QALQILYA, September 21 (JMCC) - Abed Harb, 29, owns a shawarma restaurant in the center of Qalqilya
Located in a fertile region at the northwest edge of the West Bank, Qalqilya lies on the border with Israel and much of its economy rests on agriculture and trade between Israel and the occupied territory.
Harb said that the eight-meter-high Wall
Israel has constructed around the city hurts business in the area, making it more difficult to make a living.
“Most people who live here depend economically on Israel,” he said. “The security wall kills the city.”
Despite waves of optimism in the West Bank as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
prepares to ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state this Friday, many people in Qalqilya fear that the bid will lead to greater economic hardship.
“After this statehood bid, we will have a bad situation,” said Jihad Dawoud, a 20-year-old who runs a small toy store next to Harb’s restaurant. “The Israelis will say that no one can go to Israel to work.”
Many in Qalqilya rely on jobs as guest laborers in Israel. Since the second uprising of 2000 and the construction of the Wall, it has become more difficult for Palestinians to obtain work permits. Age restrictions keep many young men from being eligible.
Dawoud worried that the statehood bid would mean increase tensions with the occupying Israeli military, leading it to create more checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank, and further limit the numbers of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel.
AGAINST A WALL
According to Mohammed Abu Sheikh, a government official in Qalqilya, the wall is a tool of land confiscation. “The Israelis say the wall is for their security, but in fact it is meant to expand their control of the settlements and prevent us from controlling the land.”
Qalqillya is surrounded by Israeli settlements
, now on the Israeli side of the Wall and connected to Israel by fast highways.
The Wall has severed the city from 40,000 dunums of farmland, Abu Sheikh said, which is equivalent to more than 9,800 acres. Palestinians cannot enter the land behind the Wall without permission from the Israeli military.
Despite public fears, spokesperson for the Qalqilya governorate Mohammed Khader said that the statehood bid is necessary because decades of negotiations had failed to bring peace to the region.
“We have been negotiating with Israel and what have we achieved during this period? Nothing,” he said. He referred to Abbas’ speech last Friday as evidence that the Palestinian government is not against Israel or the negotiations process, just its “bullying.”
Khader hopes Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders and removes the Wall from areas where it cuts into the West Bank. The Wall, he said, should be on Israel’s borders if it exists at all.
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the West Bank barrier was cutting into Palestinian land in violation of international law. Israel insisted the Wall was necessary to ensure its security, however, and continued to build.
Initially, Qalqilya residents protested against the Wall, but enthusiasm for these efforts has waned.
“During the Intifada, we had demonstrations, but nothing worked. They arrested all of them,” Harb said, referring to the protesters.
Issa Hantash, a 24-year-old youth activist in Qalqilya, said that many people in the city are afraid Abbas’ statehood project will cause Israel to block the roads, preventing Israelis from entering the town to buy goods.
Palestinian citizens of Israel often come to Qalqilya on Saturdays in order to purchase food, clothing, and other items for less than what they would pay at home.
With agricultural trade stymied by the Wall, store owners rely on outsiders to keep their businesses afloat. From their perspective, the statehood bid will completely cut Qalqilya off from Israeli consumers and work opportunities in the country.
Israel has also threatened to halt tax transfers that make up 40% of the Palestinian budget, threatening the salaries Palestinian civil servants, or even to annex territory in the West Bank.
“This statehood bid is not good for people,” Dawoud concluded.
Hantash pointed to the town’s empty streets as evidence that Qalqilya needs work opportunities. The town is choked, he said, with no room to expand. “There is no land for building, no land for agriculture.”
Still, the young man said he was dedicated to staying in the city. With another economic downturn, Dawoud expressed fears that residents would be forced to leave.