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From the field

High Court of Justice approves Separation Barrier route near Sheikh Sa’ed in Jerusalem area, seriously infringing the villagers’ human rights

On 15 March 2010, the Israeli High Court of Justice accepted the state's position and held that the village of Sheikh Sa'ed, which is situated on the southeast edge of Jerusalem's city limits, will be severed from East Jerusalem by the Separation Barrier, a wall eight meters high.

The checkpoint at the entrance to the village of Sheikh Sa'ed. Photo: 'Amer 'Aruri, B'Tselem, 8 April 2010.
The checkpoint at the entrance to the village of Sheikh Sa'ed. Photo: 'Amer 'Aruri, B'Tselem, 8 April 2010.

Sheikh Sa'ed, which is home to two thousand persons, lies by the village of Jabel Mukaber and close family relations exist between the residents of the two villages. Unlike Jabel Mukaber, Israel did not annex Sheikh Sa'ed to Jerusalem in 1967, and it officially remained part of the West Bank. However, the village continued to function as part of East Jerusalem, with its residents receiving most of their services, including education and health, in the city. Most of the residents worked in Jerusalem. Half of the residents are permanent residents of Israel and hold Israeli ID cards; the others hold Palestinian ID cards, but most of them have permits to enter Jerusalem.

The only road linking the village with the rest of the West Bank is a dirt farm road that cuts through a deep wadi and reaches Sawahreh a-Sharqiya, north of Sheikh Sa'ed. The road is in very poor condition and after it rains, becomes muddy and impassable. The villagers had another road at their disposal, running through Jabel Mukaber, which they used to get to Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

In September 2002, the army blocked the road to Jabel Mukaber with dirt mounds and concrete blocks. Since then, it has been impossible to enter or leave the village by car. In late August 2003, Israel approved construction of the Separation Barrier in the area, along a route separating Sheikh Sa'ed from East Jerusalem. The state also planned to pave a road that would link Sheikh Sa'ed to the village of Sawahreh a-Sharqiya, which was also separated from East Jerusalem by the barrier.
In April 2004, the villagers submitted an appeal against the route of the Separation Barrier, which would disconnect them from Jabel Mukaber. In March 2006, the Separation Barrier Appeals Committee accepted the appeal, holding that, “historically, Sheikh Sa'ed is part of Jabel Mukaber, which lies within Jerusalem” and that the route of the barrier is disproportionate and infringes the villagers' rights to life, liberty, and dignity. The Appeals Committee ordered the state to reconsider the barrier's route in the area.

A week after the committee made its decision, the Border Police replaced the dirt mounds and concrete blocks at the village's entrance with a staffed checkpoint. The state petitioned the High Court of Justice against the decision of the Appeals Committee, claiming that it ignored the security ramifications of the alternative route, which would annex the village to the area of Jerusalem. In an interim ruling issued in July 2006, the court permitted the state to establish a temporary security fence, leaving an opening between Sheikh Sa'ed and Jerusalem. The new checkpoint, like the temporary one that preceded it, may be crossed only on foot. Unlike before, however, vehicles are not even allowed to come up to the checkpoint, and have to stop about twenty meters from it. The only way that villagers can now bring goods into the village or out of it, including foodstuffs and other vital products, is by carrying them on their backs. Residents of Sheikh Sa'ed and Jabel Mukaber who have Israeli ID cards are allowed to cross the checkpoint on foot at any time, and residents holding Palestinian ID cards and permits to enter Jerusalem are generally allowed to cross too. One of the most serious consequences of the restrictions imposed on the village is impaired access to medical treatment, especially in emergency cases. The complicated crossing at the checkpoint makes it hard to take seriously ill persons to hospitals in East Jerusalem. Traveling to hospital in East Jerusalem along the dirt road to Sawahreh a-Sharqiya is almost three times as expensive as traveling via Jabel Mukaber.

The village has two medical clinics. One is operated by the Palestinian Authority and is open twice a week for three hours at a time. The other, operated by the village council, is intended for first-aid and is open five hours a day but lacks equipment and medicines. In the past, residents went to hospitals in East Jerusalem for treatment and many went to the Clalit Health Fund clinic in Jabel Mukaber, which lies 100 meters from the entrance to Sheikh Sa'ed. Family relations of the villagers are also harmed. Relatives holding Palestinian ID cards find it difficult to maintain contact with their relatives in Jabel Mukaber; they only receive permits to visit on holidays and special occasions. Given the situation of families living in the isolated village, it is hard for young people in the village to find a spouse willing to live there. In a decision given on 15 March 2010, the High Court accepted the state's position and approved the original route between Sheikh Sa'ed and Jabel Mukaber. The justices recognized that “the fence will significantly affect the reality in which the residents of the Sheikh Sa'ed neighborhood live, and make it difficult for them to carry out routine and simple actions.” They ordered the state to build a gate in the barrier and held that the “grave harm” that the villagers face will be reduced by keeping the gate open around the clock for the villagers allowed to enter Israel, and by paving the planned road between the village and Sawahreh a-Sharqiya. The route of the Separation Barrier around Sheikh Sa'ed, as in the entire area of Jerusalem, is intended to separate the areas annexed in 1967 from the rest of the West Bank. In light of the fabric of life that has developed over many years between Sheikh Sa'ed and its parent village, Jabel Mukaber, construction of a physical barrier between them will result in serious and cumulative infringement of human rights, as has already occurred elsewhere in the city. The relief proposed by the High Court, that a gate be built in the Barrier between the two villages, is not a proper alternative for maintaining a reasonable way of life.

Given the reality of life as it has developed in many parts of the city since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, any security solution based on the building of a physical barrier, even one that is built along the Green Line, will severely harm human rights. Israel must carry out its duty to ensure the security of its residents by other means that are consistent with the human rights of all those who live in the territory under its control.