Mashah, 2003

NO PEACE WITH SETTLEMENTS

                                             Israel’s stubborn extension of its settlements in the
West Bank again threatens to undermine any permanent peace. This is no novelty.
From the beginning of the dream of a homeland the Zionist policy was to acquire the
‘Holy Land’ if not by war then by gradual settlement. Settlement continued
undaunted during all peace efforts ovcer the last decades. Religion served the
policy well. Even non-believers made use of it. Just how blatant this ‘land-
grabbing’ has become was illustrated again with the so-called Security Fence, a
wall built on a route that annexed large parts of Palestinian territory. For those
Palestinians along the route the dilemma was often heart-breaking. This is a case I
reported in 2003:   


                  Hani Mohamed Amer is a crusty Palestinian farmer with a nervous tick in
one eye. Seated on the stone stairs of a house his family owned for generations he
was gazing across the orchard and the vegetable gardens on the gentle slope, part
of the valley of Ariel, where he and his forefathers had grown their livelihood. The
rhythmic thump of his walking cane on stone betrayed his inner emotions. Many of
the villagers of Mashah on the West Bank had gathered around him, some in
commiseration others to seek advice.

                    Amer’s eyes were fixed on the Caterpillar bulldozer with the bullet-
proof driver’s cabin. The huge army ‘dozer’ was carving up a swath of
land destined to carry Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, a barricade the Palestinians
have nicknamed “the Apartheid Wall.� The vehicle approached to within a
few yards of Amer’s own fence, then, chains clanking, swivelled and went back
downhill, pushing dirt. Two Border Police jeeps were parked below Amer’s
fence. Four blue-uniformed police, casually cradling their assault rifles, kept an eye
on the fifty-two international activists who had formed a human chain to save Amerâ
€™s house from being demolished. Each time the bulldozer approached the activists
rushed from their tents and linked arms to form their chain. Once the ‘dozer
clattered downhill the human chain disintegrated.
                  The old farmer had thanked the activists for trying to save his home.
Privately he admitted he had no faith their action would be successful. In recent
days twelve activists had been shot by rubber bullets and scores were arrested in
similar anti-wall protests along the West Bank. Not a single house had been saved.

                Still the activists had courage. Down in Raffa at the Gaza border with
Egypt an American activist, Rachel Corrie, 23 years old, had been bulldozed to
death a few months earlier as she tried to save from demolition the home of a
Palestinian family who hosted her. The driver of the Caterpillar claimed he did not
see her standing in front of his scoop, though eye witnesses and photos showed her
standing on a mount of dirt so she could eyeball the driver as he approached. In a
blatant white-wash the army said the young American girl was killed by dirt falling on
her. A young British activist, carrying children to safety from another Raffa home
about to be demolished, was shot in the head and remains comatose. An initial army
inquiry said a Palestinian ‘terrorist’ shot him, a report later withdrawn after
British indignation made a case of the incident. Washington barely raised an inquiry
in the Corrie case.
                Undaunted by the past the activists at Mashah had camped out for three
days and nights, determined to stop the bulldozer ploughing down Amer’s home.
Most of them were young pacifists whose social conscience had been outraged by
the Israeli methods to combat the Intifada. They had come from all over the world,
from America, Europe and Asia, to stage their protests. They sneaked into the West
Bank with the help of Palestinians. Some had dismantled road barricades that had
virtually caged villages for more than a year. The activists were aware foreigners
were only deported while Palestinians who dismantled barricades could be jailed
indefinitely. Three activists had ripped off the locks on the chains around Hebron
University campus, a campus shut down for two years. The chain-breaking
prompted Israel to announce within hours it had decided to allow the University to â
€œreopen.â€�

              The scene at Mashah was not unusual, nor was the dull resignation of the
two thousands villagers. Their homes were miles inside the Green Line, the de facto
border both sides had considered the line dividing the State of Israel from the West
Bank. These days Israeli officials argued the Green Line had never been intended
as a permanent border and Israel was justified in building the security fence inside
the Green Line as a protection against attacks by suicide bombers.
               The excuse of 'national security' is used for all occasions in Israel, just as
it is today in the U.S. to justify 'permanent war' on terror. In the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip Israeli army bulldozers automatically demolish homes and flatten olive
and fruit tree groves because someone allegedly fired from the house or the land on
one of the one hundred and thirty Jewish settlements that ring Palestinian cities,
towns and villages.

