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Daily Life

“You Belong in the Past”

Gabriel Ash was born in Romania, grew up in Israel and lives in the United States (gash@Yellow Times.org)

By American Columnist Gabriel Ash
Yellow Times
August 12, 2003

The Palestinian village of Mas’ha, south of Qalqilia, is about 3 miles away from the June 1967 border — also known as the Green Line — that separates Israel from “the occupied territories.”

Demonstrators protesting Israel's construction of a separation barrier through Palestinian land are tear gassed.

Mas’ha is poor and run down. The color of unfinished concrete dominates. Its desolate main road consists mainly of closed shops, evidence of better days. The village, situated on what used to be a major traffic artery, was once a regional marketplace. But its fortunes soured when the Israeli army blocked the main road. The roadblock is a 300 ft stretch of unpaved road bound on both ends by five feet high mounds of earth and boulders. The boulders prevent cars from driving across Mas’ha past the entrance to the abuttig illegal Israeli settlement of Elkana.

Since the roadblock was erected three years ago, about half of Mas’ha’s 4000 inhabitants left. Most of those remaining are unemployed. A few enterprises continue to struggle. We watched their workers unloading and hand-carrying heavy merchandise, sofa beds, construction material, etc. up and down the boulders, like endlessly patient ants silently suffering the caprices of a child, whose cruel entertainment is placing obstacles in their path.

Elkana is in a different universe. Its immaculate red-roofed houses follow a serpentine road through a fenced-in bed of lush, dark green vegetation that contrasts with the typical Mediterranean faded green of the hills surrounding it. Water is plentiful and government subsidized, but this same water is denied to Palestinians. This open secret is the eco-political miracle of Elkana.

The air-conditioned bus that services Elkana and three other nearby settlements will take us to Tel-Aviv for a ridiculously cheap price — thanks to the largess of the Israeli government — on perfectly paved roads. In contrast, our morning trip to Mas’ha took us on hilly unpaved roads that grind down the old “service” cars that ride it daily.

On the seam line between Elkana and Mas’ha, the effects of Israel’s policies of Apartheid and colonization are visible and palpable. On the one hand, boundless investment of money required making Elkana safe, inexpensive and attractive to Israelis, including subsidies for housing, water and transport, top rate infrastructure and a constant military presence. On the other hand, Palestinians in Mas’ha are subject to neglect, harassment and economic warfare.

It’s been over a year now since Israel began erecting a physical barrier between its Jewish and Palestinian population centers. Palestinians call it the “Apartheid wall.” Israelis call it in Hebrew the “separation fence” — Apartheid means separation.

Along most of its length the barrier consists of a fence with electronic sensors, razor wire filled trenches, a trace detection road and a patrol road. The barrier is a massive, 60-100ft wide sand color wound that cuts through the olive groves in the surrounding hills. On olive trees a thousand feet away the olives are covered with a thick layer of dust.

The barrier is an assault on the landscape. There is an obscenity to it that is hard to convey in words. It is a monumental defacement of the land, an iconoclastic expression of self-absorption and loathing. Looking at it hurts the eyes.

Most Israelis believe the barrier is situated on the Green Line. But Sharon’s government adapted the barrier to the age-old goals of Zionism — taking ever more land while getting rid of the local inhabitants. The path of the barrier sends deep fingers inside Palestinian areas, trying to include not only as many settlements as possible, but also as much land that still belongs to Palestinians as possible, while leaving often as little as the built areas of the villages on the other side. The barrier cuts through the cultivated fields and separates villages from their livelihood and water sources. It is the same old story of dispossession repeating itself.

Already much land has been confiscated from Palestinians and hundreds of trees have been uprooted to make way for the barrier. The lands west of the barrier have not been confiscated, but access to them has been made so difficult that cultivation is unprofitable, and in some areas impossible. Farmers are at times prevented from getting to the fields, at times beaten and harassed, at times allowed on foot, without access to their mechanized tools. There is no end to the creativity of the Israeli security apparatus.

If farmers fail to cultivate their land, Israel is likely to use Ottoman laws to declare the land “public.” This confiscation method has been used often in the past. Knowing that, farmers continue to farm their unprofitable fields on the other side of the barrier. Some have moved to sleeping in the fields.

But in Mas’ha, the building of the barrier is reaching unimaginable heights of absurdity and racism. The barrier is supposed to pass between Mas’ha and the illegal Elkana settlement. But the fence of Elkana is only a few feet away from the last house in Mas’ha, which belongs to Hani Mohammad Abdullah Amer and his family. In order not to inconvenience the settlement, the planners had the barrier pass to the east of Hani’s house, separating it from the village, in fact imprisoning Hani and his family between the settlement’s fence and the barrier. The army told Hani that he would be allowed to pass back and forth to the village two or three times a day, but that he will be forbidden from having visitors in his house.

