by Tulkarm/Qalqiliya team,
It was dark when we left. The 5am alarm sounded and the placement house began its usual morning splutter to life. Cameras. Notepads. Jackets. We tipped the lights and set out to monitor access to livelihood at the Deir Al Ghusun agricultural gate, just north of the Palestinian city of Tulkarm.
When we arrived the queue had started to form. Men and women of all ages, tractors and animals were lined up in front of the barrier in anticipation of the arrival of the Israeli soldiers. The queue was awash with the routine nerves and anxiety many Palestinian farmers working in the ‘Seam Zone’ have unjustly become accustomed to. Invasive body searches, humiliation and rejection. At Deir Al Ghusun, your permit to enter merely affords an audience with the army that controls it. More often than not, your access is in the hands of a teenage soldier, whose refusals can seem both cruel and casual.
In an act of usual kindness and generosity, locals gave us coffee to warm our hands and we found smiles under each pair of eyes ours met.
We hear the familiar groan of a speeding armored jeep in the distance. They’ve arrived.
The ‘Seam Zone’.
“Before they built the wall, I could access my land freely. Now I have no choice but to travel through (the gate) each morning and evening.” – Khaled – Palestinian farmer.
In 2002, Israel began construction of a separation barrier with the stated aim of preventing Palestinians from carrying out attacks inside Israel.  The barrier, combined with checkpoints and other physical and bureaucratic restrictions, enables the Israeli military to control Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank (including to and from the seam zone). These restrictions violate the right to freedom of movement of an entire population, their sweeping and disproportionate nature make it a collective punishment. The barrier’s projected length is over 700km, more than twice the length of the 1949 Armistice Green Line. As the route of this barrier has significantly deviated from the Green Line, large areas containing rich agricultural land and vital water sources belonging to Palestinian communities’ have been effectively confiscated by the barrier. When the barrier is complete, nearly 85% of it will be inside the West Bank rather than along the Green Line. In effect, this will isolate some 9.4% of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem into a de facto ‘no-man’s land’. This is the area known as the seam zone.
The Israeli military administer the seam zone as if it were part of the State of Israel . Although those living in this area are still living in Palestinian territory, they are separated from Palestinians living in the rest of the West Bank. The 6,500 Palestinians residents of the ‘Seam Zone’ require permanent resident permits from the Israeli authorities to continue to live in their homes. Even the access to their homes is controlled by these gates and checkpoints manned by the Israeli military.
For Palestinians whose land lies within this ‘seam zone’, access is often difficult as a complicated bureaucratic permit system stands in the way of reliable access for farmers on a daily basis. To cross a checkpoint in the wall, you need to apply for a permit for that specific checkpoint. You either need to have land, family or a job on the other side of the wall to apply. Many people are rejected, and for those granted a permit the gates only open for short periods in the morning and in the evening, making agricultural access outside of these brief windows impossible. These obstacles can be devastating for farmers whose very livelihoods depend on access to the area.
We monitor as the soldiers lift the heavy latch on the gate. After making a series of tactical head tips and nods to one and another the gate is finally slid open… 20 minutes late.
“KHAMSA!” The guard shouts at the line. Five men move forward as the rest of the line takes a step back, re-assembling neatly behind those summoned. One by one, the men are searched before being told to move forward and present their permits. In plain view of colleagues, friends and family, the soldiers proceed to thoroughly search the farmers, checking down the trousers, shirts, socks and shoes of males.
The sun slowly rises and the morning’s chill abates. Now only a handful of farmers, their tractors, packed lunches and animals await to pass. As they trickle through, the soldiers begin to shut the electrified gate for the morning. Five young men are left on the wrong side of it. Quietly sounding a futile plea with the soldiers to let them in while shaking their heads and looking to each other in disbelief. After the soldiers had left, we spoke with the young men.
“Can I ask why you were refused?”
‘We have permits but they said that our clothes were too nice and clean.’
Apparently one of the men was told that he could not get in because his hair was too bright.
‘He (the solider) asked me if I was on my way to the beach. Then he said that I had to go home and dye my hair’.
The young man with the light brown hair, told us that he had lost 500NIS in earnings that day. 500 desperately needed shekels and the only reason he was given was that one young soldier did not like his hair colour.
Monitoring multiple gates in the area since February, we’ve heard similar stories to that of these young men. Some purposely put dirt on their clothes in order to get in, because the jacket had been ‘too clean’ according to the soldiers manning the gate.
That morning, we left that gate having witnessed the humiliation, injustice and farcical rejection many Palestinians are subjected to each morning, before their work day has begun.
Witnessing this commute allowed us to see the daily injustices that Israel’s occupation causes for the Palestinians living under it and is a microcosm of the occupation itself.
EA blog: Life behind the Wall
B’Tselem: Separation Barrier