Advertisement

Archive for Saturday, January 24, 2004

Palestinians wake up to world of walls

January 24, 2004

Advertisement

— Mohammed Hussein is surrounded by walls.

His family's village in the northern West Bank is outlined in concrete. Workers are putting the last touches on a barricade overlooking his university campus, 45 miles to the south. And last week, he woke up to find 25 feet of towering concrete rising up next to his apartment outside Jerusalem.

"That's my new view: wall," the 19-year-old nursing student says.

The barrier has cut thousands of Palestinians off from their fields, schools and essential services. In Hussein's case, it is crushing his spirit.

"What can I do? This is my life," he says. "I feel claustrophobic. I don't have the opportunity to live free like a young man should."

Israel says it is building the barrier to keep out Palestinian militants who have killed more than 400 Israelis in suicide bombings in the past three years.

While the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank is mostly fences, razor wire and trenches, Hussein has the misfortune of living near the sections that are made of interlocking concrete and stand 18 to 25 feet tall.

The military says it only uses the massive, interlocking concrete slabs in urban areas, to prevent militants with guns or rocket-propelled grenades from shooting over or through them.

Until recently, the barrier had little effect on Hussein's life.

Mohammed Hussein, a 19-year-old nursing student, walks next to a
25-foot-tall concrete barricade, part of the separation barrier
built by Israel in the West Bank village of Nazlat Issa. Hussein is
disheartened by the way his city has been boxed in by Israel's
concrete border wall.

Mohammed Hussein, a 19-year-old nursing student, walks next to a 25-foot-tall concrete barricade, part of the separation barrier built by Israel in the West Bank village of Nazlat Issa. Hussein is disheartened by the way his city has been boxed in by Israel's concrete border wall.

Then a month ago, a college friend who came back from a visit to their village of Nazlat Issa told him a long section of wall had gone up along the boundary with Israel.

Hussein thought he was joking.

About two weeks ago at midnight, he and his three roommates were studying in their crowded, messy apartment in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis when they looked out the window and saw bulldozers ripping up the 6-foot-high wall that had divided their building from the city.

The students thought the Israelis might be widening the road.

But Hussein's friend shook him awake the next morning and the two stared at the huge barrier being trucked in to replace the old one, which children, businessmen and old women had scaled every day to reach Jerusalem.

The view from his third-floor apartment is now split like a bifocal; the top half offers a sweeping scene of the green flecked hills of Jerusalem, the bottom a shadow of brown, rutted concrete.

Hussein says he is not really interested in politics, just karate and, of course, girls. The walls of his university apartment are decorated with pictures of Arabic pop stars, though there is also one of Yasser Arafat. "I have nothing to lose if I put Arafat's picture up on my wall," he says.

However, he does support Palestinian suicide bombers, the stated reason for the barrier he so dislikes, calling them fighters trying to win freedom.

The barrier's route, snaking deep into the West Bank, has sparked widespread criticism, with Palestinians accusing Israel of grabbing land they want for a future state.

"It's hard to imagine that it could get worse," he says, then pointed toward the wall. "Could it get worse than this?"

Commenting has been disabled for this item.