As mentioned before, the Seam Zone is that region of Palestine that exists between the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice Line) and the Separation Barrier. Many Palestinians who live on the West Bank side of the barrier either work or have land in the Seam Zone. These people need permits to enter the Seam Zone and many of them also go to work in Israel. To get a permit is not easy and we have met many Palestinians, here in Jayyus, and elsewhere, who need to get across into the Seam Zone but cannot for a variety of seemingly strange reasons. More about this in the next post. A different category of persons altogether are Palestinians that actually live in the Seam Zone. According to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) report in 2014, over 11,000 Palestinians live in the Seam Zone. This of course does not include the approximately 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem that live between the barrier and the Green Line.
Palestinians living in the Seam Zone are extremely vulnerable as they are effectively living in Israel but without Israeli citizenship, and are very often in close proximity to settlements. This also means that building permits, while extremely difficult to obtain in area C, are impossible to get in the Seam Zone. Last Thursday, 30th October, I had the privilege of accompanying the Palestinian Medical Relief Society’s (PMRS) mobile clinic (based in Qalqiliya) on its rounds through some villages in the Seam Zone. The mobile clinic’s van was accompanied by a car with two Dutch activists and a Palestinian driver. Both vehicles had yellow number plates (as opposed to the green number plates that West Bank Palestinians have) and so they had a chance of getting into the Seam Zone.
We had to pass through the Jaljoulia checkpoint to get to the villages we needed to visit, and this took about 30 minutes. Our belongings were X rayed, phones checked for traces of explosives and our passports scrutinized three times. The vehicles were checked using mirrors to look underneath and all compartments were thoroughly searched. The first village we visited was an unauthorized Bedouin village called Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi. Unauthorized means that the village did not exist before 1948. As such, the Israeli military does not allow the village to build any infrastructure such as roads, electricity or water supply. About 300 people live in this little village, the land being purchased from people living in the village of Habla, just on the other side of the barrier. The people of this village are in a better position than many in the Seam Zone as they can prove their ownership of the land. This does not stop the Israeli military from demolishing any new structures even as small as animal enclosures if they find out that any have been newly constructed. The people of this village have managed to get electric power from the village of Habla and have constructed an infant/primary school for their kids despite that their first attempt was demolished by the Israeli military. When looking at the village one would think that the village was very poor but Suhad Hashem, PR officer for the clinic, said that the villagers don’t want donations, they want their freedom and their rights.
The next village we visited was Arab Abu Farda (also Bedouin). This village was in much worse shape than the other village as it had no power and no running water. The French government constructed a large water tank but the Israeli military has prevented it from being filled. The villagers have to buy water from outside the village at an expensive price. The village has a high infant mortality rate and upon even visiting the village for a short time, one feels that the health problems in the village would be significant. Both villages have the shadow of demolitions hanging over them and their future is extremely uncertain. These Bedouins originally lived in the Negev before 1948 but were expelled into the West Bank after 1948 and ultimately they were moved up to the place they now reside. In both of these villages I was continually touched in my heart by the generosity and warmth of these people despite their difficult circumstances.
After visiting the villages our driver took us up to see the Israeli settlement called Alfe Menashe which stands on top of the hill overlooking the valley where the Bedouin villages lie. As we stood looking out from a scenic lookout in the settlement, a softly spoken middle aged women from Alfe Menashe came and asked what we were doing. When we told her where we had been she said that she thought that these Bedouin people could live better and that the problem was that they were lazy. When queried about house demolitions she said that it wasn’t true, such things didn’t happen. All the while during this experience I couldn’t help thinking about the idea that the measure of a society is determined by how that society treats its most vulnerable members. That hardly counts in some ways in this case because Israel doesn’t consider such people to be members of their society. International Law says otherwise. As an occupying power, the Israeli Government has a moral and legal responsibility to protect the rights of these people, that is, their rights to education, a healthy life, safe housing, freedom of movement and legal and political rights. How Israel convinces itself that such obligations are not theirs, is another story.
DISCLAIMER I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org) for permission. Thank you.