The wall took less than a year to be constructed in an arc around much of Jayyous, a village in the occupied West Bank near Qalqilya. Seventy percent of the villagers’ farmland–and all their irrigated land–has ended up on the western side of Israel’s “security fence.” There are gates for Jayyous’s farmers to access their land, but Israel has made the ability to do so steadily more difficult–in a process most villagers believe will eventually lead to the confiscation of their ancestral lands.
Jayyous, a town of about 3,000, already lost 20 percent of its lands after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. These lands were redistributed to Israeli farmers. Jayyous was never compensated for its loss. One villager tells how he used to lead his donkey at night to what was once his family’s apricot orchards, across the Green Line, and helped himself to the fruit. He called himself and his donkey “the Apricot Liberation Front.”
Depending on how the question is considered, there are between five to eight clans, or extended families, in Jayyous. One was Christian until about 100 years ago. Somewhere in the village there used to be churches. The columns on the village’s main mosque were salvaged from Roman ruins. There are also Ottoman ruins. Caves, used since time immemorial, dot the northern hillside, some ending up underneath houses in the village. Many of the houses have older stone foundations underneath–up to 1,500 years old. Villagers hid in these caves for twelve days when the Israelis sent trucks in during the Six-Day War in 1967 to cart the people of Jayyous to the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, in a possible prelude to expulsion. After twenty days in the camp, the rest of the villagers walked the ten miles home on foot.
Some of the villagers have eight names, and a few have nine, indicating that their families extend back about 600 years, according to Abdel Latif Khaled, a local hydrologist. It is clear the land has been cultivated for centuries; some of the thousands of olive trees belonging to the village are hundreds of years old. An Israeli arborist reported that the oldest tree he knew of in Israel/Palestine was 1,700 years old but said there may be even older ones (Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2003 issue). Villagers refer to these extremely old trees as “Roman trees,” indicating they have been there from the time when Jayyous was a Roman garrison town. Some Jayyous residents still possess tattered Ottoman deeds to their lands, which were eventually replaced by British and then Jordanian deeds; all of the land is registered in Jordan. They also have vouchers from the Palestinian Authority’s Finance Department. Four hundred dunams (100 acres) are held in common by the Jayyous municipality; before that, they were held by the colonially appointed mukhtar (town elder).
Once, 300 Jayyous farmers went to their lands every day. Then the wall was built. At first the gates were open. Then the Israelis placed locks and chains on them. Then they started locking the gates, only opening them for about fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. On October 2 the Israeli West Bank military commander, Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, declared the area between the wall and the Green Line to be a closed military zone. The Israelis call this area the “seam zone.” The rules of the seam zone require that no Palestinian can enter without a permit issued by Israel. However, Israeli citizens and those eligible to be citizens under the Law of Return are allowed to enter. A sign next to the gate reads in Hebrew, Arabic and English, “He who enters this area without permission endangers his life.”