Security barrier to split Arab east J’lem towns

Sheikh Sa’ed to remain on W. Bank side of fence but gate will be open 24 hours a day to allow in those with entry permits.

By DAN IZENBERG
March 15, 2010 23:00
3 minute read.
Security barrier to split Arab east J’lem towns

Nof Zion Jebl Mukaber 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The High Court of Justice ruled on Monday that Sheikh Sa’ed, the easternmost district in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber, would remain on the West Bank side of the security barrier, but that a gate would be open 24 hours a day to allow Jerusalem Palestinians and Palestinians with entry permits, to enter Israel at all times.

The decision ends seven years of court deliberations over the issue.

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Sheikh Sa’ed had been an integral part of Jebl Mukaber ever since its establishment, even though the sub-neighborhood was situated on the West Bank side of the Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

Until the outbreak of the second intifada, this fact had no practical implications. Not only was there complete freedom of movement between Sheikh Sa’ed and Jebl Mukaber, but the Jerusalem Municipality provided services to the area.

Many members of families living in the Israeli parts of the neighborhood moved into Sheikh Sa’ed, where land was more readily available, but continued to use the educational, commercial, medical and other facilities of Jebl Mukaber or Jerusalem itself.

However, at the height of the intifada, when the government came to determine the route of the security barrier in the area around Jebl Mukaber, it decided to build it along the municipal boundary, cutting off Sheikh Sa’ed – with an estimated population of 1,500 – from the rest of the neighborhood.

About half the residents of Sheikh Sa’ed have Israeli identification cards. Some of those who don’t, have entry permits to Israel.

In April 2004, Sheikh Sa’ed residents filed an appeal to the appeals committee against the route of the barrier. They were supported by many Israelis, and the case became one of the most publicized of the controversies involving the barrier route.

On March 19, 2006, the appeals committee ruled in favor of the appellants. It said that the government route was unfair to the residents of Sheikh Sa’ed and recommended rerouting it to the east, so that Sheikh Sa’ed would be contiguous with the rest of Jebl Mukaber.

The state petitioned the High Court against the decision. In the meantime, the appeals committee agreed to build a chain link fence with a gate along the contested route west of Sheikh Sa’ed for security reasons.

On Monday, a panel of three High Court Justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that the government’s solution was actually better for the residents of Sheikh Sa’ed than the recommendation of the appeals committee.

The reason, the court said, was that if the appeals committee had its way, Sheikh Sa’ed would be sandwiched between two fences: the security barrier, part of which includes an 8-meter-high cement wall to the east, and a chain link fence to the west. Anyone who wanted to leave the area, whether to the West Bank or to Israel, would have his freedom of movement restricted by the gate on either side.

According to the state’s proposal, any Palestinian wishing to enter the West Bank would be free to do so at all times. Those entitled to enter Israel would be able to access the gate in the barrier at all times.

“We do not take lightly the injury that will be caused to residents of Sheikh Sa’ed who have permits to enter Jerusalem for their various needs as a result of the construction of the barrier,” wrote Beinisch. “The barrier will have a significant impact on their lives and make it harder for them to carry out simple daily activities. However, despite that fact, their access has not been denied, and it will be made easier because of the fact that the gate will be open 24 hours a day.”

Hillel Bardin, an Israeli activist who campaigned against separating Sheikh Sa’ed from Jebl Mukaber, told The Jerusalem Post that it was a shame to isolate the neighborhood.

“These people genuinely want to live on good terms with Israel,” he said. ”If there are any Palestinians who truly want peace with Israel, these are definitely among them.”

Bardin added that the ruling did not make clear whether or not Israelis or Palestinians living in east Jerusalem would be allowed to enter Sheikh Sa’ed.

“Will I be able to visit friends there?” he wanted to know.


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