A tightening noose: Israel and the Palestinians
By Timothy Rothermel, Special Representative of UNDP in Jerusalem
For over two decades scores of first time visitors to Jerusalem including diplomats, journalists and others had their first conversation with a Palestinian named Ibrahim Zeghari, the genial head bartender at the American Colony Hotel. During these years, Ibrahim has become a friend to Jerusalem’s visitors and residents alike, and almost a fixture at the venerable Hotel. Its beautiful outdoor garden is officially named “Ibrahim’s Summer Bar”. But last week Ibrahim along with over half of the staff of the Hotel were advised that they may have to look elsewhere for work. This advice came about not because of poor performance…quite to the contrary… but because they reside in Palestinian villages surrounding Jerusalem that lie outside the rapidly encroaching barrier which Israel is constructing.
Much of the separation barrier in the north has been built on land internationally recognized as Palestinian, cutting off farmers from their fields and separating families. But in the internationally unsettled boundaries of Jerusalem, it seems to be constructed to exclude Palestinian access to Jerusalem where for generations they have been employed, done their shopping, received medical attention and worshiped.
Despite the demands of the American Administration to the contrary, Israel’s plans to annex 150 square kilometers of West Bank land east of the Green Line to incorporate Ariel and two smaller settlements were recently announced and work on this 100 meter wide swath of electric fence, barbed wire and concrete is scheduled for completion next March. With this incursion more Palestinian population centers will be isolated from each other and the movement of goods and services further impeded in a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, Ariel and other West Bank settlements are being rapidly expanded.
The separation barrier last week took away much of what was present day route 60 leading north from Jerusalem, the main north-south artery of the West Bank since Ottoman times, disappearing under an Israeli bulldozer. And for many in the Jerusalem area, the demolished houses of Rafah (Gaza) or the barrier encircled small city of Qalqilya (West Bank) once seemed as far away as Bosnia or Rwanda. Today separation is in their neighborhoods and back yards.
It was only a few weeks ago that the UN General Assembly condemned the construction of the separation barrier and demonstrators filled streets in The Hague where the International Court of Justice began to consider its legality. But that was yesterday’s news. Now once thriving Palestinian businesses are closing, Palestinians like Ibrahim stand the risk of losing their jobs and apartment dwellers in what will remain of East Jerusalem every evening receive desperate West Bankers seeking a vacant space to live in the city.
Now attention has turned south to Gaza and a possible withdrawal of under6 , 000Israeli settlers nestled among the1 . 5million Palestinians overcrowded there and the necessary assistance that will be required from the international community to pay them generous relocation costs and destroy homes after the settlers leave. With the possible Gaza withdrawal in the headlines, Ibrahim and those like him are forgotten. But, like most Palestinians, Ibrahim is stoical: “We’ll get along somehow”, he says. “A lot of people who can are already planning to emigrate to Canada.” More Palestinians are subtly displaced and removed from their homes and lands…and so few seem to care.