Abu al-Huzun was choking back tears throughout our conversation. Other farmers, whose land is also trapped west of the separation fence, let their feelings of loss slip in, after asking many rhetorical questions. A third wrung her hands as she described her yearning for the field from which Israel has barred her.
One’s heart goes out to them – workers of the land, familiar with every tree in the family plot since childhood, who helped their parents to sow the sesame and harvest the parsley and shared the work and the produce with their cousins. The bounty they reaped from their work is evident in their modest but meticulous houses, in the children studying at university and the top floors they built on their houses for them. And then came the hangman.
Before their eyes, but concealed from all public attention, an organized land theft has taken place in calculated stages, armed with a collection of wicked orders drafted by Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories and with the exhausting, sadistic bureaucratic hurdles posed by its Civil Administration in the West Bank.
Abu al-Huzun (not his real name), sitting in the living room of his house in a northern West Bank village, recounted this gradual process. When the wall was built in 2003, they were denied access to their land for eight months, except during the olive harvest. Then they received permits to go to their orchards without problems, “because the Civil Administration has all our deeds of ownership and registration.”
But the nearest gates in the fence were shut. They were forced to go through a distant gate. Instead of three kilometers, they had to travel 12 or 20 kilometers or more.
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In 2005, four fires broke out on their land. The farmers saw them from the other side of the fence, but couldn’t put them out. Some 1,500 dunams went up in smoke.
They paid a lawyer a lot of money to demand that the nearest gates be opened. The gates were opened – but only three days a week.
Pesticides should be sprayed when it’s cool, either in the morning or the evening – when the gates are closed. Their trees’ production plummeted by about 30 percent. They stopped planting.
Nevertheless, there were a few years when things got better. But since 2015, the rules have become more stringent.
Abu al-Huzun and thousands of other Palestinian farmers have to satisfy a list of petty conditions to prove that this is their land, that their plot is larger than 330 square meters and that there is an “agricultural need” to work it, and also in order to switch the type of produce they grow or get permission for their children to join in the work as farm laborers. But their grandchildren are forbidden to do so.
Farmers waste a lot of time and money running around from a Palestinian local clerk to the Israeli liaison office to a Palestinian notary, all just to be told by an Israeli bureaucrat that their plot isn’t actually located where it has always been, or that it’s negligible in size, or that they forgot to sign and attach the necessary documents.
At that point, some turn to Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual and ask its staff to prove that their land hasn’t moved, that all the requisite signatures are there and that their 80-year-old grandfather isn’t capable of weeding, plowing and harvesting. Months pass, and the weeds grow tall on their land.
Fully 137,000 dunams (nearly 34,000 acres) of private and public Palestinian land have been trapped between the separation fence and Israel. Despite all the promises to the High Court of Justice that Palestinian property rights won’t be harmed, the Israelization of this land deepens every time its legal owners, their children and their grandchildren are denied entry.
The unofficial Israeli excuse for this bureaucratic abuse is that village residents are “exploiting” their permits to enter Israel to work. The sophisticated, experienced officers and legal advisers who planned and permitted the construction of the separation barrier far from the Green Line knew very well this would happen. They knowingly planned another Israeli ruse, one of many, to increase the green living space available to Jews.