Between Isolation and Expulsion

Segregated Palestinian Towns and Villages of the West Bank[1]

 Today, 266,422 Palestinians residing in 77 West Bank localities have been surrounded and isolated by apartheid infrastructure and settlements and are facing displacement.[2] The current crisis in the West Bank is one of the most wide-scale attempts at dispossession in recent years, with the occupation systematically targeting villages located in strategic areas along the 'green line' and near settlements. Palestinian communities are set to be expelled from areas required for settlement expansion, or are marked for inclusion outside de facto borders of the Palestinian ghettos delineated by the path of the Wall.

 This wide-scale assault has been made possible by the construction of the Wall and the division of the West Bank into five separate ghettos.[3] The Wall and the apartheid system with which it is associated is emblematic of the key tenets of Zionist policy, namely the control of land and maintenance of a Jewish demographic majority. A system has been created wherein wide-scale displacement of the Palestinian population is possible without the international political fallout that has tended to follow today’s more brutal population transfers. In the West Bank, forced displacement is conducted primarily through practices that affect gradual, piecemeal expulsion. Collectively, these practices slowly strangle the social and economic life of affected communities, creating conditions in targeted areas under which a normal life is untenable, and paradoxically forcing the residents to leave under their own “free will.” Creeping expulsion is viciously destructive and undermines the social and economic foundations of affected communities with the aim of creating a general collapse. These practices do not replace brutal military strikes and demolitions, but rather compliment them in the general colonization of the West Bank.

 This article will examine the three primary strategies used against the threatened towns and villages in the West Bank. The vast majority of these villages are walled-in on three sides, with the fourth tightly controlled by a gate. This has resulted in the economic strangulation of a number of these centers. The second type of isolation affects a number of smaller communities that are located between the Wall and the Green Line. These communities face a more serious closure regime that undermines even the most basic social relationships. Of these two types, there are 14 villages that face the imminent destruction of their homes and expulsion from the land. Finally, we will conclude by looking at ways in which villagers, in the absence of central support, have engaged in resistance to the expulsion project.

 Walled from three sides and tightly controlled

 A staggering 60 population centers, with a combined population of 257,265 residents, are affected by this type of isolation. This may include individually isolated centers, such as Qalqilya city or Anata, or enclaves that are collectively isolated by the Wall from free access to the rest of the West Bank.[4] The Wall has served to constrain growth and slice through traditional inter-city routes. Remaining access points to these localities are limited to gates that are under military control. This has functioned to slowly bleed a number of these communities, many of which are larger and were former business centers of economic viability.

 In certain areas, most notably in the Qalqilya district, the Wall has been constructed in such a way as to physically limit urban expansion. In Qalqilya city, the Wall falls only meters away from the built up area, making natural growth impossible. The Wall and settler roads around West Bank population centers have also resulted in the destruction of traditional access routes. Palestinian roads have been forcefully re-routed around and under the Wall and apartheid roads, further separating neighboring communities from one another. In the Jerusalem area, for example, the Bir Nabala – al-Ram road was cut and re-routed, meaning a journey that was previously 2km long, now requires a 14km trek. This has hit local students especially hard, and many children are now unable to reach local schools.

 Occupation forces have full control over the access points to the various isolated enclaves. These gates assume a variety of forms, as physically guarded military gates or tunnels. Tunnels, such as the one that connects Habla to Qalqilya, pass under fortified settler roads, which are off-limits to Palestinians. These gates put large populations under the control of small groups of soldiers, who have the power to close the gates at their discretion. It is the arbitrariness of the gate closures that is one of the most destructive elements of the system; it deters potential investors, disrupts social relations and discourages travel.

 In these areas, the commercial activity at the core of any urban center, has collapsed. Bir Nabala, al-Jeeb, al-Jadeira and old Beit Hanina, all part of the north Jerusalem enclave, had attracted large scale investment on account of their proximity to Jerusalem as well as their central West Bank location. Bir Nabala grew as the central hub, which until 2002 was filled with burgeoning commercial centers, garages and workshops. As a result of the construction of Wall and the fortification of military checkpoints and gates, however, the business climate in Bir Nabala deteriorated. By 2004, investors and businessmen withdrew their investments under the correct assumption that the city would be sealed off and would cease to be commercially viable.

