This week the UN told us what we already know; Israel’s movement restrictions are hugely damaging to Palestinians’ quality of life. Michael Carpenter and Rebecca Fudala scoured the Occupied Territories to show how damaging these restrictions are.
The following pictures are taken from a variety of affected locations, from roadblocks on route 443 to the besieged communities of Hebron. Neither are all the restrictions constructed. The constant presence of soldiers, police and settlers provide a constant reminder to residents that even in their homes and villages, they are not welcome.
Hidden between the ancient cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, lies the village of Al-Walaja. Home to around 2,000 people, mainly agricultural workers, the land is rich in olive trees, summer crops and other natural resources. But the village is at a crossroads.
between the ancient cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, lies the village of Al-Walaja
This year has witnessed a surge in Israeli military crackdowns, as Al-Walaja joins Bili’n, Ni’lin and Beit Jala, as the scene of heated weekly anti-wall demonstrations and popular resistance.
Since the first construction workers and soldiers arrived to begin clearing land for the Wall almost four years ago, locals say they have received an increasing number of eviction orders, arrests, threats and intimidation from IDF soldiers.
The current plan for Al-Walaja will see the town surrounded on all sides by the wall. Only one entry and exit point, under complete military control, will remain. The position of nearby settlements mean the Wall will encroach further onto village land, shrinking Al-Walaja before surrounding it.
However the bulldozers have not been allowed to move in unchallenged. Every Friday villagers gather at the construction sites in the fields of Al-Walaja to demonstrate against the seizure of their land.
Activists occupy a bulldozer during a recent demonstration that saw Mazin Qumsiyeh arrested. (Photo: Kara Newhouse)
Local organiser Mahmoud Al-Araj says these areas are considered ’closed military zones’ by the Israeli government, and army patrols move in quickly to stop the demonstrations.
“When Israel started building the wall, we started demonstrating against the confiscation of our land. We started on Fridays and one or two days during the week to bring people to stop the bulldozers,” he says. “So we had many peaceful demonstrations, and we get much beating and arrests from the Israeli soldiers who use weapons against us.”
Earlier this year, human rights groups were outraged by footage of villager Nabeel Hajajala, 14, being pepper sprayed, kicked and beaten by several soldiers during a demonstration.
“I saw the soldier videoing, I went down and took the mobile from him. The soldiers attacked me and pepper sprayed me. They tied my hands and put me in the jeep and started to hit me and spray me again. They took me to the checkpoint and after that to the police station”, Hajajala told me.
“In the jeep they punched me, and from the top of my head I was bleeding. Still they sprayed in my mouth and eyes and hit me with the back of a gun and kicked me until we reached the checkpoint.”
Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian peace activist and former Yale professor who has twice been arrested at Al-Walaja rallies. He says the risk of arrest and injury is something protesters are prepared to face. “In any kind of popular resistance there is a price to be paid and we are willing to pay that price. That price can range from mild harassment, intimidation, tear gas-which we smell of every week at demonstrations, all the way to being shot and killed. That’s what happened to my friend Bassam Abu Rahmah in Bili’n who was not doing any more than I do regularly. That’s just the risk you take in popular resistance.”
Since 2007, the people of Al-Walaja have received four different maps outlining the proposed route of the wall. The first official proposal threatened to divide the town in two parts, completely cutting off one part of the village from the other. The village formally complained to the Israeli high court and the plan was eventually overturned. However the three most recent plans have shown the wall being built in a way that completely surrounds the village on all sides with only one exit and entry point manned by IDF soldiers.
Village Council President Saleh Hilmi Khalifa rejects Israel’s claim that the separation wall is necessary to protect its citizens.
“If you take a photo of the region, you discover that these sayings are lies. The distance between the citizens and any Israeli units is too far, we are too far from the Israeli regions. If there is any problem with the Israelis’ security, why are they building the wall in our lands? Why don’t they build it on their lands?” he says.
Dr Qumsiyeh agrees, believing Israel is only interested in expanding the current expanse of Jerusalem to what is referred to as ‘Greater Jerusalem’.
“Al-Walaja has never had any conflict with the Israelis and if Israel is worried about the people of Al-Walaja coming into Israeli areas they could build the wall on the green line. But they choose instead to encircle the village with the wall and this tells me that it is not about security for the Israeli communities”.
“Israel has actually divided Al-Walaja into two areas. One of them is actually apart from the expanded boundaries of Jerusalem. Nobody recognises (these boundaries) except Israel, which says East Jerusalem is part of its capital. They expanded its borders so that nearly half the land of Al-Walaja is part of Jerusalem municipality. But not the people of Al-Walaja. They want the land but they don’t want the people that come with it.”
One villager, Ahmed Barwoud, has already had to stand back and watch as his farmland. was torn up to make way for the wall. Barwoud has lived here for over sixty years, since before Israel was created.
“This is something to remind me of the lands that were taken from us in 1948. This is another Nakba. The Israelis came and marked the lands and they brought the bulldozers and started to work,” he says.
Barwoud’s home is also the final resting place of his parents and grandparents. Israel’s current plans will place the graves of his ancestors on the other side of the wall in a Jerusalem municipality far exceeding the green line.
Ahmed Barwoud has been living in Al-Walaja for longer than Israel has existed. (Photo: Nicky Elliott)
His farm has become a meeting point for demonstrators in Al-Walaja, where both Palestinians and internationals gather before a protest.
“They are standing with me because this is our issue, maybe today its my disaster and tomorrow it will be their disaster. The disaster includes all of us.”
But while Barwoud appreciates the support from internationals, he says his lands will not be saved unless foreign governments make a determined effort to confront Israel’s expansion.
“There are some people who stand significantly with us and that’s good, they demonstrate with us, its a really good stance. But what I say is they have to stand against their governments which support Israel, that is better than them coming here. They have to stand against Europe because it supports Israel and America is the biggest supporter of Israel.”
If they don’t, Barwoud says the struggle will be carried forward by his children.
“In the future, when they take my land, I will only hate the occupation more and more, and I will hate the supporters of Israel more and more. I will teach my children to be strong and how to take their lands back.”