High Court ruling keeps Palestinian village in limbo

'Illegal' residents of Nu'man can't move freely in Israel but are cut off from West Bank.

Arab village 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Arab village 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The 200 Palestinians living in El-Nu'man, a village in the extreme southeast corner of Jerusalem, will continue to live in their never-never land, trapped without status between the West Bank and Jerusalem, in the wake of a High Court of Justice decision handed down earlier this week. Israel does not recognize the residents of Nu'man as living in Jerusalem and has never granted them residency status. It claims that they moved illegally from the West Bank into the city after a post-Six Day War census that determined exactly which Palestinians lived in areas annexed to Jerusalem as a result of the war. Since the war, the city of Jerusalem has not provided the village with municipal services, including water and garbage collection, nor has it collected city taxes. Since for many years there were no travel restrictions between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Nu'man residents had strong day-to-day ties there, including employment, commerce, social, family and religious connections. Despite the de facto exclusion of Nu'man from Jerusalem, Israel built the West Bank separation barrier to include the village within the city, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank. In order to maintain their West Bank ties, residents have had to pass through the fence gate and be subjected to security checks by soldiers. The residents claimed that the soldiers would regularly abuse their power and humiliate the residents. Last year, villagers backed by the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq petitioned the High Court, demanding that the state move the security fence so that it separated Nu'man from Jerusalem and connected it to the West Bank, or - if this were not possible - that it grant Israeli residency status to the inhabitants of the village and allow them to move about freely in Israel. The state objected to these demands. It argued that it would cost NIS 34 million to move the fence, too high a cost, and continued to insist that village residents had moved into Jerusalem after the 1967 census and were therefore illegal, even though aerial photographs from that year showed that 10 houses already stood on the site and another was under construction. Since then, 10 more houses have been built. The state added that any villager could apply for a certificate allowing him to live in the village. This would mean that he would no longer be considered an "illegal sojourner" facing the threat of jail or expulsion at any moment. However, a resident with such a permit would not be able to move about in Jerusalem. All he could do was live in his village or leave to go directly to the West Bank. On the other hand, attorney Labib Habib, who represented the residents, pointed out that anyone applying for such a permit would have to undergo a security test and ran the risk of being expelled if he did not pass it. According to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a person is considered a "security risk" if his brother is a terrorist or even if he was injured by security authorities (because he may want to take revenge.) The state informed the court that since it had last met to consider the petition, it had improved conditions for the residents. For example, soldiers had been instructed to stop harassing villagers when they passed through the border crossing. The state also said that although it was illegal to import goods from the West Bank into Israel, soldiers no longer caused problems for Nu'man residents who brought food and other commodities back home with them. The court rejected the petition and said the improvements cited by the state should remain in force.