Farming in the Mouth of the Lion: A Case Study on Wadi Fuken
Thursday October 20, 2011
Wadi Fuken, population 1,300, was once a village that represented the agricultural wealth of Palestine. Its sage, fruits, and vegetables were the main supply in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Hebron markets. Yet Israel’s illegal occupation and oppressive policies have suffocated the farmers in Wadi Fuken by attacking the village’s economy. Land confiscation, settlement development, the Oslo Accords, closure of nearby Jerusalem, and stipulations on trade have all affected Wadi Fuken farmers for the worse, paralyzing their economy.
Before 1948, the people of Wadi Fuken owned over 12,000 dunams of land. Immediately after the war of 1948, Israel confiscated over 8,500 dunams. Later, when the illegal settlement of Betar Illit was built nearby, another 700 dunams or more were confiscated. From their original 12,000 dunams, the villagers of Wadi Fuken now have access to 3,500 dunams. The remainder of the village has been confiscated by Israel.
Wadi Fuken sits on 5 natural springs. When Betar Illit was first built, explosions were carried out to demolish the natural springs that the people of Wadi Fuken relied on. This disruption of the natural water cycle means that every year there is less and less water for the farmers to use. At this time it is unknown how many were destroyed as a result of the explosions.
The Oslo Accords have also impacted the farmers of Wadi Fuken. When Palestine was carved up into Areas A, B, and C, Wadi Fuken land was designated as a mixture of Areas B and C. Just 1,500 dunams was given the Area B designation, meaning that people are allowed to build without permission from the Israelis. The remaining 2,000 dunams exists as Area C, which prevents any building, including farmers constructing fences, huts, tents, or even parking a trailer on their land. Any structure that can be perceived as semi-permanent is forbidden. Yet for the people of Wadi Fuken, no matter what its official designation, it is all their land.
This designation has put incredible stress upon farmers. Farmers are unable to build retaining walls and terraces, houses for farm animals are forbidden, and wells cannot be dug. Farmers must carry their tools into the field every day, as a tool shed is not allowed. Even a structure that would provide shade from the hot sun would be seen by Israel as a security violation. Road adjustments and improvements are not allowed, requiring some farmers to take donkeys to their fields instead of trucks. Not only do these inconveniences require a lot of extra time, the constant transportation of tools and implements has a negative financial cost as well.
It is also under the Oslo Accords that farmers are no longer allowed to transport their produce to Jerusalem or into Israel. Israeli markets complained that Palestinian produce was prone to high concentrations of toxic chemicals. As a result, Israel requires Palestinians to send a sample of their produce for testing in advance. Some Palestinian farmers sent produce from their farms in addition to a sample of a Sabir cactus that had never been farmed or exposed to chemicals or fertilizers. All samples were found to be equally contaminated and thus banned from entering Israeli markets or from being sent to the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians in the West Bank are only able to distribute their produce within the West Bank. And while Palestinians are not allowed to distribute their food within Israel, Palestinian markets are flooded with Israeli produce. In addition, many Palestinian farmers are forced to buy seeds from Israel, thereby strengthening the Israeli economy, while the Palestinian economy continues to dwindle.
Israeli farmers also have further advantages in growing produce. Israeli farmers face no building restrictions. They are allowed to use fertilizers and chemicals, such as pesticides, whereas these products are completely banned from the West Bank because Israel considers them a security risk. Israelis are also able to receive government subsidies and loans from banks, which can help when purchasing larger farming implements, or when there is a bad seasonal yield. Since there are no farming implement factories in Palestine, equipment must be imported from Jordan, resulting in high taxes. Whereas an Israeli farmer might pay 3,000JD for a tractor, a Palestinian farmer in the West Bank may have to pay up to 20,000JD due to the lack of subsidies and the additional taxes.
As a result of the lack of water, restrictions and land confiscations, the farmers of Wadi Fuken produce approximately 10% of what they produced traditionally. One farmer in particular said that in the 1950s from his same land, he was able to sell over 9,000 kgs of turnips. Now, the entire valley does not produce that much in an entire season. Even if the valley's production hadn't been reduced, the farmers would have little to no market for selling their produce.
Some farmers are choosing to fight back by reclaiming and planting on confiscated land. This is a very risky investment. Farmers might spend thousands of shekels and months of work in reclaiming their land and in a single night settlers or Israeli soldiers may come to destroy it. Many farmers have watched the destruction of their trees being uprooted. In addition to the risk in investing in land reclaiming initiatives, farmers also risk harassment from Israeli soldiers, which is all too common in Palestine.
Many residents feel that Wadi Fuken is sitting inside the mouth of the lion. With their farming difficulties, many people are turning their farming properties into commercial properties. As one farmer says, “We beg for peace and still they take everything we have. Even if you see a cat begging for food, you will give it something, yet we are left with nothing.” Without a just and peaceful change to the situation of occupation, the farmers in Wadi Fuken will be left to suffer under the paralyzing of their economy and the Palestinian economy as a whole.