Wall Divides Families
- Where day to day living has had its heart cut out
By Chris McGreal in Abu Dis
20 January 2004
Fatina Zen stayed until the end, peering down her street through the
lashing rain as towering concrete slabs were slotted into place one
by one across the middle of the road. She wondered if her son might
suddenly appear on the other side to wave goodbye but he never came.
The 52-year-old grandmother finally left once the latest section of
Israel's "security fence" - recently renamed the "terror prevention
fence" to improve its image abroad - had bisected the street as it
worms its way through the Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Abu Dis.
Except that in Abu Dis it is not a fence but an eight metre-high
wall (27ft) that has divided families and torn apart a longstanding
"I can't bear it," said Mrs Zen, who until a few days ago lived a
three minute walk from her two adult children and four
"My son came to visit me two or three times a day. Imagine you live
in the same street as your son but you cannot see him because they
built a wall."
Even those expecting the new barrier through Abu Dis, a community of
about 11,000 under the Mount of Olives, were surprised at the
monster in their midst. It is the same size as the wall surrounding
the West Bank city of Qalqilya, but the concrete slabs seem to grow
to giant proportions when driven down the middle of a narrow street.
There is no room for cars on one side of the wall, and barely enough
for one-way traffic on the other. The sun is permanently blocked out
from homes and shops facing the concrete.
The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said that the wall
will severely disrupt Palestinians access to schools, hospitals and
The Israeli government has persistently argued that the route of the
50 mile long barrier through and around East Jerusalem is determined
by security not political considerations.
"The terror built the fence," said Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime
minister, last week. "If not for the terror, maybe we would not have
done it at all. But I think it's very important to know that when it
comes to security, there will be no compromises: not now, not in the
But the new wall and fence runs close to the greater Jerusalem
boundary the Israelis marked out after seizing the east of the city
in the 1967 war, confirming Palestinian suspicions that it is more
about borders than security.
Palestinians live on both sides of the wall through Abu Dis.
Critics say that if the intent were to limit Arab access to Jewish
areas of Jerusalem, then it would be logical to build the barrier
between the Palestinian east of the city and the mostly-Jewish west.
But that would be to divide a city that Mr Sharon describes as
Israel's eternal and indivisible capital.
Samir Khatib, 46, owns a row of shops facing the new wall on the
Jerusalem side, and a petrol station a few yards down the road. But
his home and five children are 200 metres on the West Bank side of
"In the Jordanian time, in the British time, if you lived here you
lived in Jerusalem. Only with the Israelis is it different.
"They are doing it to create a new border for Jerusalem, a new
border for the Jewish state," he said as he watched the concrete
slabs lowered by earth diggers under heavy military guard.
"I have to choose between my family and my business. My children go
to school on the other side, but this is where I make my money to
send them to school."
Palestinians with passes to live in Jerusalem will still be able to
travel to the other side of the wall via an Israeli army checkpoint.
But it is a journey of about 15 miles to travel a distance that
could be covered in a couple of minutes a week ago. And it is not
Many Palestinians do not have cars. If they make the journey by bus,
it is almost certain to be stopped at the checkpoint and its
passengers subjected to lengthy identity checks by the army.
"If you have a car, and don't get stopped, you can do it in
half-an-hour," said Mr Khatib. "But the bus is different. With all
the checks, it takes two or three hours."
Mrs Zen says she would consider moving the other side of the wall,
but both she and her husband need regular hospital treatment for
heart conditions and cannot get that outside of Jerusalem. Her
children need to stay put for their work.
But thousands of Palestinians with permits to live in Jerusalem are
moving inside the walls. The cost of renting apartments in Arab
areas is rising sharply; no new accommodation is being built because
the Israeli government refuses planning permission.
There is an added problem because of Israeli racial laws aimed at
limiting the number of Arabs living in Jerusalem. Those Palestinians
with permission to live in the city lose residency permits if they
leave for more than three months.
The new wall replaces a row of concrete blocks that were placed
along the street a few months ago, stopping traffic but otherwise
routinely clambered over.
The shorter wall, less than two metres high, has been lifted aside.
Graffiti foretells the views likely to decorate the new barrier
before long: "Welcome to Abu Dis ghetto" and "Wall ... peace? Sharon
lies to his own people".
By Lily Galili - Ha'aretz Jan 16, 2004
With great speed, the original low, irrelevant wall is being replaced
in East Jerusalem with a new structure that resembles some vast
mythological dragon. All around are people who thought they'd already
seen everything during the occupation, watching the scene in disbelief
If Jesus had been born 2,000 years later, he would have had a hard
time bringing about the famous miracle of Bethany, in which he bid
Lazarus - who had died four days earlier and was buried in a cave,
wrapped in shrouds - to "come forth." This conjecture is not based on
new information about changes in Jesus' skills, but on the height and
impact of the wall that is now being built in the town of Azzariyeh,
next to Jerusalem, the Bethany of the New Testament, whose Arabic
name derives from the name of Lazarus. The local Palestinians, showing
surprising humor in view of the massive barrier that is being erected
in front of their homes, joke that the wall would have made it
impossible for even Jesus to get to the place.