 The Qalqilya district is victim to a similar economic pattern, particularly Qalqilya city. The city of Qalqilya historically linked the district together and provided a central market space for local agricultural produce from the surrounding villages. Located near the ‘green line’, the city also served as a key commercial center for consumers on both sides of it. At one point, more than 85,000 shoppers were flowing into the city every week. This changed drastically following the construction of the Wall, and Qalqilya was sealed off and access to the city was limited to two bottleneck entrances to the east and the south. As was the case in the north Jerusalem enclave, economic life evaporated, leaving 67% of the working-age population unemployed. Many have left the city and moved to other areas of the West Bank or abroad.

 This process affects large and small population centers differently. Smaller population centers may eventually dwindle away, their lands swallowed up by nearby settlements. It is unlikely that occupation authorities conceive of wiping out larger population centers, such as Qalqilya city. Instead, these large bastions of unemployed labor will serve the interests of Israeli (and Palestinian elite) business interests, providing a pool of exploitable workers for the various “border” industrial zones that are planned for the West Bank.

 Between the Wall and the Green Line

A smaller number of villages, 16 communities with a total of 8,557 inhabitants, are trapped between the Wall and the ‘green line’. These villages, whose lands fall to the west of the Wall and are set to be annexed by Israel, touch on the demographic concerns of the occupation authorities. Disconnected both from the rest of the West Bank as well as from communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the west, daily life is a constant hardship for the residents. The majority of these areas, with the exception of Barta’a al-Sharqiyya and to a lesser extent ‘Azzun ‘Atmeh, are smaller communities that rely completely on larger population centers for education, social and medical facilities and as such are especially hard hit by the repressive closure regime that has been imposed upon them. Under this system, real economic growth is impossible. Access to education is disrupted, obtaining medical care is difficult, and even marriage and the maintenance of family ties are governed by a hostile occupying power.

 Similar to the first type of isolation, villages between the Wall and the Green Line find their movement controlled by occupation gates. However, these gates are much more closely guarded, with limited opening hours and soldiers on hand to implement systematic searches. The occupation also closely monitors the traffic of goods, services and people into and out of these areas. ID, or birth certificates in the case of children, showing residence in one of these villages is required for entrance; nonresidents must obtain occupation permits issued by the Israeli military through a complicated, time-consuming and difficult system. NGO, medical and humanitarian groups cannot enter these zones without previous coordination with the military authorities. Restrictions have been imposed on food products entering the areas. Pesticides, medicine and certain agricultural products are all banned under security pretexts. Humiliation is commonly reported, and soldiers have been known to assault residents at checkpoints, destroy permits and deny access on a whim.

 The conditions within ‘Azzun ‘Atmeh, located south of Qalqilya city, are representative of the dire situation collectively faced by villages isolated between the Wall and the Green Line. ‘Azzun ‘Atmeh was never an insular community, but rather it was interlinked with the nearby villages of Sanniriya and Beit Amin. The village was founded by landowning farmers from Sanniriya.

 In an effort to move closer to their agricultural land, some of these farmers first moved to Beit Amin and then to ‘Azzun Atmeh, where they established homes. Ownership of ‘Azzun Atmeh land is thus held by residents of these three villages. Families are spread between the three and 75 percent of ‘Azzun ‘Atmeh families have daughters living outside the village.

 With the building of the Wall and the isolation of the community, these once closely-knit social and economic networks were shattered. Families are now separated from one another; the 1 km trip to Beit Amin from ‘Azzun ‘Atmeh may take up to three hours if the gate is open. Permits are needed to visit immediate family, and some residents have struggled for years for the right to live with their spouses. Landowners have seen their agricultural land confiscated for settlement construction and isolated while farmers and laborers are often stopped at the gate, unable to cultivate what remains.

 Education and medical care is also a serious problem. There are two primary schools in the village that also serve students from Beit Amin. These students face the same problems at the gate and are frequently barred form entering. Pursuing higher education outside the confines of the area is also difficult; even when the gate is open occupation forces often arbitrarily block students. On the first semester of the 2008-2009 school year, to cite one example, soldiers arbitrarily confiscated ID cards belonging to a group of female students from al-Quds Open University in Qalqilya. Medical care, which is under the charge of a visiting medical clinic, is only made available at the whim of local soldiers. Although the doctor has a permit, he too may be denied access under a variety of pretexts. The lack of medical care has created a dangerous situation in the case of emergencies, and a few years ago a woman in labor was denied permission to leave the village. Forced to deliver near the gate, she and her husband lost the child. Now, pregnant women leave the village months in advance to live with relatives, only returning after giving birth.

