Boom and bust in Barta’ah

By former EA Keith, Northern West Bank

“We didn’t get a demolition order” says Noor al Deen Jardaat from eastern Barta’ah, a town in the ‘seam zone’ between the 1949 Armistice Green Line and the Israeli separation barrier. “We had a ‘stop work’ order two weeks before and then at 5.00am they came and destroyed the business. As well as flattening the building they damaged irreparably our two stone-cutting machines worth 100,000 shekels and stone ready to sell worth 60,000. I have already ordered new machines from Israel.” EAs heard that four other businesses were also destroyed in Barta’ah two weeks ago: three stone-grinding businesses and two commercial garages. EAs also saw a bulldozer clearing the area so rebuilding work could begin.

Barta’ah is a unique place. The Armistice Green Line bisected the town, leaving its two halves in different countries, Israel and Jordan (which had captured the West Bank in the 1948 war). In 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank, and in the early 2000s built the separation barrier. The Green Line now separates areas governed by Israel from areas run by the Palestinian Authority. But the barrier route (the red line on the map) does not stick to this line, making incursions into Palestinian territory. This means that places like eastern Barta’ah are separated from the rest of the Palestinian West Bank, but have easier access to Israel.

There are two municipalities for the two sides of the town. Officially, Palestinian residents are not allowed to cross from one side to the other without a permit, but as there is no physical barrier this is often ignored. The wadi trench is the official boundary between the two.

Bartaa map

A map of Barta’ah. Credit: B’tselem

Because eastern Barta’ah (in green on the map) is inside Palestinian territory but on the Israeli side of the barrier, it is easily accessible to people coming from Israel and the settlements (marked in blue on the map). This is Area C of the Palestinian territories, in which Israeli citizens can travel freely. Goods are much cheaper here than in Israel, so there is a busy market. There are flows in the other direction, too. For Palestinians in Barta’ah, access to jobs in Israel is easy because they do not have to go through the checkpoints each day. 

The result of all this movement has been a boom in the town, but the infrastructure does not reflect this. Eastern Barta’ah’s mayor, Ghassan Qabha, told EAs about the situation. There are about 6,000 permanent inhabitants in the area (7,000 if you include smaller communities nearby). But added to this are a considerable number of people who stay in Barta’ah because of its easy access to work, either nearby or in Israel. The mayor estimates that the total number of people staying in eastern Barta’ah, including the inhabitants, is 15,000. Demand for new infrastructure is therefore high. Sixty per cent of eastern Barta’ah is in Area C, however, where settlement, construction and development are controlled by Israel. Most new buildings are illegal Israeli settlements. Permission to build on Palestinian territory is not given to Palestinian residents. The pressures of an increasing population and a booming economy mean they have to build anyway. As a result, every one of the 800 houses in Area C is at risk from demolition.

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To see more about the strange situation in Barta’ah see this news report: https://youtu.be/rpILQD4HdDQ.

To read about the issues regarding the demolition of property, see www.ochaopt.org/sites/default/files/demolition_orders_in_area_c_of_the_west_bank_en.pdf.