The new walls of Jerusalem: Part 1 • The Arabs on the outside

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Sherifa Shawara wants to get married. She wears fashionable skinny jeans and studies geography and history. The second-year college student doesn't lack for suitors. The problem is where she lives.

One young man trying to visit her in Nuaman, an Arab village inside Jerusalem, was turned away by Israeli soldiers guarding the entrance to her community from the West Bank. Nonresidents cannot enter.

Another suitor backed off when he realized that making her his bride would banish him from Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Although Ms. Shawara lives within the Israeli-drawn boundaries of Jerusalem, she holds a West Bank ID and could be arrested if she's caught inside the city but outside her village. She can't travel, study, or work in Jerusalem.

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Palestinian West Bankers can't reach her. Palestinian Jerusalemites don't want her. She is cut off from the city: a similar reality that one-quarter of the city's Arab residents, a new report says, may soon face as Israel's security barrier zigzags around the city, creating a new boundaries.

"I can't move. I can't go anywhere," says Shawara, locking her arms across her chest and gazing bitterly into the distance. "Last week, the soldiers told me my name wasn't on the list and I couldn't go home. Recently, we went shopping and bought a lot, and the soldier wouldn't even let us enter the village in a taxi, so we had to carry it all on foot."

Her story is just one of numerous examples of how life in this city – which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is fast becoming less penetrable and more gerrymandered. As the boundaries around Jerusalem harden, Palestinians are being shut off not only culturally but economically as well. Critics of the wall say these new burdens will only cultivate more anger toward Israel.

Residents never got Jerusalem IDs

Nuaman is located on land considered by Israeli law to be part of the united city of Jerusalem. Israel annexed the Arab eastern part of the city, which had been under Jordanian rule, after the Six Day War of 1967. But residents of Nuaman were never issued Jerusalem IDs.

Arab residents of the city are affected not just by the concrete barrier, portions of which were being added even as this reporter visited several sites over the course of two months, but by expanded checkpoints and restrictions.

For instance, Israeli authorities have stopped giving Jerusalem ID cards for marriage or "family reunification." Even if Shawara married another Jerusalemite or an Israeli citizen, she wouldn't be allowed to reside in the city legally.

In many places outside urban areas, Israeli officials point out that the barrier is actually an army-patrolled, electronically monitored fence. But here in Jerusalem, it is an almost 30-foot high wall, and parts that are now demarcated with fencing are scheduled to become a concrete wall.

It's unclear why the people of Nuaman wound up living within Jerusalem without Israeli identification. Almost all residents of East Jerusalem whose neighborhoods Israel annexed after the Six Day War were made permanent residents, but Nuaman somehow was left off the map. Israel refers to the area only as Mazmuriya, named for a Roman archeological site.

The Israeli army referred all questions about this issue to the Interior Ministry, which deals with matters of citizenship and residency. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said all related questions now fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense, which not could be reached for comment.

Lt. Col. Shlomo Dror, the spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, an office which is assigned to be a liaison between the Israeli authorities and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, says that Nuaman's difficulties will eventually be smoothed out.

"We know about the people there. Some of them are not legally there, but we are not going to push anyone out," says Mr. Dror. "We'll find a solution for this problem. Maybe, one day, the fence will be in another place, or maybe that part of East Jerusalem will be part of the West Bank."

Security or demographics?

The somewhat amorphous limits of what Israeli politicians call the "Jerusalem envelope" are making an impact on far more than just a few hundred residents of Nuaman, whose numbers are decreasing due to the squeeze. Rather, various nongovernmental organizations say the changes are part of ongoing plans to finish the wall in Jerusalem – and to leave some 50,000 Palestinians outside the city line.

For other Arab Jerusalemites, like the 30,000 residents of Shuafat Ridge, the wall means they are being pushed to the periphery. They are card-carrying Jerusalemites – entitled to Israeli services like healthcare and education – but they are being left on the wrong side of the wall.

The Israeli group Ir Amim ("City of Peoples"), which focuses on bringing local and international attention to the implications of current policy on the prospects of an equitable, sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace solution that includes Jerusalem, is about to release a report that shows the proportion of the Palestinian population that will soon be excluded from city's population count.

"One of the lesser discussed aspects of the barrier, but one with tremendous bearing on the future of the conflict, is its separation of some 55,000 Palestinians – close to one-quarter of the Palestinian population of the city – from Jerusalem," reads the report, an advance copy of which was provided to the Monitor. "This exclusion drastically reduces residents' quality of life, separates them from their city, and reorients them, by default, to the West Bank."

The report, due to be released later this month, indicates that the barrier will "de facto add 164 square kilometers (63 square miles) of West Bank territory to metropolitan Jerusalem," land that is currently outside Jerusalem's municipal line. "On the other hand," the report continues, "it cuts inside the city line in a number of places, thereby excising Palestinian residents from the city."

