Backs against the wall

While all eyes are focused on terrorists inside J'lem, the security barrier is far from complete and the route into the city is worryingly porous.

Driving from the Adam settlement, a long line of cars curves from the Hizme checkpoint. "What's going on?" I ask a taxi driver beside me. "The usual: some sort of security alert, so they are checking everybody," he says, glancing at his watch. The taxi driver is on his way back from Ramallah where he delivered an urgent videotape for one of the news agencies in Jerusalem. Fifteen minutes later we both approach the checkpoint. Our car trunks are not searched and nobody asks for our IDs. At any given moment, three regiments of Border Police safeguard the Jerusalem envelope, the section of the West Bank security barrier surrounding the capital, and the city itself, trying to predict and prevent the next security threat. While the latest wave of violence has been carried out by Arab residents of the city, an invisible enemy relentlessly searches for new ways and routes into Jerusalem. Every day there is a constant flow of warnings about illegal activity, whether criminal or security related, little of which becomes public knowledge. "Even when the situation in Jerusalem seems quiet, beyond its walls the reality is very different," says Finchi. Indeed, data provided by Jerusalem Border Police indicates that the weekend following the bulldozer terror attack on Jaffa Road, 5,700 suspects were investigated, 2,646 cars were searched and 1,077 men were placed into custody (44 of whom were already wanted by the security services). "If it's an individual attack, it's quite impossible to prevent it. Who knows what's going through someone's mind? Yet we constantly increase our efforts and cooperation between various security bodies in the city - the Shin Bet [Israel Security Service] and the police. We [Border Police] patrol the villages of east Jerusalem as well as the major entertainment sites in the city and our actions are fully coordinated with the police," says Border Police spokesperson Moshe Finchi. Finchi is certain, however, that the security barrier serves as the safety belt of Jerusalem. There are constant attempts from various elements to infiltrate the city, he says. "Usually we deal with illegal workers, Palestinians from the West Bank, yet we know that if an illegal worker can easily cross into Jerusalem, so can a terrorist," he says. JUST HOW easy is it to cross into Jerusalem from, say, Ramallah? "I go to Ramallah almost every day, drive journalists and diplomats to and from Jerusalem. Only rarely my car is stopped and the trunk is opened. Most of the time I go through the checkpoint uninterrupted," says Samer, a Jerusalem taxi driver. Samer holds a Jerusalem ID and is therefore allowed to enter Ramallah (generally, Israeli citizens are barred from entering Area A territories, which are exclusively controlled by the Palestinian Authority). Hizme and other checkpoints serve as de facto borders between Jerusalem and the West Bank, but de jure they are only crossings and not borders. As such the city cannot be sealed hermetically and an overall security check of everyone who comes in and out of Jerusalem cannot be instituted, explains Finchi. But even though not every car is checked at Hizme and other checkpoints, Finchi continues, it doesn't mean that everyone can come and go as he pleases. "There are different checkpoints for different purposes. Some terminals are intended to handle only goods and commodities, while others function as crossings for workers, another for pedestrians, etc.," he says. "Also, we make use of the latest technological means, cameras and other tools, so that every car undergoes some kind of security check - physical, eye contact, checking IDs. As well, all the cars are filmed so we can play back the tapes and look at the driver, the passengers and the license plates. In case of security alerts, we do our outmost to search every car." The situation is different at Hizme, since many Israelis who come from the settlements also cross through this checkpoint into Jerusalem, explains Hemi Levi, who manned various checkpoints during his service with the Border Police. Hemi says that the level of security checks is altogether different at checkpoints that are mainly used by Palestinians, such as Kalandiya, which sits at the entrance to Ramallah, or Hawara, the crossing into Nablus. Dr. Israel Kimche from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies says that although the level of security in Jerusalem improved with the erection of the security fence, only after the hermetical closure of the wall will it be possible to reduce to zero infiltration of the city. "Today it's much harder to enter the city than before. A few years ago one could drive from Bethlehem and enter Jerusalem without being stopped at all," says Kimchi. "Today even if not every car is physically searched, the situation is significantly different. I believe that the soldiers at checkpoints are very professional and well trained; they can spot the dangerous elements immediately. "However, since the security is not yet complete, and everyone knows where the gaps are, the possibility of entering the city exists." WHILE NOT every car may be checked at checkpoints like Hizme and A-Ram, it doesn't mean that going through a checkpoint is easy. In addition to the Border Police, personnel from the Shin Bet, the IDF and Israel Police are present at the major checkpoints - enough of a detterent for many eager to illegaly enter Jerusalem, so that they choose a different route. "Of course, people who benefit from this illegal activity constantly try to invent new methods to bring people who do not have permits to enter Israel into the city," Finchi says, pointing to a picture of a man dressed in an olive sweatshirt, vaguely reminiscent of a border policeman. This man was stopped at a checkpoint in March. Inside the van he drove, which was sporting a Star of David, 26 Palestinians who didn't have a tasrih (entrance permit) were found. If he hadn't been caught, he would have been paid NIS 200 