 This situation is not sustainable, with a growing number of youth moving out of the isolated villages to other parts of the West Bank. Without a viable economy and access to neighboring communities, there is little incentive to build a new life in these villages. With the largest village isolated between the Wall and the Green line being no bigger than 4,000 inhabitants, the continuation of the status quo will result in the complete depopulation of these areas in the coming years and ultimately their annexation by Israel.[5]

 Under Threat of Imminent Expulsion

 Of the communities previously mentioned, 14 villages home to 6,314 persons face imminent expulsion at the hands of the Occupation. These villages are small and aside from the Yatta area, the largest community is ‘Ayn Jwaiza in the village of al-Wallajeh, with a population of 600.[6] Further, these communities are the most vulnerable in the West Bank. Many of them, like the ‘Arab ar-Ramadeen in Qalqilya and the ‘Arab al-Jahalin in Jerusalem, are Bedouin communities that have a history of being targeted by the Occupation and have been displaced on a number of other occasions. Others, like the people of Khirbet Zakariya, have been totally isolated from local support centres and are surrounded by settlements and related apartheid infrastructure.

 In addition to the oppressive movement restrictions mentioned above, these villages all suffer from ongoing structure demolitions. Occupation authorities have attempted to produce a veneer of legality to their actions under various illegal re-zoning strategies following the 1967 occupation. Some villages such as Izbit at-Tabib found their land re-classified as "green areas," meaning that the land was allotted for agriculture, thus rendering residential building in the area illegal. Other communities found themselves part of the Jerusalem municipality after Occupation authorities expanded the city's municipal borders in 1967. Communities historically part of the Bethlehem district, like Nu’man and ‘Ayn Jwaiza, fell within the new Jerusalem lines but their inhabitants were not given Jerusalem IDs, which meant that these inhabitants were "illegally" within the Jerusalem municipal boundary while they sat in their own homes. Still other communities were zoned as Area C after the signing of the Oslo accords. While the pretexts are different, each of these communities is isolated in zones clearly allotted for impending settlement expansion, meaning that their removal is a strategic priority for the Israel.

These communities are not being slowly bled, but actively besieged. In Izbit al-Tabib and Khirbet Zakariya, all buildings constructed after 1967 are possible targets. In Izbit al-Tabib, more than half of the structures in the village are under demolition orders. This small community, which lacks educational and health facilities, has seen its main access routes blockaded with rock and dirt mounds, leading to a near-total isolation. A similar situation exists in Khirbet Zakariya. Of the 58 structures in the village, 18 of them including the local school and health clinic, have pending demolition orders. A number of homes and cisterns have already been razed, with villagers attempting to rebuild with what little materials they have. During the second Intifada, the village was put under a 40-day curfew. Under sniper fire from soldiers and settlers, villagers were forced to sneak across the hills to retrieve basic supplies from Beit Ummar and Beit Fajjar.

 Nu’man village also faces an ongoing assault. After being annexed by the Jerusalem district. Residents were informed in 1992 that since they lacked Jerusalem ID, they would have to vacate their homes. The situation has since escalated, with the occupation authorities denying children access to local schools in 1994. Villagers found a temporary solution and hired buses to send their children to school in Beit Sahour. In response, cars with West Bank plates were banned from entering the village in 1998. Further land confiscations occurred, with land annexed for the Har Homa settlement as well as for the creation of the Mezmouria commercial terminal. In 2007 the siege has tightened. Even those who provide general services, such as garbage collectors, have been turned back by Occupation forces.

 Village Resistance

 Since the beginning of the construction of the Wall, affected villages have mobilized in defense of their lands. Resistance in the isolated communities has taken both passive and active forms. In the absence of a functioning political body, this resistance is organized predominantly at the grassroots level.

 The dictum “to exist is to resist” resonates in many of the threatened areas. Villagers who make the decision to remain face hardships in all spheres of social and economic life, meaning that maintaining a family, a job, or an education requires a daily struggle. Many rebuild their homes with the knowledge that they will be destroyed again. In ‘Ayn Jwaiza, the community has collectively paid for the rebuilding of demolished homes. In other communities, residents reconstruct their homes using the rubble left behind by the bulldozers. In response, Israeli demolition crews have begun confiscating salvageable and reusable material. Many villages have continued this tit-for-tat exchange for years; with each step the residents take in fighting against their eviction met by further repression. Although the current situation does not lend any hope for social or economic recovery, many villagers continue to remain, purely in defiance of Israel’s transfer policy.

