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IWPS House Article 56 - LIFE HAS LOST ITS TASTE


IWPS House Article 56 - LIFE HAS LOST ITS TASTE

IWPS House Article 56 - LIFE HAS LOST ITS TASTE - A Visit to Jayous on 22nd April 04. Text and photos by Angie, IWPS.

The last time I was in Jayous was just after the expropriation orders had been left on trees informing the local villagers that their land was going to be taken for the Wall[1]. There were large nonviolent demonstrations going on to protest and to try to stop the threatened theft of the land and water resources that would be the other side of the wall. We were shown the route of the planned wall during a demonstration and witnessed the prayers for peace on some of the Fridays when villagers prayed that the wall would never be built. Unfortunately the wall was built and now, 18 months later, the disastrous effects are clear for all to see.

IWPS chose to spend a day in the company of one of the more well-known farmers and listen to his story to gain an insight into the problems. The Wall here is actually a wire fence with razor wire and a road which the military patrol and guard. Local villagers are threatened and told they will be shot if they come close to the Wall without a permit.

Shareef Omar showed me round his land. It is now fully shut off from his home and village of Jayous and to visit him on his land I had to go through the Jayous wall gate just close to the bottle-neck checkpoint into Qalqilia. He had used his permit to get access to his land but as an international the soldiers let me through the gate without a permit. There is now a similar checkpoint into the village of Jayous from the West Bank side, also controlled by the Israeli army, and which was blocked with a huge build up of traffic trying to get through when I was leaving Jayous to get home. Jayous, a small Palestinian village within a walled enclave, is thus easily and completely shut off even from the other villages in the enclave and can be completely controlled by the Israeli military.

Shareef's family land is very close to the 1948 green-line border and his father lost some land to the settlement of Tsurgal in 1948 that was built just across the green line. However, the family continued to work the land they had left. Then on 30th October 1988 the Israelis confiscated more of his land for a quarry, and he had to watch while they dug away his trees and soil and took out the rock. After some years they started burying explosives on more of his land to extend the quarry, and there were many explosions. So he went to court and fought for his land.

There are many ways that Israel has devised to 'legally' take land from the Palestinians. Shareef outlined three such ways :- 1. British mandate law specifies that land confiscations can take place for the construction of roads, and water or sewage pipes. 2. Turkish law states that if land is not used for 3 years then it can be confiscated - which is why it is such a problem when Israeli soldiers or settlers deny people access to their lands to work it. The Israelis choose to take their aerial photos twice a year - in May (after harvesting) and in November (before ploughing) as these times do not show clearly that the land is being worked. 3. If the land is rocky (contains more than 50% of rocks) then it is considered as unsuitable for agriculture and can be taken. However, much of Palestinian land is rocky and yet agriculture can take place successfully on it. Therefore his family worked hard making rock terraces and planting and growing fruit trees to prove the land should remain with them as agricultural land - they won in the Supreme Court - and proved the land was theirs on 28th May 1996. Finally, in June 2003 Shareef received a court order saying the explosions had to stop as it was his land. They did, and he does not have to watch any more of his land disappear into the quarry. However, this was not the end of his troubles as by now the wall had been built and his land was enclosed on the other side, away from the village where he lives. The Wall itself has taken 1,362 dunams from the land of 28 different families. It had been chaos and the maps and plans of where the wall would exactly go changed 8 times leaving each farmer uncertain up to the last minute. The Wall has now been built over 6 km away from the Green Line and encloses all the underground water of the area. Five Palestinian communities are now cut off from the West Bank and their families and neighbours as well as being cut off from Israel and their status is unclear. Shareef said, 'The West Bank is going to be five large prisons subdivided into even smaller prisons. It is better to eat only once a day than to be new refugees and so people have to get their land back'. He had been in the forefront of the fight to prevent the wall from being built and was devastated by its impact. He talks about the land being 'isolated' rather than taken ...he will not lose hope that they can regain their lands. The Supreme Court decision that ordered that the land was indeed his land also said that the land behind the wall is not confiscated (only the land where the wall is actually built is confiscated) and that he does therefore have the right to farm it. Of the 12,500 dunams that Jayous had access to before the wall, 9,300 dunams are now 'isolated'. The military authorities announced on the 2nd October 2003 that the farming land of Jayous including Shareef's farm was 'a closed military zone' but his sheep were in the area and so he stayed with the sheep ignoring the announcement. Then on the 12th October the soldiers made a large circle and caught 66 farmers who were working on their lands and had refused to leave. These 66 farmers were deported from their land and were told that if they came back they would have to pay 2000 NIS and spend a month in prison. However 19 (including him) managed to elude the soldiers by hiding up trees and behind rocks and by 11p.m. they were all in his shed and 'they lived under the stars' with food from their land. But as Shareef said, 'they heard the cry from Jayous' from their families who were worried about them and from where the soldiers had threatened to shoot anyone coming near the fence. They had no rice or bread and were running out of food. The Red Cross from Qalqilia threw rice over the fence for them so they managed to continue to hide for 26 days. He left only because he was invited to the Social Forum in India to talk about the Wall and its effects. On his return he was not able to enter his land for 5 months but luckily a friend of his was able to get a permit and able to enter the farm and keep some of his crops cultivated.

