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West Bank: generating income for those affected by the Barrier

12-06-2006 Feature

Many families have seen their livelihoods greatly reduced as a result of Israel's erection of the West Bank Barrier, with access to jobs and farmland severely restricted. To soften the blow, the ICRC assists people with projects to increase their income generating potential.

  ©ICRC/A. Meier/il-e-00337    
Tulkarem in the West Bank. An ICRC agronomist talks with a beneficiary of the organization's "cash for work" project that supports the production of honey. 

  ©ICRC/A. Meier/il-e-00338    
Tulkarem in the West Bank. ICRC employees talk with the beneficiaries of an ICRC "cash for work" project.    

Shawqieh Al-Iraqi hops this way and that as the bees loop around the hives in a wild buzz. Mohammed Ghanem, an ICRC agronomist, dressed up in an astronaut-like suit, holds up a honeycomb to the sunshine, rejoicing at the abundance of the upcoming harvest.

Seventy-three year-old Abu Hatem, Shawqieh's husband, watches from a distance but says he plans to try on the bee suit very soon.

" I'm not afraid of bees, " he asserts.

His lean frame stands out against the pink of the bougainvillea that spills over the walls surrounding the well-kept garden as he recalls the plentiful days of pre-Intifada times.

Indeed, back then, Abu Hatem's land used to flow with milk and honey. Some eighteen years ago, after his four children had grown up, he and Shawqieh moved to this house near Jubara village. It was a quiet, rural area on the outskirts of Tulkarem city.

Today, the once pastoral view is marred by the West Bank Barrier that stands about thirty metres from their house. Behind it, a large checkpoint controls people and cars going in and out of the West Bank, and the road between Tulkarem and Jubara. The entire village is thus cut off behind the Barrier. Day after day, its inhabitants have to cross through the gate and the checkpoint to reach their workplaces, schools or shops.

When he first came to the area, Abu Hatem started a small tile and ceramic workshop which quickly prospered. After a few years, he was supplying most of the West Bank, earning an average of 10,000 shekels a month (US $1=4.5 shekels). When the second Intifada broke out in the year 2000, markets plummeted and his clients stopped paying their bills. As the conflict dragged on, his earnings kept dropping gradually until they hit rock bottom. In early 2004, when the Barrier was completed and the village fully cut off, Abu Hatem's revenues were down to 600 shekels a month.

Abu Hatem then closed the workshop and started selling coffee to workers passing by his house. He managed to earn a mere 600 shekels a month until early May 2006, when the Israeli Defence Force closed the gate of Faru'n village, which dramatically reduced the flow of traffic in front of his house. Nowadays, he can barely make ends meet with about 250 shekels a month.

The ICRC Livelihood Support Project should help increase the couple's earnings by about 300 shekels monthly. After the first harvest, each beehive can be divided in two thus doubling production of honey.

" Arab Israelis who pass by the Barrier already ordered several pots and they buy at a good price, " declares a confident Abu Hatem. 

Meanwhile, the ICRC's Mohammed Ghanem will help them bring this new project to fruition. Since the delivery of the hives in April 2006, he visits the Al-Iraqis every 10 days to train Shawqieh and monitor their progress. He will be visiting the couple for another six months.

" And then, whenever they need me…I'll be around to help, " he states.

Shawqieh, who grew up around hives owned by her family, has no doubt that the honey will help them overcome these bitter times.

" I'm so excited when I see the honey…Did you taste it? It's simply delicious, " she says with a smile.