"Palestine is beautiful, but Palestine is sad"
The gates in Israel’s separation barrier that should give farmers access to their land the other side are often closed for no apparent reason. EA Penny shares the frustration of farmers in Jayyous.
Jayyous South, agricultural gate Number 979. It is 7.45 in the morning. Abdul Rahim walks towards the gate with his two donkeys, Samir and Samira, and his beautiful dog Joaneh lolloping alongside. The morning sun is beginning to warm the day, and the view of olive groves and villages spreading across the rolling hills would be idyllic. But a snake-like separation barrier carves across the land.
Abdul Rahim and I approach the gate together. This gate in the long, bristling razor-wire fence that cuts the villagers of Jayyous off from land is scheduled to open for just fifteen minutes every morning. Soldiers should come to allow those farmers who have managed to obtain the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities to access their land.
Mostly they are the older men who are not considered a security risk; once past the gate a potential attacker could easily set off into Israel proper. But the fence is not on the Green Line, the de facto border with Israel. It slices deep into the Palestinian lands of the West Bank and cuts off access for the young men who should be working in their fathers’ fields.
The gate has been closed for three or four days, but phone calls have been made, meetings have been sat through, and we are told that the gate will be reopened from today. The gate is closed.
Abdul's Uncle Abed arrives on his donkey, weary from the journey. He is ready to turn home again when he sees that the gate is closed. “Wait a moment,” I tell him, I will call to find out what is happening, they told us they will open the gate today.
I phone the Humanitarian Hotline (part of the Israeli Army) who assure us that the gate should open at 7.45 and that the soldiers will arrive shortly. A group of soldiers indeed arrive, but they tell us they will not open the gate, and then they leave.More phone calls, and more assurances that the gate will be opened. A tractor drives along the military road between the two barriers; the dust on the track is being smoothed over in case anybody crosses the barrier without permission.
Another phone call and another assurance. Nothing happens. Another phone call, another number is given, and a different office assures me that the gate will be opened. A large army vehicle finally arrives, and one of the four soldiers gets out. It is the same young officer who kept the north gate open yesterday morning. He says that the gate is closed, the olive harvest is over.
I repeat to him what various military people have told me this morning, and tell him that the farmers standing here with me clearly need to access their land; farming does not consist only of harvesting the fruit. He admits that he was sent there to open the gate, but as soon as he arrived he had orders not to open it. He does not know what is happening, must wait for a command before he can open the gate, and he returns to his vehicle to wait.
Before long, another hummer arrives, and the eight soldiers gather together, have conversations on radios, and refuse to tell us what is happening. Throughout the morning, they are polite to us, but the information they give is inconsistent and unhelpful.
Another soldier tells Abdul Rahim that he has not used the gate for the last couple of days, so they will not open it again. He tells the soldiers that it has been raining (heavy, tropical rains), and that is why he and other farmers have not been to their land for the last two days. The soldiers say they are just following orders; that it is not up to them.
One vehicle has already driven away, and the last soldier turns away and shuts the door behind him. The second group of soldiers drive off and there is no-one left to call.
At the soldier's final words, Uncle Abed wheels his donkey around and is on his way home before we can say goodbye. Abdul Rahim and I walk slowly back up the track, Samir and Samira in tow, Joaneh panting alongside. Only the click of the donkey's hooves and the swaying of Abdul Rahim's tin breaks the silence.
When we reach the crest of the hill, he turns back towards the gate. Pointing across to the other side, he tells me: "100 dunums of my land is here, and 100 dunums of my uncle's land."
Banging the donkey's stick against his tin, he says: "Water for my olives. They need to drink."
I tell him, in broken Arabic, that I feel sad for him today.
"Palestine is sad." he says, "Palestine is beautiful, but Palestine is sad."