Shareef Omar

This Wall Must Fall

Editor's Note: Shareef Omar, a farmer and community leader, is a member of the Land Defense Committee for the region of Qalqilya. He attended the Feb. 23 hearings at the International Court of Justice in the Hague about Israel's separation barrierin the West Bank.

I'm here to tell the world what I've seen in my village of Jayyous; that the wall is not for security. It is for occupation, and for stealing land and water.

Through the wall, Israel is trying to eliminate our dream of a Palestinian state, by taking control of a large portion of West Bank land and confiscating our water resources. The wall is planned to stretch 430 miles, and will creep from 160 feet to 10 miles into the West Bank. Its construction is destroying hundreds of thousands of our sacred olive and almond trees, and is isolating tens of wells and tens of thousands of acres of land. Unemployment has reached 70 percent in communities affected by the wall. It will isolate Palestinians into ghettos under the threat of Israeli soldiers and settlers. It will cripple the Palestinian economy, leaving younger generations without income, a future or hope. Ultimately it will force many to leave.

Jayyous' farmers have organized dozens of peaceful protests against the wall, supported by international solidarity movements and Israeli peace activists. Our weapons in those activities were only slogans that condemn the occupation and the wall. All of us participated, young and old, men and women. We are determined never to surrender or forget our sacred land.

During one peaceful march to stop the bulldozers in Jayyous, I was negotiating with an Israeli captain. I asked him, "Why don't you build this wall on the 1967 borders?" He answered, "For our security, and to prevent clashes in future."

I asked about its location, 30 meters from Jayyous' homes and nearly four miles from the 1967 border with Israel: "If you build it on the 1967 borders, then it is your choice, and we will share the cost fifty-fifty." He responded only, "Leave that to politicians."

The politicians are building this wall to create an Israeli-imposed apartheid, to prevent Israelis and Palestinians from developing relationships based on mutual respect, and to empty the land of Palestinians by depriving us of our farms, our major source of life.

The Israeli side has tricked many people by saying that farmers will be allowed to reach their land with permits. In fact, many farmers haven't received permits, particularly those who are opposed to the wall. I am one of those denied a permit. All I can do now is to stand on the roof of my house, trying to see my land in the distance. If I try to approach the gate with other farmers, the soldiers refuse to let me pass. It is our right to freely access and work our land whenever we want, without permits.

These are exactly the reasons why this wall must fall.

The Palestinian people, like everyone, love the life that is given to us only once. We hope to know life without occupation.

A decision at the Hague that the wall is illegal won't oblige Israel to act, but it will lead to more international pressure on Israel. Only justice can build a genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last September I was working in my olive grove near the wall, when I came across uprooted olive trees coming out of the bulldozed ground. These green young branches are soft and beautiful, deeply rooted in the ground and stronger than the wall and bulldozers. These trees refuse to die or to surrender, and send a message to all farmers and people who love the land. "Do not give up, and keep struggling and one day you will touch the sun." We have been here longer than these trees, and we will stay here longer than the stones.

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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