Another brick in the wall

Posted on 21 July 2012

Water is always an issue here. Not because there isn’t enough—there is—but because the access to water, for Palestinians, is strictly controlled: firstly by Mekerot, the Israeli water company, then secondly by the Palestinian water authority. According to figures quoted by Sam Bahour, settlers have up to seven times the amount of water that Palestinians do.

In Doha, where our flat is, we’ve not had any water for over three weeks. It’s one of the areas in Bethlehem that is always hard hit by the restrictions. There’s supposed to be a timetable, to let residents know when the water will be pumped through to their area, but it isn’t always reliable. Even the hotels, which previously never had water access restricted now do. Those that are successful and can afford to now bring water in by truck, through the checkpoint, of course.

We’ve had to install a massive water storage tank under the garden, so we can store water when the taps run dry. But we’ve not yet been able to completely fill it as the water hasn’t been turned on long enough for us to do so.

Deheishe, along with Al Azza and Aida camps (the three refugee camps in Bethlehem) were usually the first to lose any water access. But residents in Deheishe (which has always been one of the most active camps in resistance and protest) protested so effectively (last time I was here and there were water protests, Deheishe closed down the main road!) that it now does not suffer the level of water restriction it once did. In fact, none of the residents of any refugee camp pay for water or electricity: the PA pays for both services (water and electricity is, of course, provided by Israel).

Deheishe’s history of resistance and protest is long and well-known, here at least. Deheishe and Balata were the two leading camps when it came to resisting the illegal occupation, and residents of both were at the forefront of leadership and protest during the first intifada.

Deheishe’s intifada started well before 1987, though. Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a key architect of the Hebron colonist project, tried to establish a settler colony opposite Deheishe, back in the early 80s. (My friend Abed recently wrote about this time.) The camp’s resistance to the presence of this violent group was staunch, well-organised and resulted in Levinger and his camp being forcibly removed by the army. The intifada for Deheishe had already started.

In 1982, Israel blocked routes in and out of Deheishe. Every road into the camp was filled with massive concrete blocks or piles of rubble and boulders. Sometimes the roads were blocked not by one obstacle but two, just to make sure. Then in the first intifada, the army erected a barbed wire fence, around 30 feet high, along the entire front of the camp to try to prevent stone throwing at the settlers driving past. Two massive turnstiles, with room for just one person, was situated at the main entrance to the camp. If you did not use these entrance/exit gates, you’d have to walk through the camp to the other side, over the mountain, and then get a taxi to come back to Bethlehem.

These kinds of obstruction—blocks, boulders, earth mounds—were commonly used during the second intifada to cut villages and towns off from one another, and to make travel extremely difficult. To get to Hebron from Bethlehem in 2001 sometimes meant taking three or four services, clambering over boulder and piles of earth to transfer between vehicles. This was the journey for everything, goods and produce as well as people. So the wall that bisects Palestinian land in the West Bank, illegal as judged by the International Court of Justice, was far from a new way of controlling Palestinians and their land.

When Deheishe was walled in during the 80s, the land opposite was just fields and trees. A rural landscape. So, as the local population grew and access to land was severely restricted, Palestinians had to build where they could. J said that when his parents bought a piece on land on this area, now called Doha, it was an enormous gamble. No one knew if the homes they built would be destroyed by Israel.

Back in Muna’s home in Deheishe there is a faded picture, from a magazine, of her eldest son, Sa’id. The picture was taken by a visiting journalist in those early days of the 80s. Sa’id has a makeshift gun made from some old discarded wooden pallet, and he has lined up a collection of his siblings and friends against the wall that blocks their road out of the camp. A scene replayed so many thousands of times across Palestine over the years: children playing out their everyday lives, of soldiers and checkpoints, of oppression and humiliation.

I am drawn to Sa’id’s expression, I can’t stop looking at it. It’s not sadness exactly that’s etched on his face, although he clearly isn’t happy. It’s something far more profound on a face so young (Sa’id can be no older than eight in the picture). It’s mournful, a deep sorrow and longing that reaches out me as I stare at it. I can’t look any longer as I want to cry: Muna’s first-born son Sa’id is dead, a martyr of the second intifada.

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