Jerusalem's growing web of walls
Israelis are erecting a network of barriers in East Jerusalem after years of deadly attacks. The barrier is changing lives on both sides.
Jamal Dirawi jolted awake to the thunder of fists pounding his front door. 1 a.m. He shared a tired glance with his wife and got dressed. This had happened before. In the weeks to come, it would happen again.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That July night, Israeli border police arrested Mr. Dirawi and 15 others in his village for entering Israel illegally. Dirawi was born here, just south of East Jerusalem. He was living here in 1967 when Israel declared the area part of greater Jerusalem. The villagers weren't told until 1992. When they applied for proper identification as Jerusalem residents, they were denied, making them illegally present on land they had never left. Now they are trapped.
Dirawi and his neighbors don't have the ID to enter Jerusalem, to the north. An Israeli settlement hems them in on the west. To the south and east, Israel's new security barrier cuts them off from Bethlehem, their urban hub, and the West Bank beyond. And as bulldozers blazed the barrier's path, the border police raids began.
"A government man came [in March] and said they want this area as a no man's land, that they'll cut our electricity and water," Dirawi says. "After this man, we've seen no good. Israel wants our land, but it doesn't want the people."
After three years of conflict that has claimed over 800 Israeli lives and shattered many more, Israelis desperately crave the safety that the barrier seems to offer.
They believe a physical divider will stop suicide bombers from entering Israel proper, despite events like the Oct. 4 suicide bombing in Haifa, where the barrier is already complete. On the other side of that divide, in the West Bank, the barrier's rapid construction is altering lives, the landscape and, critics say, foreclosing on the possibility of a viable Palestinian state - all factors that will deepen Palestinian anger and motivation to strike at Israel. As this is happening, the barrier is shaping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in other ways. Indeed, the barrier's dusty path through Jerusalem highlights like nowhere else how Israel uses law, policy, and construction to control lands the Palestinians claim as their own.
"Jerusalem is being radically changed in a way it hasn't been for centuries," says Daniel Seideman, an Israeli lawyer who heads a group that provides planning services to residents of Palestinian East Jerusalem. "It's the first time there has been a serious intent to build a wall around the city since the 16th century," Mr. Seideman says. "It's certainly the biggest change to Jerusalem since 1967."
Though the US has said that the Palestinians must act first to stop militant violence, it has expressed concern about the barrier and raised the possibility of financial penalties against Israel.
"The wall is not really consistent with our view of what the Middle East will one day have to look like, two states living side by side in peace," US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters on Sept. 22. "We understand that the Israelis have some security concerns [but] it is extremely important, if it is going to be built, that it not intrude on the lives of the Palestinians, and most importantly, that it not look as if it's trying to prejudge the outcome of a peace agreement."
Jerusalem has always been a crucible for ethnic, religious, and political tensions - "a golden basin filled with scorpions," one Arab resident wrote 10 centuries ago. A metaphor for peace, holiness, and the divine for adherents to the three major monotheistic faiths, the city has endured massacres, sieges, war, desolation, and repeated rebuilding over its 4,000-year history.