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Israel's wall cements psychological divide between Arab, Jew

Many Jews and Arabs miss the daily interactions they had, whether at farm stands or in antique shops, before Israel's security barrier was erected.

By Correspondent / April 22, 2011

Palestinians have rallied – largely unsuccessfully – against the barrier in West Bank towns. Here, a protester pushes down a segment in Nilin in 2009.

Bernat Armangue/AP/File

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Qalqilya, West Bank; and Kfar Saba, Israel

Rashad Zeid, a Palestinian farmer who lives not far from the bustle of Tel Aviv, once sold his crops to Israeli acquaintances – chatting with them in Hebrew as they paid for cabbage or cauliflower.

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But now Mr. Zeid's world ends abruptly at a high wall of gray concrete erected by Israel to protect its citizens against Palestinian suicide bombers. Just beyond the wall bordering his fields lies Kfar Saba, a Tel Aviv suburb of 85,000 that was once part of his customer base.

Nearly eight years after it was first erected, the controversial wall snaking through verdant fields and dusty hillsides has become a permanent fixture of the landscape. It has also cemented a psychological divide between Israelis and Palestinians, undermining the prospects for lasting peace that could not only end hostilities but boost economic prosperity.

"Since they built it, Israelis don't see the Pales­tin­ians and they don't want to see the Palestinians. And there is a new generation growing up in the West Bank, and they don't even know Hebrew," says Gal Berger, who covers Palestinians for Israel Radio. "That's a problem for the long term. There's growing alienation."

Both sides understand that the multibillion-­dollar phalanx of electronic sensors, patrol roads, concrete slabs, and concertina wire could be removed under an eventual peace deal.

But by thwarting the daily interactions between people like Zeid and his customers, which until recently served as a crucial buffer against hard-line views of the "other," the wall looms as an obstacle to peace – though not an insurmountable one.

"We want all the world to support us to get a settlement through peace," says Nidal Jaloud, a municipal spokesman in Qal­qilya. "Whoever managed to bring down the Berlin Wall – which we all thought would never fall – will bring down this wall."

Israeli: 'I felt like one of the family' in neighboring West Bank town

Young men from Qalqilya and its surrounding suburbs once crossed into Israel daily for work, along with tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers throughout the West Bank. And Israelis would flood into border towns like Qalqilya on the weekends to bargain hunt in second-hand shops on a street nicknamed Alte Zachen, Yiddish for "old things."

"Those days were beautiful," recalls shopkeeper Mohammed Izzat. "There was a good life for us."

Shlomo Madmon, a dovish Israeli activist from Kfar Saba, also speaks nostalgically about that time, when he would visit Qalqilya and a neighboring Palestinian village to purchase building materials and hire construction workers to build his home. "I felt like one of the family there," he says.

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