If you’ve ever sat in springtime in an olive grove, enjoying the shade of the trees and the scent of the fresh earth, perhaps you will understand what land can mean to people who depend on it. Go just once to Mas’ha, Bidya, Sanniria or one of the dozens of Palestinian villages that are losing most of their land to the Israeli Apartheid Wall and you will get an idea of what kind of pain Palestinians feel at this theft and destruction.
Members of the International Womens Peace Service and International Solidarity Movement understood some of this pain while participating in a small demonstration in Mas’ha, seven kilometers to the east of the Green Line separating Israel from the Occupied West Bank.
The military has recommended that the Wall incorporate into Israel the settlements of Elkana, Revava, Immanuel, Qadumim and Ariel, encircling parts of the West Bank from the east. The farmers held a march that ended up in one of the olive groves recently destroyed by the army bulldozers. Only some trunks of the trees were left, and the soil was broken up and covered with the olive branches. The ground had been prepared for the building of the Wall. To understand what is coming you only have to look over to the next hill where the Apartheid Wall is creeping closer. At least 360 km long, the Wall will be composed of various sections, some of them made of concrete, others of barbed wire. There are large buffer zones on either side that will be inaccessible to Palestinians.
Being cut off from the rest of Palestine means, in the case of Mas’ha, that the roads and trade that have passed through it since Ottoman times have been severed by a barbed wire fence. Mas’ha has already suffered a serious economic breakdown when Israel closed its borders to the West Bank and the Israeli army started to build up checkpoints and road blocks. The village used to be famous for this market that was considered one of the biggest in Palestine. Today only abandoned shacks are left.
The wall leaves the farmers without jobs, and with virtually no way of finding other sources of income. The case of Ahmed Amer is just one example. The wall will be annex all of his land. Seven family members and about 30 children currently survive off the produce of this land. They are totally at a loss for how they will now survive, and they share this fate with more than 20,000 Palestinians. It is more than a list of individual tragedies; the entire economy of each of these villages will be ruined.
Apart from the breakdown of trade, many villages will lose most of their water wells. Others will be encircled from three sides by the Wall so that any growth of the village will be impossible and continuous military control will be easy to maintain. The younger generation will find no way of earning a living, and will have no land to build their houses on, and will thus be forced to leave the area in order to be able to create a decent future for themselves. It will be intolerably difficult for people to reach the cities. In these conditions there can be no development.
The Wall is what real transfer is all about
The Apartheid Wall does not only concern the people and the land in the directly affected areas. Its existence means the legitimization of Israeli occupation and the end of any possibility of creating a Palestinian state.
With the second phase of the so-called “Security Fence” it is even more obvious that its construction has little to do with safeguarding Israeli security; it doesn’t safeguard anything but the accomplishment of a longstanding expansionist strategy, and the annexation of more and more Palestinian land. The settlements that started in the 70s after the visit of Egypt’s President Sadat to Israel have been continuously under attack. They are considered illegal according to the Geneva Conventions and international standards of law. Nevertheless, Israel has never stopped building new settlements. The Apartheid Wall will now incorporate most of them into Israel in a de-facto annexed zone In addition it will separate over 13,000 Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.
What the Palestinians in the region of Salfit are facing now is not even the last phase of the construction of the Apartheid Wall. Two more phases have been proposed, annexing the Jordan valley to Israel and encircling the southern part of the West Bank.
It is not by chance that the recommendations for the second phase of the building of the wall were announced just a few days after the war against Iraq started. Israeli policy makers are counting on the fact that international attention is currently focused on the cruel slaughter of the Iraqi population, and that the rather unspectacular theft of more Palestinian land will not be noticed by the rest of the world.
The farmers on the field were understandably distressed, not so much because they are being ignored by the international community, but because it appears that no one is able to stop even the most obvious and deliberate crimes. Palestinians very clearly understand that their fate is closely linked to the rest of the Middle East and that the war against Iraq perfectly suits Israeli interests as it offers them the opportunity to achieve their own expansionist plans.
Is it any wonder that the Palestinians consider the Iraqi people their brothers and sisters? It would be hard to find two societies who have suffered more from the Israeli-American urge to control the Arab world.
The will to continue struggling for their rights, however, prevails over dismay and frustration. So, this demonstration in Mas-ha was only the first of a series of protests against the Apartheid Wall and against Occupation. A week later, all the groups decided to hold a sit-in on the land which is being bulldozed.
Activists from Israeli and International peace groups united with the Palestinians of the town of Mas’ha to block the construction of an Israeli wall through the town’s farmlands.
The Palestinians, Israelis and international activists marched peacefully through the village of Mas’ha to its surrounding fields, where they erected tents to block the construction of the wall.
The day after (Day 2 of the camp) agents of the private security company responsible for building the wall moved into the area of the peace camp and insisted that the activists dismantle the peace camp and leave the area. A Palestinian farmer was then chased off his own land.
The reason given for the expulsion was that nobody had a right to be on land which was now part of Israel. The contractors had decided to declare the Palestinian land which they had just bulldozed as a new border! Activists were dumbfounded as this is unheard of internationally, and vowed not to move.
The contractors then immediately built a roadblock separating the village from the land, despite their protestations that it pained them to destory olive trees and land.
The farmers have been involved in a tussle for about 10 days now to get back their uprooted olive trees so that they can replant them, even though most do not have alternative land. At one point the bulldozer picked up about 15 uprooted trees and dumped them back on the ‘Palestinian side’ of the wall. To most people there, this did not look like a good way to replant a tree!
Later on soldiers were posted at the camp but they went home at 5pm. Day 3 of the camp is now underway. International media have visited the camp and more activists are turning up to stay. The Popular Committee hopes to cast the spotlight on the destruction caused by the building of this racist, apartheid wall and to stay as long as possible on the land.
This was written by a member of the International Womens Peace Service; the name of the author is known to EI’s editor