Their village's name may mean "Safe home" in Arabic, but the inhabitants
of Beit Amin, about 10 kilometres south of Qalqilya in the West Bank, feel
anything but safe at the moment.
"Last year the Israelis came with maps and told us they were confiscating
land to build a security barrier to stop suicide bombings," says Shakir, a
Beit Amin farmer, as he surveys the devastated orchards around him.
"They said we could appeal against the confiscation - but there's a
saying that goes: 'How can you have justice when the judge is not fair?'"
The Israeli Government began construction of the wall in June 2002 in an attempt to halt the succession of suicide attacks by Palestinian militants inside Israel.
A month ago the bulldozers and diggers arrived, uprooting dozens of
olive and almond trees and cutting a 25-metre gash through the
valley that separates Beit Amin from the Jewish settlement of Shareh Tikva.
"They told us if we tried to reclaim the trees, they would call the
police," Shakir says, adding that an established olive tree can fetch up to
$1,000 on the Israeli black market.
The excavations now separate much of Beit Amin's land from the people who
cultivate it - and there are rumours that the security barrier may be moved
even nearer to the village, with more trees and land lost.
Apparently, Jewish settlers have complained that the ugly construction
has been placed "too close" to their elegant white-washed villas -
properties built illegally on occupied land in the eyes of international
Work is proceeding along a 100km stretch of the
security fence - known to Palestinians simply as "the Wall" - around the north-western portion of the West Bank.
It is a massive project, with an estimated 250 heavy plant vehicles shifting huge quantities of earth along the line which at times snakes deep
into the West Bank to buffer settlements like Shareh Tikva.
Beit Amin residents survey the devastated olive orchards
About four km of barrier have been erected so far, at a cost of
$2m per km, including an eight-metre high concrete section - complete
with massive watchtowers - around Qalqilya.
"Israel has chosen a clever time to press ahead with this project," says
Jamal Juma, who runs the Apartheid Wall Campaign (AWC) from his small office in
"While everyone is thinking about war in Iraq, Israel is working like
crazy, with hundreds of men and machines laying the foundations, and every
few weeks changes being made in the plan in favour of the settlers over the
indigenous Palestinian population."
The project gives a clue to hardline Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's thinking when he talks of giving up settlements in the West Bank
for the sake of peace with the Palestinians.
It is unlikely that would include places on the Israeli side of the security
fence like Shareh Tikva - which happen to be built on some of the best West
Bank land and whose presence blights the lives of Palestinians in the
The Palestinian town of Qalqilya lies at the sharp end of the fence/wall
project - facing a kind of stranglehold, Palestinians say, that will sever
its links with outlying villages and strip it of its heritage as the West
Bank's "fruit basket".
The barrier coils around Qalqilya's 40,000 residents, reaching some seven
kilometres into occupied land to take in the Jewish settlements of Zofin and
Alfe Menashe to the north and south.
Qalqilya itself will only be reached through a single Israeli army
checkpoint. People in the network of villages around it - Beit Amin included
- will have to travel up to 40 km to buy and sell goods in
Qalqilya's markets, if the checkpoint remains open.
The area sits on the Western Aquifer Basin - the second largest fresh water
resource in the region - and nearly 20 wells will be embraced by
Israel's new "security zone" around Qalqilya.
Furthermore, six villages will be stranded between the fence and the
Green Line. One of them - Ras Tireh - is visible from the olive orchards of
The neat, red-roofed settlement of Alfe Menashe is also visible, and
below them both the red-brown line of excavations which could seal Ras
"Over there, they are expecting transfer," says one Beit Amin resident
darkly. He uses the euphemism for the wholesale transfer of the Palestinian population favoured by some members of Ariel Sharon's Israeli cabinet.
While horrifying many Palestinians, the security fence has proved popular
Project manager Netsach Meshach insists his work has nothing to do with
Israel's territorial ambitions, and everything to do with the 750 Israeli
lives - 150 of them Jewish settlers - lost to Palestinian militant attacks
in the past two years.
Ras Tireh - with the security fence being built on its outskirts
"We are just building a security fence and we are doing our best to do it
only for security reasons, to prevent terror going from Palestinian land
into Israel," he told BBC News Online.
He denies allegations that olive trees have been misappropriated, and points
out that Israel is building some 30 agricultural gates in the wall, supposed
to allow Palestinian farmers access to land on the Israeli side of the fence.
Initially, the main Jewish voices raised against the fence came from the
settler movement and the ultra-right wing, who are generally hostile to
anything that might limit Israeli sovereignty in what they hold to be the
biblical land of their ancestors.
But recently the settlers have come round to the idea - after the body
representing them proposed an expanded wall that would place many more
settlements, and another 100,000 Palestinians, between the fence and the
There is also talk of an Eastern Wall that would seal off the Palestinian
areas from the other side, enclosing the West Bank populations in the
discontinuous cantons - a concept Palestinian leaders are thought to have
rejected during the 2000 peace talks at Camp David.
"I am very concerned for the future," says Jamal Juma. "Israel is laying
down a one-sided solution to the conflict with a plan that will make
Palestinians lose any faith they had in negotiation and legitimacy - and
then you can't blame them for using other means to obtain their rights."
Mr Juma says: "If only the Israelis had taken the decision to make the Wall along the
Green Line, and abandoned the settlements built illegally on
"Then we, the Palestinians, would probably have offered to
help them build it."