Israeli land seizures undercut hopes for peace

WADI FOQUIN — Many foreigners I meet believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the path to being resolved. They are familiar with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent upbeat visit to the White House and Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

But the realities that Palestinians experience in West Bank villages like mine contradict hopes for peace and instead signal a deepening of Israel’s occupation.

The Israeli army recently delivered a seizure order to Wadi Foquin and three neighboring villages about 12 miles southwest of Bethlehem for 189 acres of our land. The army justifies this seizure as necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and to build a security wall. The order has left our small village in crisis, its very existence threatened.

Wadi Foquin lost 80 percent of its original land when Israel was established in 1948. Later, the creation of the Israeli settlement of Betar Illit consumed about 175 acres of village land. The army now wants to seize our remaining property.

Wadi Foquin’s fertile agricultural lands are the main source of life for 1,200 residents. Inherited from our forefathers and planted with olive trees and grapes, the area marked for seizure has been cultivated by its Palestinian owners from time immemorial.

The land is pivotal to present life, too. It is the source of our children’s food. It is work and joy derived from nature. It represents our sense of community and self and the basis of our future hopes.

The land at issue is clearly within the occupied West Bank, outside Israel’s borders. The main justification given in the army’s seizure order is that it is “land with no registration,” an arbitrary classification. Israel wants to claim it as “state land,” implicitly Israeli land, even though our ancestors have cultivated it for generations.

Historic Palestine was ruled by foreign powers for hundreds of years. The Turks, British and Jordanians all left behind their own legislation, which is used by Israel’s occupation. The Israeli government cherry-picks from this legal legacy, drawing upon whatever laws of the previous rulers will ensure victory in court. Palestinians, therefore, face incredible odds demonstrating legal ownership of their land.

The slogan the Zionist movement used to justify the settlement of the Jewish community in Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land.” But people were already here on the land. Perhaps the new Zionist slogan will be “state land for state people” because the land of Palestine is being incrementally identified as Israeli state land even though it is being tended by its rightful owners.

The injustice of this situation wounds Palestinians deeply. We are not recognized as residents of any state, including our homeland. With no Palestinian state, we are only a people who define ourselves as Palestinian and who have an ancient and unbreakable emotional bond with the land.

If Israelis feel the need to build walls and fences to ensure their security, surely these should be erected on Israeli land rather than harming Palestinian security and rights. Most Palestinians would not object to a wall on the Israeli side of the Green Line, the pre-1967 war border.

I have many Israeli Jewish friends. They love their country and want it to be loved by others. So they are raising their voices to criticize the erection of the barrier, insisting it should be built on Israel’s land. These people are working side by side with Palestinians to lay the foundations for coexistence. They are wise enough to realize that they cannot achieve a peaceful life by taking security, dignity and peace away from others.

Most of us work hard to teach our children to love their neighbors. But they quite naturally expect not to be hated by their neighbors in return. We need the support of all who believe in peace to make it a living reality here.

I believe an equal level of peace and well-being can be achieved for both nations. It will not be achieved for either if both continue to be led by a handful of shortsighted radicals.

Israel is imprisoning Palestinians in countless unconnected ghettos, turning the Palestinian territories into a series of open-air prisons. We must stop the wall. It is a monster, rapidly swallowing Palestine’s body and endangering its very existence. The world must act immediately before this damaged body becomes a lifeless corpse.

Abu Murad Manasra is a tour guide in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and a peace activist from the West Bank village of Wadi Foquin. This article was originally published June 23, 2005 in The Baltimore Sun and reprinted on EI with permission.