Shadow of the West Bank barrier
INSIDE the derelict wedding hall, bird droppings have stained the golden cloths that are still draped over dozens of tables. Outside, the road which used to carry heavy traffic from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is now known as the street of ghosts.
At its abrupt end, rubbish blows up against the eight-metre-high concrete wall that has killed the village of Bir Nabala.
Musa Sabah, 51, who along with his brothers sank $1m of savings into the land on which his flourishing wedding hall business was built, now works as a part-time driving instructor and lives in a rented house which is too small for him, his wife and four of their children who still live at home.
His 18-year-old daughter wants to go to university, but Sabah can’t afford the fees and he hopes she will commit to an early marriage instead.
The vast West Bank separation barrier, which Israel began constructing 10 years ago, reached Bir Nabala in 2006, a year after Sabah opened a second wedding hall, upstairs in the same building.
Business was good: the two halls hosted an average of seven weddings a week over that year, with most bookings coming from families in nearby East Jerusalem.
“Suddenly there was no access to the hall,” said Sabah. “We had to give back all the deposits people paid.” Ten workers were laid off, the building was padlocked, Sabah was ruined.
And it wasn’t just Sabah. Almost all the businesses in the thriving village between Jerusalem and Ramallah closed. Palestinians from East Jerusalem who had bought or rented houses and apartments fled back to the city rather than endure a long roundabout journey, via the massive Qalandiya checkpoint, to jobs which previously had been 10 minutes drive away.
Abandoned, shuttered and looted apartment blocks and businesses are now the defining feature of Bir Nabala.
The area was completely encircled by the wall, leaving one road open. Bir Nabala, said Sabah, used to be “a central place, right in the middle”, a commercial hub between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Now it is a desolate wasteland.
According to a new report, The Long Term Impact of the Separation Barrier, by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the isolation of Bir Nabala “has caused a mass exodus from the village, abandonment of residential neighbourhoods and economic stasis”.
In general, says the report, the barrier has led to “numerous infringements of the human rights of Palestinians, over and above the direct damage done by its construction — including property rights, the right to free movement, the right to a reasonable standard of living and collective right to self-determination”.
B’Tselem calls on the Israeli government to dismantle all sections of the barrier already built inside the West Bank and halt further construction.
The report also details the impact of the barrier on Palestinians caught in the “seam zone”, the area between the internationally-recognised Green Line and the route of the wall or fence. When the barrier is completed, 9.4 per cent of Palestinian territory will be on the Israeli side.
A complex system of permits is required for Palestinians who need to cross the barrier, in either direction, to reach land, jobs, businesses, educational or health facilities.
Israel says the route of the barrier is determined by security needs, and that its construction is the reason for the decline in attacks by Palestinian militants inside Israel.
Sabah smiles bitterly at this explanation. “Israel built the wall for political reasons, to take the land, not security,” he says. Without the wall, he reckons the value of his land and building would have doubled by now. “Now no one will buy it. There is no future for this village unless the wall is removed.”
— The Guardian, London