In the Village of Nowhere, a Fate Soon Sealed
Wall to Enclose Palestinians Inside Jewish State

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.

Idyllic and isolated by layers of hills, Nuaman is a mix of two dozen aging stone houses and grander homes of a younger generation, clustered along the one-lane road that dips toward the valley below. Tilled plots of vegetables, olive trees and lemon groves line the back yards, and on weekends they fill with parents and children helping with harvests. Stands of cypress surround small graveyards on the hillside above and in the valley below.

This village lies close enough to Jerusalem's Old City that some of its men travel by foot to the al-Aqsa mosque each Friday to pray. On nearby hillsides, topped with minarets and watchtowers, camels graze in the twilight shadows cast by apartment towers in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa. The fence draws tighter each day.

"This village," said Labib Habib, a lawyer representing the residents, "will not survive."

'The Original Owners'

In sandals, Darawi negotiated the rocky hillside beneath his house one recent afternoon holding the hand of his 5-year-old daughter, Yara. The slope bloomed with wildflowers and spring wheat under his feet.

The landmarks on the hillside, he said during the walking tour, tell the story of his family's claim to the land.

Darawi is tall and broad, round around the middle with thick hands and a smile that rarely appears unless his three children are nearby. His hair recedes in a black widow's peak, and his bristly mustache is streaked with gray.

In silence, he made his way to an opening in the hillside, ducking into a cavern with rough walls blackened by a thousand cooking fires. The outlines of an animal pen appeared in one corner. Across its length sat the stone oven where his grandmother baked bread as recently as three decades ago.

"We are the original owners of this land," Darawi said, emerging from the cavern and ascending toward a stone house with shuttered windows and grassy tufts sprouting from the roof. A stone above the door, etched with a crescent moon and Arabic script, says the house belongs to Suleiman Darawi, Jamal's grandfather. It was built, according to a date on the stone, in 1963.

Darawi grew up walking to schools in East Jerusalem. He participated in demonstrations protesting Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and marking the anniversary of the 1967 war. He attended university in the territories and in Jordan, receiving his undergraduate degree in 1987. That December, a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation broke out and his plans to work in a medical laboratory suddenly changed. He joined the ranks of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, a radical nationalist movement with a Marxist orientation. At 21, Darawi began his first of four stints in Israeli prisons, held without charge, he said, for participating in the uprising.

After the 1993 accords, he joined the newly established Palestinian Authority, where he now works as a political organizer in Bethlehem, a city that will soon lie on the West Bank side of the fence. Even now, his work is reachable only by passing through an Israeli military checkpoint.

As he returned home from Bethlehem with his toddler son, Suleiman, and some Palestinian laborers last month, Darawi said, soldiers at the checkpoint ordered them out of his Isuzu Trooper. The soldiers began a search and then told the men to lift their T-shirts, though Darawi refused as his son looked on. The others obeyed.

"I have my dignity," he said. "I have my self-respect and I won't take my clothes off for them."

Erased From the Map

Darawi was an infant when Israeli soldiers arrived in the weeks after the war with pens and notepads to carry out a census. The troubles of the village can be traced to that day.

At the time the war broke out, the village was located in Jordan. Some of the village men were working construction in Amman, the capital, and were unable to return for years after Israel occupied the land. According to aerial photographs taken in August 1967 by Israel's mapping agency, 13 houses ran along the ridge. While showing that the houses existed, the photos have not resolved the question of who lived in them at the time.

The soldiers registered the people they found there as residents of Um A-Talla, a West Bank village where the head of their clan lived. Israel then renamed the village Mazmuriya for a Roman archaeological site nearby, erasing Nuaman from the map.

Whether a clerical error or deliberate, the West Bank residency classification deprived the families of the right to live, vote in municipal elections and work in Jerusalem that thousands of other Palestinians in the city's annexed neighborhoods received.

Sabin Hadad, a spokeswoman for Israel's Interior Ministry, said that "either they were not there when the census took place or they did not live there continuously, and therefore did not enjoy the right to obtain an Israeli ID."

"The fact that they now live in Israel does not make them automatic Israeli residents, just as living in the United States does not grant you automatic rights of citizenship or residency," Hadad said.

A Settlement Rises

Yusef Darawi's mobile phone rang.

The voice on the other end came in angry shouts -- his boss. Yusef's almond eyes looked into his lap.

"We're under pressure," he said, snapping his phone shut with calloused hands. "We're behind schedule because they won't let us in." He had been denied passage through a checkpoint to work on a construction site.

Yusef was born in the house behind his own 41 years ago, one of 15 children of a father with two wives. Now he was helping build a Jewish settlement planned in the years after Oslo that, according to its development plan, would likely displace his own village one day.

Throughout Israel and the territories, peace seemed a possibility after the Oslo accords. The village of Nuaman had grown to 25 homes by then. Young men like Yusef were starting their own families and building multistory houses next to the squat one-room cottages they were born in.

Then one day, within a year of the Oslo accords, a pair of Israeli building inspectors arrived at the unfinished home of Mahmoud Atiyeh Shawarwa, one of Yusef's many distant cousins. The inspectors ordered the construction, which Shawarwa was doing himself, to stop for lack of building permits granted by the city of Jerusalem.

"We never knew this was part of Jerusalem until they told us that," Yusef recalled. "The inspector who told us was surprised to see we had West Bank identification. We told him everyone here did."

Some residents began appealing to the Interior Ministry for residency rights, though none were successful. All building in the village was frozen. On a hilltop, construction for the Jewish settlement expansion began rising. It is now visible from the window of Yusef's comfortable living room.

