Our house is on the main street just as you enter the village of Jayyous, a Palestinian village of 3,700 people in the West Bank. It is a solid stone single storey house in its own basic courtyard. The house itself is spacious, tiled throughout with a main room, which we use as an office and onto which our bedrooms open. We have the luxury of our own rooms. Outside our gate there is a notice erected by the municipality stating that we are ecumenical accompaniers and why we are here. We are number five on the tourist trail of Jayyous.
So why are we here? What are the problems in Jayyous?
‘All our problems stem from the fence’ said Mohammed Taher Jabr, the Mayor of Jayyous. The Israeli Separation Barrier is variously a wall and a fence. In Jayyous it is a fence consisting of a line of coiled razor wire, a razor wire fence, a three metre ditch, a line with electronic detection devices and a dirt road and the same again on the other side. ‘We do not have a problem with the fence, but where it is built,’the Mayor explains. ‘We would have no problem with it if it was built along the Green Line.’
The Green Line is the 1948 armistice line , so called because it is said to have been marked with green pen when the fighting stopped in 1948. It is the internationally recognised border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. After the ‘Six Day War’ in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza and occupied them ever since.
Jayyous is about six kilometres away from the Green Line and all its land is on the West Bank side of it. Unlike in Britain or Ireland, farmers in Palestine live inside the villages with their farmland on the outskirts. The fence near Jayyous was built right next to the village, dividing the villagers from 80% of their land and five of their seven water sources.
The route of the fence is entirely to do with the Israeli settlement of Zufin. Zufin was set up in 2002, just inside the West Bank on some of the villager’s most fertile land. The route of the fence in effect annexes, de facto if not de jure, their land to Israel. I have heard it said, ‘The Green Line is being rubbed out.’
Farming is the main source of livelihood in Jayyous. They have extensive vineyards, figs, olive, almond and guavas and greenhouses where they cultivate vegetables throughout the year. All of this is threatened if they cannot regularly access their land or call in their family members to help at peak times.
Land between the Green Line and the fence is known as the ‘Seam Zone’. Farmers with land in the Seam Zone, which is almost all the farmers in Jayyous, have to have a permit to go through ‘agricultural gates’in the fence to reach their own land. Getting a permit takes time and there are restrictions on who can have a permit, which change all the time.
To get a permit, you have to be able to prove you have a connection to the land: it is not enough that your family has farmed it for generations. You also have to have permits for vehicles. Some fertilisers are acceptable while others are forbidden. There was a ruling recently that young men under 40 were not allowed through with a donkey in case they use it to travel to Israel to work. It was being applied at all the gates. We checked with the District Coordination Liaison Office and have managed to establish that this applies to only one of the gates.
As Ecumenical Accompaniers, we are there to be neutral in terms of the conflict but not in terms of when people’s human rights are violated. The fence denies people’s right to freedom of movement so we monitor the agricultural gates or the nearby checkpoint six days a week. We check that they open on time, how many people are allowed through and how quickly. If people are turned back we try to find out why and what can be done about it. The permit system for villagers to access their land seems Kafkaesque. There may be reasons why people are refused entry but they are not explained. One man told us the renewal of his permit has suddenly been refused though he has never had a problem before. Another man told us that two of his sons, both senior in their professions, have permits to go to Israel as consultants but were refused entry to their farmland in the Seam Zone for ‘security reasons’.
The fence has had a devastating affect on Jayyous. At a stroke, people have been deprived of their livelihoods. Young men who had worked on their families’ land or who used to work in Israel are now without occupation or income. Frustrated, they often throw stones at the army jeeps. They are arrested and taken into administrative detention i.e. held without trial for days, weeks or even months. Their chances of ever getting a permit to cross the fence are then greatly diminished. This sets up a cycle of continuing arrests, stone-throwing and night incursions by the army.
The army says it carries out arrests at night because they can be sure that the person they want to arrest is at home. However, we have been told by villagers the army also enter the village randomly without making arrests. Sometimes they search houses and turn them upside down. Sometimes they just park their jeeps for a while and then leave. All this creates a sense of fear and uncertainty amongst the villagers.
Jayyous has a reputation for resistance. With protracted negotiations the village has managed to get the fence re-routed to reduce the amount of land behind the fence to 75%. Negotiations are continuing to have more land returned to the village side of the fence, They are also negotiating about the return of some of the water and have had some success with an agreement to establish a system of pipes to bring water back to the village side of the fence. But all of this begs the question of why the fence is there at all, four kilometres away from the Green Line.
Israel says it is there for security and, of course, Israel has every right and even a duty to protect itself. But the issue here is not about security for Israel but for a settlement which is illegal under international law. According to Article 49 (paragraph 6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, any kind of transfer of the occupying power’s population to the occupied territory is prohibited. Israel denies that this is an occupation because the West Bank was not a state before 1967 and that therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply.
The fence itself is also illegal. In 2004 the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice found that: “the construction of the wall, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law”. Israel defends it on the grounds of security for its citizens.
In the meantime there are plans for Zufin’s expansion. Planning permission for 120 new housing units has been granted making its acquisition of the Jayyous land all the more permanent. Jayyous will continue with its dogged resistance but there is always the fear that if they get the fence re-routed again that this may seem as if they are accepting an unacceptable situation and that they will lose the rest of their lands forever.
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt email@example.com for permission. Thank you.