- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

JERUSALEM — Jamal Dirawi was jolted awake at 1 a.m. by the thunder of fists pounding on his front door. He shared a tired glance with his wife and got dressed. This had happened before. In the weeks to come, it would happen again.

That July night, Israeli border police arrested Mr. Dirawi and 15 others in his village for entering Israel illegally. Mr. Dirawi was born here, just south of East Jerusalem. He was living here in 1967 when Israel declared the area part of “greater Jerusalem.” The villagers weren’t told until 1992.

When they applied for proper identification as Jerusalem residents, they were denied, making them illegally present on land they had never left. Now they are trapped.

Mr. Dirawi and his neighbors don’t have the identification to enter Jerusalem, to the north. An Israeli settlement hems them in on the west. To the south and east, Israel’s new security barrier cuts them off from Bethlehem, their urban hub, and the West Bank beyond. As bulldozers blazed the barrier’s path, the border police raids began.

“A government man came [in March] and said they want this area as a no-man’s land, that they’ll cut our electricity and water,” Mr. Dirawi said.

“After this man, we’ve seen no good. Israel wants our land, but it doesn’t want the people.”

Closing in

After three years of conflict that has claimed more than 800 Israeli lives and shattered many more, Israelis desperately crave the safety that the barrier seems to offer.

They believe a physical divider will stop suicide bombers from entering Israel proper, despite events like the suicide bombing Saturday in Haifa, where the barrier is already complete.

On the other side of that divide, in the West Bank, the barrier’s rapid construction is altering lives, the landscape and, critics say, foreclosing on the possibility of a viable Palestinian state — all factors that will deepen Palestinian anger and motivation to strike at Israel.

As this is happening, the barrier is shaping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in other ways. Indeed, the barrier’s dusty path through Jerusalem highlights like nowhere else how Israel uses law, policy and construction to control lands the Palestinians claim as their own.

“Jerusalem is being radically changed in a way it hasn’t been for centuries,” said Daniel Seideman, an Israeli lawyer who heads a group that provides planning services to residents of Palestinian East Jerusalem. “It’s the first time there has been a serious intent to build a wall around the city since the 16th century,” Mr. Seideman said. “It’s certainly the biggest change to Jerusalem since 1967.”

Though the United States has said that the Palestinians must act first to stop militant violence, it has expressed concern about the barrier and threatened financial penalties against Israel.

“The wall is not really consistent with our view of what the Middle East will one day have to look like — two states living side by side in peace,” U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters on Sept. 22. “We understand that the Israelis have some security concerns [but] it is extremely important, if it is going to be built, that it not intrude on the lives of the Palestinians, and most importantly, that it not look as if it’s trying to prejudge the outcome of a peace agreement.”

‘Golden basin’

Jerusalem always has been a crucible for ethnic, religious and political tensions — “a golden basin filled with scorpions,” one Arab resident wrote 10 centuries ago. A metaphor for peace, holiness and the divine for adherents to the three major monotheistic faiths, the city has endured massacres, sieges, war, desolation and repeated rebuilding over its 4,000-year history.

For Jews, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently said, it is “the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years and the united and undivided capital of Israel forever.”

Arab Christians see Jerusalem as the birthplace of their faith, while Arab Muslims declare it the third-holiest city in Islam, the place where Muhammad rose to heaven to receive the word of God and upon returning reportedly said that “to die in Jerusalem is almost like dying in heaven.”

Religion infuses and complicates the political struggle over Jerusalem. It underlies the decision by foreign mediators to make the city a “final status” negotiating issue, leaving the thorniest topics to the last. And it’s one more reason why barrier construction here is such a problem.

Israel already has built 84 miles of barrier, including two sections that the Defense Ministry calls “Circling Jerusalem.” Totaling almost 11 miles, these two barriers, when seen on maps, resemble giant brackets separating Jerusalem from Palestinian neighborhoods to the north and south. A third Jerusalem section was approved on Aug. 20, the day after a Hamas suicide bombing claimed 20 lives and galvanized support for the barrier.

This section will run some 38 miles through the eastern part of the city. Safety does not come cheap. At $4 million per mile, the barrier’s price tag will reach at least $1 billion, but Israelis want a divider as quickly as possible, no matter the cost.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has called the barrier “a problem.”

This is because the barrier veers from the Green Line border between Israel and Palestinian territory and dives into the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish their state.

The most contentious barrier section runs down a central section of the West Bank near the settlement of Ariel, and would involve a 12-mile indent if Ariel was included. Israel approved that 270-mile barrier section Oct. 1, leaving a gap in the barrier opposite the settlement.

Israeli reporters and analysts widely expect Ariel to be included inside the barrier in a few months. In the meantime, four separate barriers and obstacles will be built east of Ariel and other neighboring settlements.

In Washington meetings on Sept. 21, Israeli envoys told the Bush administration that the barrier’s route had been determined only by security considerations and was not intended to create political borders.

The U.S. concern is that the Ariel diversion, along with other detours, would make it hard to create a Palestinian state out of one, uninterrupted piece of land. Washington has threatened to deduct money from the $9 billion in loan guarantees it gave Tel Aviv this year if Israel extends the barrier around Ariel.

Journalists in Israel noted, however, the Bush administration’s silence about the Cabinet approval of the Ariel section. In the Ma’ariv newspaper, analyst Ben Caspit said Israeli politicians expect the United States to disengage from the conflict over the next year because of coming elections and other foreign concerns, thereby allowing Israel more freedom to act.

