Separation wall swallows up Rafat land

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“I see my land in my village of Rafat every day, but I cannot reach it because of the so-called separation wall, which prohibits me from reaching the land of my fathers and forefathers,” says Abdallah Al Rafati. “This land has been passed down through generations, but now, I cannot even reach that olive tree, which neither I, nor my father or grandfather planted, but rather our first ancestors,” he continues.

More than 33 dunams of Al Rafati’s land have been confiscated in order for Israel to build the “separation fence,” which is constructed solely on Palestinian land. More than 75 percent of Rafat’s land, a village north of Jerusalem, has been confiscated to make way for the wall.

According to a report prepared by the Center for Land Research of the Arab Studies Society, Rafat’s land has been taken control of through confiscation, military closure and land leveling. Rafat, one of the closest villages to Ramallah and located on the borderline between Ramallah and Jerusalem, has been closed off from three directions – to the east, west and south.

“From the west, the village is surrounded by the Beitunia and Ofra military camps. From the east, it is encompassed by the Jerusalem Airport, which has been turned into an Israeli army camp. And now, from the south, the village has been closed in by the security fence,” explains Rafat local council head Mohammed Khader Taha. He confirms the claim made in the Land Research Report that Rafat is an estimated 6,000 years old, and has Canaanite origins. Its ancient name is Raphael, meaning that God heals, and was built on an area of 4,583 dunams.

Today, the village’s area is no larger than 329 dunams, all of which falls within Area B, an Israeli categorization of Palestinian land in which home construction is permitted. An additional 500 dunams of the village’s land falls within Area C, where all construction is prohibited. But this land is not even fit for agriculture, rendering it effectively useless. In all, 75 percent of the village’s land has been confiscated by Israeli authorities over the past 35 years, sums up the council head.

According to Taha, Israeli forces confiscated the plains in 1967, which constituted the village’s most fertile agricultural land, and on which village residents depended for much of their food and income. Approximately 60 percent of the village population worked the land at that time. The Israeli confiscation was slated to build the Ofra military camp, which was built on 700 dunams of Rafat land.

But the confiscations continued after that, with the most significant taking place after the arrival of the Palestinian Authority. Since then, Israeli authorities have confiscated the equivalent of 300 dunams of land located between the village and Ramallah in order to build a settlement bypass road. Then in 1996, Israel built yet another street, severing the connecting road between Rafat and Al Jdeira, a nearby village. The road was built directly on Rafat land.

The most recent of these land confiscations took place in August 2002, when the Israeli army informed village residents that they would confiscate around 768 dunams of land from the village, including 168 dunams for the purpose of the separation wall and the surrounding road. Israeli forces closed off 600 dunams of land that fall behind the separation wall, and banned village residents from accessing it to plant, harvest or reap the fruit of their olive trees. What’s more, Israeli occupation forces cut down 638 fruit-bearing olive trees, says Taha, including those belonging to Al Rafati, which were planted by his ancestors.

Al Rafati speaks of the impact the separation wall has had on the village land. “The impact is huge on the village people. At first, it led to a further decline in the already poor economic situation that the village is in, especially after 60 percent of the village population lost their source of income with the confiscation of the remaining land used for agriculture.” Rafati adds that the unemployment rate has reached 80 percent in Rafat.

“But economic damage is not the only thing to hit the village because of this separation wall,” says Rafati. “It also has social and academic consequences.” He explains that there used to be many marriages between the people of Rafat and neighboring villages, such as Al Jeeb and Bir Nabala. However, these relationships since have been severed, because the fence has completely cut these areas off from one another. “Parents no longer go to visit their married children who live in other villages,” Rafati explains.

He says there are also grave academic consequences that have recently appeared, and will continue to grow, with the construction of the separation wall. Many students attend high schools and universities outside the village because these facilities are not available in the village. But now the separation wall is standing before them and their destinations. “Students used to spend half an hour traveling to their university,” Rafati says. “Now, the journey needs four hours at least, if the student is able to get there at all.”

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