Friday, September 15, 2006

No journalists, no news - prisoners in their own village

Jamal Darawi from Nu’man: “We Are the Refugees of the 21st Century ”
Community Voice, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, August 7th, 2006

Jamal Darawi, 40, from Nu’man village, is part of the popular committee to defend the land in the Bethlehem district. He tells how the Occupation is forcing the villagers to leave Nu’man. The Zionist drive to expel the people from their lands and homes has a concrete target — 21 villages all along the path of the Wall. The land which was used to provide the villagers with the means of independence now is used to provide the means of their imprisonment.

“Nu’man is one of the villages to the southeast of Jerusalem and east of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour occupied in 1967,” explains Darawi. “We all have West Bank IDs. The village and its lands are part of the Bethlehem district and it has never been considered part of Jerusalem proper. The village lands comprise 5,000 dunum with around 300 inhabitants. We are just at the foot of the Abu Ghneim mountain, a small forest that has been destroyed to build the colony of Har Homa. Zionist greed and expansion now want to annex the entire village and its land for the settlement. This move forms part of the Israeli plan to stranglehold Jerusalem through a settlement belt around the city. Seventy percent of the village land belongs to Palestinian owners in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. These lands were to be the area on which Beit Sahour could develop and its people build and cultivate. Now, there is no way Palestinians can build and live on this land because the land that was to be used as cultivation has now been confiscated to create a prison for them. They took most of this land to build a Wall around Nu’man village.”

“Until 1992 we were still able to have a dignified life. We were able to build our houses, no one imposed choking restrictions on us, we continued our life between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The village is a part of the Ta’amre area which extends from Sur Baher and Um Toba in the North and to Hebron in the South. Our families live for the most part within this area. Most of my relatives, for example, live in Ash-Shawawre, Za’tara and Dar Salah, east of Bethlehem, while my immediate family has lived for 150 years in Nu’man. In Nu’man, people have developed caves as homes as the rocks keep a very constant temperature in summer and winter. You can still see the cave my family has lived in. These structures are unique and form part of our history and heritage. Seventy years ago my family moved to build our family house.

“Our land is registered in the Bethlehem district. It has never been registered with the Jerusalem municipality, so we were shocked in 1992, when the so-called Jerusalem municipality and the Occupation responsible over the local administrative affairs came to distribute papers informing the people in the village that they were living on land within the Jerusalem municipality's borders. The documents stated that they were illegally living there. Olmert was the mayor of Occupied Jerusalem at that time. Suddenly, we, the owners of the land and everything on it, had become strangers in our land.

We didn’t respect any of these Israeli rules. We didn’t accept these ridiculous claims. Yet, they started immediately to prohibit us from building houses in the village. They claim that the area is within the Jerusalem border and earmarked as a green area and no building plans have been approved. They started giving demolition orders to the house owners.
In 1994 we were shocked again when they expelled all the village students from their schools. The students have always gone to school in Sur Baher in the Jerusalem district stretching from way back to the Jordanian period and even before the Jordanian period. I went to school there and I am now 40 years old. We all studied in Sur Baher or Um Toba because it is the closest school to us. It was the Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem municipality of the Occupation that prevented our children from going to school. They claimed that these schools are in Jerusalem and that we don’t carry Jerusalem IDs. At the same time we were not allowed to build schools or anything else, as we had been declared illegal residents in our own village. So all of our students had to take up the much longer way to schools in Beit Sahour, Dar Salah and el Abediye. At the beginning we organized a bus to pick up the children but, in 1998, they stopped even the bus. It wasn’t allowed to come to the village anymore as our village had become an “Israeli area” and no cars with green Palestinian number plates were allowed to come to us. The Occupation forces closed the entrance of the village stationing military jeeps at flying checkpoints. They dug up the road and put rocks on it so cars could not cross. We were enduring this racism and harassment day after day and our students had to walk around six km to go to school and back. We went to Palestinian and international human rights institutions, but none of them were able to do anything.”

