By EA John, Northern West Bank
Hani unlocks a heavy metal gate, leads us across a military highway and up onto the terrace of his house. To our right are irrigated vegetables, a chicken coop and plants. Immediately behind – some 20 metres away – are the houses of the neighbouring Israeli settlement, Elqana, which is complete with a shopping mall and children’s playground, all behind fencing and rolls of razor wire. Settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are unlawful according to international law, as re-affirmed by United Nations Security Resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016.
We are in the West Bank village of Mas’ha. As Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), part of our focus is to monitor the ongoing impact of the separation barrier, which Israel says was built for security reasons.
As we turn to sit and face out from the terrace, Hani points out more locked metal gates, to the left and right across the military roadway. And in front of us, 30 metres away, is a nine-metre-high concrete wall.
As tea arrives, we are told the extraordinary story of why this home is situated between the settlement and the Israeli separation barrier, such that it now fully surrounded.
Hani’s family came to the area as refugees following the forced displacement of approximately 700,000 Palestinians at the foundation of Israel in 1948, a period the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, meaning ‘catastrophe’.
The house was built, then extended, and the family established their livelihood, farming citrus fruit, avocados, apples and olives on their land. A portion of the land was directly connected to the family home while the family reached the remainder by a trip of four kilometres.
When the settlement was built in the late 1970s and started to expand, interaction with the new inhabitants became part of the journey to reach the land.
In 2002, construction of the concrete wall directly in front of Hani’s house commenced, part of Israel’s separation barrier, which penetrates deeply into occupied Palestinian territory.
[Front terrace, military road and the concrete wall. Photo: EAPPI/John]
In 2004, the barrier too was found to be unlawful by the International Court of Justice, deviating substantially as it does from the UN Green Line of 1949, which demarcates the de facto border between Israel and the West Bank.
Hani’s land lay in the path of the wall and the attendant security zones, but the family resisted repeated pressure to leave – pressure that included frequent military raids into their home and violence from armed Israeli settlers.
People began to visit the house in support the family until one day the military locked the gate for weeks and banned the attendance of visitors.
The family stood firm, reporting every incident of violence to the authorities. At one meeting, Hani challenged the Israeli military commander, stating that it was his business to decide who could come through the gate in the barrier to his house. He was eventually given a key.
By this point, the barrier had turned Hani’s four kilometre trip to his land into a 20km journey via an agricultural checkpoint, which required a permit for access. This in itself is also a violation of the right to access land and livelihood under international humanitarian law.
“The wall changed my life completely” says Hani. “They built the wall in my heart, in front of my eyes”.
Many concrete sections of the 700km barrier exhibit graffiti – sometimes beautiful artistic expressions. Those who have supported the family made their own contributions after the barrier was finally completed.
“One day I looked out and I started to ask why this ugly wall [should] look nice. We cannot make ugly things from the occupation look nice” says Hani.
As a result, the murals and graffiti were whitewashed over, contrasting somewhat with the brutalist grey of the concrete structure.
One mural of a dove, however, remains: “…a sign that the wall will never stop freedom or hope”, Hani explains.
Write to your MP asking what government action is being taken in view of the latest UN resolution setting out the unlawfulness of all settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories.