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Why Is Israel Torturing The Palestinian Residents Of Sheikh Sa'ad?

By Avi Issacharoff

26 May, 2010

Residents of the isolated village of Sheikh Sa'ad are unable to leave the town in their cars, and are continually subjected to poor treatment by IDF border guards.

The Palestinian village of Sheikh Sa'ad has been essentially disconnected from the outside world by the Israeli defense establishment. This is one of those stories that make me, as an Israeli, feel truly shameful.

As Haaretz reported Monday, the village is located near Jerusalem but is isolated from all surrounding villages due to the location of the West Bank barrier.

The barrier has cut Sheikh Sa'ad off from Jabal Mukkaber, which falls under the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. The residents of the village are unable to leave the town in their cars because of the Kidron Valley, which surrounds the village from the east, north, and south.

The bridge that in the past enabled the residents of Sheikh Sa'ad to cross the Kidron Valley was blown up in 2001 by the Israel Defense Forces.
The checkpoint at the entrance of the village of Sheikh Sa'ad

Since the erection of the West Bank barrier in 2004, the manner in which the defense establishment has been treating the residents of the village has been outrageous.

The High Court ruled in 2005 that the West Bank barrier must be moved in a way that allows the village to fall under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem. Otherwise, the residents would be cut off from all the services they are entitled to such as education and health care.

However the state appealed the court ruling and the barrier stayed in its place, while residents were unable to exit the village in their cars except through a dirt road only suitable for vehicles with 4x4 wheels.

One checkpoint was left open for pedestrians, with a traffic light next to it that is supposed to allow cars to pass through when the light changes to green. But almost like a bad joke, the light has remained red.

In March of 2010, the High Court of Justice accepted the state's appeal and ruled that the village would remain on the other side of the barrier, as long as the pedestrian passage remained open 24 hours a day for all the residents of the village. This stipulation was to apply to residents with both blue identification cards (Israeli residents) as well as those holding orange cards (Palestinians).

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch also issued the condition that the passage be open to vehicles at the Swahara checkpoint. However the bridge that was blown up was never repaired, so regular cars have no way of getting to the checkpoint, and those that were able to cross the valley discovered that the Swahara checkpoint is only open to pedestrians.

When the Swahara checkpoint was finally opened to vehicles two weeks ago, those who arrived at the checkpoint discovered that cars can indeed pass through - just not those belonging to villagers. So at the moment, there is no way for residents to leave the village in their cars. So let them walk! Right?

Representatives from the organization MachsomWatch (Checkpoint Watch), a group of women working to protect Palestinians' rights at checkpoints, described to Haaretz several incidents involving pedestrians at checkpoints.

"An infant needed to go to the Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, after he swallowed something. The mother had X-rays and proof of their hospital appointment – but she and her son were not allowed to pass through, and border police went as far as completely ignoring the two.

"Commander Y, who was at the station checking documents, shut the window in the faces of the mother and son. The mother was forced to drive through a dirt road to the coordination and liaison administration at the olive crossing, which was at least 40 minutes away, in order to stand in line and file for an entrance permit. Following the events, we filed a complaint." (21.2.2010)

"An eight-month pregnant resident of Sheikh Sa'ad who held a Palestinian identification card was suffering from severe pains and thought to go to the hospital where she was supposed to give birth.

"The soldiers at the checkpoint did not allow her to pass. Officials in the Civil Administration gave a bureaucratic response: It turned out that the woman was previously issued a permit to pass through as an escort for her sister when she went to the ophthalmologist. Since the woman was issued the permit, she wasn't able to pass through without it, even if she was going into early labor.

"They told her she has to drive to the Palestinian coordination and liason administration in Azaria (at least 40 minutes away through a dirt road) so she could bring the permit and only then she would be allowed to pass through to the hospital. All our attempts at showing them the absurdity of the situation as well as the very real danger to her health that they were ignoring proved fruitless. Eventually, the woman paid for a cab to go and bring her the permit, and she returned home in order to wait for it." (17.06.09)

There are several more examples of the wonders at the checkpoint leading to Sheikh Sa'ad. The reason the Israeli government tortures the residents of the village is unclear to me. What is their goal? Where is the security threat?

The response of the defense establishment to every checkpoint story is embarrassing. Everyone on the Israeli side hides behind the High Court ruling to leave the crossing on the way to Jabal Mukkaber open to pedestrians. But somehow, they forget to mention that Israel had also committed to open the Swahara checkpoint and the toad leading to it to car traffic, as well.

Did I already say shamefull?