Israeli wall creates ‘island’ villages in West Bank

Reuters News

February 15, 2007

BIR NABALA, West Bank • Tawfiq al-Nabali says he lives on an island surrounded not by water, but by a concrete wall. His village of Bir Nabala, in the rolling hills just north of Jerusalem, is encircled by an eight-metre high concrete barrier, cutting it off from the holy city. The only paved road to the outside world leads through an underpass and past an Israeli military checkpoint towards the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Bir Nabala, once bustling with traders and workshops and home to many Palestinians working in Jerusalem, looks deserted. Campaigners say it is one of several communities whose survival is threatened by the barrier snaking round its perimetre.

“When you crossed the road it used to take 10 minutes, there was so much traffic,” Nabali said, pointing to the empty main street outside his tile shop. Most stores are closed, and blue metal shutters line both sides of the street.

“Now it’s like there’s a curfew.”

The wall surrounding 15,000 Palestinians in Bir Nabala and four nearby villages is part of a “separation barrier” which Israel says stops Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing from the occupied West Bank into its cities. Palestinians say Israel is just seizing land. Israel says the barrier is temporary and could be removed under a future peace deal. Its route takes it well inside the West Bank at some points, dividing communities and isolating up to 250,000 Palestinians in small enclaves on territory they want for a future state.

“They keep talking about a state. But we’re just islands, islands, islands,” Nabali said. “Where is the state?”

Hundreds of kilometres of wall have been built and Nabali says, around his village, it is virtually complete.

A second road is planned to connect Bir Nabala with a Palestinian district to the west but Nabali, a businessman who also heads the municipality, says those links are no compensation for villagers whose ties are with Jerusalem.

“In the whole West Bank, no one has been left unaffected, but we were hit the most. We didn’t know Ramallah, we are (part of) Jerusalem,” Nabali said. Thousands of people, mainly those with Jerusalem residence permits, have moved out, he said.

A report published in January said the barrier was separating people from schools, religious institutions and health services, stifling Palestinian life.