East Jerusalem community lives divided: NPR

The Israel Separation Barrier can be seen along the Ras Khamis neighborhood in east Jerusalem on March 4, 2009. Locals say the final parts were completed two weeks ago.

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AFP / Getty Images


The Israel Separation Barrier can be seen along the Ras Khamis neighborhood in east Jerusalem on March 4, 2009. Locals say the final parts were completed two weeks ago.

AFP / Getty Images

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The Israeli security fence in and around the West Bank is about 60 percent complete. Israel says it was designed as a barrier against suicide bombers, but Palestinians say it is a land grab.

A community in East Jerusalem has been essentially cut off from the rest of the city by a new barrier erected two weeks ago.

It’s afternoon in Ras Khamis in East Jerusalem, and Palestinian schoolchildren carefully walk through two sets of revolving metal doors between an Israeli checkpoint and a watchtower.

Once past, they run – with exuberant cries and hair blowing in the wind – towards a bus that will take them home.

Although the community is within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and residents pay property taxes to local Israeli authorities, their movement is restricted.

Yehia Tamimi is the bus driver.

“The people are separated by a gate from the community of Jerusalem. Sometimes they open that door, sometimes they don’t open that door, ”Tamimi says.

Walk further inside Ras Khamis and you will see a run down area of ​​crowded streets, houses built on top of each other, hemmed in by the barrier.

Israel began building the barrier that winds in and around the West Bank in 2002 during the second Palestinian uprising.

Only about 5 percent of it – much of it in the area around Jerusalem – is a real concrete wall. In rural areas, it is a fence reinforced with security cameras, watchtowers and IDF patrols.

Only about 60% of it has been completed, and experts say the rest will likely not be completed due to political and budgetary considerations.

But that is little consolation for the people of Ras Khamis.

Abu Issa is sitting in his shop, smoking a water pipe. He heads the city council.

“The last part of the wall was built two weeks ago. We woke up in the morning and found this checkpoint, with all its structures, surrounding us. We protested, but they didn’t do anything. completely suffocate us, ”says Issa.

Abu Issa points out that there has been no suicide bombing in Israel for more than two years.

He says the barrier is being built here now because Israel wants to isolate the Arab population of Jerusalem to strengthen Jewish claims on the city.

He says Palestinian families evicted from other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are relocated to Ras Khamis, where they are housed

About 40,000 people now live in this community – which has no hospitals, clinics or schools, says Issa.

Right across a small ravine, the reality couldn’t be more different in the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev – where there are 17 kindergartens, 10 elementary schools and 5 high schools for 45,000 residents, according to Yeheal Levy, executive director of the Pisgat Community Center in Zeev.

He says Jewish communities like theirs have thrived since security improved. And he says most people see the barrier as necessary.

The Pisgat Zeev shopping center is in full swing.

Limor Marko works there selling jewelry and lives in the community. She says the people there know that the barrier causes hardship for the Palestinians.

“You want to be a better person, you want them to feel it’s their country too. I want to be kind, but I want to feel safe, so it doesn’t always go together,” says Marko.

So, she says that she supports the barrier that has been raised in the neighboring Arab community.

“We need them as much as they need us, you see? she says.

Marko says she believes Palestinians and Jews can live together, but not now.


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Albert C. Prince

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