The meal had been lovely, and I was preparing to pay the bill when my cell phone rang. Even though it was just a few minutes before midnight, the Jerusalem restaurant was bustling and I had to walk outside to hear what the caller was saying.
“They arrested Jammal, Yusef and seventeen other men!” the woman on the other end exclaimed. “We don’t know where they took them But Irit, Ezra, Tamara and Amiel are on their way to the military checkpoint.”
Together with Farid and Mounther, I left the restaurant. We drove towards checkpoint 300, the one between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
On the way Mounther noted that the time and day of the operation had been carefully chosen. The hour was late and it would be difficult to find a lawyer who could file an urgent appeal; moreover, the Israeli weekend newspapers were already at the printers – by Sunday the incident would no longer be news.
This was the third time that Israeli Border Police had entered Nuemann, a small Palestinian village located on the southern hilly terrain of Jerusalem. This village, together with 27 others, had been annexed to the municipality immediately following the 1967 war. Yet, unlike most of the inhabitants of the other villages, who were subsequently registered by the Israeli civil administration as Israeli residents (as opposed to citizens), the inhabitants of Nuemann were given West Bank identity cards. Thus, the Nuemann residents and their houses belong to different legal and administrative systems: the houses and land are part of the Jerusalem municipal system, while the inhabitants are residents of the West Bank and therefore subjected to Israeli military rule.
We arrived at the checkpoint just after midnight. The nineteen men were already there, crammed inside a small tin shack. A few of them looked like they were in their late-teens, but most of them were in their mid-thirties, and two or three were in their sixties, my father’s age.
The detainees described how the policemen had entered each house, waking the inhabitants, including the children, and gathering the men. Everyone who was not too old to walk had to go. The accusation was “illegal entrance into Israel.”
Imagine living in a village your whole life, the very same one in which you and your parents were born. Your four children go to a nearby school and you work the land, growing olive trees and wheat.
Then one night the police show up at your door. They make you walk to a military checkpoint a few kilometers away, only to tell you that you are an illegal occupant and must leave your ancestral home.
You, of course, argue, stating that you were born in the village and have lived there all your life.
The policeman in charge asks for your identity card. You hand it over. He examines it for a moment and then points out that you are actually not a resident of the village, but rather belong to the West Bank and therefore must leave your home. “All I want to do is to maintain the rule of law,” he explains.
Although the rule of law is often associated with justice and democracy, law can often be employed to perpetuate crimes. After all, the rule of law upheld the Apartheid regime in South Africa and is currently sustaining Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.
But why now? Why, after thirty-six years of occupation, has Israel decided to enforce its draconic laws in Nuemann?
In order to figure out this mystery, one needs to travel to Nuemann and look south. Not far the bulldozers are busy working. They are building the separation wall, a complex series of barriers, trenches, roads, and fences. The goal is to expropriate the land north of the wall “uninhabited,” which means expelling Nuemann’s residents from their homes. In Israel we call this policy “transfer.”
Nuemann is just one example of how the wall is being built in order to confiscate Palestinian land and create facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. A recent report published by the World Bank suggests that by the time the wall is completed, 95,000 Palestinians will be living in Bantustans closed off on all sides.
At around 3:00 am the policemen decided to release the nineteen Palestinians, after warning them that they will be punished if they don’t leave their homes in the near future.
This was the third time in the past month that the men had gone through the same ordeal, only this time the police had been much more cautious since members from Ta’ayush (Arab-Jewish partnership) were watching.
We dropped the Nuemann residents off and drove home, passing the pubs and nightclubs, breathing in Jerusalem’s nightlife.
NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and is a member of Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.