By Line and the Tulkarm-Qalqiliya team.
An ambulance is driving down an empty street in Qalqiliya, in the northwest of Palestine. It’s still early and the city has not yet begun to buzz with street vendors and people on their way to work. The ambulance has big round logos on the side that say PMRS – Palestinian Medical Relief Society. PMRS is an NGO that offers medical services for the most vulnerable people in Palestinian society including those living in the seam zone. Inside are the doctor, two public health nurses and a lab technician, all having fun and laughing. The gynaecologist is not at work today – so there is room for me and my fellow EA to accompany the team. We are very excited and a little anxious, truth be told, because we are going into the seam zone.
For three years now, the NGO PMRS has been able to offer regular visits to the Palestinians in the seam zone, which is the Palestinian West Bank territory between the 1949 armistice “Green Line” (the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine) and the Separation wall. The Israeli government began building the wall between Israel and the West bank in 2002 with the stated aim of preventing attacks by Palestinians inside Israel. However, 85% of the wall is built on Palestinian land and the wall was routed to keep as many of the settlements on the Israeli side of the wall as possible. According to UNOCHA over 85% of the settler population live in illegal Israeli settlements in the area between the Green Line and the Barrier’s route known as the seam zone.  The seam zone makes up 9.4% of Palestinian territory. Palestinians living in this area are still living in Palestinian territory, but are separated from the rest of the West Bank. According to Israeli authorities, “the Military Commander is responsible for striking an appropriate balance between human rights and the local populace’s needs on the one hand and security issues on the other hand.” 
Today we are going to visit Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi and other Palestinian villages located near Qalqiliya that do not have access medical services. In the ambulance, the mood suddenly changes as we approach one of the many checkpoints controlling Palestinian movement to and from the seam zone. Palestinians must apply for a special permit to pass into the seam zone. All passengers in the ambulance put on their seat belt and the silence is almost overwhelming. In order to provide care to residents of the seam zone the medical team has to undergo strict security checks.
The vehicle stops and an Israeli guard examines the passes and permits of all those in the vehicle. Next to her is a soldier, who studies us intensely, his hands never straying from the machine gun hanging from his shoulder. Everyone is waved through into an area where a metal scanner scans our bags. Phones and wallets are separately checked. In the meantime, the ambulance and medical supplies are being minutely examined. After 15 minutes, the ambulance moves off along the newly paved road towards a very prosperous-looking Israeli settlement. Israel can be seen in the distance. But long before getting anywhere near Israel, the ambulance turns left onto a dusty track and a small group of shelters and houses appear.
Behind the 8-meter high wall and the checkpoints are several Palestinian communities of around 300 people who have been denied access to the most basic of human necessities such as water, electricity, education and health services. These communities are Bedouin or shepherds and live primarily in big tent-like spaces, because the Israeli authorities do not allow them to build any permanent buildings with a roof, due to their placement inside the seam zone.
“They are not poor, they have money,” our companion from PMRS explains, “they are just not allowed to build or change anything”. The ambulance pulls up to three mud buildings, which serve as a primary school. Previously, all the children from the community had to cross a stressful checkpoint. The psychological pressure and physical harassment from the soldiers affected the children severely, and the parents would keep them at home rather than sending them to school.
Therefore, the community took it upon themselves to build mud houses with corrugated iron roofs, which allows the classes some shelter from sun and wind, but are in no way sustainable. As the medical team sets up camp inside the school and around the shed-like houses and tents, people share tea and wave to us.
Another community nearby is worse off and lacks access to water and electricity. The poor living conditions affect people’s health, but the people are not allowed to go to Israeli hospitals nor are they allowed to leave the seam zone, even into the West Bank, without a special permit. In effect, they are prisoners.
They are trapped in their own land with little or no access to basic needs, and the question needs to be raised as to how the Israeli authorities are able to justify these human rights abuses on the basis of security issues.
*Read about how life is dramatically different in ‘Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi from the nearby settlement, Alfe Menashe.
UNOCHA 2010: The Impact of the Barrier on Health
EA blog: Life behind the Wall