The most visible and significant sign of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank is the eastern segregation wall. 8m high (Berlin wall was 4m tall), made of concrete blocks, often additionally secured with barb wire and electric fence.
Kilometers of barrier marked with observation towers and army patrols started to slice the landscape of the West Bankin 1999. The reason was security and protection of Israeli people against attacks from the Palestinian side. The original idea was to build it keeping the shape of the ‘green line’ established in 1967 as a border between Israel and Palestinian Authority.
In fact it is often shifted to the Palestinian side, separating and dividing the agricultural areas, occupying the land previously used by Palestinians, often without leaving any trespasses or gates. Lands which could not be any more accessed by Palestinians were granted to the Israeli settlers.
Before coming to Palestine we watched a movie about one of the Palestinian towns – Budrus – in which the wall was supposed to divide the town in half leaving one of them inaccessible for good. Thanks to a great resistance of Budrus people (especially women who, in critical moment were occupying the ground prepared for the wall erection) as well as international and Israeli activists the construction was delayed and finally moved outside the town. However, this example was rather exceptional since in many other places the wall distracted normal life, especially making agriculture very difficult.
Today we visited Qalqiliya – one of the towns which suffered severely according to the construction of the segregation wall. Qalqiliya is surrounded by the wall from three sides.
There is only one guarded entrance to the town from the east which can be blocked by Israeli army in a very short time. As the presence of the wall can be justified by the security reasons in the western part of the city where a border with Israelis, how to explain its existence in the northern and southern part of the town where it only separates a Palestinian land from a Palestinian land? Such location of the wall can be explained only as the way to disable Palestinian farmers to reach their farms which remained on the other side. The agricultural land is accessible for them merely with a special permission issued by Israel and through the gates which are being opened only 2 times per day (in the morning and in the afternoon) for 45 minutes. In between the gates remain closed and there is no one to open them in case of an accident, so imagine if something happens to the farmer trapped inside…
We heard from the international observers who monitor the traffic on the gates that soldiers sometimes do not open them either in the morning what results in not letting the farmers to reach their land, either in the afternoon resulting in not allowing people to return to their homes and making them wait in the open air, at night for many hours. Once this week the gate was opened for 10 instead of 45 minutes. Although not all of the people managed to pass, soldiers closed the gate making the Palestinians wait 2 hours at night, before they re-opened the gate.
In the JordanValley where we live there are at least three other segregation methods: one is a recently dug ditch which isolates agricultural land from the main road. There are few gates which are being open only 2 times a week for 15 minutes. Attempts of crossing the ditch are punished with fines or even prison.
Second example of the land isolation can be observed along the Jordan River. A wide stripe of the land adjacent to the river is closed for ‘security’ reasons separating a big area of a very fertile and hydrated and which is slowly populated by the Israeli settlers.
The last and maybe most sophisticated way of the land acquisition is creation of the natural reserves which cannot be populated or used as pasture for animals.
It was a very sad experience for us to visit the wall surroundings in Qalqiliya. Israeli soldiers made their best to make us remember this event – they threw a sound bomb in our direction as we were just about to leave the place we took the photos in. We were lucky not to be closer – otherwise maybe some of us would loose hearing ability…
To get us relaxed a bit after this stressing incident we were invited to the only zoo in the West Bank. The amusement park’s managers were happy to show us the animals – only a few because of the strict policy of Israel concerning importing the new animals (in the zoo we also saw a big rodent, that was let by the Israelis on Palestinians field to damage the crops) and even took us to the rollercoaster. This zoo is supported by the local authority and is like a surrealistic cheerful island on the surrounding sea of madness. People here try to keep at least appearances of a normal life…