992. They told the farmer to submit compensation forms. The army
would determine the price to be paid. The other homes, they said, would
be demolished. If any home was built after 1992 the family would receive
nothing. None of the farmers filed for compensation.
Then the physical harassment began. Soldiers arrived early one morning
in July and roused six farmers from their beds and drove them to a
nearby military outpost. They were told they would be released when they
signed papers saying they would not enter Israeli territory. The farmers
signed the papers. They spent the rest of the night walking home.
"I signed," Abid Ataya, 55, tells me as we sit in a half circle of
chairs under a pine tree. "I didn't realize that according to them I
live in an Israeli area." Soldiers come frequently to demand other
signatures. They were there the night before, their jeeps roaring into
the hamlet at 2:30 a.m.. The soldiers handcuffed 20 farmers and took
them to the military outpost. All refused to sign. In the morning, after
squatting all night outside the compound, they were released.
"The soldiers laughed at us," Mahmoud Ali Hussein, 43, says. "They told
us when the wall was finished we would not be able to enter Israel or
the West Bank. They told us we would have no land. They sent us home and
told us to wait. They said our time is almost up."
The farmers sit, bewildered, trying to comprehend it all, the ability to
declare reality to be one way when it is another, the ability to swiftly
and irrevocably destroy their life, the only life they have known. I say
nothing, so we sit like this for a long time.
"Does a condemned prisoner sign an agreement authorizing his own
execution?" asks Mahmoud suddenly.
A boy with a tray holding glasses of lukewarm soda moves between us
handing out drinks. We sip the soda. The farmers light cigarettes.
Ribbons of thin bluish smoke waft toward the pine branches over our
heads. Again we are silent, thinking about it all.
"Too much pressure makes explosions," my host says. "When you deny us
education, medical care and work what do you think we will do? When you
take our homes and our land from us, when we cannot feed our families,
when you strip us of our dignity, how do you think we will behave? How
can you ask us to be neighbors after this? What chance do you think
there will be for peace?" The men nod.
"We are going to change the name of our village," he says. "We are going
to call it Transfer 2004." No one laughs.
The good Israelis
And what of the good Israelis? Where are they? What are they doing? I
found Allegra Pacheco mopping the floors of her small second-story
apartment in Bethlehem. Her infant son is asleep. The furniture is
upended in the corner of the living room. She is scrubbing away. The
scent of ammonia from the tiled floor fills the room, even with the
"We will have to go outside," she says.
We sit on her balcony. We look out over the cramped and squalid hovels
of the Deheisha refugee camp. The camp cascades, one hovel nearly on top
of the next, down a slope. The pope used the camp as a backdrop in 2000
when he visited. He was there long enough for the press to get images
and cover his kind beneficence. The camp exploded into rioting five
minutes after the pope departed. The local police station was badly
vandalized. There was never a coherent explanation for the rioting,
other than the obvious, the frustration and rage of a people used once
again as a stage prop and then forgotten.
Allegra is a Jew. She grew up in Long Island, where she was a member of
a "Zionist-oriented family." She visited Israel as a teenager on one of
the tours designed to get Americans to bond with the Jewish state. She
went to Barnard and Columbia Law School. She began to ask questions,
questions many around her refused to ask.
She read about the Middle East. The story of the Palestinians began to
unsettle her. She began to see another side of Israel. She moved to
Israel after a few years as a lawyer in New York. She studied for the
Israeli bar. She looked to Lea Tsmel, the Israeli lawyer who has often
defended Palestinians, as a mentor. She opened a law office in
Bethlehem. She was the only Israeli ever to open a law office in
Palestinian territory. She handled cases involving house demolitions,
land confiscations, torture and prisoners who had been incarcerated
without ever being charged. She documented some torture practices, at
first denied by Israel, and took the case to the Supreme Court. Most of
the practices were outlawed.
The second Palestinian uprising began as she had taken a break and was
writing a book as a Peace Fellow at Harvard University. She dropped the
manuscript and came back. The restrictions, however, were so draconian
she often could not get through the checkpoints to her office. It was
hard to see clients or make court appearances. She took over the case of
a Palestinian human rights activist, Abed al-Rahman al-Ahmar, being held
without charge in administrative detention.
"I met my husband Abed in 1996, when he was under interrogation and
being tortured," she says. "He was then sent to two and a half years of
administrative detention and I continued to represent him. When he was
released, he helped me set up my law office and worked with me. That's
how we fell in love."
