In the Village of Nowhere, a Fate Soon Sealed

Children from the village of Nuaman must pass through an Israeli checkpoint as they make their way out of the Jerusalem city limits to a school across the valley in the West Bank.
Children from the village of Nuaman must pass through an Israeli checkpoint as they make their way out of the Jerusalem city limits to a school across the valley in the West Bank. (Photos By Ilan Mizrahi For The Washington Post)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

NUAMAN, West Bank -- For generations, first in caves hollowed from hillsides, then shepherds' tents and simple stone houses, the Shawarwa and Darawi families thrived here amid pine windbreaks, olive orchards and flocks of sheep. On a hill of their own, they worked, married and raised children.

Jamal Darawi was born here in a weathered house in June 1967, the same month Israel triumphed in the Middle East war. In the conflict, Israel's army seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. Soon, the Israeli government drew a larger municipal boundary around Jerusalem, annexing the lands to the Jewish state, including Darawi's home.

But Israel did not take the people of Nuaman. An Israeli military census right after the war registered families here as West Bank residents, even though their village fell inside Jerusalem's new borders. As a result, the Israeli government has never offered them the right to live in the city, apply for Israeli citizenship or vote in Jerusalem, rights given to Palestinians in other annexed neighborhoods.

For many, it was a distant problem, and as the years passed on Nuaman's single street, the residents did little about it. But now their lives in the village are threatened. Israel's separation barrier is rising along the eastern edge of the village, sealing them inside the Jewish state.

In the valley below Darawi's home, backhoes are preparing the way for the tall fence, which traces a chalky stripe across the far hillside. Soon, the 200 people will be cut off from the Palestinian territories where Israel says they live, enclosed within a state where they have no right to be. This is the village of nowhere.

"All of our life has been changed," said Darawi, 38, a farmer, father and political activist. "The purpose of what is being done here now is to empty this place of its people."

This solitary village on a windswept plateau between Bethlehem and Jerusalem captures in microcosm the accelerating dislocation of Palestinian communities along the Israeli separation barrier now dividing the land with chain link and concrete. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the 456-mile barrier will roughly define the final eastern border of Israel.

The 1993 Oslo accords began a process of separation between Israel and the Palestinians and established a semiautonomous Palestinian government in the occupied territories. But the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, including suicide bomb attacks on Israeli civilians, led Israel to build a towering barrier to keep Palestinians out. The course of the wall, drawn by Israel, is now also separating thousands of Palestinians from their property and from each other.

The Israeli government says the barrier -- in some places a 26-foot-high concrete wall -- runs along a course designed to protect Israel from Palestinian attacks, which have dropped dramatically since construction began. Only a quarter of the barrier follows the pre-1967 borders. Along the rest, it cuts into land Palestinians envision as part of their future state, according to the United Nations.

Approximately one-third of the barrier's route has been challenged in court by Palestinians and Israeli civil rights groups on the grounds that it is based more on annexing Palestinian land than safeguarding Israeli citizens.

As it skirts the edge of this village, the nearly complete barrier is a 10-foot-high chain-link fence with electronic sensors and an 82-foot-wide military buffer running along each side. Construction of the fence, along with a new road for Jewish settlers commuting to Jerusalem and a crossing terminal, has consumed acres of valley and hillside once used by families here for agriculture.

In Jerusalem, the barrier has cast a shadow across the daily lives of thousands of Palestinians. Once complete, it will leave roughly 140,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem residency rights on the West Bank side, forcing them to pass through Israeli-controlled checkpoints along the wall to reach jobs, families and classrooms in the city. Another 110,000 will remain on Israel's side of the barrier with equally uncertain access to the West Bank.

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