“After the start of the al Aqsa Intifada, the attack on us got worse as the Occupation began to build the Wall. The Wall is the worst thing that has ever been done to us. It is erected on our village land. In addition to the wall they have started destruction for a settlement road which connects the settlements on Bethlehem land with those built in Jerusalem. This road confiscated land from el Khass and Nu’man. Our two villages are twin villages with one village council and complete interdependency. This wall has separated us. They also built what they call “Mazmouriya Terminal”. Mazmouriya was the Roman name for our village and now they steal it for a check point to oppress us. For this checkpoint they have already taken and destroyed 350 dunum from Nu’man land and now they are going to build a military camp next to it, under the pretext that this will serve to protect the Wall and the checkpoint. The camp will be located between Nu’man and Beit Sahour and will confiscate another 150 dunums. The military orders are already distributed and I guess the works will start soon.

In addition to all of that, there is something called Har Homa “D”, which is the third phase of expansion of the settlements on Abu Ghneim hill. They will build 5,000 housing units on the lands of owners from Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. In the end, the village will be surrounded from three sides. From the West, between Har Homa and the village by the military camp; from the south by the “Mazmouriya terminal” and in the north by the settlement road.”

“Now that they have finished the Apartheid Wall, the system they build is clear. They are building the Mazmouriya checkpoint for commercial use and products only and are keeping a gate, further away for the people from Nu’man. Occupation forces are stationed at the gate. Every day we face complicated procedures of oppression. Life gets to be a hell like this. Nevertheless, we are living and we are struggling.

Just to mention a few things. For two months now - and all the human rights organizations, the Red Cross and OCHA know about it – the forces don’t allow the rubbish car to enter the village. The rubbish is piling up in the village and people have turned to burning it as we have done 40 years ago. The gas trucks are not allowed to enter and at the same time we are not allowed to carry gas bottles in our cars. They claim it is dangerous and prohibited but we don’t have anything to cook and heat with. If we want to bring gas bottles to the village, we have to try several times. If they don’t allow us to get it in today, then we try tomorrow. The rule is completely random. The lorries that sell the vegetables can’t enter the village. Even our close relatives living outside the village are not allowed to visit us anymore. For example, I have nine sisters living in el Khass, Deir Salah, in Deheiseh, Beit Jala and Hebron. None of them is able to come to visit us as their residency is not officially registered as “Nu’man”. My mother is about 80 years old and she is sick. For two months I didn’t see her. No one is allowed to enter the village. Even people with Jerusalem IDs tried to enter but they are blocked at the gate as well.”

Living in a Prison

“When you enter the village the soldiers check everything possible in the cars. Our life has become a life entirely subjected to their “security” claims. They move the chairs in the cars, the spare parts, they check our bodies. Their aim is to frustrate any resistance within us to force us to accept this life.

Even if you pass 10 times through this gate you will still undergo these checks.
Nothing of all this has to do with security. They want to create frustration in the people to encourage a slow and steady exodus.”

“Imagine your refrigerator breaks. It is heavy. Usually the one who repairs it, comes to take it. But they won’t allow him to enter. We need to bring it out of the village to be repaired. The veterinarian is not allowed to enter either. There are around 200 sheep and goats belonging to the people in the village. They didn’t allow the doctor to come to give them an important vaccination against diseases that can be transmitted to human beings. They have asked us to bring the sheep and the goat to Bethlehem. The wheat sacks – even if signed by the company – are not allowed in. In case somebody wants to buy one for his family to make bread, they will ask him to go back to Beit Sahour and to put the wheat in small bags and bring it like this. Even if it is only one kilo of tomatoes or two kilo of bananas, each time we bring vegetables to the village, they accuse us of smuggling it to “Israel”. The aim of all of this is nothing more but to destroy the life of the people here and to create the worst conditions possible within the village.”

“The people cannot leave the village as they might lose the chance to return by 5 or 6 pm. If anyone is late, he will face terrible harassment. The area around the gate is empty and dark. Soldiers force him to walk 100 meter away from the car until they see him and tell him to come. He has to take off his trousers and to raise his t-shirt. Sometimes, even undergoing this degrading procedure, the Occupation forces won’t let you pass. As a result, the people don’t go out of the village after 5 and people that have to stay away late, prefer passing the night outside instead of coming back through the gate.”

“Finally, we have some cases of marriages with Palestinians from Jordan in the village. They have no IDs from Nu’man because the Occupation doesn’t allow the PA to give any IDs after the outbreak of the al Aqsa Intifada. These women can’t leave the village as they will not be able to get back. So these women prefer to stay sick and to treat their illness by themselves and not to go out of the village to see a doctor. This would be a bigger catastrophe for them than the illness itself. I am not speaking about cases of illness only, it is the same for any reason to leave the village—to run errands or go out for occasions.”

