In Nu'man, a village of 35 Palestinian families located on Israeli territory, you can hear both a muezzin calling the faithful for prayer in East Jerusalem, and the bells tolling in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. But these familiar sounds betray the reality of isolation that the villagers must endure.Families here have always had ties with Bethlehem or the neighbouring rural communities, if not by marriage then by work, school or local politics – Nu'man and its twin village of Al Khas share one village council.
The men from Nu'man used to marry women from the twin village of Al Khas, children went to school in Dar Salah, and traders, doctors and veterinarians came from Bethlehem. Every year during Ramadan, Nu'man families welcomed relatives and guests from the surrounding villages of Al Khas, Wadi Al Arais, Beit Sahour, and Al Hujeila. Not anymore.
"One day I was coming back from work and a border guard told me: 'You can't enter, you have a West Bank ID and this is Israel'", says Mohammad Dar'awi, a resident of Nu'man, who works at the Bethlehem governorate. "I was only returning home!"
Nu'man was annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War in June 1967 and integrated as part of the extended Jerusalem municipality in 1992. People, however, still have West Bank identification papers. So, when Israel began to introduce ever harsher restrictions on movement, problems began to multiply.
In the mid-1990s, a dirt road linking Nu'man with East Jerusalem was closed and then destroyed. In June 2001, another road to Nu'man was blocked with an earth wall. Then a military checkpoint was set up and finally, two years ago, the West Bank Barrier cut off Nu'man from its natural surroundings – its twin village, and Bethlehem – in fact, from the rest of the world. For two years now, non-residents have been banned from Nu'man.
"When you are bringing back the shopping, it's as if you're asking for trouble: you are stopped at the checkpoint and the guard tells you 'No, you can't bring five chickens with you, it's an import from the West Bank. You must have a permit.' But since there is no shop in Nu'man, because no trader is allowed to enter, you try to buy more produce when you manage to get to a shop."
On the other hand, Nu'man residents, with their West Bank IDs, are not allowed to go shopping in Jerusalem. The same goes for many communal services. The garbage collector and a truck delivering gas for heating was allowed to enter Nu'man in October last year only after the ICRC facilitated its movement with the Israeli authorities.
"Men don't marry here anymore," says Mohammad Dar'awi. "It's a custom that a man brings his wife to his family village. But, how on earth could he do it now, here in Nu'man? And even if he could, they would have no place to live – Israeli authorities don't give permits for new construction in Nu'man."
Nidal Dar'awi, Mohammad's nephew, deputy head of the village and an Arabic teacher in Dar Salah, learned the hard way. He built a house for his family on his own plot, next to his father's house. One early morning in January last year, he saw his lifetime savings turned into rubble. "They didn't even let us take a toothbrush," says Nidal.
Afterwards Nidal decided to move away from Nu'man, but he still comes back in the hope of finding a piece of furniture or other household appliance worth repairing.
But Nidal is for the time-being an exception. "We'll stay here," says Mohammad. "I was born here, as was my father and grandfather. I did not come back from being a refugee in 1995 just to leave Nu'man again."