by Aya Kaniuk and
We left Qalandiya, drove left, to the westbound road, number 443 for
jews only, along the way there were security fences and we couldn't come
off the highway, so the first turn off the road we followed, and there
was a sign, which said Beit Horon, a settlement, of course, but there
was also another name, A-Tira, so we turned right, climbing on to a
winding bridge above the road, and a bit further, when we encountered an
iron gate blocking the way.
then we saw three people and we stopped, and we looked, and got out of
the car and approached and said hello, and they said hello back, and
without noticing we began talking, and listening, and the world of the
people of A-Tira emerged with its chilling dreadfulness.
A-Tira is a small village, with 1500 to 1800 inhabitants, a place that
Israel (as she has been doing all over) decided to turn into a prison,
into a corral, an enclosure, to close it from all sides and suffocate
it, and denying it life.
"a prison with a sky, worse than a prison", said 38 years old Fahim: he
has 4 children, six years without work, "in prison they feed you, look
after you, they are responsible for you, prison is for a limited time,
in prison they at least tell you why, it is for something you had done,
this isn't prison, this is hell".
the village has one entrance leading out to the world, a paved road,
this only entrance has been sealed hermetically, blocked, around 5 years
first they put big rocks, then rubble ,then rocks, then square cement
no car can come out or drive in.
down bellow at the bottom of the hill is the highway. two fast lanes in
each direction that runs in the valley between A-Tira and Beituniya and
Ramallah and all the other places in the West Bank. anywhere that is
connected with their lives, the clinic in Bidu, the hospital, the mall,
the pharmacy in Ramallah, the memories, work, family, friends, all
there, a short ride of a few minutes once, to where there is no access,
because the people of the village are not only forbidden from leaving or
entering their village using their cars, they are forbidden to go out,
forbidden to touch the main road, to touch it, to step on it with their
this is five years already since the road has become solely for the
lords of the land
during all the time we were there on the hill, with them, the people of
A-Tira, in all we heard and saw, the constant image emerging was, of
them looking with longing eyes on the road for jews only upon which they
cannot place a foot, and as if all of their existence, all the history
of the village imbued with all of the terribleness of injustice, of one
people towards the other, the one thing towards which everything seemed
to accumulated, to drain, was the prevention of standing and walking on
the main road, that which there always, to see.
less than a year ago the people of the village turned to a lawyer about
the village being blocked from all sides, who managed to get them an
'arrangement'. instead of rocks (blocking the one entrance in and out of
the village), today there is a locked gate and orders that the army open
it three times a day, between seven and eight in the morning, two-thirty
and three in the afternoon, and six and seven in the evening.
according to orders, however not in practice.
sometimes the gate is open, sometimes it is closed, sometimes the
soldiers open it for a minute or not at all, at noon the villagers say
they hardly ever open it at all.
even when the gate is open the people of the village cannot use their
cars, or hardly anyone can, except someone who works for a
pharmaceutical company, another from the same company, the mayor, no one
else, or hardly any, and for no possible purpose.
according to the 'arrangement' five taxis are 'allowed' to enter through
the gate, when it's open, and drive the people of A-Tira in and out of
three belong to people from the village, two not, and these taxis can
drive into the village, two kilometers to the center and pick up people
who find it difficult to walk the distance, all the way to the gate, and
then drive out through the gate and use the road for jews only that the
people of the village are not allowed to stand on, a fixed route, from
the entrance of the village to Qalandiya checkpoint.
no taxi other than these five is permitted to drive the people of the
village. even if a taxi were to come up to the entrance, not in, not at
the fixed times, it would be taking a chance. because if it were caught,
it would be accused for driving 'illegal dwellers' (shabahim), and the
driver's fate would be the confiscation of his car for thirty days, and
enormous fine, and incarceration, and the passengers, would be subjected
known arbitrariness and the loose boundaries of the executers of
occupation and oppression, the army and the police.
even when the gate is open, it turns out, the taxis are not always
willing to drive into the village through the gate. because they are
afraid that the soldiers will lock them inside. this has happened,
depending who the soldiers were.
all our conversation was with the eyes of all directed down, on the main
road, where cars were, free, allowed, the border, the wall which isn't
made out of cement. the line that cannot be crossed. "the promised
the symbol of all that was and isn't any more.
like blacks in more ancient times and other countries, the palestinian
people of A-Tira are forbidden to set foot on the main road, the
highway; their shoes cannot touch it, they are bound to walk on the side
path, in the mud, in the dust, in the dirt, not on the main road, the
banning is only for the main road, they are permitted to crawl
underneath the main road, to wallow in the tunnel's water under the main
road, to sink in the mud next to the main road, but not on it, not on
the main road.
the highway was built on the village's land. it was about seven years
ago. it began with the occupation forces distributing notices that a
highway was going to be built there. on the land. all of the land owners
hired a lawyer. thirty people did. but nothing helped.
they came, and took it by force.
when the army came with the bulldozer and started uprooting our trees,
the trees of our land, and throwing them away, Fahim said, my 70 year
old father, with his cane, (he hardly sees, almost blind), put himself
underneath the bulldozer, and a soldier came with a revolver, and stuck
it against his head, and told him if you don't move away from the land,
you and your children, i'll kill you.
everyone like this, he told us, each one in his turn.
thirty lawyers. nothing helped.
no, they didn't offer any money, he answered my question.
if they had said it would help our two peoples, no one would have spoken
out. but they just took it by force... and closed us in.
wherever they are arabs, they close them in, he added.
