'Feels like prison': Palestinian family cut off from West Bank village by Israeli barrier

By Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh
Palestinian man Omar Hajajla, who is cut off with his family from the rest of their village by the Israeli wall, looks out of his house at the Israeli settlement of Gilo, in Al-Walaja village near Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank

By Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh

AL-WALAJA, West Bank (Reuters) - Omar Hajajla may have a private gateway to his home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but it is hardly a sign of luxury: it runs beneath an Israeli barrier that cuts him and his family off from the rest of their nearby Palestinian village.

Israel began building its West Bank barrier in 2002 at the height of a Palestinian uprising, saying it aimed to stop attacks by bombers and gunmen in its cities.

But the barrier's circuitous route along and through the West Bank - Palestinians call it a land grab - slices through some Palestinian communities.

In Hajajla's case, it boxed him off from his village of Al-Walaja, near Bethlehem, part of West Bank territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.

"Prison may be better than this, because even though I am at home, it feels like prison," said Hajajla, 53, who lives in the house with his wife and three children.

After appealing to Israel's Supreme Court, Hajajla in 2013 reached a settlement under which the Israeli Defense Ministry built a tunnel and a remote-operated gate under the barrier, he said, giving his family access to their village.

That underground bypass road, strewn with graffiti, is now the sole entrance to Hajajla's home.

The family needs permission from Israel's military to use their remote control to open the gate and take their children to school or go to the grocery store, Hajajla says.

Israel could take away his remote access if he violates a series of conditions, Hajajla says, including having guests over without coordinating their visit in advance with the military.

"My wife and I try as much as we can to keep our life normal," Hajajla said. "We try to give our kids a break from this routine, to teach them that this is our land, our country, and we will never let it slip away."

U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking stalled in 2014. A new U.S. peace plan, unveiled by President Donald Trump last month, envisaged Israel keeping East Jerusalem and swathes of West Bank land, and was rejected by the Palestinians.


(Reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Giles Elgood)