Isolated: Israel cuts village of Beit Iksa off from East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank

Published: 
17 Aug 2016

The Palestinian village of Beit Iksa lies northwest of Jerusalem, within the West Bank but outside the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. Over the years, land surrounding the village and some plots of land owned by villagers were seized for the establishment of Ramot Alon, a settlement that functions as a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and Har Shmuel, a neighborhood in the settlement of Giv’at Ze’ev. In 2010, fifty more dunams of village land were confiscated for the Tel Aviv Jerusalem railway. According to a 2007 West Bank census, some 1,900 people live in the village. Many of them are residents of Jerusalem who have Israeli identity cards.

The village of Beit Iksa. Photo: Arij GIS unit, 21 Feb. 2011
The village of Beit Iksa. Photo: Arij GIS unit, 21 Feb. 2011

Unlike other Palestinian villages in the area, which are surrounded by a fence separating them from Israel, the eastern side of Beit Iksa – which faces the neighborhood of Ramot – is not fenced in. It lies only several hundred meters away from the Israeli neighborhood, separated from it only by a valley. However, the village is separated from nearby Palestinian communities by an electronic fence along its northwestern side that connects to the Separation Barrier. In 2009, Ha’aretz reported that the Israeli government had decided in 2006 to leave the village on the Palestinian side of the Separation Barrier – although according to the original route of the barrier, it was set to remain on the “Israeli” side. According to the article, the reason for this decision was the fact that Beit Iksa overlooks the area of Ramot and Highway 1 and that land previously purchased by Israelis lies adjacent to the village. However, no fence was erected between Beit Iksa and Israel; instead, Israel put up the electronic fence around the northwestern part of Beit Iksa, which the security establishment has defined as “temporary”.

In 2008, Israel began setting up flying checkpoints on the outskirts of the village. In 2010, a permanent checkpoint was installed some four kilometers northwest of the village center, toward the neighboring Palestinian village of Bidu. The checkpoint controls the only entrance into Beit Iksa. Since then, Israeli security forces have allowed only people registered as village residents on their identity cards or bearing a special permit to enter the village. The special permits are issued upon completion of a security background check and are largely reserved for people who work regularly in the village, such as teachers and employees of the local medical clinic. The Israeli authorities also issue temporary permits in what they term “humanitarian cases”, such as family celebrations or funerals and mourning rituals, but then, too, restrict the number and age of persons allowed into the village.

In 2010, along with the installation of the permanent checkpoint at the entrance to the village, Israel also closed off the road leading from the village to Jerusalem via Ramot with a gate that remains closed. This has extended travel time from the village to Jerusalem by at least half an hour, as residents who hold Israeli identity cards now have to drive to Ramallah and from there to Qalandia checkpoint in order to enter the city. Consequently, the villagers are cut off not only from the rest of the West Bank but also from Jerusalem, which used to be their historical center of life in the district. Since 2010, some fifty families with Israeli identity cards have left the village due to their forced isolation from Jerusalem. These families, which number some 600 people according to local council estimates, have retained their assets in the village, are still registered as its residents, and periodically come back to visit.

The checkpoint the military installed at the entrance to Beit Iksa.  Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 7 June 2016.
The checkpoint the military installed at the entrance to Beit Iksa.  Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 7 June 2016.

The severe restrictions on access to the village make it difficult for local businesses and residents to receive wares and equipment. Many suppliers are not permitted to enter the village, so clients have to go to the checkpoint to collect their goods. Some suppliers are allowed in after a process of coordination with the village council or with the Palestinian Authority, but even they are sometimes delayed at length or ultimately denied entrance. Village residents coming home with goods purchased elsewhere are also delayed at times, although there is no official restriction on bringing merchandise into the village.

The Israeli authorities chose not to build the Separation Barrier along the Green Line in the area, instead annexing the village de facto to Jerusalem. However, they also aim to prevent Palestinians from the West Bank from entering Israel via Beit Iksa. The solution they found, to impose draconic restrictions on anyone wishing to enter the village, reflects absolute prioritization of Israeli interests over protection of the Palestinian residents’ rights. 

