The cement curb-like structure is deceiving to the viewer. It looks harmless next to the winding road. At most, its existence might strike the viewer with curiosity, not alarm. Yet this curb not only brings a reminder of the occupation’s past violent actions but also a bleak future. For this curb is the start to the route of the Apartheid wall that is being built in the small Palestinian village of Umm Salamuna.
The separation wall’s route spans 1.5km in length through the village of Umm Salamuna. Although the curb seems small, its construction has been an ominous devastation. Already 152 dunams of land has been confiscated and destroyed. This is land that was once used for olives trees and grape vines. Over 30 families have been affected by this confiscation, impacting approximately 200 people. For these families their income was once received through farming this land. For many, now their income is zero.
Beyond the structure lies another 750 dunams that is still accessible however once the planned electrical fence is in place, that land will be absorbed for the expansion of Ephrat settlement.
The community first became aware of the fate of their village in 2005 when surveyors from the Israeli Civil Administration came to survey the land. It is at this time the villagers started to demonstrate. The community would come out and try to block the surveyors from accessing their land. For more than a year the villagers tried to impede the surveyors from accessing the land.
It was at this time the community started to the weekly Friday demonstrations. Men, women, children and the elderly joined together to protest the wall being built on their land. Although the people’s actions were nonviolent, they were often confronted with tear gas, sound bombs, and rubber-coated-steel bullets. Several community leaders were also arrested. Still, children would wait with eager anticipation for Fridays to demonstrate.
Hussein, a member of the village, recalls a hot day when the community had gathered to demonstrate. The Israeli soldiers became angry and started hitting people with the but of their M16s. Five people, including himself, were injured that day.
Not only did they protest on Fridays, but every time they saw the bulldozers and workers attempt to construct the wall, the villagers went out protest. Demonstrations were often numbering up to 350 people, one in particular reaching up to 2000 participants.
The community not only used demonstrations but they also took their land ownership claims to court. In 2005 they took their first claim to court. The Supreme Court ordered a temporary stop in the construction for eight months. However, once the eight months were concluded, the building continued. Although the villagers have proof of ownership of the land, the judge stated that this land was urgently needed for Israel’s security.
The people of Umm Salamuna have also been resisting their land being confiscated through land re-claimation. An excuse the Israelis often give to confiscate land is that it has not been worked on or developed. Under Ottoman law if land has not been altered and/or developed within five years, it can than belong to the state. Although this should then imply that the PA would absorb the land, rather Israel confiscates it.
In order to resist the land’s confiscation, villagers began clearing the land and planting in areas that were at high risk for confiscation. Some success has been found through this in Umm Salamuna. Originally the court had issued that a hill near the entrance of the village would be confiscated. Umm Salamuna was given 60 days to reclaim it or it would be confiscated. In those 60 days the community gathered together to plant over 1800 trees and build 1000m of retaining walls out of stone. At this time, the hill’s ownership remains with the villagers of Umm Salamuna.
Although the village mobilized, the Israeli repression continued. The wall’s continued construction combined the brutal repression protesters faced, a feeling of hopeless started to be felt in the community and less people began attending demonstrations. Protesters who had permits to work in Israel, soon found them taken away. Checkpoints and barriers were placed at the entrance to the villages, often harassing the people. As the repression increased, the numbers at the demonstrations dwindled.
No financial compensation has been taken for the lost land. Here in Palestine land is expensive. For just one dunam of land confiscated can be worth 10 000- 50 000 JD.
Yet it is not just the financial loss the community is grieving. The farmers’ relationship with the land is almost indescribable. Hussein who has lost 30 dunams says the land is part of the family, like a grandfather. Hussein describes how the soul is connected to the land, therefore when you take some one’s land or destroy, you also destroy part of the soul as well. The land is part of the Palestinian identity and with the current loss and confiscation, the village feels great sadness everyday.
For Hussein and village of Umm Salamuna the future seems bleak. Hopelessness pervades. When Hussein thinks of his lost land he says, “It’s a tragedy. You are seeing your land that you can get advantage from, but for some reason you are not allowed.” The reason in this case is for the colonial expansion of Israel.
Pictures of the Wall near Umm Salamuna: