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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Massive wall fortifies Jerusalem border

January 13, 2004

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— With the thud of tons of concrete hitting soft earth, Israel worked Monday to build a 25-foot-tall wall on the edge of Jerusalem, signaling Israel's encirclement of the city is becoming permanent.

The wall, running down the center of a main road in the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Dis, separates thousands of residents from Jerusalem, a city they consider home.

The towering new wall replaces a far shorter divider that had slowed, but not stopped, the flow of people and goods between the West Bank and Jerusalem in this area.

It is part of a barrier Israel is building around much of the West Bank with the stated aim of keeping out Palestinian militants responsible for suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis in the past three years.

Palestinian leaders have reacted with anger to the building of the barrier, a line of walls, trenches, fences and razor wire that snakes through parts of West Bank land that Palestinians claim for a future state.

Palestinian officials have taken to referring to the West Bank barrier as a new Berlin Wall. That wall -- built to prevent East Germans from fleeing to the West -- was between 11.5 feet and 13.8 feet tall.

Although Israel says the barrier can be moved if the sides ever negotiate a peace treaty, Israel's critics say it is in effect creating a new border that gobbles up almost half the West Bank and cuts it off from Jerusalem.

Along its path, the barrier has cut Palestinians off from their fields and schools, their hospitals and businesses.

But in Abu Dis, a suburb in the shadow of Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, the new wall strikes far deeper emotional chords.

Israeli bulldozers dismantle an existing section of a separation
barrier to be replaced by a 25-foot-tall wall between the outskirts
of Jerusalem and the West Bank village of Abu Dis. Construction was
in full swing Monday.

Israeli bulldozers dismantle an existing section of a separation barrier to be replaced by a 25-foot-tall wall between the outskirts of Jerusalem and the West Bank village of Abu Dis. Construction was in full swing Monday.

During previous peace efforts, negotiators had proposed Abu Dis as the center of a compromise Palestinian capital that would have incorporated parts of east Jerusalem -- the part of the city that Israel captured in 1967 and that Palestinians want as their future capital.

The building slated to hold the future Palestinian parliament is in Abu Dis, as are many government offices. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia lives there.

Many Abu Dis residents consider themselves Jerusalemites, carry the blue identification card of residents of Israel and pay Jerusalem city taxes. They go to Jerusalem for work and school, to shop and visit family, to collect marriage licenses and death certificates.

But the new wall puts a stop to that. With Arab neighborhoods on both sides, it also separates relatives.

"This is unnatural and unacceptable," said Salah Bader, an Abu Dis official. "They are tightening the rope around our necks."

Construction crews arrived Saturday night and began tearing down the old 6-foot-tall concrete and barbed wire barrier that had become a local joke.

Students, laborers, businessmen in suits and even elderly women had scrambled over the barrier daily, stepping on boxes and large rocks to reach the top.

But there was no laughter Monday, when the construction crews erected in its place an impassable wall four times as tall that runs down the center of Shayah Street. The road of shops and apartments marked the once invisible divide between Abu Dis and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud.

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