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by David Bloom

The wall took less than a year to be constructed in an arc around much of Jayyous. 70% of the villagers' land--and all their irrigated land--has ended up on the western side of Israel's "security fence." There are gates for Jayyous' farmers to access their land, but Israel has made the ability to do so steadily more difficult--in a process most villagers believe will eventually lead to the confiscation of their ancestral lands.

Jayyous, a town of about 3,000, already lost 20% of its lands after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. These lands were redistributed to Israeli farmers. Jayyous was never compensated for its loss. One villager tells how he used to lead his donkeys at night to what was once his family's apricot orchards, across the Green Line, and helped himself to the fruit. He called himself and his donkey "the Apricot Liberation Front."

Depending on how the question is considered, there are between five to eight clans, or extended families, in Jayyous. One was Christian until about 100 years ago. Somewhere in the village there used to be churches. The columns on the village's main mosque were salvaged from Roman ruins. There are also Ottoman ruins. Caves, used since time immemorial, dot the northern hillside, some ending up underneath houses in the village. Many of the houses have older stone foundations underneath--up to 1,500 years old.

Some of the villagers have eight names, and a few have nine, indicating their families extend back about 600 years, according to Abdel Latif, a local hydrologist. It is clear the land has been cultivated for centuries; some of the thousands of olive trees belonging to the village are hundreds of years old. An Israeli arborist reported the oldest tree he knew of in Palestine was 1,700 years old, but said there may be even older ones. (Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2003 issue, #128) Villagers refer to these extremely old trees as "Roman trees," indicating they have been there from the time of Jayyous was a Roman garrison town. Some Jayyous residents still possess Ottoman deeds to their lands, which were eventually replaced by British, and then Jordanian deeds; all of the land is registered in Jordan. They also have vouchers from the Palestinian Authority's Finance Department. Four hundred dunams (100 acres) are held in common by the Jayyous municipality; before that, they were held by the colonially-appointed Muktar (town elder).

Once, 300 Jayyous farmers went to their lands every day. Then the wall was built. At first the gates were open. Then the Israelis placed locks and chains on them. Then they started locking the gates, only opening them for about 15-20 minutes at a time. On Oct. 2, the Israeli West Bank military commander, Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, declared the area between the wall and the Green Line to be a closed military zone. The Israelis call this area the "seam zone." The rules of the seam zone require that no Palestinian can enter without a permit issued by Israel. However, Israeli citizens and those eligible to be citizens under the Law of Return are allowed to enter. A sign next to the gate reads in Hebrew, Arabic and English: "He who enters this area without permission endangers his life."

Shareef Omar, a member of the local Land Defense Committee, says he told PA minister Saeb Erekat that accepting the permits was a mistake, and would be another step in losing the rights to their lands. Erekat disagreed, and told Omar, "The farmers have already suffered too much."

On Nov. 14, a stack of hundreds of permits was delivered to the municipality of Jayyous. Mostly the permits were for children, old men and women, and Jayyousians who currently live in places like Canada, Saudi Arabia or Jordan. Conspicuously absent were permits for any of the farmers who had participated in Jayyous' campaign of dozens of non-violent protests against the wall in the preceding year. Or anyone who had a family member seized by Israel's security forces. Only 30% of the farmers who needed them could get them, and they were issued for two months, until Jan. 14. Of seven numbered items on the permit, the most salient is number 6: "This permit does not prove your ownership of the land, or if you have a house there, this permit does not prove you are the owner of the house." Many farmers went to the occupation authorities in the Israeli settlement of Kedumim to try to obtain permits, and sometimes hired Israeli lawyers to help. The answers were always the same: "Come back in a couple of days," or "Come back next week." The end result was always the same: "permit denied." No explanation ever given. In a bit of irony, one farmer, Mahmoud, 29, has a permit to work in Tel Aviv, but not in his own fields. Apparently he is a greater threat to Israel tending his sheep than working construction in Tel Aviv.

Khader Shamasny, 29, has 100 sheep and cannot graze them, because he has no permit to get to his lands, and there is little to graze on inside the wall. This does not prevent shepherds from trying to graze there sheep wherever something green can be found inside the town. Some sheep have clearly visible ribs. Their offspring are not surviving as regularly, and they get sick more easily. Abdel Latif says the people in the village have not enough protein in their diets as a result.