Fahim told us how he was once in Ramallah until late. the taxis with
permits only work until six thirty so he didn't have how to come back.
so he walked.
they caught him walking on the highway.
you are not allowed to be here. you're not allowed to walk here.
what can i do, then, he told them, should i just fly?
they told him, give us your id, they told him, we'll put you in jail.
i begged him, the soldier, Fahim said, i couldn't find a transit, one
more time and i'll send you to prison, promised the soldier. a few hours
later that night, he was released.
A-Tira is a village of peace, said Fahim, said everyone. that is what
they used to say about us... 1500 people and no one has gone to prison,
not the Palestinian Authority's and not the Israelis'. no one. no one
throws stones here. a village of peace.. because of the village's good
name, in the past each dunam was 40000 dollars, today it is worth maybe
10000 dollars for a dunam that nobody buys.
Fahim, a builder, used to work in Israel, then he built the settlements,
a musician and a singer... I have friends in Givaat Zeev, he said, we
were surprised, didn't say anything. once I told a friend from Givaat
Zeev, i cannot go anywhere, my land is gone, you have permission, and we
your land is in Jordan, she said, go there. you have oil there. you can
so he told us.
does it bother you that it is a settlement, we asked. yes, but what can
i do. i won't drive anybody out of a house by force.
we ask, and they tell us that Givaat Zeev was built after 1982. that it
is sitting on the land of Jib, Beituniya, and part of Beit-Idgza.
it seems like a kibbutz, what a kibbutz is supposed to be, a family,
extended responsibility, everyone together, their speech is collective,
about the village, the school..... the more established talk about the
less established, the wretched.... each one of them who spoke, without
exception began with another's story, about someone else, about their
life, not about his personal troubles.. here, look, said Fahim and
pointed at two young men, one is married, the other one not yet but
soon, and smiles to him, hinting encouragement, and the young man
responded, grateful, smiling; both of them are unemployed. i can't help
them financially, i have 1000 shekels for 6 months.
then, about another young man amongst those around, we are told that he
is studying for a degree in Arabic in Abu Dis. he is going to be
somebody, they all agreed, proud, looking at him fondly, warmly, patting
him on the shoulder, one big family, or so it seemed. the young man
smiled with accustomed happy shyness in the face of all the compliments
bestowed upon him. he was supposed to complete his degree in two years,
but he finished in four, all because of checkpoints and prevention of
movement. and money. instead of 10 shekels for a transit he pays thirty,
because of all the circumvented roads he is bound to take...
Nabil, a contractor once, today unemployed, told us about the village.
all refugees from the nakba, the 48 war. their village, Alkoniessa, the
land still in their name, written in the land registry from the time of
the Ottomans, the village which isn't there.... they try to explain
where it used to be, by Latrun, two poles, they put a tank, there was
our village, where our land is... some fled, some were killed, like in
Dir Yassin, in Kibya.."
a palestinian fate.
Fahim said, in the 67 war i was a few months old, they said they wanted
to leave me and fled, they were so scared, the memories of the nakba
were fresh, but they didn't leave me behind, of course not, just said.
they all mentioned one man from the village, who married a woman from
the north, from Daburiya, who has a blue id, who bought a transit, and
that he helps... he too takes people to Qalandiya checkpoint.
only that lately he has been saying that soon he won't be able to, after
the wall will be completed, that he has bought land in another place.
the mathematics teacher narrated the story of the school. everybody is
watching the school across the highway, they pointed to it, and we saw.
small children from afar were just leaving the school and start walking.
the school goes as back as 1950 maybe, said someone, yes, my older
brother studied there said Nabil, and my father studied there, said the
mathematics teacher, and me and my brother and my children too, said
Fahim, and all of a sudden they were all talking about the school. a
school for boys. half come from Beit Or Al Fawka village, they pointed
to something far away in the distance, probably behind the hill. girls
come from there as well as boys. 370 children. do you see that building
see the toilets? yes, we saw. they told us that they used to be in a
terrible condition, 'not legal' they said, boys and girls together, and
everything dirty and broken, so they renovated them, by themselves.
then, said one of the teachers, someone from the settlement that is also
from the DCO heard we ha renovated the toilets, so they destroyed it.
they brought a tractor and destroyed the children's toilets.
which we had renovated.
after a three years struggle the DCO agreed that we could renovate the
toilets, but only from the inside not from the outside... and we
the mathematics teacher told us that they had once asked the army
permission to put slates on the roof against the sun and the rain and so
that when the children would come in they wouldn't get the class dirty.
