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Wallaje in the balance

JERUSALEM: It is hard to describe a more absurd event than the one which took place on a Tuesday at the end of May, on a dirt road in the outskirts of the village of Wallaje in southern Jerusalem. Israel has recently renewed its construction of the separation barrier that will leave the village almost …


JERUSALEM: It is hard to describe a more absurd event than the one which took place on a Tuesday at the end of May, on a dirt road in the outskirts of the village of Wallaje in southern Jerusalem. Israel has recently renewed its construction of the separation barrier that will leave the village almost completely surrounded by a fence or a wall. That Tuesday, IDF officers and officials working for the ministry of defense, arrived at the house of Ahmed Bargut, a resident of the village, to tell him that the barrier will be built on his land, near his home.

The conversation was a dialogue of the deaf at best and at worst a discussion between an accused man and his judges minutes before the verdict. Bargut refused to tell the officers where he would like to replant his soon-to-be-uprooted olive trees, “You will not move them anywhere. Run them over,” Bargut said. “I don’t want to cut down the trees, I am very considerate, let me know where you want us to move them to,” said the engineering corps officer whose name was Robert. “You will not uproot a single tree. Take one and I will become a terrorist, I will kill,” said Bargut. “The goal is to build a fence, not to steal trees,” answered Robert.

Next, negotiations moved on to the family’s burial plot, which the fence is supposed to cross through, separating Bargut from his family members. “I was considerate,” said Robert, “we moved the route (of the fence) so that it will not be built on top of the grave.” “I know that you are the ruler, you are the army, you are the boss, I am asking you to have mercy. I want to have free access to the grave, without restrictions,” said Bargut. “What you can get is a gate in the fence that will allow you to go to the grave,” said Robert. “Explain to him that there will be a gate,” he asks another officer from the Civil Administration named Nabil to translate. But Nabil, who probably knows what comes of these promises, said to officer: “don’t make any promises.”

This theater of the absurd is but a small example of how extremely difficult life has become for Palestinian residents of the neighborhoods on the outer edges of Jerusalem, who have been cut off from the city by the separation barrier. Israel must reconsider the necessity of the separation barrier, and assess the benefits it represents as oppose to the damage it causes to Palestinians, and to their relations with the Israeli authorities.

The residents of Wallaje can go and see what their future will look like (provided they will be allowed to cross the check point) in northern Jerusalem, in the village Akeb and the Shalom neighborhood, and in other places which have been artificially severed from the city by the barrier. The barrier has made life in these places impossible. Due to the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the PA is not allowed to operate services in these neighborhoods, but due to security concerns, the Israeli services are not available in the neighborhoods beyond the barrier. This has created areas which lack the rule of law, where infrastructures are falling apart and civil and public security is deteriorating.

In the face of continued harm to the lives of tens of thousands of people, those who support the barrier argue that it has been preventing suicide bombers from entering Israel in recent years. It is difficult to argue with the claim that the barrier has been somewhat effective in obstructing terror, but it is impossible to argue with the claim that the fence is not the main cause for the decrease in attacks. In fact, not one suicide bomber has crossed over into Israel in the past four years from the area of Wallaje, where there has been no barrier. Yet the separation barrier will certainly cause serious harm to the lives of the residents, will push them to poverty, and perhaps radicalize them politically.

It seems like when it comes to the barrier, the Israeli government operates on “automatic pilot” without stopping to consider its benefits, the damage it causes, and not even taking time to re-assess the route which was determined four years before the bulldozers arrived at the scene.

A unique coalition has formed since the start of the works that opposes the barrier in this area. The Palestinian residents have been joined by environmental groups who are upset by the terrible damage the barrier will cause to the natural landscape, an Israeli property development company which owns lands in the area where it plans to build a new settlement and feels the barrier could undermine these plans, as well as a group of settlers from Gush Etzion who are protesting the unreasonable harm the barrier would inflict on their neighbors from Wallaje. All these groups have raised their voices in protest against the barrier. The Palestinians and the Nature Reserve Society, the largest environmental organization in Israel, have taken the matter to the Supreme Court. Now we can only hope that the Court will decide to intervene and stop the bulldozers.

That same day at the end of May, the conversation with Bargut ended with a promise by one of the Defense Ministry officials to ask the army to consider Bargut’s requests regarding the burial site and the trees. “Don’t give them a death sentence yet,” Bargut said. Two weeks later the bulldozers came and started to uproot his trees.

Nir Hasson is a reporter for the Hebrew daily Haaretz. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), www.commongroundnews.org.

 

 

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