               The settlement of El Kana is Amer's next door neighbour. El Kana is part
of the cluster of settlements around the huge Ariel complex and the Ariel Industrial
Park inside the West Bank. The intended security fence was to make a huge loop
into the Green Line to include the complex. In the process it was annexing a large
swath of Palestinian land, fencing it out to the Israeli side.

              Amer and his family of eight share a garden fence with three of El Kana's
villas. He can see into their rooms, they can see into his rooms. He sells the settlers
the apples and apricots he grows on his land. In the winter he sells them vegetables
from his greenhouses. There were never any incidents, even after an ominous
beginning.
                "One day, three years ago, workers came and laid down foundations on
the land next door,� Amer took up his story again. “The land belonged to
people in the village. So we protested. We were told the land had been confiscated
because it was not being used. We were told to take the matter to court if we
objected.

              "So we got a lawyer and filed a petition in Tel Aviv. But the case dragged
on and on and all the time the settlers were building homes, swimming pools,
gardens - until it was all done.

               "When it was finished the Israeli High Court handed down its judgment:
We had won. The settlement of El Kana was illegal. But the court ruled if we wanted
the land back we had to compensate the settlers for the installations they had
already built: The homes, the pools, the gardens, the water works, the electricity, the
Internet and telephone facilities, everything.

                â€œMy friend, if the whole village put their money together we wouldn't
have had enough to pay the cost of one day's construction at El Kana."

                      So El Kana remained.
                       To safeguard the ‘illegal’ residents of the settlement the
Israelis barricaded Masha with mounts of earth and rocks on both ends. This left the
village blockaded. On the other hand the ‘illegal’ settlers were provided with
easy access to the Ariel complex highway just half a mile down the slopes. (The four-
lane highway, built exclusively for settlers, connects to the main highways heading
for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An army checkpoint makes the road off limits to
Palestinians.) The Israeli authorities built an artery road that connected El Kana to
the highway.
                Amer spoke slowly as he recounted, step by step, what had led to the
present situation.

             He said officials from the Ministry of Defense came a month ago and
offered to buy his house and his land because the new security fence to keep
"terrorists" out of Israel was being routed between Amer's house and the Jewish
settlement next door. Unfortunately, they said, he would be fenced out and left on
the Israeli side.

               "So sell and buy yourself another house,â€� the officials told him.

                Amer is a stubborn Arab attached to the land by history and an
unshakeable belief no one has the right to make him move. He tapped the cane hard
on the stone steps: "I refused. I told them my family had been on this land for
generations. Don't even give me a figure, I said. Selling is out of the question.�

                The officials were accustomed to similar resistance. "Don't make it difficult
for yourself,� they told Amer. “Maybe one day someone will fire a gun from
your house at the Jewish settlement next door and then we will have to demolish
your house and take away your land. Think about that. If this should happen youâ
€™ll end up with nothing. Isn’t it better now to have some money and start
somewhere else?�

              The villagers standing around Amer nodded. No one was surprised at such
veiled threats. In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Israeli army bulldozers
automatically demolish homes and flatten olive and fruit tree groves because
someone allegedly fired from the house or the land on one of the one hundred and
thirty Jewish settlements that ring Palestinian cities, towns and villages.

                    Amer said once the Defense Ministry officials realized he would not
budge they told him he had five days to lodge an objection at an office near
Ramallah.

                     The villagers sniggered.

                     "How could I lodge an objection?" Amer asked: "It is illegal for me to
leave Mashah unless I obtain a special travel permit from the Israelis. And the permit
can take a month.

                     "So tell me, what can I do? Wait here until they have fenced me out of
my hometown where my mother and father and my brothers and sisters live? Once
fenced out I won't be able to see them again?
                       The bulldozer was once again moving threateningly close to the
doomed house. The activists rushed form their tents and linked arms.

                     The bulldozer turned lazily and began to flatten the land on both sides
of the intended fence as Amer shook his head. He knew he was doomed. Unless he
left his home he would be forced to live on the Israeli side of the fence. If he
intended to visit his parents or relatives he would need permission from the Israeli
military authorities to pass through a gate to which the military had the key. The
farmer knew from experience the IDF does not hand out permits easily and tends to
use them as a whip and carrot.

                     Three days later a contingent of tough Border Police dragged the
activists into police buses and drove them to Ariel prison where they spent the night
before being told if they ever entered the West Bank again they would be jailed for
two years. Only a young Italian girl from the Tirol was deported. Despite coaching by
her organization not to resist arrest she had kicked a policeman when he dragged
her away by her hair. The kick was classified as an “assault� against
authority.

                      The same day the bulldozer flattened Amer’s Outhouse and left
his main home on the Israeli side of the fence.