Mar 25 2005

The isolation of Jerusalem, another catastrophe

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

It all started as a nuisance in 1993. Twelve years later, this nuisance is becoming a major catastrophe for the over 200,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem, following the abduction by Hamas activists of an Israeli soldier, who was later killed along with his captor in an Israeli army storming of the location where the captured Israeli soldier was held. A checkpoint was located near Al Ram intersection. At first Palestinians going into Jerusalem were delayed slightly by the checkpoint. The fact that Jewish settlers used the same road meant that the Israeli soldiers were careful not to allow long delays. Those returning were usually not stopped.

Then, the Israelis built alternate roads for Jewish settlers and the army took its time to let Palestinians who lived beyond the checkpoint in Jerusalem. Palestinian cars were then prevented, even cars of doctors and journalists. Individuals were allowed in but their cars were not. Some had to hire cars and drivers from Jerusalem just to be able to get in and out of the Holy City without having to change cars.

This went on until the break of Al Aqsa Intifada in late 2000. A new checkpoint was created in Kalandia that brought troubles for those trying to get in and out of Ramallah.

The entry of Palestinians from Jerusalem to Ramallah was also held up as cars and individuals were searched. People started parking their cars at either side of Kalandia and then picking a ride in a taxi.

Then came the wall. At first no one believed it will actually be up, dividing communities. In Abu Dis, the wall quickly became a reality as a major intersection connecting Izzariyeh to Jerusalem was blocked up. For those using the Ramallah-Jerusalem road the wall was still not a concrete fact. Until one day, workers started erecting the cement slabs. Again, at first, they were few and far in between. Like the experience with the previous checkpoints, there were still many alternate roads. But little by little the noose tightened up and people started to feel it.

I remember one day driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah just before sunset; as I approached the walled areas near Dahiyat Al Barid, the light was dimmed as the wall literally blocked the light of the sun. This darkness that the cruel wall has created continued.

This week, Al Ram junction, famous for connecting Bir Nabala with Al Ram on one side and Beit Hanina with Ramallah on the other, became desolate. As the wall came up closing the only opening left, the junction ceased to be a junction. It became a T, with cars and trucks unable to make the crossing. If you leave Al Ram, you can only make a right or left turn. An entire crossing point for people and goods was suddenly erased.

The bad news kept on coming. Haaretz quoted a military source as saying that Palestinians living in Jerusalem will soon have to have a permit to get into Ramallah or Bethlehem. Few people believed the report. Some said it was a rumour, but the Israeli army has not denied the report.

The Israeli press had more bad news. Jerusalemites were awakened last week to bad news that major property in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was sold to Jewish buyers who, in turn, will no doubt turn it over to the militant settlers slowly taking over the Old City of Jerusalem. Despite the denial of the patriarch, the story resonated with Palestinians, especially the Christian community that has been stung a few times before, most recently by the sale of the St. John Hospice overlooking the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Continued calls for the end of the colonial era of the Greek priests and the Arabisation of the Orthodox Church has not yet produced any results.

To top all of the above Israel announced that it was expanding its major settlement to the east of Jerusalem, Maale Adumim. Twelve thousand dunums of land belonging to the people of Issawieh were suddenly not their anymore as the Israeli army issued confiscation orders to pave the way for the building of 3,500 new exclusive Jewish houses, all in an area that Palestinian Arabs were looking at as the only one left for their natural growth.

What has been happening to Palestinians of Jerusalem is nothing short of a human catastrophe. What is needed is a serious, effective and continuous strategy to save what can be saved and to strengthen the resilience and the steadfastness of those who have survived the tragedy that has not stopped since 1967.

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