Saturday, July 10, 2010

OPT: Six years on, Barrier still casts its shadow of evil

Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Date: 09 Jul 2010

Six years ago today the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the construction of the West Bank Barrier breaches international law. Despite the ruling, construction has continued, and to date 60 per cent of the Barrier's planned route has been completed, with a further 10 per cent currently under construction.

One place where construction is ongoing is the village of al Walaja, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Ruquya al Hajj Abdullah is a 68-year-old grandmother living in al Walaja. She recently woke to the sound of heavy machinery and found workmen digging a large trench near the back of her house.

The digging uprooted 100 of Ruquya's olive trees. Once the trench was dug, a fence was erected, cutting Ruquya and her family from their farmland on the other side.

Encircled village

Ruquya is one of many Walaja residents who have lost trees and access to their lands because of the Barrier, the planned route of which will completely encircle the village. Not surprisingly, Ruquya and her neighbours are worried.

She explains: "We've seen what has happened to other communities in the West Bank. Though the Israeli authorities promise us that we will still have access to our land, this has not been the case in other places."

In fact, UNRWA and OCHA have been monitoring communities living near the Barrier in the Governorates of Tulkarm, Jenin, Salfit and Qalqiliya. They have found that after construction of the Barrier in this area, only 18 per cent of farmers were able to reach their land because of the permit system and the physical obstacle.

Ruquya describes her unease: "I am not comfortable. I feel I can't move freely in my own house and my own land." She fears losing her land and also her house, whose structure may have been damaged by the construction of the Barrier so close to its foundations.


This is not the first time that Ruquya has faced dispossession. She was born in old al Walaja, which is located on land that became Israel following the war of 1948. Though a child at the time, she remembers the shooting and bombing. She remembers having to live in caves on the family's farmland where they would later build their home, and where the new al Walaja now stands.

For Ruquya and her family the spectre of a second dispossession is very real. And despite going to the courts on several occasions they have been unable to stop the construction of the Barrier through their land.

Haitham, Ruquya's son, describes their frustrations. "Imagine you are living peacefully in your house, looking only to achieve a minimum standard of living for your family, and you are not allowed even that."