Almost 20 years later, the Israeli barrier shapes the lives of Palestinians

Three days a week, Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Qaffin line up at a yellow gate and show soldiers military permits to tend their crops on the other side of the separation barrier from Israel.

Farmers say that due to increasingly burdensome Israeli restrictions, they can no longer live off their land, which is suffering without proper cultivation. The olive groves beyond the gate are burned by a recent fire; firefighters also need permission to enter.

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Palestinian workers cross the fence near Jenin

Palestinian workers cross the barrier near Jenin

(Photo: AFP)

Nearly two decades after Israel sparked controversy around the world by building the barrier during a Palestinian uprising, it has become a seemingly permanent feature of the landscape, even as Israel encourages its citizens to settle on both sides.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians navigate their checkpoints every morning as they line up in crowded terminals to enter Israel in search of jobs in construction and agriculture. Farmers in Qaffin and dozens of other villages need permits to access their private property.

Israel says the barrier helped stop a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinians who entered the country during the 2000-2005 uprising and is still necessary to prevent deadly violence.

Eighty-five percent of the still unfinished barrier lies within the West Bank, dividing almost 10% of its territory. The Palestinians see it as an illegal land grab, and the International Court of Justice in 2004 said the barrier was “contrary to international law.”

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Palestinian riots at the Bethlehem barrier Palestinian riots at the Bethlehem barrier

Palestinian riots at the Bethlehem barrier

(Photo: EPA)

In Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the barrier is an imposing concrete wall several meters (yards) high topped with barbed wire and cameras. In rural areas, it is mainly made up of barbed wire fences and closed military roads.

Along Israel’s main north-south highway, it is obscured by earthworks and landscaping, so that motorists have but a passing glance at the reality of the military rule.

Palestinians in Qaffin say the wall has cut off some 4,500 dunams (1,100 acres) of their farmland, all within the West Bank.

Ibrahim Ammar says that he used to grow a variety of crops including watermelon and corn, but is now limited to olives and almonds because they require less attention. Even during the annual olive harvest, which began last month, you can only enter their land three days a week and must apply for permits to bring family members to help.

“My father, my grandfather, they were totally dependent on the land, and now I can’t support myself or my children,” he said.

He drives a taxi to supplement his income. Other villagers do menial work within Israel and its West Bank settlements. At least one resident, frustrated by the restrictions, grows vegetables on the roof of his house.

“Three days is not enough to serve the land, and the land is getting worse and worse,” said Taysir Harashe, who was mayor of the village when the barrier was built.

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    Palestinian farmers growing olives     Palestinian farmers growing olives

Palestinian farmers growing olives

(Photo: AP)

The UN estimates that some 150 Palestinian communities are in a similar situation, and that 11,000 Palestinians live in the so-called Division Zone within the West Bank but west of the barrier, requiring Israeli permits just to stay in their homes.

HaMoked, an Israeli rights group that helps Palestinians obtain permits, says the situation for farmers is getting worse. It says that data obtained from the military through a freedom of information request shows that 73% of requests for permits were denied last year, compared to 29% in 2014. Less than 3% are denied on grounds of security, he said.

In 2014, Israel stopped granting permits to relatives unless they appear as farm workers on larger plots. In 2017, the military began dividing up larger properties among members of extended families and ruled that anything less than 330 square meters (3,500 square feet) was unsustainable from an agricultural standpoint. Owners of so-called “tiny parcels” are denied permits.

“There is no security justification,” said Jessica Montell, director of HaMoked, which is challenging the regulation before Israel’s Supreme Court. “They have decided that you own a parcel of land that they think is too small to justify cultivation.” He said other regulations are based on “elaborate calculations” of how many hands it takes to tend various crops. “It’s a crazy table. They say if you’re growing cucumbers you can get X number of helpers per dunam.”

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Documentation of the stabbing attack at Jerusalem's Lions GateDocumentation of the stabbing attack at Jerusalem's Lions Gate

Attempted stabbing against police forces while trying to guarantee a quiet life to all sides last September

(Photo: Police spokesman)

When asked about the restrictions, the army said its forces aim to “ensure a soft fabric of life for all parties.” The army “sees great importance in coordinating the olive harvest and operates in accordance with the guidelines and the assessment of the situation,” he said in a statement.

Israel has always said that the barrier was not intended to demarcate a permanent border, and some supporters said at the time that reducing violence would help the peace process.

“The fence was built only according to security needs,” said Netzah Mashiah, a retired Israeli colonel who oversaw the construction of the barrier until 2008. “By building it, we understood that it could be a border in the far future … .but this was not the goal of this fence. “

In fact, the barrier just looks like a heavily guarded border. Israelis and Palestinians live on both sides, and Israel is actively building settlements and settlement infrastructure east of the barrier. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and other territories that Israel seized in the 1967 war.

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The towering concrete wall is covered in political graffiti The towering concrete wall is covered in political graffiti

The towering concrete wall is covered in political graffiti

(Photo: AP)

In Bethlehem, the towering concrete wall is covered in political graffiti and often satirical works of art. One concerns an episode of Larry David’s HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which Jewish men use a Palestinian restaurant to hide their affairs from their wives. Another pays tribute to George Floyd, who died under the knees of a Minneapolis police officer last year.

It became an eclectic tourist attraction after world-famous graffiti artist Banksy secretly painted the wall in the 2000s. In 2017, he opened the “Walled-Off Hotel,” a resistance-themed art monument. bleak.

Abu Yamil, the owner of a nearby souvenir shop who declined to give his full name, sells Banksy prints and postcards, among other trinkets. The 70-year-old is nostalgic for the situation decades ago, when Palestinians could travel freely. “It was an occupation, but we lived together and I could drive my car to Tel Aviv,” he said.

Like many Palestinians, he doubts the unfinished barrier serves a security purpose: workers without permits have always managed to sneak in.

“This wall will be here forever because they don’t want peace, Israel just wants all the land,” he said.

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