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Stepping over the line by accident: Still possible, ever more disturbing

A stroll west of West Jerusalem can lead to a surprising discovery, confronting the casual walker with various layers of the Palestinian tragedy.

A view of Jerusalem from a village trapped between an invisible border and a real separation barrier. (photo: Yuval Ben-Ami)

I just finished an ordeal at the Knesset. The next thing on the agenda was a long phone call, one that would last for at least an hour. Instead of walking about West Jerusalem for an hour, I decided to begin heading west on foot.

The brisk winter day was gorgeous. Beneath me, past the last row of city blocks, lay the gulley separating West Jerusalem from a ridge of lofty hills to the west. The slopes were made green by the season’s blessed rains. If I climbed down, then up again, I would arrive at the suburb of Mevaseret Zion, where busses stop on their way to Tel Aviv.

I found a street that turns into a trail and headed down, soon arriving at the abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta. Unlike many other villages that were emptied in 1948 and later destroyed, this one remains nearly intact. Lately, it narrowly escaped being replaced with a posh residential complex for Jewish Israelis. Walking among the crumbling stone buildings is a sad experience, but I could at least comfort myself in that Lifta remains as a monument.

While speaking leisurely on the phone, I crossed to the other ridge and began climbing a slope that I thought would lead me to Mevaseret Zion and to the bus. It did not.

The houses atop the hill were not lined along neatly planned streets, as they would be in Mevaseret. Instead, homes were freely scattered along badly paved roads, some of them were new, others – as old as those of Lifta. This was a Palestinian village, and various signs told me that it was not Palestinian-Israeli, such as nearby Abu Ghosh. The roads really were in a very poor shape, and the roofs bore black water tanks, rather than the white ones typical in Israel.

How could this be? I have been walking west from West Jerusalem. I am supposed to be in Israel proper, in the “Jerusalem corridor” – sandwiched between the north and south West Bank. This village is located only a half a mile from the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv freeway, which trails the adjacent slope, it is visible from its lanes and from many building in the city, looking like a mosque –topped suburb of Mevaseret Zion or of nearby suburb of Ramot, which, it now occured to me, is built partially over the Green Line. Israeli urbanization in this area is designed to blur this line’s existence,

Walking a bit further in, I began to see cars. Their license plates were white and green – Palestinian. Such cars are not allowed on Israeli roads. The mystery thickened. I haven’t crossed a fence nor a wall, and yet I entered the West Bank on foot. Less than an hour ago I was inside Israel’s parliament. Now here I was, at what must be a southwestern offshoot of the territory of another sovereign state, recognized by the UN and occupied by my own.

I knew that the separation barrier was not complete, but was amazed to find it nonexistent at such proximity to West Jerusalem. The barrier is meant to impact our brains, and it does. What made the situation so strange in my eyes was indeed how normal it was. The very fact that I could wander into this village as a peaceful visitor seemed bizarre. This isn’t real life! In real life there are walls separating people and military vehicles threatening the life of anyone who tries to sneak over. I have gotten used to this. I didn’t know how to deal with something so different.

Then I turned back, looked over at Jerusalem and felt a great sadness take over me. The people who live in the house shown in the above photo are not allowed to walk down the trail I took. It is unlikely that they possess a rare “Jerusalem pass” issued by the Israeli authorities. Most likely, they risk arrest and interrogation if they dare to visit the city. It is a city that appears every morning through their windows, a city that is sacred to them, a city that is the birthplace of their culture. A city that is off bounds.

Off bounds – just like Mevaseret, into which I now walked without hassle, climbing over the Green Line at some point I could not even identify. I took the bus and headed for the coast – the coast reserved for me. On the way I looked for the village on my Google Maps iphone application. Like most Palestinian villages and towns, it did not exist there. I can only assume that Google uses Israeli sources for its maps.

With the help of activist friends I learned that the village is named Beit Iksa. Israel plans to complete the fence separating it from Jerusalem next year. Meanwhile, a temporary fence stretches northeast of the village, and its residents must go through a checkpoint in order to visit the rest of the West Bank. While the village is trapped between a real barrier and an invisible one, Israel is confiscating its lands for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high speed rail. I’ll stop here. That’s enough absurdity for one post. Next time I’ll make sure to take the bus directly from Jerusalem, like most Israelis do, in order to avoid reality’s burden.

