Isolated by the wall: The case of Nu’man village

The village of Nu’man lies at the southeast edge of the Jerusalem Municipality, a few hundred meters north of Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town near Bethlehem. Northwest of Nu’man, in East Jerusalem, lie the villages of Umm Tuba and Sur Baher and the Har Homa settlement. Nu’man’s 170 residents live in almost total isolation from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In June 1967, Israel annexed the village and incorporated it into Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. However, the residents were registered as residents of the West Bank. For many years, this situation did not really affect the villagers’ lives. Things changed with the general closure that the army imposed on the occupied territories in 1993. Suddenly residents of Nu’man were considered illegally present in Jerusalem, even when they are in their own homes. Residents were legally no longer able to access other parts of Jerusalem — indeed even to be in their own home — without a permit from the Civil Administration. In addition, the Jerusalem Municipality did not provide municipal services to the village, even though it was situated within the city’s borders. As a result, the residents depended on service providers in the West Bank.

The restrictions on movement grew worse with the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000. In January 2003, the army blocked the road leading to the southern edge of Umm Tuba, the only road leading to the rest of Jerusalem, and it has remained blocked ever since.

In 2003, Israel began, and later completed, construction of the separation barrier east and south of the village. The barrier separates the village from neighboring villages in the West Bank (Beit Sahour and al-Khas) and from the road leading to Bethlehem. Meanwhile, Israel built a road from Har Homa to the settlements Nokdim and Tekoa’, which lie south of Bethlehem (“the Lieberman Road,” named after the Knesset member who lives in Nokdim). To build the road, Israel expropriated land belonging to residents of Nu’man that they had cultivated for years.

In early 2006, the army installed a gate at the southeast entrance to the village and established a permanent checkpoint, staffed around the clock by Border Police. According to the state, the checkpoint is intended as a major terminal for the passage of goods between Israel and the West Bank. In the meantime, this is the villagers’ only access to the West Bank. Only the villagers themselves are allowed to pass through the checkpoint, and a limited number of service providers, whose names appear on a list at the checkpoint. Most of the traffic must be on foot; only some five vehicles, bearing Israel license plates and belonging to residents of the village who have Israeli identity cards and whose names are on a list at the checkpoint, are allowed to cross. Entry of Israelis coming to visit in the village is left to the discretion of the police officers stationed at the checkpoint.

Over the years, the villagers developed extensive social and economic ties with residents of Jerusalem and villages on the outskirts of the city, and of Bethlehem and its nearby villages. The restrictions on movement have gravely affected these ties and the residents’ ability to lead a normal life. For example, the restrictions have paralyzed economic life in the village, which was dependent on farming and livestock. The prohibition on bringing in goats and chickens, as well as farm equipment, and the arbitrary restrictions on bringing in fodder (such as the demand to empty the sacks to inspect the contents), have gravely harmed this economic sector.

Restrictions apply also to the entry of basic products, such as meat and flour. The police at the checkpoint often require the residents to pour 50-kilogram sacks of flour into small sacks to enable them to inspect the contents. Inspections of this kind create long delays at the checkpoint and appreciable loss of flour. The police also limit the amount of meat that a resident can bring in, although the prohibition is not specified in any order or official prohibition. Furthermore, the small number of vehicles permitted to cross the checkpoint forces the residents to carry their purchases from the checkpoint to their homes by foot. This, of course, creates great difficulties when the goods are heavy, such as sacks of flour and fodder and canisters of cooking gas.

The restrictions on movement also affect the residents’ ability to obtain basic health services, which are not available in the village. Before the barrier was built, a mobile medical clinic under the auspices of UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] came weekly to the village. The Border Police officers have refused to allow the mobile clinic to cross the checkpoint. As a result, the residents have to go to the checkpoint, about one and a half kilometers from their home, get into a taxi and go to a clinic in Beit Sahour or to a hospital in Bethlehem.

Nu’man also does not have a school. Some of the village’s students — at least one of whose parents has an Israeli identity card — study in Umm Tuba. They walk to school, a distance of about two kilometers away, over hilly, harsh terrain. Others go to school in al-Khas or al-‘Ubeidiyah, Palestinian villages, by foot or by a vehicle waiting from them by the checkpoint. Often the students are stopped and searched on their way from school. Despite the dependency of the villagers on services from the West Bank, only some ten service providers are on the list of persons allowed to cross the checkpoint, and they are often subjected to long delays in crossing. Sometimes, they are not allowed to cross. These service providers include electricity and water technicians, the driver of the sewage-disposal vehicle, the water-meter reader, two taxi drivers to transport the villagers, one tractor driver, and one owner of a commercial vehicle. When these persons are delayed, or not permitted to cross, the residents have to rearrange their visit, delaying or preventing the service.

Finally, the restrictions prevent the residents from maintaining family and social ties with relatives and friends outside the village. Restrictions on entry apply as well to first-degree relatives who once lived in the village, and on holidays, family celebrations and even at times of bereavement. In 2004, residents of Nu’man petitioned the Israeli high court to dismantle the section of the separation barrier near the village or, in the alternative, recognize the residents as legal residents of Jerusalem (including granting an Israeli identity card). The villagers and the state reached an agreement: the separation barrier will remain as is and a committee will be established to arrange a status in Israel for the villagers. The barrier remained but the residents were not given a residency status.

The Jerusalem municipality does not provide services to the village, does not approve building plans in the village and does not collect municipal taxes. However, in 2006 the municipality destroyed two houses in the village, which were home to thirteen persons. Recently, the municipality issued demolition orders and fines for building in the village without municipal approval. Meanwhile, the municipality is actively engaged in expanding the nearby Har Homa settlement, whose planned expansion includes construction on land owned by residents of Nu’man.

Following Israel’s non-compliance with the agreement resulting from the High Court petition, as well as the establishment of the checkpoint, and other difficulties, the villagers petitioned the high court again, in 2007. They repeated their demand to dismantle the relevant section of the separation barrier or to recognize them as Israeli residents. They also demanded that they be allowed freedom of movement to and from the village and that the Jerusalem Municipality provide municipal services to the village. The petition is still pending.

The failure to recognize the villagers as residents of Jerusalem, while restricting their movement to and from the West Bank, isolates them and severely infringes their human rights. The nature of the restrictions raises concern that the state seeks to force the residents to leave the village and move to villages on the “Palestinian” side of the barrier.

B’Tselem calls on the government of Israel to dismantle the section of the separation barrier separating Nu’man from the rest of the West Bank, or alter its route to enable the villagers to maintain their connection to the surrounding area. If the government chooses not to do this, it must grant the residents permanent residency status in Jerusalem, which would enable them to move about freely in the city. B’Tselem also calls on the Jerusalem Municipality to supply the village with all municipal services that are provided in other parts of the city.

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