At 11 pm, seven uniformed Israelis showed up at his doorstep with automatic rifles drawn. Dirawi and 19 men from this hilltop Palestinian village were taken to a checkpoint, detained for hours in an unlit room, denied phone calls, and eventually released.
Residents say the police verbally threatened them in no uncertain terms: Get off Israeli land now. Dirawi says they were pressured into signing documents in Hebrew which they couldn’t read. They refused.
It was the third such detention in July alone; a similar raid was carried out a few days later, and a fifth one conducted in the early morning hours following the recent Jerusalem bombing on 19 August.
Numan is the latest Palestinian village facing extinction as Israel’s separation barrier, also called the apartheid wall, winds its way unabated through the West Bank and around Jerusalem.
As of this moment, the approximately 3.5-metre-high electronic fence is slowly enveloping the 50 homes of Numan a half-kilometre to the south. It will eventually entrap the residents within the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality without access to the West Bank.
According to a 19 August report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, some 50,000 Palestinians living near and around the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem share a similar fate.
Israel annexed Arab East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War, deemed illegal under international law.
Numan residents, however, are registered West Bankers, and receive basic services like water and electricity from the Palestinian Authority.
Like the approximately 55 unrecognized Arab villages within the Israeli state, Numan doesn’t even exist in name: To Israel, it is known as Masmouria.
“The people of Masmouria claim to own the land but that is part of their lies, they have no proof,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby said. “They are living there illegally, so we are detaining them. We have aerial photographs that show they have only lived there for the last several years.” (Ben Ruby declined Aljazeera.net’s request to see the photos).
Israeli bulldozers dash all
The Dirawi family clan members — numbering about 200 — say they have inhabited and tilled the olive-grove dotted landscape here for a century and a half, long before the creation of Israel. But now “we are losing our homes and becoming the new refugees,” Dirawi laments, and fears the village could be bulldozed without warning. “Because of our worries, we are like the living dead.”
According to a recent report by the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON), more than a half-million Palestinians, about 34 percent of the West Bank, will be directly affected when the 650 km-long wall is complete.
Since construction started in June 2002, thousands of Palestinians have lost their livelihoods — separated from large swaths of farmland and private property (approximately 100,615 dunams, or 25,153 acres), which they say amounts to de facto annexation.
The barrier also cuts off precious water sources and access to markets and jobs. Approximately 232 commercial buildings and 13 homes in the barrier’s trajectory were razed thus far, with at least 121 businesses, homes and even a school issued demolition orders.
“It will trap Palestinians in three ghettos disconnected from each other and the rest of the Arab world. The settlements will be annexed to Israel. Jerusalem will be isolated”
–Jamal Juma, Coordinator,
Residents of Qalqiliya are effectively living in an open-air prison due to an eight-metre high concrete wall and watchtowers surrounding the city, with only one exit for its 42,000
The village of Jayyous, north of Qalqiliya, was particularly hard hit, with about 70 percent of its farm land sliced off by the wall.
One local man, Abdel Raouf Khaled, 58, had poured his life savings of about $220,000 into 5.5 acres of farmland over the last two decades; every inch of it now lies on the other side.
Jayyous is located six km deep into Palestinian territory from the 1967 armistice border, known as the Green Line.
Residents of the region, stretching from Jenin to Qalqiliya, point to increasing cases of abuse along the wall: Three months back, in Baqa al-Sharqiya, north of Tulkarem, two Israeli-Druze border police forced a shepherd, Nazhi Salah, 24, to fornicate with his donkey. He complied
when they pointed a rifle to his head.
About a month ago, farmer Muhammedd Salim, 21, of Jayyous was crossing a gate after tending his fields, when five security guards, for no reason, cursed and beat him with a wooden baton and the butt of a rifle.
Just last week, another farmer, Samed Mohammed Saleem, 20, also from Jayyous, was beaten until he fell unconscious.
Israeli soldiers target
Many Palestinians refer to all this as the third Nakba (catastrophe), a historical reference to the creation of Israel in 1948 which uprooted tens of thousands of Palestinians (the second being the Six Day War, or Al Naksa, the setback).
Israel insists the wall is a necessary — and temporary — security measure in response to bombing attacks since 1993.
Cost of construction is estimated at $ 2 million per km, making it the largest and most expensive infrastructure project of the state.
According to official statements by Israel’s Ministry of Defence, it seeks “minimum disruption to the daily life of the populations residing on both sides” of the divide.
“Don’t blame us for building a fence to defend our citizens,” argues Raanan Gissin, adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “The fence is not our choice, it was imposed on us. Once a suicide bomber kills people, that’s irreversible. A fence can be dismantled. Human life cannot be reassembled. [Regarding the] route, there are parts that have not yet been built, these will be considered by the government in the next few weeks. We’ll take into consideration the hardship it may cause the Palestinians,” he says.
Monetary compensation has been offered “to every Palestinian whose land was taken [for barrier construction],” a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said, but only a “small number
accepted it.” (She refused to disclose the amount of shekels paid to Palestinians so far or the number of those who requested compensation).
A vast majority of Palestinians, however, have rejected these offers outright because farmers say the amounts were undervalued and also for reasons of nationalism: to sell land to Israel is tantamount to treason.
The wall is also fast overshadowing traditional Palestinian peace talk grievances such as the right of return for some 3.7 million refugees throughout the Middle East, the status of East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital, evacuation of the Jewish settlements, and final borders.
The wall, many say, should be thrust to the foreground on any further negotiations in the fragile US-backed road map.
“The wall brings all these issues together,” argues PENGON coordinator Jamal Juma. “It will trap Palestinians in three ghettos disconnected from each other and the rest of the Arab world. The settlements will be annexed to Israel. Jerusalem will be isolated,” he says.
“This affects the demographic issue since there’ll be no room for natural growth of our cities if thousands of refugees were to return. This is the final stage of the colonial project of the West Bank,” says Juma.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the endangered village of Numan have won a temporary injunction in the Israeli High Court on 26 August.
It protects the villagers from further night raids, harassment, and the possibility of expulsion before the court’s final ruling over their land dispute.
Despite this, virtually nothing can be done to stop construction of the wall. Start of the legal proceedings won’t be announced by the court for up to five months, according to Sani Khoury, one of the attorneys.
Numan residents aren’t new to drawn-out legal battles: Ever since 1993, they have been jousting with Israeli courts over their status to remain as West Bankers, or their request to be extended East Jerusalem residency IDs (like 90% of the other Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem who are not citizens of Israel).
Apartheid wall benumbs
According to Khoury, Israel had long implemented a “live and let live” policy on Numan until the wall construction began. He added the village has been treated as part of the Jerusalem municipality to ensure collection of property taxes, payments for building permits and fines to the Israeli government since the mid-’90s.
“If the court decides they own the land, they can stay,” police spokesman Ben Ruby said.
He denied that the recent mass round-ups had anything to do with the encroaching wall, that Numan residents were ever forced to sign documents other than a release form, and that they were ever harassed outside the law or verbally threatened in any way to leave the village.
Such denials contradict the experience of Nidal Dirawi’s cousin, Jamal, 37, the village leader, understood what an Israeli identifying himself as a government official (escorted by two border police) told him in Hebrew approximately four months ago.
Four months back, when Jamal flatly rejected an Israeli official’s offer of $25,000 for each house built before 1992, the man replied in all seriousness, “If you do not leave the land, we will cut off your resources and the village will die like a tree without water.”