Mah’sa Peace Camp (West Bank) – The Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t so bad. Or so it would seem, judging by the brightly-colored settlement advertising signs on the Israeli roadside depicting cartoon suburban houses on bright-green hilltops.
At the Mah’sa peace camp, Nazeh Shalabi sits under a tent and speaks to us about the settlements. With every word that comes out of his mouth, a fence is being built.
The Mah’sa peace camp was erected by the villagers of Mah’sa. The peace camp is erected on their farmland and is a last attempt to keep their land from being confiscated. Palestinian, Israeli, and International Peace activists keep a round-the-clock presence here in solidarity with the villagers.
The peace camp lies to the West of a massive fence Israel is building on Palestinian land. If you look to the horizon, you’ll see a 60-meter-wide gravel-laden construction that slices through the land, winding like a river, leaving the olive tree covered hilltops of the farmers’ fields to the West and the agriculture-based Palestinian village of Mah’sa to the East.
Of the 1,500 acres of farmland owned by the villagers, 1,375 will be to the West of the wall. Nazeh Shalabi, a Palestinian olive tree farmer from Mah’sa, has 32 acres and 30 will be locked behind the fence.
‘Since I was born, I would go with my father to the land. So did my father and my father’s father. We didn’t even consider it work. Like a father and mother takes care of a child, we take care of the land. When you go to collect your crop, it’s exciting, the whole family goes. Its a beautiful society.’
The sounds of nearby bulldozers and cranes working on the wall are occasionally interrupted by a loud boom coming from the mountain across. With dynamite and giant vehicles, the mountain’s face changes noticeably by the hour as the olive-tree covered rocky hilltop turns white with excavation for a new Israeli settlement.
The exclusively-Jewish Israeli settlements are built on what the international community has recognized as Palestinian land. The gated settlement communities are composed of hundreds of small suburban houses, some with lawns but all with vegetation and trees surrounding them. In many settlements you will even see fountains and swimming pools. It is cheap to live in the settlements as they are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government.
Beneath the construction of this settlement is a winding paved settler road. Palestinians are expressly forbidden to use these roads and are forbidden from building within 150 meters from these roads as well.
There are an estimated 400,000 Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank. About 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. In Gaza strip there are 1.2 million Palestinians and 5,000 Israeli settlers. These 5,000 settlers, guarded by Israeli military, take fully one-third of the 140-square mile land.
Palestinians view Israeli’s new security fence as further confiscation of their lands.
Originally, the route of the fence was along the border between Israel and Palestine, also referred to as the Green Line or the 1967 border. Due to pressure from Israeli settlers, the route now curves deep into Palestinian territory, cutting off more than 85% of the West Bank’s agriculture from most of the outlying villages.
The Israeli government has promised to establish a gate for farmers to get to their land.
‘If they build a fence here, who will hold the key?’ says Nazeh Shalabi.
Nazeh explains that in most regions there are already problems with Israeli soldiers guarding gates to Palestinian farmlands. For example, the soldiers will only allow the farmers to travel on foot and won’t allow vehicles. They also only allow the owner of the land onto it. This is a problem if the farmer wants to bring workers to help.
The soldiers will allow Palestinians only to enter at very specific hours, between 6:00-6:30 am and return from 5:00-5:30pm. Between this period they cannot enter or go back.
Oftentimes Israel implements an ancient Turkish law that if someone isn’t on their land for more than three years, the land is confiscated to the government. They cut off the land and decide it is a closed military zone and after three years they confiscate the land and build settlements on it.
In Qualqiliya, International activists experienced this firsthand. On trying to accompany Palestinian farmers to their lands outside the gate we were told at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers that ‘this is a closed military zone.’
One thing is certain, life will not be the same for Mah’sa residents after the wall is built and the 850-year-old village is separated from its farmland.
Ask Nazeh how many of the men, women and children living in Mah’sa are farmers he will tell you:
‘All of them.’
Eric Monse works with the New York City based Jews Against the Occupation and recently returned from three weeks in the Occupied Territories working with Palestinians and studying the effects of separation barrier. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Mah’sa Peace Camp (West Bank).