This is the shape of the “peace” Israel is imagining between itself and a Palestinian “state”; a peace in which Israeli soldiers decide whether a Palestinian homeowner can have visitors in his house.

The worldview that makes such outrage possible was summed up succinctly by the supervisor of the private security firm that accompanies the construction of the barrier. In one of their many verbal fights, Hani doesn’t shy from giving his tormentors a piece of his mind — the supervisor told Hani, “you belong to the past.”

But Hani doesn’t think he belongs to the past, and has no intention of fading silently in order to facilitate Jewish colonization of the land. He has refused Israeli attempts to buy him off and is committed to struggle for his right to lead a normal life in his own home.

Demonstrators protesting Israel's construction of a separation barrier through Palestinian land are tear gassed.

The village of Mas’ha launched a campaign to stop the barrier. Organizers of the Land Defense Committee and PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) in the village linked with Israeli peace activists and international groups that support Palestinian rights and set up a “peace tent” that stood in the way of the bulldozers.

Villagers from Mas’ha and other villages have also successfully lobbied Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian “Prime Minister,” to make the barrier a national priority in the negotiations with Washington. This effort finally bore modest fruit when Abbas succeeded in making the “Apartheid wall” (around Qalqilia the barrier becomes a prison wall with watchtowers) a sticking point between Bush and Sharon. There were even hints from the State Department that a reduction of aid might be considered unless Israel freezes construction of the barrier.

On August 5, Israel’s security forces attacked the peace tent in order to allow the bulldozers to crush Hani’s hen house. The hen house stood in the projected path of the barrier. Forty-seven peace activists were arrested, including four Israelis and three Palestinians. The border police came at 7:00 AM, first attacking people with cameras. One international peace activist who held a camera had two of his ribs broken. But he managed to pass his camera back to bystanders before being hauled in.

Most arrestees were released a day later, after the internationals signed a commitment to stay out of the Occupied Territories. One of the peaceful protesters, a Palestinian from Mas’ha, remained in jail for an additional day. Soon after the arrest, the Shabak (the fearsome and cruel Israeli security agency) let his family in Mas’ha know that “he isn’t coming back.” This amounted to psychological torture Shabak is particularly worried about non-violent Palestinian peace activists.

Israel’s security apparatus never misses an opportunity, no matter how petty, to discourage cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. The day after, we stood near Hani’s house, by a recently uprooted fig tree, its leafs barely beginning to shrivel, and watched as 25 Israeli peace activists arrived in Mas’ha, stepped into the roadblock and forced the bulldozers to halt the construction of the barrier.

The action was spirited and effective. The protesters occupied the bulldozers with signs that described the barrier as a ghetto wall and called for an end to the land theft. After a long and polite standoff, the police gently arrested them; they were all Israeli Jews. During the standoff, the family of the still jailed Palestinian was told that he could not be released because the officer in charge of his case was busy arresting protesters in Mas’ha.

The people of Mas’ha understand the message of the colonial security forces: “surrender, call off the protests, tell the solidarity activists to go home, and we’ll let you live, sort of.” But so far the people of Mas’ha shrugged it off with a bitter smile. They don’t want to live at the mercy of Shabak. The people of as’ha want to continue the fight for peace with equality and dignity.

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Videos & Multimedia

Amnesty International Video:
Dina Goor, Yesh Din

3/20/2004 demonstration in Karbatha, Palestine – activists shot

Watch International Court of Justice’s Hearings on Barrier

UK Guardian Interactive Graphic on Wall

View footage from 2/6/2004 demonstration at Georgetown University, USA

View footage from 12/26/2003 demonstration in Mas’ha, West Bank—Israeli activist, Gil Ne’amati, is shot

View footage from 11/9/2003 demonstration in Ramallah, West Bank

View footage from 11/9/2003 demonstration in Zbuba, West Bank

MORE footage from 11/9/2003 demonstration in Zbuba, West Bank

News Without Borders 8/24/2003 Presentation on Israel’s Wall

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Additional Resources

Booklet – The Wall Must Fall

Documentary – The Israeli Wall in Palestinian Lands

Poster

International Court of Justice Ruling

Electronic Intifada on the Wall

Palestine Monitor on the Wall

Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance

Charter of the United Nations

Organizations

Stop the Wall

Americans for Middle East Understanding

End the Occupation Coalition

Al Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition

International Solidarity Movement

Secular Peace Groups

American Muslims for Palestine

A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT)

More Religious Peace Groups

International Humanitarian Groups Condemn the Barrier

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

World Council of Churches

B’Tselem

International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative

Oxford Public Interest Lawyers

The National Lawyers Guild

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