For being one of the leaders of Nil’in’s popular struggle against the wall, Muhammad Amira has been marked by military authorities and is consistently denied a permit to work his own lands – for unexplained ‘security reasons.’
Text by Haggai Matar
Photos by Keren Manor/Activestills.org
(This article has been updated)
Meet Muhammad Amira from the West Bank village of Ni’ilin. At 43, married with four children, a science teacher at the local school, for six years Israel has banned Amira from visiting the 30 dunams (7.5 acres) of agricultural land his family owns, which are trapped behind the wall Israel built on village lands. Planted with olive trees and serving as grazing territory for the family’s sheep, the lands used to produce an important and regular supplemental income for the Amira family until construction of the fence-turned-wall began in 2007.
Because he is one of the leaders of the local popular unarmed struggle against the wall, military authorities have marked Amira and denied him a permit to work his own land — for unexplained “security reasons.” Muhammad Amira is the last remaining agriculturally inclined member of his wider family, which means that his banishment from his lands by the army actually cut all ties between the family and its land. For six years now the trees have not been cared for nor harvested. The sheep were sold off. The way that Israel tends to exploit Ottoman land laws, which are still in place in the West Bank, after land is not cultivated for three years, it is in danger of being declared state land and/or taken over by setters. Amira can try and reach his lands if he wants to; he can go to the Ni’ilin checkpoint or knock on the “agricultural door” in the wall. But without a permit, wherever he goes, the soldiers will always send him back.
This is seemingly a small, private story, of one man who is about to lose his land but who also has a second, fairly stable source of income. But the story of Muhammad Amira is much more than that. It is a tiny example of political oppression; Amira is being punished for his commitment to popular resistance. It is also the story of the settlements and the effects of The Wall, its corresponding permit regime and the entire occupation’s effect on Palestinians’ day-to-day lives.
Israel’s oppression of the popular struggle in Ni’ilin has so far claimed the lives of five residents, one of them a 10-year-old boy named Ahmad Musa. The border policeman who shot him was later acquitted of manslaughter and convicted on the minor charge of “irresponsible use of a weapon.” Countless residents, as well as Israeli and international activists, have also been wounded in Ni’ilin, among them U.S. citizen Tristan Anderson, who was shot in the head by soldiers in March 2009. The High Court is still out on the question of whether or not to demand that the IDF re-open its investigation into the shooting. In another incident, a handcuffed and blindfolded detainee was shot in the leg – a story that made headlines because it was captured on video. The village has also been subject to repeated curfews and night raids by the army. Many of the local youth and activists have been put on trial either for throwing stones or simply for organizing demonstrations.
And still, Ni’ilin chooses popular struggle, trying to communicate to the world what the occupation does. In May 2012, Muhammad Amira and his brother Sa’ed heard that Madonna was coming to perform a concert in Israel and decided to make a short video reminding the internationally renowned singer why they could not attend her concert. Madonna still performed, and Muhammad Amira still cannot reach his lands.
A previous version of this article stated that under Israeli military law Palestinian land can be confiscated if it is not cultivated for seven years. The article has been updated to reflect that the law is in fact Ottoman law, that land can be considered abandoned after three years of no cultivation, and that this method has been exploited in the past by settlers and the army to take Palestinian land.