The Shehada family remember living in their big house on the outskirts of Jerusalem, with a large garden boasting plum, olive and fig trees. It was a happy Palestinian home, but when Israel began building an eight-metre high wall between them and the city, Fyass Shehada knew he and his family would have to abandon it.
For the past two years, they have crammed themselves into a dilapidated two-room flat in the depths of Jerusalem’s Old City. “I’m angry that we have to live here. But we needed to keep our Jerusalem IDs. If we don’t have the ID, we will be walled out of the city,” said the 46-year-old father.
To qualify for a Jerusalem ID, they must satisfy the Israeli authorities that Jerusalem is the centre of their lives, meaning they must work or study in the city.
“I have nerve damage and I need to go to an Israeli hospital for treatment. And it is the same for all of us – we moved for our futures,” said Fyass.
Construction of what Israel calls its ‘Security Fence’ has sparked a desperate scramble for space inside East Jerusalem, where it is thought that tens of thousands of Palestinians have had to move home. "The urgent security imperative of preventing suicide terrorism dictates that a fence must be erected," said the Israeli army in a statement to IRIN.
The wall’s tall, grey concrete slabs wind around East Jerusalem to include Jewish settlements but separating the homes of about a quarter of the 240,000 Jerusalem Palestinians from the city, according to the Palestinian refugee rights group Badil, which has studied displacement caused by the wall.
Photo: Tom Spender/IRIN
In suburbs like Al Ram - where the Shehadas used to live - streets are deserted. No lights shine behind the windows of big, comfortable Palestinian homes. Shopkeepers say up to a third of the suburb’s residents have left to avoid being caught on the wall’s West Bank side.
Paying a heavy price
The Shehadas have paid a heavy price for the move. Fyass and his wife Khitam, 40, sleep on the floor of one room between sofas which their two daughters Leila, 18, and Sharouk, 14, sleep on. Their three sons Mohammed, 20, Ahmed, 16, and Mahmoud, 9, sleep in the other room, which doubles as a kitchen.
Chaotic wiring hangs loose throughout the apartment, and rainwater leaks through the roof of an outside toilet, where a frame without a door looks out over a vacant lot several metres below, strewn with rubbish and glass.
“We had such a lovely place before. Now we never see the sun. We have no space and no privacy. Everyone is sick all the time because the building is damp. It aggravates the rheumatism in my joints. The children can’t study in peace,” said Khitam.
“I cry a lot because we are all fighting so much with each other. We fight about everything; the TV, the computer. There is no freedom here.”
The different family members cope with their new lives in different ways. Khitam said she spends hours wandering around nearby Haram Al Sharif, the area around Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, because she cannot bear to remain in the flat.
Teenager Ahmed, however, spends his free time chatting on the internet, where he has struck up an online friendship with a Syrian girl from Damascus. “I hate this place – it’s filthy and disgusting. I don’t go outside to see my friends because if the Israeli soldiers see me, they stop me because I am big and tall,” he said.
“He never goes out and has barely seen a girl for two years,” said his mother.
Increase in divorces
Divorce among displaced Palestinians is rising because of the stress families are now under, according to Karine MacAllister, a Badil lawyer.
- If the Barrier is completed based on the current route, 60,500 Palestinians living in 42 villages will reside in areas between the Barrier and the Green Line (unofficial border), not including East Jerusalem residents.
- Of these, 12 villages and about 31,400 Palestinians are particularly affected as they will be completely encircled by the Barrier.
- An additional 124,300 Palestinians living in 28 villages will be located on the east side, but surrounded by the Barrier on three sides and controlled on the fourth with an associated physical structure.
The Shehadas are relatively lucky. Fyass moved them early on in the building of the wall, and so at least they found a place to live. He pays just under US$300 a month for the rent and earns about US$830 a month working as a gardener in West Jerusalem.
Other Palestinians who want to move say rents have rocketed, with landlords increasing them to US$800 or US$1,000 a month. “Some landlords are even asking for the entire year’s rent to be paid all at once in advance. I can’t afford it,” said 35-year-old Ruweida Saadi in an area on the northern edge of Jerusalem.
Those left behind face an uncertain future. Israel is building new facilities for Palestinian Jerusalemites outside the wall. Hana Kirreh, a women’s rights activist, believes it is a trap.
“They are building a health centre and a post office at Qalandiya. Then they will turn around and tell people that they no longer need to go to Jerusalem and will give them West Bank IDs,” she said.
Israel insists it is building the barrier for security reasons only. It says it has the right to do so and that the barrier’s route is determined by security concerns balanced with the desire to cause minimal disruption to Palestinian lives.
But Badil’s MacAllister suggested to IRIN that chopping Jerusalem Palestinians out of the city amounted to population transfer, which she said was a war crime and a crime against humanity.
“Displacement is the root cause of the conflict. It is taking land and clearing it of people. The wall is just one aspect of a pattern of making life so difficult that people will eventually want to move,” she said.
“One has to ask – is this the goal of Israeli policy?”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions