A Prisoner in One's Own Land
by: Noreen Sadik
A PRISONER IN ONE'S OWN LAND
Like Hani Amer, generations of Palestinians are
suffering due to Israel’s settlement policy,
writes Noreen Sadik
Hani Amer’s directions to his house were a tad off . “Go straight down the road, and you will “bump” into my house,” he explained. Following his instructions, I drove through the sleepy West Bank village of Mas’ha in search of his house.
By the time I reached the end of the road, I had not “bumped” into a house, and I could not go further because blocking my path was an ugly mess of tangled barbed wires, metal gates — three, to be exact, one after the other - and to their left, towering overeverything, a series of concrete slabs, all making up the ‘Apartheid Wall’ which separates Israel from the West Bank.
A call to Amer assured me that I was in the right place. He emerged from his house, walking stick in hand, and unlocked the yellow gate leading to his property and welcomed me inside.
As I sat in his yard, it crossed my mind that this land tells a story that words cannot fully describe.
His box-shaped house, built in 1973, home to the family of eight, is just a few metres from an illegal Israeli settlement and is completely surrounded by fencing and the Wall. In keeping with the theme of dreariness, no grass or colourful
fl owers brighten the yard. Instead dry, wilted plants hang limp over the rocky ground.
The only semblance of a garden is the paintings by Amer’s children and some foreigners on the wall. Soldiers ordered them to stop painting.
Poking the dry ground with his cane, Amer, 53, shared his family’s history. His grandfather, a farmer, sold his possessions in Mas’ha, and moved to the village of Kfar Kasem, 8km away, in search of more fertile land.
When he was killed by the Jews, his widow and children returned empty-handed to Mas’ha. There the family struggled, working on the land and sleeping under the trees until they were able to purchase land and build a house.
Leaving his grandmother and parents’ stories in the past, Amer talked about his own life, and the present day problems.
He describes a life of financial hardship, and blames the difficulties that generation after generation of Palestinians have faced on the Nakba (the ‘Day of Catastrophe’ as the Arabs refer to the creation of Israel).
“Throughout one’s life, a person has to decide what his priorities are. First a person has to eat, then have clothing and secure housing, and then, if there is money left, he can get an education. We never advanced financially, and because of
this, not one of us was educated.”
His home sits on three-quarters of an acre. He lived a simple life, taking care of his family. However all that was to change in 1977 when Israeli settlers established the settlement of Elqana, population 4,000 (in 2002).
To quote Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbours,” does not apply to the residents of Mas’ha or the surrounding villages. Approximately 1,977 acres of Mas’ha land were confiscated for three surrounding settlements.
Life has become even more difficult since the settlers arrived. Village land is inaccessible, businesses have closed, and the fences surrounding the settlements have blocked roads separating villages and families from each other.
Amer says that once the settlement was built, he lost his rights and freedom. He was no longer permitted to build on his own house, and he was not allowed to enter his five acre plot of land which fell on the other side of the wall.
He complained that the soldiers destroyed whatever they wanted. They demolished his restaurant on the pretense of him not having a permit. “It’s not my fault if I don’t have a permit. They should give one to me. I did not refuse a permit, they just wouldn’t give me one,” he said with frustration. His nursery and chicken coop also were destroyed. “They don’t want anyone to make a living,” he said .
In 2000, during the second Intifada, the soldiers would not let his family enter their home for a month, and upon their return, they found that “what could be broken was broken. They took what they wanted, and what was left they burned. And what was left after the burning, such as trees in pots, died from lack of water,” he said.
Amer’s story continued in August, 2003 when construction of the Wall began. “When they started to build the Wall we didn’t understand just what will happen to us,” he explained. Attempts to force him to desert his home failed. “I thought of only one thing — that I want to live in my house, because if I don’t, where will I live? I don’t have another place,” he explained.
Now each morning the family faces 36 concrete slabs, each 8m high, which form a wall 54m long, in addition to the metal fencing surrounding the house. Cameras are placed along the Wall, and running parallel to it is a military road.
The military’s offer to make a gate especially for him, which they would open for 15 minutes every 24 hours, and giving the army control of his visitors, was met with resistance. With the aid of human rights organisations, he was finally
given the key to a bright yellow gate which he controls. Amer says, “I am in control of my home. What right do they have to tell me who can and can not enter my home? I will not give up my rights.”
Amer complains that they do not feel safe, and rarely leave the house empty. The settlers sometimes throw rocks at their house, and the soldiers enter their property at their whim, often on cold nights. Amer’s wife, Munira, said, “Many times I have said ‘That’s enough, I want to leave,’ but once I calm down, I know that I can not leave my home.”
Amer does not mince words about the future. “I know what Israel’s goal is. They are coming from other countries, and many Palestinians have been killed and imprisoned, but I do not think about that. I am bothered when I see them, and also when I see their bulldozers because they are ruining the land. They are the enemy of the environment. I believe that Israel is going to fall,” he explains. “It does not benefit me to swear at them. My goal is to remove the occupation. I am convinced that what I am doing is right, and that I have to do it.”
A motorcycle on the settlement side of the fence passes, Israeli flag waving over it, the driver and passenger wearing big smiles.
Amer let me out the yellow gate. I looked at him from the other side, his face framed by wires; a strong man, imprisoned, although his heart cries out for freedom.
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
In 2002, the building of the ‘Apartheid Wall’ between Israel and Palestine began.
To date, approximately 60% of the projected 810km wall has been completed.
Its route often goes deep into the West Bank, confiscating Palestinian land,
separating land owners from their fields and livelihoods, and creating diff iculties
for Palestinians to reach their work, family, medical care, and education.
According to the grassroots activist organisation Stop the Wall, upon completion,
46% of the West Bank will be annexed by a “network of walls, fences, military
zones, 34 fortified checkpoints, 44 tunnels, 634 checkpoints and obstructions
and 1,661km of settler roads.”
Israel claims that it is a means of protection against suicide bombers, but
Palestinians consider the Wall to be a land grab, and a way to control the West
In 2004, the International Court of Justice declared the Wall illegal, and said it
must be dismantled. To this day the building continues.
Resistance to the illegal building of the Wall has taken shape in many forms,
Dr Robert Sauders, Assistant Professor at Eastern Washington University, has
done extensive research about the graff iti on the Wall. According to Sauders,
graffiti began being used as a form of protest at the end of 2005, however its
popularity grew in 2007. His research covered over 85% of the cement wall, and
estimated that 65–75% is covered in graff iti. Most of the writing is at Qalandia and
Bethlehem, probably due to the presence of internationals who do most of the
During the first Intifada, when the Wall did not exist, Palestinians wrote on the
walls in their villages. Sauders believes, “Graff iti was a mechanism of political
communication for Palestinians at a time of rigid Israeli censorship.” The
messages focused on political messages opposing the occupation or giving
updates on politics and leaders.
The graffiti of the first Intifada served as a form of resistance since the Israeli
military forbade it. The messages of the second Intifada were diff erent. “The
graff iti on the Wall is largely focused on the global connection to the Palestinian
cause in terms of international solidarity and social justice,” Sauders explained.
The Send a Message group (Dutch and Palestinian co-ordination) contributed to
a great deal of the graff iti in Qalandia and Anata, charging senders a fee to spray
paint their messages. The Longest Letter to the Palestinian people by South
African Farid Esack stretches 2,625m across the Wall.
What do local residents feel about it? Sauders believes that international
expression of solidarity with Palestinians through graffiti is “an act of resistance
and a forum in which to voice their opposition to Israeli policies. However, “My
current hypothesis is that Palestinians recognise that spray painting graff iti on
the Wall isn’t going to change Israeli policy or garner meaningful international
support or attention.”
Jamal Jumaa, co-ordinator of Stop the Wall, is against most of the graffiti. He
believes that the Wall should remain grey and ugly. The Wall has been the cause
of incredible damage to the Palestinian people, and what it represents should not
be hidden behind the beauty of the paintings.
Jumaa does not agree with projects that accept money for a spray painted
message. He feels that it is “selling the misery of the people for money” — even if
the money is used for projects to benefit people.
He complains that many of the messages have nothing to do with the Nakba
or its effect on the Palestinians. Messages that are written for a loved one or
paintings of political figures serve no purpose and do not benefit the Palestinian
cause. Saunders thinks that the aspect of accepting payment for a message is the
equivalent of “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”
Jumaa believes that the locals do not care about or pay attention to the pictures;
their future has been aff ected by the Wall, and they have bigger things to think about.
printed in the Gulf Times (Qatar) Nov 15, 2010
photos in link below