The van drops us off at the top of a hill and rattles around the bend. It is the middle of the afternoon in Budrus, a tiny village in the occupied West Bank ten miles northwest of Ramallah, and the neighborhood seems deceptively quiet. A few boys and girls linger outside their homes, picking at cactus bushes. Others peek out from second-floor windows to watch the visitors walking by. A dirt road winds down to an expanse of olive groves that stretches for about 700 dunams (175 acres) to the Green Line, the internationally recognized border with Israel. It’s a bucolic scene, violently interrupted by the razor-wire fence on the outer edges that threatens to tear through the middle of the groves. If construction here continues, the 1,200 residents of Budrus–the vast majority of whom depend on agriculture for work–will lose a large portion of their fields. An Israeli bulldozer has already carved a preliminary path, and uprooted trees lie in its wake.
According to the official map released by Israel’s Defense Ministry, the proposed route of the separation barrier will not only pass through this patch of land but will also loop around to encircle Budrus and eight nearby villages, creating a closed enclave with a population of 25,000. Once the area is sealed, access to fields, offices, construction sites, university classrooms, friends and relatives outside the enclave will be restricted. Even those who need emergency hospital care will be subjected to the caprices and bureaucratic diktat of the soldiers guarding the gates. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem estimates that the completed barrier will create eighty-one such enclaves and will expropriate almost 1 million dunams east of the Green Line, affecting a total of 875,600 Palestinians, or 38 percent of the population in the West Bank.
Many residents in Budrus fear that conditions in the enclave will become so dire that they will be forced to abandon their land. This alarming possibility has prompted them to mobilize en masse, and they have succeeded so far in stalling construction and calling attention to the dubious legality of the plan. They’re not alone: Since the first bulldozers broke ground in August 2002, thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank have teamed up with Israeli peace activists and international humanitarian groups to stage nonviolent demonstrations against the barrier (which, it must be noted, is built as a fence in some areas and, elsewhere, a monstrous wall made of thirty-foot concrete slabs). Confrontations between protesters and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have become increasingly chaotic, leading to hundreds of injuries, detentions and at least seven deaths. But the residents in Budrus haven’t taken up arms, nor have they appealed to the Palestinian Authority or other factions for support. Doing so, they believe, would only strengthen Israel’s claims that a barrier is necessary to deter attacks. Instead, they have organized an autonomous, highly disciplined campaign to prevent construction until Israel agrees to build on the Green Line.
Anticipating a struggle in their area last fall, village leaders got together and formed the Popular Committee Against the Wall. By the time the IDF arrived on November 12, the committee had developed a strict set of rules: Everybody in the village was expected to participate in the protests, and nobody was allowed to throw stones. “The soldiers were prepared with their weapons,” says Ayed Murar, 42, head of the committee. “But when they saw all our people sitting peacefully on our land–old men, women, children, everyone–they turned back.”
Ayed’s brother Muhammed, a thin, mild-mannered sheik, invites me into his home to talk. We’re sitting in his spacious living room, which is furnished with two couches and a dozen plastic green chairs arranged in a circle. The space seems to double as a play area for Muhammed’s children, two of whom hover timidly in the corner, and a conference room for committee meetings. As cups of coffee cool on the table, Muhammed explains, “To have a confrontation locally, you want it to be totally apart from the politicians. We didn’t want to wait for instructions from the PA in Ramallah. The threat was so great that people were prepared to move from their houses to live in the fields. When we saw a bulldozer, we wanted to be able to move immediately.”