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Security forces tighten siege on Sheikh Sa'ed village

Some two thousand people live in Sheikh Sa'ed, a village situated on the eastern edge of Jerusalem . Israel did not annex the village into Jerusalem in 1967, and it officially remained part of the West Bank . The dirt path that links it with the rest of the West Bank runs down a steep hill that is not suitable for travel by vehicle. Because of the topography, residents wanting to leave the village have to go via East Jerusalem - even if they want to reach other parts of the West Bank . Also, residents of Sheikh Sa'ed have close family ties with residents of East Jerusalem and receive most services from East Jerusalem . In practice, Sheikh Sa'ed has always functioned as a part of East Jerusalem . However, most of the village's residents hold West Bank identity cards, so they are forbidden to enter East Jerusalem without a special permit from the Civil Administration.

In September 2002, the IDF brought in dirt mounds and concrete blocks and blocked the road linking Sheikh Sa'ed and East Jerusalem . Since then, it has been impossible to enter or leave the village by vehicle. The only way to brings goods into the village is by unloading the goods on one side of the concrete blocks and loading them onto a vehicle on the other side. In late August 2003, Israel approved construction of the separation barrier in the area. According to the plan, the barrier separates Sheikh Sa'ed and East Jerusalem , and thus completely detaches the residents from their center of life. The residents filed suit and, in March 2006, the Magistrate's Court ruled that the route chosen by the state was improper.

Shiekh Sa'ed, a village under siege. Photo: Lin Chalozin-Dovrat, B'Tselem, 28 June 2006.
Shiekh Sa'ed, a village under siege. Photo: Lin Chalozin-Dovrat, B'Tselem, 28 June 2006.

A week after the court made its decision, the Border Police placed a permanent staffed checkpoint at the entrance to the village. Village residents who do not hold Israeli identity cards are forbidden to exit the village and enter Jerusalem . Even those who have permits to enter Israel are not allowed to cross the checkpoint. Instead they are directed to the Olive Checkpoint. To get to that checkpoint, they have to negotiate a long descent down the cliff on which the village lies. In fact the siege Israel has imposed on the village leaves those without Jerusalem identity cards with two ways to leave the village: to go along a difficult and, for some residents, an impossible path down the cliff, or to enter Jerusalem illegally.

The siege affects every aspect of the resident's lives. One of the most serious consequences is its effect on access to medical treatment: the village has no medical clinic, so the residents have to go to facilities in East Jerusalem, in most cases to Jabel Mukaber, which lies about 100 meters from the entrance to Sheikh Sa'ed. The villagers have difficulty obtaining essential foodstuffs and other consumer needs. The "back-to-back" method of transporting goods across the checkpoint is no longer an option because the Border Police do not allow vehicles to approach the checkpoint. Therefore, the villagers have to carry the goods by themselves, and sometimes even this is prohibited.

According to reports and testimonies given to B'Tselem, and visits to the village by B'Tselem staff, on a few occasions Border Police at the checkpoint fired tear-gas and stun grenades at people who gathered near the checkpoint, even though they were not trying to break through the checkpoint or harm the soldiers. Also, the reports and testimonies indicate that the Border Police often call out on loudspeakers for no need, apparently to frighten the residents.

The court ruling of March 2006, referred to above, states that the planned route causes disproportionate harm because it detaches the residents from East Jerusalem . The court rejected the state's claim that the residents constitute a security threat, and held that the state failed to provide evidence to support its security claim. The court recommended that the barrier be erected east of the village, to enable the residents to gain access to East Jerusalem . On 23 May, the state appealed the decision to the High Court of Justice, arguing that the Magistrate's Court ignored the security consequences entailed in the alternate route, and that the court's suggested route would actually increase the injury to the residents. The petition is pending.