And if even Jesus would have found passage problematic, it's easy to
understand how flesh-and-blood Palestinians feel in the face of
the "obstacle" that is being built in front of their eyes - a
concrete wall, 8 meters high, made of slabs that are connected to one
another. There are many objections to the Israeli use of the
word "obstacle," as though it were a euphemism to avoid the open use
of the word "wall." In fact, though, "obstacle" is an extraordinarily
accurate word in this case. A wall is just a wall, but this
threatening concrete monster is rapidly becoming a true obstacle in
every sphere of life.
According to a study by the United Nations Office for Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is based in East Jerusalem, the
wall in this area will disrupt not only the mobility of the
Palestinians, but also their access to education and health services,
and sources of livelihood - all basic, existential needs that the
Fourth Geneva Convention is intended to protect and ensure. The
opposition of OCHA to the fence is not all-inclusive; it is based on
the route of the fence and its infringement of these basic human
Up to their noses
On Monday of this week four heads were looking out of a window on the
second floor of a residential building in the town of Abu Dis, which
abuts on the Old City of Jerusalem to the east. They watched with
astonishment as the slabs of the wall were connected to one another,
each new piece bringing the wall closer to the very tip of their
nose, like some sort of looming mythological dragon.
The heads belong to four students who attend Al-Quds University,
three of them studying nursing, the fourth, political science. All
four are from the West Bank, two from the Tul Karm area, the other
two from Hebron. Like young people everywhere, they sought not only
higher education, but also independence away from home in the big
city; and, like other Muslims, they wanted to be close to the mosque
Instead, they got the fence in their face, two meters from the
entrance to their house. It started off as a low fence, 2.5 meters
tall. Even then, when it was first to be built, three months ago, it
was a visual blight, but that, it turns out, wasn't the end. Many
photographs documented local residents, including elderly people and
children, climbing over that nascent version of the wall.
This week it grew taller. In the meantime the four are imprisoned in
their residence, without electricity - which was cut off because of
the construction - and subjected to ear-splitting noise. They can't
even leave their apartment, because of the roadblocks that have been
set up everywhere in order to protect the wall.
"I have already missed an important exam in English because of this,"
says Mohammed Lutfi Huseen, who was born in Kuwait, where his father
teaches English, and returned here alone three years ago. "This is
not what I dreamed about," he adds with an embarrassed smile.
Now Huseen is watching as the ineffective low wall is being
transformed into a high wall. The forklifts, the bulldozers, the
generator that was brought in so the work could continue at night -
they are all back. With a speed uncharacteristic of Israel the
irrelevant wall is being uprooted and replaced with the new
structure. All around are people who thought they had already seen
everything in the course of the occupation, and are watching the
scene in disbelief.
"They have killed my business," says Hassan Ekermawi, who has a
grocery store in the gas station that has now become a construction
site. "Before this, people used to come to buy from Abu Dis, from
Azzariyeh, from the eastern part of Sawahra. It's all one unit of
Jerusalem, you know. Now no one comes."
The grocery store will, in fact, remain on the Jerusalem side, but
the customers will be on the other side, behind the wall. "Do you
know what the strangest thing about this story is?" he asks and
replies himself, "that we, the Jerusalem Palestinians, are paying for
this whole project with our taxes, with the cut in my father's old-
age pension. I am not talking about politics now, I am talking
About 10 meters away, on the other side of the road along which the
wall is being built, all the stores are closed. It's hard to avoid
wondering who decided that the Jerusalem shop owner on the right side
of the road is so much friendlier to Israel than his colleague on the
left side, which will now become "territories."
Now six 14-year-old students arrive at the area of the wall. They are
making their way from their school in Jerusalem to their homes in
Azzariyeh. They all have Jerusalem residence cards, but they live in
the territories. They know that this is probably the last time they
will be able to do this route on foot, to jump over the low wall and
get home safely. At the speed with which the work is being carried
out, with an incentive of NIS 500 for night work per worker, it's
likely that their route will be blocked by a high wall within a day
They are asked what they think will happen. "Our parents will try to
rent houses in East Jerusalem," they say. This, too, is part of the
weird logic in this story. The implicit intention of the route chosen
for the fence - which can be summed up by saying that Israel will get
as much land as possible and the Palestinians as little as possible -
doesn't always work in reality. According to OCHA, about 15 percent
of the 11,000 residents of Abu Dis and about a quarter of the 16,000
residents of Azzariyeh have Jerusalem ID cards. Some of them, those
who can afford to pay the rocketing prices of the apartments in East
Jerusalem, where demand has soared due to the wall, are moving to the
If the wall has any demographic logic, it is defeated by events on
the ground. One of the speakers in a symposium about the wall that
was held this week at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute was Terry
Bulata, principal of the New Generation School in Abu Dis. She has a
Jerusalem ID card, though her husband has a "territories" card. "If
the idea was to make life hard for us with the wall, so that we will
leave, that is not about to happen," she says. "We have learned the
lesson of 1948: We are not going anywhere."
