Life on the edge of the Apartheid Wall
by Drew Penland
TULKAREM, PALESTINE - 2 Jan 2003:
Until recently, modest prosperity described
Bassem Wakit's house at the edge of Jayyous village. Bassem's wife
and three growing young children could have been found outside. His
brother had started to build a house next door on his family's land.
On the slopes around the house the community tended and grew olive
trees, orange orchards and a variety of fruits and vegetables in
fields and greenhouses.
Now this reality and Bassem's land, his "grandfather's
grandfathers", and his whole community are facing a new grave
Outside Bassem's this threat is visible. It is a huge scar in the
land that runs for miles to the north and south of his community and
the people who work on it. It is the Israeli governments
new "security fence". According to the Israeli government the fence
is being built to provide security for Jewish Israeli's in Israeli
proper. The reality is starkly different.
The security fence, known as th Apartheid Wall by Palestinians and
much of the international community, will be tantamount to de facto
annexation of over 10% of the West Bank. This will include theft of
important water sources and much of the most important agricultural
areas of the West Bank.
Palestinian communities on the other side of this imposing structure
will be annexed into Israel proper and many communities falling on
the Palestinian side of the wall will be separated from their
Desperate Palestinians have been assured the Palestinian people
whose land falls on the other side of the wall that they will have
access both during and after the wall's construction. The record to
date on allowing people to cross the wall, however, has been
Armed private security forces, the infamous border police and
regular soldiers are denying Palestinians access to their lands
daily. They have destroyed and blockaded roads into agricultural
areas (and whole communities), ruined irrigation systems and
detained and beaten Palestinians in the area of the wall.
In Jayyous the construction of the wall has already cut off access
to almost all the community's agricultural land. Even though the
wall is just a scar on the terrain and the foundation is not yet in
place, the people of this community have to walk several kilometers
to the nearest place the Israeli occupation forces will allow them
to pass to the other side of the wall. They then have to walk back
to their land from the crossing point, some of which sits just paces
>>from the community itself. Returning home at the end of the day
would mean a similar arduous trek. Now imagine moving tonnes of
produce on your journey.
Vehicles are not being permitted to cross at any local points.
Bassem's land has suffered a worse fate yet. Although sitting just
meters from his house, his land is almost completely inaccessible.
In the process of clearing the land for the Apartheid Wall, the
Occupation forces destroyed around 200 of Basem's family's olive
trees, many of them over a century old. "They are cutting
everything, killing everything" says Bassem.
No written offers of compensation have come from the Israeli regime.
No consultation on the fate of local communities has taken place,
just indiscriminate and cruel destruction of land and local peoples'
The Bassem family house is at the edge of Jayyous located closest to
the wall. The occupation forces have frequently threatened to
destroy his house and threatened his wellbeing. Recalling the words
of one member of the security apparatus working at the site of the
wall for Bassem "your identification says you are from Jayyous.
Because you are from Jayyous I have no problem hitting you as I
His brother has been forced to abandon his half completed
neighboring dwelling. They have repeatedly tear gassed
indiscriminately. They yell at him if he goes onto his own roof.
They routinely occupy his house. A sadness comes across his eyes as
he says "they entered my house when I was not here", when only his
wife and children were at home. "My children are very afraid".
Local people in affected communities however have been steadfast in
their courageous resistance to the Apartheid Wall. On Sunday,
December 29th a non-violent demonstration of 200 Palestinians and a
number of International Solidarity Movement activists attempted to
cross the area where the wall is being built to get to their fields.
Israeli forces met the non-violent protest with tear gas, clubs,
rubber bullets and live rounds. Frustrated local youth soon replied
by throwing rocks and were met by more gunfire. Serious injuries
were fortunately avoided.
The following day the Israeli Border Police took reprisal measures.
Three youth, one the younger brother of Bassem, were reportedly
walking to Bassem's house when they were apprehended and detained by
They were allegedly roughed up and one youth was released shortly
thereafter. They were being held near the home of Bassem on a road
near the Apartheid Wall. The International Solidarity Movement
happened to have a strong presence in the village when the youth
were detained. A number of people approached the Border Police to
inquire about the status of the detained youth.
The reply of the Border Police was swift. They directed "all kinds
of verbal insults" in the words of ISM negotiator Marcey, a Hebrew
speaker and 60 year old human rights activist from New York. The
verbal abuse was followed with an attack. Marcey narrowly avoided
being injured when she was hit on the head with a concussion grenade
that exploded at her feet.
It was one of two thrown at ISM activists. Two tear gas canisters
were also thrown in our direction. Border Police and private
security pointed automatic weapons and threatened to shoot the non-
violent team for wanting to discuss the situation.
Eventually the ISM negotiation team did succeed in speaking directly
with the Police and they were all joined by the frightened and sad
mothers of the two youths. Bassem and his brother succeeded in
approaching the Border Police as well and joining the negotiations.
Bassem remained remarkably composed and thoughtful throughout
despite the desperate nature of his situation. The sides reached a
tentative agreement that if the ISM activists withdrew and ended the
standoff, the two youths would be released. Bassem counseled the
ISM team to accept the proposal, and the youths were eventually
released. When released, the youths quickly disappeared into the
village, but the anxiety that the Wall's construction has brought
Bassem, his family, his home and the village managed to escape day
of Israeli violence largely unscathed. But there are no guarantees
in the days to come.
Around Bassem's house lies a visual testament to the Palestinian
struggle for justice in their own land. In a desperate effort to
survive Bassem has moved some ancient olive trees that were severely
cut back to the area around his house. He is nourishing them with
water and hopes they survive. Their fate, like the Palestinian
struggle for justice, remains very uncertain.
Drew Penland can be reached via: