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.
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For Jews, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently said, it is "the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years and the united and undivided capital of Israel forever."Skip to next paragraph
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Arab Christians see Jerusalem as the birthplace of their faith, while Arab Muslims declare it the third-holiest city in Islam, the place where Mohammad rose to heaven to receive the word of God and upon returning reportedly said that, "to die in Jerusalem is almost like dying in heaven."
Religion infuses and complicates the political struggle over Jerusalem. It underlies the decision by foreign mediators to make the city a "final status" negotiating issue, leaving the thorniest topics to the last. And it's one more reason why barrier construction here is so problematic.
Israel has already built 84 miles of barrier that include two sections the Ministry of Defense calls "Circling Jerusalem." Totaling almost 11 miles, these two barriers, when seen on maps, resemble giant brackets separating Jerusalem from Palestinian neighborhoods to the north and south. A third Jerusalem section was approved on Aug. 20, the day after a Hamas suicide bombing claimed 20 lives and galvanized support for the barrier (see part 3 of this series online at www.csmonitor.com/barrier).
This section will run some 38 miles through the eastern part of the city. Safety does not come cheap. At $4 million per mile, the barrier's price tag will reach at least $1 billion, but Israelis want a divider as quickly as possible, no matter the cost.
Controversy is slowing things down. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has repeatedly and publicly called the barrier "a problem" most recently on Oct. 3.
This is because the barrier veers from the Green Line border between Israel and Palestinian territory and dives into the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish their state.
The most contentious barrier section runs down a central section of the West Bank near the settlement of Ariel and would involve a 12-mile indent if Ariel were to be included. Israel approved that 270-mile barrier section Oct. 1, leaving a gap in the barrier opposite the settlement.
Israeli media and analysts widely expect Ariel to be included inside the barrier in a few months. In the meantime, four separate barriers and obstacles will be built east of Ariel and other neighboring settlements.
In Washington meetings on Sept. 21, Israeli envoys told the Bush Administration that the barrier's route has been determined only by security considerations and is not intended to create future political borders.
The US concern is that the Ariel diversion, along with other detours, would make it hard to create a Palestinian state out of one, uninterrupted piece of land. If Israel extends the barrier around Ariel, the US has threatened to deduct monies from the $9 billion in loan guarantees it gave Israel this year.
Israel media noted, however, the US silence about the Cabinet approval of the Ariel section. In the Ma'ariv newspaper, analyst Ben Caspit noted that Israeli politicians expect the US to disengage from the conflict over the coming year due to coming elections and other foreign concerns, thereby allowing Israel more freedom to act.
That has yet to happen though. On Oct. 3, Secretary Powell said the administration was having "intense discussions" about Israel's plan to leave gaps in the barrier. "The gaps in and of themselves do not satisfy me," he told the Washington Post. "The question is what becomes of the gaps in due course.... We have not yet come to a conclusion about what to do and what our action should be."