Unfinished business

Why are many sections of the Jerusalem Envelope still not completed?

security fence 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
security fence 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Whether you are touring Jerusalem on foot, traveling by car or looking down from the air, you can't miss it. The massive wall spans from the south to the north of the city like a giant snake, winding around homes, neighborhoods and suburbs. It is doubtful if King David, Jerusalem's poet, or Solomon, its builder, or even the Ottoman sultans, constructors of the wall around the Old City, ever dreamed it could look like this. These works are part of the Jerusalem Security Envelope, which is part of the larger national project known as the "Seam Project," popularly known as "the fence" or "the wall." The Jerusalem Envelope is intended to surround Jerusalem with a fence that will keep terrorists out and provide weary Jerusalemites with the security they crave. But the plan to secure the capital by surrounding it with a fence, which the government approved more than four years ago, is easier promised than delivered. And while the thought of an enveloping, insulating fence may be comforting, a closer look reveals that the envelope still hasn't been sealed very tightly. The history of the Jerusalem Envelope began on March 13, 2002, at the height of the intifada, at an urgent session of a government Committee on National Security. The committee approved the plan for the Jerusalem Envelope in order to "improve the effectiveness of combating terrorism in the Jerusalem area and to preserve the Israeli interest in it." A month later, on April 14, following the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya during Seder night, the committee met again. Responsibility for the construction of the barrier was delegated to the Defense Ministry, which was instructed to consult with the Internal Security Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Police and the relevant municipal and other authorities. The Seam Project was established within the Defense Ministry in order to implement the decision. The committee issued a directive to construct the barrier immediately in the three areas they deemed the most troublesome - Anin (in the vicinity of Umm el-Fahm area); the Tulkarm circuit; and the Jerusalem area. The authorities considered these three spots to be the most vulnerable and the easiest to penetrate. The construction work on the Jerusalem segment of the barrier began promptly, and soon heavy machinery was seen in almost all peripheral areas of Jerusalem - from Har Homa to Ramot, Pisgat Ze'ev and Neveh Ya'acov. And yet, the fence is still unfinished. Less than two weeks ago, following the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed nine people, The Jerusalem Post reported ("Olmert orders gaps in Jerusalem fence closed," April 27) that then-interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had instructed the defense establishment to close the gaps in the Jerusalem security fence and to "erect a temporary barrier to compensate for the parts of the so-called Jerusalem Envelope segment of the security fence that have yet to be completed." Olmert also instructed the police to beef up its forces along the route of the fence in the area to prevent infiltration by terrorists. And at a specially convened session, Defense Ministry officials acknowledged that the still uncompleted sections of the Jerusalem Envelope had become the principal route for infiltration of terrorists into Israel. In fact, according to most sources, the majority of suicide bombers, including the one responsible for the Tel Aviv explosion, are infiltrating into Israel from the West Bank through gaps in the Jerusalem fence, most of which is a concrete wall. But since the idea was first proposed, contradictions between security, municipal, political, financial, humanitarian and social considerations have held up almost every kilometer of construction. And they continue to do so. The Defense Ministry told In Jerusalem that when completed, the Jerusalem Envelope, as currently routed, will be 88 km. long. To date, 33 km. have been completed and another 34 km. are in advanced stages of construction. Thus, by the end of 2006, a total of 67 km. of the barrier will have been completed and a temporary barrier will be constructed along the unfinished sections. According to data presented this week to the government by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, when completed, the entire security barrier will measure some 870 km., of which 335 km. are already operational; 137 km. are under construction; 28 km. have been prepared for construction; 26 km. are currently being challenged within the Israeli courts; 119 km. have been put on hold under court orders; 13 km. are undergoing statutory processes and adjustment; 138 km. are still being examined by the Justice Ministry and 92 km. are awaiting the approval of the political echelons. According to the proposed route as presented on the official Web site of the Defense Ministry (www.securityfence.mod.gov.il), in the Jerusalem area