Childhood at the whim of the soldiers

“Every day children go through the harassment and racist procedures at the gate. All kids more than 5 or 6 years old must carry their birth certificate to prove that “Nu’man” is written there as their birthplace. Otherwise they stop the children from entering the village and from coming home.

The whole village has become isolated from social life and from relatives. Each weekend, our relatives and friends from the surrounding villages came there to visit us and stay. I have 24 close relatives and they came and played with our kids. Now they are prohibited from coming here. We don’t see kids in the village anymore. Our kids are not more than 30 or 40 and they are now separated from the rest of the world. It's even hard to find ways to take them out of the village. Usually, when you go to a restaurant or for any other occasion, you go after 4 pm. Yet, we have to return before 6pm. So, there is no time to take them anywhere. I can’t risk coming late with them to the gate and then I am forced to take off my trousers and my t-shirt in front of my kids. I prefer to keep up my ethics and dignity in front of my kids and so being home is better.”

No doubt, the children in the village are facing psychological problems. You can’t imagine, the village has no services, institutions or anything – only one small shop and the Wall and settlements around it. There is nothing to do. And even the shopkeeper, if he wants to bring something, he needs to bring it in small packaging and they check every single item before he can bring it in.”

Isolation and Destruction

“The whole village is threatened to be demolished. They have already demolished three houses this year. There are another seven houses still under demolition orders. Yesterday the Occupation forces came and took photos of one of these houses. So, it seems they will demolish it soon. Nobody will care about it or raise a protest, especially now that there are no journalists or other people who could support us, as nobody can pass through the gates that isolate us. We are now refugees of the 21st century. I don’t know how long we can resist in this situation. It is clear that they are determined to expel all the people from the village for the sake of Zionist expansion. The people, whose houses are demolished, where do they go with their wives and children? They are not allowed to build another house. For 14 years, we haven’t been not allowed to build anything anymore. There are new generations to come. Where shall they go? The only thing they can do is to rent a house or to build on land outside the village.”

“The Occupation has no respect even for the ill people and the pregnant women. They need to walk or find somebody with a car from the village to bring them out of the village and to the hospitals. The ambulance is not allowed to enter the village. A month ago, somebody needed an ambulance but it couldn’t enter. So they took him with a car to the gate, carried him across the gate and then the ambulance could take the person.

Firemen are also not allowed to enter the village. A short time ago there was a fire and it burned all trees in the village. They didn’t allow the Palestinian firemen to stop the fire and they didn’t allow Israeli firemen to come either.

Now the village has been transformed into a prison. A real prison with two gates – one between the village and Jerusalem and one between the village and Bethlehem district.

We are completely cut off from any services. We can’t reach neither services from Bethlehem nor Jerusalem. We used to get services – such as electricity, water and the phone line - from the Palestinian Authority. But already in 1996, they confiscated the telephone pillars and broke them. So we aren’t allowed to have telephone lines in the village. Now we use cell phones to make sure we are not completely cut off from the world.

Not one of the workers from the electricity and water company is allowed to enter the village to bring the bills or to ensure maintenance of the system. When the Occupation was working at the Mazmouriya checkpoint thy set fire to the electricity cables and as a result we were without electricity for five days. They didn’t allow the company to come and to repair it. After five days of struggle and complaints to Red Cross and human rights organizations, they allowed somebody with a Jerusalem ID to repair it.”

“Are you surprised about what I am saying? But I challenge anybody that this is what is happening and it is only a small part of what we are facing daily. I have just pointed out briefly the main issues. Life in the village now is like 70 years ago. Very basic. This constant attack is something that no human being can endure. We are now completely at the whim of the soldiers. This happens in front of the eyes of the whole world and all internationals and official representatives coming to the village to see the reality. None of them has done anything. Our suffering is getting worse daily.”

Expulsion and ethnic cleansing is perpetrated by a myriad of mechanisms that make life impossible. Isolation, harassment, house demolition and the cutting off of vital services and infrastructure can turn any village to hellish prisons without chances of survival.

Palestinians are determined not to let another Nakba happen but staying on in the villages slated for destruction has become a daily act of heroic resistance.

To read more voices, go to stop the wall

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