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Kafka in Palestine

What if, one morning, you woke up to find that you were no longer in the same country in which you had fallen asleep? However, you did wake up in the same bed, in the same house, and it is your family gathered around the breakfast table. Your home is now in another country. The country where your property now exists is upset with you because you do not have a permit to be in that country. They will not issue such a permit because you are not of the same nationality as the people in the new country. Like it or not, because your home is now in the new country and your building permit was only legitimate for the old country, the government of the new country has issue a demolition order for your home.

You have been assessed a fine for building without a permit. The fine is equal to $5,346.82, (US dollars) payable at $53.47 per month for 100 months. If you do not pay the fine on time and in full, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will be apprehended and sent to jail. However, even if you pay the fine there are no guarantees that your home will not be demolished anyway. If your home is demolished, you will also be assessed a fee for the bulldozer which destroyed your home. If that fine is not paid within 91 days you will have to go to jail and the original fine will automatically double and become immediately due and payable in full!

View across the valley toward the original village

Even though, on paper, your home and most of your ancestral village has now been annexed to the other country, the official border crossing between your home and your work is still in effect. A wall with checkpoints, similar to airport security, is being built between your work and your home. There is no work on the side where you live because the neighboring country has slowly but steadily choked the economic life out of your original country. You suddenly have to cross a border to be in the country where, on paper, you live. Nevertheless, on this morning, when you try to cross the border you discover that your permit to pass between countries has been revoked. You cannot pass the checkpoint to work, even though you technically live in that country. So now, you no longer have the ability to provide an income to support your home and family. You have to pay to live in a country where you have no rights, only obligations: a country that will not provide basic services or security because their interests are to maintain ethnic purity.

This is not an unpublished story by Kafka, all of this is occurring with the knowledge, consent and financial backing of the government and people of the United State of America. As bizarre as it may sound, this is happening today between two cities many people consider sacred: Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

This is the plight of many Palestinians living in the occupied territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. What does a Palestinian do when his home, his land and his livelihood are stolen and life, as he knew it, is eroded slowly and methodically? All turn to resistance, a few to violent resistance but most to nonviolent resistance as in the case of Ata from the village of Al Walaja.

Even Kafka would be amazed at this entire scenario because Al Walaja, in fact, is not really Al Walaja. The original village of Al Walaja was on the other side of a deep wadi (canyon or deep ravine) to the northeast of its present location. The original village, which had existed for many centuries, possibly dating back to the time of Christ, was destroyed in the war with Israel in 1948. The residents were expelled and moved the village to its present location. Although on the other side of the valley, it is still on the village lands of ancient time. Therefore, even though it was a new village they kept the ancestral name of the old village. Both the village of old and new are located between Bethlehem, which is in Palestine, and Jerusalem, which is in Israel.

However, in 1967 Israel expanded the municipal borders of Jerusalem to incorporate about half of the new village including the portion know as Ein-Jweisa (which is where Ata’s home is located.) None of the villagers were informed of this annexation until 1985. This is why Ata woke up one morning to find that he wasn’t living in Palestine, as he had believed but was now actually an Arab resident of Israel. Between 1967 and 1985, Israel had given no indication that Ein-Jweisa had been annexed to Israel and no services were ever provided by either the Israeli Military Government or the Jerusalem Municipality.

The home in two countries

Since 1985, the Israeli government in their land-grab scheme has perpetrated a consistent program of harassment of the villagers in an attempt to force the current residence to leave their ancestral land to the Israelis for them to construct yet another new settlement. To this end Israel has already demolished 29 homes and the Israeli government will not issue new building permits so if the owners of a demolished home attempt to rebuild the new home it is automatically placed under a demolition order. Additionally, 55 homes are currently laboring under demolition orders and a number of animal sheds have also been destroyed. Exorbitant fines have been imposed on the villagers. Numerous arrests have occurred (initially 22 followed by another 84) resulting in convictions and imprisonment after being pressured to sign documents acknowledging that they were illegally present on Israeli land. The Israeli government is doing this to secure the village lands in order to expand the number of Israel settlements.

View toward Jerusalem

Israel has also discontinued issuing magnetic identification card to Ein-Jweisa residents. These are necessary to cross into Israel and to apply for permission to work in Israel. Buses and private vehicles have been impounded and the drivers arrested. Exorbitant fines and fees have been assessed to get out of jail and reclaim their vehicles. Israeli Traffic Police issue citations for actions which are legal in Palestine but which are not legal in Israel. More exorbitant fines follow. The Israeli military closed the main road from Al Walaja to Bethlehem which ran through a Cremisan Monastery and Winery. One month after the Italian government had paid to resurface the road the Israeli bulldozers arrive and completely destroy it forcing all transit between Al Walaja and Bethlehem to detour along a much longer route.

Olive trees in foreground, village in background

The residents are nonviolently resisting by hiring an urban planner to design a master plan for the village and surrounding area and an attorney has been hired to adequately represent the interests of Al Walaja in the Israeli court system. In response, Israel has threatened to impose the Absentee Property Law used to confiscate the lands of Ein-Jweisa, stating that the residents are not legally present.

Only the local Palestinian press covers these issues in any depth. The International Press does some unbiased coverage. The American press focuses on any violent resistance (e.g. rock throwing) and finds the non-violent resisters less newsworthy. Violence seems to “sell” in America better than content.

The youngest son, in the shadow of the wall

This narration could continue with more details about the difficulties and frustrations that these villagers live with on a daily basis. Appeals to international communities, especially the United State go unheeded. The power is on the side of the occupying nation, Israel. The United States, with large aid packages, has supported these actions without adequate criticism or demands for restraint and justice for the occupied. Since the Palestinian lobby is not as influential as some other lobbies, a change in US governmental policy will be difficult to accomplish. International law in this case is being ignored by Israel and the United States.

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