Avi Issacharoff
May 24, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel's defense establishment is not permitting residents of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Sa'ad, southeast of Jerusalem, to leave the town in their cars. There are even restrictions on walking out of the village, a privilege reserved for residents with Israeli identity cards.

To its west, Sheikh Sa'ad is walled off by the separation fence, while to the east, north and south it is surrounded by the Kidron Valley. The 3,000 residents of Sheikh Sa'ad are isolated from all other towns now that the West Bank separation fence has cut off Sheikh Sa'ad from Jabal Mukkaber, which falls under the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem.

The 1,800 residents who possess Israeli identity cards are denied road access to Jerusalem despite the fact that they are considered residents of the city. The remaining 1,200 villagers, who carry Palestinian identity papers, have no way to leave the area save a descend into the valley, from which they then need to climb a steep incline. During the winter, this can be done only when the valley is not inundated with rainwater. Palestinians need to traverse several kilometers just to reach the nearest village of Sawahra al-Sharkiya.

In March, the High Court of Justice denied a petition by residents to relocate the fence to its east, yet it did rule that the Israeli authorities needed to allow 24-hour-a-day access for residents seeking to travel to and from Jerusalem. In addition, the justices ordered the security establishment to enable motorists to drive to and from Sawahra al-Sharkiya. Since 2001, road traffic has been cut off due to the explosion of a bridge connecting the two villages.

Hoodwinking the High Court

Israeli security forces are operating just one checkpoint, situated at the entrance to Sheikh Sa'ad, adjacent to Jabal Mukkaber. The checkpoint is passable by foot only. A traffic light hangs near a sign that reads: "Driving permitting on green only." In practice, however, the light is constantly on red, which renders its very existence superfluous, particularly given that the checkpoint is manned by Border Policemen.

There are no cars that drive into or out of the "Palestinian Masada," this village that is isolated, cut off, and surrounded by a deep wadi on almost all sides while severed by the separation fence from the place that for years has provided it with municipal services - Jabal Mukkaber.

There is no entry for ambulances or fire trucks. The arrival of these vehicles must be coordinated in advance with the Civil Administration. Ostensibly there is a ban on any commercial vehicles carrying supplies into the village. Residents must carry everything by hand.

The ill and those with physical disabilities are required to leave the village through the checkpoint. From there they can hitchhike to their destination. Other residents simply park their cars in Jabal Mukkaber and cross into the village by foot through the checkpoint. A few months ago, the dead body of one Sheikh Sa'ad resident was transported by foot out of the village through the checkpoint and into a waiting car in Jabal Mukkaber.

Fadel, a resident of Sheikh Sa'ad, recalled what happened when one resident suffered a heart attack.

"We called the ambulance, which took time to reach the checkpoint," he said. "The policeman at the entrance wasn't willing to let the ambulance in, so the paramedic asked to enter by foot. The policeman even refused this. He argued with him, and then the policeman told him that he is entering the village on his account only. By the time he reached the sick man, he had already passed away."

Health and educational services for the residents of the village are available only in Jabal Mukkaber. Yet they have no way of reaching the health clinic via car. If a resident were to fracture a foot, that person would still need to walk through the checkpoint. This absurd state of affairs does not stop here. Some of the homes in the village are located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, thus necessitating the payment of municipal taxes. Yet these residents cannot drive their cars into the city. Why? It is difficult to explain.

Somebody at the defense establishment decided to make a mockery of the High Court ruling and foil all attempts to exit the village.

Defense officials told Haaretz that the High Court ruling permits movement into and out of the village by foot only. Yet this is a complete distortion of the actual ruling, which mandates a change in "the entry arrangements as instituted by the state, and by allowing for a 24-hour entry to the village for residents." Furthermore, the court ruled that the fence could remain in place on condition that "all of the residents of Sheikh Sa'ad" be given access to Jerusalem. Apparently, the defense establishment thought otherwise.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017