***image3***Welcome to the rural community of Wad Rahal (the Valley of Travelers) in Palestine. Located only three kilometers from Bethlehem, 1700 people call this village home. This community sits in between Palestine’s hillsides creating a picturesque farming village.

Although at first appearance Wad Rahal seems like an idyllic environment to live, this small community is burdened with struggles imposed upon them by the Occupation.

Since the Oslo Accords, most of Wad Rahall’s land exists within Area C, meaning that Occupation forces have full control in this area (security and administrative). As such, for many residents they have to apply for permits from the Israeli civil administration to be allowed to build homes, schools, etc. These permits are very difficult to get and are rarely granted. As a result the land that exists in Area B (the Occupation controls security, whereas the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over administrative measures), is being coming very crowded.

Wad Rahal’s residents live in the shadow of Efrat, one of the largest illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlers control Wadi Rahal’s water, which flows through a shared water pipe that fills the village’s tanks. During the summer when water is a priceless commodity, villagers say that Efrat cuts their water to one day a week, leaving them to savor the water in their tank for an entire week before refilling it.

The main road through Wad Rahal that took villagers to Bethlehem in less than 15 minutes is now blocked and cut, requiring the use of an alternative. Route 60, a major highway with the West Bank, is available for villagers to use, however access gates to the road are controlled by Occupation forces, and are closed from six in the evening until six in the morning. When the gates are closed the villagers must use a winding back road, which can take up to 45 minutes to reach Bethlehem. This becomes a significant issue when there is a medical emergency in the community at night and the closest access to medical care is in Bethlehem. Many people have died on route to the hospital, unable to get medical attention soon enough.

Wad Rahal is also subject to night incursions by Occupation forces. Bi-monthly the military enters the village to conduct raids and searches. This if often done in the middle of the night, which puts the villagers on edge. The soldiers will bang on the doors in the middle of the night and if the villagers do not open the door fast enough, the soldiers will break it down. During the searches the inhabitants are made to stand outside regardless of age and regardless of the weather outside. When they leave the house has often been ransacked and things broken. What the soldiers are looking for exactly, no one is sure.

Occupation soldiers also enter the village to do trainings. This is often done during the day, however it still sends the villagers into their homes with fear. The soldiers use live ammunition as they use Wad Rahal as training grounds for excursions they might carry out in the future either here or in another neighboring village.

Yet what are the most destructive actions are the Israeli land confiscations and the construction of the Apartheid Wall in the village of Wad Rahal. In 2006 Occupation forces started preparing for the construction of the wall on Wad Rahal land by demolishing 6 houses and an aluminum factory that provided employment for several people from the community.

***image4***Occupation forces also confiscated 210 dunams (1 dunam equals 0.25 acres) of land to build the Wall and to expand the neighboring, and illegal, Efrat settlement. This land was agricultural land full of olive and fig trees, grape vines, and vegetable plants. Much of this land was destroyed in order to build the wall, which currently exists as a curb-like structure snaking around the village.

In March 2010, villagers found a map, placed carefully under two rocks so it wouldn’t blow away. This map was left by Occupation soldiers for villagers to find, it indicated the planned route of the Wall that will be built around the village. Originally the Wall was to be built just 2 meters away from their school, however through protests and court proceedings, it will now be built 10 meters away from their school; however still visible by the students and still on Wad Rahal land.

Although currently the Wall exists as a curb-like structure, it is expected that early in 2011 an electric fence will be put in place before the building of the 10-meter concrete structure that is seen throughout the West Bank.

Given the obstacles and the pervasiveness of the occupation, it would make sense for the community of Wad Rahal to despair. However, rather than despair, the community is rising up in the face of occupation, to work for justice and peace for their community. Their leadership in this endeavor comes from the youth.

Immediately after finding the map of the route of the wall, 5 youth from Wad Rahal started to organize demonstrations. The first demonstration took place the first Friday after receiving the map. The community’s men gathered at the site where the wall was to built and prayed. After that first Friday, the weekly demonstrations began. The community would gather to pray followed by a demonstration. Many of these demonstrations are attacked by the Israeli soldiers firing tear-gas, sound bombs, and rubber bullets.

The demonstrations saw up to 300 community members, including many children, participate. At first international presence was limited, the first demonstration having only three. However, since the demonstrations began that support has grown to twenty.

One local activists says:

We are protesting against the violations of the occupation, which includes the confiscation of our land, doing military training within our village beside our houses, cutting our main street, and the Israeli process of isolating our village from the urban centers where services, such as medical care, is available.

We participate in the demonstrations to give the people hope and re-energize their resistance against the occupation.

Our method is nonviolence because nonviolent resistance gives an equal chance for all people to resist the Apartheid Wall, including men, women, children, and the elderly. Nonviolence is also an effective way to communicate our message to the world and is accepted by international law. It is legal and a way the international community can get involved.

The popular movement in Wad Rahal is growing. Although the soldiers throw gas, the settlement expands, and situation becomes bleak, the people of Wad Rahal are standing firm. Despite the difficulties the people of Wad Rahal still have a vision as one activist says,

“We look forward to a bright future. We believe in our right to life. We believe in the justice of our cause. We want to develop our community so that we can face the challenges of the occupation. We believe we have the strength of the right while Israel believes it has the right to strength. The work we do is for every man, woman, and child within Wad Rahal and Palestine and hope that one day we can all live free, with human rights, in relationship with other Palestinian communities, and in peace with justice.”



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