Israel Seeks 'Delicate Balance' of Jerusalem Arabs, Security Needs

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Israel Seeks 'Delicate Balance' of Jerusalem Arabs, Security Needs

Jerusalem ( - In building its security barrier, Israel says it is trying to maintain the "delicate balance" between the rights of Jerusalem Arabs to continue daily life in the city and Jerusalem's security needs.

When the barrier is completed it will weave in and out of Arab neighborhoods for 82 kilometers (49.2 miles), enveloping Jerusalem on three sides and leaving an undetermined number of Jerusalem Arabs on the "other" side.

The some 200,000 Arabs who live in Jerusalem enjoy a special status. By their own choice, they are not full-fledged citizens of Israel (although some apply to become citizens), but they enjoy all the rights of citizens with the exception of voting in national elections.

Arab residents of the city also possess a "blue" identity card as all Israelis do, which give them freedom to move throughout the city where Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are in close proximity to each other and the sprawling outlying areas link the city to the West Bank.

According to reserve Col. Danny Tirza, head of strategic planning for the route of the anti-terror fence, no terrorist has been able to successfully penetrate the security barrier in the northern part of the country.

The route of Israel's security barrier has been the topic of much international furor. The U.N. referred the question of the fence's legality to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which heard arguments against the fence in February but has yet to deliver its opinion.

The U.S. condemned the route of the fence again on Tuesday after Israel announced that it was starting construction on a controversial section in the central region around the large Israeli community of Ariel.

Including the Jerusalem section, Israel's security fence eventually will stretch some 700 kilometers (420 miles) from north to south at a cost of about $2 million per kilometer (.6 miles) or at least $1.4 billion total. The barrier is supposed to be finished in December 2005.

Palestinians argue that Israel is drawing a de facto border by grabbing land that Palestinians want to include in a future state. They also complain that the barrier cuts off some Palestinians from population centers, schools, lands and livelihoods.

Israel says the fence is not political and is only part of its defense system to stop terrorists from the West Bank from entering Israel. Its route, officials say, is based purely on defense and not political concerns.

In Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be its capital, there have been 591 terror attacks, including 29 suicide attacks during the last three and half years, leaving 208 people dead and another 1624 wounded, many maimed for life. That is why Jerusalem needs the barrier, Tirza said.

But many Jerusalem Arabs fear they may lose their benefits and status as Jerusalem residents if their homes remain outside of the security fence.

One such place is A-Ram, on the north side of Jerusalem and just south of the West Bank city of Ramallah - where Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has his headquarters.

The northern tip of Jerusalem is only about three miles from the southern tip of Ramallah.

Terrorists build bombs in refugee camps in the northern West Bank and send them south to Jerusalem. The terrorists want to use Jerusalem's large Arab population to their advantage, Tirza said.

"Any terrorist who wants to come here [to Jerusalem] can come freely, from Ramallah to A-Ram and from A-Ram to Jerusalem," he said.

Israel plans to build its wall down the middle of the main road into Jerusalem, improve the road so that vehicles may travel in two directions on both the Israeli and A-Ram sides of the wall. Israel also plans to build a terminal to process people wishing to cross into Israel at the northern end, Tirza told reporters in Jerusalem.

Some 30,000 Arabs with blue identity cards currently live in A-Ram, including an Israeli Knesset member who owns a home there, he said.

"A lot of people don't like this wall and they are afraid that after we will build this wall...we will take blue IDs from the people that live in A-Ram. But it's not true," Tirza said.

Oded Ben-Ami, the director of Palestinian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry and a member of an inter-ministerial trouble-shooting team that deals with problems created by the route of the fence, said the Jerusalem Arabs there would not be deprived of their rights.

"Their relationship to Jerusalem is not going to be cut or going to be severed," said Ben-Ami. "They are going to have dynamic and ongoing relations with Jerusalem - the national insurance [social security benefits] will be paid, any other social benefit and place of work... The center of life will remain Jerusalem."

"We have to do a kind of a very delicate balance - the balance between the [quality] of life and security needs," he said.

According to Ben-Ami, Israel is planning to erect at least 11 airport-like terminals around Jerusalem so that Israelis, Jerusalem residents, tourists and goods can flow easily past security channels into the city.

The terminals will be staffed by some 50 people instead of the five that usually man such checkpoints and technology will be employed to reduce friction between Israeli security and Palestinians and make the checks at the terminals go much faster, he said.

"It will be dignified. It will be respected and everything will be human as possible," he said.

Abu Dis

Elsewhere in the city, it already is possible to see the tall, gray concrete slabs that form the security wall punctuating the Jerusalem skyline.

While only five percent of the total barrier will be a wall when completed, about 28 percent or 23 kilometers (nearly 14 miles) of the fence around Jerusalem will be a wall.

One such area is the town of Abu Dis, where 30-foot high wall bisects the community and cuts off what was once the main Jerusalem-Jericho-Jordan road. The wall has divided families and neighbors, cut off the livelihood of many and separated some from their jobs or schools.

Tirza said that the route of the wall divides Palestinians from Palestinians because it primarily follows municipal boundaries.

In Abu Dis, Tirza said, the Israeli government has helped pay for a large medical clinic on the other side of the wall to build a delivery room so that mothers in labor would not have to skirt the wall to go to the hospital.

As for the choice of a wall, Tirza said, there are several reasons Israel choose a wall instead of a fence in a particular area. One reason is to prevent direct shooting attacks on Israelis such as in the case of Kalkilya, where the city is just meters from a main Israeli highway.

In Jerusalem, a decision was made not to demolish any houses to put up a fence, which requires security roads and trenches on either side. A wall, by contrast, requires only 45 centimeters (about 18 inches) of space. Walls also lessen friction between Israeli security personnel on one side and Palestinians on the other, he said.

See earlier stories:
Jerusalem Arabs Look to God for Answer (6 Feb. 2004)
Israeli Army Modifying Security Fence As It Goes Along (24 Feb. 2004)