When the Wall and its connecting tunnel are in place, most of the town’s agricultural land will fall to the west and south of the barrier, which will result in the isolation of the farmers from their land and the loss of their main source of livelihood.
Palestinians throughout the West Bank are made to endure such situations. Large swathes of land have been isolated behind the Wall and access to them is dependent upon specific procedures and permits from the Israeli civil administration. Obtaining these permits is a complicated procedure, as Palestinians in the northern West Bank, where the Wall has been completed, have experienced.
Al-Khader’s municipality has engaged a number of lawyers in Israel to follow the case, and has begun to hold organized protests.
The opening of this tunnel is part of a more comprehensive project to open a chain of roads and tunnels across the West Bank. This politically-oriented plan aims to build a network of Palestinian only roads and a separate network of Israeli-only roads. According to the maps and military orders issued in several districts, the Palestinian-only roads will be more circuitous and cross through mountainous and irregular terrain, similar to the alternative road presently linking the Hebron area to the northern West Bank via Taqou’ east of Bethlehem. Several other such roads have already been built in the northern West Bank.
It is difficult to measure the direct effects and violations of the Palestinians’ basic civil liberties, such as economic and social rights, but the most important is the systematic creation of facts on the ground, which constitute major stumbling blocks to the Palestinians’ ability to push forward with their national project on their land. All of these Israeli measures—building the tunnels, separate roads, the Segregation Wall, the closing off of vast areas of land in the West Bank—are aimed at establishing a racist system unique in its comprehensiveness and impact. One can see the blueprint of this system on the ground through the following landmarks:
The Segregation Wall: An advisory opinion, issued by the International Court of Justice, considered it illegal and called for its dismantlement. It has become the address for the struggle of the Palestinians, for international solidarity movements and a number of Israeli activists, given that it is a dramatic physical example of apartheid and all of its effects, including the isolation of agricultural areas, the dissection of Palestine and the destruction of the social fabric of the native inhabitants. In return, this institutes a system of isolation, whose negative impacts also touch the Israelis. The cement wall extends from north to south, close to the 1967 borders, and infiltrates the West Bank at numerous intervals. Walls have been built near several settlements, and in a number of areas, the segregation walls separate Palestinian towns and cities from one another and divide them into disparate entities. According to military orders, Abu Dis, Qalqilya and Hebron will undergo—or are already undergoing—such a dissection.
Palestinian-only and Israeli-only roads and tunnels: The aim of this plan is to build a network of roads designed for Palestinian use and another for Israeli use only. Most of these roads dedicated to Israeli traffic, the settlement bypass roads, have long been completed. What is new, however, is the total dissociation of the transport routes within the West Bank, an idea born years ago in the heart of Hebron, where Palestinians were already prohibited from using settler roads and had to make do with lengthy circuitous routes.
These settler bypass roads snake into the city of Hebron itself. There is now the so-called “worshippers’ road” which connects Kiryat Arba, Kharsina and other settlements to the Ibrahimi Mosque [Tomb of the Patriarchs] in the city center. Another road, established upon military orders, connects the settlement enclave of Ramat Yeshai at the southwestern edge of the old city to the city center, which completed the division of the city into four sections and created settler-only roads, leaving the Palestinians to find longer alternative roads. Most important is that this division of the town and its roads on a racial basis has devastating ramifications on the Palestinians’ daily lives, their social, economic and educational structures, and increasingly limits their freedom of movement.
It is within this context that the system of separate roads is being implemented in al-Khader, and others have been initiated in West Bank areas. A series of military orders have been issued for the construction of other similar tunnels in most West Bank districts. A year ago, four military orders were issued in the southern West Bank for the construction of four tunnels in the Hebron district for Palestinian-only movement. The municipalities and landowners whose lands were being confiscated for this purpose have turned to the Israeli court to contest the order.
Land expert Abdel Hadi Hantash of the Land Defense Committee said, “According to the military orders and issued maps, four tunnels will be built from the four sides of the districts in order to completely separate between the Israelis and Palestinians. That is not all, however. These tunnels will result in Israeli control over most of the land and their increasing control over the entrances to the district’s towns. It will prohibit any Palestinian natural growth. These tunnels and roads will even lead to the isolation of Palestinian towns from each other through confining movement on the streets and roads and closing off several other roads and entrances, which the citizens are accustomed to using.”
Declaring large swathes of land as closed military zones: In past months, Israeli authorities have reactivated one of the policies that has accompanied the occupation from day one, confiscating land and declaring select areas as closed military zones, which Palestinians are then prohibited from entering. Along with their homes, families often lose a major source of their income through the seizure of land. This is a long-established
policy, now implemented on an unprecedented scale. Three new military orders have been issued, according to which 80,000 dunam of land in the southern West Bank were confiscated and sealed off; this is justified by Israeli authorities out of a need for a security buffer zone. These areas are located to the north of the Segregation Wall, inside land occupied in 1967.
This policy was extended to the northern Jordan Valley region in the northern West Bank several months ago, when a number of checkpoints were set up and the area was declared a closed military zone. This area, totaling approximately 440,000 dunam, contains a population of about fifty-four thousand—along with one of the richest water sources in Palestine.
The permanent checkpoints were set up to bar any non-resident of this area from entering, and beefed up with barriers made of natural materials, such as dirt barricades and trenches. Because of these barricades, residents have been prevented from entering their agricultural land or moving freely in the area. Also, as part of this strangulating policy in the Jordan Valley, dozens of homes, shacks and agricultural installations have been demolished and tens of families displaced. At the beginning of this month, a number of families were expelled from their land under the pretext that their homes were not in the Jordan Valley region.
Most land owners in the northern Jordan Valley are residents of neighboring towns, such as Tubas, and have been prohibited from accessing their agricultural lands this harvest season. Instead, they were told the area was a closed military zone. In both the southern and northern West Bank, vast regions have been closed off, confining and expelling the resident Palestinians. Checkpoints have been constructed, barbed wire put up, settlement projects developed, and bypass roads put into operation. Two opposite, yet collusive, developments on the same spot of land—settlement expansion on the one hand and confinement of the Palestinians on the other—show yet another face of a system of apartheid.
In addition, dozens of landmarks of a new sort are being set up. There are over 500 military and dirt barricades throughout the occupied West Bank, considered as entrances to Palestinian cities and, significantly, as international crossings. The Qalandiya crossing, now considered by Israel as an international crossing, though located in the areas occupied in 1967, is an example. Permanent checkpoints, echoing the Bantustan system of South Africa, have also been installed to divide districts on Palestinian lands.
Based on this, it is fair to say that the future map of the reality for Palestine is an apartheid system that horizontally stretches to include all of the Occupied Palestinian territories, from the north to the south and from west to east. Vertically, it includes all aspects of life—it separates cities from one another, divides roads and separates people from each other. It is an apartheid that separates mountains, plains and people at the same time; it is a system extreme in its racism and its impact. We are facing a war of a new kind, a war of tunnels and restrictions, and deeper measures of isolation and separation on a racial basis.
Ahmad Jaradat is coordinator of the settlements violence project for the AIC.