Khaled Islaih – Re-spacing Zayta: Exploring Transnational Geographies

3 November, 2009 — Palestine Think Tank

zayta.jpgZayta is a small Palestinian village in the northern part of the West Bank with 3,300 inhabitants. The village is situated near the Green Line (the armistice line between Israel and the West Bank), ten kilometres northwest of Tulkarem City.

Zayta is my home village and remains the closest place to my heart. Despite the radical shifts in today’s world, the early memories of life in Zayta continue to shape my identity and worldview. Villagers’ metaphors provide clarity to digest complexities and guidance to navigate the ambiguities of today’s complex world. Although I have been living in Canada for the last four years, thousands of miles from Zayta, I still maintain regular presence and engagement with my family, friends and village, thanks to the evolving revolution of information technology. In return, along with this romantic attachment to Zayta, I have been blessed with knowledge and innovative creativity. In this article, I am going to share a transnational vision to build better futures for Zayta and other underprivileged communities in Palestine.

During the last century, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and later the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, uprooted Zayta villagers from their lands and homes. In 1948, the majority of the village’s agricultural land was seized by Israel. The Israeli towns of Maggal, Sde Yizhaq, and parts of Hadera are situated on Zayta’s land (Raml Zayta). Israel completed its military occupation of the populated part of the village in 1967, after destroying around 70 houses. Due to land confiscation and home destruction many families from the village were forced to move eastwards and settled in Jordan, Syria, and the Gulf countries. For example, there is a whole neighbourhood in Irbid, Jordan, called Zaytawi due to the large number of families from Zayta who live there.

Historically, villagers were fully dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. They were harvesting olives, almonds, citrus and rain-fed crops such as wheat, barley, and beans. After the Israeli military occupation, villagers’ hardship continued. Villagers were used as unskilled labour in Israeli factories and on construction sites. As a result, farmers neglected their remaining farmlands and agricultural produce declined sharply. As in any other Palestinian locality, shops in the village were turned into marketing outlets for Israeli produce. Moreover, the Israeli military administration controlled all aspects of economic life in the village, including the release of building permits, driving licenses, travel permits and recruitment approval of public servants. All in all, livelihood in the village was designed to serve Israeli colonial interests.

Unfortunately, the living conditions in Zayta and many other villages in the northern part of the West Bank deteriorated further after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. According to the Oslo Accords, Israel was to remain in control of security in the rural areas of the West Bank, while the Palestinian Authority handled civilian matters.

A few years later, the construction of the apartheid Wall by the Israeli government represented another drastic blow to the Zayta economy. According to the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, the construction of the racist Wall has affected 820 dunums of land in Zayta. Four hundred dunums have been confiscated, levelled, and used in the construction of the Wall. The other 420 dunums are isolated behind the Wall. The construction of the Wall has also been responsible for uprooting 6,000 olive and almond trees and preventing workers from reaching their jobs inside Israel. Access to the Israeli job market has become extremely difficult for Palestinians. As a result, villages in the northern part of the West Bank, including Zayta, have experienced unprecedented poverty rates. Moreover, the unfortunate internal political crisis between Fatah and Hamas has deepened the social and political fragmentation within Palestinian communities. For example, incidents of social disengagement have grown considerably over the last few years and have led to a significant increase in migration flows.

The combination of accelerated hardships of the Palestinian rural communities, including Zayta, and the failure of conventional development models to resolve Palestinian challenges call for an alternative Palestinian development worldview. In fact, resolving the challenges of deprived communities such as Zayta needs innovative development strategies to transform unhealthy patterns of social formation in these communities. According to social scientists, conventional development models that are focused on handling local and territorial patterns fail to address the evolutionary patterns of today’s space-based world.

The explosion of transnational information that flows through information technologies and social media outlets enhances the role of space in everyday lives worldwide. These space-based technologies are already reshaping organisations and economies. More precisely, they are changing the source of wealth creation, the organisation of firms, the nature of work and the boundaries of economic geography. Spatial literacy now serves as an important key for socio-economic development.Economists, who have traditionally viewed the economy in territorial terms only, are now recognising the importance of space in economic transformation, technological innovation and global competitiveness.

In the age of open spaces, geographies are changing. Social technologies offer Palestinian communities and businesses a remarkable opportunity to reinvent themselves. For example, businesses have a great opportunity to rebrand their products and services within today’s multicultural markets. Blogging offers business owners an easy way to brand and build connections with customers around the world. To take another example, this morning I bought a 3-litre bottle of olive oil produced in Nablus and a 2-kilogram can of pickled cucumbers produced in Jenin from an ethnic grocery store in Mississauga (a Canadian city near Toronto). Labels on these products only included Palestinian phone numbers as contact information. They didn’t have electronic mail or website i.e., information. Building a virtual presence is critical for success in today’s business world. MaybePalestinian businesses should develop their virtual content as a strategy to connect with global clients and partners. They should make information about their products and services accessible to everyone.

The shift from territorial to spatial economics offers Palestinian individuals, businesses, and communities remarkable opportunities to initiate innovative economic networks and create new social formation patterns in our communities inside Palestine. According to official statistics, more than five million Palestinians are living in transnational communities around the world. Building connections between the Palestinian diaspora and communities inside Palestine in today’s interconnected world will foster innovation, knowledge transfer, market exploration, and business partnerships. In social terms, building Palestinian transnationalism will enhance community engagement, social change, and political empowerment.

In the final analysis, it is about time to expand our horizons and facilitate new social interactions within our space-based society in order to build a new potential for Zayta and other Palestinian communities.

Khaled Islaih is a community developer with a passion for societal transformation. He works with Muslim Community Services to provide language-training services for newcomers to Canada in Mississauga and Brampton. He can be reached at kislaih@yahoo. com.

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