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East Jerusalem Community Lives Divided Life

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East Jerusalem Community Lives Divided Life

Middle East

East Jerusalem Community Lives Divided Life

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Israel's security barrier in and around the West Bank is more than half finished. It was designed to prevent suicide bombings. But Palestinians say it's a land grab that's crippling their communities. In a moment, we'll hear about a new documentary that focuses on the wall.

But first, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro takes us to one east Jerusalem community that's been cut off from the rest of the city by an extension of the barrier built just two weeks ago.

LOURDES GARCIA: It's afternoon in Ras Khamis in east Jerusalem, and Palestinian schoolchildren carefully walk through two sets of rotating metal doors between an Israeli checkpoint and a watchtower.


GARCIA: Once through though, with exuberant shouts and hair flying, they race toward the bus that will take them to their homes.

Though the community here is within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries and the residents pay property tax to the local Israeli authorities, their movements are restricted.

Yehia Tamimi is the bus driver.

YEHIA TAMIMI: (Through translator) People are separated by a gate from the Jerusalem community. Sometimes they open this gate, sometimes they don't open this gate.

GARCIA: Walk further inside Ras Khamis and you'll see a ramshackle neighborhood of crowded streets, homes that have been built on top of one another, hemmed in by the barrier.

Israel began constructing the barrier that snakes in and around the West Bank in 2002, during the second Palestinian uprising. Only about 5 percent of it - much of that in the area around Jerusalem - is an actual concrete wall. In rural areas, it's a fence bolstered by security cameras, watchtowers and patrols by the Israeli army.

Only about 60 percent of it has been completed, and experts say the rest probably won't be finished due to political and budgetary considerations. But that is scant consolation for the residents of Ras Khamis.


GARCIA: Sitting in his shop, smoking a water pipe, Abu Issa heads the local council here.

ABU ISSA: (Through translator) The last portion of the wall was built two weeks ago. We woke up in the morning and found this checkpoint surrounding us. They are suffocating us completely.

GARCIA: Abu Issa points out there haven't been any suicide bombings in Israel in over two years. He says the barrier is being built here now because Israel wants to wall off the Arab population in Jerusalem to strengthen Jewish claims to the city.

He says Palestinian families evicted from other east Jerusalem neighborhoods are being relocated here, where they are corralled.

BLOCK: (Through translator) There are no hospitals in Ras Khamis. There are no clinics in Ras Khamis. There are no schools in Ras Khamis.

GARCIA: Just across a small gulch, the reality couldn't be more different in the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev.

For 45,000 people, how many schools do you have here?


GARCIA: Fifteen schools.

LEVY: Fifteen schools. Ten elementary school, five high schools and we have 17 kindergarten.

GARCIA: Yeheal Levy is the executive director of the Pisgat Zeev Community Center. He says Jewish communities like theirs have flourished since security has improved. And he says because of that, people see the barrier as necessary.

The mall in Pisgat Zeeve is buzzing. Limor Marko works there selling jewelry, and she lives in the community. She says the people here know the barrier causes hardship for Palestinians.

LIMOR MARKO: You want to be a better person. You want them to feel it's their country as well. I know that. But I always want to feel safe. So not always it goes together.

GARCIA: So she says she supports the barrier that has risen in the nearby Arab community.

MARKO: We need them as much as they need us. You understand?

GARCIA: Limor says she does believe that Palestinians and Jews can live together, just not right now.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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