Nor is Ibrahim Qiresh going anywhere, though he could if he wants.
Twelve years ago he moved with his wife and their 9 children from
Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem to Azzariyeh, where prices were cheaper.
He built his home on a steep hill in the town, which is a suburb of
Jerusalem, and then rebuilt it after it was demolished by order of
the municipality. A finely wrought window adorning the facade of the
house is the professional pride of Qiresh, a metalworker who counts
many Israelis, including artists, among his friends.
In the past month a 9-meter-high wall has arisen in front of Qiresh's
house, cutting him off from the lovely view of the slopes of the
Mount of Olives. In his workshop, where he also has a large dovecote -
he raises the birds for pleasure, explaining, "I can't bring myself
to slaughter them for food" - he says that until now his life was
pretty orderly, even if by moving he lost his entitlement to National
Insurance Institute child allowances and to Kupat Holim health
maintenance organization services for himself. An Israeli friend
helped him obtain private health insurance, as though he were a
"It's as though I am living abroad," he guffaws. Still, the Jerusalem
residency card afforded him a certain mobility, and clients would
come from Tel Aviv to order special window frames. In the course of
the intifada, with its prolonged closures and curfews, he lost his
livelihood, and now his life is about to be ruined, too. Even now,
with the wall only in the construction stage, the Jerusalem card,
which was once an asset, has become a liability. Whenever he arrives
at a checkpoint, or tries to get home on foot via the Mount of Olives
in order to bypass checkpoints, he is told, "Go back to Jerusalem."
"I don't know what is going to happen now, with the wall," he
says. "I live in Palestine, but the police keep sending me back to
Jerusalem. But I can't go back to Jerusalem. I tried, but even the
simplest apartment there costs at least $500 a month. I haven't got
that. When the wall is completely finished, I will close the
workshop. We will be in a prison. What can we do. When God brings a
person into the world, he calculates his life."
However, other elements are also intervening in that calculation.
While we were conversing, a curfew was suddenly imposed on Azzariyeh.
According to the official version, there was a "serious security
problem"; according to the Palestinian version, the curfew was
intended to help get the wall built faster.
Within minutes, the town, once a favored shopping area for
Jerusalem's Jews, too, becomes a ghost town. The gates of the shops
are slammed shut, people disappear into their homes. From the area
next to the high wall, Border Policemen in a Jeep can be seen shooing
pedestrians from the bottom of the Mount of Olives toward Azzariyeh.
One of them was a young mother who was holding an infant newly born
at Makassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives; another was an elderly
woman who was returning home from an examination after open-heart
surgery. She could barely trudge through the muddy ground, and was
assisted by men who saw her plight.
But even life as an extreme sport will change once the wall is in
place. The residents of Azzariyeh will be cut off not only from their
natural attachment to Jerusalem, but also from the hospital that
serves them. "Maybe we will die," a women from Azzariyeh says with
bizarre merriment as she walks home from a visit to her brother, who
has undergone a serious operation at Makassed.
But even the right to transit by foot, which is still possible, is
ultimately not going to help 10-year-old Abdullah Iyyad. He was born
with broken bones in his legs. When he was a year old, his family
used all its resources to spend four years in Philadelphia, where
there is a children's hospital that specializes in surgery of this
kind. The family returned to Azzariyeh 5 years ago. Abdullah,
wheelchair-ridden, was sent to a special school, which is also a
treatment center, on the Mount of Olives. Before the wall - people
here divide their lives into "before" and "after" - Adnan Iyyad,
Abdullah's father, brought his son to a taxi that waited every
morning by the gas station at the entrance to Azzariyeh, lifted him
out of the wheelchair and placed him in the cab, which had yellow
(Israeli) license plates. Within three minutes the boy was in school.
Now it's a different story. The road from the gas station is blocked
and the taxi has to take a long roundabout route via the Ma'aleh
Adumim road to the Mount of Olives. Instead of NIS 15, the cost of
the trip before, Abdullah's father now has to pay NIS 80 every day to
get his son to school. He himself can't drive the boy, because he
doesn't have an entry permit for Jerusalem. Because of the steep
expenses, the family doesn't have the money to pay for Abdullah's
physiotherapy, which costs NIS 30 per treatment, or for gas to heat
the house. The wall and the innumerable checkpoints have also had a
devastating effect on the livelihood of Adnan Iyyad: Residents of
Jerusalem no longer bring him their television sets to repair.
