Since the construction of the Barrier in their area in 2006, the Nijim family has been living in a virtual cage in their West Bank home, stranded in between the Barrier and the Israeli settlement of Har Adar. Their home is located inside of what the Israelis call the ‘Seam Zone’—a term used to refer to land between the internationally recognized Green line and the Barrier, populated mostly by Israeli settlers, but also sometimes by Palestinians who were unlucky enough to have their homes located within these highly secured areas.
The Nijim family has been living in their home on the outskirts of the village of Qatanna since 1967. All 18 members of the family are UNRWA-registered refugees, 15 of which are West Bank ID holders. When the area was declared a seam zone in 2009, all members of the family, including children, became required to have permits in order to reside in their own home.
In order for the family to gain access to the ‘West Bank side’ of the Barrier, Israeli forces built concrete bridge in 2009, enclosed on three sides with a large metal gate over the Barrier’s patrol road.
Nijim Taha Salem:
“In the beginning we were given a key to pass through the gate. This gave us some control over our movement through the Barrier. It also allowed us to bring friends and relatives to the house for visits. Now this is no longer the case.
In October 2010 the key was replaced without warning with a very different system. Family members now have to press a button on an intercom at the gate that alerts an operator at Qalandiya checkpoint over 10km away [as the crow flies]. The operator checks our identity via a number of CCTV cameras as well as infrared lamps so that they can see us at night. Also, when we want to bring items to our home we have to open our bags in front of the camera for inspection.
However, the intercom and the opening system of the gate do not always work. This is particularly the case when returning to home through the Barrier as the intercom used on that side of the gate is often broken. This means that we have to call Qalandiya checkpoint by phone to ask for the gate be opened. Sometimes the soldiers there do not reply. This means that we are forced to wait at the gate, often for long periods of time, for the Border Police to arrive to open it. Sometimes they do not come at all."
Nijim’s son, Nour, described his experience trying to travel across the Barrier to his job on the other side.
“I arrived at the gate this morning in order to go to work. However, when I pressed the intercom there was no answer. I kept pressing the intercom for an hour hoping for a response. I then called Qalandiya checkpoint by phone and was told that the gate was not working and that the Border Police would come to open it. They never arrived. I get paid by the day so if I do not go to work then I do not get paid. While my boss is understanding of our situation, I do not know how long I can hold this job if I cannot travel to work every day.”
The new high-tech but sometimes ill-functioning access system that the Nijim family must now use has removed the limited control that the family previously had over their movement across the Barrier. The unpredictable nature of access through the gate means that it is difficult for family members to maintain regular jobs, go to school, or access any other services, as it is impossible to know whether they will be able to pass through the Barrier on time, if at all, on any given day.