A-Z’ayim is a Palestinian village just to the south of al-’Eisawiyah, 3.5 km to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a combination of three population groups: Nakba refugees from Rafat near a-Ramleh, Jerusalemite merchant families, and al-Jahalin Bedouins. It is bordered by al-’Eizariyah and al-Ka'abneh villages to the east, al-’Eisawiyah to the north, Jerusalem to the west and al-’Eizariyah to the south.1 2
A-Z’ayim was established in 1952 by refugees from Rafat, a village near a-Ramleh, who were displaced in the 1948 Nakba and settled in the area. They named the new village Rafat as well. In 1978, the village’s name was changed into a-Z’ayim. 3
During the 1970s, a group of Jerusalemite merchants bought parts of the lands of Mount of Olives and started building and expanding on it in the area of a-Z’ayim. The village is home to the shrine of Anbar a-Rihani, a commander in the armies of Salah Edin al-Ayoubi who is believed to have been buried in the area.
The Jahalin Bedouin lived in the Tel Arad region of the Negev prior to 1948 and during the early 1950s were evicted from their traditional lands by the Israeli occupation forces. They re-grouped east of Jerusalem but were forced to end their pastoral lifestyle after the Israeli conquest of the West Bank in 1967.4 The a-Z’ayim bedouin community lives within the borders of the infamous E1 plan slated for a major colonial expansion linking Jerusalem with the Ma’ale Adumim colony.
About fifteen Palestinian-Bedouin families currently live in a-Z’ayim under constant threat of expulsion. Any possible expansion of the community is prevented by the E1 plan.
More than half of a-Z’ayim’s residents work in the trade sector, the Israeli occupation market and Jerusalem.5 6 The village counts on al-’Eizariyah and Abu Dis for health services as it lacks medical centres of its own except for a few private clinics.7
The village has no governmental institutions but has a number of local institutions and associations that provide services to various sectors of society. These include:
- a-Z’ayim Village Council: Founded in 1994 by the Ministry of Local Government with the goal of solving issues in the village and providing services to its population.
- a-Z’ayim Youth Club: Founded in 1996 by the Ministry of Sports & Youth with an interest in sports and cultural and social activities for young people.
- The Karate Centre: Founded in 1996 by the Ministry of Sports & Youth, the Centre provides sports and self-defence classes.8
Restrictions on the Freedom of Movement
For residents of a-Z’ayim, occupied Jerusalem is the closest urban centre that provides a source for employment, medical treatment, higher education and other services and industry. However, several checkpoints and the Annexation Wall cutting through the entire area prohibit free access. Any attempt at crossing into Jerusalem entails the risk of arrest by Israeli border police or harassment by private security companies. The restrictions on freedom of movement are all the more drastic for a-Z’ayim's residents given that the village itself is short of resources, health and education facilities, and job opportunities, increasing the residents' reliance on Jerusalem.
On 9 December 2013, Israeli occupation forces raided a-Z’ayim to demolish homes and structures for the second time that year.9 The pretext, as usual, was that the houses were built without permit. As it is located in Area C, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Civil Administration which systematically refuses to grant Palestinians building permits and demolishes what it then defines as “illegally built” homes. For a-Z’ayim, however, the problem is not simply the issue of home demolitions but a concern that their entire existence is at stake. The community claims there have been plans to evict them since 1953, even before the occupation of 1967. They also feel their long struggle against displacement is being neglected by the Palestinian Authority.10
Though the E1 plan has been officially frozen since 2009 due to international pressure, its effects are felt by Palestinians daily as both land and freedom of movement are taken away. If the plan is implemented fully, it would effectively complete a crescent of Jewish colonies around occupied Jerusalemand isolate it from the West Bank and its Palestinian population centres. For a-Z’ayim Jahalin, the consequences of the implementation of the E1 plan are catastrophic, as it will lead to yet another displacement.