Wall creates Palestinian cultural divide

Cousins Rana and Rasha fear Jerusalem men will snub them for marriage because they do not live within Israel’s wall. (Tom Spender/IRIN)

Israel began building an eight-metre high, 703 km-long concrete barrier through the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2002. To date, some 670 km of it has been completed.

Israel says the wall is a security measure to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attacks by Palestinian militants, but when the barrier is completed, about 10 percent of the West Bank will be inside Israel.

In July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the barrier’s route, which weaves around the western border of the majority occupied territory, was illegal under international humanitarian and human-rights law, because it “gravely” infringes on a number of rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In five articles, IRIN examines the human consequences of the wall for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The young Palestinian women in the Jerusalem classroom become animated when the conversation turns to love. A few wear make-up and knee-length skirts, others wear the hijab - but all have something to say about how the wall that Israel calls its ‘security fence’ has diminished their chances of marriage.

“I won’t marry a boy with a West Bank ID because we could not be together. He could not move to Jerusalem because the Israelis would not let him and I will not go to the West Bank because life is worse there,” said 18-year-old Elia Shami.

The wall, which cuts through Jerusalem, has created a hierarchy of desirability based on the colour of the plastic Palestinian ID cards the youths carry, the girls told IRIN. Those with orange or blue cards count as Israeli citizens and can live in Jerusalem or enter through its checkpoints, while those with green West Bank cards are mostly barred from the city.

Israel maintains that its barrier is vital for its security. In a statement to IRIN, the Israeli military said it was sensitive to the hardship faced by Palestinians in their everyday lives.

But even if a Jerusalem girl did fall in love with a West Bank man, their respective parents would likely forbid them from going ahead with the marriage.

“A friend of my father’s proposed to marry me. But my father refused because he was from Hebron. He said he would not let me move to the West Bank because of all the killing going on there,” said Leila Shehada, 18.

Psychological barriers

The physical hindrances of the wall are mirrored by psychological barriers going up in the minds of Palestinians, according to Karine MacAllister, a lawyer with Badil, a Palestinian refugee rights organisation.

“The Israelis are cutting the Jerusalem Palestinians off more and more from the West Bank Palestinians, physically and culturally. They want the Jerusalemites to identify more with Arab-Israelis and become quieter,” she said.

MacAllister has interviewed women and children on both sides of the wall. “They are starting to think of each other as different. Those with Jerusalem IDs begin to think that the West Bankers don’t like them because they can get into the city. But they are the same Palestinians from the same land and culture,” she said.

Bigger impact on women

The wall has had a disproportionate impact on Palestinian women, with almost 80 percent travelling less and giving up jobs and education, MacAllister said.

“The wall is actually reinforcing the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society. Men are telling women that they should travel less because it is dangerous and they risk not getting through checkpoints,” she said.

“And the added time it takes for men to travel to do their jobs if they have them means that women have to be at home more to look after children.”

The difficulty of getting across the four Jerusalem checkpoints in the wall is splitting up Palestinian families. More than 20 per cent of Jerusalem Palestinians have been separated from close relatives, such as their parents or children, according to Badil.

Kifah Kanaan, 30, lives alone in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina. Her parents are dead and her sisters live in Bethlehem, only 10km away but on the other side of the wall.

“I see them about three times a year. When they came here they were looking at Jerusalem like it would be the last time they would ever see it,” Kanaan said.

“It’s hard being a woman alone in Jerusalem. I cannot get married by myself. I need the support of my sisters and I never see them. I feel like I’m in an open prison and they do too. It is horrible.”

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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