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17-02-2010 | Middle East

West Bank: Restrictions cut Palestinians off


Just attempting to live a normal life is still an everyday struggle for many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Particularly hard hit are communities living close to settlements or to the West Bank barrier, in areas under full Israeli civil and military control referred to as "Area C" (more than 50% of the West Bank), where Israeli-imposed restrictions are often preventing them from living a normal and dignified life.

In certain areas of the West Bank, almost every crest hosts a settlement, with its own access road, heavily fenced and protected by military checkpoints and patrols. Since the two Intifadas, the Israel Defense Forces have imposed a range of restrictions on the Palestinians living around these settlements which for example makes it impossible for some farmers to access their fields. Numerous physical obstacles such as the West Bank barrier, checkpoints, earth mounds and fences force people to take long detours for their daily commuting and cut them from family and friends.

Moreover, violence on the part of settlers deters many Palestinians from setting foot on their land to cultivate or graze their sheep. In terms of income, the consequences are serious: farmers who are not allowed to access their olive groves more than once a year, harvest 80 percent less than from a similar area cared for regularly throughout the year. Shepherds who are unable to graze their flock on sufficient land are forced to sell their animals.

Another issue of crucial importance for the Palestinians living in Area C is the very small number of building permits delivered. The number has dropped to such a low level these past years that many people do not even try to obtain a permit from the Israeli authorities. As a result, expanding families build houses in contravention of stringent urban planning laws. When they do, they risk having their houses destroyed by the IDF. Young couples are unable to stay and work where their own families have been living for generations.

Despite some improvements in the local economy - which to some degree is the result of the removal of some checkpoints on the main roads to cities like Nablus or Jenin and the smoothing of transit through others -- life for many Palestinians is nowhere near normal.

Graciela Lopez is the ICRC's protection coordinator in Israel and the occupied territories. She explains: "Invisible barriers are created by active violence {...} perpetrated by settlers, hindering farmers from accessing their land {...}. Invisible barriers are created by administrative difficulties in obtaining building permits or developing basic infrastructure in certain rural areas. Invisible barriers can also take the form of closed military areas and firing zones, where it is difficult to graze cattle {...}. Together, all these factors create invisible barriers for the people living in the rural parts of the occupied territories."



The Soufan family in Burin near the Yizhar settlement (Nablus district)

The Soufan family lives in an isolated house on a slope covered with fruit and olive trees. On 7 January 2010, settlers living in the settlement overlooking their fields cut down 20 olive and 3 fig trees on a small plot close to Yizhar. The Soufans have been the target of repeated and violent assaults since the beginning of the second Intifada, when the settlers set the house ablaze in 2002, destroying three rooms. Says Hanan Soufan, head of a 16-member family: "Settlers come down the hill every now and then and start stoning the house, breaking windows and hurting people." Solar panels on the roof are broken up. "Two of our cars were set ablaze, our sheep poisoned, a horse stolen..."

"We live in constant terror. I'm afraid each time my grandchildren go out to play around the house. The kids start to scream and cry when they hear them. What kind of life is this?" At night, family members take it in turns to stay awake in case the settlers come to attack them. Friends and relatives are no longer willing to come to the house, cutting the Soufans off from the community.

To add to this violence, the family is deterred from accessing its own land, preventing them from caring for their trees or grazing their sheep. Says Ayman, one of Hanan's sons, "The pasture is only 300 metres away from the house. But if we're caught there, the settlers or the IDF can come and kick us out." Because of the reduction in grazing space, Ayman had to sell 130 sheep. 20 remain. "Better than nothing" he says ironically. And, as in most parts of "Area C," no new construction is allowed despite the fact that the family is expanding.

The E'beed family near Mevo Dotan settlement (Jenin district)

The E'beed family consists of 55 members. Since the beginning of the 1950s, they have been living close to the Mevo Dotan settlement, near Jenin, created years after their arrival. The only access to their five houses is through a checkpoint guarding the entrance to the settlement. The nearest village, Y'abad, is located 4 km away on the other side of the checkpoint, which does not ease their movements. Travel is made all the more difficult by the ban on adults using the road leading to the settlement. As the family has no legal documents recognized by the Israeli authorities proving its right to the land, the Israel Defense Forces forbid the E'beed to build or even to start urgent and long-awaited maintenance on the houses. One has already collapsed and the remaining four are unfit for habitation. Though the family is expanding, less and less space is available to them.

Access to electricity and water is a recurrent problem, whereas the settlers living a few hundred metres away receive both utilities. Recuperating rainwater or water-trucking are the only viable alternatives. As a result, water trucking swallows up 15 to 20 percent of their income. There is a rain water cistern on their land, but it does not provide sufficient water for the whole community.

It is difficult for the community to obtain health care. Not only is the location isolated, but it is also difficult for members of the community to reach the nearest village. Two years ago, Manal E'beed (37) gave birth to a child at night in a car in the middle of a muddy field on her way to the health centre; the checkpoint was closed and she was not allowed to use the road. The Israeli authorities have recently undertaken to open the checkpoint 24 hours a day.

For the community's 20 or so children and young people, getting to school is a major problem. There are no school buses, they have to make detours through the fields when IDF patrols or settlers chase them off the road. All this makes them late for school and causes them to miss exams. In addition, poverty forces many children to leave school and work to support the family.

The E'beeds were made refugees in 1948. As a result, they receive limited assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). There are few sources of income for the four breadwinners of the family: a few olive trees, occasional days working in the nearby charcoal workshops, dealing in scrap metal, etc. One brother decided to settle in the village because he did not feel safe walking at night, on account of the settlers and IDF patrols.



Duration : 8m 45s
Size : 982.9 MB
On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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