MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
This week, we're exploring life along Israel's barrier in the West Bank. Nearly 70 percent complete, the 450 mile-long mix of fencing and concrete separates much of Israel from the West Bank of the Jordan River, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Too close-knit Palestinian villages are now separated by that barrier.
Ras Tira and Ras Atiya used to share schools, medical facilities, shops and more. Then Israel, citing security concerns, put its barrier between the two villages.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT: A blue and white Israeli flag snaps in the wind alongside the dirt path between the two villages - a trail Ahmed Marabay used to walk without a second thought.
AHMED MARABAY: (Foreign language spoken)
WESTERVELT: Officially, the Marabay family lives in the so-called seam zone, the area between Israel's barrier and the green line, Israel's pre-1967 war border. Israel says these buffer zones are necessary to thwart attackers from penetrating into Israel from the West Bank. The problem is more than 10,000 Palestinians live in villages inside these zones and, according to the U.N., more than 30,000 will live in seam zones when the barrier is finished. Palestinians in these areas are now separated from the rest of the West Bank and from Israel proper.
MARABAY: (Through translator) I don't consider myself in a seam zone. I don't consider myself in Israel. I consider myself hanging in the air, floating. They neither want to give us a divorce nor do they want to get married to us. We're just hanging.
WESTERVELT: Ahmed Marabay is a blacksmith. He makes window and door frames and the like. He's 48, thin, with curly salt-and-pepper hair and a gray beard. This day, he's transporting a metal door frame, by donkey, by car and by his own brawn. To get just a few hundred yards, he has to first cross a checkpoint protected by well-armed Israeli soldiers, barbed wire and a big metal fence and gate.
Bent over, Marabay carries the door precariously on his back through the checkpoint. He keeps his workshop in the adjacent village because there's limited electricity in his home village of Ras Tira. Marabay and his family have learned to live with the checkpoint that separates Ras Tira and Ras Atiya. But they're bitter and resentful.
MARABAY: (Through translator) They fenced in our land with barbed wire, encircled our land unfairly and illegally.
WESTERVELT: It's not just for work. Residents attending funerals, birthdays, weddings and all kinds of events in the neighboring village have to navigate the fence and checkpoint.
Yaseen Marabay is unemployed. He helps his cousin Ahmed when there's work for him.
YASEEN MARABAY: (Through translator) Israel says it's for security. If it's all for security, why not erect this wall on the 1967 borders? Why are they surrounding the village for so-called security reasons?
WESTERVELT: When a person dies in Ras Tira, he says, family members and friends in Ras Atiya need special permits just to come and offer condolences, to pay their respects. Two of his nieces, 15-year-old Wisaal and 13-year-old Hadeel, walk down a winding paved road that gives way to gravel and the checkpoint they must pass through to get to school. Israeli soldiers carrying automatic rifles stand around in the sun, looking bored.
My friends can't even come to our house for a simple visit, Hadeel says, if they don't have a permit.
HADEEL MARABAY: (Through translator) Nobody can get in without the proper seam zone permits. Sometimes during weddings, they allow some people to pass more easily. But most of the time, people are not allowed.
WESTERVELT: Near the gate, there's a shed surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. Some of the villagers trying to pass into Ras Atiya are told to enter. It's used for hand searches and contains what's called a trace portal machine. You step into it and it scans the entire body for high explosives.
Thirteen-year-old Wisaal Marabay says, we sometimes refuse to go into this room. But most days, we don't have a choice, she says. It's a required routine.
WISAAL MARABAY: (Through translator) When I arrive at school after passing this gate, I just feel demoralized. I feel depressed. It's not normal to go through this to get to school.
WESTERVELT: The Israeli military didn't allow us to talk to any of the soldiers at the checkpoint. They did make Major Oz Arad available. He's the Israeli military police commander for a large swath of the northern part of the West Bank, including Ras Tira.
OZ ARAD: Anybody from both sides can go to the other side. They just need to be checked on the checkpoint. That's it. But they can go freely. Just need to get checked.
WESTERVELT: We tried to ask Major Arad why it was necessary to erect the barrier between the two villages. But before he could answer, an Israel defense force media minder, who monitored the interview, interrupted to say, questions about the route of the barrier were out of bounds.
In one recent Israeli court case, judges proposed reunifying the villages by changing the route of the barrier. But it would have meant the confiscation of even more Palestinian farmland surrounding the villages, so the residents here gave the court a resounding no.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, in the West Bank.
NORRIS: And you can watch a video of what it's like at checkpoints along the barrier and view an audio slideshow of a former Israeli army officer's life in the West Bank, that's at npr.org.
Also, we will continue our series tomorrow with a visit to one of Israel's largest settlements in the West Bank. Ariel is not protected by Israel's barrier, but if some in the settlement have their way, it soon will be.
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