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Tulkarm Struggles Against the Wall, Settlements and Israeli Chemical Factories

The Tulkarm area covers the city of Tulkarm and 31 villages in its surrounding areas. In this area live approximately 180,000 inhabitants. About 45,000 live in the city itself, 18,000 live the larger refugee camp and 8,000 in the smaller camp. Tulkarm is only 13 km away from the Mediterranean Sea by the Israeli town of Netanya, but since 1990 the inhabitants can no longer access the beach.

The people in the region suffer several problems as a direct consequence of the occupation. One of the main problems comes for the presence of the illegal Apartheid wall. 42 Kilometers of wall have been built around the area, from which, 48,000 of the villages’ trees the residents still hold access to, the other 180,000 are left inaccessible on the other side of the wall. People there feel that the wall has touched everything in their lives. One example of this is the village of Baqa. Baqa is a village that was divided in 1948 into two parts: West Baqa in Israel and East Baqa in West Bank. Families and friends were suddenly separated from each other, and could only restart their relationships after Israel assumed full control of both territories in 1967. In that way, when someone from West Baqa, with an Israeli ID, marries someone from East Baqa and they have children together, those children will also have the Israeli ID and are able to go to Israeli schools. This has resulted in 121 students from East Baqa going to school in West Baqa. Relationships were built and lives created, but in 2003 the wall separated both parts of the city that before were connected by a street 3 m wide. Children that prior to the construction of the wall could arrive to their schools in 5 minutes now have to go either 13 km up to the north or the south to cross a checkpoint and then another 13 km on the Israeli side to arrive at the school. After a period of enduring these obstacles for a bit less than a year, the children left their school and began classes at a local Palestinian one. Essentially, this breaks up friendships and social ties and further forces students to adjust to a new school system. Teachers who previously were able to travel freely from East to West Baqa now face up to an hour waiting at checkpoints to pass, making their journey to work all the more difficult and jeopardizing their job security as they are often delayed and arrive late.

Qaffin is other example of the consequences of the occupation. Before 1948, Qaffin village had 30.000 dunums of land. Following the Nakba, 20,000 dunums were confiscated by Israel. From the 10,000 dunums left for the village, Israel took 5,500 dunums for the wall and 500 for the nearest settlement, Hermesh. As a result, the 11,000 inhabitants of Qaffin just have 4,000 dunums for building their houses, planning their roads and cultivating their lands. With the increase of the population the situation looks likely to deteriorate in coming years.

In Nazlat’Isa there was a very strong market with 221 shops, but 25 bulldozers and a hundred Israeli soldiers arrived and demolished it. The villagers are further restricted in their use of vehicles and access to land. 203 Palestinians currently have land on the other side of the Wall. Their access is limited and they are unable to use vehicles. Consequently they must carry their produce by hand in buckets and wait to pass a checkpoint before being able to continue to their markets. The obstructions in using their legitimately owned land means that fruit and vegetables are not harvested and brought to market or are left to rot on the trees due to a total inability to tend to their land correctly. This has a very severe economic impact on the local Palestinians, who face further impoverishment. Likewise, the economic viability of the area as a whole is threatened. Within the village, the wall has also served to destroy social ties and the community as 6 houses, within which 63 Palestinians live, were segregated by the Apartheid Wall, meaning that they can no longer receive families or friends and have restricted access to the West Bank.

Another major problem are the checkpoints. There are two permanent check points: Jawara and Anabta, which prevent fluid movement from Ramallah and Nablus to this area. There are also numerous flying checkpoints, because the triangle formed by Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus is considered by the Israeli forces as a very important security point, due the strong resistance movement in the area. Checkpoints force people to wait in their vehicles under the sun sometimes for three or four hours, no matter if there are small children, old people or babies into the cars. Even ill people or ambulances are forced to wait frequently for a long time. Also many Palestinian people without ID or who are on a black list, frequently for nothing else than having friends or family in Hamas, are unable to go out from Tulkarm because they could be arrested at the checkpoints.