Even so, the United States has doubts about the Jerusalem barrier. This is a sensitive area where the barrier will have a substantial impact on residents, and from a security perspective, its route is counterintuitive. As it winds around the hills of East Jerusalem, the barrier dips beyond Israel’s boundaries for the Jerusalem municipality and into the West Bank, so that some 60,000 to 70,000 West Bank Palestinians will be on the “Israeli” side of the fence. At the same time, Palestinians with Jerusalem ID and lives that revolve around the city will be left outside.

Inside the city, surveillance cameras will oversee a 26-foot-high wall, high-tech intrusion-detection fences and a patrol road. This barrier won’t divide Palestinians from Israelis.

Instead, it will separate Palestinians from Palestinians, cutting off people from their families, jobs, schools, hospitals, community graveyards and land. Already, students, housewives and others are climbing over or squeezing through gaps in the 8-foot concrete blocks plunked down in the middle of East Jerusalem’s Abu Dis neighborhood.

“There is so much human pressure on both sides of this wall,” said Mr. Seideman, looking down on the concrete divider from the hilltop courtyard of a local hotel.

“While they can do it, people are going over the wall, under the wall, around the wall. Residents have marked gaps in the slabs for people of various girths,” Mr. Seideman said.

This barrier-induced pressure on communities in and around East Jerusalem is building. Mr. Seideman worries that it will radicalize one of the most peaceful Palestinian areas during this conflict. Many residents now wonder aloud whether they will have to move to reach jobs and schools.

This pressure is amplified by other Israeli actions around the city — road creation, settlement expansion and building restrictions on Palestinians. The overarching purpose, Israeli analysts say, is to shape Jerusalem’s demographic profile and, by doing so, its future.

Planning policy

Hassan Abu Asleh spent his working years laying the physical foundation for life in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Abu Asleh’s career as an urban planner and surveyor began with the Jordanians who ruled the eastern side of the Green Line until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. When the Israelis annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem, “they took me with my table, my chair, my pencils and maps.”

“They needed me,” Mr. Abu Asleh said. He retired last year to an airy, open home he built in East Jerusalem’s Sur Bahir neighborhood, just north of Jamal Dirawi’s village.

The Israelis were new to East Jerusalem in 1967, but they had ideas. Mr. Abu Asleh watched them extend the city’s boundaries, confiscate Palestinian land for settlements and institute new construction rules in East Jerusalem.

“Nothing happened to Palestinian land in Jerusalem without me having a finger in it,” he said. “After the war, people had to apply again to build and the Israelis said, ‘Wait, we want to do new planning.’ ” He paused. “Today, there are places that still haven’t got permission to build.”

Planning can determine the potential and limits of a community. In East Jerusalem, a thicket of bureaucracy and an absence of planning have stilled that potential.

This is a deliberate policy, critics say, driven by the Jerusalem’s stated goal of maintaining a ratio of 72 Jews to 28 Arabs in the city.

As Israel continues to confiscate land, the squeeze on Palestinian East Jerusalem grows ever tighter. Mr. Abu Asleh has only to look out his living room window to see 1½ acres of family land seized for the creation of a Jewish neighborhood in 1970. In July, a confiscation notice arrived for his remaining 2½ acres, claimed for barrier construction.

“It makes me feel ill,” he said, curling a fist against his chest as he turned from the window. “I have the land under my feet now, that’s it. And it’s not just my story; it’s the story of everyone in my village. There’s not an inch for people to grow or expand.”

As a result, when families expand, Palestinians build illegally.

In response, Israel demolishes. Israel has destroyed an estimated 2,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem since 1967 and has more than 1,000 demolition orders outstanding, said the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD).

“It is part of the strategy,” said Shuli Hartman of Bimkom, a group of Israeli architects and planners who study Israel’s use of urban planning. “There has been no planning in these neighborhoods, so anything they do is illegal.”

Numbers game

After a home demolition, families are forced to move, often outside Jerusalem. If they do, the Interior Ministry invalidates their IDs; they can no longer enter the city legally.

“In Jerusalem, Israel turned urban planning into a tool of the government, to be used to help prevent the expansion of the city’s non-Jewish population,” Amir Cheshin wrote in his 1967 book, “Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem.” A retired army colonel, Mr. Cheshin went on to become a mayoral adviser on Arab affairs in Jerusalem.

“The idea was … to move as many Arabs as possible out of the city,” he wrote. “Policy in East Jerusalem was all about this numbers game.”

The floor-to-ceiling windows in Benny Kashriel’s office offer a view of single-minded determination in the form of row upon row of neat, new steeple-roofed houses. Mr. Kashriel is mayor of Maale Adumim, a 30,000-resident settlement east of Jerusalem. As an assistant to Israel’s housing minister in 1980, then as mayor for the past 14 years, Mr. Kashriel has been concerned principally with the settlement’s safety and growth.

He said the defense minister recently assured him that Maale Adumim will fall within the Jerusalem district fence, part of the barrier projected to swing out some nine miles into the West Bank, far beyond the current borders of the settlement’s urban center.

Mr. Kashriel, an urbane man with a politician’s easy warmth, says he isn’t all that impressed: “The fence doesn’t give security. It’s more a temporary medicine for politicians under pressure.”

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