Monday, May 22, 2006


An Oozing Tar

Whilst images of the Israeli army invading Jericho prison were flashed around the world, another invasion was happening in the villages of Deir Ballut and Rafat (in the Salfit District of the West Bank). It did not herald the arrival of the international press or cause storms in governments worldwide. The land of Deir Ballut and Rafat, like so many other Palestinian villages, is being slowly but surely devoured by Israel. There is a quiet, creeping invasion of this land. An oozing tar seeping over Palestine.

Deir Ballut and Rafat, with a population of 4000 and 1500 respectively, are situated about 25 kilometers from Ariel, with Tel Aviv clearly visible in the distance.

Ariel, the biggest Israeli settlement, inhabited by 18,000 illegal settlers, with a further 20,000 living in surrounding settlements, was recently visited by Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting prime minister. He gave assurances that not only would the Wall be complete by the end of 2006, but also that “… Ariel block will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel under any situation” (Haaretz 14 March 2006). This planned land corridor between Tel Aviv and Ariel threatens 35,000 to 40,000 dunums
[1] of Deir Ballut's land. The planned route would bring the Wall extremely close to the village on the south side, and less than a kilometer away on the east side.

This is in addition to the 10,000 dunums of land Deir Ballut has already lost to the west of the village. Construction began two years ago for the electric fence, which is situated six kilometers inside the Green Line. This western section of the Wall was completed a few months ago. A successful court case resulted in the re-routing of the Wall, but nevertheless a huge amount of land has still been lost.

Deir Ballut and Rafat have 3000 dunums of land around the ancient, uninhibited village of Kasfa, which is now inaccessible because of the Wall.

The Rafat gate was opened for farmers for the first time since this section of the Wall was completed in January this year. IWPS was requested to accompany some people of Rafat to their land in Kasfa, west of the Wall. We had differing accounts regarding the number of days they may apply for permits to visit this land, ranging from a few days, to this whole month of ploughing. This illustrates the confusion and uncertainty that arises from such an arbitrary system.

Having been questioned by security guards and awaiting re-confirmation of permission from the Israeli military to enter, we walked with some Rafat men to their land.

In Kasfa, apart from the 3000 dunums of land, Deir Ballut and Rafat have lost ten working wells along with two or three in need of repair (but that they were prevented from doing). The area of Kasfa, west of the Wall, contains a number of archeological sites, currently being excavated by Israel. The owners of the land are concerned Kasfa will become an Israeli tourist destination. We saw the excavated remains of the ancient houses, including a mosaic, a press, water storage facilities, wells and bones from graves.

This land west of the Wall has long been threatened. Since 1982 the Israeli army has been periodically coming, telling the Palestinians to leave their land. And already the tranquillity and array of wild flowers is shattered by the Israeli stone quarry, which is destroying the hill and the former grazing pastures on Palestinian lands.

Now, the land east of the Wall, on the “Palestinian side”, is under threat. For Sami, a shepherd in the Rafat valley, the future is uncertain. He has already lost his 100 dunums of land on the west side of the Wall. Now the area east of the Wall, without olive trees, has been declared a closed military zone and on Sunday 12th March, Sami was issued a demolition order for his shack and animal pens, which are situated at least 0.5 kilometer east of the Wall. 48 hours later the army returned, but due to bad weather did not bring the bulldozers.

Translation was not necessary to understand the anger of this man. It is the second time he is facing the loss of land and livelihood, from both the west and the east side of the Wall.

Until January 2006 Sami was living in Kasfa, grazing his 350 sheep. In the end the army was coming daily to tell him to leave. The fence was closed in January and since then he has been unable to access his land. He has divided his flock and keeps 100 sheep with him in the Rafat valley. Thirty people are dependent on the income generated from the sheep (milk, meat, wool), including his wife and eight children, the youngest being seven years old.

Sami continues to graze his sheep here, but lives with the uncertainty of when the army will return. The question is not ‘if’, but ‘when’. IWPS stayed several days in Rafat, in solidarity with Sami.

Uncertainty and inaccessibility to information pervade. About 100 meters east of the Wall, a Caterpillar bulldozer was working, methodically transforming the landscape from a green, rocky hillside to levelled brown earth. The owners of the land were not informed and were unable to get any information about what Israel intends to use this land for.

In Deir Ballut, as documented in IWPS Human Rights Report no. 241, six structures (tents, shacks, animal pens) belonging to 3 families, were demolished by the army on the 15th of March, following a demolition order issued on the 13th March. As in the Rafat valley, the land without olive trees east of the Wall had been declared a closed military zone. The bulldozer left behind a bleak scene of chaos and inhumanity; broken planks of wood, rubble, tarpaulins, broken containers. Attempts to salvage their possessions were visible through the pile of mattresses stacked up. The last two months saw the area immediately neighbouring their living space turned into a rubbish dump for Israelis.

If the Wall follows the planned route, by the end of the year Deir Ballut, Rafat and the neighbouring village of Az-Zawwiyah will become isolated in an enclave between the main route of the wall and the so-called "Ariel fingers".
The only connection will be northwards to the village of Mas'ha, through a narrow tunnel passing under the settler highway connecting Ariel with Tel Aviv. The ‘Ariel fingers’ land corridor will cut thousands of Palestinian off from their land, their livelihood and their communities and further restrict freedom of movement in the Salfit district.

5th april '06
[1] One dunum equals 1/4 acre

Hi Alys, It's Beth Sweeney.
I passed by
your old street the other day and I found myself saying. "I once knew
someone who lived on Warwick..."
I thought I would look you up and see how you were and what you were
up to. I live just a few blocks away now.
If this is your site, Ms. Ford and you have internet access, and a free moment I'de love to hear from you. I hope you are well and safe.
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