Capt. Shadi Saleh and his comrade Ali got up early Tuesday December 10, and by 6 A.M. they were next to the agriculture gate in the separation barrier, which cuts off the villages of Mas-ha, Al-Zawiyyeh and Rafat from their land. Saleh and Ali both serve in Israel’s District Coordination and Liaison office, which oversees the area of Qalqilyah, Tul Karm and Salfit.
Saleh is the commander of the liaison contingent at the Eyal checkpoint near Qalqilyah, and the farmers know him by his full name. They only know Ali by his first name. The two were stationed at the gate to confiscate agricultural permits allowing access through this entryway.
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Dozens of landowners from the two villages had already gathered at the gate, waiting for the soldiers to open it as they’re supposed to do three times a day. The separation barrier twists through the heart of the orchards and fields.
The gate, which the army calls Magen Dan 1669, is on land belonging to the village of Al-Zawiyyeh. Like 74 similar gates along the separation barrier, it exists to follow the High Court instruction to the State to reduce as much as possible the barrier’s harm to Palestinian farmers and to their right to reach their land and cultivate it.
Access to the land, sometimes a few kilometers away, is possible only by foot, and sometimes by donkey (if the soldiers don’t demand to see a donkey’s permit, which does not exist). Only recently have Palestinians been allowed to enter with their electric bicycles as well. Magen Dan is among the 28 gates opened either several times a week or every day all year. The other 46 gates are only opened two or three times a year.
That Tuesday, 49-year-old Ali Zuheir of Mas-ha planned to prune his olive trees and to oxygenate the soil, as must be done after the harvest.
“When they opened the gate, two soldiers crossed to the other side, at the start of the path, to make sure we couldn’t return,” he recalled. “Shadi took our ID cards and our agricultural permits, and asked where we were going. We said we were going to the land. He put the permits in his pocket and returned our ID cards.”