Ir Amim's report, based on statistics and maps from Israeli, Palestinian, and UN officials, shows how significantly these changes could tilt the demographic balance here, in which the Jewish majority has been slipping for decades. When Israel occupied and then annexed East Jerusalem, the demographic ratio between Jews and Arabs was 74 percent to 26 percent, the report notes. By 2004, it had shifted to 66 percent to 34 percent.

"We don't say there was no justification for the wall whatsoever, but we look at each piece of it," says Daniela Yanai, staff attorney for Ir Amim. "It seems to us when you're talking about excluding this many people from the city, you can't divorce it from Israeli history and the ongoing drive to maintain a Jewish majority for the city."

The report directly calls into question Israeli proponents' arguments in favor of the wall: that it is an antiterrorism measure and not a land grab. The Ir Amim study, which tracks the impact of the changes on Palestinian Jerusalemites in several areas, is the first indication that the wall is apparently being drawn with the explicit goal of improving Israel's demographic hand.

History of the wall

None of the changes can be properly viewed outside the complicated continuum of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel sought construction of the wall to protect its citizens from an onslaught of suicide bombers. Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza were no longer welcome in large numbers in Israel. The election of Hamas a year ago in January made the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation more remote than ever before. That led Israel to clamp down further on travel inside the West Bank and on access routes into Israel, particularly via Jerusalem.

But the long view of the rising ramparts around the city indicates a steady continuation of the unilateralist agenda forged by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who began construction of the wall. Mr. Sharon led the country in the unprecedented step of pulling soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in September 2005. The theoretical underpinning for that move was also based on crunching population numbers: Had Israel not left Gaza, it would have been a few years away from losing its Jewish majority in the total territory under its control.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is drawing the same conclusions – and similar lines.

"Olmert must give Kadima some substance and distinguish himself. Otherwise, this party will simply fall apart," says Shlomo Aronson, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Sharon, and, later on, Olmert, had a certain agenda: unilateral disengagement, including from parts of the West Bank, and the completion of the separation fence is part of that."

But for most Israelis, argues Professor Aronson, currently a guest professor at the University of Arizona at Tucson, the bottom line is that the fence works. "The main point is that, wherever the fence is erected, there are no suicide bombings anymore. If we forget the macro part of the picture, we lose sight of reality."

Some Israelis, posits Ms. Yanai, are closing their eyes to a reality that is changing rapidly.

"The terms of Jerusalem have been altered radically, and it doesn't bode well for future negotiations," says Yanai, an American-Israeli lawyer.

"It's such a starkly unilateral act – to the Palestinian street, but also on a policy level. This is a huge shift in the status quo, and that has a major impact on 'my negotiating power' versus 'your negotiating power,' " she explains.

"I think it's possible to say there's also a shift in anger and frustration and despair.... And if you start to make people's lives miserable and impact their economic stability, you start to perhaps undermine the stake people have in maintaining that relatively stable security situation."

As for Shawara, she is still hoping for a marriage ticket out of Nuaman.

But leaving, her mother says, is a mistake: it would mean abandoning their land to Israel, and that, she says, is what Israel wants. At the same time, there isn't much left here for them: "Life was a little better a year ago," says Fatma Shawara. "Now, it's unbearable."

For Israel, the barrier is a 'life and death' issue

Israelis call it a "security fence." Palestinians call it an "apartheid wall." Call it what you like, Israeli officials say, but the barrier has been a effective means of warding off suicide bombings.

"The fence is a success story and the fence is saving lives. In areas where the fence has gone up, there has been something like a 90-percent success rate in stopping suicide penetration," says Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "In 2006, we've had fewer successful suicide bombings than we had in one week in 2002. That's in large part because of the fence."

In response to new information indicating that the barrier's route was motivated by the demographic struggle that is one of the underpinnings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Regev says that it is natural that the mappers of the barrier took Israel's concerns about a rising Arab population into consideration. "The government's positioning of the fence does take into account demographic realities, topographical realities, and security concerns," Regev says. "The object of the fence is to have as many Israeli citizens as possible protected by the fence."

Regardless of the route, he adds, Israel is bound to be the subject of criticism here.

"If this were a land grab, then we should have included all of Shuafat in the area of the fence," he says. "Look at Jerusalem. If we put areas of East Jerusalem inside the fence, we're accused of annexing Jerusalem. But if we leave them out, we're cutting off Palestinians from their brothers on the other side of the fence. I think the arguments about the route tend to be disingenuous."

"The route can be changed, and one day when there's peace, the fence will come down," Regev says. "This is the fence that is designed to keep suicide bombers out. We have an obligation to let people pass through it and that's why there are gates in the fence."

The Israeli government calls the barrier a fence, he says, because more than 90 percent of the route from north to south is made of fencing. The difficulties it causes, he says, pale in comparison with its success.

"We understand that there has been a negative impact on the quality of life, and it's our obligation to do everything we can to minimize that negative impact," he says. "But we're talking about a quality of life issue, while on my side of the fence, it's a life and death issue."

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