Beit Safafa residents angry over highway set to divide village

"This policy is like apartheid – they’re separating families and the community," says resident of village.

Construction vehicles work on a road in the neighborhood of Beit Safafa in 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Construction vehicles work on a road in the neighborhood of Beit Safafa in 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One day after the Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to build a controversial new highway through the Arab village of Beit Safafa, residents of the southeast Jerusalem community on Monday expressed anger and frustration.
The battle over the 1.8-km. highway has gone on for years, with residents vociferously opposing the extension of the Begin Highway to the Tunnel Road that leads to Gush Etzion, because it will intersect the middle of their neighborhood.
“What’s legal for them is illegal for the village, because it destroys it,” said Muhammad Alian, a resident in his 60s who was born in the village. “My family will live on the other side of the highway. It’s like going into someone’s house and putting an ugly structure in the middle of everything.”
Adding insult to injury, continued Alian, is that despite dramatically diminishing the quality of life for Beit Safafa’s residents, the highway will provide no benefit to them whatsoever.
“It’s for the Jews – and I’m not talking [with] prejudice, I’ve lived and worked with Jews all my life and am not against the people,” he said.
“It’s just that the plans they’re making are good for them – and no one else.”
Despite Sunday’s ruling, the court did make some concessions based on the Beit Safafa residents’ wishes and complaints, by canceling certain access roads around the main road and ordering the state to produce an updated master plan before moving ahead with the project.
Still, Jamal Subhy, also born in Beit Safafa, compared the construction to Nazi Germany.
“This policy is like apartheid,” he said. “They’re doing what they did in Germany – separating families and the community. They’re acting like there’s no Arab village here.”
Moreover, Subhy said the construction is an elaborate scheme to ultimately push the Palestinian residents out of their beloved community.
“They’re trying to turn this into an Israeli village – to get us to leave our homes,” he said.
Indeed, according to Mutaz Othman, the purpose of the highway is to “take the land away from us.”
“The main point is to take the land from us, because if you live near the [highway] you will have no license to build,” he said. “I will stay, but my children will not stay because there will be no place to build to live.”
Othman’s cousin, Zohair Othman, who owns a hair salon in the village, echoed these sentiments, adding that the construction is destroying the village’s landscape and adding pollutants.
“This highway is not for Beit Safafa,” he said. “We can’t use it and it will pollute the community. In the past two or three days they’ve been removing olive trees, and I took one to my house. Beit Safafa was once one of the most pastoral [villages] in Jerusalem, but now it’s a road.”
Zohair said he believes the state is attempting to drive residents to Bethlehem, at which point they will no longer be provided with Israeli identification and rights.
“In 10 years the people of Beit Safafa will no longer be able to build here, and since they can’t afford to live in Jerusalem will be forced to go to Bethlehem,” he said.
“They’ll take away our ID and the Palestinian Authority will not give us one.”
Meanwhile, Abu Yazan, a lifelong Beit Safafa resident who operates a furniture store, said he was equally concerned about the fate of the Arab community.
“Beit Safafa is a small village, and the people are increasing but the land is becoming smaller, so the people have no room to build their houses,” said Yazan. “In 20 years there will be no more land to build on, because this is a very big highway and the land beside it and near it will no longer be able to be built on.”
Further exacerbating Yazan’s frustration, he said, is the fact that the highway will have no utilitarian value to Beit Safafa’s residents.
“It gives no access to the people here, so it’s of no use to us and lowers the quality of life,” he said.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.