Al-Nu’man: a village stuck in limbo
By Silvia Boarini
August 24, 2012
It was in 1992 that the people of al-Nu’man, a Palestinian village between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, realized that their land had been pulled away from underneath their feet.
Prior to 1967, al-Nu’man had been a tiny dot on the edge of the Bethlehem governorate. After the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it was decided by the Israeli government that the village would serve a higher purpose within the Jerusalem governorate, where its land would prove to be useful for the inevitable 'natural growth’ of Har Homa – an Israeli illegal Israeli settlement built in 1967 and in constant expansion.
To make this possible, fresh lines were drawn on a map by Israeli military strategists, as if a piece of paper bore no relations to the lives of people. The redrawing maybe happened in 1967, or even earlier- Israel after all has always had the clear vision and powerful friends needed to get places. Either way, by 1981, when Israel’s "Jerusalem law" unilaterally annexed the "liberated" city, the new plan was known at least to Israeli officials.
Still, it was only in 1992 that the residents of al-Nu’man officially learned of their new non-status. As West Bank ID holders, they were illegally residing in what was now "Israel". It didn’t matter that the land under their feet was theirs; the 'facts on the ground’ drawn on a map had apparently gained precedence over reality.
As if the 1967 Allon plan map wasn’t clear enough evidence of what Israel was aiming for in the West Bank after it occupied it in the same year, the expansion of the borders of the Jerusalem governorate to include villages such as al-Nu’man certainly sealed the fate of entire neighbourhoods surrounding the holy city.
As if in a dark fable, the fate of the people in the tiny village was left hanging in mid air. Unaware, nature went on as the bougainvillea continued to flower, the trees continued to grow, and the goats continued to graze in the green fields. In contrast, the village would see its development forever stunted at 20 houses, 220 people and 1 street, despite the current West Bank Palestinian population growth rate of about 2.1%.
Israel has forbidden the construction of any buildings in al-Nu’man since, according to their laws, no holder of a West Bank ID is allowed to reside in the area in the first place. Effectively, al-Nu’man has been handed out a slow death sentence.
"What will happen in 15 years?" wonders village resident Yousef Al Darawi. "We cannot increase in number. My children are afraid they won’t be able to live here and that they will lose everything."
Monetary compensation in return for leaving land
Looking for a way out of this surreal predicament, in 1993 the residents petitioned Israel’s High Court to either recognise al-Nu’man as part of the West Bank, or to grant Israeli IDs to villagers so that they would be able to go on living, growing, building and receiving services from the municipality which, unwillingly, they were now a part of.
Nothing came of that attempt. To add to the impossibility of their situation, a representative of Israel’s government identified by the villagers as Davie Kahana, appeared in al-Nu’man in 2003 to offer compensation to the villagers if they were willing to leave the area. The explanation given by Kahana was that Israel had plans to leave the land "as an open and uninhabited space." Kahana warned the villagers to leave or face complete isolation.
It was a typical Catch 22 situation. The people of al-Numan would be recognised as rightful owners of their houses only once they abandoned them. The only benefit they would get from that longed for recognition was to be monetary compensation. They turned the offer down.
Twenty years later, little has changed. What has changed, though, has literally been set in stone. The Apartheid Wall has been built and has further severed al-Nu’man from Bethlehem and the West Bank.
Furthermore, despite a case brought to Israel’s courts by Al Haq and Defence for Children International (DCI), no solution has been reached with regards to the residents’ IDs and permits. Instead, Israel has opted to build a permanent checkpoint at the entrance of al-Nu’man. At this checkpoint exists a list with the names of people allowed to enter the enclosed area.
The Apartheid Wall’s checklist
The overall feeling is that this list bears the names of the original, and last, inhabitants of al-Nu’man.There is little likelihood that new names such as those of brides joining the husband’s family, or newborn children, or anyone wishing to join their existing families in the village will ever be added to that list.
"My eldest sons have yet to marry," explains Al Darawi. "It’s a big problem. There is no future for the village." Marrying, in fact, would mean moving away from the village since it would be highly unlikely that any bride coming from outside would be added to the list of al-Nu’man residents.
Darawi’s daughter, Nevine, did marry and as customary moved to her husband’s village. Yet she remembers how the Wall, the checkpoint and the list imposed their presence even on her wedding day.
"No friends and family from outside were allowed to come and join the car procession from al-Nu’man," she remembers sadly. "I had to go by myself. It was a lonely ride to Beit Sahour (in the West Bank). That was the only place where we could all meet."
"I feel separated from my family," she adds. "That’s the hardest part of this. The checkpoints, the Wall and the soldiers make it impossible to have a life."
A common story embedded in PA incompetence and occupation
As Valentina Azarov, a legal researcher for al-Haq pointed out, "Israel doesn’t squeeze Palestinians into a lorry to make them move to the nearest Arab urban center. It demolishes their houses countless times so that the Palestinians themselves eventually get into a lorry and move to the nearest Arab urban center."
Other than that, Israel tends to tell Palestinians that they don’t exist. If they don’t exist then they don’t need houses, gas, electricity, water or schools. This tug of war goes on until a community is finally strangled out of existence. This is known as "indirect population transfer", a long-winded process that aims at exhausting the resilience of Palestinians and convince them that life would be better somewhere else.
This 'slow-moving’ kind of occupation goes largely undetected by public opinion and lies low on the international media’s radar. By the time a story makes the headlines, it has often reached the end of the process. When people are being evicted and clashes occur, it means that "justice" has run its course and irreversible decisions have been made; this is already a point of no return.
"Israel should try to build good relations with the Palestinians," adds al Darawi. "Instead, they build the wall around us just to steal land. And I need permission to build on my own land. But they can build on my land as they wish. They don’t want us to live here but I can’t live anywhere else. Al Numan lives inside me."
Unfortunately, this sad tale is unfolding not just in the Jerusalem belt but in Area C (60% of the West Bank), the Jordan Valley and the south Hebron Hills- all areas clearly marked for annexations in the landmark 1967 Allon Map.
This begs the question, where is a feasible Palestinian answer to the Allon plan Map, where is the common vision of a future Palestine behind which a whole nation can unite?
A policy of adjustment to Israel’s requests seems to have characterised the strategy of Palestinian negotiators since time immemorial. But as promises have been broken, land lost, settlements built -and the lifebuoy that should have been international law has clearly been sabotaged- will Palestinian strategists manage to act before the ship goes down?
In the meantime, the residents of al-Nu’man continue to hang on to their houses for dear life, they will not be shaken off the map without at least a fight to the last court case.