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Mas-ha: Thriving Town Taken by the Wall

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

On Tuesday three members of MPT visited Mas-ha, a village of 2,500 people thirty minutes southwest of Nablus. MPT was invited to visit the village by a friend who currently lives in the United States and is originally from Mas-ha.

A view of Mas-ha from the top of the mosque's minaret

Mas-ha is a village surrounded on three sides by Israeli settlements/the Separation Wall and on one side by an Israeli-only road. Before the second intifada, Mas-ha was a thriving market town with a direct road into Tel Aviv, where Israelis and Palestinians coexisted and conducted daily business with one another. Every week Palestinian merchants traveled to Mas-ha where Israeli customers could buy Palestinian-made products at a lower price than in Israel proper. But as a result of the second Intifada Israel closed down the main road thereby ending trade with local Israelis, building an Israeli-only road that runs next to Mas-ha. Today Mas-ha has an extremely high rate of unemployment as a result of the Separation Wall.

The Israeli-only road just beyond the Wall

Three settlements border Mas-ha (El Kana, Ezz Efraim and Sha'ari Tekva) erected on land confiscated from local Mas-ha residents and neighboring villagers. The road Israel has built to connect these two settlements is not a direct route but rather snakes around two large hills composed of Mas-ha olive groves. Furthermore, Israel usually grants only the oldest men in a family the permission to pick olives in those groves in controversial areas – groves near the Wall or settlements. While MPT was there, construction workers were mining in one of the large hills, presumably for future settlement expansion in the area. This annexed area is divided from Mas-ha by the Separation Wall. Concrete in some areas and an electrified fence in others, this wall is under 24 hour surveillance by the Israeli military. Our tour guides explained that if anyone approaches the fence/Separation Barrier, sensors alert the military who immediately come to the scene. During MPT’s tour we observed a large tractor that sweeps the dirt near the Separation Barrier daily so that the military can see any new footprints.

Beyond the wall, Israeli construction is going on, presumably the construction of a settlement.

Military vehicle driving by as we stand near the Separation Barrier.

The final leg of our tour involved visiting on Palestinian family’s home that is completely surrounded by the Separation Wall. To the left of the house is the Elqana settlement and to the right is a series of four gates that separate Mas-ha from the house. This house, once a part of Mas-ha, became isolated in 2003 with the construction of the Separation Wall. The children are not able to play in their own front yard because of the daily footprint sweeps conducted by the military, and because of the electric fence/Separation Barrier around their home. Initially the family was not allowed to have any visitors or leave the house as they were under constant curfew. Today there is a locked gate under 24 hour surveillance, which the family and the military have a key too, although members of the family are often harassed or questioned if they have visitors or arrive home late at night. The family has been offered large amounts of money for their land from the Israeli government, but nonviolently resist the occupation by remaining in their home.

The house is completely surrounded by the Wall, which at some parts is concrete, and at other parts is electric fence. You can see Elqana settlement just behind the house. The family that lives here can only enter/exit through this locked door.

Elqana settlement just on the other side of the Wall from Mas-ha.

While visiting in Mas-ha MPT learned about the struggle that Palestinians go through in order to visit their family outside Palestine, in this case to visit the United States. (According to Badil Resource Center for Residency and Refugee Rights 67% of Palestinians live outside of the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper.)

Palestinians must apply for permission from Israel to enter occupied East Jerusalem where they must then schedule an interview and apply for a visa from the United States embassy in Israel. Most Palestinians are denied at some point during this multi-stage process, or Israel may grant permission only to elderly members of the family who cannot travel alone. One of the men has applied four times to visit his brother in the U.S., and while his elderly mother was granted permission (she cannot travel alone) he was denied three times. The last time they suggested he stop wasting his money on applications. One of his cousins was also denied a visa to visit his family in the United States.

Palestinian pride still holds strong in Mas-ha

MPTers also met one young Palestinian man who is studying in the U.S. but has returned to Mas-ha establish and run a summer camp for fifteen Palestinians between the ages of 16 and 19. One part of the camp includes visiting Jerusalem, a trip most Palestinians in the West Bank are not able to make because Israel denies them the permission to enter. While in Jerusalem he hopes to take them Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, because according to him Arabs most of all need to see this site.

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