Every day, Khalid Jarrar goes to tend his cabbage patch in the shadow of an eight-meter high concrete wall in Qalqiliya.
The barrier Israel is building in the West Bank has been cruel to Jarrar. A few months ago, he had 15 dunams of land, with an orchard of citrus trees in addition to the cabbage patches. Now, he is down to three dunams, and has been cut off from his trees and the well that he used to irrigate his land.
An Israeli watchtower overlooks his plot, and Jarrar complains of constant harassment.
“The soldiers are always threatening to throw me off my land but I have no alternative to support my family.”
Jarrar says he was shot at once, and believes the Israeli soldiers wanted him to flee. He did.
“I stayed away for three days out of fear but I was forced to return in spite of the danger because I was afraid that my crops would spoil. I depend on these crops this year because the rest of my land has been confiscated.”
The Qalqiliya farmer’s story is typical of the kind of problems the Palestinian agricultural sector has been faced with as a result of the building of the barrier in the West Bank. Many areas of agricultural land have been expropriated or destroyed in the construction process, especially during the first stage of construction.
“The area in which the wall was built in its first phase is primarily agricultural land,” says Joudeh Jamal, assistant director general of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). “If we follow the course of the wall in its first stage in the Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqiliya areas, we see that these lands are the most fertile lands around. They are irrigated lands with a vast variety of crops.”
Israeli officials were recently reported as saying that the barrier would not be built in the east, but no firm commitment has been made. If the four projected phases of the separation barrier are completed, Palestinian officials worry, as much as 58 percent of West Bank land will end up out of bounds for Palestinians and be placed under Israeli control. According to Jamal, most of the land slated for confiscation falls under what is classified as “naturally irrigated” lands, suitable for more than one production cycle per year.
The Qalqiliya, Tulkarm and Jenin areas are considered the “bread basket” of the West Bank. The abundant production of these areas account for much of the produce on which the Palestinian market largely depends. The barrier has already caused a dramatic drop in production in the region, a drop officials say will significantly affect the ability to provide for Palestinian food needs in the future.
Until it was encircled by the barrier –” there is now only one entrance/exit to and from the city –” Qalqiliya alone was the main source of produce for the West Bank According to studies carried out by the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network, PENGON, of the area’s 12,500 dunams of cultivable land, the barrier has cut off approximately half, resulting in the near paralysis of the agricultural sector, famed for its vegetables, citruses and olives.
The separation barrier has expropriated approximately 3,750 dunams of agricultural land and its construction ruined another 2,200 dunams. The confiscated land used to contain 2,000 dunams of irrigated trees, 500 dunams of vegetable patches and 300 dunams of olive trees in addition to 100 dunams of greenhouses. Eight thousand trees were uprooted while the barrier was being built. Until now, a total of over 700,000 trees have been uprooted as a result of the construction of the barrier.
Furthermore, at least nine ground wells were isolated from the Qalqiliya area and three wells were completely destroyed during the construction of the barrier.
“In the first stage, about five million cubic meters of water in 33 artisan wells were isolated from Qalqiliya, Tulkarm and Jenin because they fell on the other side of the wall,” says Jamal. “These were wells that provided drinking water as well as irrigation for the crops.”
Farmers are unable to reach their fields and trees because they are stranded behind the barrier. Jamal calculates that the barrier will eventually impact the lives of over 800,000 Palestinian farmers. Of those who were affected by the construction of the first phase of the barrier 60 percent depended completely on agriculture as their means of income. Overall, says Jamal, “I believe that the agriculture sector will lose 70 percent of the value of its production if the barrier is completed in its various stages.”
Jamal also worries about the environmental impacts of the barrier should it be completed as planned. It will effectively close off all Palestinian areas, thus affecting agricultural as well as urban expansion. This means that demographic growth will be limited in the future due to people’s confinement within the barrier.
“I don’t know what my future will be,” says Jarrar. “My life was hard even with all my 15 dunams because of the siege on [Qalqiliya]. Now I don’t know what will happen to me with only three dunams. I don’t even know if I will always be able to reach these dunams. All I know is that God will not forsake us.”