Israeli planning maps show that Har Homa's "D" neighborhood is to be built in the years ahead on the hilltop where his home is now. Yusef runs a 30-person construction crew at the site of the settlement, but on this day Israel had closed the territories and kept his men from reaching the job, despite their permits.

"No one wants to work on land that belongs to Arabs," Yusef, a father of six, said with a thin smile. "But you have to feed your family."

The Daily Crossing

By 6:30 a.m., clusters of children began gathering outside homes and filing onto the road in the village. Samar and Yara Darawi, Jamal's daughters, were among the bundled crowd.

Students from the village went to school in Jerusalem for years. In 1995, two years after the Oslo accords, the Israelis began turning them away. The students lived inside the city limits, but the Israelis said their parents held West Bank residency documents, based on the census decades earlier, and the children were no longer allowed in Jerusalem schools.

After Oslo, as the two societies began a complicated separation, Nuaman found itself in a crack between them. Although the village was part of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority assumed responsibility for its water, electricity and telephone services. Village residents turned to Bethlehem for medical care, but were forced to navigate new Israeli checkpoints along the one road to the outside world.

In her blue-and-white striped school smock, Samar, along with her sister and cousins, walked pensively across the valley -- out of Jerusalem and into the West Bank. The children cast shifting shadows against the exposed hillside, carved out for the new road. Once the fence is complete, the children of Nuaman will have to pass through a chain-link barrier, manned by Israeli soldiers, to reach their school.

On this day, however, the soldiers were huddled against the chill, inside an armored personnel carrier that sat near the site where the terminal will be built. Coils of concertina wire marked the location.

Only the patter of light footsteps sounded as the children wound their way down the road to the valley floor, Samar's long single braid bouncing against her pink backpack. Two days earlier, the Darawi girls had not gone to school because they were frightened to cross the Israeli checkpoint. Samar, flushed cheeks beneath brown eyes, said Israeli soldiers had searched her backpack and torn up a map of historic Palestine she had inside.

This day the soldiers waved and smiled at the children. As they climbed past a small graveyard, the mood lightened. Samar and her friends began jostling each other along the footpath, laughing and shouting. Yara turned toward kindergarten, housed in the town council building. Samar and the others stopped at a corner grocery to buy grape drinks and lollipops.

"Now there is no fear," Samar said. "We have passed."

A Narrowing Existence

The authorities came to Raed Shawarwa's house, a smooth concrete cube behind his father's, while he was on a job hours away. His wife received them nervously on a March day in 2004. The house, they said, would have to be torn down.

"The Jews told us we had no building permits," said Shawarwa, a cousin of Mahmoud and a distant cousin of the Darawis. "But no one here does."

For years, the village had been growing slowly, clandestinely, despite the 1993 Israeli orders to cease construction. Village sons like Yusef Darawi married and brought their brides from surrounding towns, some with Jerusalem residency. Families grew larger. Today, children's tiny purple pants and school smocks dry on lines strung beneath vine-laced trellises outside many of the homes in the warm evening.

The construction to enlarge homes and accommodate the population growth was done without permits, which Arab residents receive from the Jerusalem municipality only with great difficulty. City officials say the decisions are based on planning criteria. But human rights groups counter that denying permits is a way to limit Arab population growth and increase the proportion of the city's Jewish residents.

An Israeli organization that tracks home demolitions reports that the Jerusalem municipality has destroyed 467 homes that it says were built without permits since 2000 -- the year the second Palestinian uprising began.

As the intifada intensified around him, Shawarwa had more immediate concerns -- saving his house, which with his slight savings, he had built himself. He commuted several hours each day to Ramallah, where, as a heavy-machinery operator on a construction crew, he made far more than in Bethlehem. In a good month, he says, he brings home $225.

Shawarwa appeared in court in 2004 in a bid to make his house legal. He was fined the equivalent of $6,000, more than two years' salary, and the house was ordered sealed until permits could be arranged. Raed bricked up his own windows.

"I felt like I was killing myself," Shawarwa said over warm flat bread and tea under an olive tree on his doorstep.

The house is still sealed two years later. When he went to the Jerusalem municipality to arrange for permits, he discovered he lived nowhere.

"The people there told us we didn't belong to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem," said Shawarwa, who is still paying off his fine in monthly increments. "When we went to Bethlehem, they told us we belong to Jerusalem. So we learned that we don't belong to either side."

Last year, a lawyer for Nuaman and the Israeli government reached an agreement that would allow the families to apply for Jerusalem residency without a guarantee of success, a risky proposition given that failure would likely cost them their homes. The status of the agreement appears uncertain now, and the villagers have appealed to the Jerusalem municipality for the fence to be rerouted in a way that leaves them in the West Bank.

Life in the village, meanwhile, is narrowing.

At the end of April, Israeli work crews installed a steel gate at one end of the road into the village. A lock and chain appeared on it a week later, the only keys in the hands of border police and the work crews in the valley below. No taxis, buses or private vehicles that do not belong to village residents are allowed in.

The village has been without running water for much of this month, shut off by the construction crews working below. Lowering buckets into makeshift backyard wells, men and women fetch their own water just as their parents and grandparents did on the same hilltop decades ago.

Lives Dismantled

Nidal Darawi, a schoolteacher, married in late 2005. The newlyweds added a kitchen to the small house he had built eight years earlier without permits. But the construction job drew the notice of passing border police patrols. The demolition team arrived soon after, on the last day of January.

Using a backhoe, the crew dismantled the house as the family and soldiers looked on. The carefully tended rosebushes rimming the property remain intact, surrounding a heap of rubble and twisted rebar.

"This is a threat to Israel?" asked Yusef Darawi, a brother, looking over the wreckage of the house in the lot behind his own. "This was his blood and the blood of his children -- all of his savings."

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