A-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah is a Palestinian community located approximately three km southeast of the Old City of occupied Jerusalem. The village is surrounded by Abu Dis to the north, a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah (Jabal al-Mukaber) to the west, al-’Eizariyah from the east, and al-Abeideh village and Arab a-Ta’amrah to the south.
A-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah was called by this name according to Khirbet Ahmad al-Sahuri which is parallel to the village’s cemetery and has a mosque established above it called “Ahmad al-Sauri Mosque.” Khirbet Ahmad is located in the far northern part of a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah, “Jabal al-Mukaber” village which is parallel to Silwan.
Originally a small and tight-knit community of extended families on the outskirts of the neighbourhood, those who lived here relied on close contact and exchange with adjacent communities. Today, the construction of the Annexation Wall prohibits such social coordination, is fragmenting ties in the eastern side of the city, and has devastated economic life.
Historically, a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah has been considered part of the Arab a-Sawahrah area which also includes Jabal al-Mukaber, a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah and a-Sheikh Sa'd. Just before the Naksa a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah's population was estimated at 4,208 residents and came from 12 different Bedouin clans. About 490 residents were displaced during the Israeli aggression and occupation in 1967, mostly fleeing to Jordan. In 1996, the population was estimated at 4,325 residents.1 Today, the population is estimated at 8,000, 3,500 of which hold Jerusalem IDs.2 Before 1967, the residents heavily depended on the large spaces of land they possessed for herding and agriculture. According to the local council, even though the Israeli authorities’ master plan for the village defines 7,000 dunums as the area of a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah, the village’s lands reach all the way down to the Dead Sea, amounting to 80,000 dunams.3 Israel's policy of fragmenting the territorial continuity in the area combined with land confiscation have all but jeopardised the community's main source of income.
This has not simply forced the community to undergo a radical change to their lifestyle; it has also forced them to seek employment in other sectors. With access to Jerusalem blocked by the Annexation Wall and a checkpoint near the Wall, even this search has been greatly affected. Denied of the right to build on their own land, the community suffers from a severe lack of infrastructure, over-crowded areas, and an inability to naturally expand as its population grows.
For the most part, the population in this area is comprised of a small number of extended Palestinian-Bedouin families, and the residents have extremely close family and social ties.4
Prior to the construction of the Annexation Wall, the village’s economy was almost wholly dependent on the Jerusalem market and consequently has been severely damaged by isolation from its natural urban centre.
In addition, prior to the construction of the Wall and its checkpoints, a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah pooled and coordinated social resources with its nearby neighbourhoods. Today, health and education are under particular strain. While there are some small health clinics, specialised or emergency medical provision lies on the other side of the Wall.5
The 1967 annexation of the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem divided the previously tight-knit Arab a-Sawhrah community in two, placing Jabal al-Mukaber and a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah within the boundaries of the Jerusalem occupation municipality but leaving much of the area of a-Sheikh Sa'd and a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah outside the municipal borders.6 Until the construction of the Annexation Wall, the residents of a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah freely exchanged with, and indeed were dependent on, the social and economic flows to and from the city and the neighbourhoods of a-Sawhrah.
The Annexation Wall
The construction of the Annexation Wall isolated a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah from occupied Jerusalem and its nearby neighbourhoods and inhibited the growth and natural development of the community. Infrastructure and planning in the village has been disrupted and the village’s economy, once dependent on connection to the markets of occupied Jerusalem, has collapsed. A-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah residents have thus been excluded from the city centre. The village’s reliance on the resources and institutions available in the city has been threatened by the Wall’s construction on community lands and limits access for residents, impacting almost every aspect of life within the village.
A checkpoint at the Annexation Wall separates a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah, a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah and Jabal al-Mukaber from the rest of occupied Jerusalem. Israeli border police and private security companies operate around the clock to block a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah residents from crossing into the neighbouring Jerusalem villages. The checkpoint is closed to Palestinians except for residents of a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah (Jabal al-Mukaber) and those of a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah who have entry permits.7 Additionally, in a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah there is a checkpoint at the Annexation Wall where the wall runs along the Green Line staffed by the occupation military forces from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. It is closed to Palestinians, with the exception of seven Palestinian families who live west of the Annexation Wall.8
Freedom of Movement Restrictions
Freedom of movement is also restricted by the nearby checkpoint located at the entrance to a-Sheikh Sa'd. Israeli border police and private security companies staff the checkpoint around the clock. It is closed to Palestinians, with the exception of residents of the Jabal al-Mukaber neighbourhood and a-Sheikh Sa’d residents with entry permits. Both groups are allowed to cross only by foot. Residents of occupied Jerusalem who do not live in Jabal al-Mukaber are allowed to cross into a-Sheikh Sa'd, but in the opposite direction they have to use the a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah checkpoint.9 The inability to move freely has affected all aspects of residents' lives. It has damaged the economic sector, as it makes it difficult for Palestinians to get to work. It is also a barrier to accessing education and health services.
a-Sawahrah al-Sharqiyah and Resistance
The village played an important role in Palestinian resistance during the Nakba and Naksa due to its rugged mountains. The writer Mohammed Aqel Halseh said in his book “Sawahret al-Wad” that the a-Sawahrah area was a starting point from which many resistance operations against British and Jewish began.
People of a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah participated in many resistance military operations. The revolutionary Bahjat Abu Gharibyah said in his memoirs that the a-Sawahrah area and Deir Marsaba were one of the revolutionaries’ citadels in which the Jerusalemite revolutionary Abd al-Qader al-Husseini settled.10
4 For a discussion on the history of Palestinian settlement in this area, see Avshalom Shmueli, Migrant Settlement in the Jerusalem Region in the Twentieth Century, Ph.D. thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1973.