Shamasny cannot afford to buy feed for his sheep, the price having doubled over the last year. He is thinking of selling his sheep before they starve to death. He talks about taking a job with the Palestinian police--which seems to amount to a sort of workfare in the occupied West Bank. Police wages will not allow Shamasny to feed his sheep, however.

It seems to be part of a deliberate policy not to allow shepherds to graze their flocks. At the south gate, farmers who had permits were not allowed to take their sheep through from November through early January. But most of the town's livestock are grazed through the north gate, and their lands west of that gate are not accessible by the south gate. On Jan. 10, this reporter was asked to accompany farmer to their fields. Also accompanying us was an Israeli-born US national and activist, who speaks Hebrew. I explained to the soldier at the gate, a Druze who would not let me through, that under the rules of the "seam zone" I do not require permission to enter as someone eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. He went to his jeep to call his commander, then came back and told me no dice. I watched the work crew--many of them Jayyoussians with permits hired by farmers without permits to tend to their land and harvest their crops. The soldiers checked them all semi-methodically, and let them through, about 30 people and seven vehicles.

However, the soldiers stopped the last two villagers who tried to enter. Boys from Jayyous, aged approximately 12 or 13, with about 25 sheep. Without asking for or checking their permits, one soldier said to the boys in Hebrew in a very aggressive tone, as if he recognized one of the boys: "No sheep. No sheep. You're not coming to the fence. Go home. You throw stones, you come near the fence. If I see you by the fence today--forget about it. Go home."

Then the soldiers closed the gate and left. The boys told us that they did not throw stones, that they had permits, and that they had been allowed through before.

At 8:00 AM, we placed a call to Hamoked lehaganat Haprat, an Israeli human rights group in Jerusalem, which acts a liaison to the occupation authorities. One of the boys, Muhammed, spoke. Hamoked said they would call the Israelis, and told us to wait.

At 8:15, another jeep arrived. Two soldiers got out, opened the gate, and approached us. They were very aggressive and angry. "What time is it? You're late. You're not getting through. Get out of here. Go home." When the shepards and I insisted they were there on time, the soldiers turned around and went back through the gate. "Are you going to open the gate for them?" I shouted. "Yes," came the reply--but then they shut the gate, and both soldiers aimed their rifles at us and shouted to go away. One got down in sniper position. We backed away about 20 meters, and the soldiers left.

At 8:18, we again called Hamoked. They said they would call a higher occupation authority than the last time. But at 8:35, the shepherds gave up, and went to try to find some grass on the eastern side of the wall for their sheep. We notified Hamoked, and they said they would protest with Israel's civil administration.

The fence in Jayyous is flanked by a road and dirt track. Israeli army jeeps driving along the length of the road punctuate the night with gunfire in the air. They don't enter the village as much as they used to, but on Jan. 3, an international staying in the village reported a relatively large incursion:

"At 7:30 pm, I was at the nearby fruit/vegetable stand chatting and sipping tea when we heard an extremely loud CRASH! And then several shots of live ammunition... Quickly, he [a shopkeeper] closed the door, leaving a crack so he could peer out to see what would happen next. I asked him what he thought the loud crash was because it sounded as if the jeep had run into either a building or a vehicle. No reply. He was too intent on finding out if the jeeps were coming towards where we were... Sure, then two jeeps drove by...heading west in the village.

"As usual..after about five minutes, we heard the running of the shebab [youth] going towards where the jeeps were headed...clearly, rocks and stones are no match for jeeps and guns, tear gas and sound bombs, but they do send a message. And the message is clear. 'This is our land, this is our home, and it is time for you to go home.'

"For more than one hour, there was live ammununition, soldiers both in their jeeps and on foot, throughout the village...throwing sound bombs...tear gas...flare-like bombs that light up the sky...and give the impression that they could land on you.... And of course, the worst of it...the shooting of the M-16's and maybe other weaponry, over and over again, into the air."

