“No, the ambulance cannot enter there.”
“No, we must check the bags of all the schoolchildren who live there.”
“No, you cannot pass to visit your sick mother. You do not have the proper papers, and you do not live there.”
Where is “there”? Actually it is neither here nor there. It is a place in between ~ between here and there ~ and thus nowhere. It is not in Palestine. It is not legally in Israel. It is in between…
My work in the South Hebron Hills last year took me there ~ to this “seam zone” ~ to the village of A Seefer ~ a place where Palestinians are required to have renewable permanent resident permits in order to live in their own homes. Statistics suggest that tens of thousands of Palestinians live in this unlivable zone created by the route of the separation wall, drawn by the Israeli government in order to enclose as many illegal settlements as possible on Israel’s side of the barrier ~ in this case, the settlement of Mezadot Yehuda. This means many Palestinian villages are severed from Palestine, farmers from their land, and families from each other. Rather than build the wall on the “Green Line” ~ the 1949 armistice line ~ the Israeli government has chosen to construct 85% of the wall on confiscated Palestinian land, creating this seam zone between the Green Line on one side and the separation wall on the other.
Palestinians who live there are trapped ~ defined internationally as Internally Stuck Persons (ISPs). As holders of West Bank IDs, they do not have the right to live, work, or access services in what has now de facto become Israel ~ in this strip of land that Israel has in essence illegally “annexed.” Palestinians only have a permit to be in their home. That’s it! They are not allowed to connect to water, sewer or electricity. They are nobodies. Their lives exist elsewhere. They must have the proper permits to cross the checkpoint in order to access all basic services such as schools and medical clinics, buying groceries or procuring school supplies. Getting through the checkpoint is time consuming, difficult, and sometimes even impossible. There is always the fear that if you leave, you will not be allowed back. A trip that used to take 5 minutes can now take hours. In order to attend school, children must pass through the checkpoint twice daily, often enduring long waits for no apparent reason. Their little bags are routinely searched by security personnel with guns. Families are socially isolated. Friends and extended family from “the other side” are forbidden to visit as they do not have the proper permits and do not live there.
One of our responsibilities as EAs is to accompany the children as they cross the checkpoint from their school in Imneizel back to their seam zone home in the village of A Seefer. We occasionally stay to visit with the only two related families still living there. And of course share tea and stories.
Mahmoud and his family have lived on this piece of land for generations. He even has the Ottoman land deeds. But this appears to be of no consequence. He tells us many stories of how the settlers often harass and frighten the children and steal the sheep ~ how the army conducts frequent night raids ~ how they had demolished some of his structures including a toilet ~ how he had been held by the Israeli police for being “in Israel” ~ how he had sustained massive damage from the snow storm last December, but could not bring in the supplies needed for repairs ~ how it takes him a full day to bypass the checkpoint and cross where the wall is not complete just to obtain water from another Palestinian village. On and on it goes…
I recently learned from my EAPPI colleague serving in South Hebron Hills that three of Mahmoud’s sons were shepherding the sheep when they were attacked by seven young male settlers. One of the boys was badly beaten. Mahmoud’s friend from the UN sent an ambulance for the boy, but the security personnel at the checkpoint would not let it pass. The clock ticked. The guards refused. Time was of the essence. Finally, after a long, senseless delay, the beaten boy was transported to hospital where he was diagnosed as having suffered a severe concussion. Several days later he still had no appetite and continued to experience problems with his vision ~ It is beyond comprehension. And yet scenes like this one are common there ~ and there ~ and there ~ and there.
The strategy of the Israeli government is to make life there so difficult that Mahmoud and families like his will leave. But they are steadfast! Where would they go? This is their land, their home ~ What can we learn? It is a real life lesson in sumud! ~ Steadfastly clinging to one’s rights as a human being ~ Keeping one’s humanity even in inhuman circumstances ~ Holding to one’s land like a cactus in the desert ~ The ability to go on with one’s daily life despite all difficulties ~ These are stories that don’t make the front pages of our papers. They are not usually posted on facebook or tweeted on social media. But they are real, human stories we need to hear ~ Stories we need to share ~ Perhaps they can move us to act?