Jerusalem residents scramble to fight wall

The wall in Al Ram (Maureen Clare Murphy)

The arrival of an Israeli army jeep into the Kaf Al Hawa neighborhood in Dahiet Al Barid, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, is no longer an unusual sight for residents. In fact, it has become a common sight and a sign that work on the wall that has already divided the neighborhood into two is inexorably continuing.

At the end of April, Israeli authorities announced the course of the northern section of the wall, which will not only divide Dahiet Al Barid but will confiscate approximately 26.2 dunams land in Beit Hanina and Dahiet Al Barid and will close northern Jerusalem to about 100,000 Jerusalem residents who live in Al Ram, Dahiet Al Barid, Bir Nabala, Kufr Aqab, Sameer Amis and other northern neighborhoods. When residents saw the blueprints, a collective sigh of relief could almost be heard from the people on one side, whose homes would fall on the “Jerusalem side”, while the other side realized with a heavy sigh that they would be isolated by the wall, unable to reach Jerusalem.

The wall’s semi-final course was set in order to give the residents of Kaf Al Hawa time to appeal. Residents duly got together to change the course of the wall running through their neighborhood.

Early May saw the last neighborhood meeting with engineers from the Israeli army. The residents met in front of the Shaloudi home where three military jeeps arrived. An Israeli Druze officer, “Mousa”, told the residents that the army was not swayed by their objection to the current course. Naturally, he added, this would leave them one last chance, which is to appeal to the Israel High Court and object to the course through the law.

Arguments ensued between the residents and the Israeli officer. “What do you want? Do you want to steal our land from us?” yelled Shaludi Bahjat. “My brothers and I worked for 20 years to buy a piece of land of our own.”

Israeli authorities are planning to turn the Bahjat brothers’ piece of land into a parking lot. According to the current course of the wall, the main street and main parking lot will be removed. Thus an alternative road had to be created. And it was. The army engineer produced maps that showed narrow alleys squeezed between the houses. If, according to the engineer, land is confiscated around these alleys, it will allow for a road.

This new development only caused more of an uproar among the gathered people, especially when they heard how much land would have to be expropriated for this purpose. One resident, Saif Al Ghatiti told the engineer, “We do not want the wall in this area. Go and look for an alternative. Everyone here has blue IDs [Jerusalem residency card]”

Of course, the engineer’s response - translated through Mousa - was, there is no alternative. The wall will be built in this area.

Others began accepting that, no matter how much they resisted the idea, the wall would go up. So, they began negotiating over the course of the planned street so they could avoid their land being confiscated.

One resident suggested an empty strip of land in the neighborhood that could be used for a road instead of the proposed one. But that only led to arguments between the residents themselves. Abu Anas Qasrawi, standing in a group around the Israeli engineer suddenly burst into screams, chided Mousa Skafi, the person who suggested what he thought was a vacant plot. Qasrawi said he had bought the land and had no intention of offering it for a new road.

The arguing continued until they finally agreed to hire an attorney to collectively defend their neighborhood in the Israeli courts.

Many changes have occurred to Kaf Al Hawa since the beginning of May. There has been a construction boom in the section of the neighborhood that will fall on the Jerusalem side of the wall. The goal of this, residents say, is to take advantage of every meter of land before the wall goes up because of the difficulties East Jerusalemites face in obtaining building licenses inside the Israeli-imposed Jerusalem municipal borders. They figure, once they are part of the de facto borders, their new houses will already have been built.

On the right side of the same street, people have frozen any plans to build or renovate because they know their lands will be isolated from Jerusalem.

Majed Hamdan, the attorney who is representing the residents most affected by the new course of the wall in Kaf Al Hawa, said that going by the military order and the attached maps, vast areas of land will be confiscated and thousands of Jerusalemites will be separated from their workplaces in Jerusalem, the city’s health, social and educational services, as well as their places of worship, not to mention family and friends.

Hamdan stressed that the “compromises” presented by the Israeli army as a result of the new course of the wall, which will snake in between people’s homes, will not serve the residents’ most basic needs. Rather, it will cost them a huge chunk in real estate and land value and deprive them of their freedom of movement.