The severe restrictions have turned Beit Iksa into an isolated community, and this isolation makes it very hard for the village residents to maintain social and family ties and to access workplaces and other services in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. The restrictions also make it difficult for workers, suppliers and other service providers to enter the village, disrupting daily life there and curtailing the council’s ability to provide residents with basic services. These arbitrary, draconian restrictions deny the residents of Beit Iksa the ability to lead reasonable daily lives and cause severe harm to the entire village.

The closed gate the army installed on the road from Beit Iksa to Jerusalem, in the top right – the fence around Ramot. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 15 August 2016
The closed gate the army installed on the road from Beit Iksa to Jerusalem, in the top right – the fence around Ramot. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 15 August 2016

Over the past two years, B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected testimonies from people who live and work in the village about the impact of these restrictions on their lives:

Ahmad Faqih, 31, from the neighboring village of Qatanah, drives a bus on the Beit Iksa-Ramallah line. On 26 July 2016, he related the difficulties that he and the passengers encounter upon reaching the checkpoint:

I’m not from Beit Iksa but from the neighboring village, Qatanah. They let me through the checkpoint because I’m the bus driver. But every now and then they are especially strict, and then they harass me and don’t let me in. In 2014, during the attack on Gaza, that happened five or six times. I had to call the other bus driver to come to the checkpoint and pick up the passengers.

There are no official regulations at the checkpoint, only informal practices that have become standard procedure. I’m ordered to stop twenty meters before the checkpoint and wait for a sign from one of the guards. That usually takes a few minutes, but sometimes it takes longer – depending on the mood of the guards or on current security events. After the guards give me the signal, I drive up to the inspection point and all the passengers get out except the elderly. A guard gets on the bus, checks the identity cards of passengers who stayed inside, and makes sure they are all who they say they are and over seventy years of age. Anyone younger is told to get off the bus. Sometimes, they allow sick people or mothers with babies or little children to stay on the bus. The rest of the passengers line up outside. A guard stands at the door of the bus and the passengers come up to him one by one and show their identity cards. He only lets residents of Beit Iksa and the elderly – even if they are not from Beit Iksa – back onto the bus. The age limit varies according to the guard’s mood. Sometimes it’s anyone over fifty, but it can also be over 55 or sixty. It usually takes them about ten to twenty minutes to check all the cards, depending on the number of passengers. On days when they’re strict, it can take hours.

Ahmad Liqianiyah, 29, from Beit Iksa, related in a testimony he gave on 28 June 2016 how he had to hold his wedding outside the village:

I got engaged two-and-a-half years ago. My wife, Layali Diab, comes from the village of ‘Arura near Ramallah. The engagement dragged out because it took about a year and a half to change her address to Beit Iksa so she could come live with me. The first request I filed was rejected, so I had to hire a private lawyer for about 530 US dollars. In the end, my wife was only granted the address update after we got married and submitted our marriage certificate.

We had the wedding in my wife’s village in June 2015. We couldn’t have it in Beit Iksa because the guests weren’t allowed into the village. But since we had it in ‘Arura, an hour’s drive away, a lot of people from my village couldn’t attend. The wedding was expensive because we had to hire buses and other vehicles to transport the guests, and the wedding hall in ‘Arura cost me much more than it would have cost to have the wedding in Beit Iksa.

We got over all the hurdles around the wedding, but then the real suffering began. It’s been especially hard for my wife, who feels that she is slowly losing touch with her family. Since we got married, her parents are the only members of her family who have managed to visit her in the village. Even that was only allowed after council members coordinated it for them. Her parents have only visited us six or seven times in two years. The security situation makes it impossible from them to come sometimes. It’s the month of Ramadan now, and it’s customary for parents to visit their daughter and in general, for relatives to pay visits to each other. Because of the checkpoint, we don’t have many visitors – only our closest relatives, and even then only those who manage to get into the village. It makes us feel cut off and socially isolated. My wife is about to give birth and I ask myself: what will our children’s lives be like? What sort of relationship will they have with their extended family? If my wife stays here in the village, how can her family help her with the children and stay in touch with her?

