A-Sheikh Sa'd is a Palestinian village located on the southeastern outskirts of Jerusalem. The village was established ca. 1800 and is bordered by a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah to the east, Jabal al-Mukaber to the north, a-Sawahrah al-Gharbiyah to the west, and Sur Baher to the south.1 Since 1967, the village has been ruled by Israeli occupation forces. From Jerusalem, the village is only accessible from the west via Jabal al-Mukaber and only on foot. The village is also accessible through al-Eizariyah and Abu Dis. A-Sheikh Sa’d’s population is estimated at 3,200.2
According to the village council, a-Sheikh Sa’d is named after Sa’d a-Din al-Andalusi who arrived in Jerusalem with Salah Edin and served as the al-Aqsa Mosque imam. He was buried in the village where a shrine was built for him.3 a-Sheikh Sa'd’s residents are part of the extended a-Sawahrah tribes who reside in nearby Jabal al-Mukaber and a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah. Prior to the Israeli occupation in 1967, all three areas formed one extended community characterised by close kinship ties. Following the occupation, Israel began what would prove to be an ongoing process of fragmentation of the community when it illegally annexed Jabal al-Mukaber to the Jerusalem occupation municipality area while most of a-Sheikh Sa’d and a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah were considered part of the West Bank. Despite the coerced and illegal bureaucratic classification, the community remained united and continued to live virtually as one big family. However, this communal dynamic was lost after the construction of the Annexation Wall in 2002 4 and the erection of an Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance to a-Sheikh Sa’ad when the bureaucratic isolation became physical as well.
Most of a-Sheikh Sa’d’s residents hold Jerusalem IDs; however, similar to other Jerusalem neighbourhoods (all or partially) within the occupation municipality borders but outside the Wall, a-Sheikh Sa’ad receives no municipal services.5 The construction of the Wall has negatively affected the daily life of its residents who depended on Jabal al-Mukaber in many aspects.
Ironically, the isolation of a-Sheikh Sa’d from its neighbours is probably most clearly manifested in death. Not having a cemetery in their village, a-Sheikh Sa’d residents bury their dead in the Jabal al-Mukaber cemetery. Since the construction of the Wall and the checkpoint, residents need special permits from the occupation authorities in order to reach Jabal al-Mukaber.6
A-Sheikh Sa’d lacks medical centres except for a small clinic open twice a week. Ambulances and fire engines need special permits to cross the checkpoint at the entrance to the village.7 8 It has one kindergarten and two schools, one for boys and one for girls.9 Since its isolation, unemployment rates have reached 65% in a-Sheikh Sa’d and more than 80 businesses have closed down. Over 150 people now depend on welfare benefits.10
The Annexation and Expansion Wall
The construction of a wall which would separate a-Sheikh Sa'd and a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah from Jabal al-Mukaber was approved by the Israeli authorities in late August 2003. In April 2004, a-Sheikh Sa'ad residents submitted an appeal to the Israeli committee. In 2006, their appeal was successful and the committee decided that a-Sheikh Sa'ad was part of Jabal al-Mukaber and cannot be separated from it. However in March 2010 Israel's High Court of Justice overruled the decision and approved the construction of the Wall and the separation of the two communities. A-Sheikh Sa'ad is now completely isolated from the West Bank and its towns or villages. Three deep wadis (ravines) that even the toughest four-by-four vehicles cannot climb must be crossed before any urban area can be accessed. The occupation authorities renewed its confiscation orders of 66 dunums of green, cultivated lands in a-Sheikh Sa’d, west of the eastern part of Jerusalem, for “Military and security” reasons to establish the Annexation Wall’s military road. Most of the designated land has yet to confiscated.11
For a-Sheikh Sa'ad residents, the Wall is not merely an imposing physical barrier, it has put the survival of the entire community at risk by geo-spatially isolating it. Residents are excluded from their immediate neighbours and the main urban centre of Jerusalem. All services which the village depended upon are now inaccessible. Perhaps the saddest manifestation of the Wall's impact on the lives of residents is that it has prevented them from burying or visiting their dead in the Jabal al-Mukaber cemetery.12
A-Sheikh Sa'd lacks the most basic infrastructure. For example, few households are connected to telephone landlines, and there is no gas station in the village. Residents once relied on Jabal al-Mukaber and Jerusalem for their education, healthcare and employment (the village does not have a high school or even a cemetery), but the wall and the a-Sheikh Sa'd checkpoint have isolated them from these vital services and opportunities. Village residents who are not Israeli residents are not allowed to enter the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem without a special permit from the Civil Administration.
Because there is no municipal sewage system, residents dig cesspits.13 The untreated sewage flows through the roads of the bvillage and imposes significant health and environmental concerns which may lead to sickness or death. Since the roads aren’t paved, they become slippery in winter and flow with wastewater which become an obstacle for the movement.14 As one report declared, "The stench of sewage emanating from the stream is so powerful that it detracts from the stunning beauty of the Palestinian hillside and the olive groves that stand in the fields next to the stream."
Freedom of movement
In September 2002, the Israeli occupation forces placed roadblocks at the entrance of the village which blocked the only access with concrete blocks. Since then, entrance to the village is allowed only on foot; no cars are allowed to enter. Residents of a-Sheikh Sa’d that do not hold Jerusalem IDs must have a permit to leave the village; however, most permit requests are denied by the occupation authorities.15 Since the roadblock was set up and as a direct result of the intolerable living conditions that followed, about 700 to 800 residents (25-30 percent of the residents) have left the village.16
A few years later, the roadblocks were replaced by a permanent gated checkpoint which vehicles are allowed to cross only when the light is green. However, the light remains permanently red. Only residents with Jerusalem IDs or special permits are allowed to cross the checkpoint on foot. This makes life particularly difficult for the disabled, children, the elderly, and people with health issues.
Construction and development
The situation of a-Sheikh Sa’d is particularly complex. Although almost half of the residents have Jerusalem residency IDs the village is a mixture of legal jurisdictions. Fifteen houses in the northwest corner of the village fall under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality while seven other houses sit partially within the municipal borders and partially in the West Bank areas B & C. This creates Kafkaesque complications, confusion and a legal vacuum in which families are forced to build without a permit.
2 Abu Jihad, vice president - ASheikh Sa’ad Club. GJQA
13 Abu Jihad, vice president - ASheikh Sa’ad Club. GJQA