Life under occupation: Suffering behind the annexation wall
Hani Amer is a 59-year old father of four sons and two daughters, whose family is deeply rooted in Kafr Qasim, which is located on the western side of the annexation wall that is separating Palestine from Israel. When Kafr Qasim was declared state land of Israel in 1948, the entire Amer family was expelled, lost their land and moved to Mas’ha, which is part of the Salfit governorate and located on the eastern side of the wall. “The catastrophe of my family started already in 1948 and not only with the construction of the wall in 2003. The wall is the last and not the first problem”, Hani Amer emphasizes as he starts to tell his story.
The house where Hani Amer is currently living with his family was built by Hani himself in the early 1970s. At the time, there were no settlements in the area and Hani’s dream was to build a house on his own land where he can create a family and provide them with a good life. Only three years after his family had moved into their new home, Israel claimed the area next to Hani’s land for security reasons and slowly started to build an illegal settlement. Despite the fact that settlements constitute a violation of international law, Israel has since the late 1960s claimed Palestinian land under the pretext of military use and security reasons, while eventually transferring Israeli citizens to the land and turning it into settlements.
While the Amer family lived a fairly peaceful life until 2003, the situation started to change significantly with the construction of the annexation wall in 2003. “The Israelis told me that I have a choice to make: Either, the wall will be built exactly in the place of my house and I will have to move to the other side of the wall, or they will make our life miserable and we will have to suffer”, Hani describes. Not willing to give up their home, the Amer family decided to stay and has been paying a high price for their decision since then. The wall was built right in front of Hani’s house, severely reducing his land, while the back of the house faces the Israeli settlement of Elkana. Hani’s land was thereby physically incorporated into the settlement, even though it is separated from it by a large barb wire fence, creating a unique case of suffering. Not only the Israeli occupation forces tried to move the family from their home, but the Israeli residents of Elkana did their utmost to make their Palestinian neighbors’ life as miserable as possible. “Between 2003 and 2010, I barely slept and stayed awake during most nights to be prepared when settlers would attack us. They attacked our house and my family, they showed up in my garden and threw stones, screamed at us and harassed us frequently”, Hani explains.
Regular harassment has had a severe impact on the family’s life. More than once, soldiers appeared in Hani’s house in the middle of the night for “inspection”, woke up the entire family by screaming through loudspeakers and forced the six children out of bed with weapons pointed at them. “My youngest son, Shaddat, was three years old when the wall was built. The regular abuses from settlers in combination with disturbances by soldiers have had severe psychological consequences for him. He left school at the age of 8 because he could not concentrate and he acted aggressive towards teachers”, Hani explains the impact of the occupation on his family. One of the worst incidents that the father remembers was when the three-year old Shaddat managed to slip under the fence to the Israeli side of the settlement and the soldiers refused to bring the small child back to the family. “We were scared that he would be kidnapped and taken away from us by the Israelis”, Hani reiterates. When Hani came back from work at night, Palestinian workers in the settlement, who had taken care of the young boy, brought Shaddat back to his family. After the incident, Israeli soldiers blamed Hani for leaving his son alone. “I felt provoked by the soldiers, I was so angry and sad and asked them why they don’t have a sense of humanity or morality in their bodies”, Hani remembers.
Moreover, the settlement and annexation wall had severe economic and social consequences for the Amer family, as both facts on the ground not only separated them from the town of Mas’ha, but also expelled Palestinian businesses that were located on the main road between Kafr Qasim, Mas’ha and Qalqilya. “Before the construction of the wall, the public street connecting us with Kafr Qasim and Qalqilya was filled with merchants, who were all forced to leave their businesses. The Israelis completely isolated us”, Hani emphasizes. Furthermore, the settlement cut Hani’s connection with his farm lands located west of it. Following pressure from the UN and human rights groups, the Israeli soldiers agreed to open the gate to the settlement at 7 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, so Hani could take the settlement road leading to his land within a 5-minute walk. However, Hani was regularly forced to wait behind closed doors for hours before they would open the gate arbitrarily. “Whenever they finally let me pass the road, settler children threw rubbish at me and screamed racist slogans, so I stopped walking on the settlement road. I rather drive for one hour around villages to reach my land than to be harassed on a daily basis”, Hani emphasizes.
Not only was Hani cut off from his agricultural land, but initially the family did not even own a key for the gate leading to their house, nor were they allowed to receive guests except for family members. Following pressure from human rights organizations, they received a key, but the soldiers would determine who is allowed to enter and who is not. The Amer family did not follow the Israeli’s commands and whenever they welcomed friends, the soldiers would interfere, interrogate the guests and expel them. When a group of international activists and human rights workers visited Hani in 2010, the Israeli soldiers deported the guests and confiscated the family’s key to their own gate as a punishment. International attention was raised when the guests reported back to their embassies, which then applied pressure on the Israeli Foreign Ministry. As a consequence, an Israeli representative paid a visit together with the Executive Director of UNRWA to negotiate the terms of visitation with the Amer family. “I told them that they have a choice to make, either they let me live as a human being with all my rights, or they can put me in prison until I die. I will not classify my visitors”, Hani states as he describes how he won this one struggle and got the keys back. Since 2010, the family can welcome visitors as they please and the harassments have decreased. But until the present day, the Amer family lives in constant fear. “The soldiers and settlers told us that as long as we live in our house, we are considered enemies. I feel threatened and in danger all the time, but this is my home so I keep focusing on how we can stay here”, Hani emphasizes.
The construction of the annexation wall inside the West Bank was considered illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, which called for dismantling it and compensating those affected by it. Nevertheless, Israel continued with the construction of the wall, which is estimated to be twice as long as the Green Line upon completion, 85% of which will be built on Palestinian land. The annexation wall is used by Israel to further occupy Palestinian land, particularly in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, thereby cutting families apart, isolating people from their work and land and lastly creating unilateral facts on the ground, making the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders impossible.