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February 27, 2009

Trapped Between the Wall and the Green Line


by Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH - "They started smashing down doors at 2am last Wednesday before moving through homes and destroying property," says the mayor of Jayyus, Muhammed Taher Shamasni.

"Residents were assaulted, money was stolen, computers confiscated, over 60 young men arrested and the village placed under curfew. The Israeli soldiers came into my home and threw the contents of cupboards and closets on to the floor," Shamasni told IPS.

Jayyus, an agricultural community of 3,500 inhabitants, located in the Qalqiliya district of the northern Palestinian West Bank, was invaded by Israeli soldiers using police dogs and backed by military helicopters.

The village has been the scene of frequent clashes between local youths, their Israeli supporters and international sympathizers on the one hand, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the other. Dozens protesting Israel's continued expropriation of village land were injured last Friday by Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas.

Israel started building a separation barrier (a combination of walls, ditches and fences), most of it on Palestinian land, in 2002 to separate the Jewish state from the West Bank. This followed a wave of suicide bombings carried out by Palestinian militants, some of them originating from the West Bank.

While Israel has argued that the wall is primarily for security reasons, the Palestinians and human rights organizations accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext for both a massive land grab for the benefit of illegal Israeli settlements, and continual human rights abuses.

The route of the barrier deviates significantly from the internationally recognized Green Line, veering off repeatedly into the West Bank where it has swallowed enormous swathes of fertile Palestinian land.

The Green Line was established along the 1949 Armistice line following the first Arab-Israeli war. This was meant to establish the borders between the newly established Jewish state and a future Palestinian state.

The barrier's total length is 725 km, more than twice the length of the Armistice or Green Line. When completed, approximately 14 percent of the barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel, and 86 percent inside the West Bank.

Prior to the building of the wall approximately 30 percent of the West Bank was expropriated for Israeli settlements, military zones and nature reserves. Another 10 percent was confiscated and declared a closed military zone in 2002 as construction on the barrier began.

Approximately 10,000 Palestinians are trapped in the pockets of territory between the Green Line and the separation barrier. Most Palestinians are unable to cross the Green Line to enter Israel where thousands used to earn a living as well as sell their produce.

Furthermore, many Palestinians in the enclaves are either unable, or have great difficulty, accessing the rest of the West Bank for educational, business, medical or family reasons. They are also required to get permits from the Israelis in order to stay in their homes.

Additionally, the majority of farmers to the east of the barrier are unable to access their agricultural lands in the enclaves between the Green Line and the barrier as the Israelis have refused to issue the requisite permits, on security grounds, needed to reach the land.

The economy of Jayyus has been decimated. Most of the villagers are dependent on the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, bell peppers, avocados, guavas, olives and citrus produce grown there for their livelihoods.

The barrier near Jayyus deviates six kilometres from the Green Line. During its construction the Israelis uprooted 4,000 olive and citrus trees and expropriated 8,600 dunams of land (1 dunam = 0.1 hectares) belonging to Jayyus.

The village's farmers are separated from 50,000 fruit and olive trees, most of its greenhouses and six ground water wells used for irrigation, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"Seventy-five percent of our farm land has been confiscated. Only 18 percent of farmers in Jayyus have been given permits to cross the barrier and reach their land near the Green Line. The others were denied permits," Sharif Khalid, a farmers' representative, told IPS.

"Prior to the building of the barrier there were 136 greenhouses in the village. Today there are only 72. Millions of dollars have been lost and many farmers have been forced into bankruptcy," said Khalid.

Abdul Karim Khalid, a relative of Sharif Khalid, lost both of his greenhouses. With three children to support the family have been dependent on his wife's salary as a teacher. Women in Jayyus like elsewhere in the Palestinian territories have been forced to earn money in whatever capacity possible.

"The security situation, high rates of unemployment and poverty have forced many women to become the bread winners for their families due to many Palestinian men being killed, imprisoned for political offences or losing their jobs," said Reem Abboushi, executive director of The Palestinian Business Women's Association.

The Israeli settlement Zufin was constructed on land belonging to Jayyus in 1989. Another Israeli settlement Nofei Zufin is being expanded on land confiscated from the village.

According to Israeli rights organization B'Tselem the routing of the separation barrier so far from the Green Line was primarily to "leave areas planned for the settlement's expansion and for a nearby industrial zone on the Israeli side of the barrier."

In June 2006, in response to a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, the state admitted that plans for an industrial zone for Zufin had been taken into consideration in planning the route. The court subsequently ordered a revision of the south-east section of the current barrier route.

However, only 2,500 of the 8,600 dunams of land will be returned to Jayyus, and the re-routing of the wall will again destroy more agricultural land and orchards.

In 2003, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Israel to stop construction of the barrier. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ruled in 2004 that "the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of security or public order."

(Inter Press Service)

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Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.

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