Cut off by Israeli wall, Palestinian family declares ‘republic’

Above, members of the Palestinian Jumaa family, whose house became encircled by Israel’s controversial separation barrier, north of Ramallah. The family says they partially cut off from the outside world, sometimes having to cross through an Israeli checkpoint just to buy milk and bread. (AFP)
Updated 31 January 2018

Cut off by Israeli wall, Palestinian family declares ‘republic’

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The logic of an Israeli wall north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank appears clear — on one side Palestinians, on the other the Israeli settlement of Beit El.
But look carefully and you will see a small gap in part of it leading into a courtyard where the Palestinian Jumaa family live.
The newly-built part of the wall which stretches along the road next to the settlement has left the 25 members of the extended family on the opposite side to the rest of the Palestinian town of El-Bireh.
They are, they say, partially cut off from the outside world, sometimes having to cross through an Israeli checkpoint just to buy milk and bread.
“The wall separated us from the people and from Palestinians. I feel I am inside the settlement, even though I am Palestinian,” said Hossam Jumaa, 54 and a father of eight.
“Now we live alone.”
At the house, the children of the three families play in the shadow of the six-meter wall, while their vegetable plots run toward the barrier.
The family said they were informed three years ago by Israeli authorities that they would extend the wall along the road, leaving them on the other side.
But they say construction increased after US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which led to widespread protests and the Palestinian government freezing ties with the US administration.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, which they say is being rapidly eroded by Israeli settlement growth throughout the West Bank.
“The work used to be at night, but after the protests broke out in the Palestinian territories following the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the work was done in the day,” Hossam’s brother Hakim, 50, said.
The Israeli defense ministry said in a statement the wall was necessary “following a significant number of gunfire incidents from vehicles toward the Beit El community.”
“The barrier does not harm any private land, does not block access to houses and does not change anything on the ground,” it said.
“There is no harm to Palestinians or their land.”
The wall cutting off the Jumaa family is different from Israel’s controversial separation barrier sealing off the West Bank from Israel.
Israel began building the barrier in 2002 during the bloody second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, arguing it was necessary to stop Palestinian attackers.
According to the United Nations, around 65 percent of the separation barrier has so far been constructed, with more than 80 percent inside the West Bank.
The UN says it “impedes access to services and resources, disrupts family and social life (and) undermines livelihoods.”
The wall affecting the Jumaas ranks among the barriers, fences and private security protecting West Bank settlements.
More than 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank.
The UN says their existence and growth on land supposed to form a future Palestinian state is one of the largest obstacles to peace.
Palestinians are banned from entering settlements except in exceptional circumstances, and there are near-constant tensions between them.
Settlers have been the regular target of violent attacks by Palestinians. Hardline settlers on the other hand have attacked Palestinians.
The Jumaa family said they have asked for support from Palestinian politicians to oppose the wall but have had little help.
Hossam said being on the opposite side of the wall brings new fears.
In the early 1990s, he said, they were subject to an attack by settlers in which their windows were smashed.
“Now, after we became inside the wall, we are scared of attacks by settlers at any moment.”
A nearby street is also used by the army, with the family worried of bumping into them late at night.
They say their children can no longer go to school or the shops alone without fear.
“We don’t see anyone any more,” seven-year-old Miriam said.
The family have increasingly little hope, instead taking to dark humor.
“Today we are independent. We will call ourselves the Great Republic of Jumaa,” Hakim joked.

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

  • ‘Law 10’ withdrawn, UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says
  • The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes

BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.

Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.

The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made ... it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”

Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.

Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News. 

“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”

Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”

Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter.  “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”

The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.