Separation Fence Consigns Family on Southern Edge of Jerusalem to a Nightmare Existence

On the morning of April 3, 2005, Fatma Jado, 72, had a heart attack while cooking. Her son, Fuad, now 49, recognized the symptoms from her previous attack. The Jado family carries Palestinian Authority identity cards and is medically insured by the PA. Fuad called the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to request an ambulance.

Operators responded, as usual, by explaining that it would take some time for the ambulance to acquire authorization to enter Israeli territory. This was necessary because the Jado family is confined to a small, Palestinian enclave in south Jerusalem sandwiched between the Tunnel Road and the separation fence, on the Israeli side of the border. Red Crescent operators advised Jado to try to transport his mother to the hospital himself.

During that period, there was still an opening in the fence about 300 meters from the Jado's home, where a cement guard tower now stands. Fuad and his nephew carried his mother across 300 meters of harsh terrain, including a steep descent and climbed into and out of a wadi. It took them half an hour including long breaks to rest. Just as they reached the fence, Fatma died in their arms.

"I said, 'Let's go on,'" Fuad recalls. "'She's my mother.' A person doesn't lose hope easily."

On the other side of the fence, they hitched a ride. The driver took them to Beit Jala Hospital, where staff employed a defibrillator to resuscitate her heart. "But they said we came too late."

Only the Jados and three other extended families live in the Jerusalem envelope enclave, east of the Gilo neighborhood and north of the Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem. The Jado clan includes four nuclear families. The family has been living there since the 1960s. Until construction of the separation fence began, the Jados and their neighbors were physically connected to the refugee camp. To this day, the Jados' entire lives are bound up with the camp and Bethlehem.

They must cross the Rahel Passage to engage in any activity. The former checkpoint near Rachel's Tomb has become a border crossing. The Jados' children attend school on the other side of the fence, only a few minutes walking distance from their home. But to get there, they must hike several kilometers to the Rahel Passage, pass through the checkpoint, and walk another kilometer to the Aida camp.

In 2003, when building of the separation fence began, the family had an even harder time. They were frequently detained for illegally residing in their home. Fuad says that police arrived at 3 A.M. to "take us to the Atarot checkpoint [on the other side of Jerusalem]. They left us there for four or five hours. They even took my father, who was 75." Now, thanks to an appeal to the High Court, they have permits to reside in Israel. The Jado family is allowed to walk in Jerusalem but not to work or drive in the city.

Crossing the Rahel Passage is frequently a humiliating experience. "They shout disgusting words at us through the loudspeakers." Fuad continues, "I don't understand what the country wants from me. Do they want to kill me? Do they want to kick me out, bury me, make my life unbearable?"

According to Fuad, the profound humiliation he suffered, when construction of the fence began, was the main cause of the heart attack he himself had on April 4, 2004. He could not call an Israeli ambulance, because Israeli ambulances could not enter the area without military escort, and the Red Crescent could not dispatch an ambulance without prior arrangement with the Israel Defense Forces.

Jado, who did not understand that his shortness of breath and chest pain were signs of a heart attack, began to walk to the Aida refugee camp. After he walked 2.5 kilometers to the hospital, he had a second heart attack. "I was in cardiac arrest. I got electric shocks [cardiac resuscitation]." Later, he had arterial bypass surgery. What will happen if he has another heart attack? He has no idea.

And there is very little choice. On Sunday, last week, when the Jados' pregnant neighbor, Roa Salmeh, went into labor, she and her husband Said were forced to walk half a kilometer through the wadi to the road next to Rahel Passage. There, Roa's parents waited in their car to take the couple to the hospital. But when Roa got to the road, her contractions grew stronger and she gave birth to her son in the car.

In February, this year, attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned the High Court on behalf of 20 members of the Jado family. In the appeal, they requested that the fence be moved to connect them to the West Bank, or that they be granted permanent residence status in Israel, which would permit them to move the central focus of their lives to Israel. "Freedom of movement, a livelihood, health, education, religious expression, and a dignified existence - all these were sacrificed on the altar of the fence," writes Feller, "The routine daily lives of the petitioners have been destroyed. The fence sentences them into untenable living conditions in a ghetto...where their lives are blacker than black." Feller suggests that the state may be trying to force these residents to abandon their homes.

In the state's response to the appeal, Odit Corinaldi-Sirkis, senior deputy to the state prosecutor, rejected the family's request to amend the route of the fence, claiming that an alternate route would expose travelers on the Tunnel Road to tangible danger. The state maintains the petitioners themselves are responsible for these circumstances, because they lived in Jerusalem for many years without resolving their residence status. Thus, the state considers them illegal residents.

The state advised the petitioners to file individual requests for residence status, a prolonged, cumbersome, and expensive process when 20 individuals are involved. Moreover, the state maintains that crossing the Rahel Passage is a swift process, taking no more than 20 minutes. The Defense Ministry reports that it found the Jado family "a fitting solution [in the form of entry permits], which suits the fabric of their daily lives."