The Walls of East Jerusalem

Today I took a tour with an Israeli-Palestinian NGO called IrAmim to visit Jerusalem’s backyards and unholy places. A bus carried a crowd of mostly foreigners around East Jerusalem to show the impacts of the Wall.

I had been looking forward to hearing about the Wall from an Israeli perspective and was surprised that our guide expressed the same objections to the Wall that my Palestinian contacts did. He, too, believes that the Wall is not built for security but is, at its heart, a political barrier. Certainly my Palestinian farmer friends in Jayyous who find their olive groves the wrong side of the Wall would agree.

He talked about how the Wall’s current route in East Jerusalem only serves to segment, weaken and anger the Palestinians in a failing attempt to ensure that the city maintains a Jewish majority. He told us that most Israelis support the Wall as a security barrier because, as he put it, “they don’t know or don’t care” about the Wall’s human price. I asked him how such a media- savvy and newspaper-addicted society like Israel could simply not know, he told me that “they don’t know because they don’t care. They think barrier does not affect their daily lives.”

But it does, at least in Jerusalem, and the tour showed some compelling ways how. First, he told us that as soon as the Wall was being constructed in East Jerusalem, Palestinians on the other side feared, rightly, that they might never again have access to the city. So Palestinians in the West Bank left their homes and flooded into Jerusalem in advance of the Wall. Their numbers increased real estate prices through simple supply-and-demand economics. Soon, few could afford homes. This fact, combined with the sudden inability for poor Arab Jerusalemites to shop in cheaper West Bank markets, poverty in Jerusalem increased. Then crime. And the homes these ‘migrants’ left became quickly occupied by other West Bank Palestinians. So a Wall meant to keep Jerusalem as Jewish as possible resulted in an increase in the Muslim population, an increasingly poor and angry one, both within the city and in its immediate environs.

In addition, the building of the Wall has resulted in the closure of many East Jerusalem hospitals and clinics. These facilities used to cater to Palestinians from both East Jerusalem and the West Bank. With the closure of the West Bank, the hospitals are lacking in patients ans are forced to closed. Now Arabs from East Jerusalem are forced to seek medical attention in Israeli hospitals that, as a result, are operating beyond their capacity.

It was a very interesting tour, but a gloomy one. The guide showed us the myriad of problems but offered no solutions. Even more depressing was that much of what the guide said revealed two basic assumptions. First, the Israeli settlements around Jerusalem are there to stay. Secondly, Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem truly hate each other and do not want to be neighbors. After the month I’ve spent here I am starting to agree with both statements.