First Israel Locked This Palestinian Family Out of Its Home. Now It Locked the Gate Connecting Them to Their Village

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Omar Hajajla in the tunnel the Defense Ministry built for him.
Omar Hajajla in the tunnel the Defense Ministry built for him. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

A Palestinian family was cut off from its village for a week after the Border Police claimed the father had vandalized the security gate that separates the family’s home from the village. The vandalism consisted of installing a bell so his children could call their mother to open the gate for them.

The case of the Hajajla family of al-Walaja, south of Jerusalem, stands out among the many problems created by the separation barrier. The family lives in the only house in the village that is on the Israeli side of the barrier, which cuts off the family from their village.

>> Read more: 'Living in a prison, though I have the key': All alone on the wrong side of Israel's separation barrier 15 years of separation: The Palestinians cut off from Jerusalem by the wall ■Renovated checkpoints for Palestinians are nothing but crumbs of mercy | Opinion 

For years the Defense Ministry and other agencies had tried to get the family to move, but to no avail. In the end, the ministry was forced to build the family a special passage underneath the barrier so it could reach the village. The tunnel cost 4 million shekels (currently $1.1 million).

Two years ago a gate was installed at the end of the tunnel and the family was given various conditions for using the tunnel and the gate. For example, all guests must be approved in advance; they cannot have guests arrive after 10 P.M.; they are forbidden to transfer goods through the tunnel, and more. A year and a half ago the construction of the separation barrier was completed and the family’s life got even more complicated when they were given only one remote control to open their gate. This meant that if someone left the house early and took the remote with them, the rest of the family was trapped in the house.

To ease the distress, Omar Hajajla, the father, installed an electric bell near the gate. “We put the bell in a year ago so that when the kids come home they can press and their mother opens the gate, since the remote stays at home,” he explained. Border policemen discovered the bell a week ago. In response, they took Hajajla in for several hours of questioning and put a new lock on the gate so that it could not be opened at all.

During questioning, the detective accused him of cutting into a cable that runs through the tunnel and stealing power. Hajajla said the cable in the tunnel had a different explanation. “A contractor came half a year ago to repair the gate without a generator, so they pulled a wire from the ceiling, cut the cable for the welding machine and left the cable cut,” he said. In the end Hajajla was fined 500 shekels and released, but the lock on the gate was not removed.

As a result, the family car could not be used and to get anywhere – school, the grocery store to work or to visit family – they have been forced to walk six kilometers to the Cremisan Monastery, where there is a large breach in the fence, from there to the town of Beit Jala and from there back to Walaja, which is actually only a few meters from their home. On Sunday afternoon, following an inquiry by Haaretz, the lock was removed from the gate.

The police said in response, “At issue is a security passage that provides a short passage for the family from their home in Israeli territory to the Palestinian Authority areas. As you can see from the attached video and photos, the gate was shut last Monday to repair security cameras that were broken, to repair damage to the gate and to remove an electric bell that the father of the family had installed against the law, by attaching an unapproved electric wire from his home, a distance of dozens of meters from the passage. After the repair the passage was opened on Wednesday but when the father was seen exploiting it to illegally allow Palestinians to enter it was shut again and the suspect was taken for questioning.

“The passage was opened again yesterday, but because of a technical problem that was discovered it was shut again and we are working to fix it quickly. The Israel Police will not allow any damage to the security passages it is responsible for and will bring to justice anyone who vandalizes them and tries to harm the State of Israel’s security.”

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