The reason for the vehemence of this particular incursion: the shebab had managed to cut the lock and chain on the south gate, and re-attached it to the back of an Israeli jeep on the other side of the fence. Doubtless this made the army feel pretty embarrassed, and they need little excuse to invade the village.

The boldness of the boys' actions showed something else. They are effectively caged into the village, and watching their future being taken away. They feel they have little to lose. This concerns the mayor, Faiz Selim. "Parents have no money to give their children to go to university, and can't go to their land to work. How can they care for their children?" Mayor Selim keeps the blinds on his window drawn shut, because he can't stand looking at the fruit rotting on his trees on his fields, which are beyond the wall. As he is being interviewed, a farmer comes in and an animated conversation ensues. The mayor later explains that the man is among those who cannot get to his land, and the Palestine Authority has promised to help blunt their losses, but so far no money has come.

When the village's permits expired on Jan. 14, even fewer farmers were given new ones. Recently, Israel delivered a set of new rules for permits. Farmers must now provide pictures for the permits, which will have magnetic strips. They must declare in Kedumim that they will not rent their lands, and that they own the land directly and work inside it. (It is a common practice for the villagers to rent land.) If their names do not match those on the title deeds, they have to prove in Israeli court in Kedumin it is their land. They need the mayor's office to certify they own the land, and work in it, and how much land they have. Then, the kicker: after all these conditions are fulfilled, all back taxes on the land must be paid. The Jayyousians stopped paying their taxes when the Palestinian Authority came to power, and it did not compel the farmers to pay. Now they are required to come up with nine years of back taxes, and send it to a bank account registered in the name of the Palestinian Authority.

This made the people of Jayyous suspicious. Was the PA collaborating with the Israeli authorities? The PA has never shown much concern for the farmers, and is now bankrupt. The Land Defense Committee went to PA ministers and asked them directly if they knew about this condition; they insisted they were never informed. The farmers left hoping that the PA Prime Minister, Ahmed Khorei, will be able to negotiate a slightly better deal--maybe to pay only every other year. At 22 shekels a year per irrigated dunam, and 8.5 per unirrigated, very few farmers can afford to pay the back taxes. Many farmers can't even get the money to buy new plastic to cover their greenhouses. Three years of closures, added transportation costs due to 90% of the old access roads being cut off by the wall, difficulties in bringing in their harvests due to restrictive rules, harassment by Israeli security forces--all has left the farmers with little money. Shareef Omar, the largest landowner in the town, will have to come up with eight thousand dollars to pay his back taxes on his 175 dunums, a sum he doesn't have. He says many farmers will be forced to sell some of their lands, in order to pay the taxes. As of Feb. 4, only three farmers had managed to fill all the requirements and get permits to go to their land.

The wall has created a critical economic crisis in a very short time. And in one or two generations, says Abdel Latif, it will change the culture of the people in a dramatic way. There is a very intense relationship between Jayyousians and their land. The very old olive trees they refer to as "grandfather trees," and consider them like members of their families. About 140,000 olive and fruit trees have been demolished for the path of the wall in the West Bank already, says Abdel Latif, and before long about the same number have died behind the wall for lack of care.


Also behind the wall are now all seven of Jayyous' wells. Israel already took 80% of the West Bank's water resources through settlement before the wall was built; now they have 95% under their control. Even before the wall arrived, the village's agricultural water was monitored by Israel, with only a certain amount allotted each month. In land confiscated from Jayyous just to the west, Israelis grow water-hungry crops like cotton, with no limit placed on water use.

The water for the village itself is pumped from a well it shares with the neighboring village of Azzoun, to the east. Palestinians have been prohibited by Israeli authorities from drilling for new wells since 1967, and this leads an inadequate water supply. The village of Kufr Jamal, to the north of Jayyous, cannot pump its water when the neighboring village of Salit is pumping. Jayyous can only pump for two hours every three days to fill the tanks on the roofs of its homes. Some houses have systems for catching rainwater to augment their supplies.