but they didn't allow it.
the school is small. each classroom is small. very few rooms. crowded.
but they don't let us renovate, fix, they say we can't. the DCO says we
in the meantime we saw how the children came close to the highway, and
disappeared, underneath the ground.
children as well as grownups are not allowed to step on the road. that
is why they dug the tunnel, the burrow, underneath the highway, so that
they can return home from school to the village, within the 'law'. "when
it rains the water rises, and they wallow in the mud and the puddles all
the way up to their knees... it's so terribly dark there, said a young
man with a beard, no doubt a worried father, and the tunnel is long", he
pointed to the highway, so long.
sometimes, said the grownups, sadly, the children cross the highway from
above... well, children... if they are caught they receive a fine of 150
shekels, yes.. we work for four days to pay this fine, sighed someone
whose name i don't know.
the teacher told us that the army often comes into the school. that they
intimidate the children. sometimes every day. sometimes they follow the
children to the school and wait for them. outside in the jeep. it is
because they want this land. they already took the land down in the
valley... so they come... it is supposedly to catch children who threw
stones. but the children are all in school. no one here throws stones.
they came to the village one day, everyone spoke, one running into each
other's words, one big family. they arrested some boys. for throwing
stones. but they released them.
one day two soldiers came and started chasing the children, tells
someone. so i asked them what were they doing. they said that children
threw stones. they didn't i said. they did, the soldiers insisted.
where? i said, where? they said there are stones on the street. i said
they aren't any, and we went there, and they weren't stones, and they
left. i can't promise that in four years no kid threw stones ever, i
can't be sure, although i don't think so... but all this is because they
are just trying to plant this on the children. to taint them. they also
blamed the teachers.
a group of children who already had passed underneath the highway and
then up on the hill arrived. children. jumping one on top of the other
in order to be photographed.
there is something unusual in this village in ways difficult to explain,
express, an unusual bond, a togetherness, the children too. it seemed
the grownups had a unique hold on them as well, discipline, authority.
we thought that in spite of the fact that throwing stones is so natural
and understandable and just, children under occupation, we found it hard
to believe they would have thrown stones in the atmosphere of this
particular village. the village had too much to lose. all eyes and hopes
were turned to this piece of land, the school. the last bit, that so
much seemed to depend on, a reality, but a symbol too.
what do people do, we asked, without work, and during the years, how do
people live, manage, what do they eat.
800 residents come from refugee families, Fahim explained, me too. so
every two months workers from the UN (unera) arrive, and they give to
those who have nothing. like me, who has nothing.
the army by the way doesn't let the UN enter the village. so the
villagers come to the gate. each of those who are entitled have a card,
according to the number of family members, they come to the gate, there
the UN workers distribute the basics, flour, rice, oil, sugar....
i'm tired of sitting at home, TV, sometimes i can't pay for the
electricity bill, i'm tired of not being able to accompany my children
to school, i'm tired of them having to walk in the dark, in the mud,
frightened, even a donkey won't go down there, i'm tired of everything",
Fahim suddenly bursts out, then collected himself again.
what do we eat? we eat pittas, zaatre, olive oil. the UN's flour. the
UN's garbage that they give our people. the leftovers..."
fish and meat, we eat maybe once a month... you can every day he said
(not that you don't deserve to, he added, remorseful, catches himself.
five years ago we had America here, said Ahmed, a transit driver among
those who didn't receive a permit, and can only drive people from the
gate into the village, two kilometers. there weren't stones. we went to
the sea. we swam. we visited Alkuneissa.
his eyes shining, soft.
we asked about doctors, about a clinic. none, they tell us, only in Bidu.
a doctor used to come twice a week, on wednesdays and saturdays. but
since they closed the village he comes once a month. he won't make the
effort (he cannot enter with his car) and walk two kilometers.... there
is only food supply in the village, nothing else.
if someone cut himself, he said, he would bleed to death.
they dream of Ramallah, not of Jerusalem. it used to take 7 minutes to
get there, they point at Beituniya and Ramallah that seem so close, but
now, as far as half the world.... from Al-Tira to Beit or Alfuwaka, then
Hirbata, Saffa, Bilin, Nima village, Dir Ibzi, Ein Arik, Beituniya and
Ramallah.... an hour and a half....
they have begun building the wall next to the closed gate. it isn't
clear exactly through where it will pass. one of the soldiers told them,
the fact that you can come and go as you do now (ie use the permitted
taxis three time a day) is only until the fence (wall) is finished. then
you are alone and we are alone. what is now is temporary.
old, bearded Jihad, who attends the contractor from the settlement's
shed, who found a job for a day or two in preparing it for the workers
who will sleep there while guarding the building of the wall, the prison
which is going to close him in. they are shutting us in, he told me...
i'll find a girl, i'll have an israeli id.... "
why is it that you are allowed a villa, a Mercedes", says Fahim, and i
need to live under the ground?
then regretted his words, a gentle man, light in his eyes, sorry for
saying this, he said. will you come again? now that you know we aren't
29 January 2006, Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt