04/28/2005versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

A farm confined by the wall, and a family that endures it

from our correspondent
Christian Elia

photo by simone manzoCountry walls. Bilal Jado is a tall, strong 21-year-old Palestinian boy. He lives on a farm right outside of Bethlehem, in the midst of the countryside and animals where his family has been living for generations. 
Bilal’s face lights up when he proudly shows people the land where he was born, covered with olive trees, but becomes gloomy when he points to the wall. Tall, cold and grey. The dividing wall that the Israeli government started building in the summer of 2002 appeared all of a sudden in the life of Bilal and his family. “We obviously knew what was happening, but we didn’t think it would have arrived so soon,” Bilal said. “One morning some men in civilian clothing came here. They told my family that work on building the barrier was about to start in the countryside around our house. They offered us an indemnity to leave the land where all of my relatives and I were born. That evening my father gathered us all in the kitchen. He asked us what we thought of it, but actually we all knew the answer.
“However hard our life may be, not a single one of us wanted to leave our home,” continued Bilal. “Bulldozers and trucks showed up a few days after those people came by. Now we have what you can see when you look outside.” 
The wall can be seen in its full length from the porch of Bilal’s house, in the shade of creepers seemingly eternal. Kilometres of cement, guard towers and sophisticated security systems. “We try to continue living normally,” the boy explained, “but nothing is as it was before.”  
photo by c.eliaBarriers between men. The wall in this area falls within the stretch of the barrier called the Jerusalem Envelope, which was designed to attach the Israeli settlements that have popped up around Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  
The Jados’ farm remains within the barrier, and is separated from Bethlehem. And Bilal’s family – nine people in all – has been left suspended in a sort of administrative limbo. “Our position is unusual,” explained Azem, Bilal’s uncle, as he looked melancholically at the lands that once belonged to his family and that have now been requisitioned.  “We live in Israeli territory, but we don’t have documents. The Israeli officials explained it to us. They annex the lands, not the people who live on them. So we do not have ID cards (ed. note: identification documents that the municipality of Jerusalem issues to residents who by using them may enter the city), and therefore cannot go to Jerusalem. But at the same time the wall separates us from Bethlehem and when the works have been completed, we will no longer be able to go shopping in the city. We will be on this side of the wall. No longer citizens of Bethlehem, and still not citizens of Jerusalem. We are relying on the solidarity of friends who have documents to go shopping, and above all to sell the farm’s produce… in short, to survive.  
“As far as the Israeli government is concerned, it is as if we do not exist, even if we have to pay taxes in any case,” Uncle Azem continued. “Sometimes we think that perhaps the wall is built with our own money. But we don’t leave our house.”  
We get a glimpse of how much the Jado family’s life has changed from little Zyad, Bilal’s 8-year-old brother. It took the child 20 minutes to get to school two years ago. Just the amount of time needed to trot along, slinging a rucksack too big for him, behind his brother who led the sheep to pasture and then go to Bethlehem. Now Zyad is forced to make a trip all along the wall to reach the closest school where he is allowed to go. It takes him two hours. “I have to take him,” said Bilal with a fatherly air that clashes with his 21 years. “It’s too far for him to go on his own. I lose lots of time, but I do it for his good. I stopped studying early, but Zyad has to continue. I started looking after the sheep right away, and I have always liked to go all over these lands because I felt free. I could relax and enjoy the fresh air, but now I have to be careful because the works continue every day and in the morning we find a new stretch of wall. A while back I could even amuse myself, because the sheep knew the area around the farm perfectly well. Now they as well get lost. Laughingly Bilal added, “Sharon should apologize to them, too.” It seems that in the future, once the construction works are finished, gates will be installed so people can cross through the wall. Passes will be issued to those who can prove they have an absolute need to go to Bethlehem. Since they live on the work of their farm, it will be hard for the Jado family to get this permission. “I don’t think that the Israeli government is interested in the fact that all of my friends are on the other side,” said Bilal. “For now, I can get to Bethlehem by covering kilometres and going around the wall in the area where it has not been finished, but in the end I will be far away from everyone I have always known, from the kids I grew up with who are like my brothers.”
photo by simone manzoThe denied horizon. Bilal makes his way down through the olive trees to show us the road he takes after work to see his friends. After a good half-hour walk through rocks and the trees still standing (seeing that hundreds of trees were felled to build the wall), he meets a group of people his same age who spend their time chatting next to the wall. “There is no work,” Bilal explained, almost as if trying to justify his friends. “They have nothing to do, so they come here to be together.” There are many of them, and they resemble each other. They all repeat the same accusations. “The Israelis rob us of our land and cut down our trees that represent our identity. They close us up in a ghetto.” They blow off steam by throwing rocks against the barrier, closely watched by armed men who watch over the works’ progress. They give vent to their feelings by writing threats and slogans on the wall, and one of them who has a lot of imagination has drawn the footprints of a pair of enormous feet that climb over the wall.
“You can shut up someone on the other side of the wall, but you can’t prevent him from letting his imagination wander,” Bilal explained with a bitter smile. “I think that I can accept living this way with difficulty. I can accept bending over backwards to do the shopping. I can accept going kilometres to reach a place that as the crow flies is just a few metres away. I can accept seeing my friends someplace else. But what I truly cannot accept is the fact that someone has changed my horizon. The only trip I could afford to take since the day I was born was the imaginary one I took by looking towards the clear horizon. Today that wall keeps me from doing that. No… this I will never be able to accept.”