There are three illegal Israeli settlements in the Tulkarm area: Hermesh (near Qaffin), as well as Enav and Avne Hefez near Shufa. Settlers often burn or cut down the Palestinians’ olive trees, they block roads and are often aggressive to the local population. The illegal settlements are constructed upon land stolen from the Palestinians. New walls and fences into the Palestinian territories steal the land and, for instance in Shufa, residents are forbidden from using their own road, which connects Shufa with Tulkarm city. The route which would otherwise take 5 minutes, now forces them to take a long detour to get to one of the economic hubs of the area

Israeli soldiers have a tendency to harass the local population by entering the city and surrounding villages day or night, sometimes using the cities or villages as a training camp, entering with their heavy vehicles, throwing sound bombs, shooting and scaring the people, especially the children who often have nightmares. Other times, the military send in undercover agents, frequently dressed as civilians to arrest or kill someone. The Israeli military has even targeted children as young as 14 and 15 years old. Many of those are today still in Israeli prisons, restricted in their freedom and basic human rights, they further face huge difficulties in family members for visits. When the soldiers arrive to take someone, they don’t just remove the person concerned; they enter the homes and destroy the contents and belongings of the family, and more often than not, they enter and wreck the homes of the neighbors as well.

Israeli forces have also entered and arbitrarily demolished houses that happen to be close to the Apartheid wall. Three months ago, in Far’un, 10 houses that were more than 100 m away from the wall were demolished there. It must be noted that these properties were not built close to the fence, rather when Israel constructed this monstrosity, they built it on Palestinians land and close to Palestinian homes. Excessive “security” measures are frequently undertaken and five months ago, a 13 years old girl who was walking with a friend near their village and near the wall (the wall is very close to the villages) were both shot by snipers. One of the girls died and the other one was injured. It is near impossible to know how a 13 year old girl could be a security threat especially when there is an electrically fortified wall separating her from ’48 Palestine.

Near the city of Tulkarm itself are 10 Israeli factories. These factories were forbidden to operate in Israel because of the environmental and health problem that they caused the Israeli population. Consequently they were moved to Occupied Palestine from about 1984 onwards. Israeli authorities, despite being responsible for moving them there originally, have claimed that they can’t do anything again with them as they are no longer in Israeli territory. Israeli soldiers however are still provided to offer the factories protection and nothing has been done against them, even with Israelis undertaking complaints from Israeli villages on the opposing side of the wall.

The wind usually passes from West to East, so the pollution, the gas, the dust and the smoke expelled from the factories all goes in the direction of Palestine and essentially passes over to Tulkarm. The factories further contaminate both the water and land as they continue to pump out noxious substances, however despite them being Israeli owned factories, Israel chooses when and how they implement their influence in the Occupied Territories, as such they wash their hands of it and claim it is for the Palestinians to deal with. Samples of both water and soil have been taken but the Israeli courts do nothing against it.
The pollution has a direct impact on the local community. Asthma is present and rising at an alarming rate in the children of Tulkarm and the incidence of cancer is the highest in the whole of the occupied territories.

But in further choosing as, when and how it wishes to exert its power, Israel controls and monopolizes 75% of the water coming from the wells in the area, taking it for the benefit of the surrounding illegal settlements and for residents on the Israeli side of the wall. To compound these restrictions and obstacles further, from 1967, Palestinians have not been allowed to open a well without Israeli permission. Neither can Palestinians produce their own electricity. At once point, the German government were ready to give Palestinians the machinery and equipment enabling them to produce electricity, but the containers with these machines were detained in Haifa port by Israeli authorities without permission for them to be off-loaded. The equipment was held by Israel for 7 months and finally the containers were sent back to Germany. Palestinians have limited access to electricity for themselves, and in a hot summer, when they may need more, Israel often cuts the connection sometimes for hours at a time. In villages such as Shufa, the electricity line is about 100m away from the village, however the Israeli authorities refuse to allow them to connect to this power source. Consequently they still depend on a generator to supply an essentially basic need.

Around 65% of Tulkarm’s population is unemployed. Before the Second Intifada around 300,000 people from the region worked in Israel. However, most of these people have had their permission revoked and are left without any means of economic survival. This brings about a natural economic downward spiral in the area as people hae no way of generating income and so have less money to spend and consequently local shops and businesses are affected as the number of available customers drops and in turn their income is adversely affected as well. The consequences of revoking permission to work in Israel do not just affect the individuals or their families beyond, they have far reaching consequences for the whole of Palestinian society.