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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Al-Nu’man: The Story of a Village Under Siege

On 16 April 2007 the small village of al-Nu’man—situated in the south-eastern corner of the Jerusalem Municipality boundaries and northeast of Bethlehem —hosted the visit of Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

The visit, jointly organized by Defence for Children International – Palestine section with other civil society’organizations, focused mainly on the untenable current situation placing the village of al-Nu’man under siege and on the difficult living conditions of its inhabitants, considered by Israel to be illegally residing in Jerusalem simply by being in their homes.

The visit of Special Representative Coomaraswamy is even more significant, given that 7 May will mark an important date for the al-Nu’man community, as the Israeli High Court will decide on a petition they filed together with the al-Haq human rights organization, in order to seek the improvement of their deteriorating living conditions.

The story of al-Nu’man begins in 1967, when Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem, incorporating 64 sq km of West Bank territory, including 28 surrounding villages, including the land of al-Nu’man.

While the village officially became part of Israel, its people did not gain Israeli residency: as a majority of its inhabitants were listed in the census as residents of the nearby village of Umm al-Tala—which was not annexed—they were given West Bank IDs rather than Jerusalem IDs.

For more than 25 years, this situation mattered very little in practice; the city of Jerusalem did not provide the village with any services, so the village’s community continued its life the way it always had, receiving services from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Men could work in the neighboring villages and children could attend school in Umm Tuba, a bordering village which is part of Jerusalem Municipality . However, the situation began to deteriorate in the 1990s, with the enforcement of the policy of closure, wherby special permits were required for Palestinians with West Bank IDs seeking to enter Israel from the OPT. At this point, it became illegal for the residents of Al-Nu’man to live in their own homes. In 1996 the children of al-Nu’man were forced to leave the school in Umm Tuba, because they did not have the Jerusalem residency.

In addition to these problems, during the last 15 years, construction and land use planning aimed at Israeli expansion in the area had a direct and grave effect on village life.

The settlement of Har Homa lies nearby, and the Jerusalem Municipality ’s Master Plan 2000 clearly shows its planned extension (“Har Homa D”) adjacent to Al-Nu’man, on a portion (530 dunam) of the village’s land.

The Israeli authorities also expropriated substantial areas of land surrounding the village, for the establishment of a military zone, as well as for the building of the Mazmouriyya trade terminal, currently in progress. In addition, the route of the Jerusalem Ring Road , now under construction, cuts through the village, disconnecting the main road (partially destroyed by Israeli authorities) that links al-Nu’man to Umm Tuba and Jerusalem . The Israeli citizens of the settlements of Teqoa and Nekodim eagerly await the construction of a bypass road—the Lieberman Road —which will speed their transit to Jerusalem .

Moreover, the village is bordered on three sides by the Annexation Wall, which in this area takes the form of a fence, illegally constructed beyond the Green Line, inside the West Bank . The Wall traps the village’s inhabitants, isolates al-Nu’man from the rest of the West Bank and the road to Bethlehem is also now off-limits. As of May 2006, a permanent checkpoint is the only entrance to, and exit from, the village.

As a result of the Israeli development plans in the area, to which the presence of the village is an obstacle, some Palestinian and Israeli organizations have been denouncing the fact that al-Nu’man is the target of a systematic campaign aiming to rid the area of its Palestinian inhabitants and subsequently appropriate its land.

This represents a grave breach of international humanitarian law; in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention (art. 49), which prohibits the deportation and forcible transfers of protected persons from occupied territory by the Occupying Power. The residents of al-Nu’man are protected persons under Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The inadequate living conditions imposed on the residents of al-Nu’man by the Occupying Power are gradually compelling these protected person to move elsewhere.

According to the al-Haq human rights organization, what is occurring in al-Nu’man is clearly a case of indirect forcible transfer, not justified by the “security of the occupied population,” and neither by imperative military reasons.

Furthermore, the concept of indirect forcible transfer is codified in international criminal law by virtue of Art. 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which delineates that forcible transfer is a war crime, stating that the transfer can occur “directly or indirectly.”

The grave breach and war crime of unlawful forcible transfer of the population of al-Nu’man is the direct result of the combination of numerous other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, committed by Israel and reported to the UN Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy.

Some villagers, representatives of the community, members of Defence for Children International, and officers of the United Nation based in Jerusalem, received the Special Representative in Yousef garden to speak about Al Nu‘man case and the oncoming Court decision.

