Sunday, July 29, 2007
In this post, I will simply try to explain the now infamous Wall. Although the wall goes all around and into the West Bank, I am going to focus on it in Qalqiliya. It is a lot to digest, and in fact, I have worked on this posting for some time now.
Last weekend we went on a tour of the wall by an employee of PMRS. She generously shared with us her personal stories, as well as showing us parts of it. It also was where we went on one of our first weekend trips; an earlier posting of mine talks about walking the wall with kids from Qalqiliya.
Qalqiliya is now entirely surrounded by the wall. It affects everything about this once vibrant town. I think one of the most important things that I want to express about what I saw there is that, coming from Oregon and Washington, I know the feeling of a place with water, and with plants everywhere. As soon as I first drove into Qalqiliya, I could see that this place used to be like that-we saw very rich soil.
It was an amazingly green place, before the wall-and there are still several greenhouses, all the way up to the wall-you can imagine really how both the greenhouses and farmers' land used to be. I can only imagine the feeling of watching all of your work torn up, replaced by a contiguous wall and fences, where you can only pass between certain hours and with certain permits. This farmer, for example, told us that the soldiers had just told him that he needed a special permit for his horse.
~Backing up a little bit: What is the Wall?~
A good basic source of information about the wall is from the Stop the Wall Campaign: http://stopthewall.org/factsheets. The Palestine Monitor has a great primer on it as well: http://www.palestinemonitor.org. This site has photos of the wall in Qalqiliya from the air; it is a great way to see the difference in one year in Qalqiliya-and to see how much of the land became inaccessible: http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/maps/210.shtml.
While the pictures of the concrete wall are certainly the most dramatic, the concrete wall is only part of the story. The Wall also consists of ditches, razor wire, footprint tracking sand paths, military roads, cameras and checkpoints. It cuts through land belonging to Palestinians, cuts families off from each other, and it is positioned immediately in front of businesses, schools, and families' homes.
[Here is a photo from a school where the wall was built immediately outside its gates-it says: "It's not legal to build a wall by our school".]
I think one thing that really grabbed me is that the tour guide told us, with obvious hurt in her voice, that Qalqiliya used to be a place where there was a great peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis would come to get their cars worked on or to buy plants. She told us that it used to be a city of peace. But that it was the first city to be targeted by the wall project. With justifiable anger, she said it proves to her that the government of Israeli isn't interested in peace, but in confiscation of land and water.
[This is a chart of the water lost due to the wall; click on the image to make it larger]
Qalqiliya rests on the main aquifer for the West Bank-the Western Aquifer. The Palestinian Hydrology Group notes that the Wall is rendering 50 wells inaccessible by the communities. (http://stopthewall.org/downloads/pdf/book/impactonwater.pdf). Wells in the West Bank are especially important because Israel prohibited any well drilling for Palestinians with the 1967 Occupation.
Here is a picture of an aquifer in Qalqilyia hidden almost completely by sight and certainly inaccessible to Palestinians.
Stop the Wall reports that in Qalqiliyia alone 8,160 dunums (2,040 acres) of land have been destroyed by the wall. Also, in Qalqiliya alone 31,520 dunums (7,880 acres) of land had been separated from the community-that means that the land is now on the opposite side of the wall from the community.
Our tour guide told us about her family-about the very personal impact of the wall. Her father died this year, and his one wish was to see his land again before he died. He was not able to pass through the checkpoints to do this.
[Here a farmer passes, while other farmers negotiate with an Israeli soldier]
As far back as two years ago (2 years after the wall was completed there), unemployment in Qalqiliya was reported as 63%. At this time, 3,000 of the most able residents had fled the town. (Middle East International-http://meionline.com/backcover/377.shtml). Our tour guide told us that since the construction of the wall, 600 shops have closed in Qalqiliya. It was obvious from being there that it was a highly economically depressed region-and that it didn't have to be.
One person we talked to told us how two houses had burned the night before, because no Palestinian fire trucks were allowed in and the Israelis wouldn't come. After some time, they allowed the Palestinian fire fighters in, but it still took hours for them to allow the truck in.
One of the foremost evils of the wall, especially as related to social structures and emotional health, is that it separates people from their family members and neighboring villages. The ride from Qalqiliya to Tulkarem, for example, used to be 25 minutes. Now it takes at least an hour. Crossing from Qalqiliya into Habla took us at least an additional 10 minutes each way because of a flying checkpoint that had been set up.
Home demolitions are also a impact beyond stress that I could ever imagine-especially because I have already lived in about 11 homes in the past 31 years, unlike most Palestinians, who have the same homes for generations. Also, extended families stay together in homes that often grow to accommodate all the members. On July 19 of this year, Israeli forces occupied Qalqiliya and demolished houses. In 2005, Palestinians in the area had received orders that stated that they did not have "housing permits" and so their homes were slated to be demolished. (http://stopthewall.org/latestnews/1502.shtml)
[sign at gate in Qalqiliya, notifying residents that the gate will be open between certain hours-the spaces to fill in the hours are blank-and that if there is an emergency they should contact someone-the line for that someone is blank]
Sometimes it is easier to note the acute health impacts. For example, in 2004, a two year old child named Hashem died when he was unable to recieve emergency medical attention. He was from Ras Atieh, a village that was sealed in by the wall. After the child developed a fever, his dad tried to get him through the checkpoint to Qalqiliya, but the gate was closed. The family had to go around to another village, Azzun, to meet an ambulance to go to Qalqiliyia. (http://www.health-now.org/site/article.php?articleId=21&menuId=1)
One study I've looked at found that "the human being looks and views the Wall as a stimulant and classifies it as a prison", which triggers the same psychological symptoms as a prison would. This study, which was done in the Qalqiliya district by the Palestinian Counseling Center, found a high relationship between both feelings of loneliness and emotional withdrawal and exposure to the wall, as well as rates of somatization and exposure to the wall. (http://www.pcc-jer.org/newenglishindex.html)
The best report I've read about health and the wall is from HDIP-a program related to PMRS. It's called Health and Segregation, and it really was one of the main motivators for me to come here to try to witness and help (www.hdip.org).
Our guide told me how she had wanted desperately to get her mother to treatment in another part of the West Bank for a heart attack she had. Because of the closures she was not able to do this. She asked me, "Can you imagine, sitting there watching someone die, when you know there is treatment that is not very far away, that you just can't get to?"
~PMRS in Qalqiliya~
[A picture of a site visit by funders to the group in Qalqiliya-faces of group participants are blurred out, so only faces of donors or staff are visible.]
In my first post, I mentioned that I had the awesome opportunity to see the Women's Group in Qalqiliya, and it was amazing. Like many other programs I've been able to get to know with PMRS, I have to say I am totally impressed by the organic, community level planning of their programs. I don't have very much time left here, so I anticipate that the next weeks will be busy as I work with the psychology team at PMRS to determine how they would most like to evaluate their programs. I have to say, it feels hard to come in as a student evaluator, when really I am just in awe of how they function, and feel humbled daily by thier ability to continue so powerfully and creatively each day.