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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.

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In those days, Qalqilya and Kfar Saba were exploring a series of joint ventures. Mayors from the towns attended retreats together and talked about cooperating on an industrial park straddling the border and a medical center inside Qalqilya.

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But then in September 2000 the second intifada (uprising) began, eventually killing more than 1,000 Israelis and four times as many Palestinians. Military officials have credited the "security fence" with a drastic drop in attacks inside Israel, and even dovish Israelis support its existence as an unpleasant but necessary measure absent a peace deal.

"For me it's a scar.... It's a reminder to me of the failure of this conflict to heal itself," says Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. "On the other hand, as the father of two teenagers during the suicide bombings, I felt deep gratitude to the wall for keeping my kids safe. I think many Israelis have that ambivalence."

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Though the barrier hasn't snuffed out the desire for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation entirely, it makes normalized ties nearly impossible.

"How can I have relations with the Israelis now when they are besieging me with a wall, and building settlements, and turning cities into cantons?" asks Mr. Jaloud, the Qalqilya municipal spokesman during the period of cooperation with Kfar Saba.

Palestinians dub the barrier an "apartheid wall" because it deprives them of access to land, jobs, basic humanitarian services, even family. They see it as a symbol of Israel's military occupation – a view backed up by the International Court of Justice's 2004 declaration that the barrier is illegal under international law.

Even after a surge in the West Bank's economy over the past two years, municipal officials here complain of double-digit unemployment, stagnation, and Israeli military checkpoints.

On display in the stairwell of Qalqilya's municipal building, architectural drawings depict a new complex of office buildings and retail stores. But the project remains an unfulfilled vision.

"The reason why there are no investors is because of the wall," says Deputy Mayor Yacub Asfour. "What kind of investor wants to put money into a prison?"

Israelis safer, but also more disconnected from Palestinians

About a half-mile west of the concrete wall that encircles Qalqilya lies Kfar Saba. Though the city's shopping mall was targeted by suicide bombers during the second intifada, there were relatively few attacks in the Tel Aviv suburb.

Madmon, the activist from Kfar Saba, hasn't been back to Qalqilya for years. He says he's sorry about the economic hardship caused by the wall, but sees it as a necessary precaution.

"I understand [Pales­tinian] distress, but I also understand that I don't want to see shopping malls filled with body parts," he says.

Now that the wall has been erected, many residents seem less afraid – but also less likely to think about their neighbors on the other side.

"It creates a sense of disconnect that allows us to walk around without fear," says Maayan Sagy, a young employee at a technology company in the Kfar Saba industrial zone who remembers weekend trips to Qalqilya as a boy. "That disconnect isn't necessarily good."

That's why Yitzhak Vald, the former mayor involved in the partnership with the Palestinians, says he supports cooperation with Qalqilya.


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