On Tuesday the 4th of January about 30 ISM activists went up to Jayyus to join a local informational meeting and olive tree planting action against the devastating effects that the Apartheid Wall is having on the people there. Jayyus is a poor rural village of about 3200 Palestinians in the West of the Qalqilya region of the occupied West Bank. What is happening there is terrible. The State of Israel is building a so-called “security barrier” throughout the West Bank, supposedly to keep out suicide bombers. If you wanted to put up a fence between your garden and your neighbor’s you would have to put it on your side, right? Apparently the state of Israel thinks differently. Here, as in most of the West Bank, the so called “security barrier” (actually a fence in this section) was built well within the 1967 Green Line, so that yet more Palestinian land is confiscated and effectively annexed to Israel.
At the meeting there were many ‘respectable’ types. The mayor of Jayyus spoke of 74% of their land being confiscated. He also said that 90% of the population in this province depends on agriculture for their living. The land was confiscated to allow expansion of the existing Zufin settlement (built on land confiscated in 1993) into a new settlement called “Nofei Zufim” (“North Zufin”). He described how the village used to be self-sufficient. Now, with the land they depend on being stolen by the Israeli government, they are not sure how they will support the students and newly unemployed in the village. He wanted the democracy of the first world nations brought to Palestine, so that they could live like the other sovereign nations. He said that no peace negotiations can take place while the Wall is being built, and asked why the Wall is not being built on the 1967 Green Line if the Israeli Government truly wants peace.
The Governor of the region said similar things, thanking all the international supporters present (there were many), and mentioned several individuals and groups (including the ISM) by name. He stated that Israel’s intention was to siege the Palestinians and push them into ghettos. The statistic he gave was that 58% out of the whole West Bank would be annexed to Israel after the wall was complete, which would increase poverty since Palestinians are so dependant on their land. Uprooting olive trees with bulldozers will not bring peace, which must be based on justice. He also brought up legal decisions, asking for the usual UN resolutions to be implemented and mentioning Israeli court decisions that have declared the wall around Jayyus illegal. He also made the point that they have proven the Western media wrong when they were going on about how the Palestinians would tear themselves apart in civil war after Arafat’s death – showing they were a people of democracy. He ended by saying that victory for the Palestinian people is a victory for world peace, and that this Wall will fall “as the Berlin wall fell”.
There were then some European speakers, including the Chair of Stop the Occupation in Holland and an Italian MEP. The most interesting, though was Chris from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. He gave a moving account of what happened on the 9th of December when he and some Israeli activist had passed through a gate in the fence to go olive picking in the confiscated olive tree groves. They saw something there that I had not heard of until that meeting – whole olive trees being uprooted and taken away to be sold in Tel Aviv and other places, including to settlers. A Danish member of the EAPPI called Hele had said the same thing to me and described how on some of the newest settlements, you can see extremely old trees. Before this meeting, I had assumed the Israeli government just destroyed them, but it seems they steal them too. On that day in December, two armed settlers accompanied the truck that took the trees away – they said they were from the Jordan valley. After the settlers and the truck left, Jameel Saleem and his brother Tariq came down to assess the damage (they could not do this on a whim, by the way – all Palestinians from the village need a permit to go through the gate to their own source of income). IDF soldiers and more settlers soon turned up and Tariq presented their documents of ownership to the soldiers who then ordered the uprooting and expansion to stop immediately. Counting, the Palestinians found that 117 trees had been uprooted on that day alone. Jameel planted these trees himself 35 years ago; “now what can I do?” was his expression of frustration to the world.
Since that day in December, it seems that uprooting of their trees has continued regardless, with 700 trees destroyed or stolen up until the 17th of December alone.
After the meeting we went up to a gate to the groves, which was guarded by lots of soldiers. The more official international types (EU and the like) tried unsuccessfully to negotiate us passage through to the fields to plant new olive trees. The end result was that we ended up going to another section of the fence and planted them on the village side of the fence.
On the way back to Jerusalem I was talking to a Palestinian named Mohammed in the taxi. He said he would like to visit London, and asked whether I preferred there or Palestine. I was just commenting on the evident friendliness of the Palestinian people and was describing it as a beautiful place when something interesting happened.
We were pulled over by Israeli soldiers – a flying checkpoint. Checkpoints are not just fixed features of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – two soldiers, a Humvee and some concrete blocks can make a checkpoint. It was not too bad this time, with a delay of only 15 minutes or so (the Israeli authorities are relatively calm at the moment with all the internationals here because of the PA elections). Still, having an M16 lazily waved at your windshield to pull over the taxi you’re in is not exactly a beautiful experience.
“Palestine is not so beautiful”, Mohammed sadly commented afterwards.
Click here to see more photos that I took in Jayyus.