The Israel Defense Forces roadblock on Highway 55 does not note the border crossing between Israel and the West Bank. No sign marks the dirt road that winds between the tin shacks and the few brick houses, whose plaster and color have worn off, of the Palestinian village of Arab a-Ramadin. The little hill overlooks Qalqilyah to the north, Kfar Sava to the west, and Alfei Menashe to the east.
The Israeli government's decision to place the separation fence east of Alfei Menashe, in order to bring it closer to Israel, has distanced Arab a-Ramadin's 300 Bedouin residents from the West Bank - the focus of their lives. There are 7,000 Palestinians living like them, on the seam - neither here nor there. Their home is in the west, and their heart is in the east. Now the Israeli authorities are offering them a solution: packing up and moving to the other side of the fence, a voluntary - or perhaps not so voluntary - transfer.
One morning, a little over two months ago, a long convoy of military vehicles came down this winding route. The head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, and a group of officers had come to visit the Bedouin village.
It is not every day that local council head Hassan Halil Shaour, 60, receives such distinguished visitors. For many years, the village's lawyers have been wooing the authorities, requesting building permits and a connection to the electricity and water grids, but were always denied. For lack of permits, a residential apartment was transformed into an improvised kindergarten. More than two dozen children crowd into the tin shack, which at night becomes a bedroom.
Their Jewish neighbors taught them that in the territories, there are special laws - see the Sasson report, for example. First you build, and afterward anything can happen. In the meantime, the demolition orders are gradually piling up in the lawyers' offices.
And then, suddenly, the Civil Administration head himself shows up. Kasab Shaour, the council head's oldest son, describes the visit in fluent Hebrew. Salam Hamad Abu Farda, 50, the head of the neighboring village and Bedouin tribe Arab Abu Farda, joins in.
"The commander explained to us that we will not receive building permits in this place. He said we needed to find another place outside the fence, with water and electricity and freer movement. We told him we would not leave for any price. We have documents proving this is our land. Everything is recorded in tabu (the land registry)," the elder Shaour says through his son.
Shaour says he was a refugee twice and will not let them expel him a third time (in 1948, the tribe moved to Mount Hebron, and in the 1950s it acquired the 300-dunam plot where they now live - A.E.).
Salman Abdullah pipes in: "The Supreme Court approved moving the fence from the Green Line into the territories. It did not decide to move people. I believe Israel is a country that follows the rule of law, and also takes into account international law."
Abdullah stresses that the village has excellent relations with its neighbors in Alfei Menashe, who employ many of its youth in maintenance, cleaning and construction jobs. "However, we have been here since the 1950s, since the Jordanians' time, and they came only in 1982. Why are they taken into account, but we aren't? Why do I have to spend an hour in my car and be checked at two roadblocks in order to go shopping in Qalqilyah, which is a 10-minute walk from my house? So it will be more comfortable for them? You don't want us here - so please move the fence to the Green Line, and we'll go back to being a neighborhood of Qalqilyah."
A few days ago, in the wake of the commander's visit, the villagers turned to attorney Michael Sfard for help. Sfard has been representing them for years.
In response, he sent a letter to Mordechai, and recalled a passage hidden in an order that the Judea and Samaria region legal adviser had sent Sfard in November 2006, during hearings on the fence route in that area. It stated: "The possibility exists of offering the Bedouin residents in Arab a-Ramadin and Arab Abu Farda a living arrangement at a site beyond the fence route."
Sfard told Brig. Gen. Mordechai that he appears to be suggesting a population transfer, whose objective is to "cleanse" the seam area of its Palestinian residents.
"Even if you believe there is a big difference between forced transfer and 'voluntary transfer,' the difference is minimal when those designated for expulsion are dependent on Civil Administration permits and permission for every little thing," Sfard wrote to Mordechai. "You know that there are hardly any areas where the village residents are not subject to the mercy of the army and the Civil Administration. In all these areas, you have limited our clients' rights, and occasionally even prevented them from being exercised at all."
The villagers say that since the visit, the soldiers at the roadblock have been treating them even worse, offering them scorn and delaying them on various pretexts. Recently, the soldiers have been demanding passage permits even for one-day-old babies. The Civil Administration is stingy with permits for relatives and friends who want to visit the village. In July, when a resident married a woman from Hebron, the Civil Administration permitted only the bride and first-degree relatives - less than a dozen guests - to attend the wedding in the village.
The Civil Administration commented: "The Administration wishes to find a permanent, fitting and quality housing solution for the residents, and is working to do so through dialogue and with their consent, yet it is committed to enforcing the planning and construction laws in the region.
"The master plan submitted to the field unit several years ago was reviewed and turned down for various planning and security reasons, and the residents' representative was notified. Given that the said areas lack planning, and all the buildings there are illegal, then they cannot be legally hooked up to water and electricity, nor may roads be paved there.
"At the same time, and in order to allow the residents a normal, reasonable fabric of life, no enforcement has been taken regarding the water and electricity connection there, or the temporary road. The Civil Administration works in full coordination with the tribe members and allows relatives and friends to enter the seam area, in accordance with representatives' requests and the established procedures. There have been no recent changes in this matter."
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