For the Israelis it is a "separation fence," for the Palestinians - an "apartheid wall." For the Israelis it is an ideal, for the Palestinians an existential threat. For most Israelis it is a magic solution to the dread of terrorism. For the Palestinians it is a profound fear. Once again, they don't understand one another, two nations who don't grasp the meaning of each other's anxieties.
A separation fence, a protective wall, security, war against terror - but the Israelis have no idea of the cost to the Palestinians. After the settlements, the outposts, the bypass roads, the confiscations, the closure, the encirclement, the unemployment and the curfew, now this problem has fallen upon the heads of thousands of residents who live in the area of the fence, who once again find themselves victims through no fault of their own. Farmers whose fields have been expropriated, vintners whose vineyards have been trampled, shepherds whose pastures have been lost, farmers whose plots and wells have remained on the other side of the fence, unemployed men whose last source of livelihood has also been destroyed now, and villages that have been cut off from their sources of life.
A fence that is designed to protect the lives of Israelis is located arbitrarily on their shrinking lands - not, heaven forfend, on the lands of the Israelis. Why is this so, actually? Why not on Israeli lands? Nobody asked them, nobody coordinated anything with them, there's no point in even discussing the possibility of asking them for permission. After all, who are they anyway?
The sound of the hammers can be heard from a distance: Everywhere in the northern West Bank, the noise of iron cutting into rock can be heard, a frightening banging from the valleys and the hills. A fleet of trucks and bulldozers, uprooting mountains, moving hither and yon. The sight is amazing: Between Tul Karm, Jenin and Qalqilyah the ground is cracked and scarred, like a broad wound slashing through the entire length of the northern West Bank, as after a major operation. A patrol road and a security path and a concrete infrastructure - a huge scar.
A light-green brochure issued by the Palestinian environmental organizations, "The Apartheid Wall Campaign," reveals the statistics: 2 percent of the lands of the West Bank will be expropriated during the first stage, at least 30 villages will lose part of their lands, 15 villages will be caged in between the fence and the Green Line, 160,000-180,000 dunams [40,000 to 45,000 acres] will be expropriated, 30 wells will be cut off from their owners. And this only in the first stage, only in the northern part of the West Bank.
Another roadblock of dirt and garbage rose this week along the entry road to Izbet Tabib, a small village at the side of the main highway that ascends from Qalqilyah to Nablus and is open to Jews only, to tighten the siege on the village even more. Only an occupation apparatus could think of such a despicable use for garbage and junk - to recycle them and to turn them into huge, cruel and ugly roadblocks. On the dirt path that bypasses the roadblock, the head of the village council waves from his car: Yesterday the army came, dug, piled up dirt for roadblocks and incidentally damaged the village water system. Now the residents have no water.
We drive through a pine forest, bouncing about as we climb over the rocks, trying to reach the next village. At the outskirts of Isla, one can already see the fence being dug to the right of the road. In Azun huge trucks from Geneva are unloading white sacks of flour, a gift of the International Red Cross. The unemployed men of the town watch indifferently as the flour being unloaded. This is not Baghdad or Kabul. At the edge of town the yellow taxis crowd together. They have only one short route - until the next roadblock - and they are also unemployed.
In the village of Jiyus, in the renovated building of the village council, the map of the "apartheid wall" is hanging on the wall of the office of Abdel Ataf Khaled, of the Palestinian Hydrological Group. Large, broad patches of purple stain the map, east of the Green Line.
"We are about to face a catastrophe," says Khaled the hydrologist, the local activist in the battle against the wall. Last July, he says, a one-day curfew was imposed on the village. Then the army came, accompanied by bulldozers that planted markers on the village land. The residents didn't understand a thing, nobody had any idea what was going on. "Now we understand that that was the planning period," says Khaled.
During the first week of September, the farmers discovered papers scattered about in their fields: They were the expropriation orders. A map was enclosed, too. Khaled says that from the papers and the map that they received, it turns out that the width of the fence will be 55-58 meters, and that 292 dunams [about 75 acres], along 4,100 meters, will be expropriated from the village. "Afterward we discovered that 600 dunams will be requisitioned along 6,000 meters," said Khaled.
The next week, he and the other village residents were told by the army, you will meet with Rami from the Civil Administration, and will go out to tour the area. "The residents were shocked by the tour," says their representative, Khaled. "We're farmers, they said, and they asked: Will we be allowed to work our lands on the other side of the wall? Rami said `yes.' Easily? Easily, he promised. But they didn't believe him."
There are 3,200 residents in Jiyus, belonging to 550 families. Khaled says that about 300 families subsisted solely on cultivating the land, and about 200 families made their living by doing work in Israel that no longer exists. Even these families tried to go over to working the land, as a last resort. He says that 8,600 dunams [2,150 acres] out of a total of 12,500 dunams [approximately 3,120 acres] that constitute the area of the village, including its houses, are situated beyond the wall.
"These are not barren lands, these are cultivated lands," he emphasizes. There are 120 hothouses, each one producing 35 tons of tomatoes (or cucumbers) a year. Seven wells, which the residents of the village share, have also remained beyond the wall. Seven-hundred dunams [175 acres] of orchards and 500 dunams [125 acres] of fruits and vegetables and 3,000 dunams of olives and the rest are grazing lands.
The hydrologist explains: "There are 65,000 days of work for this community [Jiyus] to be found beyond the wall." And what will happen in the summer, he asked, to those whose water is in wells on the other side?
"If these fields aren't irrigated, there will be an environmental catastrophe. In any case, six of the seven paths to the village fields had already been blocked by the Israel Defense Forces - even before the advent of the fence. Even now it takes two hours in each direction to reach the plots, and the whole day is wasted on how to reach the field and to return. The cultivation of the land is a family project. What will happen if they impose a tax on us for crossing over? Will a farmer spend NIS 50 in order to reach his land with his family?
"I have a neighbor who worked for three years in order to save a little money to buy a plot of land," he says. "She bought eight olive trees, a tree for each member of the family. She didn't believe that the wall would come exactly up to her eight trees. She was shocked to see red signs on her trees, which is a sign that the wall will pass exactly where they are. Now they have already uprooted them. For her the eight trees were life. The man who uprooted the eight trees doesn't know the story behind them. There are people among us for whom the trees are like children.
"People here say that we are turning into refugees. What will happen when the wall is completed and the gate is locked? The situation in the village is already difficult. This year we took 45 children out of the kindergarten because their parents didn't manage to pay NIS 35 a month tuition. Sixty families were cut off from the electricity grid because they can't afford to pay their debt to the regional council. What will happen after the wall?"
What do they want now, when the fence is being built in front of their eyes?
Khaled: "Three things: that they leave us convenient and easy access to our fields, that they allow us to retain ownership of the land and that we'll be able to live in peace and as good neighbors with Kochav Yair and Tzur Yigal and the rest of our Jewish neighbors."
Outside the village teenagers gathered. They already want something else: "For you to return to Europe."
The Civil Administration in reply to our questions: "For lands that are physically taken over due to construction of the fence, it will be possible to receive money for use and compensation, in accordance with proof of ownership by the owner of the land. For those lands that remain on the west side of the fence, the owners of the land or their proxies will have access for agricultural purposes, with passage based on gates that are to be placed along the route of the fence. The security apparatus will find a solution for the passage of the residents to their plots and their lands.
"Only owners of lands that are physically damaged will be compensated. For every takeover of property, an appropriate order has been issued, which was translated into Arabic as well. In addition, these notices were published on the property that was expropriated, in the relevant headquarters of the Offices of Coordination and Liaison of the Israeli Defense Ministry, and a notice was sent to the Palestinian liaison office. Tours for the land owners were conducted a few days after the distribution of the order and, at the same time, an explanation was given about property to be seized in the future."
Al-Quds, an independent Palestinian newspaper, has already written that farmers whose fields have remained beyond the fence will have to pay a passage tax of NIS 10 per person each time they want to go out to their fields. The Civil Administration denies this, but the farmers we met this week would actually be happy if this were true: After all, already now, when the fence hasn't been completed yet, they are not allowed to go to their fields.
Farmer Abed Khaled from Jiyus, a father of eight who worked in Israel for 15 years, became unemployed like everyone else and now is convinced that his land has been lost too, and that he has been deprived of his last source of livelihood. "There's no work and there's no land," he told us this week. "Life is over."
More articles by Gideon Levy