Jerusalem Barrier Causes Major Upheaval

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 2, 2006; 12:05 PM

JERUSALEM -- The manager of a clinic switches from car to motorcycle to speed blood samples to the lab. A homeowner abandons his suburban villa for a small city apartment. A college student leaves home two hours early for what used to be a 30-minute trip to class.

The lives of tens of thousands of Jerusalem's Arabs have been changed in ways big and small by a 60-mile, $465 million ring of walls and fences _ Israel's biggest undertaking in the city since it captured and annexed the Arab sector in the 1967 Mideast War.

The barrier, part of a larger West Bank divider meant to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, slices through the city's Arab neighborhoods. The 100,000 left outside it _ some 40 percent of Jerusalem's 240,000 Arabs _ have to cross terminals with watchtowers, luggage scanners and lines for ID checks to get to downtown jobs and schools.

The result is a migration into Arab neighborhoods inside the barrier that is pushing up housing prices. Some Arabs are even moving into Jewish neighborhoods.

It also flies in the face of Israel's claim to have united a city that until 1967 was divided by a wall between its Jewish west and Arab east, and the new inward migration is undercutting Israel's stated goal of maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the heart of Jerusalem.

Israeli officials are at pains to portray the barrier as temporary. They say the wall's cement slabs, up to two stories high, could be pulled up by cranes in a matter of days, if the city's final status was worked out in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

The barrier went up in a hurry, starting in 2002, following a wave of suicide bombings aboard buses, in restaurants and outside synagogues. In the first four years of the Palestinian uprising that started in 2000, 172 people were killed in suicide bombings in areas where Jerusalem's 470,000 Jews live.

The route was sketched hastily with little public debate, said former chief Jerusalem planner Israel Kimhi. "It might help prevent suicide bombers from entering into the city, but it's going to cause a lot of inconvenience to many thousands of people," he said.

The barrier is also turning Jerusalem from a metropolis into a "dead-end city" cut off from its West Bank hinterland, weakening its economy, bankrupting businesses in its shadow and threatening to radicalize a moderate Arab population, warned Kimhi's Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a think tank that advises the government.

The government insists any drawbacks are outweighed by a sharp drop in attacks. "The main issue is to prevent bombs from blowing up in the middle of Jerusalem," said the Defense Ministry's chief barrier planner, Netzah Mashiah. He promised there would be more crossings and smart cards for commuters to reduce delays.

But the Palestinians and some Israelis believe security wasn't the only motive. The Jerusalem barrier includes more than 180,000 Jews living in east Jerusalem housing built after the 1967 annexation, and meanders to take in some 45,000 Jewish West Bank settlers.

A part of the barrier still to be built is supposed to thrust eastward, tripling Jerusalem's municipal area while nearly cutting the West Bank in half.

Palestinians who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip see east Jerusalem as their future capital, but the barrier cuts it off from the West Bank. "The official text is security," said Menachem Klein, a Jerusalem expert and former Israeli peace negotiator. "The subtext is to demolish east Jerusalem as the metropolis of the West Bank."

The city does not have numbers on migration, but officials believe thousands have moved.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 64 of 981 Jerusalem area families questioned in a survey this summer said they moved in the past four years because of the barrier.

In A-Tur, an Arab neighborhood of 28,000 on the biblical Mount of Olives, dozens of families have moved in every year for the past four years, Arab officials said. The influx has strained already overburdened local services, particularly schools, said Nazeeh Ansari, a community organizer.

Ansari, who speaks fluent Hebrew, escaped the overcrowding by moving his family to the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev. He got a mortgage on a $170,000 three-bedroom apartment, cheaper than in a nearby Arab neighborhood, where housing prices have doubled and all transactions are done in cash.

Jerusalem historically has tended to segregate itself into religious and ethnic quarters, and the Ansaris are just of a few dozen Arab families in Pisgat Zeev, but the trend is picking up, said Kimhi.

In A-Tur, many of the returnees have squeezed into their parents' homes, leaving behind apartments in the satellite community of Azzaim on an adjacent West Bank hill, now cut off by the barrier. About one-fourth of Azzaim's 4,000 residents have left, said Mayor Adnan Subeh, who also resettled in A-Tur.

Accountant Ali Abul Hawwa, 68, said he spent his retirement benefits on building an apartment in A-Tur, after abandoning his home in Azzaim.

He said he moved to avoid barrier hassles and to secure the benefits that come with Jerusalem residency status, such as national health insurance. Tarek Muna, a 35-year-old U.N. employee, cited the same motives in locking up his villa in the suburb of Bir Naballah and moving into a $500-a-month two-bedroom apartment in noisy downtown Wadi Joz.

The barrier has perhaps been hardest on some 60,000 Arabs who live within city limits but have been "walled out."

Some 25,000 residents in Kufr Aqeb on Jerusalem's northern tip have to cross the Qalandia terminal, built into a 25-foot wall.

ID cards in hand, they wait at metal turnstiles. When green lights come on, the turnstiles unlock to allow a few people through at a time. After placing their belongings in scanners, pedestrians pass through metal detectors, show ID cards to inspectors in glass booths, go through two more turnstiles, and come out on the "Jerusalem" side.

The crossing can take from a few minutes to more than an hour. One morning, a large crowd built up during rush hour because a woman set off the metal detector. She had no doctor's certificate to verify she had a steel rod in her leg.

Kufr Aqeb residents believe it's only a matter of time before they are completely cut off. "People are convinced the state is about to throw them out," said community organizer Samih Abu Romeileh, 32.

Israel insists that the barrier does not change the legal status of the residents.

However, the separation has intensified what Israeli city officials acknowledge are decades of neglect, and has forced Kufr Aqeb to fend for itself.

Tired of waiting for Kufr Aqeb's municipality to act, Abu Romeileh has helped set up a school for 500 students, hooked the neighborhood into Ramallah's sewage system and organized a 30-doctor clinic, now under contract with Israel's national health service. He has bought a motorcycle to bypass Qalandia's lines of cars when delivering perishable blood samples.

The barrier is at least forcing Kufr Aqeb's municipality to find ways to deliver services, said Ziv Ayalon, an Israeli city official involved in setting up a separate local council for the walled out residents. "In the past it was quite neglected," he said. "Paradoxically, after the fence people will get more than what was before."

At the end of this month, the Qalandia terminal will get a service center with a post office and branches of several government departments, including national insurance and motor vehicles, Ayalon said.

He said the city is also trying to find solutions for school students; since last year, some 3,500 have been bused daily from outlying neighborhoods to 27 schools. Kimhi said solutions will have to be found for a total of 15,000.

On the West Bank side, the barrier is knocking the life out of the city suburbs.

In A-Ram, most of whose 62,000 residents have Jerusalem residency, one in five apartments is empty, and local tax revenues have dropped by two-thirds, said Mayor Sarhan Salimeh.

A-Ram straddles what was once the main road between Jerusalem and the northern West Bank, a commercial strip crowded with bargain hunters. The wall now runs in the middle of that thoroughfare, and many storefronts on its West Bank side are shuttered. Waheeb Torani's pastry shop is scraping by with 15 percent of the original clientele.

On the Jerusalem side of the wall, a gym has lost two-thirds of its customers and an auto shop paints one car a week, instead of two a day.

Israeli officials acknowledge the vast changes that the barrier, even if it turns out to be temporary, has set in motion.

Neighborhoods beyond the wall are already being regarded as "almost abroad," said Mordechai Levy, a senior city official, while Palestinians living on the inside should realize they are opting for a future with Israel.

"They should be clear about it and we should be clear about it," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press