Salah Khawaja

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Rory McCarthy reports (8 July 2008):[1]

"Our land will be divided into small cantons," Salah Khawaja said before the latest Israeli military operations. Khawaja, 40, is one of the organisers of the village protests and works as an administrator in a medical organisation.

"People in this area were totally dependent on agriculture but now they are imposing a transfer and migration policy on us in a very harsh way. Everyone can see the quantity and quality of land they are going to confiscate," he said.

In 1948, at the time of the creation of the state of Israel, the village had around 57,000 dunams of land, he said. It now has around 10,000 and will have even fewer when the latest part of the barrier is finished.

Khawaja has already spent a quarter of his life in an Israeli jail. He was picked up in the mid-1980s just before the first Palestinian intifada when he was a student activist at the leading university on the West Bank, Birzeit, where he led protests against the Israeli occupation. Now 20 years have gone by – including the terrible violence of the second intifada, with its suicide bombings and tough Israeli military raids – and Khawaja is once again leading protests. This time he belongs to a group called al-Mubadara, the Palestinian National Initiative, led by Mustafa Barghouti, a doctor and politician who argues in favour of non-violent protest.

"The first message is to say to Palestinians that any inch of our land that we can preserve is quite an achievement," said Khawaja. "We demonstrate to strengthen our connection with the land, a connection that we feel slipped away since the intifada because we were living under the illusion that the agreements with the Israelis would solve all our problems."

So at midday on a recent Friday, instead of going to the mosque, Khawaja and hundreds of his neighbours walked out onto their farmland to pray under the shade of their olive trees. A few hundred yards away Israeli troops fired the occasional round into the air to deter protesters from getting too close.
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