 Active resistance has also characterized the struggle in the isolated villages. Organized marches, demonstrations and media campaigns have been waged in a majority of the communities. Izbit at-Tabib, one of the initial points of protest, and in coordination with Stop the Wall, initiated a campaign against the expulsion of the village. This campaign involved a number of protests, the largest of which was attended by Palestinians from across the West Bank as well from inside 1948-Palestine on the other side of the "green line." A media campaign was also undertaken in an effort publicize the state of siege on the community.

Most recently, the people of Ni’lin have been conducting a highly visible local campaign against the Wall that involves actions and demonstrations on an almost daily basis. These ongoing actions have succeeded in frequently interrupting the work of the bulldozers and in drawing attention to the local struggle against the Wall. The people have also been able to create a highly visible media campaign, generating both national and international coverage. However, Ni’lin has paid dearly for continuing its fight; six young boys have been martyred and thirty more have been seriously injured. Olive groves have been burned, and soldiers have recently taken to barricading all entrances to the villages, allowing only local residents to enter. Despite mounting repression and losses, however, Israeli soldiers have so far failed to crush the local movement.


 The forced displacement facing Palestinians living in the isolated communities is being undertaken in a variety of ways. Some face expulsion in the near future, but most will be able to survive for a number of years until their communities completely waste away. The varying methods and time frames, however, should not distract us from the systematic nature of the expulsion campaign, which is not limited to the isolated villages of the West Bank, but also includes the tightening of control over the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem.[7] Its three components, namely the implementing various methods of transfer, increasing settlement activity, and maintaining control over the West Bank population, have materialized in the form of the current ghetto and reserve system that characterizes the West Bank.

So far, this project has been viciously successful. While the continuing land confiscations and the construction of the Wall has not elicited a peep from global powers, the ongoing settlement construction has received only a few faint-hearted critiques. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers to the majority of the isolated communities is the failure of the international community to understand the Wall as a mechanism effecting creeping displacement. Recent development projects for instance, initiated by western donors and international financial institutions with the blessing of the Fayyad government, threaten to incorporate and legitimate the current regime. In doing so, these projects will bolster the Wall, crushing any hope of a viable future and furthering the displacement of thousands of Palestinians.


*The Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Stop the Wall) is a coalition of Palestinian non governmental organizations and popular committees that mobilize and coordinate efforts on local, national and international levels. These efforts are focused upon stopping and dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and resisting Israeli occupation and colonization. Stop the Wall is a member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Campaign National Committee. For more, visit:


[1] This article is based on the 2007 report Palestinian towns and villages: between isolation and expulsion published by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign and available here:

[2] The term “localities” primarily indicates singular communities although the Yatta area, which is made up of 20 small population centres, has been counted as a single locality. “Apartheid infrastructure” is a general term used to denote the Wall, settler roads, checkpoints and other movement restrictions that serve to fragment the West Bank into isolated ghettos.

[3] The ghettos include the north (Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Nablus districts), central (Salfit and Ramallah districts), southern (Hebron and Bethlehem districts), Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley. While we will be primarily dealing with communities encircled by the Wall, it is important to note that communities in the Jordan Valley are also being forcefully depopulated for the same reasons.

[4] For example, the west Ramallah enclave of al-Madyeh, Ni’lin, Budrus, Qibya, and Shentien.

[5] Although not covered in this article, a similar transfer policy is being carried out in the Jordan Valley. Aside from the village of al-Jiftlik, which has a population of 5,500, most of these threatened communities are small in terms of population and located on land that is strategically important to the Occupation.

[6] ‘Ayn Jwaiza, although not completely isolated, is under immediate demolition threat.

[7] Expulsions are ongoing today inside the Green Line, where the authorities use discriminatory urban planning, demolition and violence to force Palestinians from their homes. The evictions in Jaffa and the horrendous conditions of the “unrecognized villages” are only the most visible manifestations. The displacement of the Palestinian population is not particular to the West Bank. The Israeli state itself has grounded its existence on the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland and the continuous denial of their right of return. 160,000 more are still living within the Green Line as internally displaced and barred from return to their homes.