Far’un, a small village of 3,000 inhabitants in the northern occupied West Bank, sits on a green hill to the south of Tulkarem, just four kilometers from the Green Line. From the roofs of the old buildings in the center of the village, one can observe all the land around the village, planted with olive, orange and lemon trees and which belongs to Far’un farmers. Some areas of the pre-1948 village lands are also visible from the top of those roofs, but on the other side of the Separation Wall.
The two towns—Taybeh on the Israeli side and Far’un on the West Bank side—look like one town from a distance. But if you look carefully between the buildings, you notice an electric fence that divides the towns in two. This fence weaves through a main street that once served as the meeting point of the two villages.
Before the closure and the construction of the Wall in 2002, people of both towns had strong relations, and many residents from Far’un moved to Taybeh to be close to family members living there. After the Wall was built, however, the social lives of families from both villages were greatly affected. The Wall has now made it impossible for people from Far’un to visit their relatives on the other side.
When you look around the village, you quickly realize that Far’un is totally surrounded by the three settlements of Avnei Hefetz, Enav and Sal’it from the northeastern side, and the Separation Wall from the western side. The main road that once connected Tulkarem and Qalqilia has become a bypass road for the settlers who live in the surrounding settlements. The Palestinians are now forced to use a new, longer road that passes through the hills.
Upon entering the village, you get the sense of being in an animal enclosure with the electric fence serving as a barrier. It’s hard to believe that all of this has been built, not to keep animals in, but human beings. On the street parallel to the fence, Israeli jeeps patrol the area during all hours to control the villagers’ movements. Moreover, it is clear that these restrictions of movement imposed on Palestinians are intended to ensure the free movement of settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
No one is allowed to come close to the fence. Soldiers, under the pretext of security, have orders to shoot anyone who approaches it and, according the people living there, have already shot and killed a village resident. The electric fence passes only 20 to 30 meters away from two schools and 10 apartment buildings, yet upon threat of death the residents of those buildings must stay away from it.
According to the mayor of Far’un, Abed al-Karim Jamal Mohammed, the village comprises 8000 dunam of land, which has always been the main source of income for the residents.
The Israeli government confiscated 4500 dunam for construction of the Wall, much of which is now located on the other side of the Wall. The Israeli military further uses an arbitrary policy of permits to increase the difficulty for farmers to reach their land on the other side and work it. Basam Otair, a local Palestinian who has lost most of his land on the other side of the Wall, stated:
It’s very hard now to get a permit to go to work on our land that is located on the other side. Sometimes they give a temporary permit to some people, and other times they completely stop permits for security reasons, as they claim. Sometimes we get the permit but find out that the gate is closed. Sometimes they permit the workers to go through, but forbid the owners. The lands beside the fence are totally neglected now. People are afraid to go and work there. I wanted to build a house for my oldest son in my land there, but the Israelis didn’t give me the permission. We can’t build on our land. Our life has completely changed after the closure. In the past, people used to produce litres of oil for their families and for the market. Now that we lost our land, we have to buy it.
Before the second Intifada began, most of the villagers worked as farmers and builders in Taybeh and Nazareth. During that period, they couldn’t imagine they would be forcefully separated from their social connections and livelihoods in these areas, and they didn’t have any idea of the serious problems they would then encounter. “With time, we became conscious that something serious was going to affect us. We became shocked when we apprehended the total closure. We realized that we lost our land and our dreams” Basam said.
After the closure, many villagers lost their jobs. Unemployment now stands as one of the largest problems facing Far’un. Moreover, the main water sources of the area are controlled by Israel, leaving the Palestinians with very limited access and quantities. Farmers face increasing problems. The Wall destroyed the farmland of the area. Many of the farm animals were maintained and grazed on the inhabited lands of the region; nowadays it’s rare to see a sheep there. There is no longer enough space or grass for animals now.
The most serious problem currently faced by the villagers of Far’un is the threat of house demolitions. Two hundred or more houses built in ”Area C” (under Israeli administration and security control) without permission from the Israeli Civil Administration are under the threat of demolition.
In “Area C”, Israel administers the building permits and the Palestinians have no representation in the official process. If a Palestinian wants to build on his land located in “Area C”, he must undergo a prolonged, complicated and expensive bureaucratic procedure that inevitably results, as in all cases in Far’un, in denial of the building permit application.
Although the buildings near the Wall were built or began being built before the Wall was constructed, the Israeli military claims the area as a security zone, thus no buildings are allowed to be built.
One of the victims, Farid Abed al-Jabbar said: “I spent all my money to build my house. Now my family and I are forced to live with our relatives in a crowded flat.”
Owners of tent homes located near the Wall have also received demolition orders from the Israeli military. The families asked that these orders be annulled, but the Israeli authorities went ahead with them anyway. On the other hand, hundreds of houses have been built in the surrounding settlements without permits. In these cases, Israeli authorities, instead of issuing demolition orders, issue retroactive building permits..
This building-permit policy blatantly discriminates between settlers and Palestinians.
For three of these 10 families whose houses are up for demolition, the warning period expired recently. Now it’s just a matter of time for them. No one knows when the Israelis will arrive with their bulldozers, as they often come during the night.
No development is allowed in Far’un. The only possibility is for residents to build on top of existing buildings, a vertical growth pattern forced upon the residents instead of the accepted horizontal one, and to continue to fill the already overcrowded downtown area.
Preventing any sort of development in the Palestinian areas is the goal of Israel’s occupation policy.
The total closure, the settlements all around and the building of the Wall are accelerating the end of Far’un.
For the villagers of Far’un, there is little room for hope. The largest sections of the village are located in “area C” and thus deemed by the Israeli military as illegal for future building. And because it is nearly impossible to build now in the only area, Area C, with available space, the center of the village is destined to become even more overcrowded. The other possible scenario is that Far’un itself will lose most of its inhabitants, who will be forced to leave due to the lack of jobs and homes. The families of Far’un will lose hope in being with their relatives on the other side of the Wall and with them their previous lives. The Wall will increase the physical and psychological distance between the two sides, at the very time when leaders are speaking about peace agreements.
Far’un is only one example of tens of Palestinian villages existing in such dire conditions due to their location near the Separation Wall. It’s one of the many cases showing the policies Israel employs to expand inside the West Bank, cutting villages, towns, and separating people, creating the conditions to push Palestinians off their land.
The Far’un inhabitants have not only lost their jobs and homes through the imposition of the closure, the building of the settlements and the Separation Wall, they have also lost their basic human rights and dignity as human beings. They don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps it’s because there is nowhere for them to go.