They married. They spent their honeymoon trapped in their apartment
under almost continuous curfew.
Twenty to a tent
She was eight months pregnant when Abed was arrested for the 13th time.
He was sent to Ofra prison. The prisoners live 20 to a tent in the
desert. They sleep on wooden pallets. The tents are sweltering in the
summer and cold in the winter.
"Abed sleeps under 10 blankets in the winter," she said. "There is no
heat." There is an open sewer nearby and swarms of mosquitoes. He is
being held on secret evidence, which means he has not been told the
charges against him. Abed has never been sentenced. His six-month
military detention order had been extended for another six months in
June. It too was done in secret. It can be renewed indefinitely. Amnesty
International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.
His health is precarious. When he was 16 he was arrested for throwing
stones at Israeli soldiers. He was tied to a chair in contorted
positions. His back and stomach were under tremendous pressure. He was
in great pain. His head was covered with a bag soaked in urine. Allegra
has sued the army for the torture he underwent in 1996. He was also
tortured on three other occasions while in detention.
"They have told him he will be released if [we] drop the lawsuit," she
says. "He will not."
She gave birth to their first child, Quds, the Arabic name for
Jerusalem, this spring. Abed has never seen his son. When Allegra asked
for the address of the prison to mail her husband pictures of their
child she was told there was no address.
"My husband has been banned from Jerusalem for 20 years, so we brought
Jerusalem to us," she says.
She is an Israeli citizen, but because her husband is Palestinian,
because of his ethnicity, he is refused citizenship. She was born in
Long Island. He was born here. This is how it works in Israel. Israel is
a democracy only for Jews. If she had married a Jew he would have a
passport and citizenship.
"What democratic state builds its laws based on a person's ethnicity?"
she asks. "The goal of the South African apartheid regime was to
separate whites and blacks to preserve white privilege. How is this
different from what is being done to the Palestinians?"
"Who is really being shut out by this wall?" she adds. "Who is being
shut in? Israel will be a closed society when the wall is finished. It
will even further shun reality."
Her son wakes up and begins to cry. She gets up and walks to his room.
She comes back with the infant in her arms. She begins to breast-feed
him. As she coos over her son she lets me read a notebook smuggled out
of the prison. It has drawings by one of the prisoners for her child
Quds with stories by her husband. On the cover of the ruled school
notebook are the words "Quds Smart Notebook."
In one picture a small boy is feeding a bird. "This is Quds' bird," it
says. "Quds feeds the bird. The bird loves Quds. The birds are playing
in Quds' beautiful garden. They know Quds. They love him very much."
She slips her wedding ring off her finger so I can read the inscription
on the band inside. It has two letter A's with a heart between them. The
word "forever" is etched into the band. She cradles the child in her
arms and whispers words of comfort to him. She looks up, weary and sad.
"In Israel, I'm considered radical because I advocate equal rights for
all persons residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean
Sea," she says.
The noose tightens
It does not matter where I turn. I see the noose tightening. There is no
escape. The barrier is closing in from every side, grinding and crushing
everything in its path. I begin to feel the claustrophobia, the sense of
inevitable doom, the awful fatalness of it all.
Palestinians cling to what they have like shipwrecked sailors clinging
to the hull of a sinking boat. There is a mass migration. They are being
forced from their homes. Some have moved into their fields. They have
set up squalid little encampments in vegetable patches. It is their last
I walk over the heavy earth on the Israeli side of the fence from the
village of Jayyous. The village has some 2,200 acres, along with six
wells and pumping stations. The fence has separated the farmers in the
village from 73% of its irrigated farmland. About 300 families are
losing their only source of income. My feet are covered with dirt. I see
across the fields the sparks shooting up from numerous campfires. I hear
voices, the idle chatter of children, women and men.
Suffian Youssef, 30, stands beside an old blue truck. His two brothers,
his mother and his father are with him. It is nearly dark. They have set
up a small tarp and a crude shack. It is where they sleep. There is a
brass coffee pot on the brazier over the fire. I smell wood smoke.
"We began to sleep in our fields a month ago," he said. "We fear that if
they close the gate we will not be able to get to our crop. We are
having trouble getting our crop to market. We took the crates of
potatoes up to the gate in the truck a few days ago. The Border Police
told us to take the crates off the truck and load them back on the truck
four times. When we took them off for the fourth time they dumped the
potatoes on the ground and crushed them with their boots. They beat us
with their rifle butts."
