Latest land theft is killing us slowly

DPV

The completion of the first phase of the Apartheid Wall led to the confiscation of 16 villages in the West Bank. During this period, the Yesha Council or settlers lobby group, demanded the wall be extended further inside the West Bank, to incorporate the settlements into Israel. This led

to the projection of a map where it is not clear for a number of villages if they will be inside Palestine, or annexed into Israel, or trapped between two walls in a ‘ghost limbo land’.

Two of these villages are Deir Ballut and Marda, both in the Salfit Governorate. Deir Ballut is an extremely fertile area, with large tracts of waterlogged land being used as the main growth area for summer crops for the entire Salfit region. The village of 3750 people own 120 000 dunums of land, much more than any other village in the area. About 70% of the land is cultivated with olive trees. Another 20 000 dunums were lost by Deir Ballut in 1948, land that now belongs to Roshaim. About another 1700 Deir Ballut residents reside abroad (of which about 1000 still have a Palestinian ID).

After Oslo, only the village of Deir Ballut plus 150 dunums of land were left in area A. All the rest was put under Israeli control. One of Deir Ballut’s problems is that it is quite cut off from other Palestinian centers. The closest Hospital is in Ramallah, and there are two big check points between Deir Ballut and Ramallah. The checkpoint at Deir Ballut Junction has been there for 15 years, all through the Oslo years!

Despite the disruption to freedom of movement, Deir Ballut residents managed to survive through a system whereby the men worked in Israel and the women farmed the 150 dunnums of land with alternate seasons of summer crops (onions, cucumbers, tomatoes) and winter crops (wheat), and worked producing olive oil. A busy market existed on the road to Ramallah where commuters from all the neighbouring villages would buy vegetables daily.

This kind of survival system has been totally smashed recently by the intensified occupation. On 29th May 2003, the Israeli Occupation Forces dumped concrete blocks in the junction between Deir Ballut and Ramallah, erecting a concrete watchtower. The only other way for Deir Ballut residents to get to Ramallah is to drive for 20 minutes on dirt roads through the fields and then enter the checkpoint from the east side of the junction. The Israeli Occupation Forces have installed a metal gate across the road on the east side of the junction, so even this is not a reliable way to get to Ramallah.

The concrete blocks and the gate mean that cars from Deir Ballut carrying fresh produce can rarely leave the village. The soldiers hold the only key to the gate. In other villages, like Karawa, gates have been installed only to be permanently shut just days later, opened only to let the Israeli Occupation Forces into the Palestinian villages.

There are no more commuters coming through and the market no longer exists. Before, three kilograms of cucumbers could be sold for 10 shekels and now they fetch only five shekels – and this price is dropping almost daily. Desperate Deir Ballut villagers tell of how they had to feed

cucumbers to their donkeys after having no way to sell them. Um Ammar is fast becoming one of those desperate villagers who struggles to put food on the table. Um Ammar’s husband died when the oldest of their four sons was only eleven years old. She had to raise the children alone, and support them off the proceeds of the winter wheat harvest and the 12 dunums of olive trees. Things became easier when the boys became men and got jobs in Israel. With the closure, all four sons lost their jobs. The 4000 – 5000 shekels every year that the winter crop brought in was ‘bonus money’ according to the family. For the first time this year Um Ammar had to plant summer crops on the only two dunnums of crop land that the family owns. The produce of these two dunnums are virtually all the family has to survive off, a yearly income of 4000 shekels being the monthly minimum wage for a construction worker – clearly an impossible task. Their present poverty situation and the spectre of the wall are currently haunting the villagers of Deir Ballut. To tar the dirt road through the fields will cost the village 10 000 US dollars which they don’t have. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee can only provide the tar, 30% of the total cost. There are also five houses trapped on the other side of the checkpoint, totally cut off from the village. They are within arms reach of the heavily armed checkpoint, which is bad enough but what is worse is that 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.’

‘We live in a situation where you cannot know which is the rumour and which is the truth,’ said Land Defence Committee activist Riziq Abu-Nasser.

What is not a rumour is that on March 25th, the Mayor of Deir Ballut received a visit from Robert Weller and Jeffrey Place, of the US State Department (American Consulate in Jerusalem). 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. But the new checkpoint, and the erection of the concrete watchtower at Deir Ballut junction, the same kind of watchtower as the ones erected along the length of the completed eight metre high wall in Qalqilya, makes the villagers think that their annexation may be a done deal.

News about the visit of the state department to Deir Ballut reached Marda village only two months later! On the night of 28th May, Marda villagers arrived at the home of local activist Abed Baset-Said in a panic, saying they had heard that Israeli soldiers had arrived in Deir Ballut to inform

the Palestinians that they would all soon be getting Israeli identity cards.

Marda villagers immediately wondered if they would face the same fate. As the Palestinian village closest to Ariel, the second largest settlement in the West Bank, Marda lies in the shadow of Ariel which has been built along the top of the hill. The highway built for Ariel and Tapuach settlers to get to Tel Aviv, Highway 5, runs directly below Marda. The map of the Apartheid Wall produced by the Land Research Centre shows that the wall will include Ariel into Israel. At the same time, there is massive bulldozing going on across the road from Marda. This seems to indicate that Marda will be incorporated into Israel, along with Ariel and the settler highway.

This is the same settler highway which stole 3000 dunums of land from Azzawiya village when it was built. Azzawiya residents work in Ramallah and told IWPS that since the Deir Ballut junction checkpoint was set up, they have difficulties in getting to work.

Marda villagers have not been informed what will happen to them. ‘Some say the bulldozing is a new road directly to Jordan, while others say it is going to be a high speed railway line. Maybe it’s for the wall.we don’t know what Israel is planning,’ said Abed.

‘Our future is not clear. Ariel has expanded and is now a city. It won’t be dismantled. Already they have stolen one of our three springs, and they dump their garbage and sewage water into our village. As Marda residents, we can’t see ourselves becoming part of Ariel or existing well inside Israel. This part is confusing us because normally Israel doesn’t want any Palestinians inside it yet now they want to incorporate the whole village,’ said Abed.

‘Our lands and homes are here. The bulldozing (50 metres wide and three kilometers long so far, the right measurements for the wall) has already resulted in the loss of 300 dunnums of our land. The owner of this land brought a court case but the ruling was that this was a military decision.’

Of course, we will refuse to be confiscated but we need international support to resist,’ Abed adds. ‘Our experience with the Israeli soldiers is that they will kill us in cold blood. Four years ago, we had a demonstration of hundreds of Palestinians against the theft of land in Kufr Dik. The

police and army shot us, beat us with guns and rocks, and arrested ten of us. We were only released in one piece because journalists from the mass media were at the police station demanding our release.’

In these villages where the future is unclear, there is a strange atmosphere of anger from the villagers that yet more of their land is being stolen mixed with disgust that the world expects them to quietly accept being killed off slowly, the desire to resist mixed with a sense of futility. ‘In 1948, many villages were divided and families torn apart so there is nothing new about Israel splitting villages up again with this Apartheid Wall,’ said Abed.

Nawaf Souf, the District C Liasion Officer for Salfit says that ‘For those Palestinians living in the houses of Deir Ballut which are trapped by the checkpoint, its like living in a jail. We are forced to leave sick people lying on the road at the checkpoint next to the concrete blocks because our

ambulances can’t pass through – they are not planes! We know that our blood will bleed. The situation is leading to more and more stress on the Palestinian citizen. We just can’t move around anywhere. And these concrete blocks and this bulldozing might be the wall. If so, it is really the end of us.’

Anna Laura, IWPS

9th June 2003

1 dunum = 1000 kvm

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