The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 5: Qalqilyia and the Islamic Center

On Tuesday, January 14, we were in Qalqilyia.

Our guide through the city’s history was Suhad Hashem Shreim, a Palestinian activist.
 
Israel ordered Qalqilyia to be destroyed during the 1967 war; half of Palestinian homes were demolished during the attacks. These attacks were aimed at securing Qalqilyia’s water and land for Israel: Qalqilyia has the richest aquifer and agricultural land in the region. After the war, Qalqilyia was the first city to be engulfed by the apartheid wall, which physically cut across Palestinian properties, dividing homes, agricultural fields, and access to water that had been in families for generations. Twelve settlements now surround Qalqilyia. Their population is about 52,000, with Palestinians around 50,000. During the Second Intifada, Palestinians were confined to their homes except for 1-2 hours per day for running errands (shopping), making it impossible for them to work. Assassinations occurred almost every day; one woman was found shot dead in her kitchen while making coffee.
Shreim discussed today’s 50% unemployment among Palestinians in Qalqilyia, who have little to no access to the once vast network of trade that defined the city.
They are not allowed to import products (food).
Residents are not allowed to leave the city after the checkpoint closes at 10:00 pm. In combination with the lack of medical facilities in the city, and their limited hours, people needing medical attention frequently die at the walls waiting for them to open. Shreim told us too many stories–the seven year old boy, the pregnant woman, the elderly mother–about too many individuals who have died unable to get to a medical facility in time for their injuries or conditions to receive attention. This included her mother.
Shreim also discussed the nine water wells inside the city. Water is siphoned out of the wells for the 12 settlements beyond the wall. Qalqilyia is not allowed to transport water to other Palestinian cities. Agricultural wells are monitored by meters; water is free to Israeli farmers but Palestinian farmers pay a steep price.
There are six unrecognized communities (refugee camps) in Qalqilyia that are all denied services and rights of travel.

Children attend schools under strict surveillance and transport rules. Many do not go to school to avoid being stripped searched or otherwise harassed (frequently, boys are forbidden by soldiers to go to schools altogether).
 

Shreim discussed the lack of safety at the schools. The Azzun Atma School is at the end of a sewage drain that runs from the Israeli settlements into the city. The city is not allowed to clean it up so the waste piles up behind the school.

After our discussion about the situation in Qalqilyia, Shreim took us to several places along the wall to witness the security process for those traveling in and out of the district for work and school, as well as the impact of the wall on the water, agriculture, and daily life of Palestinians in the district.
We saw one house where the family is forbidden to go on the roof, as it gives them a view over the wall. We saw one of the ravines used to drain sewage out the Israeli settlement on the other side of the wall and into Qalqilyia. We saw homes that were demolished and their vacant properties. We saw the trees planted on the other side of the wall to disguise the wall from Israeli settlement view.

The Islamic Center in Umm al-Fahm (in the 48) hosted us for lunch. Afterwards, we met with Sheikh Raed Salah, who is the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement and former city mayor. Salah has exposed several Israeli plots against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He has been arrested and barred from several cities around and including Jerusalem for his alleged political activities, including charges of inciting people against Israel.
 
Salah discussed the escalation of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. In the 48, only 3% of the land is remaining in the hands of Palestinians; the remaining 97% belongs to Israel.
 
“What does the Israeli establishment want if not for us to die?” Salah said.
 
There is great power in the international community in allowing for the oppression to continue.
 

The youth are discouraged. The only access to a steady salary and benefits is through military service. This is especially difficult for Palestinian Muslims because they do not believe in violence and hate.

 
But the oppressiveness of Israeli policies “helps us to stay Palestinian.” The harder they push, the more reasons for resistance there is. And self-defense is recognized as a right within international law. We cannot have our leaders relinquish this right in negotiations with the U.S. and Israel.
 
Israel has destroyed over 1,200 Mosques and sacred sites. They have changed the Mosques into all kinds of buildings–synagogues, museums, and sites used to make porn films. Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem is being destroyed for public parks and a Museum of Tolerance. Over 800 graves have been destroyed, all done in the middle of the night.
 
Palestinians must be united, and they are not right now. There is a concerted effort to criminalize their alliances in the name of security.
 
We need solidarity and education, Salah explained.

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