- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

BETHLEHEM, West Bank | Claire Anastas‘ house is enclosed on three sides by a gray cement wall. Israel’s separation barrier has forced the family to close its car repair business because customers can no longer get there.

Now Ms. Anastas is using the 30-foot-high wall to make money.

Since October, she has been selling Bethlehem’s traditional olive wood carvings on the Internet, and one of her most popular items is a nativity scene with a wall running through it.

Ms. Anastas said she designed it and says she has sold 90 out of a stock of 300. “This symbolizes the situation and so they demand it,” she said. However, the wall is removable for those Christmas shoppers who want a more festive display.

The wall went up in 2003 - part of a barrier of cement slabs and fences that is to run the length of the West Bank. Two-thirds complete, it was built after suicide attackers killed hundreds of Israelis during Palestinian-Israeli fighting. In two bombings within a month of each other, in nearby Jerusalem in early 2004, 19 Israelis died. The attackers came from Bethlehem.

But the barrier also slices off 10 percent of the West Bank in what Palestinians call a land grab.

The wall not only cuts Bethlehem off from Jerusalem, but meanders through the town to separate Rachel’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine, from the rest of the city. Ms. Anastas’ three-story house is close to the loop around the tomb, and is often visited by foreign sympathizers looking for a vivid view of the wall.

Three families used to live in her building, all related. One has emigrated to Jordan, and although fighting has stopped and a fragile peace has descended on Bethlehem this Christmas, Ms. Anastas thinks she too might leave with her husband and four children if the financial situation does not improve.

Several businesses in Ms. Anastas’ neighborhood shut down because of the wall, but one Christian neighbor, John Hazboun, owner of the Bahamas Seafood Restaurant, saw an opportunity. He painted the menu on the wall.

“I thought of making something positive out of a negative situation,” he said. He had shuttered the restaurant in 2000, but reopened in July and says he has bookings for Christmas and New Year’s, including tour groups.

He has built a glass-enclosed terrace he calls the “Wall Lounge,” and serves a “Wall Chicken Sandwich.”

Customers have a view of an Israeli watchtower and wall art, including a painting of a camel with tiny people trying to climb on its back, as though to get over the barrier.

“This reminds us very much of Berlin, where people used to use the wall to make the best of the situation, with paintings,” said customer Martin Gehlen, 52, visiting from Cairo, where he writes for the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. “When you enter Bethlehem, you can’t miss the wall.”

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