The £1m-a-mile wall that divides a town from its own land of plenty

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  • Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 10:22:30 -0000

The first the people of Jayyous knew of the wall was a piece of paper
flapping from an olive tree. "It was a military order," said Sharif
Omar, who has come to rue that day. 
"It informed us we had to meet an Israeli army officer the next week and
follow him to see the route of the wall. Hundreds of people turned out.
We were shocked, very shocked, when we saw where it was going. People
burst into tears. Some fainted." 

That was in September. Since then, bulldozers have cleared a swath of
land 50 metres wide through Jayyous's olive groves and within tens of
metres of the western side of the town. 

In a few more weeks, the concrete foundations of a wall eight metres
high will be in place. A trench, barbed wire, floodlights, cameras and
electronic detectors will follow. Jayyous does not yet know whether it
will also get a military watchtower like neighbouring Qalqilya. 

But, by the end of next year, the wall severing the town from much of
its land will be just one link in a concrete barrier running 250 miles
through the West Bank. 

The Israeli government is spending £1m a mile to build this massive
fortification, in the belief that it will keep the suicide bombers at
bay. That, too, is what the Israeli public believes. Polls suggest that
more than 70% believe that cooperation with the Palestinians has failed,
so it is better to build barriers. 

The government calls it the separation fence; the army, the security
obstacle; and the Israeli right, the terror wall. The Palestinians
compare it to the Berlin wall, and say it will turn the West Bank into
the world's biggest prison. 

In Jayyous, they are not so much worried about being shut in as shut
out. The wall wriggles its way through the heart of Jayyous, leaving
marginally more of the town's land on the Israeli side of the barrier. 

The mayor, Fayez Salim, calculates that the town will lose access to 80%
of its 18,000 olive trees and about 50,000 citrus trees. It will be cut
off from dozens of large greenhouses and thousands of jobs will be lost
during the annual harvest. 

Crucially, Jayyous will be separated from its seven wells and the
Israelis have forbidden the drilling of new ones. 

"We've told the Israelis about this. They don't reply. They say it's an
order of the military. They don't speak to us. They just hung the notice
on a tree," Mr Salim said. 

Among those facing calamity is Mr Omar, one of the wealthiest landowners
in Jayyous. He has 20 hectares (49 acres) of olive groves, citrus
orchards and two sprawling greenhouses stuffed with tomatoes. The wall
will separate him from all but 2.5 hectares. 

"The green line is more than five kilometres from here," he said. "Why
is the wall only 40 metres from our houses? Why do they need to build it
so close?" 

The Palestinians say the wall serves a dual purpose: to cage the West
Bank's residents just as the people of Gaza are locked behind security
fences; and to lay open yet more of their land to seizure as Israel
continues its creeping colonisation through the expansion of Jewish

Although the wall loosely follows the 1967 border - the green line - it
deviates considerably in places, such as Jayyous. That is in part
because the government says it did not want "the obstacle" to become a
de facto border which would be used to weaken its hand in negotiations
over a Palestinian state. 

But some Palestinians believe that the wall will indeed become a border
and that everything west of it will fall into Israeli hands. That would
include not only valuable fertile land, but an equally precious
commodity in a parched region - water. 

Jayyous and neighbouring towns sit on the western aquifer basin which
produces about half of all the water on the West Bank. Most of their
wells will fall on the wrong side of the wall for the Palestinians. 

The wall also winds around a number of the larger Jewish settlements,
while encircling Jayyous's neighbouring city of Qalqilya on three sides.

The rightwing Jerusalem Post laid out the thinking: "The fence must be
built to generously incorporate blocs of Israeli communities_ [This]
maximises the amount of territory with which Israel would enter into
some future final-status negotiation." 

But some settler groups and rightwing parties oppose the wall, saying it
represents nothing less than the establishment of a Palestinian state by

The barrier is part-fence, part-wall, depending on location. Parts of
the wall can already be seen from Jayyous, surrounding Qalqilya, which
has been cut off on three sides. Only one access road remains. 

An Israeli defence company is experimenting with balloons and infrared
detectors to extend a no man's land on the Palestinian side. Another
company is proposing a radar system able to pick up footsteps long
before they reach the wall. 

In places, concrete watchtowers peer over the barrier. The Israelis deny
there will be an order to shoot on sight, but anyone attempting to get
over or through the fence will be deemed to be a terrorist. 

The Israelis say there will be a gate at Jayyous to give the
Palestinians access to their land. Mr Omar is suspicious. 

"They can close a gate any time they don't want us. Look what they do in
Nablus or Ramallah. They close off the whole town when they want
revenge," he said. 

Mr Omar fears the government will deny the townspeople of Jayyous access
to their land and then use British and Turkish colonial laws to justify
its confiscation because it is under-used. He speaks from experience.
"The Israelis confiscated my land in 1988 on the grounds it was not fit
for agriculture. They wanted to use it to expand a Jewish settlement. I
went to the military court and fought it," he said. 

"I cleared all the rocks and planted wheat at first. Then oranges,
walnuts, avocados, pomegranates, figs, cucumbers - and I proved to them
it was fit for agriculture. In 1996, the military court restored the
land to me." 

But the battle is much bigger this time. Jayyous has gone to the high
court in an attempt to get the wall moved, but the town's lawyers have
told the mayor not to hold out much hope. 

Mr Omar is making other plans. "There is only one thing I can do. I will
buy a tent and move with my wife to live the other side of the fence
among my trees," he said. 

"I don't know if the Israelis will let me do it. They certainly won't
let me build a house. But perhaps I can live in a tent." 

Source:  The Guardian

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