The human impact of the separation wall and one man’s response to struggle.
by Chris, Bethlehem team
George and Sylvia Handal. The separation wall is built next to their house in the distance. Photo EAPPI/C. Jones
George Handal is a Christian born in Bethlehem. He grew up in a small house. When he raised his own family, he extended the house and added a second floor. In 1998, George began building a new house neighboring the old for his retirement, which he finished in 2010. A retired school teacher, George lives on a small pension with his wife Sylvia.
Surrounding George’s house used to be land filled with olive trees. In 2005, however, the separation wall was built near George’s home and confiscated 15 acres of his land and 55 of his olive trees. George’s land and trees are located near the settlement of Har Homa. Due to fear of going near the settlement, George is afraid to go near and cultivate his land.
“We used to sell olives and olive oil,” George explained. “Now we have to buy them from Israel.”
Building of the separation wall began in 2002 after the second intifada. The Israeli government claims the separation wall stops the problem of suicide bombers coming from the West Bank into Israel. According to UNOCHA, however, 85% of the barrier’s route lies inside the West Bank, rather than along the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank, known as the Green Line. The total length of the separation barrier is 712 km, twice the length of the Green Line.
Although George’s house is only 6 miles south of Jerusalem, he only travels there 3 times per year. Before the wall was built, Jerusalem was only a 10 minute drive away, but George can no longer take his car through the checkpoint.
George has Palestinian ID and only those with Israeli ID are allowed to drive through the checkpoint. Instead, George must obtain a permit, in order to travel to Jerusalem, which is not an easy endeavour. If he receives permit, he must walk through a pedestrian checkpoint. Finally, on the other side, he must take a bus or a taxi to complete his journey.
Depending on the time of day, it can take one and sometimes many hours to pass through the checkpoint. Unlike George, many men from Bethlehem work in Jerusalem and must make this checkpoint journey everyday. Their day often begins at 4 am, when the checkpoints. Daily, over 5000 people will make this commute to work between 4 am and 7am.
For George the building of the separation wall means not only a loss of a source of livelihood, but also the loss of freedom to travel to his ancestor’s land and to Jerusalem, a city he could freely visit only 15 years ago.
Despite this loss, George is not hateful:
“We are not against anybody at all. We don’t hate. We see Israelis as human beings and we want to be treated as human beings who have the right to live in peace and justice.”