GIVON HA’HADASHA, West Bank (Reuters) - A deep trench gouged along the planned route of an Israeli barrier cuts Sabri al-Ghorayeb’s house off from the Palestinian village where his relatives live. His other neighbors are Jewish settlers.
For now, he can cross the trench over a narrow plank bridge. But his modest bungalow is also fenced off on three sides from the neat, red-tiled Israeli homes and well-paved roads of the settlement of Givon Ha’hadasha that almost surrounds it.
Even more formidable than the physical fences and barriers are the mental walls that divide the Palestinian farmer from the settlers sharing the same small hilltop near Jerusalem.
Inevitably, both claim the land as their own. Each side distrusts the other. Neither believes peace is possible.
“The problem with the settlers is one with a beginning but no end,” said Ghorayeb, 67, who has tended olive trees and farmed all his life, never learning to read or write.
“It’s all hatred between us. They don’t like us and we don’t like them.” He pointed to the metal netting over windows that he said had been repeatedly broken by stones thrown by settlers.
The elderly patriarch lives in the house with his wife, visited daily by their adult son and grandchildren whose home lies on the other side of the trench — part of a barrier Israel says is a vital defense against suicide bombers.
“Israel took my land,” Ghorayeb growled over small glasses of tea in his front room, recounting a continuing legal battle he is waging to prove his ownership. “Now they want me to sell my house, but I will stay here and die here.”
He built his house with a permit from the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank. He also holds deeds that his lawyer says show he owns the land on which Givon Ha’hadasha was built.
That version gets short shrift from Arik Leshem, an Israeli who lives a couple of streets away in Givon Ha’hadasha.
“This place, unlike most settlements, is on land that was purchased by Jews,” he said, referring to what he said were 19th-century transactions under the Ottoman Empire. “That person (Ghorayeb) built his house on Jewish land. He knew.”
Givon Ha’hadasha and the adjacent Palestinian village of Beit Ijza lie in the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians claim for a future state along with the Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem.
Whoever owns the land, Israeli settlements built in occupied territory are illegal, the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled. It also says the Israeli barrier is illegal.
At home after work, Leshem wearily contests all that.
He said the Green Line that separated the Jordanian-held West Bank from Israel before 1967 was not a recognized border, but merely marked the armistice line after the 1948 war.
“There was never a Palestinian people that we conquered. Now they talk of establishing a Palestinian state. Okay, but I’m not obligated to any line because there was no line to begin with.
“I’m saying there is no Green Line. I’m living in Israel,” he said in his sitting room, between interruptions from his three young children on their way upstairs to bed.
The Green Line and disputes over international law are not what count for Ghorayeb, who speaks constantly of religion.
“This land belongs to Allah. That’s why I won’t sell and nor will my son,” he said, gesturing with stubby fingers. “The Jews occupied all of Palestine, are they going to leave this bit?”
Leshem, 38, works as a security officer for a medical company in Tel Aviv, a 40-minute commute from Givon Ha’hadasha.
He said the settlement’s 350 families were not religiously motivated or ultra right-wing. They had simply chosen a “nice neighborhood” with affordable housing near Jerusalem.
Yet Givon Ha’hadasha had come under attack several times from stone-throwers and gunmen, said the tall former soldier.
Before the first Palestinian uprising erupted in 1987, locals had jobs in the settlement as construction workers or gardeners, but now Israeli Arabs had replaced them, Leshem said.
“The kindergarten is here. I can’t have a Palestinian gardener working where my children are, unprotected,” he added.
He acknowledged that the need to guard settlements around Jerusalem had led to barriers taking bewilderingly tortuous routes, which still left many Jewish settlers beyond them.
He is skeptical that peace can come to the West Bank and says his children are likely to grow up behind high concrete walls, go into the army and perhaps fight another war.
Leshem does not trust any deal with Palestinians or Arab countries, saying even Israel’s existing peace treaties could be swept away if Muslim radicals took power in Egypt or Jordan.
“Basically it’s a fight between Islam and the rest of the world,” he said, arguing that Muslims lived by the sword.
Many Muslims would reject that, but perhaps not Ghorayeb.
“Israel won’t stay long, it will go. Allah will eliminate it. All those rockets, all those planes, all those vehicles, Allah will stop them, it’s not difficult for Him,” he declared.