Last Saturday, my friends and I went to Jayouss, an agricultural village in the north western part of the West Bank, close to Israel’s separation wall.
Jayouss is one of the Palestinian villages that won a nonviolent battle against the construction of the wall back in 2005, leading to a court order to reroute the wall.
While the rerouting returned some dunams of the land to the village, 75 percent of the agricultural land still remains in the “seam zone,” locked between the Green Line and the separation wall. As a result, farmers now have to get permits to go through the barrier to access their lands. But the rules for permit eligibility and “access” are not very clear or consistent.
At the beginning, many permits were issued to almost everyone in the village: children, youths, the elderly, and even the deceased. Thinking the rejection of these permits would lead to complete loss of their land many Jayoussis embraced their lot and accepted the permits.
But in time, the Israeli authorities started refusing to renew permits. A child and an elderly member of a household would be given a permit but the adults who could actually work the land would be refused; or only the one person whose name is written on the land ownership deed would get the permit but the children or other family members would be denied; or the permit would be valid for planting season but not the harvest and a family would lose its harvest or would have to ask or pay others to collect it on their behalf.
Moreover, the Israeli army uses the permit system as deterrence against protests: families whose children have prison or detention records are denied permits. Considering the constant army raids, protests and arrest or detention of young adult males, the system is often used as a tool to quell political activism and resistance against the occupation.
But the oddity and unpredictability of the permit system is not the only worry that the farmers of Jayouss and their families face. Even when they have a permit, farmers have to wait for the brief openings of the checkpoints, at most three times a day and not for more than an hour, before they can go to their fields.
They have to stick to the schedules of the soldiers which may or may not come at all or on time and follow their orders based on their mood or the new “army order” of the day. Furthermore, four out of the six wells of the village are behind the wall and are administered by the Israeli authorities, who have put a quota and a meter to monitor agricultural water usage. If usage exceeds the quota, then the farmers are charged extra money.
What’s interesting about Jayouss and the occupation’s effect on it is how the occupation doesn’t have its ABCs. The rules are random, inconsistent, unpredictable and bizarre. What works today at one gate, with one soldier, may not work tomorrow at the same gate, with the same soldier. You can’t take anything for granted; everything depends on everything else.
For example, your tractor may get a permit but your jeep for the winter months may not. Your children may not get a permit but your employees might. You or your children may have “business permits” which allow you to travel around Israel, but your farmland can be off limits “for security reasons.” And the latest and the most preposterous one I’ve heard: You cannot take a donkey with you if you are under the age of 45. But your 70-year old parent can come, pass through with the same donkey, hand it to you on the other side, in front of the soldier and go back to the village as you head to the field!
When I heard these stories, the reasonable, rational “me” tried to look for some kind of reason, any kind of sound reason, no matter how unjustifiable, for these “orders.” This kind of absurdity didn’t seem acceptable to me even under the standards and rules of the Israeli occupation. I was convinced that there must be something more than just a mission to frustrate people, a “reasonable” pretext of some kind, lying beneath “it’s a new order, you can’t go with your donkey if you are younger than 45.” But I couldn’t find any.
The truth is, the rationality behind these nonsensical, unpredictable and inconsistent rules is only visible if you look at the bigger picture of the Israeli occupation: It seeks to secure more of Palestine, but without the Palestinians. The more frustrated, divided, incarcerated, impoverished, exiled or dead the Palestinians are, the more land to annex, cultivate, settle on and call Zion.
The truth is, if you haven’t been to Palestine to witness the violations and injustices Palestinians face as a result of the occupation, these kinds of stories would only make you scoff in disbelief, because they are too outrageous to be true. But the truth is this: Truth is stranger than fiction in Palestine.
Melkam Lidet is a writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). This commentary is taken from the MIFTAH website.