In the West Bank, Palestine, on the northern tip of the Jordan Valley lies the tiny Palestinian village of Al- Aqaba. It is a tight knit community, quiet but for the sound of children at play at the kindergarten school and the thud of artillery explosions from the surrounding IDF training bases. It is a village under constant threat of extinction. Over the past 30 years the population has dropped from over 2000 to the current 300. Residents have been intimidated and evicted from their homes by the Israeli regime. Virtually every house has a standing demolition order issued by the Israeli Civil Administration. It is apparent; the Israeli goal is to force all residents of Al-Aqaba off their land. Our revealing documentary “Encircled,” depicts and reinforces this constant tension between the pastoral life that the village strives for and the political/military threat it faces. It will allow the residents of the village full voice to tell their story, within the context of the larger issues facing the area, most specifically Area C, the portions of the West Bank under direct control of the Occupation. Haj Sami Sadeq, the Mayor of the community who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of IDF sniper fire at age 14, is dynamically advocating for human rights and dignity for himself and his community.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: (by Maurice Jacobsen): Welcome to the Palestinian Village of Al Aqaba, it’s in the Northern Jordan Valley. It’s a pastoral community where you’ll find warm and generous people. Most of the people who live here raise sheep and goats and live off the land.
You would think life here would be relatively simple and uncomplicated.
It’s not! And this is our story.
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “The Jordan Valley is the east part of the occupied West Bank. It’s the only border for the Palestinians to communicate with the international community, especially with the Arab countries. The Jordan Valley is considered the food basket for the Palestinian people where you can harvest in the middle of winter.
And this big area, which is about 30% of the West Bank is also considered as a kind of nest for the future of the Palestinian State”
Narration: This village of Al Aqaba is tiny, but at the same time it’s an excellent focal point for understanding the situation today on the West Bank. In 1967 two thousand people lived in this community. Today only scattered families remain.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mahmoud Sbeih, Former Al Aqaba Resident: “I inherited the land in Al Aqaba from my father, and he inherited it from his father and he inherited it from his grandfather, and he from this father before him, all the way back to the time of the Ottoman Empire.
Why don’t we live in Al Aqaba? During the 1980s, there was a military camp between where we are now in Tayasir and Aqaba. The Israelis forebode us to move in and out. The soldiers did not treat us as humans. So we became afraid for our children and women. The used to harass us, we were not allowed to build a house. We couldn’t stay!”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “Well, the way the Israelis treat the Palestinian population inside Area C is as an enemy hostile population effectively…as a population that is not welcomed there and so it is doing everything it can to make life very difficult for them.”
Narration: To understand the political situation today on the West Bank we have to go back to the year 1453, this was the point in history when the Turks conquered the ancient city of Constantinople, now Istanbul and established the Ottoman Empire. For the next four centuries the Palestinian Territory was ruled by the Turks whose main interest was the collection of taxes, as such the region’s history was relatively uneventful. And it is during this period when many of the Al Aqaba residents settled.
Then during the First World War the Turkish government sided with the Germans, a decision not smart, as Germany was defeated and the Ottoman Empire subsequently broken apart.
It was during this period that the British took control over what was called the British Mandate. It was also during this period when European Jews began to immigrate to the region under a political philosophy called Zionism, a desire to establish a Jewish homeland. Tensions grew between these immigrants and the native population and the British turned to the newly created United Nations to help sort out the problem they helped created in the first place.
In 1948 in a vote of the general assembly created the state of Israel and immediately a war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbours. After a series of brutal battles in which tens of thousands of Palestinians fled an armistice was established and Jordan took control of the area know as the West Bank, or West of the Jordan River.
Then again in 1967 a war broke out between Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Israel decidedly won this conflict and in the process occupied the West Bank wresting control from Jordan. This occupation continues today and is the core of the on-going struggle.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: In an effort to find resolution a series of secret talks took place in Oslo, Norway in 1993. The result was a plan to divide the West Bank into three areas; A, B, and C.
Area A, the major cities such as Ramallah and Jenin would fall under Palestinian civil and political control. Area B would be jointly controlled, these areas being mostly areas containing medium sized communities. And Area C would be the rural areas, primarily the Jordan Valley. Under the accords this division of land was to continue for five years during which time a final status agreement would be drawn. This agreement, however, has never come about and the division of land is still very much in place, and the Palestinian population is constantly reminded of that fact.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “Really, for the Palestinians in Area C the way that Israel treats them is as a hostile population, making their lives as difficult as possible. Most of the Palestinian population in Area C are in rural communities; their livelihoods are based on agriculture. And so the two things they need more any anything else are land and water, this is what they need, the essentials of their lives. And so what Israel is doing is taking both those elements away from them. It’s restricting access to their land. Its using various means to do that. It’s confiscating a lot of land declaring it state land, creating military zones and firing zones. A fifth of Area C are firing zones. And the goal, of course, is to remove people from their land and to move them into Area B or ideally into Area A.”
