Facing Down the Wall

JAYYOUS, West Bank -- When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon describes the wall Israel is building, he makes it sound harmless. But President Bush deftly cut through that façade when he noted that "the fence ... kind of meanders around the West Bank, which makes it awfully hard to develop a contiguous state." So did Secretary of State Colin Powell when he recently told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that he fears "the fence is developing in a way that will make it very difficult to reach the next stage of the road map."

In Jayyous, the Palestinian village on the West Bank that is my home, we began living with this problem last September, when a shepherd found a paper hanging from an olive tree. It was a military order instructing us to meet an Israeli army officer to tour the "separation" wall's path.

Hundreds of area Palestinians turned out. Most farmers expected that the wall would be near the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank. But we learned that the wall would be built almost four miles east of the Green Line, as close as 90 feet from Jayyous' homes, separating our residential area from our farmland.

People burst into tears. Some fainted. With the wall, Israel is taking 75 percent of Jayyous' most fertile land, including all our irrigated farmland, seven wells and 12,000 olive trees. Jayyous' 3,000 residents depend almost entirely on agricultural income. So this means a loss of our livelihoods, dreams, hopes, future and heritage.

Cut off from land

Jayyous is just one example. The wall is cutting through Palestinian villages all across our fertile Qalqilya region, and causing destruction in dozens of West Bank villages. Thousands of farmers can't reach their land. Gates are supposed to provide access to land, but instead they've become places for Israeli soldiers to harass and beat farmers. Thousands of citrus trees have died from lack of water. Many farmers are simply leaving their crops in the fields because the transportation costs would make them unprofitable to market.

Israeli officials have justified the wall's construction as necessary for security. However, if it were for security, it would follow the Green Line. Building it four miles inside the Green Line means only one thing: The Israelis are confiscating more Palestinian land and water.

The truth is, many Israelis want the land without the people. The wall is an unwritten order for emigration from Palestine, because people who have no income will have no choice but to leave.

To avoid this, I and many other farmers began building sheds and tents so we can live on our farmland. I've planted 150 citrus trees since they started building the wall, to show other farmers we don't have to yield.

Farmers vs. bulldozers

Jayyous farmers, with the assistance of international and Israeli activists, have held many peaceful protests, during which they face the bulldozers destroying their fields as well as armed Israeli soldiers and guards. During one peaceful march, an Israeli military officer explained to me that Sarah, the wife of our common ancestor Abraham, was their mother but not ours, and that because Sarah went to heaven, Jews were entitled to the land. After his lecture, he used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to break up our protest.

I've chosen peaceful resistance to the wall because, as a father, I feel pain when my children are hurt. I have the same feeling for Israelis. I don't want to cause them pain. Peaceful resistance also avoids giving the Israeli military justifications to kill more Palestinians. I hope peaceful protests will leave a positive impact on Israeli soldiers and strengthen our partnership with Israeli peace groups.

The majority of Palestinians are now completely convinced that non-violent resistance is the best choice. The whole idea of the wall is wrong. It will never lead to a just and real peace.

I don't even want them to build the wall on the Green Line, because it will truly be an "apartheid wall," preventing the development of understanding between our cultures.

It's so important for us to find one language -- for peace. From Jayyous, we call on people from around the world -- Americans, Israelis, Arabs and all others -- to help us stop this unjust wall.

Shareef Omar, a farmer and community leader, is a member of the Land Defense Committee for the region of Qalqilya.

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