Nablus. Today the attempt to murder, destroy and to break the will of the people of this Mountain of Fire–Jabal An’nar–has escalated to an intolerable level, though we expect it to get much worse. Our lovely mountains are ringed with fire as in the past millennia, but now it is the bright searchlights and floods of the Israeli illegal settlements and their military camps which light up the night sky. We are completely encircled by them, and with their powerful American weapons they can see any one of us at any time and shoot us dead. And they do.
My intention today was to go to Jenin with Munt’ser, who has had to wait nearly two weeks to start his new job there as the UPMRC Ambulance driver. The income is badly needed because their father was murdered by the Israelis in April so Munt’ser is alone, responsible for the four younger brothers and sisters in Jenin. He has never had a job–the unemployment here is over 80%–and it will take him one year to pay the rent, electricity and water owing since the Israeli destruction in April 2002. The sum is not great, some 700 US dollars, but it is more than his salary for a year. The closures have now intensified and the roads are closed to EVERYONE, not just men and women under 35 years. So we wait.
But we are hoping the Mobile clinic will get through to Qalqilya–a city of some 30,000 people, set gloriously across many hills and sweeping down into fertile vales. We leave at 8.00 am with the Women’s Clinic. The dangerous road out of Nablus is via the horrible Beit Iba checkpoint and via many jeep-and tank-points along the short way. It is clear that something sinister is afoot in Nablus today. At Beit Iba there are five Ambulances on either side and more arrive by the minute. The aggression shown by the soldiers is alarming. So we wait. I call another UPMRC driver, Feras–“Where are you now?” And the reply? “I am at Beit Iba checkpoint–where are you?” “Look in your mirror”, I say–and a few brief, light moments! The driver, Ry’ad, wants to know the English words to describe the seemingly-undriveable surface upon which we are travelling and I realize there aren’t any–this has surely never existed anywhere on earth before, but perhaps on the moon.
Then–a metalled (paved) road! But not for Palestine–it is for the huge number of illegal villages (dishonestly called ‘settlements’) which are now absolutely everywhere: Kefar Save, Ari’el, Qarne Shamron, Indumin, Korne, Ma’ale Shamron, Sheken, Ac’ale Shamron, Qedamiun, Homesh, Enav, Avne Hefez–to name but a few. These are huge areas of illegal occupation, taking Palestinian land for their building and, of course, rendering the rest of the land unusable by the farmers who have tilled it for thousands of years–because the illegal immigrants (cosily called ‘settlers’ by the US and Israel) shoot at them if they enter their fields. As if this were not enough, extensive areas along the road have been taken to build shopping centres and industrial parks, closed to Palestinians. The town of Azdun is now completely ringed with these illegals, and has only one entry which is, naturally, a checkpoint. 18,000 people have lost all of their livelihood and land. All signs are in Hebrew as, effectively, this area is now Israel. Checkpoints literally appear from nowhere–jeeps simply pulling out of junctions with 5 or 6 soldiers brandishing machine-guns jumping out and stopping everyone.
This is an area of outstanding natural beauty–the roof of Palestine–of the most self-effacing greens I have ever seen in a landscape, interspersed with the darker tones of cypresses, the delicate pinks of cherries in flower, red roses growing wild, and fragrant wild thyme and sage–the prized “Marra Mia” of Palestine, named for Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. As we ride along this scenic road, I can see three things I have not seen before: Israel, which is 5 km away from these hills, the Mediterranean Sea, which washes the shores of Europe, 20 km to the West, and a livid scar stretching as far as the eye can see that slashes its way up hill and down dale like the work of some crazy knife-man. This is the foundation of THE WALL–a monstrous creation, born out of a collective delusional paranoia plus greed for Palestinian land. Of course we cannot stop to take a picture of the amazing views because this is not allowed! I will photograph the wall and touch it later.
Finally, after three hours, we reach Qalqilya (only some 30 km from Nablus), a gracious city with wide, tree-lined boulevards and large white buildings, hospitals and schools. Amongst the palms and tree-ferns of the main boulevard from the east the shops are almost all boarded-up and the whole area is deserted. The clinic is modern and welcoming, warm and well-equipped. The women have many health problems here–pre-eclampsia, anaemia, chronic candida infections, bacterial infections of the uterus, vagina and urinary tract. Even when the Clinic is allowed through, the unemployment rate of over 80% means that treatments cannot be afforded. In this ‘difficult situation’, as my friends so understate it, all the women are perfectly presented–no mean feat when there is no water for most of the time and little electricity.
I first saw THE WALL today on a warm, sunny morning, with the blue of the sky matched by the blue of the Mediterranean Sea (on whose shores millions of Europeans holiday each year). I approached this outrageous insanity through a lake of sewage which the construction has dammed up, and through whose sticky mud it was almost impossible to stay upright.
I am sick, my heart is aching and I am very, very angry. Nothing can describe what is happening here. Someone of you out there may be able to create a new word–let me know if you do. Television pictures do not do it justice.
This wall, built entirely upon Palestinian land with no compensation of any kind, will be over 300 miles long, 8 meters in height above its base (which is 2m above and 2m below ground level), and, I’m told, 40 meters in width. It has already consumed more than 10% of Palestine’s most fertile and productive agricultural land. It does not follow the so-called Green Line for most of its length, cutting off villages and towns in a no-man’s land between Israel and Palestine to which there is no entry and from which there is no exit. Around the city of Qalqilya the wall will curve in a circle, with only one gate for entering and exiting this city of 30,000 souls. As with the ‘settlements’, aesthetic sense is completely absent. The utilitarian ugliness of the huge sheets of unrelieved steel is, perhaps, unparalleled. The wall will be honeycombed underneath with a network of tunnels and double tunnels which will allow Israeli incursions at any time; in addition, it will be festooned with tons of razor wire and broken by gun-emplacements every 100 meters. In Qalqilya, two of these point into the primary school. There will be a wide area on either side which will be ‘unused’ land so that imaginary Palestinians can be easily seen.
Behind the wall is a high sandy hill which commands the whole area. Prior to the wall, Israeli tanks would fire shells into the city from this hill, many of them falling around and into the school. Many children have had to leave because of nervous breakdowns, and others are suffering from stress-related illnesses. They have terrified nightmares, and bed-wetting and sleep disorders are common. Between the school and the wall is about 300 meters of devastated ground used as a base for the construction.
As you gaze across these beautiful, rolling hills clothed in diaphanous greens, this monstrosity snakes across the landscape, a 500m wide wound which has slashed Palestine to the bone, standing stark and livid, bisecting the naturally unified landscape. It cuts off a family from its members, farmers from the land, neighbour from neighbour and village from village. So not only is 10% of the country’s fertile land lost, but much, much more cannot be reached by its rightful owners–condemning the farmers to a lifetime of poverty, with the land they have tilled for thousands of years within sight of their homes, and untouchable.
Our Governments are not only allowing this to happen–they are paying the astronomical cost of this madness. I knew the statistics of the wall, but to actually touch it and photograph it–that really is something else. A 300 mile-plus wall to keep out an occasional heroic act for freedom? No, this wall is designed to make life here, already intolerable, even more so, in the belief that the remaining Palestinians will be forced through hunger and poverty to leave. The insanity of it is mind-blowing.
I look on this insane manifestation of Israel’s hatred of Palestinians, their collective delusional paranoia that they ‘will all be killed’, and their insatiable greed for Palestinian land. As I stand in the shadow of this preposterous edifice, whose concrete base is taller than I am, a scream arises in the depths of my being; a scream so big that it consumes me completely, so that there is no room for breath and my heart is bursting–a scream that I want to be heard in London and Washington and New York. But it cannot escape for it is too big for my throat. And I weep bitter tears for the loss of the life of Palestine.
ANNE GWYNNE works with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus. She can be reached at email@example.com