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Israel surrounds blockades jerusalem restricts palestinians { February 10 2004 }

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Israel Hems In a Sacred City
Encircling of Jerusalem Complicates Prospects for Peace

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 10, 2004; Page A01

JERUSALEM -- Israel is close to finishing a decades-long effort to surround Jerusalem with Jewish settlements, walls, fences and roads that will severely restrict Palestinian access to the city and could reduce the chance of its becoming the capital of a Palestinian state, according to documents, maps and interviews with Israelis, Palestinians and foreign diplomats.

The status of Jerusalem -- a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians -- is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their religious and political capital, but most countries do not officially recognize it as such, and the United States and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under past Israeli-Palestinian accords, neither side is supposed to take any action to change the city's status, which is to be resolved through negotiation.

Projects to cut off access to Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank, which borders the city on three sides, have accelerated since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Today, Jewish settlements outside the city have been integrated with the urban core, redrawing the map of Jerusalem and complicating any negotiations over its future and the future of West Bank settlements, Israeli and Palestinian experts say.

The web of projects includes 13 settlements to the north of the city that are being linked with each other and with Jerusalem by access roads that act as physical barriers to Palestinian communities. To the east, Israel has approved expansion of the West Bank's largest settlement, Maleh Adumim, to absorb a swath of Palestinian land between the community and East Jerusalem. To the south, access and bypass roads and Jewish settlements have carved Palestinian lands into a checkerboard.

At the same time, a new barrier combining trenches, walls, electronic sensors and steel fences is being built around Jerusalem. The project, part of a large fence that is designed to cordon off the West Bank, has split some Palestinian neighborhoods and separated many Palestinians from their schools, jobs, families and lands.

Israeli officials say that several of the measures are designed to deter the movement of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank into Israel and that others are aimed at increasing the proportion of Jews in Jerusalem. Palestinians describe the measures as an attempt to break their religious, economic, political and cultural ties to the city and preempt negotiations over its final status.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, denied that Israeli actions around Jerusalem were an attempt to predetermine the city's future or to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. Many projects, particularly the fence, are temporary measures to stop terrorist attacks, he said, adding, "We are not establishing facts that are irreversible."

"Jerusalem is not going to be a Palestinian capital -- that's the position of this government," Gissin said. "But as far as access and movement, all this could come back when the Palestinians remove terrorism from the agenda."

Avraham Duvdevani, head of the settlement unit of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which implements the Israeli government's settlement program in the West Bank, said that the aim was to consolidate the capital of the Jewish state.

"It's been the formal policy of all governments in Israel that Jerusalem will not be discussed or divided -- Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, to stay undivided forever," Duvdevani said. "Because of that, it was very easy to get permission from the minister of defense and the governments to build settlements that strengthened Jerusalem as the capital and the Jewish majority in Jerusalem and that blocked the option of the Palestinians to build in and near Jerusalem."

To Hatam Abdul Qader, a member of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem, such an approach "will make it impossible to create an independent and viable Palestinian state."

"Jerusalem is the most visible example of Israel's settlement policy of besieging and caging Palestinian communities and controlling their exits and entrances with settlements and roads and fences, which are dividing Palestinian neighborhoods and separating Jerusalem from the West Bank," Qader said.

Under the agreements that ended British rule in Palestine in 1948 and divided the region into Arab and Jewish areas, Jerusalem was to be an international city. But Israel's war for independence ended the following year with Israel in possession of the western part of the city, while Jordan retained the eastern section, as well as the West Bank of the Jordan River. In the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter annexed East Jerusalem and the lands around it -- 27 square miles in all.

Fueled by religious conviction, security concerns and economic pressures -- and encouraged and subsidized by the Israeli government -- Israeli Jews began establishing settlements around the city and throughout the West Bank. Today, there are approximately 175,000 Jewish residents in the parts of Jerusalem annexed in 1967, according to Israeli human rights groups, and another 224,000 in the West Bank, according to Israel's Interior Ministry.

The issue of Jerusalem is central to any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would result in the creation of two states. Under most recent peace proposals, a Palestinian state would be created from all or part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some large, well-established Jewish settlements in the West Bank would become part of Israel; in exchange, the Palestinian state would be given an equal amount of Israeli land adjacent to the West Bank.

During the Camp David peace talks in 2000, Ehud Barak, Sharon's predecessor, appeared to accept a U.S. proposal that would have given Palestinians control over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but the negotiations collapsed. Angered at his concessions, several partners in Barak's government bolted, and the coalition fell apart. In the subsequent elections, Barak was trounced by Sharon, one of the chief architects of Israel's settlement expansion, who often asserts that an undivided Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital.

"That's where we are today, asking the question, 'Has Sharon won?' " said Jeff Halper, an Israeli human rights activist. "If the goal is to foreclose the possibility of any viable Palestinian state emerging, then you could make the case that Sharon has succeeded."

