Today I went to Qalquilia for the second time. This time my roommate, M, organized a trip for interested students which was guided her friend and fellow ISMer. M worked with ISM two summers ago in Qalquilia, protesting the building of the wall. When she was there they were less than half-way finished with their construction of the wall around Qalquilia – now the city in completely encircled, except for two entrances which can be easily closed (one of which was recently opened). We weren’t sure if we would be able to travel to Qalquilia because the West Bank was sealed off yesterday, but we managed without any difficulty.
When we arrived, we met our guide at the southwestern edge of the city, by the wall. He explained that people in Qalquilia used to be able to enter Israel without any trouble, and that most of the people who lived in the town were either farmers or had worked in Israel. The wall has separated many farmers from their land (which is now a highway for Israelis only) and stopped many people from commuting into Israel to work. Also, I learned that a lot of Israelis used to come to Qalquilia to shop because of the produce and the prices, but this has also been stopped by the wall. I can’t get over how big, and how permanent the wall is. Peace groups have painted murals and sprayed slogans onto the wall – which is cool, but seems futile. I mean, it is still there. We could see the Israeli guard tower and the camera boxes that line the wall so that Israel can see if anyone approaches. We approached anyway, and took lots of pictures.
Next, we visited a site where a tunnel has been created to allow Qalquilians to travel to other Palestinian villages to the south. The tunnel, which is more like an underpass, goes beneath a settler road – which makes sure the settlers don’t have to come into contact with Palestinians. The tunnels all have gates, which means that Israel can control the flow of traffic much easier, and with fewer soldiers, than they could before. This is the second phase of the wall plan. These tunnels are being created to split the West Bank regions into little cantons that can be easily controlled. Perpendicular to the tunnels, deep trenches have been dug, so that Palestinians can’t climb up the sides to cross over the settler roads. Of course, in order to complete these projects more viable Palestinian land has been confiscated.
The last site we visited was a place where the Israelis have constructed large buildings, warehouse style. Apparently, this will be a new opening, where Palestinians who want to work in Israel will be allowed to cross over. Our guide said this will be the only crossing available in the north, and may be the only crossing for the entire West Bank, but they don’t know the details yet. This way, Israel will be able to maintain and control its cheap labor source.
We stopped for tea at our guide’s family’s house, where we learned about the fertile land in Qalquilia, and her rich water resources. Did you know that the Palestinians are not allowed to install new motors in their wells? They are still using equipment from the British colonial period, run by car batteries because Israel will not allow the permits to install modern equipment. When I asked why they don’t just smuggle in the new equipment, he said Israel sends inspectors to the wells. The Israelis have also installed meters on all of the Palestinian wells, and if the Palestinians overdraw their well (or have new equipment), the Israelis close them down. Now, this is all in Qalquilia, which is under the jurisdiction of the PA (supposedly). Meanwhile, settlements use 9-10 times the amount of water people in the West Bank use (or are allowed to use) per day, per person.
Our guide also told us about the nonviolent, Palestinian protests that the residents organized when the construction of the wall began. I guess, after three Palestinians were killed, they dropped the protesting until ISM and other international organizations became involved.
Despite everything, our guide was very positive about the effect that the nonviolent movement is having in the West Bank. He seemed hopeful that with increased media attention, the international community to realize what is happening here and become more involved. I suppose it could happen – I mean it worked in South Africa – but I am not as optimistic as he is. There is no doubt that the nonviolent movement is having an impact, but will it make enough of a difference? I hope so.