The sun is sinking fast behind the trees of an
olive grove on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Nilin. After a day
of confrontations between the Israeli army and the Palestinian villagers over
Israel's building of its separation wall on Nilin's land, the soldiers appear
finally to have gone.
Overlooked by the homes of the neighboring Jewish settlement of Hashmonaim,
a handful of Nilin's braver teenagers finally come out to work.
Jamal and Abed are sweating from their efforts to beat both nightfall and the
return of the army. They stand proudly, the fronts of their T-shirts turned
out to hold a bulging stash of used tear gas canisters and stun grenades. Each
is worth one shekel (25c) in scrap value, and between them they have at least
Nilin, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is home to nearly 5,000 Palestinians.
Known as the "village of entrepreneurs", it has more than its share
of millionaires. But that looks set to change.
Traditionally, Nilin has enjoyed the benefits not only of a thriving agricultural
industry on its plentiful outlying lands, but also of four factories that supply
goods ranging from cola to fuel to Palestinians across the Ramallah region.
But Jamal and Abed, who nervously laugh and refuse to answer when asked for
their full names, appear to be the face of Nilin's future business prospects.
Encircled by half a dozen Jewish settlements like Hashmonaim – all illegal
under international law – the village is slowly being sealed off in a fashion
that may soon make its isolation almost as complete as Gaza's.
Since May, Israel has begun building its separation barrier along one length
of the village, cutting it off from 250 hectares, or 40 per cent, of its farmland.
The land will be effectively annexed to the neighboring settlements.
Copying the strategy of nearby Palestinian villages, the people of Nilin have
begun a campaign of mainly nonviolent protests to delay the work in the hope
that world opinion, or the Israeli courts, will win them a reprieve.
In the meantime, a series of violent incidents by the army have claimed several
lives in the village. The army has also experimented with new techniques to
break up the demonstrations, including a foul-smelling liquid called Skunk which
is sprayed on protesters.
After such clashes Jamal and Abed cash in – the Palestinian equivalent of
poor children rifling through bins looking for used drinks cans. The pair dodge
through the trees each evening under cover of dusk collecting empty canisters
left behind by the army.
If Nilin's farmers face the imminent demise of their livelihoods with the confiscation
of their land, Nilin's businessmen may not be far behind.
B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, has seen plans drafted by the Israeli
army to seal off the crossroads at the entrance to the village, the only access
in and out of Nilin. Currently it is controlled by an army checkpoint, the location
where a bound Palestinian was shot in the foot in July by an Israeli soldier
– a moment captured by Salam Amira, a Palestinian schoolgirl, on her video
"Israel says it wants to prevent the inhabitants of Nilin using the road
so that it can ‘secured'," said Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem. "In practice
that means the road will be reserved for settlers to reach settlements even
deeper in the West Bank, on the far side of Nilin. The road will be for Jews
In place of the checkpoint, Israel is proposing that Nilin be turned into an
enclave connected via a tunnel to another road leading to Palestinian villages
in the area. The villagers fear they will then be entirely dependent on the
Israeli army's good will to come and go.
Other communities in the West Bank have suffered similar fates in the past.
Qalqilya, home to 50,000 Palestinians, was tightly encircled by the wall a few
Its many farmers, who rely on the army to let them pass through gates to their
land, complain bitterly of restrictions that have made it all but impossible
to make a living. They say that the soldiers often do not show up or they open
the gate for only a few minutes a day.
Reports suggest that Qalqilya has seen an exodus of about one-tenth of its
population since the wall's completion.
Like Qalqilya, Nilin is close to the Green Line, the West Bank's pre-1967 border
with Israel. It is in such areas that Israel's wall has made the biggest inroads
into Palestinian land.
Ms Michaeli pointed out the plans for Nilin and similar developments elsewhere
in the West Bank mean that any hope of a contiguous Palestinian state – the
goal of the US-sponsored road map – is being destroyed by Israel.
"The army can open and close the tunnel at will," she said. "And
we have seen how unaccountably the army uses that kind of power in other places
in the West Bank. If they want to punish the village or bring pressure to bear,
they simply seal the tunnel."
The tunnel is likely to be the final straw for Nilin's struggling economy.
According to a report from the World Bank published last month, increasingly
severe movement restrictions across the West Bank are choking business prospects.
Palestinian gross domestic product has fallen by 40 per cent during the intifada
and investment has dropped to "precariously low levels."
The report further notes that the land left to Palestinian communities has
been "fragmented into a multitude of enclaves, with a regime of movement
restrictions between them."
Salah Hawaja, who leads the nonviolence campaign against the barrier, said
the villagers wished to avoid such a fate for Nilin.
"The wall is the first stage of turning us into a ghetto," he said.
"The tunnel and the army's control of it will make the factories on which
so many people in Nilin depend for their living unviable. No one can run a business
not knowing from day to day whether he will be able to send out trucks or bring
"We have no choice but to resist because the other option is that we watch
our economy being slowly strangled to death. Israel wants us to leave this land
for the settlers, but we are not going anywhere. We will continue struggling
for our right to stay here."
This article originally appeared in The
National, published in Abu Dhabi.