By EA Marian and EA Mary.
Loquat fruit harvesting season is in full swing in the area surrounding Jayyous village, which is located close to Tulkarm in the north of the occupied West Bank. When we arrived at the home of Shareef Khalid and his wife Siham, Shareef had already returned from his morning’s work harvesting loquat on their farm. They had separated the loquat which was slightly sunburned from the more pristine ones which were being prepared for market. While we talked in their living room, Siham worked peeling these sunburned loquat and preparing them for jam making. Siham explained that these sunburned ones were most suitable for making jam as they were naturally sweeter.
Shareef added “We are not allowed export our produce to Israel. We don’t use hormones to make our loquat bigger like the Israelis do. Some people don’t eat with their tasting, they eat with their eyes. We don’t use chemicals on our olive trees either, so our food is very healthy.”
Shareef and Siham, now in their seventies, lived through the formation of the State of Israel, the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 and more recently the construction of the separation barrier. They tell us that the cumulative effect of these events has had a devastating effect on every aspect of their lives.
Currently the impact of the separation barrier on the livelihood of Shareef and Siham, and other farmers in their village of Jayyous is uppermost on their minds. It has cut them and other local farmers off from their land and their water supply.
Israel’s official reasoning for building the barrier is for security, in order to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian terrorism. Whilst every state has just reason to protect it’s borders, the route of the barrier has been ruled to be illegal.
Upon completion, about 85% of the barrier will run up to twenty kilometers inside the Palestinian West Bank, east of the Green Line (the internationally agreed border when the State of Israel was established in 1948). This effectively annexes Palestinian land to Israel.
The construction of the barrier within the West Bank has also resulted in multiple human rights violations. It curtails Palestinian freedom of movement, impacting their right to access work, education and medical care. Some families have been separated by the barrier, denying them the right to family life.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 9 July 2004, determined that the route of the barrier within the West Bank is unlawful. They stated that Israel must cease construction of the barrier, dismantle the parts of the barrier that were built inside the West Bank, and compensate the Palestinians who suffered losses as a result of the barrier. Despite this, the Israeli authorities have continued with its construction, and have provided no compensation.
The ‘seam zone’
The area trapped between the Green Line and the separation barrier is known as the seam zone. The farms of many of Jayyous villagers, including part of the farm of Shareef and Siham has been cut off from their home and lies within the seam zone.
“Farmers cried at that meeting, knowing that it would destroy their livelihoods”
Shareef tells us that the first indication that the Israeli authorities intended to construct the barrier in their area came in the form of a paper handwritten letter hanging from a branch on an olive tree which was noticed by a shepherd passing by with his sheep. This was in 2002. The notice stated that all of the villagers must go to a meeting with the Israeli military commander, who informed the villagers that the barrier would be positioned about six kilometres inside the Green Line. “Farmers cried at that meeting, knowing that it would destroy their livelihoods”.
The villagers held about seventy demonstrations in the village that year. Shareef explained that the support and protective presence of international organisations including EAPPI gave the villagers encouragement to peacefully resist the construction of the barrier.
Construction of the barrier in their area finished in July 2003 though some concessions were later won from Israeli Supreme Court judgments. Between 2007 and 2009, around one-thousand acres of farmland and one water well was returned to the village.
That one well is now the only water supply for the entire village and is also the water supply used to irrigate farms and greenhouses close to the village, as well as providing water for their goats and chickens.
Despite these concessions, more than two-thousand acres have been cut off from the village and a further one-hundred-and-fifty acres of Jayyous farmland has been completely destroyed by the building of the barrier and the road alongside it, which is for Israeli use only. This has also resulted in four-thousand olive trees being uprooted, as well as a large number of orange, almond and carob trees. Many of the greenhouses owned by the villagers have also been isolated from them by the barrier.
“Some of those olive trees were more than one thousand years old. Four men could embrace those trees using both arms.”
Shareef remembers with sadness the efforts of the villagers to save their olive trees. “Some of those olive trees were more than a thousand years old. Four men could embrace those trees using both arms.” The villagers held a demonstration and tried to block the Israeli bulldozers from uprooting the trees. The Israeli soldiers responded by firing seventeen tear gas canisters at them.
“I doubt if any household in the village avoided harm. Some were injured and many others were arrested during these protests. Every family in the village lost something.”
