Surrounded by wilderness, Beit Iksa occupies a strategic position on the western edge of Jerusalem. Neighbouring villages include Beit Sourik, a-Nabi Samuel, Biddu, and Lifta. Today, the centuries-old community is threatened by land confiscation and constriction from the construction of the Annexation Wall.
Beit Iksa was established as an agricultural community before the Crusader period. Beginning in the Ottoman period, its residents harvested wheat, barley, olives, and fruit and grazed their goatherds while surrounding communities came to use their olive and grape press.3 It is believed that the village got its name from “Beit al-Kisaa” (“the clothing warehouse”) of the Islamic army led by Salah Edin which came to liberate Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.4 5
In 1945, the population was 1,410, all Palestinian, who lived on a total of 8,179 dunams.6 In 1948, many of the residents fled from the village following the massacre perpetrated by Zionist militias in Deir Yassin, out of fear of similar attacks on their village. After the exile, Zionist militias razed many of the buildings in Beit Iksa.7 Today there are around 27,000 refugees from Beit Iksa, the majority of which reside in Jordan.8 Since the Israeli occupation in 1967 there has been increasing economic and social pressure on the village brought about by land confiscation and the construction of the Annexation Wall which has severed the village from Jerusalem.
Like most villages in Northwest Jerusalem, the lands of Beit Iksa are lush. The village stands out among others as having a wide variety of wild plants growing on its lands as well as deer and rabbits roaming its forests. Most of Beit Iksa's residents were originally farmers who grew olives, beans, vegetables and fruit on the surrounding land. The Annexation Wall has separated most of the farm lands from the village. Today, most residents are elderly, as most of the younger generation have left the village in search of job opportunities, mainly to Ramallah.9 Around 40% of the village’s working population depends on agriculture to support themselves and their families.10
Inside the village there are two schools and two clinics to serve 2,000 people. The village includes a small local council that tries to improve the village's roads and make agricultural paths accessible for farmers. There is also a Women’s Centre development program for social growth and empowerment of the female population of the village.
The construction of the Annexation Wall and the rapid land confiscation by Israel has not gone unchallenged. Residents of Beit Iksa organized several unarmed protests against the Wall and land theft, most of which were met by Israeli violence and repression. On 19 January 2013, residents of Beit Iksa, along with Palestinian youth from outside of the village, erected a tent village on Beit Iksa's confiscated land.11 Named Bab AlKarama or "Dignity Gate", the tent village was inspired by the building of Bab al-Shams tent village in the E1 area.12 The tents, including a half-built mosque, were destroyed by Israel on Sunday, 21 January, 2013 and the Palestinians who had gathered in them were forcibly evicted.13
Most of the village’s population resides in Area ‘B’ which constitutes a very small area (less than 700 dunums) out of the total area of the village. Approximately 7,398 dunums (92.6% of the total village area) is classified as Area ‘C,’ where Israel retains full control over security and administration.14
Most of Beit iksa’s original lands have been confiscated for several purposes, including the construction of the Ramot and Har Shmuel colonies. Additional land was confiscated to construct the Annexation Wall which surrounds the village on three sides.15
The Annexation Wall
The Annexation Wall isolates Beit Iksa from its main urban centre, Jerusalem. Today, if villagers are able to obtain a permit from the occupying authority, the 10 km trip to Jerusalem can take more than two hours. In order for residents to access the city they need to travel to Ramallah and then from Ramallah through Qalandia checkpoint and into Jerusalem.16 The Wall has also isolated residents from their agricultural land and made it very difficult for residents to plant and work their fields and terraces. This threatens to turn what was once a fertile zone into an overgrown forest inaccessible for agriculture.17
At the entrance to the village there is a military checkpoint where many villagers and visitors trying to enter Beit Iksa are regularly scrutinized regarding their reasons for entering. On many occasions those trying to enter the village are turned away by the Israeli occupation forces operating there.18
1 Palestine Monitor. Separation Barrier to sever Beit Iksa from its land. Accessed at http://palestinemonitor.org/details.php?id=u0g6pta2282y3ru3n9zln June 2014
2 ARIJ (2012) Beit Iksa village profile. Accessed athttp://vprofile.arij.org/jerusalem/pdfs/vprofile/Beit%20Iksa_EN.pdf June 2014