Walled in, disappearing: The story of al-Nu'man
The population is now a third of what it was in 1992 and its residents call it the forgotten village.
Imagine being a 5 year-old, like Sulaiman Jamal. In order for Jamal to get to school in the morning, hell – snow – or sunshine, he must walk around 4 kilometres to get to school because his school bus can't get anywhere close to his house.
Since he doesn't have an Identification Card, little Sulaiman must always have his birth certificate handy; because a soldier at the gate to his village must verify it before allowing him out to school in the morning or back home in the afternoon.
Now you can begin to imagine what life is like for Sulaiman and dozens of children like him who live in Al-Nu'man, a dwindling village on the outskirts of Bethlehem…
The residents call it the forgotten village. For seven years now, the path of Israel's illegal wall has severed the village from its natural Palestinian surrounding, barring all non-residents from entering. A military gate was set up to make sure Al-Nu'man is sealed off from the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlers pass by unbothered, unstopped. Most of them live in the Israeli settlement, Nekodim, also built illegally on Palestinian land in Bethlehem. Palestinians in the area call this road 'Lieberman Road' in reference to the Israeli Foreign Minister, who lives in Nekodim.
My crew and I set out to visit the village. We approached the gate on foot – as no Palestinian cars are allowed on Lieberman road, unless they have the 'proper' permits from the Israeli army. As soon as Joseph and I got close, a female soldier sitting in a grey concrete tower overlooking the Al-Nu'man gate began screaming: [Waqef in Arabic] STOP! STOP! So we did; she kept screaming…until two soldiers approached us and told us to turn off our cameras.
They asked for our ID's; when we took out our Palestinian identification cards, the soldiers were almost baffled by our audacity. 'Come with me' he said, refusing to hand back our ID's… We were briefly detained, underwent a security check then told to leave promptly or else… But we're in the West bank I kept countering; I am going to a Palestinian village… No response…
We continued filming – right where the soldiers left; and the female soldier kept screaming…
By that time, children were coming back home from school. Like Sara, a seventh grader. She greets while gasping for air from the walk up the road… She moved on, walking through the metal entrance, through the gate, and into a room where Israeli soldiers check and search all residents before being allowed in. I looked up and saw the long windy, uphill road that awaited Sara before she gets to the first house in the village. The thought of the journey was daunting…
Standing by were 3 peace activists on a mission on behalf of the World Council of Churches, who have been coming here for months. They attempted to get into Al-Nu'man but were quickly turned back…
Phil Lucas, the spokesperson of the mission, told me the residents feel isolated. “From our point of view, their rights are being overruled – they’re not being given the rights that people resident in a village anywhere in the world should have – so our presence here is simply a reassurance to them that they’re not forgotten by the world”, Phil said..Israel's Wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, de facto annexes over 30% of the occupied West Bank, leaving Palestinians with isolated islands of population centers on which they are supposed to manage an impossible task: build a state. This Wall isolates a little over 300,000 thousand Palestinians, including over 50,000 in what Israel calls 'seam zones'. These are areas sandwiched between the Wall and the Green Line, which is the effective borders of the Palestinian Territory Israel occupied in 1967. This 'seam zone' reality affects all aspects of life – down to the simplest detail. Al-Nu'man is sealed from three directions by the Wall.
Jamal Dirawi is a prominent anti-wall activist and the head of Al-Nu'man's village council. With much sarcasm, Jamal told me how a few weeks back, the residents entered lengthy negotiations with the Israeli army and called on help from international organizations to secure the entry of a veterinarian into Al-Nu'man. The sheep, which the residents raise, needed vaccinations.
'In the end we failed' Jamal said with a smile. 'But', he added, 'we entered another round of negotiations and succeed to grant the sheep permission to leave the village and get vaccinated, with guarantees they would return to Al-Nu'man'! Only when I saw the pictures of the incident on his mobile phone did I believe this story actually happened. 'Don't be surprised' he said, 'this applies to any non-resident trying to enter: plumbers, electricians, you name it".
Al-Nu'man battle with Israeli restrictions dates to 1992. Since then, Israel has banned resident from building any new homes. Around the same time, it sanctioned plans for the construction of a new illegal settlement. It's called Har Homa; and it has been expanding ever since.
But Al-Nu'man has been shrinking… The population is now a third of what it was in 1992… Those who need to expand their homes or build new ones are forced to move out and barred from returning, even for a visit.
Incidentally, Jamal was meeting a delegation of international diplomats [mostly European] before I met him. After coordinating with the Israeli army, the diplomats were allowed into Al-Nu'man. 'So what was their reaction', I asked Jamal. 'It's terrible', he imitated one of the visiting dignitaries…