Yousef garden is a meeting point for the community. His house, situated in the center of the hamlet, looks, from one side, onto the hills whose slopes are interrupted by the Har Homa settlement, on the other side it looks on to the Wall, which separates the village from al-Khas, its twin village in the West Bank . It is also surrounded, on two sides, by two demolished houses, whose ruins still lay on the ground like a warning of the future.

Mrs. Coomaraswamy, was told about the problems the community has to face on a daily basis in order to carry on with their lives and fulfill their daily tasks. The people of al-Nu’man told her that they began to realize their odd situation only when the policy of closure, applied all over the West Bank in the 90s, put them in the position of being cut off from Jerusalem, which until the 1980s represented one main point of reference.

The construction of the Wall in 2003, and the establishment of the gate, marked a turning point in people lives, meaning the further segregation of the community from both Jerusalem and the West Bank . The road, which previously connected al-Nu’man with Umm Tuba and Jerusalem , was destroyed, despite the fact that at least 10 percent of the population of the hamlet still hold Jerusalem I.D., and are therefore allowed to enter the city.

When activists from Ta’ayush (a grassroots organization of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel ) started working in al-Nu’man four years ago, the case seemed to offer a simple solution. There wasn’t any apparent reason to refuse the change of the route of the Wall in this section of land. They were not aware at that time that beyond the stated interests of the Israeli government for this area, there was the intention to expand the Har Homa settlement.

The inhabitants of Al-Nu’man were soon made to face this new reality, marked by the worsening of their condition of segregation. The only persons allowed to cross the checkpoint are those registered in a list held by the Israeli soldiers at the gate, in which are recorded the inhabitants of the village. Despite the list, they continuously live in fear, because their every movement depends on the good will of the Israeli Border Police—sometimes passage through the separation barrier is allowed, sometimes it is subjected to delays and harassments.

This seems even more troublesome if we think that, because of the small size of the village, which has no shops, school, mosque or health facilities, residents are particularly dependent on neighboring villages for education, the practice of religion, food and supplies, utility services and health care.

Even doctors find it difficult to pass through the checkpoint, because only individuals with special permits are authorized to cross.

The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflicts was told the ironic story of a flock of goats that, after long negotiations, were allowed, instead of the veterinarian, to cross the gate in order to get vaccinated.

Additionally, garbage trucks have been unable to enter the village. Residents now burn their garbage at a site on the outskirts of the village. The vehicle that used to deliver gas to the village is no longer able to enter, and residents are obliged to obtain cooking gas in canisters that they must transport to the village individually.

Public transportation, to and from al-Nu’man village has also stopped because of the checkpoint and the ban on entry to non-residents. A number of children from al-Nu’man told the UN Representative how, as students, they are obliged to walk through the checkpoint every day and then to neighboring West Bank villages, in order to attend school or reach transportation.

Children and students have also been subjected to lengthy delays and harassment at checkpoints, resulting in tardiness at school and untenable travel hours. The village does not have a telephone line, because Jerusalem Municipality did not authorize the Palestinian Authority to supply this service. University students, therefore, cannot use internet for their studies and need to spend lot of time outside.

However, what most affects al-Nu’man villagers is the interruption of their family and social life. Children cannot invite friends to their homes; families are unable to have any guests or visits from their relatives living in the West Bank, not even during special occasions such as illness, weddings or holidays. The UN Special Representative was told about a wedding in which the meeting point of the bride, from Al-Nu’man, and the groom, from another village, ended up being at the military checkpoint.

Once married, the young couples of al-Nu’man face the problem of building new houses, given that, since 1992, the residents are not accorded building permits under the pretext of being located in a “green area” or because they do not hold a Jerusalem I.D.

Those who have built houses have been unable to obtain licenses retroactively, and have faced steep fines and/or demolition of their homes. Up to the present, two homes have been demolished and a pending demolition order has been issued.

Mrs. Coomaraswamy claimed that she will exercise pressures on the Israeli authorities on two issues: She will push for the application of international humanitarian law; and she will question the entire notion of “security” as a legitimate doctrine that can be used to mitigate the application of international law.

The upcoming Israeli High Court hearing on the al-Nu’man case, which is only one example of Israel’s misleading policies, will consider either the changing of the route of the wall or the granting of the Jerusalem ID to its inhabitants.

The State of Israel has misused and misinterpreted international provisions in order to achieve its goals. Military justifications, of which Israel has made extensive use, cannot be utilized to protect Israeli civilians which it has settled in the West Bank, being that settlement is illegal according to international law. On the contrary, as shown by the case of al-Nu’man and many other cases in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has expropriated and annexed land merely to advantage the settlers, and used a great variety of legal or quasi-legal means to disguise the illegitimacy of its policies.


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