Palestine: Dividing Land, Erasing Identity in Qalandiya

Visitors walk past a giant photograph showing the “Apartheid Wall” at the West Bank at the “Wall on Wall” exhibition by German photographer Kai Wiedenhoefer, displayed on a remaining section of the Berlin wall 26 July 2013. (Photo: AFP – John Macdougall)

Qalandiya, a village on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem, has become a stark example of the crimes of the Israeli occupation. In the name of “security needs,” Israel has bisected the village, dividing both land and people, even splitting one family in two.

Ramallah – To the north of occupied Jerusalem, there is a small, isolated village with a population of no more than 1,100. But the village occupies a strategic position on the outskirts of Jerusalem, between several factories and vital installations, including Israeli military manufacturing sites.

The village is adjacent to the airport of Jerusalem known as Qalandiya Airport, which was built during the British Mandate. Today, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) wants the facility to become its official airport in a future Palestinian state.The location of this village, like many others around Jerusalem, has made it vulnerable to Israeli military and settlement schemes, which always invoke the “security needs” of the Jewish state. Recently, Israel “annexed” the eastern part of Qalandiya into the areas falling behind the Green Line – the demarcation line marking the de facto border between Israel proper and the territories it captured in 1967.

But what Israel calls “annexation” is in fact a process to alter the route of the separation barrier, dividing the village in half – with only three homes in the eastern part annexed to the Jewish state and the remaining homes under PNA control. In other words, the village’s map changed overnight at the stroke of a pen. The village’s population, which has been living as a unified community for hundreds of years, is now subject to the whims of Israeli occupation officers.

Today, only three families live in the eastern part of the village, including two that carry the blue Israeli identity card, and one that carries the green Palestinian card, despite being related to one another. This is one of the many absurdities that come with the Israeli occupation, with members of the same family carrying different identification documents.

In the part of Qalandiya that has not been annexed, for example, some carry blue cards and others green cards, and though some are directly related to people in the eastern part, only blue card holders are allowed to go there to visit their relatives. “Even those who have permits to go to Jerusalem are not allowed to visit this area,” said Youssef Awadallah, head of Qalandiya’s village council.

In the annexed part of the village, the lives of the three resident families are now restricted by the occupation’s daily schedule. These residents are allowed to leave and return for only three hours each day through the checkpoint established by the occupation in the village, from 7 to 8:30 AM, then from 12:30 to 1 PM, and then from 4 to 5 PM.

But why did the Israelis sequester the eastern part of the village specifically?

Mahmoud Awadallah said, “The importance of this region has to do with its strategic position. The village is adjacent to the airport and the Atarot industrial park, as well as the strategic Route 443 and Atarot’s entrance. They did not want to put the wall directly along the route, and annexed this segment of the village to put the wall beyond it, in order to leave a buffer zone. The village is also close to a plant operated by Mata, an Israeli aerospace company that manufactures and upgrades helicopters.”

Curfews and Checkpoints

Among the families in the annexed part of Qalandiya, activist Mahmoud Awadallah’s family has the most intriguing circumstances, being the only family with Palestinian green ID cards. This means that the Awadallah family lives inside an Israeli “enclave,” in semi-isolation from the world.This family cannot move freely within the Green Line, like the other two, or the West Bank, except during hours determined by the occupation. More often than not, the Israelis do not show any leniency for humanitarian or family emergencies. The Awadallah family embodies the occupation’s sharp disregard for the Palestinian lives.

Mahmoud Awadallah said, “One night, after the occupation authorities closed the village gates, my mother fell ill, but we were prevented from taking her to hospital. We had to wait until the next day before we could move her.”

Cars are not allowed to enter or leave the area, Awadallah added, and even those holding blue ID cards have to take a lengthy route to reach the second part of the village outside “visitation hours.” In other words, the occupation turns a five-minute journey between the two parts of the small village into a one-hour trek.

Even social relations between families now depend on the mood of Israeli occupation authorities. This includes marital relations, for instance, when one spouse carries an Israeli card and the other a Palestinian.

Youssef Awadallah said, “I carry the blue card, and I am forced to cross a large distance to get to the second part of the village. But what good is an ID card if I am isolated from my land and my relatives? I live in the eastern part, and my children and siblings live in the Arab part. Ever since the village was divided, our daily visits have stopped.”

Above all, what the area’s residents fear most is isolation from their families and surroundings in the event of a major escalation, when the entire region could be shut off.

Meanwhile, none of the petitions submitted by village residents to Israeli courts have borne fruit yet. Awadallah said, “So far, they have refused to respond or even consider the issue.” Now, the residents intend to go to the Israeli Supreme Court, to demand either full freedom of movement, or Jerusalem residence permits.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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