P.S. I feel compelled to add that Beit Iksa is by no means unique. Israel built the separation barrier unilaterally, often several kilometers inside the West Bank, confiscating nearly 9% of its territory. In most cases, the barrier was not placed temporarily, trapping Palestinians inside land-locked islands for good. Or at least until something changes.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Aaron Gross

      Another in the +972 series, “Shocking: It’s almost as if there were an occupation going on!”

      In an occupation during wartime, it’s normal for the occupied population to be kept separate from nationals of the occupying power. They’re enemies. If anything, the extraordinary situation was during the first two decades after 1967, when the Israeli and Palestinian populations traveled freely throughout Israel and the occupied territory.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        What’s not normal, what’s illegal, is for the occupying power to move any of its population into the occupied land.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          That’s changing the subject. The article did mention settlement, but only obliquely. The supposedly remarkable thing was the separation.

          Reply to Comment
      • sh

        A 45 year war? Normal?

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Good point, but that’s changing the subject. It’s not normal for an occupation to last this long. It is normal for enemy populations to be kept separate, especially when there’s violent resistance to the occupation.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            There’s violent resistance alright, but so far as I can judge, most of it comes in order to maintain the occupation. Note, Yuval survived his unarmed incursion without incident.

            Reply to Comment
      • Yes, Aaron, there were suicide bombers. They were horrific in a way I cannot fully understand, for I did not live under their threat and reality. But wars are total. You are not in a war. You want to be, for that makes everything quite clear. You are in something else, something perhaps new in history, or mostly so: a conflict which can turn violent, on both sides, but one where there is no total mobilization of the population on one side, but there can be on the other. And the side which cannot totally mobilize has within it individuals who want to find a new way, beyond the label of “war” which does not fit the reality of decades, overall.

        So go ahead and keep telling us everybody is at war. For total war must be what you want, and those that do not want that must be–silenced.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Wars are almost always not total. I’d say we’re in a war, but I know there are other definitions.

          Of course I don’t want war. Nobody does – not me, not Hamas, not the extreme right.

          In any case, whether or not you call it war, we do have a state of belligerency, and hostilities, as referred to law dealing with occupation: UNSC Resolution 242 and Geneva Convention (IV).

          Reply to Comment
          • One of the pathetic aspects of this definition of war is to equate Gaza and the Bank. The Bank has been remarkably free of violence overall, with most deaths on the Palestinian side. Yet “war” is touted, usually with finger toward Gaza, which is seiged, not occupied directly. What you have in the Bank is a colonial occupation ala Africa in miniture. Yet active resistence is low. Instead of wondering how to work with that, you just dig deeper into that land.

            Without any doubt, Israel is capable of true war like mobilization while the Bank, even in 2000, is and was not. It is not war, hasn’t been in a very long time. The word “war” just makes it easier to not look at what you have become and are going to become. I direct you to a minor Israeli minister in 67 who said he would not want to be a citizen of a State indefinitely occupying others–he didn’t say in indefinite war, but occupation.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Google map Bayt Iksa. It is definitely there, just north of mevasseret and just west of Ramot.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9, You are right. It does on the website, but not on the iphone application. I made a correction and clarified this in the text.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        No worries. It doesn’t really matter for the main part of your complaint which seems to be the absence of a wall between Jerusalem and this village.

        Reply to Comment
    4. That is a misunderstanding. I am deeply opposed to the wall. The reality of a place like Beit Iksa is intolerably absurd due to occupation policies that limit movement. The wall is the most tangible expression of such policies.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “The barrier is meant to impact our brains, and it does.” : I believe the Wall had an impact in stopping the bombings. But now it has become something else, which always happens after (mostly) winning. And barriers are legion in the Bank. People live by employing barriers. It is a very hard thing to convince them to give one up.

      Reply to Comment
    6. directrob

      The plans for the wall in this area (and your walk) makes one thing clear. The wall here has nothing to do with security. It is simply securing illegal land grab. It also shows what an Israeli signature as far as human rights is worth. It must be sad to be born in Israel with a leftwing mind.

      http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=836

      Reply to Comment
    7. sh

      “Israeli authorities issued notices on Friday to annex 456 dunams of land from a Jerusalem village in order to build part of its separation wall, local officials said.

      Head of Beit Iksa village council Kamal Hababa said villagers were shocked when they saw the notices detailing plans to seize agricultural land, officials news agency Wafa reported.”

      http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=551989&utm

      Reply to Comment

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