by Tanya Reinhart
On the eve of the Iraq war, fears were expressed in different circles that under the cover of war, Israel may attempt a transfer of Palestinians in the “seam line” area of the northern West Bank (Kalkilya, Tulkarem). Last week, the army produced a scene from this scenario. On April 2 at 3am, a large force raided the refugee camp of Tulkarem, blocked all the roads and paths with barbed wires and announced on loudspeakers that all males aged 15 to 40 must go to a certain compound at the center of the camp. At 9 in the morning, the army began to transport the gathered males to a nearby refugee camp. This time it was only a staged scene, and the residents were allowed to return after a few days. But the producers of this show made sure that its significance would not escape the participants and the audience. They took special care that evacuation be done with trucks - an exact re-enactment of the 1948 trauma. As one of the residents described his feelings when he got on the truck, "all the memories and childhood stories of my father and grandfather about the Nakba came back” (Regular, Ha’aretz, March 4, 2003, included below).
Many interpret this show as a “general rehearsal” for the possibility of a future transfer. There is no doubt that the current government is mentally prepared for transfer, but it is not certain that the “international conditions” are ripe for executing this in the way that was staged. The war in Iraq has become too entangled for the U.S. to risk opening another flashpoint. But transfer is not just trucks. In the Israeli history of “land redemption” there is also another model, more hidden and sophisticated. In the framework of the “Judaization of the Galilee” project, which had begun in the 1950s, the Palestinians that remained in Israel were robbed of half their lands, isolated in small enclaves, surrounded by Israeli settlements, and gradually lost the bonds that held them together as a nation. Such an internal transfer is occurring now in the occupied territories, and it has been escalated during the war.
On March 24, the bulldozers got on the lands of the village of Mas'ha, which is near the settlement of Elkana, and began to mark there the new route of the separation wall, which will disconnect the village from all of its lands, as well as thousands of dunams belonging to Bidia and other villages in the area. Elkana is about 7 kilometers away from the green line, but the route of the fence was changed on June 2002 so that it will include Elkana as well in the Israeli side. Still, even in this plan, it is not necessary to take these lands from the villages.
It wasn’t only land greed that sent the bulldozers to the lands of Bidia and Mas'ha. These lands are on the western part of the Mountain groundwater basin - the large water reservoir originating in the West Bank, whose water flows under the ground also to the center of Israel. Out of six hundred million CM (cubic-meter) of water that the Mountain reservoir provides in a year, Israel withdraws in different areas about five hundred million. (1) Control over the water sources has always been a central Israeli motivation for maintaining the occupation. The Labor governments of the seventies located the first settlements that they approved in areas defined as "critical locations" for drilling. Elkana was one of these settlements, founded within a plan that was given the (misleading) name “preservation of the sources of the Yarkon." (2) Since the occupation in 1967, Israel prohibited Palestinians from digging new wells, but in the lands of Mas'ha and Bidia, as well as in lands that were already cut off from Kalkilia and Tulkarem, there are still many operating wells from before 1967. Their continued use may reduce a little the amount that Israel can withdraw.
The residents of Mas'ha and Bidia, who are struggling to save their lands and livelihoods, set up protest tents along the bulldozer path. “Peace tents,” they called them in an outburst of hope. Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals have been staying in these tents day and night to watch and stand in front of the bulldozers. I was there last Saturday. Around, in all directions, hills and hills of olive trees - huge areas of a green and pastoral landscape that one can find only where people live on their land for generations and generations, aware of its preciousness and beauty. And all this land is now being grabbed by the land redemptionists, who would dry its wells and sell it to real-estate investors.
Tanya Reinhart is Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (Seven Stories Press, 2002), one of the most important books on the Israel-Palestinian conflict to date. Visit her website: http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart. Translated from Hebrew by Irit Katriel.
(1) These are the pre-Oslo figures for 1993, as quoted in Haim Gvirzman "Two in the same basin", Ha'aretz, May 16, 1993. According to the Palestinian Hydrology group, at the present, out of the annual recharge of the western part of the Mountain Groundwater Basin, which is 362 million CM/year, the total Palestinian withdrawal is only 22 million CM/year (www.pengon.org, Report #1.)
(2) Gvirzman, ibid.
