WEST BANK—The Palestinian people and the State of Israel have been locked in nearly continuous armed struggle—lacking a meaningful peace process, and prompting extreme actions all around. In 2002, Israel began constructing the Wall separating Israel from the Occupied Territories; in early 2006, the Palestinians elected a Hamas government. Both sides act as if they want to punish the other. In the last seven years, few confidence-building measures have been taken; neither side is making the necessary efforts to solve the conflict.
Israel's actions will likely have more severe and far-reaching consequences than those of its Palestinian neighbour. Palestinian parliamentary elections are held every four years, and voters can remove Hamas from power. But there is no infrastructure or intention to re-examine the route of the Wall every four years. It seems the barrier will remain for many years to come.
The 760 km-long barrier stands mainly on Palestinian lands, significantly affecting the every-day life of many Palestinians, especially in the Jerusalem area. Though its declared purpose was to separate Israelis from Palestinians, in reality, the barrier in Jerusalem separates Palestinians from Palestinians.
241,000 Palestinians – Muslims and Christians – live in East Jerusalem, making up 33% of the city's population. 30 days after the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel extended its jurisdiction to East Jerusalem. Insufficient attention was devoted to the ramifications of this hasty action, and the border that was drawn is very problematic.
Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods are an integral part of the city. Residents are dependent on Jerusalem in all aspects of life—from education and healthcare, to employment, commerce and community life. However, the 1967 border left entire neighbourhoods outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, and residents were issued the orange ID cards of the Occupied Territories. In addition, certain neighbourhoods, such as Tsur Baher, Jabal Mukaber and Beit Hanina were divided into two: one part left outside the city's borders, the other remaining inside. In this absurd situation, a resident could hold an orange West Bank ID, while their relative from the same neighbourhood holds a blue Israeli ID.
Israel opted to build the Wall in Jerusalem along the 1967 border, rather than the internationally recognised 1949 "Green Line." Now that the Wall is being erected, the problematic nature of this border is becoming more and more apparent, as is the increasing impact on Palestinian residents.
The Wall cuts off Palestinians in East Jerusalem from their Palestinian brothers in the West Bank, who have always regarded Jerusalem as their spiritual, cultural and religious centre. The Wall bars these West Bank residents from entering Jerusalem, which has also devastated East Jerusalem business owners, and undermined the economy. In desperation, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are leaving to seek their livelihood elsewhere.
The Wall also separates Palestinian families. In Jabal Mukaber, the Wall runs through the centre of the neighbourhood, leaving some residents inside the city lines and others outside. Father is separated from son as they find themselves on different sides of the Wall; community and family life is interrupted, as relatives cannot meet, and as Jerusalem – the core of their social gatherings – becomes inaccessible. Houses left outside the Jerusalem boundaries stand empty—abandoned by their inhabitants.
But the cry for help from Jabel Mukaber's residents was not left unheeded. In an act of goodwill, inhabitants of a nearby Jewish neighbourhood, Armon Hanatziv, answered the call. Since 2004, these Jewish neighbours have supported legal action taken to change the route of the Wall, including a High Court appeal by Sheikh Saed residents, whom I represent. Together with their Arab neighbours, these Jewish residents await the High Court ruling, hoping that the Wall will be rerouted, and contacting me almost daily for updates. These people have long understood what many of their leaders still do not: peace must start between individuals, as when an Israeli Jew feels the pain and distress of his Palestinian neighbour, and actively helps him get back on his feet. This kind of concern for your fellow man should be mutual, regardless of geography, ethnicity, or religion. This is the only way to build trust and bring about co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. This is the only way two peoples can live side-by-side in peace and security.
It is time to stop these extreme actions that only serve to undermine the interests of both peoples. We must use the window of opportunity offered by the Annapolis summit and begin a continuous political process that will lead to an historic reconciliation and comprehensive resolution of the conflict. We hope that political developments will put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and that this Wall, like the Berlin Wall, will ultimately fall.
* Ghiath Nasser is a human rights lawyer in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. He has represented a number of Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods in cases concerning the Israeli Wall. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service, and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
This article is part of a special series on the psychology of separation, which examines the psychological, spiritual, and political implications of physical and emotional barriers.
Source: The Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 17 January 2008, www.commongroundnews.org.
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