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The Village Against the Fence

By Amira Hass

A serious-looking black dog, whose eyes looked almost hollow, freely crossed the naked strip of land west of the villages of Qibiya and Budrus, which stretches from the village of Rantis, about five kilometers to the north.

A young resident of Qibiya guiding the visitors among the olive groves and fruit orchards of his village, up to the route of the fence, hastened to cross the ditch that has already been dug on both sides of the route, and to disappear among the trees. It was soon clear why – an Israeli security vehicle was approaching from the north toward those walking on the exposed strip, as soon as it detected them.

The vehicle stopped and two men got out. One, the shorter and older, carrying a rifle, was from Kfar Yonah; the second was from a Bedouin community in the Galilee. The one with the rifle angrily demanded that the visitors who came on foot leave immediately, or he would call the police so they would explain, if you insist, that this is a closed military area, even if he had no papers to prove it. His friend, who served in the army for seven years and was discharged half a year ago, calmed things down before they heated up.

The one with the rifle asserted that the presence of cameras encourages people to come and demonstrate, and that’s how the waves of riots begin. “Isn’t it you, by your work, who are causing the waves of rioting?” he asked, and the question wasn’t quite understood. What are you talking about, we are doing our work, explained the younger man. And of course I support the fence, so I won’t explode with my family in a restaurant.

The “riots” the two were talking about are a series of demonstrations against the fence that have been held by the residents of Budrus for about a month. “We decided that unlike other places until now, where international peace activists conducted the battle against the fence and the Palestinians supported them, we, the residents of Budrus, would wage our own battle.”

Those are the words of Ayad Murar, 42, a veteran Fatah activist, who with his brother Naim was among the founders of the popular committee in the village “for the struggle against the apartheid wall.” The popular committee, he says, emphasized to the people that the battle against the bulldozers and the many soldiers and police who protect them must be conducted without violence.

Curfew and arrests

All residents answered the call to demonstrate – young and old, men and women. What began as a strike along the route of the fence reached a climax on December 30. Somebody saw a bulldozer approaching the olive grove. The speaker in the mosque quickly announced it, and everyone who was in the village ran westward, toward the grove.

School children ran out of the classrooms, books in hand. Tear gas, rubber bullets and blows did not stop the villagers, who dispersed and returned to stand or to sit in front of the soldiers and the police, on the ground. Eyewitnesses say that the female students sat in front of the many soldiers, who retreated to their jeeps. The appearance of several television cameras helped.

During the following days, the Israel Defense Forces imposed a curfew on the village in order to prevent the residents from going out to demonstrate. Mainly young men violated the curfew and walked to the olive grove, to prevent the bulldozers from doing their work. Up to this week, the bulldozers have not returned to work – after they already uprooted about 60 olive trees. The people of Budrus attribute this to their stubbornness and determination.

A few days after this demonstration, the IDF arrested Naim Murar. He was released on January 11, but didn’t manage to be home for more than three days when the army came again to arrest him and his brother Ayad. The military prosecutor demanded that they be placed under administrative detention.

In the military court at the Ofer army base, the judge, Major Adrian Agassi, decided to release Ayad. “I found it proper to intervene in the decision of the military commander,” ruled Agassi in his decision. “After all, we cannot allow the military commander to use his authority to order the administrative detention of a person only because of this activity [against the fence]. In my opinion, this is a mistaken decision that did not stem from clear security considerations.”

But the judge decided to approve the decision of the military commander to place Naim Murar under administrative detention. As is customary in administrative detention, only the judge was allowed to peruse the classified documents given to him by members of the Shin Bet security services, and according to these documents, “the intelligence material attributes to him activity in support of terror, in the context of the Tanzim organization.”

But in Budrus people are convinced that the second detention of Naim Murar – like that of eight other activists against the fence – is an attempt to dismantle the opposition in the village. From Budrus’ threatened olive grove sounds of firing can be heard – sounds of training exercises. They come from the Adam military base, which is a few dozen meters to the west, 20-30 meters west of the Green Line.

In Budrus they believe that because of this army base, which is a few dozen meters from the Green Line, the route of the fence was pushed straight into the beautiful olive grove that they have been nurturing for decades. Budrus lost most of its lands in 1948 – many thousands of dunams, some count up to 20,000, remained on the western side of the Green Line.