Whether by policy or habit, Israeli occupation forces exploit the village's vulnerability in its water supply. In the first week of August 2003, Israeli Border Police entered Jayyous three times over a period of four days, and shot a total of 29 water tanks on villagers' roofs. On Aug. 2, three border police entered the village from the south at midday, and shot seven tanks. The police, who are equipped like soldiers and have a reputation for brutality, reportedly laughed as they scored hits on tanks. They spent about an hour wandering toward the center of town, leisurely taking aim and shooting at tanks, keeping terrified residents indoors. After an hour, they withdrew.

On Aug. 4, this reporter was inside a home in center of the village, when the Border Police again entered at around sundown, dismounted from the jeep, and preceeded to shoot five tanks in the area, including the one on the roof over our heads. After the police withdrew, water was streaming from holes in several of the tanks. Young boys collected the bullet shells and poured them into my hand, looking at me expectantly, with impassive faces.

The next day, the police came back, this time at 11 AM, and dismounted in front of the same house. The house's owner could hear two police talking as they stood directly outside, and methodically shot several more tanks. The houses normally have two tanks; the black ones are plastic, and hold cold water. The white ones are metal, and hold hot water. One officer said the other, "shoot the white ones, they are harder to fix." His companion complied.

After the police left, a local teacher said, "This happens every summer. It keeps the villagers terrified, and strikes them where they are weak--their water."

See also WW3 REPORT #91: Border Cops Go Wilding in Jayyous


While Israel's security fence is taking away the West Bank's agricultural resources, some Israelis have suggested building industrial parks in the "Seam Zone"--where Palestinians' farms are under a process of de facto seizure--to employ the farmers who have lost their livelihood.

On Nov. 14, the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot ran an article titled "Mofaz's Initiative: Jobs for Palestinians," reporting that during a November visit to the US, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz presented the US government with an "initiative to build industrial parks that will create jobs for 120 thousands Palestinians." Yediot's Washington correspondent, Orly Azulai, noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell had asked Mofaz to "minimize the suffering caused on Palestinians as a result of the construction of the Separation Fence."

"To implement the initiative, of course, there is a need in an end for terrorism and financial resources," Mofaz said after a meeting with Dick Cheney and Condolezza Rice. "As part of the plan, industrial parks will be built in the Palestinian side and on the seam line. The Palestinians will be able to go to this places without going through IDF checkpoints; private security companies will monitor these passages."

Mofaz added that he believed the US government understood that the separation wall was necessary for Israel's security. (Y. Aharonot, Nov. 14)

The plan for industrial parks in the "seam zone" where Palestinians could be employed by Israeli companies without actually entering Israel has an antecedant in the industrial park at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza--where a female attacker from Hamas blew herself up along with four members of the Israeli security forces on Jan. 14.

This may be what Israel envisions for villages like Jayyous. To the south of Jayyous is the Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe, with a population of 5,000. Just below Alfe Menashe is a Palestinian village called Arab Ramadin, visible from the south side of Jayyous. The 260 villagers of Arab Ramadin survive mostly on sheep herding. But the village is locked behind the wall in an enclave with Alfe Menashe, and is "being de facto annexed behind the Apartheid Wall," according to a Dec. 18 report by the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign of the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON). The villagers issued an appeal for international solidarity to keep their lands and their way of life, PENGON says. The wall has effectively made it impossible to graze their sheep on their land which in the past supported 1,500 sheep. Because most vehicles don't have permits to transport feed into the town, most residents of Arab Ramadin cannot bring in food for their sheep. Most residents cannot afford to buy donkey carts or tractors, which are the only vehicles now allowed through the gate in the wall leading to Arab Ramadin's pastures. The PENGON statement concludes: "The completion of the Wall and its ghettoization of Arab Ramadin are turning a community of shepherds into exploited workers for Israeli settlement industrial zones, as they are unable to sustain their lives."

For More on Jayyous, see WW3 REPORT # 75: Israel's "Apartheid Wall": Twilight of Jayyous?

See also: Jayyous Online for pictures and articles in Arabic and English

See also: "Going Out of the Ordinary Fence" Tsomet Sharon, Aug. 29

See also: Trapped between Israel and the wall About Arab Ramadin and Jayyous, FT, Feb. 12

Reprinting permissible with attribution.