Last night the rains finally arrived in Beit Jala, a small town in the West Bank, one kilometer west of Bethlehem and about eight kilometers south of Jerusalem. Its alluring hills are covered with olive trees, vineyards and apricots. In 1967 Israel confiscated 22 percent of Beit Jala’s land. Now, the construction of Israel’s separation wall is in full swing and will cut off another 45 per cent of Beit Jala’s land. We went to visit the area to feel the impact of the wall and listen to the stories of the farmers who didn’t sell their land and choose to resist the its confiscation.
Yacoub Salim Abu Amsha
Our guide accompanies us to the house of 86-year-old Yacoub Salim Abu Amsha. His garden borders Aida refugee camp which was established in 1950. Our guide explains that Road 60 is built on the land of Abu Salim, which is about three kilometers from where he lives. Road 60 is a bypass road for Jewish settlers; Palestinians are prohibited from using it. Our guide met Abu Salim a few years ago when he saw a desperate old man walking in his field while Israeli bulldozers were in his olive orchard. He stopped and talked to the old man. Abu Salim was desperate, because the Israelis planned to uproot his trees including a very old olive tree which he said dated back to Roman times. In 1933 his grandfather pointed to that olive tree and told him to take care of it because olive trees are a blessing. His grandfather was very attached to this particular tree and Abu Salim looked after it his entire life. Abu Salim had told our guide, “if the Israelis uproot my grandfather’s old tree, I will die.”
The tree was uprooted along with many others, but with the assistance of the Olive Tree Campaign it was replanted in the field beside Road 60. Others were replanted in the garden of Abu Salim’s home in Beit Jala. When we asked Abu Salim if could write about his story he gave us permission and said, “I want you to show my pain, I will be grateful. I have pains like the pains of Baghdad.” While he spoke he reached out his hands which told a story their own story of years of hard work, pain and a refusal to accept the confiscation of his land.
Abu Salim’s land near al-Khader
Together with our guide and Abu Salim we drove a few kilometers to his land near al-Khader which Road 60 and the wall cut right through. We parked the car and met some people in the street. From here we had a view of the trucks and cranes constructing the wall. One of the men in the street owns a house, from which we can enter Abu Salim’s land. We went down the stairs to the house. We crawled through the fence of the house and started our descent to Road 60 and the wall. It was slippery and our shoes were not fit for the walk. We helped each other and got close to the crash barrier of the bypass road. On our side of the road the field has been flattened as if another road will be built. Abu Salim shows us where his grandfather’s tree along with other old trees have been replanted. The trees offer a sad picture. On the other side of the bypass road towers the wall. A Scania truck with a crane on it is performing its destructive work. A few days ago we saw a Volvo truck with a crane making its contribution to the wall.
Abu Salim knew all the marks and features of his land, but the bypass road and the wall destroyed it and cut off parts of it on other side of the wall. Hand in hand with Abu Salim we try to cross the bypass road. Wearing his characteristic clothes it is not difficult to identify Abu Salim as Palestinian. Many cars and trucks driven by Jewish settlers honk, as if to say, “you have no right to be here!” How does a landowner not have the right to be on his land? It is Israel that does not have the right to build the bypass road and the wall on Abu Salim’s land!
The olive tree orchard continues on Abu Salim’s land on the other side of the bypass road. All the roads to Abu Salim’s lands have been closed off to Palestinians. We refused to accept that Palestinians are not allowed to walk here and together we walked all the way back on the road which Palestinians are not allowed to travel. Back in the car we continued our way along the projected route of the wall. Within a kilometer from where we entered Abu Salim’s land there is the place where the wall will soon cut off the road. The olive trees that will be uprooted to make way for the wall are already marked with white paint. Most of Beit Jala’s fertile agricultural land will end up behind the wall. While Bush, Olmert and Abbas pretend to be involved in peace talks, Israel continues its destruction of Palestinian land and livelihoods.
Adri Nieuwhof and Amer Madi are consultants based respectively in Switzerland and Palestine. All images by Adri Nieuwhof.