Narration: No one exemplifies this better that Othman Sbeih. Growing up in Al Aqaba he was forced to move to the neighboring town of Tayasir. He now communities back to Al Aqaba each day to supervise production in the community’s organic tea cooperative.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Othman Sbeih, Former resident of Al Aqaba: “I grew up in an old Al Aqaba family house with my mother and nine brothers. My father died. Nine with my mother was ten. We lived in just two rooms and the Israelis did not allow us to add one extra room, not eve a toilet. They told us, “This is it.” This is where you will stay, if you don’t like it move to Tayasir…or Turbas…or Nablus….we don’t have a problem. And these two rooms will stay as they are until they fall. And that’s it….you have nothing here!
We stayed. But when I got married I forced myself to come to Tayasir, as there was not other choice with a family.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “Ultimately what Israel wants, it wants it all. They want the whole of the West Bank, the question is whether they can get away with doing that and it certainly can’t get away with doing that in one fell swoop. So what it’s doing is what the famous Israeli general, Moshe Dayan called creeping annexation, it’s slowly and incrementally taking the land away from the Palestinians and its focusing most of its efforts on the rural land, the agricultural land, the largest part of the West Bank. And so Area C is slowly being ethnically cleansed there are fewer and fewer Palestinians.
We know for example that in 1967 there were a third of a million Palestinians just in the Jordan Valley. Today, the best figures we have suggest that there are only one hundred thousand Palestinians in the whole of Area C so its quite clear, it’s a very graphic illustration just how effective the ethnic cleansing policies have been over the past four or five decades, they have really cleared the area out.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “Think about it. Just let us think about those Palestinian Bedouin families who live in almost 52 communities without any kind of service, it’s denied by the occupation to have even fresh water. They can hear fresh water running in the pipes under their feet, but they can’t drink from it. The electricity wires are crossing over their tents but they can’t use it, it’s just for the Zionist Jewish communities in the Jordan Valley.
People stay in the Jordan Valley because they feel that it’s just the only place they can have their own dignity. And those people are staying without any kind of service, they belong, they are part of the soil, they are part of the climate and they will never leave.”
Narrator asking question: Many people over the years have moved out of Al Aqaba, but you have stayed. Why did you decide to stay when so many others have had to move away?
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:21
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Mahmoud Sbeih, Former Al Aqaba Resident: “This is a good question. This is the land of our grandfathers. He who has land has blood in his veins.
You want me to go somewhere where I look at palaces and tall buildings? This is my land, here is my life. Should I leave my land to go to Paris? What is there in Paris, my life is here. These trees are more valuable to me than all of Paris.”
Narration: While Al Aqaba is completely representative of the political climate existing today on the West Bank there is a cornerstone of the village that makes it quite unique unto itself. That uniqueness is first encountered as you drive up the main road into the village.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council: “In English…’enter with peace and you are welcome in Al Aqaba village….
My name is Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council. I was born in 1955. I was shot in 1971 by the occupation forces when I was sixteen years old. This bullet caused a paralysis of my legs. Since that time I have been in this chair. And all this time I have been working to bring peace to the village in all my efforts.”
Narrator asking question: When you hear the jets, and you see the soldiers in the field and hear the tanks, how do you feel as the mayor of the village?
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council: “When I see the soldiers I feel sad. We are a peaceful nation, we don’t throw any stones at the soldiers but the military government answers by destroying our main road, a road that we call the Peace Road and also by destroying our crops, plants and trees. By doing so they create tension and hatred between us and the Israeli people.”
Narration: Even as the mayor works toward finding an equitable solution, ironically immediately across the road from Al Aqaba’s welcome sign is the home of Ahmad Hamden. His house is under demolition orders and he and his family go to sleep each evening with fears of waking to the sounds of tanks and military bulldozers coming up the road to level his home.
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Ahamd: “This land is owned by Hessen Jabir, my grandfather who was born in 1923. We have the Tabu, the legal paper saying we own the land. My grandfather bought it and we have the papers to prove that. He gave it to my father and now it is my time. We have the papers, the Tabu. Now it is my time to take the land. So where’s the problem?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “I think what the Israelis want, what the leadership of this state which is called Israel, they want our resources for their personal usage. Because I don’t think the Israeli political leadership is trying to achieve real peace in this area. But because this place is an important junction in the world the Israeli leadership they want to show the European and international community that they are the ones who can control this international junction. So they want to keep making crisis, to keep fighting forever so they will continue receiving help and support from the international community, claiming they are the only people who can keep and maintain this place as a secure place in the Middle East.”
