COVER STORYSeparation anxiety: Jerusalem fence poses problems of logistics &mdash and humanit

editor’s note
The lexicon around the barrier is politically charged. Israel calls it a fence or barrier, while the Palestinians generally refer to the entirety of the construction project as a wall. In this piece by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “fence” and “barrier” are used interchangeably, while “wall” refers to the sections of the barrier that are actually constructed of concrete.

jerusalem | Palestinian schoolboys scramble onto cement blocks and climb on the 26-foot-high slabs of concrete forming the towering wall that is blocking off Jerusalem from the West Bank.

From their perch, the boys can see both sides of the wall that runs along Shaya Street, the previously invisible municipal boundary between Jerusalem and the West Bank village of Abu Dis.

As in other neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, where nearly all of the city’s Arabs live, the barrier cuts through the city and its suburbs — separating relatives, cutting off workers from their jobs and students from their schools, and separating those on the Palestinian side from hospitals, municipal services and cemeteries in Israel.

Israeli political and military officials say the wall in Jerusalem, like the hundreds of miles of barrier being built to separate the rest of Israel from the West Bank, is a temporary measure to block Palestinian terrorists.

The two sides’ differing views on the barrier’s legality came to a head during the hearing at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Israel made no arguments in the trial, asserting The Hague has no jurisdiction in the matter. The IJC hearing ended on Feb. 25, and the court’s judgment was expected to take weeks if not months.

Palestinians argue that the fence is an illegal land grab, taking ground they claim as their own and that they want for a future state — including Jerusalem, which they hope one day will become their capital.

Israel claims that the fence is a necessary security precaution — saying it is perhaps the least invasive measure the Jewish state can take after three years of Palestinian terrorism have left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and thousands more wounded.

In most places hewing roughly to the Green Line — the armistice line from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, which served as a de facto boundary until the 1967 Six-Day War — the fence is altering the delicate fabric of life that has grown up between Israelis and Palestinians here over nearly four decades.

The ramifications of such a physical divide are seen most starkly in Jerusalem, the only part of the barrier route that slices through a major urban area.

Elsewhere along the boundary with the West Bank, the barrier is composed mostly of a high-tech network of wire fence, ditches and patrol roads. In urban areas like Abu Dis, which merges into Jerusalem, such a setup would involve confiscating additional land and further disrupting everyday life, so large walls are being constructed instead.

As Israeli authorities build along the Jerusalem municipal boundary established in 1967 — when several eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods were seized and annexed as part of the city — the wall divides Palestinian neighborhoods. Jewish neighborhoods on the eastern side of the city are included on the Israeli side of what is here a concrete wall.

More than half of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population — some 200,000 people — live inside the municipal boundaries.

Critics of the fence ask why Palestinians beyond the city limits are considered a security threat when those inside the city apparently are not.

Security officials say the government decided to build the fence along the city’s municipal boundaries — and those Arabs living inside city limits are legal residents of Israel.

Still, they hope to prevent terrorists from using eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods on the West Bank side of the city as launching pads for attacks — as has occurred in the past. The barrier, they say, will control the flow of people from the West Bank into Jerusalem by channeling all traffic to checkpoints, as a regular border crossing does.

For decades, the security officials emphasize, Palestinians enjoyed unfettered freedom of movement, and the current change has been brought about only by the terrorism of the intifada.

Palestinians say the Jerusalem portion of the wall is a political attempt to solidify Israeli control of the city. The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before construction began, the municipal borders were invisible, not affecting the daily lives of residents on either side in a significant way.

Now, however, a line is being drawn between those living in the city and those living in its Palestinian suburbs, for whom the city is the center of their economic and social lives.

“The wall will result in the most dramatic changes to the Jerusalem boundaries and its people since 1967,” said a December 2003 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palestinians say the wall creates maddening practical obstacles.

“All of our people are angry about this. I cannot visit my family there,” said Ahmed Sabek, a taxi van driver, gesturing to the West Bank side of the wall, “and they cannot visit us here.”

But Moshe Karmi, a retired diamond polisher who was born in Jerusalem and fought there in the wars of 1948 and 1967, said Palestinians have left Israel with no choice.

“I’m for the fence. It’s for our security,” Karmi said. “We want to live and they are trying to kill us. We also have a right to live here.”

Military officials stress that for now, the wall is the only answer.

“The establishment of the fence is part of the army’s battle against Palestinian terror,” Capt. Gil Limon, a member of the Israel Defense Forces’ legal staff in the West Bank, told an overflow audience at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies during a recent public debate on the Jerusalem portion of the fence. “It’s part of our self-defense.”

Related stories:

Meet the man who built the barbed wire, sensors and cement walls

Suburban Jerusalemites petition against fence