Majeda El Batsh, AFP
Last updated: 14 December, 2011

Vast new barrier keeps refugee camp out of Holy City

On the edge of Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp, the final touches are being put to a towering barrier and huge crossing point that locals say will hem them in and cut off the camp from the Holy City.

Running battles erupt almost daily between stone-throwing locals and Israeli security forces protecting work on the vast terminal which will soon be the only way into Jerusalem for the area’s 50,000 residents.

Residents say they will be isolated from east Jerusalem, where most of them study, work and shop.

They will be left on the West Bank side of the barrier, while remaining technically inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

This means they will owe council tax, while being all but guaranteed to miss out on key services which should be provided by the city council.

Israel says its massive “security barrier” is needed to stop potential attackers bent on violence, and that its route is dictated by security needs.

But locals and activists say the project is a clear attempt to push Palestinians out of Arab east Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

“This separation wall is intended to isolate and carry out a demographic policy of separation,” said Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann, who founded Ir Amim, an NGO which works for an “equitable” sharing of Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians.

Seidemann says the barrier and the new checkpoint are intended “to put more than 40,000 Palestinians outside east Jerusalem and shift the focus of their lives to the West Bank.”

Working with residents from the camp, Ir Amim has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to have the route of the barrier changed, keeping the camp and surrounding areas inside Jerusalem, but to no avail.

“It’s clear that the situation will be very bad for the population and that the new crossing and the wall will lead to a deterioration in quality of life for those linked to Jerusalem when it comes to education and health,” he said.

Seidemann and the camp’s residents say they expect the municipality will simply withhold services, refusing to provide them beyond the barrier.

They point to the examples of Kufr Aqab and Semiramis which also lie behind the barrier despite remaining inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders, existing in a sort of no-man’s land where the city does not provide services but where the Palestinian Authority is barred from operating.

As in those areas, Shuafat refugee camp, the neighbouring district of Ras Khamis and part of nearby Dahiyat al-Salaam now find themselves almost completely encircled by the barrier, constructed of towering, concrete slabs.

A small gap remains, where an old checkpoint stands, but this will soon close when the new terminal is fully up and running.

The new checkpoint is modelled on the major Qalandia crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah, which is designed to look like a border terminal, with a looming watch tower, a shaded area for examining cars and a holding space for buses and waiting travellers.

The walkways through the terminal are composed of steel fences, and some have barbed wire overhead. Cameras are carefully positioned to keep an eye on those passing through.

Khader Debs, head of the local Popular Committee Against the Wall, says locals have tried everything to save their access to Jerusalem.

“We used every available legal route to oppose the wall and the crossing over the last few years, but every attempt was rejected,” he told AFP.

“They want to Judaise the occupied city of Jerusalem and so they’re isolating us from the city with the wall and the crossing and increased Jewish settlement activity,” he said.

“This isolation will affect every aspect of our lives, forcing us to stand in lines for hours, particularly the schoolchildren. We will become like Kufr Aqab and Semiramis,” he added.

“With this move, there will be 100,000 Jerusalemite Palestinians isolated from their city.”