for each illegal worker he smuggled into Israel - motivation enough for many. "We are constantly trying to adapt to new methods and ways [of infiltrating the city]," says Finchi. "Yet, again, I will remind you that we are talking about a crossing, not a border. If the state will draw an official border and then close it, the procedure will be different. But today it's just a crossing." FIVE YEARS after construction began, the security fence is far from complete, especially in the Jerusalem area. Some parts, for example near Sheikh Sa'id, a neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber, are still awaiting court decisions, as the route traverses Palestinian houses and land. "Sometimes I want to visit my family in Beit Hanina and I can't because I can't get a tasrih to enter Jerusalem," says Rami Khalil, 20, a student at Bir-Zeit University who lives in A-Ram. After the security barrier was erected, A-Ram was divided in two: the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. In theory, if you don't have a Jerusalem ID or a permit, you will not be able to enter Jerusalem, even for a family visit. Khalil says that his age makes it impossible for him to get a permit. "Men younger than 35 are considered part of a risk group. I do not have a criminal past, I have never been involved in any illegal activity, yet I can't secure a permit to visit my cousins and aunts in Beit Hanina, a five-minute drive from my house," he says. From time to time Khalil takes his chances and drives through the narrow streets of A-Ram, in between the houses and through gaps in the security fence to pay a social call. Khalil's older brother Nasser says he is afraid of being arrested and trespasses the border only if it's urgent, like to go to the hospital. "You can cross into Jerusalem, but if you get caught without proper documentation by the Border Police, your name will be blacklisted," explains Nasser. "We don't want that. However, if you don't care about these things, you can just take your gun and drive to the Jerusalem city center." "The security fence around Jerusalem isn't closed hermetically and there are gaps in it that various elements may use to enter Jerusalem. We are aware of these gaps and are trying to cover them with the help of physical or observation posts around these trouble spots," says Finchi. The completion of the security fence in Jerusalem is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry, says Mark Luria of the Security Fence for Israel. "Right now, everything is quiet in the city and we all enjoy the flow of visitors, the calm and the prosperity. Apparently there is no problem, so the budget funds are redirected for other purposes and needs," he says. "Nevertheless, we all know that all that it takes is just one or two devastating attacks to bring us back to the reality we were accustomed to during the intifada," he continues. "The problem is that if once there were one person who could manage everything related to the security fence and follow up on all the developments - Danny Tirza - now the responsibility is diffused among too many officials." Tirza, who was the IDF's chief architect for the security fence, left his post over a year ago. His post has yet to be filled. As a result, the Border Police has been charged with patrolling the area of the Jerusalem envelope, the Defense Ministry is responsible for the fence's contour and borders, and the IDF manages the situation around the envelope, inside the West Bank. IN AN interview with Channel 1 in early March, shortly after the Merkaz Harav terror attack, Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, a former brigade commander in the northern Gaza Strip and a member of the Council for Peace and Security, confirmed that there are numerous gaps in the security fence. Arieli said at the time that the reason for this was partly rooted in an intention to connect Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem. Kimchi atrributes the delay in the fence's completion to financial considerations rather than political ones. "There are political difficulties in the E1 area, but in most cases the delay is due to financial and budgetary problems," he says. Either way, Khalil hopes the current route to Jerusalem will remain open. If not, he will just have to find another way in. Ir Amim, a non-profit group advocating sustainable and equitable solutions for Jerusalem, isn't surprised that the security fence doesn't provide maximum security as it was designed to do. The sections of the security fence along Jerusalem, they say, were not motivated primarily by security, but rather by the goal of consolidating and strengthening Israeli rule in east Jerusalem and its Palestinian suburbs. "The planned route of the barrier does not take into consideration the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians residents of the city, and involves Israel in needless complications, political and operational. A physical barrier can be seen as an important tactical means for defense, but only in the short term," reads the Ir Amim Web site. The day of the bulldozer terror attack, angry Jerusalemites demanded that the government change the route of the security fence to exclude both Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir. Although doing so is possible, says Kimchi, whether or not it will have a meaningful impact on Jerusalem's security is the "one billion dollar question." Providing additional security to Jerusalemites by cutting off Arab villages from the city will come at the expense of enormous suffering to east Jerusalemites, he adds. "Families are being cut in two, as are Beduin tribes who used to wander the area," says Kimchi. "In fact, after the fence is completed, Jerusalem will go back in time to pre-1967, when it was totally secluded from the surroundings. And these surroundings, predominantly Arab, won't change. "Even if today we decide to get rid of some parts of east Jerusalem such as Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir and move them beyond the fence, the people will not disappear, whether they are Jerusalem ID holders or not."