Al-Tuwani is a small village in the southern end of the West Bank (I visited once, for a different project than the one I was working on, got the chance to chat with some people). Several people I spoke to there were adamant that the residents didn’t work in the settlements. The explanation was that they had “national spirit.” Also, the conditions of village—daily struggles with the military, pretty constant attacks and confrontation—meant that the violence of colonization was always present. You can’t work for someone who attacked you yesterday, one of the men told me, you can’t give a blessing to theft. I was curious to learn more, to try to understand why this didn’t necessarily hold for other places, but I never did.
Al-Tuwani’s land struggle was mediated less through ownership and more through zoning. This happens in a lot of places, usually in Area C, where the Israeli Civil Administration does not update zoning designations, but instead keeps the plans created under the British Mandate or the Jordanians. Basically, since all these plans are decades old, they are totally inadequate to natural population expansion. When people build outside of the out-dated zones of the master plan, they are technically “building without a permit” and thus risk that their homes, greenhouses, and the like will be demolished. In 2009, people began an organized battle for a new master plan, and 5 years later, in 2014, they got it. It was a very publicized fight, with local mobilization and international pressure. They even got Tony Blair (remember when that guy was fashioning himself as a diplomat of peace?) to visit.
With the new plan, however, there is a bind. People had the sense that with the old plan, buildings would get destroyed, but not all the time, that there was some flexibility or ambiguity. Now with the expanded plan, there is more security inside, but everything that falls outside of it is demolished for sure. Yael Berda talks about the danger of fixed rules in her book, and this seems like an example of clarity leading to future closure. Maybe.
There’s another village in the north named ‘Azzun. Its one of the villages that is surrounded on almost all side by Israel’s wall. The wall goes up and down the West Bank, and those that get caught near it, or worse, are surrounded by it, lose their land, can’t access their crops, and, if they’re trying to build, have a hell of a time getting a building permit. But, it seems, that perhaps in certain areas one is more likely to get a work permit as well to go through gates, or at least more likely than someone who doesn't live there in the first place.
Someone told me this story 5 years ago: After the Wall was built, people would try to get their residency changed to the village. You could do this by borrowing electricity payment and rent payment stubs to the village. This in turn would allow them to pass through the gate and easily access Israel for work. A few years ago the Israelis caught on to this and changed the procedures, making it more difficult to get through and requiring more documents. People still like to try to marry women from ‘Azzun though, I was told, as this allows one an increased chance of getting a permit, and perhaps getting through the gate. While these places are tough (if not impossible) to live in physically, it seems that living there on paper has some benefits.
One young man who was from around the area worked some pretty difficult jobs in Israel. Its an old note, from 2013:
He has worked there for three months, previously worked as a laborer in Ramallah, where he learned the trade (not exactly sure what it is, but it is related to repairs, windows, and metal work). Not happy with it there, seems mostly because the pay is bad. He works in Jerusalem for 150 shekels a day for a company. He sneaks in through Qalandiya, in a big car, but private, pays 200 shekels for the ride, someone arranges things with the soldiers, pays them off. It doesn’t always work, he says, but often enough. He works all around Israel, but sleeps in Jerusalem. His coworkers are also Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most dangerous spot to work, because of the high police presence. He said you can’t work in hotels or restaurants without a permit, because of the high possibility of getting your ID checked. He worries about the checks: when one is Arab, young, walking along Yaffa St. or somewhere else it is quite possible you’ll get stopped and checked. He stays for big chunks of time inside, working in different cities and then having a vacation a few days back in the West Bank. He has been doing this three months, and said that Jerusalemites don’t really like to do the heavy work that the guys from the West Bank come in to do; they see it as below them, prefer lighter work. Not all, but most. But they treat each other well. Its easy to get taken advantage of, but he seemed to have found a good boss through people he knows, someone who is not going to cheat him.
When we talked this morning, he was heading back down to Jerusalem. It’s ours, he said, and nothing can stop us from entering. He also talked about how things used to be, how when he was little they used to be able to go to the beach, and in general come and go as they pleased. He has been arrested twice, related to his involvement in the al-Nabi Saleh demonstrations. Not held long, just for an interrogation. But enough to mean that he can’t get a permit, and is barred from working in the settlements (not that he wanted to, but it was mentioned that lots of people work in the settlements). He said he used to go a lot, was friends with Bassem (in Bi’lin), was there when he was killed. But after all of this, he said, he wondered what the point was. There were two things. The first is that Israel is huge (his words), and its not going anywhere. The second thing is that there is no support from the PA. So what are they supposed to do? I just want peace, he said, and I’ll take anything. He said that before he started to work in Israel, he imagined it was something “small,” and was truly shocked about how developed, entrenched it is. And if the PA is unable to provide jobs to keep people out of the settlements, what is it good for?