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The Promised Land

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In June 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government began erecting a barrier separating Israel from the West Bank in an attempt to curtail the entry of Palestinian terrorists into the country. This fence, some 456 miles long, has significantly cut down on terrorist infiltration and suicide bombings within Israel, but at the cost of freedom of movement for many Palestinians who live in its shadow.

The daily commute of Palestinians coming into Israel to find work has been cruelly disrupted by checkpoints. But with sky-high unemployment in the West Bank, there's nowhere else to find work. Determined to keep providing for their families, men risk danger and terrible conditions to find work illegally in Israel -- sleeping in river creeks, under bridges, on building sites, and under highways. Those who are caught sneaking past the barrier are arrested; once it's determined that they pose no imminent threat, the men are sent back to their homes in the West Bank. And the wearisome cycle continues.

Photographer Amnon Gutman has been documenting these itinerant Palestinian workers, on their way into Israel via gaps and breaks in the separation barrier, in the southern region of Mount Hebron and Beer Sheva since 2009. 

Above: After being caught by Israeli border patrol police near Kibbutz Zeelim around 20 km from the Gaza Strip, a group of young Palestinian workers wait to be deported back to the West Bank on Oct. 28, 2009. They were held for a few hours, transferred to the nearest checkpoint, then released.

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Palestinian children play in the rocky soil, near their families' fields, close to the 1967 Green Line fence on Dec. 11, 2009.

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Palestinian teenagers prepare to cross from the West Bank through one of the openings in the Green Line fence on Dec. 20, 2009. These men have been working illegal construction jobs in Ashkelon, Israel.

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A group of Palestinian men, working illegally in Israel, camp in the Beer Sheva city dump on Sept. 14, 2009. Each morning they wake up, looking for work, returning back to a makeshift shelter in the evening.

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Young Palestinian men take a break before going back into the fields to tend to their family's livestock on Dec. 14, 2009. Palestinians living along the Green Line fence have alleged that Israel Defense Force troops and border patrol police purposely, and unnecessarily, block them from using fields and pathways near the barrier, making these shepherds trek miles out of their way.

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A Palestinian man caught trying to get through the fence into Israel is questioned by an IDF soldier on Aug. 16, 2009.  

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Israeli border patrol police raid a construction site in Ashdod known to house illegal Palestinian workers.

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Palestinian men -- some with working permits, others without -- wait in the early morning for contractors to come pick them up for a day's work in Beer Sheva.

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IDF soldiers question a Palestinian who had been attempting to slip back into the West Bank from Israel, through an opening in the Green Line fence.

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A Palestinian builder in Israel sleeps on the ground among the rocks and rubble at the Beer Sheva dump on Sept. 29, 2009.

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Israeli border guards watch an elderly Palestinian man as he crosses back from Israel into the West Bank on Oct. 16, 2009.

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A Palestinian boy helps his father sow the family field, near the Green Line fence on Dec. 11, 2009. But because the plot is so close to the fence, an area where workers are known to slip through into Israel illegally, the IDF regularly clears the area, preventing them from working the land.

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Palestinians detained for illegally working and living in Israel wait their turn to be questioned by border patrol guards, before being taken back to the Tarkumia barrier, where they will later be released, on Sept. 2, 2009.  

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Palestinian men wait for the IDF to release them back into the West Bank, after trying to cross into Israel illegally on Nov. 5, 2009.

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A group of Palestinian teenagers gather for a makeshift dinner at a construction site in Beer Sheva on Oct. 28, 2009. Some will make camp for the night inside the unfinished building; others will sleep on the rooftop of a nearby market. 

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