The following is a portion of a presentation/testimony given by Sharif Omar Khaled (Abu Azzam) at the symposium co-organized by PENGON/Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign at The Hague on Saturday, February 21. The symposium, also referred to as the Popular Hearing, sought to provide a platform at The Hague for affected communities to make their struggle known worldwide.

***image2***When we first followed the Israeli jeeps on September 5, 2002 in order for them to show us the location of the so-called 'Wall', it appeared to us very clear that this Wall was to confiscate our land and water resources. We arranged dozens of peaceful demonstrations with the participation of internationals and peace activists.

I will never forget that in one of these demonstrations I was told by the Israeli officer in charge that the purpose of this Wall was to give security to both Palestinians and Israelis alike. I answered him, "If this was the real reason, we, the farmers of Jayyous are ready to pay half the costs of constructing the Wall if it was to be built along the Green Line (which is the politically recognized border)". But the only answer I got from the army for my suggestion was a volley of tear-gas shells in our direction.

In another one of our peaceful demonstrations held on the south side of the village of Jayyous, where the Apartheid Wall is only 28 meters from the houses, but six and a half kilometers inside the Green Line, the Israeli captain's justification was that the route of the Wall was to prevent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. To this I asked him, "wouldn't the six and a half kilometers distance between us and the Green Line do more to prevent clashes than the twenty-eight meters between our houses and the Wall?" Again, the only reply we received was more tear-gas.

From time to time unknown people from our village and surrounding villages cut the lock and chain on the gate and open it as a message to the Israeli people that this fence will never guarantee their security. Sometimes gaps are made in the fence so that farmers may reach their land during times of closure; this results in collective punishment for the farmers and villagers, such as the army entering the village and shooting at the water tanks on the roofs and interfering with the electricity supply.

At the end of last August, the Israeli contractors completed the north gate in the Apartheid Wall next to Jayyous, and from that day onwards the army began to increase the difficulties we were already suffering by, for example, obliging us to leave our farms. They have not been sticking to the pre-agreed timetable for opening the gates. Also, allowing access without tractors and trucks which results in transportation problems for the farmers' produce. Often they don’t allow people under thirty-five onto the land and impose a ban on certain chemical fertilizers such as potassium nitrate or urea. Sometimes they don't allow us to take gas cylinders which we need to cook our food, along with diesel which is needed for our water pumps. They don't allow merchants from other villages access in order to buy our produce. This has caused many problems in our city markets because of the barriers and checkpoints, while the Israeli merchants can sell their produce in our cities. The gates are also closed on Jewish holydays.

Often we can't get to our farms early enough so we decided to build shelters and tents in order to stay on our land, but on the 13th October 2003 the army surrounded our farms and expelled sixty-six farmers and their livestock and warned them that anyone found sleeping on his land will be fined two thousand shekels and imprisoned for a period of one month. In an incident previous to this date they closed the gates for twenty-eight days continuously and declared the area a closed military zone. This took place during the guava harvesting season. As a result, the farmers lost seventy-five percent of their crops. In addition to the losses sustained in our greenhouses (of tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables) after this long closure and mass deportation of farmers from their farms, the Israelis introduced permits for the farmers to enter through the gates. These permits are quite simply a big deception; they are only to say to the world that Palestinians have permits and can reach their farms. In reality however, they issued permits to old men and women, people living abroad, children and babies, and in one case to a deceased person, whereas the real farmers have been denied permits. A total of one hundred and sixteen farmers to date have still not been issued with permits. Of these I am one.

Of the farmers who have permits, many of them can't farm their land as they have many dunums and they need workers.

The permits are valid for a period of three months. This is a problem throughout all of the surrounding villages. Qalqilya, the main city in our district, has been turned into the world's largest prison consisting of 45,000 inmates who, due to the bottle-neck construction of the Apartheid Wall, can only pass through one checkpoint. On the south side of Qalqilya, three villages and Bedouin communities are imprisoned between the Wall and the Green Line and can't leave their area without permits.

The villagers of Azzoun (population 7000) haven't gates to access their land so last olive season they were unable to harvest their land. So what will happen in the coming years?

The Wall will only strengthen and prolong the Occupation and weaken the Palestinian project for an independent state. Enough confiscating our land, water and freedom.


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