The new route is also taking a toll on Abdullah's schooling. Every
morning the cab is stuck in traffic jams at the checkpoint, as they
wait for the residents of Ma'aleh Adumim - a city east of Jerusalem,
in the West Bank - to make their way to work safely. Nearly every day
he is late for his first lesson. Taking the approach that everything
is relative, Adnan says he envies healthy people who until now could
climb over the low fence. After all, it's impossible to lift a
wheelchair weighing 75 kilograms over the fence. Until now there was
a small gate in the low fence and he was able to carry his son
through it, if the soldiers let him. Now the gate is being sealed
with concrete and the Iyyad family has a new problem. Like everyone
else, they are unable to imagine what life will be like after
Azzariyeh is completely sealed off by the wall.
Something of that emerging reality can be seen at the "Container
Checkpoint." In the West Bank, Ibrahim Halsa's kiosk (which functions
in a container) is at least as famous as the Ha'oman 17 nightclub in
West Jerusalem. The reason is that the checkpoint between the
Jerusalem village of Sawahra and the twisting road that leads to
Bethlehem and effectively connects the northern and southern
sections of the West Bank, is named after this kiosk, which is no
more than an old hut in which Halsa has sold sweets, Coca-Cola and
shoe polish for the past 12 years. Until not long ago, it was
situated at the bend in the road and was easily accessible to
customers. When the permanent checkpoint was established, Halsa was
told to move his kiosk to a different road, where passing cars can't
possibly stop, so his already meager income was wiped out. Halsa thus
joined the growing number of the poor in the West Bank, where
unemployment is rampant and which is being abandoned by international
aid organizations that are fed up with the unending occupation. After
arguing among themselves, the representatives of these organizations
reached the conclusion that responsibility lies with the occupier and
that by assisting the residents, they were effectively underwriting
Sawahra is an integral part of the bloc of villages that includes
Azzariyeh and Abu Dis, meaning the "territories," but it is also an
integral part of Sawahra, which is in Jerusalem, meaning Israel. Now
the wall, which is already under construction here, will divide the
two parts of Sawahra, and the entire bloc that will remain in the
territories is supposed to shift its urban affinity from Jerusalem to
Bethlehem. It sounds simple, but it involves the uprooting of a
whole fabric of life. For example, instead of being able to walk four
kilometers to Makassed Hospital, those on the West Bank side will
have to make a trip of 18 kilometers along a winding trail that is
known in Arabic as the "Valley of Fire."
The checkpoint, which brought about endless traffic jams even before
the fence sealed the area hermetically, seems to have no logic. If
the intention of the fence in the Jerusalem area is to cut off the
city from the West Bank, why stick a checkpoint in the heart of what
has now become a central road that links the north of the West Bank
to the south?
"There is a security event," a grim-faced Border Policeman says,
explaining the long line of cars backed up at the place. An ambulance
that had tried to make its way through the narrow space on the side
was stuck in that traffic jam this week. The driver simply gave up
and stopped along the shoulder. In the ambulance was a 7-year-old boy
suffering from brain cancer, who was on his way home to a village
near Hebron after receiving chemotherapy in Jordan. The boy's father,
Faiz Aidah, a graduate of Abu Dis University and a social worker by
profession, stepped out of the ambulance.
The chilling calm with which he accepted the situation - the result
of a cruel process of adjustment - was harder to take than any
outburst of hysteria would have been. Every 20 days he makes this
journey with his son, "and it's the same situation every time," he
says. Afterward he would explain that it's nevertheless easier to get
to Jordan for treatment than to Hadassah University Hospital on
nearby Mount Scopus, which entails a route studded with no end of
"The fence around Jerusalem in the east is not separating Israelis
from Palestinians, but is separating 200,000 Palestinians, who will
remain in Israel, from 82,500 Palestinians outside the fence," was
how Colonel (ret.) Shaul Arieli, who was involved in the Geneva
Accord, summed up the situation in the symposium held at the Van Leer
Institute. "The political consideration overcame the security
The situation was summed up less neatly by Ayoub Saadi Abu Saad, a 25-
year-old construction worker, who arrived breathing heavily after a
panicky run. In the morning, when he crossed the open field between
Azzariyeh and Jerusalem on his way to work, as he does every morning,
he ran into Border Policeman, who told him, "Palestinian, go to
Palestine." So he ran. In a few days even that route will be
impossible. "They are closing us in like birds in a cage," he
says. "Now all they have to do is cover it with a net and we won't be
able to fly, either." Then he bursts out laughing, pleased with his
metaphor - though a lot less pleased with the situation.
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