Barrier construction deprives farming family of livelihood

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Azzun Atme, West Bank, 3 January 2012 - 10 December was International Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. To mark the day, OHCHR (oPT) and UNRWA are putting the spotlight on human rights stories and rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. In this series, we look at how the occupation and its associated regime affects the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, raising questions about the protection of their human rights.

Mufid Abed Halim Yusef Al Sheikh walks through a thick grove of orange and clementine trees, a large wrench in his hand. The wrench, he explains, is so he can open and close the village well to direct water to each of his neighbours’ fields.

However, since Mufid’s water reservoir was demolished, he is unable to water his fields, which are the only source of income for the 16 members of his family. Mufid lives in the lush agricultural village of Azzun Atme, surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

On 23 November, the Israeli army appeared with bulldozers to clear land to construct a planned portion of the West Bank Barrier. His 64-cubic-metre water reservoir tank and the small building where his family used to relax during the hot summer and harvest were demolished.

“They didn’t even let me use the water in the tank before they knocked it over… the water washed out across the ground,” he says. The day the bulldozers appeared, Mufid and several of his family members went into shock upon seeing the destruction and were hospitalized.

According to Mufid, 13 dunams of his own land will be behind the barrier, reachable only through a seasonally-open gate three kilometres away. The olive trees may survive, but his 50 orange, clementine, and lemon trees will die without water and daily care.

In addition, five dunams of his land are being lost to accommodate the Barrier itself. Of the over 100 dunams the family owned in 1948, which Mufid says he still has the deeds to, little over five dunams remain for farming.

“I work here at home, but I am always thinking about the land,” says Mufid’s wife Fahima Abdul Kareem Yousef Al Sheikh. “We would go to our land and eat fruits and enjoy – now, what is to keep them from taking more land in five years?”

Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to own property… No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Article 23 adds that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions for work.” By depriving the Al Sheikh family both of their water supply and the majority of their land, their right to property and livelihood are being grossly violated.