Crickets chirp softly. I see a half moon poking through the haze in the
sky. The roadblocks and checkpoints mean that farmers cannot get their
produce to urban areas in the West Bank. There are now Israeli
suppliers, who can use the settler roads, who have taken over these
markets. Prices, because vegetables are bottled up in agricultural
areas, have plummeted.
"We may not have enough money next year to plant a crop," Youssef says.
When I leave it is night. I stumble out of the fields. I know they will
not be here next year.
Taste of death
It is late afternoon at Gate Number 542 in the farming village of Zita,
north of Tulkarm. A sign on the electric fence that runs along the dirt
track for as far as the eye can see reads: "Danger. Military Area.
Anyone crossing or touching the fence does so at his own risk." It is in
Hebrew, Arabic and English.
The iron gates are painted yellow. There are motion sensors and
television cameras mounted along the fence. There is a smooth strip of
sand to detect unauthorized footprints. There is a dirt service road.
There is a trench about seven feet deep to stop vehicles from crashing
through the barrier. There is a paved road for the army jeeps. There are
coils of razor wire. The land on either side of the barrier, about 100
feet wide, is desolate. Blackened stumps from uprooted olive trees poke
up from the dirt. All living things on or near the barrier have been
killed. It tastes of death. This is what the barrier will look like in
most places on the West Bank.
There are poles mounted with powerful floodlights along the barrier to
turn night into day. The farmers who live on the edge of the wasteland,
often once their farmland, cannot sleep because of the glare of the lights.
A dozen poor farmers and shepherds are clustered on the other side of
the barrier. They have grazed their flocks or tended their plants on
their land, land Israel has swallowed up. They have been there for an
hour. The gate is supposed to be opened at 6 p.m. On some nights the
border police come early. Other nights they come late. There are times
they do not come at all. When they do not come the farmers and shepherds
sleep on the ground near the gate until morning.
Jamal Hassouna, 43, a farmer, is standing with me. We are standing on
land that once belonged to him but was taken without compensation to
build the barrier.
"If anyone touches the fence, even a child, they are not allowed to
pass," he says. "Every soldier is a little Ariel Sharon."
Two green armored jeeps from the border police roar down the asphalt
strip enclosed by the two electric fences. They halt and five policemen
climb out. They hold their M-16 assault rifles at an angle. They are
wearing helmets. One soldier, watched by two others, goes to open the
padlock on the gate on the other side. He swings the gate open and the
motley crowd walks out into the empty space, across the tarred road and
the dirt road to the yellow gate on my side. They show the police their
special permits before they are allowed through the yellow gate.
The police are silent. Jamal says it is because I am present. On many
nights, he says, farmers are insulted, cursed, made to lift their shirts
or humiliated by being told they have to crawl through the gates. Wives
and children no longer cross to spare themselves the harassment. There
are many farmers who, although they are never told why, are no longer
allowed to pass. Their fields are dying.
I walk to tomato fields covered by gauzy brown netting. Iyad Abu Hamdi,
27, is seated alone on the lip of a small drainage ditch next to the
field of tomatoes. His land is on the other side of the barrier.
He was tending his crop of peppers a few days ago when a patrol of the
border police arrived at his field. The two policemen began to make lewd
remarks to his wife, who was working with him. They ordered her to make
them coffee. She obeyed. They ordered her sister to bring them water.
She refused. They threw their thermos at his brother and told him to
fill it with water. He also refused. "They began to beat my brother,"
Hamdi says. "They tossed the coffee in our faces. They cursed us. They
shouted at us. They confiscated our identification cards. The soldiers
told my wife to accept their advances or they would ruin her reputation."
When he says "accept their advances" his voice quivers with emotion and
he turns his head away to avoid my eyes.
The sun is dipping below the earth. There is a dim yellow glow across
the fields. His voice is shaking. He bows his head between his knees and
looks at the ground.
"This happened on Aug. 3," he begins again. "I have not been allowed to
cross since. They slam the gate shut in my face. My crop is dying." The
tears roll down his cheeks. They too are serpent's teeth.
Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York
Times and the author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."
Eurotopia 2006: Guide to EuroEcovillages and Intentional Communities
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