Cut off by Israeli wall, Palestinian family declares 'republic'

Members of the Palestinian Jumaa family, whose house became encircled by Israel's controversial separation barrier, north of Ramallah.
Members of the Palestinian Jumaa family, whose house became encircled by Israel's controversial separation barrier, north of Ramallah.PHOTO: AFP

RAMALLAH, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES (AFP) - 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 Mr 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 6m wall, while their vegetable plots run towards 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.

The house of the Palestinian Jumaa family, which became encircled by Israel's controversial separation barrier, north of Ramallah. PHOTO: AFP

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 recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the work was done in the day," Mr Hossam's brother Hakim, 50, said.

The Israeli defence ministry said in a statement that 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 per cent of the separation barrier has so far been constructed, with more than 80 per cent 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.

Mr 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," he said. 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 humour.

"Today we are independent. We will call ourselves the Great Republic of Jumaa," Mr Hakim joked.