Dear Members of the Quartet,
Let me tell you about our West Bank village of Jayyus. By last July, we knew that Israel had already mapped out the course of the separation wall in Qalqilya District, but we had not yet seen the plans. Then one September evening, a shepherd found white sheets of paper tacked to the olive trees. He brought them to me, and I saw that they were military orders handwritten in Arabic. The order said that all of the farmers of Jayyus village were to come to their farms, where a military officer from the nearby settlement of Qadumim would show us the path of the wall. We thought that the Israeli military might confiscate 50 or 100 square meters–no more. But 200 farmers showed up that unbelievable day to hear that the wall would be built six kilometers inside the Green Line, what we consider the political border with Israel. Many of the farmers were weeping.
I have worked all my life to build my farm, which stretches over 192 dunams. My orchards are full of loquats and avocados, mangos and peaches, walnuts and figs. I have the richest land in Jayyus.
But that Wednesday, I learned that 175 dunams of my land, the best and well-irrigated earth, was to fall on the other side of the separation wall. To get to it, I would have to circumvent barbed wire, electronic censors, military patrols and an eight-meter high cement barrier. Without those resources, I knew I would be a beggar.
And so we began our peaceful demonstrations. With international supporters, we farmers sat in the path of the bulldozers to try to prevent the uprooting of our olive trees. Many Israelis from the peace camp and Jews from America and Europe came, too. One day, we were sitting in the road when an Israeli army officer came and asked us why. We told him that it would be better for them to kill us than to uproot our olive trees.
“We are constructing the separation wall to prevent attacks between Israelis and Palestinians and–in the end–for peace,” he replied.
I said to him politely, “I represent Jayyus village. I am ready to pay half of the cost of constructing this wall, if you would only build it on the Green Line. If you have no security now, how do you expect to get it when you are 28 meters from our homes?” He became very angry, and said, “I want to show you something.” He put his arm on my neck and then under my shoulders, as if to whisper in my ear, but I could feel his arm wrenching painfully against my neck bones.
This land was my father’s land and that of his father before him. We have already lost land to the settlement of Zofin, which was established in 1988. The dust from a nearby Israeli quarry–also a settlement–collects on the leaves of my fruit trees. But it is only because of the earth’s wealth that I have been able to educate all of my seven children. I have four daughters: one economist, two English literature majors and a third who will graduate in physics. My sons include an electrical engineer, a lawyer and an agricultural engineer. This last son, Muhammad, breaks my heart. He won honors in school and a scholarship to study medicine in Tunisia. But when Muhammad called me from abroad, I spoke to him of my sadness that none of my children would care for my farm. He quit his program and returned to the West Bank to study agriculture. Now we will lose our farm and I wonder every day, what gift have I given my son?
The bulldozers work on the wall 24 hours a day. Israeli patrols run incessantly past our home and we do not sleep for the noise. The village of Jayyus is home to 550 families, 400 of which depend entirely on agriculture. Often, when we go to work the land, the military stops us to ask for our identification papers. Israel says that we will continue to have access to our farms, but no one really knows what the future holds. North of Tulkarem, the farmers were told this, too, but to this day they are barred from their farms. I have advised all of the Jayyus farmers to live on their land, because if that is lost, we will have nothing.
During the Aqaba summit, the Land Defense Committee of Qalqilya came to Ramallah and set up a tent in front of the office of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. We established this tent because we wanted the world to know that we are the new refugees (as if there are not enough refugees and tents in the Arab world). Since 1980, the settlements have been annexing our land bit by bit, and I worry that soon we will be no better than Thai and Filipino workers in Israel–day laborers on our own stolen land. We told Abu Mazen that this land is as holy for us as Jerusalem, and that we will not exchange it for even the best of that city.
My message to you, the Quartet, is a simple one: to ask you to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to treat us as human beings. If he could only respect Palestinians as humans, he would stop annexing our land, he would stop arresting our sons and he would release all our prisoners.
Sharif Omar is a sixty-year-old farmer in the northern West Bank village of Jayyus.