Barring Life: Letter from Jayyous, West Bank
It is a hot afternoon, even for June in the West Bank, but the wind that comes from the quarry where I stand with Sharif Omar is chilling. The quarry was created by the Israeli Defense Forces, who blasted dynamite into a hillside once covered in olive trees — trees that belonged, as this land belongs, to the people of Jayyous town.
Jayyous, with the richest aquifer in Palestine, and the agricultural capability to produce all the fruits and vegetables known to the region, was once considered the breadbasket of the West Bank. Now, all six water wells in Jayyous and 75% of Jayyous land are trapped behind Israel's "security" fence, the construction of which resulted in the uprooting of 4,000 olive and almond trees belonging to Jayyous farmers.
Since the completion of the barrier (which is approximately 16km from the Green Line) the number of greenhouses in Jayyous has fallen from 136 to 72. There are families in Jayyous, I learn — those very families whose land could feed a country — who now skip meals for weeks at a time so that they can pay their children's school fees.
Sharif Omar is a farmer here. He is a big man, and, at sixty-two, his face is dark and lined and his hands hard from years of working in the sun, but his obvious physical power is belied by a gentle smile and goofy, booming laugh. As we walk through the groves of lemon, mango, avocado and olive trees that belong to his family, he calls me 'yabba,' or 'daughter,' and tells me about his town.
Jayyous, a part of Qalqilya Governate, is a town of 3,200 people — 550 families, 350 of whom depend entirely on agriculture, and 200 of whom depend partially on agriculture. At present, according to IDF records obtained by the Jayyous Land Defense Committee, 69 Jayyous farmers have never been issued permits to access their land, and 20 farmers have been unable to renew their permits, though anecdotal evidence indicates that these numbers are not comprehensive.
Those farmers who have been issued permits to access their land may do so by way of one of two gates in Jayyous, three times a day for one hour at each time.
The South Gate, or Gate 26, may only be used by an extremely minimal number of farmers. The main gate used in Jayyous is the North Gate, or Gate 25. It is through this gate that the only agricultural road remaining after the construction of the wall (8 similar roads were destroyed during its construction) passes into the farmers' cultivated land near Zufin settlement.
728 olive trees gone
In December of 2004 Israeli bulldozers illegally uprooted 728 olive trees from this cultivated area. This land, according to a May 1996 decision made by the Israeli military court Beit Eal, belongs to Jayyous farmers, yet protests against the uprooting of the trees, which were conducted by Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals throughout the month of December, were ignored.
Now, Israel has begun the next stage of the destruction of Jayyous.
On Sunday, June 4, 2005, the Israeli Defense Forces began the construction of a new road in the town. This road will serve to further isolate Jayyous farmers from their land and to facilitate the illegal 'expansion' of Zufin settlement.
Plans for this expansion, which will mean the addition of 1,500 new houses to the existing 185 (the increase in houses is eightfold and will expand the settlement 3km to the north and 3km to the east), show that the projected settlement expansion area, known as Nofei Zufim, sits directly on top of the only current agricultural road by which Jayyous farmers can travel to their lands from Gate 25.
Order # 74/05/T
For some time now Jayyous farmers have been aware of Israeli efforts to shut Gate 25. On May 12, 2005, the IDF closed the gate for five days. Ongoing peaceful demonstrations by the farmers resulted in the gate being reopened on May 17. One farmer present at the demonstrations was told by a soldier that "this gate will be closed forever."
On April 7, 2005, the people of Jayyous received military order # 74/05/T, signed by Yaer Navaih Alof, General Manager of the Israeli Defense Forces. The order states that "because of the need for steps to prevent terrorism operations" approximately 9 denoms of land belonging to the villages of Falamya and Jayyous will be confiscated and declared military zones. The order is effective from the date of its signature until December 31, 2007.
The blocks of land confiscated by military order # 74/05/T lie along the East side of the wall (Jayyous town is to the east of the wall, while ¾ of Jayyous land is to the west of the wall). It quickly became clear that this military order was the first step in the construction of a new road, which will follow the east side of the wall from Jayyous 1250 meters north to the Falamya gate (Gate 24), located 600 meters to the south of the town of Falamya.
Theft and destruction of trees
The farmers were given seven days to make an objection to the military order. The objection, which was signed by the major of Jayyous, was issued to the District Coordination Office on April 12, 2005, and consisted of five major complaints. First, the road will be constructed 20 meters from the wall, is itself 10 meters wide, and will be 1250 meters long. The construction of the road itself, therefore, will cause the uprooting of countless olive trees as well as the theft and destruction of approximately 40 denoms of land.
Second, to require that people travel an additional 2500 meters (the distance to the Falamya gate combined with the distance back down to the land from Falamya) to reach their lands will cause obvious and unreasonable difficulties for the farmers. Third, people who live in the Southern part of Jayyous and who own land on the far side of the wall will lose at least half of each day in traveling this extra distance to their land. Fourth, there are currently no roads from Gate 24 to lands on the far side of the wall.
In order to make room for the construction of such a road, yet more land will need to be confiscated from the cultivated and irrigable areas. Finally, until such a road exists, farmers who use carriages, tractors, or other vehicles will have no way of accessing their land. Meanwhile, those farmers who travel on foot or by donkey will be unable to travel the extra distance to Falamya, and will also have no way of accessing their land.
Caterpillar bulldozers in their work
The objection issued by the people of Jayyous was ignored; the construction of the road began on June 4 and continues daily. From the hill near the quarry, we can see the Caterpillar bulldozers in their work. It is nearly 6 pm — the time that the gate into Jayyous closes for the night — so Sharif and I get onto his tractor to leave. When we reach the gate I am told that I cannot enter the town.
This gate is only open for farmers, the soldiers say, and I wonder how much longer it will be open for anyone at all. I ask them why I can't go in and one tells me, this is not a country. This is a military zone. They tell me that I need to go to the Qalqilya gate, about 4 km away, and as I leave to walk west I glance back and see Sharif's arm raised in a gesture of strength rendered powerless — a gesture that has become, in just a few short weeks, familiar to me.
Soon, when the road is completed, the gate where he stands now will be closed "legitimately," and, as the soldier told the farmer at the demonstration, "forever."
Once Jayyous farmers can no longer access their land by way of the main agricultural road, the construction of the illegal Nofei Zufim settlement will begin.
Now, as I walk, I can see the rows of electric fence and razor wire in the separation fence that cuts through the landscape nearby and glints in the sun; it is a hot evening, even for June in the West Bank, and on the road from Jayyous, there is no shade.
Margaree Little, 19, is a sophomore at Colby College in Maine, served on the coordinating committee of the Green Party of Rhode Island, and worked as a youth intern at the American Friends Service Committee of Southeastern New England.
Since coming to college she has done organizing work with the Maine College Action Network, GE Free Maine, and SOA Watch.