He was not given a permit when he kept applying because he had been so vocal against the wall and also against the permits. He was told he had only olives and therefore did not need a permit as he only needed to be on the land for 20 days in a year, when in fact he is an intensive cultivator who needs access every day to irrigate and tend his crops. However, after he testified at The Hague[2] and gave interviews to Israeli newspapers and shamed them before the world with his testimony of not being permitted to farm his land and after some internationals applied pressure on his behalf, he was informed that if he applied again he would get a permit. He now has a gate permit valid for 6 months only that gives him permission to go through the gate and onto his land when the gates are open.

The gates are meant to be open from 5a.m. to 7p.m. But often the gates are not open and people have to wait hours to get in or out[3]. Soldiers also arrive and ask them how long they are going to be and apply pressure for them to leave earlier. The permit does not allow them to sleep out on the land either, which they used to do regularly in the summer. Some of them do stay out though because it can take 2 or 3 hours in the morning and the same in the evening to walk in and out, especially for those whose land is nowhere near the gate. The day I was there an old man who had been tending his land had been bitten by a snake and was riding back on his donkey cart to try and get urgent medical treatment. When I reached the Wall Gate some hours later he had still not been permitted to go through the gate back to Jayous (even though he had a permit) and his leg was swollen from the bite. Shareef showed me the greenhouses that were still productive - they were full of ripening tomatoes that are now sold to a village near to Nablus as the Israelis do not allow them to go into the big cities anymore to sell their produce. They used to supply the 4 big cities of Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilia (which is the largest prison, now surrounded by the Wall and which imprisons 45,000 people) and Tulkarem. The big cities are only allowed to bring in Israeli produce now and most of the Palestinian crops rot because the Israelis do not allow their transportation to market. This year 75% of Shareef's guava crop rotted due to lack of freedom of movement. The little produce that he can get out is now sold at very low prices - he used to get 5 or 6 NIS a kilo for loquats but now gets only 2NIS. It is the loquat season at the moment and the fruit-laden trees are beautiful but Shareef is unable to harvest much of the crop to sell because of the Israeli-imposed restrictions and the lack of permits for his workers. Loads of lemons were seen rotting on the ground for similar reasons. He needs 4 or 5 workers a day at least and over the year he needs around 2,500 workers to pick his fruit - he grows avocados, mangoes, almonds, figs, guavas, olives, peaches, pecans, and grapes outside and in the greenhouses they mainly grow tomatoes and cucumbers and between the greenhouses grow cauliflowers and cabbages, beans, onions and other vegetables plus wheat and barley. His is an organic farm and he makes compost. He is the biggest farmer in the area in terms of yields, having 100 irrigated dunams. He can get 36 tonnes of tomatoes from a 1 dunam greenhouse. The water is run co-operatively by all the farmers who irrigate in the area. The quantity of water they are allowed is now, however, controlled by Israel, who can at any time restrict its use. 3,200 people live in the village of Jayous and most rely on the land for their income. Now they have been cut off or had taken away from them more than 90% of their land and only a very few of them have permits. But they all need permits, not just for themselves but also for the labourers needed to help in the work. Many people who cannot get a permit and cannot therefore farm their land anymore have had to abandon their greenhouses that used to be in full production. The sight of the flapping, disintegrating and empty plastic greenhouses was a sorry sight as I remembered the verdant productive scenes of a mere year and a half ago. Then I could walk freely from one farmer to the other taking a cup of tea here and a cup of coffee there and see the families enjoying their work in the fields and greenhouses. Now there were only a handful of farmers permitted to work their land and they were harassed and uncertain. The soldiers prevent them taking in gas to boil their tea or diesel to run the tractors and the water pump, so they are finding it difficult to keep their crops irrigated and much of the land is now abandoned. The families back in the village now have no means to earn their living. This is yet another form of the slow ethnic cleansing policies that Israel is so skilled at applying. Looking from inside the 'isolated land' across the Wall (which is a high fence at this point), Shareef points out Jayous at the top of the hill and explains how life has changed. Not content with taking away the land and controlling the water resources by enclosing Jayous within the Wall, the soldiers have now put a checkpoint at the one road entrance into the village and control closely the traffic coming in and out, often closing the one way into the village. Shareef also reported that soldiers come in every day to the village and throw tear gas so that many people in the village have respiratory problems. There are now also reports that women are aborting their babies. Animals are also suffering unprecedented abortions with reports that 30 sheep aborted because of a gas canister that was dropped in a farmer's barn. As Shareef said, 'life has lost its taste'. For footnotes and photos, please visit our website http://www.iwps.info/

[1] IWPS House Report No. 9 - Land and Water Theft in Falamia and Jayous - September 2002.

[2] This was at the hearing of the International Court of Justice at The Hague in early 2004 which held oral pleadings on the effect of the Wall during the advisory case on the legality of the Wall under international law.

[3] See IWPS House Report No 55 on the wall gate permit system.

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