Our destination was Jub Al-Dib in the Bethlehem area. We located it on the map but getting there by car was a different story.
That’s because the West Bank is very spread out, despite its small area. There are hundreds of sometimes tiny communities strewn across the hills and valleys. And going from Palestinian point A to Palestinian point B in the West Bank has nothing to do with directions, logic, or geography.
It is decided by a very intricate system of rules, restrictions, and checkpoints that Israel has designed to limit Palestinian movement. There are settler-only roads, "shared" roads, and then there are no roads at all … just rugged terrains.
So sometimes, to go southwest, Palestinians must first drive northeast, etc. …
Once we got to the general area, we had to be careful not to get on "Lieberman road" a settler-only road that bypasses several Palestinian towns and villages in the area. It’s there to connect the illegal settlement of Nokedim to occupied East Jerusalem. The settlement is home to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister - hence the name.
After over a dozen phone calls, we finally found the dirt road leading to Jub Al-Dib, population 150. No road here, just a bumpy lane up the hill.
Jub Al-Dib looks like a ghost town no roads, no school but plenty of children, and run-down or abandoned homes.
In its latest report, Human Rights Watch says this village is living proof of a deliberate Israeli policy of racial discrimination against Palestinians that has had a devastating effect on this and other communities. The organization says Israel employs a two-tier system, which encourages and funds the building and infrastructure of Israeli settlements that enjoy all amenities while adjacent Palestinian communities are denied the right to any of those very services. So settlements grow, while these communities dwindle.
These Palestinian communities are under full Israeli control or Area C. Area C makes up over 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank with an estimated dwindling Palestinian population of 150,000.
Walking between the homes, I came across Amneh, planting a small plot of land encircled by a pile of rocks and twisted metal. This plot was Amneh’s home until four years ago when Israeli forces demolished it because construction is banned here. Now, the rubble is her make-shift fence and vegetables grow where she once slept.
Amneh doesn’t want to leave her village but many others have. Her brothers have all moved out, forced to find some space to accommodate their growing families. Human Rights Watch says this exodus is directly caused by the Israeli restrictions and it has displaced 31 per cent of area C’s population.
Amneh and her four children now live in an unfinished apartment in the middle of the village and she’s still afraid to get a demolition order. The only windows she put are in her children’s room the rest of the house makes do with sheets.
There’s also no electricity, even though the electricity grids powering the nearest of three settlements around them is a mere 350 meters away. Israel also refused a donor-funded program to provide the residents with solar-powered lights.
Some residents have generators for occasional use. But mostly, families here live on kerosene lights. Studying has to be done before sundown and washing the laundry is an all-day affair. Winter is every mother’s nightmare here because after children walk 1.5 km to school in the mud and then back home, they return all muddied … No food can be stored too, so meat and perishable foods are occasional treats.
Going to the doctor is also an ordeal. An elderly woman called Eideh told me she feels like a prisoner. When she gets sick, the walk to the nearest road gets her even sicker. So she doesn’t leave Jub Al-Dib anymore.
Amneh is younger so she braves the hike out of the village to take her children to visit their cousins in nearby villages.
"I make sure to spend all day so the kids can have a good time. They get to watch TV and play," she told me.
This isolation and austere way of life is hard to imagine, much less cope with. But theirs is not a reality of choice it is one forced on these communities. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, these villages are considered heroes of perseverance and defiance.
The Palestinian government has made them a priority promising them aid and development projects despite the Israeli ban. But even after implementation, many of these projects are demolished by the Israeli army. An example is what has been dubbed "Freedom Road" a short street connecting Qarawat Bani Hassan, another isolated village, to the main road. Israel has demolished "Freedom Road" two times already.
Less than a week ago, the Palestinian Authority prepared a road leading to Jub Al-Dib. It’s not paved. The children are not worrying about when it will be demolished or closed. For now, they enjoy it while they can…
"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," said Human Rights Watch.
Israel now stands out as a sole violator of this universal principle.