Rooted as Deep as Olive Trees
Jamal Othman, a farmer from al-Jaroushia, a Palestinian village in the Tulkarem governorate, is one of many human faces showing the real cost of the Wall in the occupied West Bank. Othman’s family has been in Al-Jaroushia for generations, the second most prominent family in the village of 1400 residents. His extended family of 120 lives on a 400-dunam (nearly 100 acre) plot of land. Most of them used to work on their property, rather than crossing into Israel to labor in factories like many other residents of Tulkarem. For generations, olive oil was the primary output of Othman’s land. In the 1920s, his family brought in some of the best olive tree seedlings from what is now Jordan. After several generations, they flourished to the point of producing 12 tons of oil per year. In addition, the farm harvested an annual six tons of almonds. These harvests provided a decent standard of living for the entire family and financed university education for all of their children. In 2002, Othman received orders that his land had been confiscated and would be used for security purposes, more specifically to construct the Wall. Some residents report that often, the orders were deliberately thrown under trees where farmers were unable to find them for long lapses of time. Then, after the land had been taken, Israeli officials were able to “prove” that they followed proper regulation by providing advance notification to the residents in question. As outlined in Othman’s case, there is nothing proper about it. Despite having documentation of his ownership of the land dating back to the British mandate, the Israeli military and eventually court claimed that the documents did not prove ownership, but only payment of taxes. After a fast-track and haphazard military proceeding, Othman’s case was predictably defeated. Israeli forces claimed 300 dunams of his land, 75% of the total property. In the process of doing so, they uprooted 3,000 olive trees and 1,000 almond trees, covering the property with rocks to hinder any further growth and make way for the Wall. The violation climaxed—at least in terms of absurdity—when military officers stopped by Othman’s home to say the planned Wall track through his backyard had been revised, and they were “sorry” for their mistake. Instead, the Israelis chose a new route in yet another chunk of Othman’s land. Undoubtedly, this mistake caused even more loss of the family’s vital source of livelihood and completely deteriorated their economic situation. His trees were some of the 65,000 trees destroyed in the Tulkarem region alone along with 20,000 meters of water pipelines and 20,000 kilometers of agricultural roads. When the soldiers left Othman’s property, all that remained was the house and four trees. Passage and Accessibility Denied According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the route of the “anti-terrorism security fence” has been sensitive to human suffering, avoiding annexation of Palestinian villages, and following the route of the green line whenever possible. The office also claims that it will provide adequate passage for people, cars, and goods. People whose property is divided by the Wall are allegedly granted passage to work their land. The Wall in the Tulkarem region is some 27 km long and passes through 17 villages and localities. Israeli authorities allotted eight gates to the area, but Othman reported that only one has been functional, and only for a few hours a day. The process of obtaining passes to use the gate can be grueling—and sometimes impossible. In Othman’s case, only 20 people out of his 120-member extended family received passes. He claimed passes were intentionally given to the elderly and women, leaving out the strong workers. In his words, “people are able to go to their land as ‘tourists’, not to work.” For Othman to reach the olive groves on the opposite side of the wall, he had to trek a staggering 12 kilometers and wait for the gate to open. Those fortunate enough to acquire passes were lined up in three rows—one for men, one for women, and the other for donkeys. Soldiers ordered the men to name their donkey and wife when crossing. One man from al-Jaroushia said he was forced to wear his donkey’s saddle and make animal noises at the gunpoint of an 18-year-old female soldier. Such disregard for human dignity comes as little surprise to Palestinians. It is part of everyday life. It is a piece of the occupation. Land Use and Resource Rights Under Ottoman law, if land is not used in seven years, it can be confiscated by the State. The Israeli government changed that to three years. By not allowing people to access and work their land, Israel further increases West Bank annexation—choking the community of its basic survival needs. Othman now buys olive oil. He worries that future generations will not have the same opportunities as those past, like studying at the university. Speaking of his son and the loss of his trees, Othman says, “This is the real life, the life of the people, one that is not easily explained through political or economic analysis.” The implications for the entire Palestinian community whose lives are affected by the Wall are urgently pressing. Despite these and other massive complications, many Palestinians remain in their villages and insist on their rights to their land and livelihood. They have taken the lessons of the occupation to heart and vow not to repeat them, not to again become refugees in their own land, and not to give up. Families who have lost their lands and livelihoods seek reparatory damages. But ultimately, they seek self-determination through an end to the occupation—which would be the only real solution where people’s roots run as deep as those of the olive trees.