What would you do if you really wanted to force your neighbors off their fertile land, but you had the misfortune to live in an age when ethnic cleansing was no longer politically correct? Ariel Sharon knows how you do it:
You don`t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away... I prefer to advocate a more positive policy...to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave."
-- Ariel Sharon, quoted by David Bernstein in "Forcible Removal of Arabs gaining support in Israel", The (London) Times, August 24, 1988, page 7.
And once you were elected Prime Minister, how would you go about implementing the policy? Well, one way to do it would be to enclose the subject population behind a huge wall, that just happens to cut them off from all the services and resources they need to survive. Cut off from jobs, schools, medical care, farmland and water, the enclosed population will hang on till the point of destitution, but in the end will have no alternative but to leave.
Take the case of Qalqilya. Qalqilya is the westernmost city in the Occupied West Bank (see map), lying close up against the Green Line. Because it controls 55% of the West Bank's most precious resource - water - it is the agricultural heart of the West Bank, and home to 43,000 people . Or at least it used to be.
PM Sharon was reported in April 2004 to have decided that Qalqilya didn't need all those 43,000 residents, and that 15,000 Palestinians in Qalqilia is more than enough. So what do you do with those other 28,000? Bearing in mind that two-thirds of all Qalqilya's income comes from its surrounding farmland, all you need to do is separate the people from the farmland. Easy.
The Wall at Qalqilya is complete, and doesn't run north-south along the Green Line. Instead it runs north, south, east and west around Qalqilya, completely surrounding the residential areas of the town and isolating its people from the rest of the West Bank and, most immediately, from their agricultural land. This is what the route looks like on a map of the Wall in the northern West Bank.
And this is how Qalqilya looks now from the air...
...and at ground level:
In case you're not sure what you're looking at in the first photograph, the white ribbon around the residential center of Qalqilya is Israel's Wall. The brown areas to the north and south of the town, and outside the wall, are where Qalqilya's water resources and farmland lie, now abandoned, their crops rotting. There is a gate that opens onto the farmland at the northern side of the Wall, but it has never been opened since the Wall was built. The gate on the south side may or may not be opened (at the whim of the soldiers on duty) three times a day for fifteen minutes each time, to allow children to travel to and from school and for farmers to access their fields. Though for most farmers, it really doesn't matter if the gate remains locked: they are not allowed to pass through without a permit, and 60% of Qalqilya's farmers have been arbitrarily refused the permits they need to pass through to their fields on the days when the gate is actually opened.
The end result here will be that as the farmers can't reach the fields, Israel will declare them "abandoned". Under Israeli law, Israel then has the right to seize the "abandoned" land for itself. Abdul Karim Ahmad, a farmer from the neighboring (and similarly-enclosed) village of Azzun Atma, explains how this organised theft of Palestinian land proceeds:
The Israelis made a fence around the settlement, then they put in a small gate so we could get to our olive trees. They gave us the key and let us come and go for the first year. Then they changed the lock and put a guard on. But he doesn’t come on the Sabbath and holidays and when he is sick. Then one day he doesn’t come at all and you can’t get to your land. Then they declare you are not working on your land and seize it.
-- The Guardian: Villagers Fear Being Forced Out By Being Locked In
Left: Trying to get home from school through the Qalqilya gate, March 2004. Right: Waiting for a soldier to show up at the Qalqilya gate and allow farmers access to their fields (attribution)
Since this section of the Wall was completed in October 2003, Qalqilya's agriculture-based economy has collapsed. Today, the city has 80 per cent unemployment; 80 per cent of families survive on food handouts; and those that have the means to go elsewhere in the West Bank have packed up and left. Four thousand residents of Qalqilya have left the town in the past year; another two thousand heads of families have left home in search of work, leaving their families behind in the city.
Fifteen thousand Palestinians in Qalqilya is more than enough? Six thousand down; 22,000 to go.