Like The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, Area C Is Complicated
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's visit a region where Palestinians live under Israel's military control. Palestinians on the West Bank have their own government. It has authority in cities.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Between those cities, Israel's military rules. This zone is called Area C. It contains almost two-thirds of West Bank land, and its future is uncertain.
INSKEEP: Palestinians want to include that land in a future state. Some Israelis, including candidates in next week's election, want Israel to annex it. In Area C's hilltops, deserts and valleys, soldiers and settlers rub elbows with hikers, bikers, farmers, vintners and shepherds. Some met NPR's Emily Harris as we report on the struggle for Mideast land.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Climbing a short, steep hill above a wide, green valley in the West Bank, 16-year-old Majid Banifadel leads the way to his home. It's in bad shape.
MAJID BANIFADEL: (Through interpreter) On the 29 of April, they came here. My young brothers and sisters started screaming and yelling. The Israelis announced to us that they were going to demolish our house.
HARRIS: His house was a collection of low shacks. Now it's mostly rubble - concrete, metal, plastic.
BANIFADEL: (Through interpreter) We got out very quickly. We tried to save some of the furniture. But we couldn't. A lot of the furniture was under the rubble.
HARRIS: What's your understanding of what's happening?
BANIFADEL: (Through interpreter) They come with their bulldozers, and they destroy our life.
HARRIS: What's your sense of why?
BANIFADEL: (Through interpreter) I don't know why.
HARRIS: Since Israel has full control in this part of the West Bank, Israel decides what is built here and what is destroyed. The Israeli military uses a lot of Area C, limiting Palestinian access.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
HARRIS: From across the valley, we hear muffled gunshots. Banifadel figures it's soldiers training, who he passed earlier. He heads toward the gunshots, back to where his herds are grazing illegally, in Israel's view. Here's the big picture. Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, almost 50 years ago. Twenty years ago, a peace deal, the famous Oslo Accords, divided the land into three different categories for who was in control. Each got a letter name - A, B or C. This was all supposed to be temporary. But still today, A is Palestinian cities run by Palestinian officials. B is sort of a buffer zone where Palestinians can build but share security duties with Israeli troops. The rest, 60 percent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control. It winds around Palestinian islands of A and B and spreads into stretches of countryside. This is Area C.
Now we've gotten to the place where Area B ends and Area C starts. And right here, that means the pavement ends, and the gravel road starts.
We drive up to a sturdy, square, two-story family home. Mohammad Abu Habda lives here. The house straddles Areas B and C.
MOHAMMAD ABU HABDA: This Area C. This Area B.
HARRIS: So we're in Area C.
HARRIS: Just on the other - like, half of the...
HABDA: Half a house.
HARRIS: Half of this house is in Area B.
HABDA: Yeah. And we have another half in Area C.
HARRIS: They joke that kids are born on one side of this invisible but powerful line and raised on the other.
HARRIS: The family has received notice that the C side of the house may be destroyed.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION SOUNDS)
HARRIS: But in much of Area C, building is going on. All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are in Area C. We visit one. At the Tura winery in the settlement of Rehelim, Israeli owner Vered Ben Saadon shows us around.
VERED BEN SAADON: This is the barrel room.
HARRIS: Can we go inside?
SAADON: It's a little bit small.
HARRIS: Oh, it smells different in here.
SAADON: Oak and wine, of course.
HARRIS: Ben Saadon says Area C belongs to Israel, citing biblical Jewish ties to the land. This winery, started 10 years ago, now brings in a million dollars a year. And it's expanding.
SAADON: The plan is in 10 years, to build a new winery.
HARRIS: Her home, winery and fields a few miles away are all in Area C.
Can you go into Area A and B?
SAADON: Unfortunately, the answer, of course, is not. They will shoot me immediately, most of them - or some of them, OK? - even one, I can't take the risk.
HARRIS: Israel says it needs Area C for security. It borders Jordan, with potential Arab enemies beyond. Area C is part of the West Bank, where Palestinians who attack Israel have come from. Settlements are fenced, but the open agricultural land is often a source of conflict. Israelis frequently destroy Palestinian crops. Ben Saadon says her fields have been attacked, too.
SAADON: If all the people in the world were drinking wine together, there's no problems.
HARRIS: That's a little tricky when your neighbors, the Muslim neighbors, don't drink wine.
SAADON: That is one of the biggest problems. But this is only a joke.
HARRIS: The separation of Palestinians and Israelis in Area C is stark. But it is also, more than perhaps anywhere else, a space that they share.
At a tourist rest stop within sight of the world famous Dead Sea, Shu Shu the camel says hello.
A pair of Palestinian boys take a ride on Shu Shu around the parking lot.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMEL VOCALIZATION)
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMEL VOCALIZATION)
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I'm going to pass him.
HARRIS: In that same parking lot, a trio of Israeli mountain bikers have just finished riding the Sugar Trail. It's downhill, a 3,000-foot dissent from Jerusalem. They've been in Area C all morning. They still are. But they don't think of it that way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here, it's Israel. On the way here, you kind of - the middle, it's like the...
HARRIS: Area C is an issue in Israel's election next week. A rising right-wing political star, Naftali Bennett, says it's time to simply make Area C officially part of Israel. He doesn't want a Palestinian state. But backers of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict say it's vital to keep Area C Palestinian, as the economic base for a future state and just to have enough land for a country. One final stop shows how complicated Area C is, not just logistically but emotionally.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)
HARRIS: Outside an Israeli permit office, Palestinians wait in line. The door to the land department is closed.
HUSSEIN ABU ASSI: I've been here from 8:30 in the morning.
HARRIS: Hussein Abu Assi is one of half a dozen men waiting. Short, yet standing tall in a black-and-white checkered headscarf, he says he is 93 years old and recently moved back from the U.S.
ASSI: Because I'm old enough - I'd like to die here. I'd like to die in my own land.
HARRIS: He claims he is waiting here to collect rent from Israel for land the military took over in 1967 and still uses. Some Palestinians would not take such money.
ASSI: Some people, they think you sell it when you rent it. But when we rent it, means we take rent - not sell.
HARRIS: He says collecting rent proves that Israel knows this land is his. Emily Harris, NPR News, Area C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.