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Jaffar Omar is 15. Everyday, after finishing school in the village of Azoun-Atma south of Qalqilyah, he goes to the family’s greenhouse in the same village and tends the tomato plants. Usually he is the only one working in the greenhouse. His family of 11 members lives in the adjacent village, Beit Amin.
About 15 years ago the family bought land in Azoun-Atma and invested tens of thousands of shekels in making it fit for cultivation and raising thousands of hens. Sixty percent of the land in Azoun-Atma is owned by inhabitants of the two nearby villages – Beit Amin and Saniriya. Now they are forbidden to get to their land. On October 30, 2003, in preparation for the construction of the fence in the area, the village of Azoun-Atma was declared a closed military zone, which only people who are registered as residents there are allowed to enter and exit. However, the students at the school, who like Jaffar live outside the village, are allowed to enter it. And thus Jaffar was recruited to save the family’s sole source of income.
The separation fence will surround Azoun-Atma, thus making it a closed enclave so that the two Jewish settlements to the south of it, Etz Efraim and Shaarei Tikva, and the Jewish settlement of Oranit to the west of it will be “outside” the fence. Even now, without a fence, access to the village is possible only through a single entrance, on the northern side, which is also blocked by a gate, a concrete watchtower and soldiers who check identity papers.
The chicken coops that Jaffar’s family owned were eliminated a year ago after his father, Abu Bashir, was prevented from getting to them for days at a time. Many of the hens died.
Even without the egg business, the work in the greenhouse is a heavy burden on the shoulders of a boy of 15, who is working instead of studying and playing in the afternoon. The principal of Jaffar’s school told UNWRA (United Nations Works and Relief Agency) field workers that at least 20 more of his students are working on their families’ lands after school, because the adults are not permitted to get there on a regular basis. This inevitably affects their achievements in school.
Because of the roadblocks and the various other obstacles, the marketing of the produce in the cities of the West Bank has become more expensive. The farmers, among them Abu Bashir, are absorbing the increased costs. The dependence on the boy’s work in the greenhouse has only increased.
875,600 are affected by the fence Azoun-Atma is one of the 81 Palestinian localities (not including East Jerusalem) that have become or will become closed and isolated enclaves as long as the construction of the wall continues. This is according to calculations by B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as of January, 2004. There are 263,200 people living in these communities – caged between the Green Line (the pre-Six Day War border) and the fence, between depth barriers (trenches and the like) and the fence, and inside loops of the fence, like the one that will encircle Azoun-Atma. Altogether, this comprises 11.4 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank. There are 402,400 people living in 102 Palestinian localities on the eastern side of the separation fence – like Beit Amin – who are directly affected by it. Altogether, this is 17.5 percent of the population of the West Bank.
Together with the 210,000 inhabitants of east Jerusalem, whose lives are affected by the fence in one way or another, the proportion of Palestinians who are affected by it reaches 38 percent (875,600 people), according to B’Tselem.
Palestinian and international organizations are now engaged in estimating and evaluating the long-term social and health implications that the separation fence is having and will have. One dangerous effect is the one that is illustrated by Jaffar’s case: damage for various reasons to the studies of students in elementary and high schools. According to calculations by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, only 1 percent of 890 households that live in the area of the fence have reported that their children have dropped out of school as a result of the difficulties in moving around that are caused to them by the fence, but in October, 2003, the bureau examined social and economic effects of the fence on the population in the midst of which it is being built. According to calculations made from the replies of the households that were surveyed, it emerges that in the meantime the families have been doing everything they can to ensure that the students continue to attend school, even though 15.2 percent of them reported that at least one of their children was having difficulties getting to school or to university (29.4 percent of those who live to the west of the fence, 13.9 percent to the east of it). Longer, alternative bypass routes were reported by 45.9 percent, which are used by the students to get to school. In 7.6 percent of the households, students have changed schools because of the fence; 2.4 percent of the households have changed their place of residence. The declining level of studies is the subject of other research studies.
The findings of the survey were published in December and served as the basis for a discussion last week at the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics of the possible changes in social patterns. It is still too early to determine how these trends will solidify over the long term. It is possible that the school dropout rate will increase, as the continuing economic damage caused by the fence will obligate more families to send their children to work or will make it impossible for students to complete high school, not to mention their higher education, which is also becoming more costly as students have to rent accommodations in the cities in which they are studying because of the difficulties in getting from place to place.
Blow to women
Another constant fear is that the people affected will leave their homes with the aim of making their lives easier and move to another locality in the West Bank. About 4,000 of the 45,000 inhabitants of Qalqilyah have left the city during the past three years. Even before it was surrounded by the wall, it was isolated from its village hinterland and from workplaces inside Israel, it was cut off entirely from the other cities in the West Bank and it lost its markets.
