On the eve of the Iraq invasion, fears were expressed in different circles that under the cover of war, Israel may attempt a transfer of Palestinians in the "seam line" area of the northern West Bank where the Palestinian cities of Qalqilya and Tulkarem are located.

The prospect of being uprooted again
is very real for Palestinians

In March, the army produced a scene from this scenario. In the early hours of 2 April, a large force raided the refugee camp of Tulkarem, blocked all the roads and paths with barbed wire and announced on loudspeakers that all males aged 15 to 40 assemble in a compound in the centre of the camp.

At nine in the morning, the army began to transport the gathered males to a nearby refugee camp. This time it was only a staged scene, and the residents were allowed to return after a few days.

But the producers of this show made sure that its significance would not escape the participants and the audience. They took special care that evacuation be done with trucks - an exact re-enactment of the 1948 trauma. As one of the residents described his feelings to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz when he got on the truck, "all the memories and childhood stories of my father and grandfather about the Nakba came back".

Many interpret this show as a "general rehearsal" for the possibility of a future transfer. There is no doubt that the current government is mentally prepared for transfer, but it is not certain that the "international conditions" are ripe for executing this in the way that was staged. The US presence in Iraq has become too tangled for Washington to risk opening another flashpoint.

But transfer is not just about movement with trucks. In the Israeli history of "land redemption" there is also another model, more hidden and sophisticated. In the framework of the "Judaisation of the Galilee" project, which was begun in the 1950s, the Palestinians who remained in Israel were robbed of half their lands, isolated in small enclaves, surrounded by Israeli settlements, and gradually lost the bonds that held them together as a nation. Such an internal transfer is occurring now in the occupied territories, and it has been escalated during the war.

The Israeli government is "mentally
prepared for transfer"
On 24 March the bulldozers arrived at the village of Mas'ha, near the settlement of Elkana, and began to mark the new route of the "Apartheid wall", which will disconnect the village from all of its lands, as well as thousands of dunums (one dunum is equivalent to approximately one thousand square metres) belonging to Bidia and other villages in the area.

Elkana is about seven kilometres away from the 'Green Line', but the route of the fence was changed on June 2002 so that it will take in the settlement.

It was not only the greed for land that sent the bulldozers to the lands of Bidia and Mas'ha. These lands are on the western part of the Mountain groundwater basin - the large water reservoir originating in the West Bank, whose water flows under the ground to the centre of Israel.

Out of 600 million CM (cubic-metres) of water that the Mountain reservoir provides in a year, Israel withdraws in different areas about 500 million. Control over water sources has always been a central Israeli motivation for maintaining the occupation. The Labor governments of the 1970s located the first settlements in areas defined as "critical locations" for drilling.

Elkana was one of these settlements, founded within a plan that was given the (misleading) name "preservation of the sources of the Yarkon". Since the occupation in 1967, Israel prohibited Palestinians from digging new wells, but in the lands of Mas'ha and Bidia, as well as in lands that were already cut off from Qalqilia and Tul Karem, there are still many working wells from before 1967. Their continued use may fractionally reduce the amount that Israel can withdraw.

The residents of Mas'ha and Bidia, who are struggling to save their lands and livelihoods, set up protest tents along the bulldozer path - "peace tents", they called them in an outburst of hope. Palestinians, Israelis and international peace volunteers have been staying in these tents day and night to watch and stand in front of the bulldozers. I was there one Saturday. Around, in all directions, lay hills of olive trees, huge areas of a green, pastoral landscape now being grabbed by the land redemptionists, who would dry its wells and sell it to real-estate investors.

Originally published in Hebrew in Yediot Aharonot, 10 March 2003