By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Since 1967 Israeli-Arab war, the Palestinians in the occupied lands have to contend in their daily lives with Jewish-only settlements, settler-only highways, check points and roadblocks, earth mounds and trenches, land confiscation, house demolition, raids, detention, extrajudicial assassinations, and daily attacks on besieged Gaza. And in 2002, Israel started building the barrier wall in and around the West Bank delineating unilaterally a de facto Israeli border. The wall delivered settlements and land for their growth on the Israeli side of the wall. The Arab League managed to bring the subject to the attention of the UN Security Council, but the US vetoed a resolution condemning the construction of the wall as a violation of international law. The wall, many observers refer to as the ‘Apartheid wall’, was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in a 2004 advisory opinion because it was built in the West Bank Palestinians’ land.
The Israelis call the wall ‘a fence’ arguing that ‘good fences make good neighbors’, but unlike this structure, fences are not built in the neighbor’s land. Even the infamous Cold War Berlin Wall that was constructed by the East German Communist regime was built on East Germany’s territory. The Israeli barrier wall is made of precast concrete slabs, twenty-five feet high capped with surveillance towers and cameras. It has been erected in the West Bank lands mostly three to five miles to the east of the defunct Green Line (the border of Israel proper), creating many Palestinian enclaves and cutting off access to Palestinians’ agricultural land and water resources in closed areas on the other side of the barrier.
The wall created enclaves in Greater Jerusalem area, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Qalqilya and Tulkarm hinterlands where families are divided and communities are denied access to schools, health services and workplaces. ‘More than 49,000 Palestinians have been trapped between the wall and the Green Line’; their human rights are being violated by restricting their liberty of movement. Palestinians wishing to visit friends or families on the other side of the wall require permits to go through guarded gates, and they need special permits to stay overnight. 200,000 Palestinians are enclosed by the wall in East Jerusalem area that had been annexed by Israel immediately after the 1967 war.
The oppressive structure that snakes around large population and urban centers carves more than 450-mile path through the West Bank creating economic hardship and inhumane conditions on the Palestinian population. Building the wall in Palestinian lands is part of Israel’s master-plan of annexing major settlement blocks and security zones and dividing the Palestinian-populated parts of the West Bank into non-contiguous cantons. According to the Israel’s human rights organization, B’Tselem, ‘major parts of the wall route were set with the [settlements] expansion plans in mind.’ The wall was described by Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper on May 26, 2003 as the largest infrastructure project in Israel’s history.
In the area of Qalqilya town, the path of the wall was planned to expropriate thousands more acres of Palestinian land for nearby Alfei Zahran settlement and its satellites. Qalqilya, home for 45,000 Palestinians, is located in the north of the West Bank on rich lands and water reserves. After the 1948 war and the border adjustment of the Jordanian-Israeli truce agreement, Qalqilya lost most of its best farmland to Israel including thousands of acres of citrus groves, and the town became home for thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from the territories that became Israel.
The people of Qalqilya proved their resilience and survival spirit by starting from scratch, clearing their remaining land for cultivation and extracting water from underground Western Aquifer; and through hard work, they re-established their town as a major agriculture producer in the West Bank and services center for the thirty villages in its district. Its citrus fruits and vegetable products were sold in the West Bank markets and exported to Jordan and the Gulf States.
Qalqilya’s location only fifteen miles from the Mediterranean and its proximity to Israel’s narrow ‘waist’ has been a liability. In 1967 Israeli-Arab war, seventy percent of the Qalqilya town was destroyed by Israel’s tanks and air-force bombardment as an attempt to cleanse the city. The Israeli military rounded thousands of its residents and bussed them to the border with Jordan. The Israeli occupation authorities confiscated Qalqilya’s land as they did everywhere jn the occupied lands, built Jews-only settlements, imposed quotas on the town’s existing water wells and restricted drilling for agricultural use. At the same time, drilling of underground water for the Jewish settlements has been limitless. Nineteen settlements have been built in Qalqilya district cultivated farmland today. And in 2003, the town people were horrified when the Israeli military revealed that their town would be encircled by the barrier wall.
The wall cuts Qalqilya city off from neighboring villages and isolates it from the land and water resources on which the town’s people livelihood depends. Like many communities in the wall path, Qalqilya has become a town caged in by concrete slabs and electronic fences linked to depleted hinterlands via underpasses and tunnels while the settlers travel without restrictions on Jews-only roads. Farmers have to travel miles to reach their land across the wall causing decline in cultivation and productivity. The wall and the land confiscation deprived Qalqilya of its role as a regional commercial center, made life in the town and surrounding villages too difficult, and work opportunities hard to get. The once vibrant commercial area workshops and stores in Qalqilya are closed down due to the declining economic conditions. The role of agriculture as an earner diminished, thousands of families whose bread-winners cannot find work in agriculture or commerce anymore depend on social assistance for survival today. The brutality of the occupation and the deteriorating economic conditions must have taken their toll on civil life with families splitting and children traumatized.
‘More than 4000 of Qalqilya’s citizens had migrated [after the wall has been built]’, writes Ray Dolphin in his book ‘Unmaking Palestine’. The effect of the wall on Qalqilya Town is no different from its impact on many West Bank communities. Many youth from communities impacted by the wall had to leave to other West Bank cities or to neighboring Arab countries, thus the wall might have accomplished cleansing much of its path, something Israel tried and failed to achieve in the 1967 war.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.