Abu Azzam was looking tired. He had been working in his olive groves all day and had had a stream of visitors during the past week. Nevertheless he and his wife Sehan welcomed us with open arms.
During the three months I spent in Jayyus, two years ago, Abu Azzam was our landlord and friend. Village leader and head of the council he has been in the forefront of the struggle for Jayyus land most of his life. The problem remains the same: the separation fence built by the Israelis which runs between the village and most of its land and water which has caused impoverishment, hardship and loss of livelihood. (See my blog of last year: Jayyus – one year on.)
This evening, Abu Azzam was holding court to a number of international visitors. One asked him how much land he had lost. He was quick to correct him. ‘It is not lost, it is isolated.’ He said firmly.
Five years ago, the Israeli High Court, ordered that the Jayyus separation fence should be re-routed to return some land and water to the village. However, the Israelis decided on a new route for the fence without the consent of the village. For some people the new fence is undoubtedly better. Their land is directly accessible to where they live. However, approximately two thirds of land belonging to Jayyus farmers is still behind the new fence and for those people the situation is decidedly worse. There is currently only one access gates and this is open for only half an hour three times a day and to date, the opening times have been unreliable. The day we went to see it, it opened late. Sometimes it closes early. Sometimes it does both. The North Gate, nearest the village, is now permanently shut and there is no gate that is open all day as there was before. Abu Azzam’s land is now on both sides of the fence. He cannot go from one part of his farm to another without waiting for the gate to open. On one occasion, he got marooned on the wrong side of the fence in the evening and had difficulty getting home.
The village council has always asked for the fence to be moved to the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine. All this land belongs to the villagers. Israel’s position is that the fence is there for security for the Israeli settlement of Zufin. However, if this was actually the case, it could be built right next to Zufin. It is clearly positioned to allow for settlement expansion. Indeed a new settlement, Zufin North, is already planned. Two years ago it consisted of four caravans; now this number has doubled and a tarmacked road has been constructed linking it to the main settlement. All settlements and the separation fence are in breach of international law.
When the new gate was opened, all permits were cancelled and everyone had to re-apply. The conditions are now more stringent and permits harder to get. Permits are only issued to people with land nearest the fence and above a certain size. Abu Azzam feels that Israel is deliberately making it difficult for the Jayyus farmers so that eventually they will desert the land and find another way to earn a living. He fears that their land will be seized under the Ottoman Land law and lost to the village for ever. Though he has often implied this, it is the first time I have heard Abu Azzam say it out loud. It appears that Israel is tightening its grip on the remaining land and does not intend to return it.
The water problem is also acute. Jayyus has six major wells. The original fence divided the village from five of them. The sixth one, on the village side of the fence, is not working and they have been refused permission to re-drill it. One of the remaining five wells has now been released to the village side of the fence. The other four are still isolated. The loss of access to this water means that the village has to pay for water from other sources and their ability to grow produce is seriously compromised.
An agreement was reached, two years ago, to lay pipelines from three of the isolated wells to feed the village reservoir. The blue pipes are now in place on the side of the track down to the land. However, villagers were refused a permit to lay electricity cables and have to use diesel-powered pumps which doubles the cost. The council pumped it for a trial month only but stopped because it was proving too expensive. “We need the electricity for our farms too,’ Abu Azzam told me, ‘I have to use diesel to water my farm and if I had electricity, it would halve the cost.’
One of our number asked Abu Azzam about his work with the Land Defence Committee in the struggle for Jayyus. He told him that when the fence was first constructed in 2002, they realised that their land was in danger from the Ottoman Land Law. They formed a two-pronged strategy:
- To take their case to the Israeli High Court;
- To enlarge their committee to work with the farmers:
- Everywhere there was a ‘hot spot’ i.e. near the settlement or the Green Line, they encouraged people to continue to plant the land and to change the crops they grew to those that needed less water. Many of the farmers whose income had been reduced or destroyed by lack of access to their land and water were on the point of giving up.
- They got grants to enable these farmers to purchase seeds at half the cost.
- International Christian committees helped also by providing 50% of the costs of planting olive trees and these are now fruiting.
- They also provided half price wheat and barley as animal fodder for farmers cut off from their grazing land. It was resistance by farming.
Sumud is an Arabic word meaning ‘steadfastness’ or ‘endurance’. It also has a connotation of staying put on the land and refusing to leave. I remembered two years ago speaking with farmers in Jayyus who had been denied permits through the fence. They told me they asked relatives or hired people who did have permits to pick their olives so that they could demonstrate their land was being used, even though it brought them little or no profit. Abu Azzam and the Land Defence Committee continue their work to negotiate for permission to lay the electricity cables and to get another gate opened and to stay open all day. I have always thought Abu Azzam embodied Sumud. Passionately committed to non-violence, he has struggled throughout his life for the rights of his village.
It begins to look increasingly against the odds.
 The Fourth Geneva Convention, (Article 49) ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’
‘appropriation of property…not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully, and wantonly… is a war crime.’ (Article 147)
The International Court of Justice (2004) – ‘The Court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.’
 The Ottoman Land Law 1865 states that if land is left uncultivated for three consecutive years it is forfeit to the state.