A group of Palestinian, international, and Israeli activists have chosen the village of Deir Ballut, in the Salfit Governorate, as the site for the next round of activities in opposition to Israel’s continued building of Phase II of the Apartheid Wall. Building on the lessons of the successful Mas’ha camp, which brought enormous international attention to the political motives behind the wall, these activists will create a two-week continual presence on their land that is threatened by the building of the wall.
Activists have chosen a primary school that is now under construction approximately in the path of the on-coming wall. The camp will function as a center for the dissemination of information about the Apartheid Wall, a planning and strategy forum for resistance to the Wall, and a starting point for various resistance activities in Deir Ballut and neighboring villages. The camp’s activities will begin on Friday, December 19.
Deir Ballut and the Occupation
Deir Ballut is a beautiful village that abuts the Green Line. On a clear day from a high point in the village you can see the Mediterrean Sea off the coast of Tel Aviv. Deir Ballut is an extremely fertile area, where large tracts of waterlogged land are used as the main growth area for summer crops for the entire Salfit region.
Before 1948, the village owned 40,000 dunums of land (10,000 acres). In 1967, 20% of the land of Deir Ballut (or 2,000 acres) was confiscated into Israel. Since then, like so many other villages in Palestine, Deir Ballut has been subjected to almost continual land theft for Israeli settlements, bypass roads, and military installations. The Oslo agreements of 1993 which divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C caused a huge problem for Deir Ballut and the two nearby villages of Azzawiye and Rafat. The three villages together own 370,000 dunums of land but about 80% of the land falls into Area C, which is under Israeli control.
Recently, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) prohibited Deir Ballut, Azawiye and Rafat from building an agricultural road to connect the villages, saying that they had already informed the Mayors not to build on ‘Israeli land’. The Mayors then demanded to know how much land the Occupation Authorities consider to be ‘Israeli land’ and were shocked to discover that 345 000 dunums out of 370 000 dunums is either said to be ‘Israeli land’ or ‘Area C’. The three villages only have the right to build on 25,000 dunums, according to the Israeli Occupation authorities. In Deir Ballut, only the village itself plus 150 dunums of land remain in Area A (where Palestinians can build without permits from Israeli authorities). One hundred houses fall into Area C and are not ‘permitted’.
Life is made even more difficult because the IOF have set up a checkpoint with an armed concrete watchtower between Deir Ballut and the nearest city, Ramallah. The checkpoint is closed from dusk till dawn which poses a serious problem for night emergencies.
Twenty-two Palestinian families (90 people) live in 14 houses on the other side of the checkpoint which now totally separates them from their village. In July 2003, the IOF told the residents that they now live in an Israeli settlement area (Alei Zahav and Pdu’el) and they would need permits if they wanted to cross back through the checkpoint to Deir Ballut. For several months, these residents have been under house arrest from dusk till dawn and were told that they would be shot if they were seen walking around at night.
The residents were not allowed to take part in the Eid feast this year, and schoolteachers are often prevented from going to the village to teach. They worry about what would happen to them in a medical emergency or during a curfew - like the one imposed by the IOF on 8 December 2003. On this day, the IOF moved into Deir Ballut at 5am and closed the checkpoint, trapping dozens of Palestinian cars between the village and Rafat for more than 4 hours. This has happened many times.
To add to the villagers’ worries, no-one knows what will happen after the wall is built. The village is in an area that is between the Green Line and the wall, leaving them in limbo as to their status. In the first half of 2003, Israeli soldiers took all the identity numbers of the residents and told them that “after a certain period” they would not be able to get into Deir Ballut without special permission.
Most of the second phase of the wall has been communicated in this type of vague language to villagers. A rumour is circulating in Deir Ballut that ‘an Israeli guy’ told a worker at the Palestinian Ministry of Interior that he ‘should be ready to cancel 40 000 Palestinian identity cards because we want to issue those Palestinians with Israeli cards.’
What is not a rumour is that on March 25th, the Mayor of Deir Ballut received a visit from the US State Department. They told the Mayor that they had read an article about the Apartheid Wall and they asked if the village would be prepared to be annexed into Israel. The village flatly refused.
Deir Ballut decides to resist
The Apartheid Wall is a project of massive proportions. It destroys Palestinian land and property, separates villages from their agricultural lands and water resources, and illegally expands Israeli territory. It will take an enormous amount of action from the Palestinian, Israeli, and International communities to pressure Israel to stop building it. The Wall is simply the new face of the continuing illegal Occupation of Palestinian land. In the face of such a huge threat, it is especially important to take action on the ground.
The activists behind the Deir Ballut camp believe firmly that every struggle is led by the people, not by government representatives or political negotiators. The people directly affected by the wall must take steps, with Israeli and International allies, to protest and oppose this wall in strategic and effective ways. It is nonviolent direct action against the wall which will expose its true motives: Zionist expansionism for political and fundamentalist reasons.
Nonviolent civil resistance will help to demonstrate that the wall does damage to Palestinian life.
The camp in the village of Mas’ha, a neighboring village to Deir Ballut, existed for over 5 months, and emerged as a center of information and relationship building between activists. Over 1,000 people visited the camp, including hundreds of journalists. Mas’ha camp put the issue of the wall on the world stage. Now it is time to take further steps against the wall in Deir Ballut.
The camp’s activities will include resistance activities at the checkpoint, at nearby Wall gates where farmers are prohibited from accessing their land, a day of action for students in local schools, visits by journalists, solidarity visits to and from people from local regions who are affected by the Wall, and a program of speaking and strategy sessions about effective civil resistance techniques.