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Shwayy shwayy, like prisoners in a cage

From the International Women’s Peace Service

Shwayy shwayy, slowly slowly, like the Arabic of most internationals here, or, maybe better, silently silently… the Israeli government is turning the Salfit Region into one of the most enclosed areas of the West Bank.

The original sin of our relatively unknown Palestinian governorate is hosting the infamous Ariel fingers. This part of the Apartheid Wall will reach deep into the West Bank to surround one of the widest settlement conglomerates in Palestine and annex it to Israel. It is a controversial plan that even the US government has criticized more than once. But as Ehud Olmert, Israel’s new prime minister, frequently repeats: “The Ariel block will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel under any situation”.[1]

Speaking about “blocks” and not simply about settlements is a political choice. It makes clear that the area to be actually annexed for the Ariel fingers will be both the inhabited Israeli centers and all the Palestinian land that lies in between. In addition, according to a recent B’tselem report,[2] the planned barrier route not only includes the present settlements but also for their future expansion. As usual, the Israeli state has already started to create these facts on the ground.

The main entrance to the Salfit region is through Za’tara checkpoint. Until recently this was a regular junction with occasionally soldiers on guard. Since 25 September 2005, people from the northern districts of Nablus, Tulkarem, Tubas, Jenin and Qalqilya cannot cross it unless they have a permit from the Israeli government.

The checkpoint itself is being upgraded to a terminal resembling an international border crossing. There are permanent soldiers’ booths, parking spaces to confine cars and traffic lanes that allow Israeli cars to pass without being bothered by Palestinian travelers, who often need to wait for hours.

In addition to the wall surrounding Ariel, a metal fence is being built alongside Highway 505 (the ‘Transsamarian Highway’ in Israeli parlance), starting from Za’tara checkpoint up to the village of Mas’ha. The explanation of the Israeli army for this fence is, not surprisingly, “security” and “preventing stone throwing”. All this in a district that since the beginning of the second Intifada more than 5 years ago, has registered one Israeli civilian fatality (in October 2000) and no soldier’s death.[3]

The first village affected was Jamma’in, just west of Za’tara and still in Nablus district. On the 9th of November, after closing the main entrance of the village to Highway 505 with an earth mound, bulldozers started leveling the land to construct the fence. The earth mound was removed ten days later, but the Israeli army often put flying checkpoints in its place. On the 26th of February the army installed a metal gate on the access to the highway. The gate has been closed frequently since 14 March 2006.

After Jamma’in, it was the turn of Marda, a village just north of Ariel, whose land has already been confiscated for the electronic barrier circumventing the settlement. In less than four months, from 19th October 2005 to 13th February 2006, Marda found itself completely enclosed between Ariel and the wall on its south side, and the metal fence in the north. Gates have been installed at the two streets connecting the village to the highway. One of them has been closed by earth mounts and so people can only access Marda from one entrance, where the Israeli army often installs flying checkpoints.

The situation is similar in the nearby hamlet of Kifl Hares. The metal fence will prevent it from expanding and the connection to the Highway is half blocked by an earth mount and almost constantly controlled by the army.

Finally, let’s go to Hares, our lovely village. Hares has two metal fences, one along Highway 505 and the other along bypass road 5 leading to Tel Aviv. There isn’t an entrance gate, but since the 13th of December there is something much fancier: a beautiful more then 20 meter high watchtower, erected just in front of the main access to the village, on the way to Biddya. People in Hares joke that it is high enough for the soldiers to see their houses in Tel Aviv. The land requisition order was issued on the 13th of September and the work was completed in a few days of the last month of the year. The owner of the land, Abu Fadi from Hares, didn’t receive any kind of compensation for the loss of his field.

Israeli bulldozers are also working on Hares land situated to the south of Bypass road number 5, destroying the hill and uprooting olive trees. According to the contractors they are installing a new electricity line, the sixth in the space of few hundreds meters.

So, there are three mysteries to solve in the changing landscape of Salfit.

First of all, what will be the actual path of the Wall? In a recent speech in Ariel, prime minister Olmert declared that the wall annexing Ariel to Israel would be build before the end of this year. Until now the maps show a continuous path that incorporates all Israeli settlements in the Salfit region, as well as a corridor connecting them to Tel Aviv. But according to an article in the Israeli paper Haaretz[4], Defense Minister Shoul Mofaz suggested to Ehud Olmert to split the route of the wall in the Ariel area. The new route should connect Ariel and the settlements to its east to the main route of the barrier from the southwest, in the direction of the settlements Beit Aryeh and Ofarim, while a separate wall would connect the northern settlements, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Maale Shomron, Immanuel, Yakir and Nofim to the settlement Alfei Menashe, just south of Qalqilya.

Secondly, what will be the use of the huge road that bulldozers leveled along Highway 505 from the west outskirts of Marda up to the junction between Roads 505 and 5 at the bottom of Hares, following one of the possible paths of the wall. As the existing settler road is more then sufficient for the current amount of traffic, the new road might serve to completely separate Palestinian and Israeli traffic in the area. This would be in accordance with the general plans for separation of Palestinian and Israeli roads in the West Bank, for which Israel seeks international funding.

And thirdly, what is left for the people of Salfit after they are cut off from the rest of the northern West Bank by Za’atara checkpoint; locked up by the Wall, fences and gates?

[1] http://www.btselem.org/English/Statistics/Casualties.asp
[2] Aluf Benn “Olmert to propose two changes to separation fence route”, Haaretz, 26 january 2006
[3] Aluf Benn “ ‘By the end of the year we plan to finish the security fence,’ Olmert said during a visit to the West Bank settlement town of Ariel.” in Haaretz, 14 march 2006.
[4] http://www.btselem.org/english/Publications/summaries/200512_Under_the_Guise_of_Security.asp

Text: Vera
Edited: Alys, Clara, Marlous
Date: 15 April 2006

The International Women’s Peace Service, Haris, Salfit, Palestine.
Tel:- (09)-2516-644
Email:- iwps@palnet.com
Website:- www.iwps.info