TIME CODE: 15:21_20:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “Once the IDF has decided to declare an area as a firing zone, and we’re talking about a fifth of Area C, this is a very large area, bigger that Area A. These large areas then become closed military areas which means then the Army has free range to do what it wants to do. It can move Palestinians out saying it is not safe for them there and it clears the population out. In a way it is doing it as some sort of humanitarian gesture, ‘we don’t want you caught up in our military manoeuvres’ so you have to move out. But of course it is all a pretext to get Palestinians off their land.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council: “I do not know why the Israeli government does not agree to our request to have an equitable peace. We desire to live in peace, but the Israeli military goal is to destroy our village and our call for peace. They forbid us from drilling water wells and cultivating our land. Our land and village have been registered legally in the tabu. But the Israelis are constantly putting pressure on us to leave. The Israelis are constantly harassing our children and families and confiscating our land.
This land, the say, resembles Southern Lebanon so they like it for military training. It is not our problem we look like Southern Lebanon. Our problem is that is is our village, our land.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “In terms of the whole problem about what’s going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the pressure is on the international community is to enforce international law. You know that’s what it’s there for and it has been ignored for decades, or it has been overlooked or it’s been twisted. But the international law is pretty clear on what should happen here. This is Palestinian land, we have many resolutions in the UN confirming this. So the international community needs to act, it needs to enforce international law, that’s what is there for.”
Narrator: “What do you see in the near future?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “It’s not a black and white picture. And I hope that it will not be more black because what is going on in the Jordan Valley is a kind of ethnic cleansing or maybe more, it’s genocide. Because there is an authority, the Israeli authority making all kinds of pressure, all kinds of collective punishment against those who manage to exist in the Jordan Valley from the Palestinian community and replacing them with a new kind of people, the Jewish community and of course this is more than ethnic cleansing.
What’s going on in the Jordan Valley is a kind of stealing of the Palestinian resources, that means stealing the future of a new generation. And it will not be acceptable at all.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:39
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council: “I’m happy to be with you today to commemorate many occasions of our Palestinian people. We’re here to acknowledge the Palestinian men and women who died protecting their land from confiscation by the Israelis in the Northern Galilee and to celebrate Mother’s Day, a universal day.
Every year in this month we celebrate these occasions in order to state our commitment to the land and confirm our right to protect it. Our people of the village are working day and night in order to keep our land safe. Our work in Al Aqaba is toward building roads and planting trees and building organisations that will keep our village strong.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Marwan Toubassi, Governor of Tubas Region, Palestine: “We are celebrating the 37th Land Day. This occasion reminds us that we have the right to our land and that without it we have no country, no Palestine.”
Narrator: “For those people in America who really don’t know about the West Bank and certainly don’t know about the Jordan Valley What is the most important thing they should know about this place?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “We are human beings, I’m a man like you and my children are like children all over the world. It’s a shame to have this kind of racist apartied regime in the holyland.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “You know the future for the people in Area C I think is bleak unless the international community is actually will to do something. Israel’s focus in on Area C, this is the goal, the immediate goal, and so it’s been working for decades to get Palestinians out of Area C and it’s been very successful and every indication is that it will continue to be very successful unless the international community steps in to act.
Palestinians can’t live there if their lives are being made impossible, if they’re surrounded by tanks and firing ranges. It’s impossible for them to get water, to get access to their land, there’s no way they can sustain their lives there. It becomes impossible and unless we are going to do something about it, we have to say Area C is gone.”
SOUNDBITE [Arabic], Haj Sami Sadeq, chairman of the village council: “In 2008 I visited eleven states in America and I found the American people very kind. But they don’t know what their government is doing. That they are supporting the Israeli military without question. People don’t know this. They don’t know what the Israelis bring upon us every day. All that I ask is that the American people put pressure on their government to stop supporting the Israeli military.they should support peace. I ask the American people to respect the Palestinian people and help us save our land.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Fathy Khdirat, Jordan Valley Solidarity Committee: “America is the main support for Israel, so our message to the Americans first of all is ‘don’t pay for our killers, don’t pay your money to a place that you don’t know.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Jonathan Cook, Journalist, Author, Disappearing Palestine: “The most import thing for Americans to know about what’s happening here on the West Bank right now is that what we are seeing is a process of sustained ethnic cleansing, the theft of land, the theft of resources, water and it’s being paid for largely by American taxpayers, they are subsidizing this process of ethnic cleansing, it’s being done in their name. And because of that there is a responsibility, a moral responsibility on Americans to stand up and say no, it has to stop, it has to end now.”