Sunday July 11, 2010 1:08 PM (EST+7)
WALAJA, June 10 (JMCC) - Marooned in a no-man’s land are more than 10,000 Palestinians. Their latest boundary is the Wall that snakes through the West Bank. Like a boa constrictor, its cement walls, fencing and patrol roads encircle these villages, limiting everything from employment opportunities to marriage proposals. Welcome to the seam zone.
The Palestinian town of Barta’a straddles both sides of the Green Line, the armistice line of the 1948 war. West of the armistice line is inside Israel (off-limits to most eastern Bartaa residents), while to the east is the Jenin governorate, barred by the Wall. A sole checkpoint, run by an Israeli private security company, allows access to the rest of the occupied West Bank. To leave requires an eastern Bartaa residency permit, and to enter as a non-resident, a visitor permit.
“The main problem is the checkpoint,” says mayor Ghassan Qabaha, speaking by phone as he waits for his car to be searched before he can enter the village.
“It is open from 5am until 9:30 pm, but after this we are in a prison.”
The humanitarian impact is profound. “Two weeks ago we had a big fire in the village,” he recalls. “We have no fire service here, and when the fire trucks came from Jenin they had to wait for 35 minutes at the checkpoint.”
The blaze destroyed a furniture business worth one and a half million shekels. A previous fire destroyed over 5,000 olive trees. The mayor believes that both fires could have been controlled had the trucks been able to enter freely.
Eastern Bartaa (or Bartaa Sharqiya), home to about 4,200 people, is one of 15 Palestinian communities in the northern West Bank that are enclaves behind the Wall. The area between the Wall and the Green Line was declared closed by military order in October 2003. As a result, these approximately 10,000 inhabitants were required to attain residency permits to continue to live in their homes.
On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice at the Hague, issued an advisory opinion on Israel’s construction of the wall, underway since 2002. The court’s ruling declared the route of the barrier “contrary to international law” and called on Israel to cease construction of the barrier and recompense those done harm.
Six years on, construction continues. Israel’s projected route for the separation barrier cuts significantly into West Bank territory. A July 2009 report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs predicts that upon completion, 85 percent of the Wall’s 707 kilometers will be built on West Bank land.
As a result, a total of 33,000 Palestinians will be caught in the area between the Wall and the Green Line. This “seam zone” will comprise nearly ten percent of the West Bank.
The lives of those already caught in the seam zone provide a warning for the future. Here, stunted opportunity marks every aspect of life.
In eastern Bartaa, the most basic institution -- marriage -- is now governed by the Israeli permit system. If a man from outside the village wishes to visit his betrothed, he must first obtain a visitor permit. The process is long, and with stringent restrictions.
“If he wants to marry a Bartaa girl, but has a ‘security problem’ he cannot come and see the bride,” says mayor Qabaha.
Security problems can include the applicant’s past detention by Israeli authorities, or the detention of a member of the family. Approximately one-fifth of Palestinians have at one time or another been imprisoned. As such, the refusal of permits is commonplace.
Equally, the bride’s family might refuse to let her move from eastern Bartaa, unhappy to send their girl to a location where they may have to apply for a permit to visit her. “I can think of 1,000 such marriage problems,” asserts Qabaha.
In emergencies, the Wall can be impassable. “If we have to get a pregnant women to hospital [when the checkpoint] is closed, we have to call the Palestinian and Israeli authorities for emergency permission. I know of five or six cases where the papers were rejected at the checkpoint,” says Qabaha.
LOSS AFTER LOSS
As the enclaves increase in number, the long fingers of the Wall that clutch into the West Bank are cutting off land owners from their property. The World Bank estimates that 170,000 dunams of fertile land are affected by the path of the Wall.
In the seam zone village of Walaja, five kilometers from Bethlehem, Ahmed Barghouti, in his sixties, makes a sweeping gesture across the landscape. Ahead of him lies Jerusalem, where he has never been. Walaja’s lands once stretched as far as the eye can see.
To his right is Gilo settlement, neighboring a sister that he is not allowed to visit.
At the bottom of the valley, an Israeli train chugs along the armistice line.
Everything on this side of the train tracks is his: the olive trees, the terraced farmland. But close to his house runs an ugly scar, a flattened stony line of turned earth created by Israeli bulldozers. Here will run the Wall that will separate his house from his land, and turn Walaja into another enclave.
“I used to have 152 dunams in Gilo,” he says. “Now, after the barrier is built, for my whole family [of seven children] I will have three dunams.”