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

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 2006


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.

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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.

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?