The most moving (and also saddening) part of our trip was learning the story of the village’s land. Many residents of al-Walaja are farmers who rely on olive, almond, plum, fig, and fruit trees for both income and sustenance. Much of the village’s farmland borders the settlements and because of this it is the land which has been and is continuing to be torn up and seized for the construction of the security barrier.
It is important to note that Israel offers no compensation to Palestinians for seized land or lost economic assets. It is not hard to surmise that even if these residents could find more land to plant trees they would likely not have enough capital to rebuild their farms.
Not all of al-Walaja’s residents rely on agriculture as a primary source of income, but for those who did (or still do), one wonders how these villagers will continue to support their families.
It is not just through the loss of land and income sources that the occupation makes its effects felt upon the villagers of al-Walaja. When our bus stopped by the side of the road so that Marwan could tell us the story of al-Walaja we were standing near a home with a half-finished second story.
Marwan pointed out that the construction of this second floor was well underway when the Civil Administration (Israel’s governing body in Area B and C of the West Bank) ordered the construction to halt. Since this Palestinian home borders the fence and just across the half completed fence is a number of settler homes, it was determined that any structure built above the height of the fence would be a security threat to the settlers.
Now not only will the family be forced to remain in a small, cramped, single-story home, but all of the money the family spent to invest in their home expansion will be for not.
After seeing this sad state of affairs with my own eyes I could not help but wonder what the long term effect of this loss of income and land will be. More often than not, Palestinians tend to form their identity and sense of belonging through a connection to their land (and especially to their olive trees). The bond with the land can, at times, even appear to take on a spiritual connection.
This land based identity is only further amplified by the fact that many Palestinian families tend to live in the same village, or even the same household for multiple generations.