'Where shall we go, to Baghdad?,' deported Tul Karm men ask IDF
by Arnon Regular
Ha'aretz, Friday, April 04, 2003 Nisan 2
In a side room in the mosque of Nur Shams refugee camp in Tul karm, a few bearded young men were toiling over giant pots. They were preparing lunch for the newly-arrived refugees, their neighbors from the Tul karm refugee camp, who on Wednesday were forced out of their homes by the IDF.
The locals have been tending to the needs of the newcomers since they arrived. They provide them not only with warm meals and water, but also make sure they have access to telephones, so that they can communicate with the women, children and elderly who were left behind, in the camp in the east of Tul karm.
As the first men started arriving, Fatah operatives in Nur Shams started making sleeping arrangements for the approaching night. Of the 2,000 men who were forced out of their homes, some were taken in to homes of Nur Shams residents, some got mattresses and blankets and slept at the local mosque, and others moved on to the villages east of town. Others spent the night in the orchards surrounding the camp.
On Wednesday, IDF soldiers and border police gathered all men aged 15-40 at the Tul karm camp and then transferred them to the Nur Shams camp, four kilometers to the east. The IDF explained that this was part of an operation designed to capture wanted terrorists in the camp. Yesterday afternoon groups of men were still making their way by foot to Nur Shams. These were men who did not comply with the IDF's original order to gather and stayed at home They were found in door-to-door searches.
But most of the men were relocated from the Tul karm camp on Wednesday. A little after 3 A.M., the residents of the camp awoke to the sound of gunfire, stun grenades and helicopters. According to residents' reports, a large IDF force stormed the camp from all directions.
Soldiers and policemen blocked all roads leading to and from the camp with barbed wire, and jeeps and tanks started moving inside. Jeeps driving through the camp announced on loudspeakers that all men and boys aged 15-40 must take their IDs and report to a compound in the center of the camp, where the two schools that UNRWA runs are located.
Within minutes a long line of men formed on the way to the schools. When they got their, they were frisked. Their mobile phones were taken, and were only returned once the soldiers finished making logs of all the telephone numbers stored in memory - probably in order to check if anyone has any ties with wanted terrorists.
Khaled Abu Said, a 30-year-old resident, said that after the IDs were checked and no one from the wanted list was found, "they just sat us there for a few hours. Sometime in the middle they brought some food, but there wasn't enough for everyone. All this time the courtyard was quiet, and the soldiers acted very naturally, with no violence and no shouting."
The soldiers divided arrivals into two groups, separating those aged 15-20 from those aged 20-40. The younger group was led into classrooms, forced to tear pictures of shahid (martyrs) off the walls and step on them.
At around 9 AM, a few hours after the operation began, a Druze officer reportedly told a few hundred men on site: "You are leaving the camp. Don't come back until it is all over." Abd a-Latif a-Sudani, 30, recalls: "We asked him - `Where are we to go? To Baghdad?' And he said: `You'd be better off there.'"
Abu Said said that at first the men did not realize what he meant, but shortly afterward a truck arrived and the soldiers started herding groups of men onto it. Accompanied by a border police jeep, the truck drove to Nur Shams, dropped the passengers, and went back to take another group.
Several hours after the courtyard was emptied, the soldiers sent more men to Nur Shams by foot. No exact numbers are available, but most of the men living in the camp, which is home to around 18,000 people, have left over the last two days and have not yet returned.
In the outskirts of the camp groups of young men congregated yesterday, trying to figure out what was going on inside. When the IDF started canvassing from door-to-door, soldiers only found women, children and old men. They were looking for Islamic Jihad operative Nimer Khalil; apparently, he has not yet been caught.
The residents of the camp were made to pay the price; most - if not all - of the men who were relocated, are not connected in any way to terrorism. Most of them are jobless, and survive on donations and UNRWA support.
Abu Said recounts what he felt when he got on the truck: "All at once all the memories and stories my father and grandfather told me as a child about the Naqba (catastrophe - the name Palestinians give to the 1948 founding of Israel and the dispersal of their refugees).
We were all afraid they now we were being deported, and it was even scarier thinking of the three-year-old girl and the wife you are leaving behind. But what choice did we have but to get on the truck?"