Will the cumulative economic decline because of the erection of the fence within Palestinian territory create similar waves of migration deeper into the West Bank in the not too distant future? In October, only 5 percent of the households surveyed that live to the west of the fence and 4.9 percent of those who live to the east of it reported that they have changed or will change their place of residence. Of these, 54.6 percent said that they have moved or will move because of a sense of insecurity or fear; 49.8 percent mentioned the fence as a reason, 26.3 percent – the demolition of their house; 72.4 percent – difficulties in mobility, 48 percent said they have moved or will move because of the location of their job and 17 percent because of studies. The vast majority, 95 percent of those surveyed on both sides of the fence, said that they had no intention of leaving. That is, at the moment there is a general tendency to stick to the place of residence. There are those who are requesting from the Israel Defense Forces and Civil Administration permits to move into the area of enclaves (like Azoun-Atma), to work the land. But it is difficult to know what these families will do in two or three years’ time.
The households were asked whether their incomes sufficed for their needs. To this, 17.8 percent replied that it was sufficient at this time, after the building of the fence, as compared to 62.8 percent who said that it was sufficient before the erection of the fence; 52.7 percent replied that their income was insufficient, now that the fence has gone up.
Insufficient income even before the fence went up was reported by 15.1 percent. Many communities in the western part of the West Bank were relatively prosperous in the not too distant past. Their income was based on two main sources: work in Israel and agricultural produce that was marketed throughout the West Bank and in Israel. The reliance on agriculture on the fertile land grew immediately after the beginning of the intifada, when the routes into Israel were increasingly closed. But the markets have dwindled and vanished, and large swathes of land have been swallowed up into the fortifications of the fence/wall. The confiscation of all of their land was reported by 11.8 percent of the households that were surveyed; 16.7 percent reported that some of their land had been confiscated. In 21.9 percent of the households, one member of the family had to change his occupation because of the erection of the fence and 8.7 percent had to change their place of work (though not the nature of their work). Because of difficulties in getting to the school where they originally worked, 4.9 percent of the teachers had to change schools. Only 1.9 percent changed their place of residence.
Many of the people who work in education are women. Eight out of the 14 teachers who enter the enclave of Bartaa al Sharqiyya, in the northern West Bank, are women. At the gate to the west of Bartaa al Sharqiyya there is a metal detector, which sometimes does not work. Therefore, the soldiers have to check those who come through the gate manually. The women object to being examined by men and sometimes, according to their report to UNWRA field workers, they wait for several hours until female soldiers come to check them. In the northern West Bank hundreds of women were employed in sewing factories (owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel) in towns that have been affected by the fence: Bartaa, Nazlat Issa and Baka al Sharqiyya. Often they are the main breadwinners in their families. Because of the restrictions on movement posed by the roadblocks, some of these factories have shut down and about half of the women who worked in them lost their jobs. Others sleep at the factories, as “illegal sojourners” in a Palestinian locality that has been declared a closed military zone. The moment they are married, these women will stop working.
Of those surveyed by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, 78.1 percent reported that the fence has decreased the movement of the women in the family and their exits from the locale in which they live (77.4 of the women living to the east of the fence, and 86.8 percent of those who live to the west of it).
At the Bureau of Statistics they are asking themselves whether, in the long run, the fence will put a stop to natural processes of the expansion of Palestinian women’s range of independence and decrease the number of women working outside the home or studying at universities and colleges.
The erection of the fence, which separates villages from their neighbors, has already affected the traditions of social-family ties. Of the families living to the west of the fence, 51.9 percent have been separated from their relatives, as have 37.3 percent of those who live to the east of the fence. Of the respondents to the west of the fence, 90.6 percent said that they found it difficult to visit their families (as compared to 63.5 percent of those who live to the east of the fence). A similar proportion of the respondents replied that their social ties and various leisure activities have been affected.
In many families, report the Bureau of Statistics surveyors and the UNWRA field workers, the fear was expressed that the chances of marrying or marriage customs would be affected: Parents are afraid to marry their daughters to men who live in enclaves or to the west of the fence if even this is only three or five kilometers away. “No one wants to send his daughter to prison,” they say in the Bartaa enclave. In the families’ estimation, the fence will prevent them from visiting their daughters and their grandchildren regularly and freely and from helping and getting help when needed. Will these difficulties increase with phenomenon of marriage between blood relatives, which medical and social elements in Palestinian society have been trying to discourage for many years because of the negative health results of such marriages?