Some land remained in the demilitarized zone, which both Israeli and Jordanian forces were forbidden to enter. Since 1967, say the villagers, the demilitarized zone has become Israeli, and they weren’t allowed to return to work their land there as well.

The route that is planned according to the map of the Israeli security services looks as though it is right on the Green Line. But in reality, all the difference lies in several dozen meters east of the Green Line. Now, of the 5,000 dunams that remain to the approximately 1,400 residents of Budrus, they estimate that they will lose about one fifth.

Some of this land is being confiscated for the fence itself, part of the area of the village will remain behind the fence – between the fence and the Green Line. The villagers estimate that 3,000 olive trees, which cover an area of about 5,000 dunams, will be lost under the teeth of the bulldozers or will be trapped in areas where entry is forbidden.

They figure that the “fence” – namely, two ditches that will be dug on both sides of it, and the two barbed wire fences, and the electronic fence with the sensors, and the patrol roads between them, and the watchtowers – will almost touch some of the most western houses in the village, including the school.

Imprisoned enclave

The occupation and preparation of the land here, west of Kibiya and Budrus, are being carried out in the context of the second stage of the building of the security fence. According to the plan, and as long as it has not been decided or proved otherwise, in the context of this stage two Palestinian enclaves will be created west of Ramallah.

These are two out of 81 Palestinian enclaves that have been created and will be created all along the fence, which are discussed in the report by B’Tselem. Some will be between the fence and the Green Line, some in small “loops” created by the fence, and some will be the result of “secondary obstacles,” as the army puts it.

Budrus is one of the nine Palestinian villages that will find themselves in an enclave with an area of 53.2 square kilometers. These villages include Luban al Gharabiyeh, Rantis, Shuqba, Qibiya, Shabtin, Budrus, Midya, Na’lin and Dir Kadis. The village of Midiya will be surrounded on all sides by the separation fence, as in a loop.

According to the map of the Israeli security services, one could have concluded immediately that an enclave would be created here. The routes of the western and eastern fences are the same color, as though there is no difference between them.

Military spokesman did in fact explain to members of the support unit of the Palestinian negotiating division that the eastern fence would not be similar to the western one, and would apparently be composed of what is called a “secondary obstacle” (a system of ditches and barbed wire fences) and an eastern gate on the roads to Ramallah and the villages surrounding it – which would be locked and blocked off only in case of security alerts. But in any case, this promise does not reassure the village residents, who know that they are losing thousands of dunams of their land.

In the past three years they have already had a taste of checkpoints that prevented their access to the neighboring villages or to the district center, Ramallah. And even if the gate or the gates in the eastern, “secondary” fence are open most of the time – in Rantis, Budrus and the other villages they point to the maps and to the new political geography that is being created before their eyes.

The two small Palestinian enclaves that are being created west of Ramallah leave two large settlement blocs outside of them, which cut deep into the Palestinian territory and are joined within Israel itself, until one can no longer see that there was a Green Line.

“That’s why we are fighting against this fence,” says Ayad Murar from his home, talking about this new geography. “It is part of our struggle for a peaceful solution to the conflict – the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

Between November and December 2003, military orders began to be posted in the Rantis, Budrus and other villages, regarding the “temporary” seizure of land (until December 2005) for military purposes. According to these orders, which are signed by the chief of Central Command Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, the width of the strips of land confiscated from the villages will range from 68 to 490 meters. The entire length of the (primary and secondary) fence that will surround the nine villages in the enclave – 32.2 kilometers.

Meanwhile, some of the residents of Budrus continue to sneak into Israel on foot, to make a living, mainly in construction. Others, who have lost their jobs in Israel in recent years, have found various jobs in the Ramallah area. But if they are closed within an enclave, they are liable to lose these places of work. Palestinian employers cannot withstand the frequent incidents of lateness caused by the blocks and the checkpoints.

“Come to live in Ramallah, or leave the job,” they are told. Grocery store owners are feeling the difference. People come in infrequently, buy on credit, they buy only what is essential. It’s hard to imagine what else will happen when the large olive grove is crushed beneath the teeth of the bulldozers or is swallowed up on the other side of the fence, and when it won’t be possible to work in Israel at all any longer.