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By Yasmine Halevi, Ta’ayush
Until mid 2003, we had the feeling that something huge and important was going on, but didn’t attract enough attention. Almost everybody in Israel seemed to be fond of the idea of a fence separating between Israelis and Palestinians.
As the war in Iraq began, we recognized the dimensions of this project. Trucks we sent to the Occupied Territories loaded with flour, rice, oil and the like came back with news of land confiscations; we learned to know Palestinian activists in the region of Tulkarem, who worked closely with the villagers in the area and were already focusing on the fence. This is how we found out about the planned enclaves and reconstructed the political project, while the press ignored it and Sharon was trying to get it going silently. In February 2003 we had decided that actions in the territories would focus on one single issue – the fence – and sought out strategies to cope with something that was well beyond anything we had confronted, comparable to the whole settlement project.
In April 2003, a first joint Israeli-Palestinian protest was held in Deir el-Russun in Tulkarem district, marking both the fence and the alternative to it. It was hardly perceived. The Palestinians were initiating small-scale actions protesting destruction, but failed to attract attention or make pubic opinion realize what was at stake beyond the local level.
By June, the fence became the central issue abroad, and gradually here as well. The PA began protesting, and American pressure forced Sharon to stop work on the Ariel-Salfit enclave, where the fence was to go as deep as 30 km into Palestinian land. This was the result of the first round – and in fact, work is to be resumed in the village of Zawiya in that very region only now. Now that the fence became an issue, Masha became a focus.
September-October marked a turning point in terms of public discussion. For the first time, the newspapers began reporting about the actual route of the fence. The moment it got near Jerusalem, and the extent of the works around neighborhoods became clear, the fence became something visible, something anyone could go and see for themselves. Hence begins a stage of our work in Jerusalem.
We focused on the communities entrapped between the fence and the Green Line. This enabled us to undermine the security argument, since many Palestinians remain on the Israeli side of the wall. Easily accessible, these communities were a big advantage: reaching villages behind the fence became a real challenge now, and it was clearer more than ever before what was at stake: annexation, and a hope of voluntary population transfer.
Khirbet Jebara, a small village in Tulkarem area, provided a first model of civil resistance against a new enclaves policy. Its 300 inhabitants were ordered by the army to take special permits allowing them temporary residence in their homes. They refused, but after weeks of isolation from the outside world and heavy movement restrictions, they surrendered. They lost this battle, but may have set the first example of civil resistance. Eventually it was announced the route around their village would be changed as well.
The next phase was parallel to the renewed interest in the Fence due to The Hague trial. Villages very close to the Green Line such as Budrus began a real massive, popular, non-violent struggle led by local grassroots activists. Calling upon Israeli and international activists to join, and succeeding to immobilize neighbouring villages to their struggle against the fence threatening to surround them in a closed prison (as well as confiscating their agricultural land), this new phase attracted huge media interest, and even yielded some success: after a couple of months of protest, the route in Budrus was moved closer to the Green Line.
Where are we now? Sharon’s strategy consists of making some local concessions and sending vague reconciliatory messages of “humanitarian consideration”, and at the same time using brutal violence (including live ammunition) to crash the popular protest in the communities.
The result is unequal: Budrus has gained some victories and its example is to a large extent followed; at the same time, Sharon doubles the pace of the work, assassinates religious leaders, gets Bush’s approval, and sells the public a package deal: legitimacy for the fence and a de-facto annexation, while giving up what had to be given up long ago: the burden of Gaza strip and 4 settlements in the West Bank.
This is the time when we begin to work also inwards, with the Israeli public, which is still largely ignorant of the fence’s route and both short and long term implications. Small “house-parties”, in which we gather 10-20 people to tell them some facts and our experience, are our new somewhat-sisyphean arena, in which we operate, for the first time, not through solidarity, but through information.
Tel Aviv, April 2004.