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PHOTOS: Israel 'punishes' Ni'ilin activist, denies access to olive trees behind the wall

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

Amira climbs next to the Separation Wall in order to see if Israeli soldiers have arrived to open the agricultural gate, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (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.

A Palestinian farmer waits for israeli soldiers to open the agricultural gate in order to harvest her olive trees in the other side of the Separation Wall, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

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.

Amira and his son wait outside the gate, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

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.

Amira and two other farmers from the village wait in the sun for Israeli soldiers to open the agricultural gate, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

After the farmers wait two hours in the sun, the Israeli soldiers open the gate, checking the farmers’ permits to cross the wall to their agriculture lands, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A view of Ni’ilin’s agricultural land on both sides of the Separation Wall, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Haggai Matar’s ‘The Wall’ project
A journey into the dark heart of Israel’s permit regime

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. 

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    1. Danny

      I wonder how much compensation Israel will pay this man (and thousands like him) when truth and reconciliation commission of Palestine forces Israel to do so (granted in the far future). I think many Israelis will be shocked at the amount their state will be made to pay in damages to people like Muhammad Amira.

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    2. One of the captions says Amira is a local science teacher. He’s exactly what Israel should hope for in the opposition, assuming one deigns to allow protest at all: someone engaged in science and nonviolent resistance. Wearing men like him down aids more violent options.

      Abandonment regulations should fail when the State itself forces abandonment without clear cause. He is still appearing before the gate, knowing he will be refused passage, so his intent to cultivate is evident. Denial for “security reasons” here forbids any networked opposition to State policy. All this does is enhance hidden networks, making clandestine action a badge for entry, potentially leading to greater clandestine acts and violence. People will make networks; that is how they survive. Let them do it openly. But doing so means they must have some success, and success is forbidden. Then they are punished for not being successful, as in the 7 year abandonment law. Ultimately, everyone who wants to fight for themselves nonviolently is removed.

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      • Sorry, says he is science teacher in first paragraph of story, not in a caption.

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