This is the reality for Majdi Amouri, who will be separated by a three-meter road through which the wall will pass from his brother’s house just down the road. Amouri says there are many more cases just like his if not worse in his neighborhood.

Attorney Mohammed Dahleh, who has taken the case to court, says the final decision is for the wall to run parallel to the Welfare Association in Dahiet Al Barid while snaking between the houses toward the military camp to the east.

Dahleh says the map shows the wall intruding into areas in the West Bank and then into Jerusalem municipality areas where the World Bank and some schools are located, in addition to residential homes. Dahleh says this amended course came only after pressures from international parties, including the Catholic Church and people in the American administration.

According to Dahleh, who was sent a map of the wall by the Israeli military, the army also sent a detailed and lengthy response to the appeals before the High Court against the wall in Al Ram and Dahiet Al Barid area. Now the petitioners have to respond to these army claims after which the high court will then set a special session to look into the appeals.

Among other things, Dahleh said, the army reaffirmed that the wall would not change the legal status of any citizens and would not change the legal status of the land or people including for those who carry Jerusalem IDs and who will find themselves on the other side of the wall.

Dahleh also said Israeli military authorities intend to set up a military checkpoint west of the Qalandiya checkpoint north of the airport and adjacent to Road 60 (Atarot checkpoint) which will allow free movement between Al Ram, Ramallah and Bir Nabala. He said a special crossings unit belonging to the Israeli army would be in charge of the checkpoint until later, when it will become under the authority of the civil crossings authority. Construction is underway to build additional facilities at the checkpoint under the Israeli military authority (civil administration) for West Bankers who want to obtain permits. He says work will start soon and be completed by the end of this year.

According to the Israeli plan, says Dahleh, residents of Al Ram will also be able to enter Jerusalem through the new military checkpoint that will be erected near the Jaba circle (Kikar Adom) in order to ease the pressure from the Atarot checkpoint. In this way, residents of Al Ram and Dahiet Al Barid who carry Jerusalem IDs will be inspected in their cars to and from Jerusalem through the new checkpoints. This will mean the time it takes them to reach Jerusalem - which normally takes no more than half an hour - will be a couple of hours at least.

Sarhan Salaymeh, head of Al Ram local council and the head of the committee protesting the wall, says, the Israeli plan is “aimed at disrupting the social and economic life of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Most of the residents in Jerusalem’s suburbs are connected to its center either through work, business, school or because they are in need of health services. Many have relatives in the city. This is all something the Israeli authorities know well.”

“The areas of Al Ram, Dahiet Al Barid and Bir Nabala, furthermore, which include tens of thousands of residents, cannot sustain themselves in terms of economic, health and educational necessities. Most of these services are found in Jerusalem and the citizens here are linked to the city. Imagine how hard it is going to be when someone sick in Al Ram needs to be taken to a hospital in Jerusalem,” Salaymeh says.

“The main goal is to transform the villages and neighborhoods around Jerusalem into ghettos, isolated from one another and isolated from the center of the city. This means isolating and severing large residential areas in which 170,000 people live from their city, thus subjecting them to losing their residency rights in addition to their social and economic rights.”

This, says Salaymeh, is really the overall goal. “If people lose their residency rights, the percentage of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will be decreased drastically. We are talking about isolating over 70,000 residents, thus bringing the percentage of Palestinian Jerusalemites to 20-25 percent of Jerusalem’s population, which is even lower than the 28 percent consecutive Israeli governments have tried to maintain over the years. Geographically, it means taking control over the remaining lands in Jerusalem for the benefit of 16 Jewish settlements currently built on over 35 percent of the overall area of Arab East Jerusalem.”

This article was first published on 18 May 2005 in Palestine Report Online, a project of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in Jerusalem, and is reprinted with permission. Palestine Report Online is a continuation of the print Palestine Report, which was established over twelve years ago as a means of informing English-speakers about Palestinians and their daily lives in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also in this week’s edition: PR reports on attempts to document Palestinian architectural heritage and watches refugees commemorate the Nakba in Gaza.

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BY TOPIC: Human Rights