U.S. officials are reluctant to publicly discuss the issue of Jerusalem. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said: "We are concerned about any unilateral activities -- including with respect to the status of Jerusalem -- that could prejudge a final settlement. And we've expressed those concerns to the Israeli government."

The North

Pinchas Wallerstein is the mayor of the regional council for Mate Binyamin, a swath of the West Bank north of Jerusalem containing 39 Jewish settlements scattered across a rugged, hilly landscape. He has crafted a future for his territory in detailed, 5-foot-by-5-foot maps, with multiple overlays showing color-coded towns and roads -- red for Palestinian, blue for Israeli.

The goal, Wallerstein said, is to create an area where two different peoples and societies can live simultaneously without bumping into each other. The solution, he insists, is two separate transportation systems with strategically placed bridges and tunnels that would allow 70,000 Israelis and 380,000 Palestinians to cut through or go around each other's communities.

"My work is not only to be the mayor -- I'm trying to plan the ability for life on both sides," he said.

About 75 percent of Wallerstein's $35 million budget comes from Israel's Interior Ministry. Much of his planning, but not all, is done in cooperation with the WZO, the quasi-private settlement arm of the Israeli government, and various Israeli government ministries, including the Defense Ministry. No Palestinians were involved in the mapping project, Wallerstein said.

Wallerstein, 54, describes his mission as settling the lands around Jerusalem with as many Jewish communities as possible as quickly as possible, and firmly linking them to the city to guarantee that they are never surrendered. It is a religious obligation, he said, to try to fulfill God's biblical promise to give the Jewish people the lands of Judea and Samaria, as many religious Jews call the West Bank.

"My aim is to increase the population in Judea-Samaria where we can, because the places where we are not successful in putting Jewish people could be given to the Palestinian Authority," Wallerstein said.

Equally important, he said, "I have to connect the communities to the Israeli border" with substantial roads that do not run through Palestinian towns and are easily protected. "If I cannot show the ability to connect it to the Israeli border, someone will say, 'Evacuate it.' "

New Israeli roads allow settlers to commute from their fortified, red-roofed settlements to Jerusalem in minutes. The Palestinian roads are old and circuitous, meaning trips between neighboring villages can take an hour. And there are several strategic choke points built into the plan that would allow Israeli troops to shut down Palestinian roads "for the protection of Israelis," Wallerstein explained.

Wallerstein's home is in Ofra, a community of 2,000 Jews that he and his wife settled with three other families in 1975. Ofra is at the northern tip of a crescent-shaped series of Jewish settlements that extend about 15 miles from Jerusalem along the east side of Ramallah, the Palestinian political and commercial center in the West Bank.

The Israeli goal, according to Israelis and Palestinians, is to fill the gaps between those settlements until they are no longer a series of dots but a solid line of Jewish homes, businesses and industries.

"I need to put outposts between Jerusalem and Ofra, especially along the road -- not every outpost is a settlement, it can be a gas station or an industrial zone -- and to make it as wide a strip as I can," Wallerstein said.

West of the line of settlements is a thin strip of land annexed by Israel in 1967 as part of Jerusalem. Still farther west is another long finger of Jewish settlements that extends northwest from Jerusalem. The result is three long, Israeli-controlled corridors that sprout north from central Jerusalem, splitting Palestinian territory into wedges.

In addition, a major east-west road, built by Israel to connect the corridors, further divides Palestinian neighborhoods. And along Jerusalem's northern boundary, construction was finished recently on a portion of the massive fence project.

The roads and fences have divided some Palestinian towns and villages, sometimes preventing people from driving and even walking from one side of their town to the other. The barriers have divided families. They have separated students from schools, workers from jobs, farmers from fields.

"Architecture is so much more effective in limiting Palestinian statehood than any other weapon," said Eyal Weizman, a 32-year-old Israeli architect who has mapped the growth of Jewish settlements for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. He charged that the Israeli moves are "not to serve society but for containment -- to create barriers to Palestinian movement and their economy and growth."

If Jerusalem were one day to serve as the Palestinian capital, the Israelis would need to build 40 miles of walls and 20 bridges and tunnels to connect islands of Palestinian sovereignty to each other, he said. "It's nonsense to think that international borders can do this type of gymnastics," he said. "How can you have a Palestinian state without the air over it and the ground underneath it?"

But other Israelis say separation is the only way to end the conflict. According to Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Jerusalem affairs: "There is so much distrust and hatred that what we have to do is build more fences and different roads and walls around our cities and their cities to minimize the friction and stop the suicide bombers."

The East

Nawal Qaq watched from the sidewalk last month as a crane hoisted a prefabricated, 30-foot-high slab of concrete and gently dropped it in a row running down the middle of the main street in Abu Dis, a Palestinian neighborhood that straddles the boundary between the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Most Israelis call it the Security Fence. Some Palestinians call it the Apartheid Wall. The section under construction here is meant to eventually connect with portions already built in the north and south of Jerusalem to create a barrier around the city.

