29 April 2010
Azzun Atmeh, West Bank
“I want to study to be a doctor,” 10-year-old Sally Mas’ud says, beaming. But Sally’s family live in the West Bank seam zone, between the Green Line and the Barrier, and access restrictions place increasing strains on her education. She and her eight siblings must all cross at least one checkpoint, twice a day, to reach school.
On a typical morning at the checkpoint, each one is asked to show a copy of their father’s ID, a copy of their birth certificate, and a copy of their father’s work permit.
Although the family is careful to keep enough copies, sometimes, depending on the day and on the soldier manning the checkpoint, only the original document will do.
Despite this, their father Khalil is insistent that they receive an education, “so they don’t suffer in life as I did,” he says.
Khalil Mas’ud is a 64-year-old refugee from Jaffa. The family live near Azzun Atmeh, a village just a few miles east of the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank. The village is typical of others in the seam zone, which makes up 10 per cent of the West Bank.
Azzun Atmeh once boasted a thriving trade in fruit and vegetables to Israel and the nearest West Bank city, Qalqilya. In the years before the second intifada or Palestinian uprising, Khalil remembers, travelling across the Green Line to the Arab village of Kafr Qasem in Israel was relatively easy. Now, limited trade from the village means that there are simply no jobs.
Today, work permits are not issued to Palestinians and the route of the Barrier leaves the Mas’ud family physically cut off from Azzun Atmeh.
Both the family and village are stuck in the seam zone, but a series of checkpoints and a punishing permit system severely restrict the family’s access to the village, the wider West Bank and Israel. The result is crippling poverty, worsening health and educational opportunities, and near-total aid dependence.
Khalil, an asthma sufferer, has to cross the checkpoint to travel to the medical centre twice a week. Being able to cross is never a certainty, he explains: “Sometimes you can cross, sometimes you can’t.”
The checkpoint also makes getting food problematic. The family receive UNRWA food parcels and well-wishers often call to say they have extra bread for the family, but even collecting handouts has its difficulties. The last time Khalil’s son Mahmoud was sent to the village to collect surplus bread, he was turned back at the checkpoint.
Khalil is understandably frustrated with the restrictions on his ability to feed his family, saying that he often appeals to the soldiers to “bring me bread, or let me go!”
Today, with Khalil’s failing health and his family unable to access essential services and work opportunities, life in the seam zone is exerting an intolerable strain.
Before last year’s exams, 13-year-old Hanine struggled to find a place in the tiny house to do her homework, so she studied under the flickering light of the street lamp in the yard. The work paid off – she scored 82 per cent. Her younger sister Sally may have to follow her if she is to fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor.