Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, July 18, 2004
by Susan Ives
Since the International Court of Justice issued its ruling July 9 against the wall Israel is building in the West Bank, my mailbox has been brimming with e-mail. I must be on someone’s list.
They all ask, in essence, “How dare you say that Israel doesn’t have the right to protect itself?”
I never said that. And neither did the court.
The International Court of Justice did not rule that it was illegal for Israel to build a wall. The court did not rule that Israel could not protect itself. The court ruled that it is illegal for Israel to build a wall inside the occupied Palestinian territories.
The exact wording is that Israel “is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated.”
It is an important distinction. The court’s objection is that the route of the wall has caused intolerable hardships for the Palestinians. The route, not the wall.
Just how intolerable is intolerable? Jayyus, a small farming community of about 3,000 people northeast of Qalqiliya, is a good example.
Jayyus is in the path of the first phase of the wall, 77 miles long, which was completed last July.
Land is organized differently in the Middle East than in America. You won’t see isolated farmhouses surrounded by acres of amber waves of grain. Farmers live in town and grow their crops in small fields and orchards surrounding the city.
The homes in Jayyus are on the Palestinian side of the wall. Most of the crops and fields are now on the Israeli side, where the wall swings six kilometers — almost four miles — into the West Bank. A hundred farmers had their land confiscated to make way for the wall. Another 300 farmers no longer have ready access to their fields.
The six artesian wells that irrigated their crops were destroyed. They now share one well with a neighboring village. The town itself receives water for only two hours every three days. The average person gets 20 liters of water per day for drinking and hygiene, far below the World Health Organization’s minimum standard of 100 liters per day.
The mayor estimates that about 10,000 tons of vegetables, citrus fruit, figs, apricots, loquats, mangoes and almonds could be lost this year. And what they manage to grow, they cannot sell. Farmers no longer can get to the cities where they once marketed their crops.
Last fall, some residents moved tents into their olive groves to be sure they could harvest their crops. The soldiers drove them out. Ninety percent of the guava crop spoiled: Guava has to be harvested within 24 hours of ripening.
There is a gate through the fence, but some days — some weeks — the Israeli soldiers guarding it do not open it. Or open it at the wrong time. One day they claimed to have misplaced their keys.
Many farmers have not been issued permits to cross the gate, including 30 of the greenhouse owners. Many permits, which are complicated to obtain, last for only two weeks. Palestinians cannot bring diesel fuel through the checkpoints to run their tractors and pumps. Even donkeys need permits.
The United Nations reported recently that 200 of the 550 families in Jayyus are now dependent on humanitarian assistance.
The issue is not the wall. The issue is the six kilometer-wide swath of Palestinian fields and orchards that were isolated on the wrong side of the wall.
The first phase of the wall affected 51 towns. Each one has its own story.
San Antonian Mohammed Alatar, president of Palestinians for Peace and Democracy, testified at The Hague during the International Court of Justice proceedings last February. He told me last week, “If the Israelis want to build a wall on the 1967 border, I will go over pour the concrete myself — for free!”
From the minute the first olive tree was uprooted on Palestinian land to make way for this wall, it has been clear that the main objection has been to its path, not its purpose.
If the Israelis had listened then and routed their wall along the Green Line, they could have retained their wall. They brought this decision on themselves.