Located in the southeast of occupied Jerusalem, Sur Baher and Umm Tuba are Palestinian towns bordered by a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyyeh and a-Sheikh Sa’ad to the east, Jabal al-Mukaber to the north, Beit Safafa to the west, and the territories of al-Khas, a-Nu’man and Beit Sahour to the south. An estimated 90% of the current population have Permanent Residency Status (Jerusalem ID), while the remaining 10% carry Israeli citizenship.3
Sur Baher, along with the adjacent village of Umm Tuba, is the largest Palestinian neighbourhood in southeast Jerusalem and one of the largest in all of Jerusalem.4 The origins of Sur Baher date back to the sixteenth century when it was an agrarian community.5 On 17 February 1948, Zionist militias attacked the village of Sur Baher and burned its mill. The village came under Jordanian rule from the 1948 Nakba until the 1967 Naksa when Israel occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Unlike many Palestinian communities located in the periphery of occupied Jerusalem, Sur Baher and Umm Tuba were not subjected to the classification of Areas ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ following the signing of the Oslo II Interim Agreement in 1995. Instead, the towns remained under the control of Jerusalem occupation municipality. Only an estimated 1,769 dunums (21.5% of the town’s total areas) did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem occupation municipality. This is the area located near al-Khas village which became part of the Bethlehem Governorate.6
After the construction of the Annexation Wall, Sur Baher and Umm Tuba residents lost their link to Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
Near the southern entrance of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba, the Israeli Occupation Forces established the ‘Mazmuria trade terminal’ (ANnu’man checkpoint) in 2003 on the lands of al-Khass and a-Nu’man villages in the Bethlehem Governorate. Mazmuria terminal is one of six main trade passages in the West Bank which have been installed by the Israeli occupation to control the movement of goods between the West Bank and the occupied Palestinian territories in 1948.7 This terminal completed the Israeli segregation plan to separate Palestinian Jerusalemite communities including Sur Baher and Umm Tuba from Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank, drastically damaging the economy of these communities.
In 2012, the unemployment rate in Sur Baher and Umm Tuba reached approximately 25%. The social groups most affected as a result of Israeli restrictions and procedures are:8
- Workers in the agriculture sector.
- Workers in industry.
- Workers in the trade sector.
- Workers in the services sector.
- Workers in the tourism sector.
The communities of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba face neglect and lack of services by the Jerusalem occupation municipality. Based on a study conducted by Bimkom, the main problems faced by the communities are: 1) lack of plans for roads leading to important facilities like schools; 2) inadequate infrastructure like Sewerage; 3) an un-implementable plan for 410 housing units and 4) the isolation of Deir al-Amud and al-Muntar areas which are owned by Sur Baher residents and located on each side of the Eastern Ring Road where the occupation authorities have prevented development, leading to ‘illegal construction’ and house demolitions.9
The Annexation Wall
As a result of the Annexation Wall, Sur Baher and Umm Tuba have been isolated from neighbouring Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank. The Wall has imposed massive restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Today, residents who were neighbours for decades can no longer visit each other because they happen to live on the opposite sides of the Wall. Interaction between community members in Sur Baher and Um Tuba and Bethlehem has become difficult.
Land Confiscation and house demolitions
A total of 1,607 dunums (21% of the community’s land) has been confiscated for the construction of the East Talpiyot and Har Homa colonies (home to an estimated 34,800 Jewish settlers) and associated bypass roads.10 Additionally, 700 dunums of land have been confiscated by the Israeli occupation authorities for the construction of the Annexation Wall.
In 1989, the occupation municipality launched a plan that aimed to complete its siege around Jerusalem city by constructing a road on an area of 1,200 dunums, threatening tens of houses in the village. As a result, the occupation municipality issued house demolition orders to residents of the village. In one example, Hamzeh Ibrahim Abu Tir was forced by the occupation authorities to raze part of his own home. Abu Tir was ordered to demolish a 50-square-meter room after authorities claimed it was built without permits. Abu Tir stated that the house was built in 1997, and he has been repeatedly fined by the municipality. He claims that he has paid some 150,000 Shekels in fines.