Sawahra is just west of Al Quds University and like the university, and the town of Abu Dis, on the other side of the university, it lies just outside the wall that was built to keep them out of Jerusalem. In the case of Sawahra……only half of them out, which has presented an unimaginable hardship on the people of this village. The wall, which is actually an electrified fence in this hilly region, divides Sawahra almost in half. Today 5,000 residents of Sawahra live on the Jerusalem side of the fence, now known as West Sawahra and 7,000 people live on the West Bank side in East Sawahra.
The village of Sawahra was built by the 11 families of the Sawahra Bedouin tribe over 100 years ago when they abandoned their nomadic life in favor of the community they now live in near Jerusalem. The original 11 families are still here on both sides of a small valley with homes and businesses occupying hilltops and flat areas along the hillsides. Every family has literally been divided by the wall. Abdallah lives on the West Bank side but his two brothers and a sister live on the Jerusalem side. He is not allowed on the Jerusalem side unless he applies for a special permit. He needs such a permit to visit his family.
Israel’s clear policy is to force as many Palestinians as possible to the West Bank side of the wall in many creative ways such as canceling the Jerusalem ID of anyone who marries someone with a West Bank ID forcing them to live in the West Bank. One of the most blatant of these measures is simply walling them out. Tens of thousands of Palestinians with Jerusalem ID’s having jobs, schools, family, churches, etc. in Jerusalem, now find themselves having to spend hours each day at checkpoints to have their ID’s checked, their pockets emptied, articles x-rayed, and their fingerprints analyzed, just to go to work in the morning. Nowhere is that anymore obvious than here in Sawahra. They have their own private checkpoint that school children and workers pass through daily on foot as they have now been restricted from driving through even if they have Israeli plates. Those that want to drive need to take the forty mile drive trip we take through Abu Dis and Bethany to a different checkpoint. They are not even allowed to pass through the driving checkpoint we monitor in their town (on land owned by Abdallah) because that checkpoint is only for cars with green Palestinian plates.
Only those people with their names on a list are allowed to even walk through the Sawahra checkpoint. A large and successful dairy products company is located in East Sawahra. Most of their employees, and the owners, live on the Jerusalem side of the fence which causes them many problems. The employees must find transportation to this remote gate and then get picked up on the West Bank side and transported to the factory every day. In other places where towns have been divided like this, Israel has without any advance notice just closed the gate permanently. This happened since I have been here in the community of Ram north of Jerusalem. One Wednesday morning the gate used by the residents of Ram, most of whom have Jerusalem ID’s and work in Jerusalem, found the gate converted to a “ Closed Military Area” which is IDF code for “because we can”. All of those people must now travel to Ramallah and cross at the Qalandiya checkpoint which we also monitor, making the lines even longer then the typical 1 to 1 ½ hours in the mornings. They still however must pay their taxes to the municipality of Jerusalem. The residents of Sawahra are convinced this is their fate as well.