After the outbreak of the current Palestinian uprising, Abu Dis became a popular route for suicide bombers sneaking from the West Bank into Jerusalem. So the Israeli army placed a seven-foot-high barrier of concrete slabs through the middle of town, prohibiting anyone from the West Bank from crossing to the Jerusalem side. Scaling the wall, prying the slabs apart and tipping them over became sport for Palestinians wanting to visit relatives, go to work or attend school on the other side.

Now that wall has been replaced by the impenetrable 30-foot barrier. Qaq, 44, lives on the Jerusalem side of the wall with her husband and five children. Her mother, five sisters and three brothers live on the West Bank side.

"All my children go to school over there," she said, pointing across the street. "My entire family is over on that side, and all my friends from childhood."

Once, visiting her relatives involved a five-minute, 200-yard walk. Now it would take one hour, three taxis and about $12 to get to the West Bank side of the street. People on the other side cannot make the trip at all; they are prohibited from crossing into Jerusalem because they are not residents of the city with Israeli-issued identity cards.

Just east of Abu Dis, sprawling along the top of a ridge, lies Maleh Adumim, a sparkling Jewish settlement with wide boulevards lined by palm trees and flower gardens. Founded in 1974, Maleh Adumim is the largest settlement in the West Bank, with 30,000 residents.

Last March, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared that "it would be legal to establish a territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and Maleh Adumim" by developing 3,110 barren acres between the two. The government had banned construction of new settlements, but by declaring the land part of Maleh Adumim, it could call the effort an expansion of an existing neighborhood.

"The decision to do so has already been taken," Mofaz said, citing a previously approved development plan called E-1. "The question is how to implement it."

E-1 calls for filling in the area -- which Palestinians say was seized from three nearby villages -- with 3,000 housing units, nine hotels, several vacation homes and resorts and other businesses. The plan would link Maleh Adumim with neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were seized in 1967 and with the southern border of Wallerstein's Mate Binyamin region, creating an arc around East Jerusalem on the north and east.

Benny Kashriel, the mayor of Maleh Adumim, said his community is a vital link in the defense of Israel, protecting the eastern gate of Jerusalem. "We want to be part of the defensive ring for Jerusalem, and it's not just us, it's Givat Zeev, Betar, Efrat, Gush Etzion and us," he said, referring to large settlements inside the West Bank to the north and south of Jerusalem, some as far as eight miles from the city's municipal boundary.

"We cannot let Arab villages surround Jerusalem and put Jerusalem under closure," he said.

When Maleh Adumim is combined with E-1, its municipal boundary will extend from Jerusalem east to Jericho, slicing the West Bank into two separate parts, north and south. All major north-south Palestinian roads would pass through areas under Israeli control.

Noting that E-1 construction could begin in about two years, Kashriel said: "The Palestinians tried to have a ring around Jerusalem, and we have made them like a sandwich between us and the city."

The South

John Atik once could stand on his balcony and see 25 acres of olive trees that his family owned, snuggled on the rugged hills east of Bethlehem at a spot known as Shepherds' Field. It was here, according to the Bible, that an angel appeared to the shepherds while they were tending their flocks and announced the birth of Jesus in a nearby manger.

Today, the olive groves belonging to Atik, a Palestinian, and his livelihood, have been cut in half by a cleared strip of land about 60 yards wide. It begins with a steel fence along the West Bank side and progresses with a 12-foot-deep ditch, then a smooth area of sand to detect footprints, then a fence with electronic motion detectors, then a paved road for the exclusive use of Israeli security forces, then another fence.

The fence complex separates Bethlehem from Har Homa, a fortress-like Jewish neighborhood with 1,400 apartments that covers a hilltop in southern Jerusalem on land annexed by Israel in 1967. The barrier consumed more than four acres of Atik's olive groves and isolated another eight acres on the Jerusalem side.

"I used to see the future we could have with peace," Atik said. "Now when I look out, all I see is the jail we're caged in."

About five miles southeast of Atik's yard, a large slash of churned-up dirt scars the landscape -- the latest settlement bypass road. These roadways cut directly through Palestinian lands to link Jewish settlements in the West Bank with Israel -- with no entrances or exits, often with high walls to protect settlers from Palestinian snipers and stone-throwers. Supporters of the settlement movement say the roads are vital to encourage settlement growth and to protect settlers.

The thousands of Jews living in the West Bank "have to live, they have to have facilities, and we have to serve them," said Duvdevani, the head of the WZO's settlement unit. "If a road is dangerous and Palestinians shoot and bomb people, you have to create a bypass. It may create some difficulties for the peace process, but you can't say, 'Let them wait.' "

In the tiny Palestinian village of Zatara, Tala Dannoun, 50, is getting a close look at the newest bypass road. It is cutting a snake-like path through his property, taking 25 of his 35 acres of farmland and ravaging his neighbor's small olive grove. The bypass will connect Jerusalem, five miles to the north, with Noqadim and Tequoa, two small Jewish settlements with a total of about 1,600 people. The road cost $14 million -- about $8,750 per settler.

2004 The Washington Post Company

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