Gideon Levy, Haaretz, August 8, 2003
The occupation’s latest wrinkle is the separation fence and its permanent gates. A visit at `Open Sesame’ time.
About a dozen farmers stood around late last Sunday afternoon, in the fields of Zita, a farming village north of Tul Karm, waiting for the men in the Border Police Jeep to open the gate in the fence built without permission on their fields. They knew the Jeep would arrive between 5:30 P.M. and 6 and they waited patiently on both sides of the fence, a few squatting on the ground. Those on the way home stood to the west of the fence, and those going out to their greenhouses stood on the eastern side. Anyone going out to the greenhouses now won’t be coming home tonight; this is the last time today the gate will be opened.
At six precisely, the Jeep arrived. Five armed policemen in head-to-toe protective gear exited the armored vehicle,
made a report by phone and formed a half-circle by the gate. Feet planted wide, weapons cocked; one lit a Marlboro, another took out a key. Wordlessly, he opened the big, silver-plated lock hanging on the gate in the fence, a fence made of wire and electronic sensors. Barbed wire, electric cables, iron posts and dirt trenches to besiege farmers whose lives, liberty and honor are now crushed a little more thoroughly.
“That’s how hatred is sown,” comments Taysir Jeda, the village lawyer and English teacher, and who has also come to tend his fields. Indifferent to the action around them, frogs croak rhythmically from the drainage ditch, nearly 100 meters across, that borders the intimidating fence. Shortly the gate will close. Whoever made it through, made it; whoever did not, will spend the night in a greenhouse. The Jeep with the key won’t be back here again until tomorrow morning, come what may.
“Danger. Military Area. Anyone crossing or touching the fence does so at his own risk,” is written on the sign over the fence. The latest innovation of the occupation, these yellow iron gates – the locked transit points of the separation fence which, in this area, separates farmers from their fields. This is a “humanitarian” arrangement that will last, one may venture to guess, a very brief time, pursuant to which Border Police come periodically to open the gate for the caged-in farmers, a good-will gesture from the most humane military force in the world.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the National Committee for the Struggle Against the Separation Fence in the Northern West Bank, Suheil Salman, reports a migration of people eastward, it’s not clear how sizable, because of the hardships the fence has caused: the people of Qalqilyah, closed off and fenced in like in a ghetto; the town of Kafin, north of Tul Karm, whose residents lost 20,000 dunams [5,000 acres] of their land in 1948 and another 5,000 or so dunams for the settlement of Hermesh. And now along comes the fence and takes most of what is left.
In Jarushiyeh, near Tul Karm, the fence runs alongside Jamal Othman’s yard. Ten meters between it and the house, with the sensors and the red warning signs. You look out the window of the carefully designed living room and see
the fence. You go up to the roof, and see the fence. You go outside, and see the fence. Not just any old fence: tangled coils of barbed wire, a deep trench, an electronic fence, a smooth strip of dirt to detect unauthorized
feet, a paved road for security vehicles – and then the whole thing again, on the other side, 100 meters of it. The olive groves are gone, the water is gone, their livelihood is gone, their freedom is gone. A 450-dunam grove of
olive and almond trees. The planners made a surveying error so Othman lost another 30 dunams of olive trees that were already uprooted before the regrettable error came to light. Now the uprooted trunks peek out from under a layer of dust and the fence route passes 20 meters to the west.
No one explained anything, there was no advance notice. They came, they dug, they smoothed, they straightened, they paved, they built and they left, as if they owned the place. Now Othman’s house has spotlights shining on it at
night and he thinks the object is to get him out of there. Four kids inside. He knows he can’t stay there for long, in a house by the fence. Meanwhile, in his yard he has a few black plastic cisterns, a gift from the government of Greece to the farmers whose access to water was destroyed. The bald mountainside visible from the window was the
family’s olive grove. Heavy engineering equipment is parked now on top of the bald mountain, a hint that the work isn’t finished. Last year, the Othman family produced 800 large tins of olive oil and about six tons of almonds. Now they buy almonds and olive oil at the grocery store.
“In prison, at least they feed you. Here, it’s a prison without food. Every day, I see my land, like an unburied corpse. A dead man, after they bury him, starts to be forgotten, and here you see the deceased every day – and you don’t forget.” The elderly father, Sa’ad, who is 83, gazes at the olive grove he planted decades ago, and says nothing. “You want security? Then give us security. But even after all this, I stretch out a hand in peace,” says his son, the farmer Jamal.
Drive west through the fields of Zita until you arrive at the electronic fence, the dirt trenches, the barbed wire and the yellow gate. Some of the greenhouses are on this side, some on the other side. One of the village’s houses
is on the other side, too. Abd al Basat al-Az, a boy of about 17, is coming back on his donkey from the greenhouses opposite. He still isn’t used to the new arrangements, it’s only been two months, so he arrived early. The way home
will be barred for a good while yet. Go home at four? Who ever heard of such a thing? Israel has decreed that he will go home at six, if then. Disappointed, he goes back the way he came.
The hardships of the gate as told by the farmers: If someone touches the fence, the army won’t open the gate that day, as punishment. Sometimes the police tell them to lift up their shirts. Sometimes they only let some of the
farmers go through. Or curse them. Or beat them. Vehicles are prohibited from crossing; only crooked deals get the crops through.
The hour is late, the sun slowly sinking. More farmers are gathering near the gate, over a dozen now, after an exhausting day of work in the greenhouses, 40 degrees Centigrade in the shade. Sa’ad Taiya and Yusuf Taiya, who own the greenhouses on the other side, want to go home. So does Mohammed Abu Tamam, who’s been picking peppers. When will he take them across? “First let me get myself across.”
The oldest farmer present, Muayyad Mar’i, relates that a few days ago, he wanted to take his tractor across to his fields, but the policeman asked for permits and insurance papers, accessories that Zita farmers can only dream about. The fine: NIS 750. Mar’i says he had to pay on the spot, or forfeit the tractor. He only had NIS 450; the policeman changed the paperwork accordingly. So it goes in Zita.
We hear a distant noise. Maybe the Border Police? Everyone tenses up – but, no, it’s only a helicopter. From the direction of the greenhouses, the Ahmed Abu Sharqiyya family is approaching. Parents with two children, carrying a picnic cooler. Hoping for the best. The farmers say they’ve mostly stopped taking their wives and children to work, because of the hardships at the gate. Sometimes the Border Police don’t speak nicely to them and they want to spare their wives and children the experience. And anyway, who wants to go out to work in the fields when the Border Police are around.
Abed, the teenager, suddenly shows up on his donkey, approaching from the east. He found another gate that was open, and came through that way. A shepherd in a red shirt, he left his sheep on the other side of the fence. The
Abu Sharqiyya family, meanwhile, has sat down on the cooler. Uday, a toddler of two, is suddenly close to the fence and his father jumps up to get him. Just don’t touch the fence.
Six o’clock exactly. The Border Police Jeep comes bursting out of the north in a cloud of dust. The farmers nervously rise and gather up their belongings. The armored Jeep stops a secure distance from the gate, the policemen
put on their protective helmets – there’s a photographer around – and immediately take up positions around the gate. The two groups eye one another with hostility: the guards their prisoners, the farmers their wardens.