The villagers of Jayyous are required to apply for permits from the Israeli authorities to access their land trapped in the seam zone and Shareef tells us that many of the villagers had their permits cancelled for their protests against the destruction and loss of the land and trees.
“They used this as a way to punish us or force us into ‘good behaviour’ so that we would not continue to protest. Some villagers lost hope and gave up resistance. Now, it is only young people who continue to resist, especially those in the university.”
“They control the water and they want to take everything. When God gave us the land, he gave it for everyone. Why do Israelis want it only for themselves?”
“Netanyahu needs our rich aquifer in the West Bank” Siham adds “They control the water and they want to take everything. When God gave us the land, he gave it for everyone. Why do Israelis want it only for themselves?”
Four wells have been isolated by the barrier. Farmers need a licence to pump water from those wells. The licence, which is given only with the agreement of Israeli authorities, is valid for one year at a time and allows the farmers use of a limited amount of water.
Reaching their farmland
On Shareef and Siham’s farm, they grow loquat, olives, avocado, grapes, guava and walnut. Though with much of the farm now located inside the seam zone, access is severely restricted.
As well as having to apply for a permit under a regime which is often bureaucratic and complex, Shareef and his workers have to queue up at an Israeli military guarded gate each morning at 6:50am to reach their land. The gate reopens at two fifteen-twenty minute intervals later in the day for return. If Shareef and the other farmers do not follow these exact timeslots, they risk being trapped on the other side for the night and will likely lose their permits for staying illegally in the seam zone.
When queuing, Shareef and his workers have their tractors and trailers, or their donkeys inspected, as the case may be. “Some of the internationals gave a nickname to my tractor. They call it the F16. It works very fast and efficiently. But my F16 plants seeds, it ploughs land, unlike the Israeli F16s.”
A lifetime of occupation
Siham was born in Haifa on 28 January 1948 and her family were among the two-hundred-thousand Palestinians who were forced to flee that same year, following the formation of the State of Israel. Her family moved initially to Qalqilya in the West Bank and later to Jordan, where she met Shareef who lived there for some time before their marriage.
Shareef and Siham got married in Jayyous on 25 May 1967 and left for Jordan for their honeymoon. Ten days later, Israel occupied the West Bank, and immediately imposed severe travel restrictions and nightly curfew for Palestinians. In addition, the border to the West Bank from Jordan was closed. Shareef and Siham eventually managed to return to Jayyous fifty-two days after their marriage.
The Jordan river forms the border between the West Bank and Jordan. Shareef carried his new wife across the Jordan river during night-time to avoid detection from Israeli army. “Now the Jordan river has been reduced to a knee-deep muddy stream, but back then, it was a real river, but Israel has stolen not only our culture and our land but also our water. So the water was up to my neck, but I managed to carry my wife across. That time I could carry her with my eyes.” Siham smiles at the memory.
“Thanks to God, he gave me compensation with all my other good children”.
Shareef and Siham, who was by then pregnant with their first child, walked for thirteen hours to reach Jayyous. When they arrived, It was already sunset and the curfew had started. During the night – Siham began to bleed, but due to the curfew, it was not possible for them to leave the house to get medical help. It was later the next day before Riham got to hospital in Tulkarm, but she lost their baby. Siham added “Thanks to God, he gave me compensation with all my other good children”. Shareef and Siham name their four sons and five daughters, and describe with pride their high level of education and their hard work.
“The curfew lasted many months. We had no electricity. Some of us formed small groups and we used to play cards in someone’s house. We would wait until after midnight when we could hear the Israeli army vehicles driving around the village. We would then quickly go home after they left.”
Shareef has been invited to speak at conferences and debates in Europe many times, including a visit to Cambridge University in 2007. When Shareef returned home from that trip, his permit to enter the seam zone and access his land was cancelled. Siham had to go with the workers through the barrier gates each day, but she found the physical work and managing the farm very difficult.
“I will never forget the tears of my wife at that time. We lost our income for seven- months-and-eighteen days until finally, my permit was restored.”
Although, in the intervening twelve years, Shareef has received many additional invitations to speak abroad, he is afraid that Israel would punish him again by cancelling his permit to enter the seam zone. “I cannot take that risk again for me and my wife”.
Shareef ends our conversation by quoting a poem by the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.