Community Voice, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, June 10th, 2006

In Rafat, as throughout Palestine, the spirit of resistance against the Occupation has passed through generation to generation. The land on which people have lived and toiled throughout these years has provided livelihoods and dignity with which people have endured continued suffering and oppression.

 But now the Apartheid Wall will leave Rafat and its farmers without their land. Yet, their daily struggle for justice and freedom from occupation continues.

Here, two generations of farmers tell of their lives on their land, and their unceasing struggle against the Occupation.

Muhammad Ibrahim Youssef Hassan Joudeh, 83 years old.

“I participated in the revolution of ’36. It was the same year as my marriage. From then until now I have been planting and harvesting my land, growing vegetables, animal food, wheat and lentils. I had 18 cows and 50 sheep, one mule, horses and two camels. We were making milk and cheese – we kept what we needed for ourselves and then the rest was sold to cover household expenses. We were happy –our fields and our animals provided us with all we needed or wanted.

My 16 children all worked with me. One of my sons had a tractor that we used to share with our neighbours. We spent most of our time – most of our lives – living on the land with our sheep and animals, even sleeping there. From the fruits of the land I was able to save quite a good amount of money for the marriage of my sons.

When Oslo came, many in the village went to work in Israeli factories or businesses, but we never abandoned our land – the land that gave us everything.

But for the last two years, the Occupation and its Wall has made life increasingly impossible for us. They are literally expelling us from our land. This year the Occupation permitted us to spend just four days planting and cultivating our fields. What can we do with just four days? How can we plant seeds or cultivate the land? There was no time for anything. They banned us from using tractors and machinery – they said everything must be done with animals. Everybody worked solidly for the four days. We tried, but in the end we had to leave most of the land uncultivated. They are forcing us and our animals out. I had so many cattle, but now with the Wall there is no place for them to stay and I cannot feed them, so I had to sell them.”

Rafat is surrounded by two Walls – one from the east and one from the west. The latter was completed more than a year ago, while the eastern Wall is still under construction. The first Wall has already taken a large amount of the village’s land.

“If the Wall to the east is completed, it will take the last 15 dunums of my family’s land. We are planting it now, so that we may at least get something to help us a bit with our daily needs. But now the Occupation has even started to bring pigs onto the land to the east of the village – every day I have to watch as the pigs destroy the trees and the plants. From where they bring those pigs – I don’t know.

Today, my sons are all without work. To get to our land we need a permit from the Occupation, and they have denied all my sons permits to get to our own fields. At my age, I cannot work the land myself anymore – even walking is difficult for me. Two days ago I attended a funeral and the view from the graveyard overlooked my land. It brought such a deep pain to my heart to have to look at it only from a distance.

I swear that I have never felt such oppression and helplessness as I do now in the final years of my life. I am left with nothing. The land is my soul and it keeps our dignity. For as long as we had our land, we never needed to ask anybody for anything. But now the Occupation is taking it from us.”

Dawood Abdel Fattah Nimr Ayash, 43 years old.

“Our family has a lot of land that is now isolated behind the Wall. We were planting it with wheat, barley, lentils and fodder crops. In the summer we also planted it with wild beans. In ’77 we made 4.2 tons of wheat and lentils and the same amount of fodder crops. We had enough to meet our needs for the whole year – in fact most of the time we had more than we needed. We would sell any extra and buy some important things for the house. I have been cultivating this land since I was a small child, helping my father and grandfather. For generations our entire family has been planting this land. Until now.

For the whole of this year, we were only allowed onto our fields four times – two days for ploughing, and two days to clear it of weeds. So we had to try and do everything very quickly and it was impossible to plant or cultivate all our land. They didn’t allow us to use tractors or other mechanical equipment; with which we might have been able to plough the land in three days. So this year I planted only fodder crops.

Even for those four days, just to get to our fields we were made to walk seven kilometres to a certain entrance. Each day, we wasted an hour and a half by walking. There was no gate at that time – only soldiers and bulldozers where they were constructing the Wall. When we arrived, the soldiers threw everything we had on the ground. They even ripped the saddles off the donkeys. Then they made us wait from 7am until 9am before they would let us pass. The soldiers told us: “All the land behind the Wall is not yours anymore. If you want to reach it you need to go and ask for permits.” So when we went to harvest our fields, they simply sent us back.

In March they put a gate in the Wall. After that, whenever we wanted to go to tend our land we were turned away. They told us we must have permits to get to our own fields, so we sent off applications. They asked us to prove our ownership and said we must pay 500 NIS (about $100) for each piece of land. So I gave them proof of my ownership for one piece – 104 dunums. I couldn’t afford to pay for proofs for the rest of my land. But they didn’t give us permits anyway. Instead they barred us from our land completely.

Until now I haven’t paid for the seeds that I have planted. Where can I find the money to pay off the debt? I did have animals but I have already had to sell most of them. Where can I find wheat? All I have left are just a few plants between some olive trees. I have nine children and this will not even provide enough to get two months of bread for them. We have become like refugees in our own houses.

Last month I tried to see if I could find a way to get through to the gate. The soldiers shouted, “Where are you going?” and I said I was going to harvest my crops. They told me that the gate would be open the following day at 6am. So I went back to the village and told everybody I could find that early in the morning we should all go together and insist that we are allowed to harvest our land. When we got there, the Occupation Forces threatened to shoot us. They barred us from even getting close to the Wall and the gate. Since then, we have returned every day and we continue to insist that we have access to our land. They might not let us pass, but every day we will come back and try again.”

The Apartheid Wall will enclose the villages of Rafat, Deir Ballut and Zawiya in a hermetic ghetto. Once construction is completed, only a tunnel that is controlled by the Occupation Forces will link these villages with the outside world. Farmers are losing most of their lands to the expansion of settlements around the Ariel bloc. Without their land they will be unable to sustain their livelihoods.

The Occupation’s “permit system,” which systematically denies farmers access to their own land, is strangling the communities. In recent months, no farmers or workers in Mas’ha, Rafat and Zawiya have been allowed on to their lands. Most were denied “permits.” A few did receive them, but when they went to pass through the gate, Occupation Forces simply tore them up before their eyes.

Thus the Zionist project of expansion and colonization continues to create landlessness and dispossession at an ever-increasing speed.