Ben Hubbard
The Associated Press
February 23, 2011 - 1:00am

The al-Ghirayib family lives in one of the stranger manifestations of Israel's 43-year occupation of the West Bank: a Palestinian house inside a metal cage inside an Israeli settlement.

The family's 10 members, four of them children, can only reach the house via a 40-yard (meter) passageway connecting them to the Arab village of Beit Ijza farther down a hill. The passageway passes over a road used by Israeli army jeeps and is lined on both sides with a 24-foot-high (8-meter) heavy-duty metal fence.

The same fence rings the simple one-story house, separating it from the surrounding settlement houses. Some of those dwellings are so close that the family can hear the insults shouted by a nearby Jewish neighbor.

While al-Ghirayibs' situation is unusual, Palestinians say it reflects the pressures put on their communities by Israel's more than 120 West Bank settlements.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to hold peace talks with Israel while settlement construction continues. The latest round of talks collapsed over the settlement issue in September, only three weeks after starting.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

This week, the Palestinians directed their anger toward the United States after it vetoed a resolution before the U.N. Security Council condemning the settlements as "illegal."

The U.S. said it opposes settlements, but that peace talks are the only way to resolve such issues. The council's 14 other members voted for the measure.

"The Americans have chosen to be alone in disrupting the internationally backed Palestinian efforts," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.

Ahead of the vote, Fayyad visited the home with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who commented: "This is an inhuman life they have."

Sadat al-Ghirayib, 30, said his father built the house in 1978 on about 27 acres of family land, where he planted fruit trees. The Israel army soon confiscated part of the land, he said.

The settlement of Givon HaHadasha was founded in the early 1980s. Al-Ghirayib said the army confiscated more land as the settlement spread. Today, it is home to some 1,100 Jewish settlers, some of their homes no more than two dozen steps from the al-Ghirayib home. Just a handful of trees remain.

In 2005, the army built a section of its West Bank separation barrier near the settlement. Israel says the barrier keeps out attackers. Palestinians say it steals land by cutting deep into the West Bank in some places.

The home was the only one in the village of about 700 people on the settlement side of the barrier.

Al-Ghirayib, who works in a local metal shop, said he and his family tried to stop the construction crews and the army detained them. When they were released, the cage was in place, he said. Security cameras at the heavy metal gate at the end of the passageway monitor all who come and go.

He said army officers have recently threatened to shut the gate, saying village children come in to throw stones at the settlement.

"They have cameras. If they see kids throwing stones, they can come shoot them," said his 74-year-old father, Sabri. "Am I supposed to guard the gate?"

The Israeli army did not comment on whether the land was confiscated, how the fence was built or if there are plans to close the gate.

In a statement, it said the Israeli Supreme Court was examining the issue of the family's land and that the army had "invested" tens of thousands of dollars to make sure the family can leave the home without coordinating with the army.

The neighbors are very close. On a recent afternoon, Gary Bar Dov, 15, who lives in a third-floor apartment overlooking the house, walked by while children on the inside gripped the fence and watched.

"It's very strange to live this way," he said. "It's strange, but you get used to it."


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