'Deported' Palestinians Return via Mountain Paths

He can't recall the exact date; it may have been a few days, or maybe a week, before last month's elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council when A.D., 35, and his family were awakened in the middle of the night by loud knocks on their front door. He knew immediately what they meant: Soldiers were going from house to house and ordering their occupants out for a few hours.

Sometimes, they are told that the reason is rocks that someone has strewn over the road; often, the searches are designed to locate Palestinians who are not registered as residents of the Jordan Valley in their identity documents.

"They took me, my three small children - aged four to eight - and their mother, and another three laborers who are working here in construction, put us into a military jeep and threw us out behind the Tayasir checkpoint," A.D. recounted early in the week.

A.D., his wife and their children returned to their house through the mountains. This was the second time he had been "thrown out" of his house in this manner. The first time was about two months ago, but "they only took me. It was cold, the children were sleeping, and the soldiers had pity on them and my wife. They only confiscated her identity document and left them at home."

Then, too, A.D. returned home through the mountains. Between these two occasions, he managed to flee on hearing the soldiers entering the village and conducting searches.

A.D.'s identity document does indeed list him as a resident of Tubas, southeast of Jenin, but he has been living in one of the villages of the northern Jordan Valley for some 20 years already.

Bardala, Kardala and Ein el Beida are sister-villages to northern West Bank communities that were established in the middle of last century by residents originally from Tubas, Tamun and Tayasir. Some of the residents divide their time between the two locations, while others have just a single home, in one the villages of the northern Jordan Valley. Some were born in these villages, are listed as residents of the Jordan Valley and married spouses from Tubas. Some are wealthy landowners, some have just a few dunams of land, and others, like A.D., lease a plot and work it, in return for a share of the harvest.

They started running into the "strange" occurrences at the Tayasir checkpoint, which is on their only direct route home, some two years back, with soldiers denying passage to anyone who is not registered as a resident of the Jordan Valley. Initially, they thought it was just a whim, a passing order, that things would change. And they began to use roads through the mountains or other checkpoints to get home. But at some point in May 2005, the night searches and deportations beyond the checkpoint became a matter of routine.

The soldiers often confiscate their identity documents and demand they they collect them at one of the Palestinian liaison offices - in Jenin, Tubas or Jericho. Just to get there takes a full day of waiting at checkpoints, or bypassing them, and costs some NIS 200. To request a new document costs NIS 120. They prefer a new document, and the abandoned ones keep piling up at the liaison offices.

Ever since realizing that this is not a passing trend, people have started to submit requests to change their addresses - from Tubas to the Jordan Valley - so that they can live in their homes without feeling persecuted and can continue to work their land. While the changes are made at the Palestinian Interior Ministry, they require Israeli approval.

Palestinian Authority sources note that for a long time, the Civil Administration refused to make the requested changes, and that the matter had been passed on to senior political officials. And indeed, in the last three months, the sources say, all requests - more than 600 - have been approved.

"In recent years, there were problems with regard to requests for a change of address," the Civil Administration said. "A few months ago, the matter was resolved, and since then, the Civil Administration has changed the addresses of more than 1,000 Palestinian residents."

A.D. submitted a request to change his address some two months ago. He has yet to receive an answer. He is convinced that people like him, who are not landowners, will not be allowed to change their addresses. He suspects the PA of discriminating between the rich and the poor, and he has no intentions of making the trip to Jericho: He is not allowed to travel through the Jordan Valley and is afraid of being caught, fined and/or arrested. If he goes through the Tayasir checkpoint, he will be held up for hours, and his identity document may be seized again. Climbing through the mountains involves not only a long time, but he also runs the risk of being caught, or even shot - not to mention the day of work lost and the money for the taxi there and back.