Shahinaz ‘Abdallah, 46, lives in Beit Iksa with her husband and their five children. In a testimony she gave on 23 July 2015, she explained the impact of the authorities’ refusal to update her address on her daily life:

I grew up in Jericho and married Iyad, a relative of mine from Beit Iksa, in 1992. At first we lived in al-‘Eizariyah, close to my husband’s workplace, and registered as residents of there. Our children were born and went to school there, and we had a house. But we kept in close touch with my husband’s family in Beit Iksa and with my mother, who had moved there too and is registered as a resident of the village. I have a sister and cousins in Beit Iksa, too. My children went there often, and we also used to visit on weekends and spend our summers there. We built a house in Beit Iksa to make it easier to visit and not inconvenience my in-laws. We lived like that until 2010, when Israel announced that it was going to put up a checkpoint at the entrance to the village and let only local residents in. We thought of our relationships with my husband’s parents and all our family in the village and were afraid they wouldn’t let us in any more. So I moved with the children to our house in Beit Iksa, and my husband stayed in al-‘Eizariyah, close to where he works. He visits us on the weekends.

Since we moved to the village, we’ve submitted several requests with the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior to update our address, so we can get through the checkpoint without any hassle. My husband got his updated quickly because he was born in the village. My request was denied, and at first so were the children’s. The Palestinian Ministry of Interior told us that the Israelis had refused without giving any explanation. In the meantime, my older kids have been updated as residents of the village, but I’ve submitted four or five requests that were all denied. It makes my life miserable. I’m afraid to leave the village alone, because on my way back in I’m detained and questioned – why did I come, to whom am I related in the village, and so on. They check on the phone that I really live there. I’m usually kept at the checkpoint about fifteen to thirty minutes, supposedly for inspection. I have to argue with them until they let me in. At first I worked as a teacher at al-Jib, a village nearby. I’m also studying at Al-Quds University and am deputy director of the Women’s Association for Beit Iksa’s Development, so I have to travel a lot. I cannot be dependent on my husband to enter and leave the village.

Beit Iksa Boys’ High School. Photo courtesy of the school.
Beit Iksa Boys’ High School. Photo courtesy of the school.

Mwafaq Mansur, 47 is a resident of the village of Bidu and the principal of the boys’ school in Beit Iksa. In a testimony he gave on 28 April 2015, he described how the checkpoint affects the school routine:

I’ve been the principal of the boys’ school at Beit Iksa since 2004. I never had any trouble getting to the school and back but since they put up the checkpoint, I can only get into the village thanks to a document stating that I work at the school. They are 24 people who work at the school, and only eight of them are registered as residents of Beit Iksa. Almost every week, one of the teachers is kept at the checkpoint and allowed in late, or not at all. Permission to enter or leave the village depends on the mood of the guards and the police officers at the checkpoint. It’s impossible to even consider bringing in services from outside, such as a technician to fix the photocopy machine.

The situation certainly interferes with the school. When a teacher is late or denied entry, the students miss a class. It weakens the entire school, creates confusion and disrupts the schedule. In the long run, you see the results in the students’ grades. When a teacher is kept out, we either have to find a substitute or I step in to replace him, as school principal.

Fatimah Milo al-‘Ein, 32, from the village of Qatanah, works with a regional program for the rehabilitation and integration of people with disabilities. In a testimony she gave on 2 June 2015, she described how the restrictions on entering Beit Iksa make it difficult to do her job:

I work in a community-based rehabilitation program for people with disabilities that is coordinated with local authorities, village councils and the Red Crescent. People with physical and mental disabilities take part in the program. I work in several villages in the area. We offer educational activities to raise awareness among people with disabilities and their parents. We also refer people to tests in special centers, counsel and train parents, help adjust homes to special needs, and integrate children into preschools, schools, and other centers. Thirty people with disabilities who live in Beit Iksa are registered with us. According to my work plan, I’m supposed to visit the village once a week, but because of the checkpoint I think several times before going there.

I always worry that I won’t be allowed in because I’m from Qatanah. I’m often detained or denied entry to the village. Last March, for instance, I went to Beit Iksa with a specialist in diagnosing speech and learning impediments who came from Ramallah. We were held at the checkpoint for an hour and a half on the grounds that we weren’t registered as residents of Beit Iksa, even though I showed them my employee card from the Palestinian Red Crescent that always gets me into the village. Eventually we had to get the head of the council to intervene in order to let us in – which they agreed to do only on the condition that we left our identity cards at the checkpoint until we left. We arrived late at the preschool and only had time to examine some of the children on our list.