the fence will not follow the city's municipal boundaries. Rather, it will include some of both the Jewish and Palestinian settlements that are situated "in close proximity" to those borders. There are currently 61 appeals to the High Court of Justice that are still pending, some 15 of which are in the Jerusalem area. In fact, petitions by Palestinians to the High Court of Justice have slowed construction of much of the fence, especially in Jerusalem. The reasons cited in the petitions vary. The majority of the petitions seek to prevent the separation of the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages from Jerusalem - as is the case with the village of Numan in the south of the city, A-Ram, Abu Dis and Kfar Akab. In contrast, residents of the village of Walaja petitioned to be left on the "Palestinian side" of the fence. Other petitioners object to being deported from their land, even in return for compensation offered by the government. Some of the court cases have already been resolved; in the overwhelming majority of cases, the courts have rejected the Palestinians' petitions. Yet according to Ir Amim, a non-profit group working for "sustainable resolutions" for Jerusalem, in some of the segments, such as the Sheikh Sa'id neighborhood, which is part of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber, construction continues according to the originally-designated route. This, even though the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court granted the appeal of the Sheikh Sa'ed Neighborhood Committee and five residents of the village, filed in opposition to the security barrier. (See "Breaking the barriers," In Jerusalem, March 31.) The court canceled the requisition orders that had been issued to build the barrier and the court's appeals committee ruled that the planned route of the security barrier would cause disproportionate harm to the daily lives of the residents, in part because it would separate Sheik Sa'id from other neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. According to a press release issued by B'tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, this is the first time that a court has voided a section of the separation barrier around Jerusalem. In reaching its decision, the Appeals Committee, headed by Judge David Gladstein, rejected the state's argument that the village's residents constituted a security threat. The Appeals Committee recommended that the barrier be built east of the neighborhood, in a manner that would enable the residents to continue to gain access to east Jerusalem. But according to the Defense Ministry, construction is not progressing at all. "The residents of Sheikh Sa'id appealed to the Appeals Committee and the committee has ruled against the state on this matter," says Col. (res) Danny Tirza, chief planner of the fence. "The state has appealed to the Supreme Court and there is no work being carried out there at this moment. Sheikh Sa'id is one of the few spots in which there is no temporary or permanent barrier." No government or ministry officials were able or willing to provide IJ with concrete and up-to-date information regarding construction or delays. Yet a virtual "walk" around the proposed envelope illustrates the numerous gaps and holes. A few examples: Palestinian residents in the Shu'afat area have also petitioned the High Court, claiming that their daily life is being brutally disrupted by the fence. Work there has thus been held up as well. There are "gaps in the wall" in the A-Ram region, and the segment between A-Ram and Beit Hanina has been tiled up only recently. But when the barrier is completed, residents of A-Ram will have to enter Jerusalem - that is neighboring Beit Hanina - through the Kalandiya checkpoint, and so the local population, which regards the area of Beit Hanina, Beit Hanina Balad and A-Ram as one, has responded with a wave of protests. As for the residents of Bir Nabala and Al-Jib, they will be locked out in a separate enclave, segregated from both Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority alike. Sources expect that here, too, residents will seek legal recourse. Neither is there a fence between the village of A-Zaim village and Isawiya, near Mount Scopus. According to the original plan, Isawiya will remain within the Israeli side of the fence, while Ma'aleh Adumin and the controversial E-1 section of Jerusalem will also be included within its embrace. Why is the plan to secure the capital so much easier to promise than to deliver? Funding is one issue. As reported on April 27, Eli Amitai, Border Police commander for Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post that Olmert had allocated NIS 43 million for increased manpower around the Jerusalem envelope, but military sources contend that the funding does not allow them to work at the pace that Olmert, and much of the public, would prefer. Lack of political will may be another issue. According to a joint survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem between September 7 and 21, 2005, 62% of Israelis support, and only 30% oppose, the construction of the barrier around Jerusalem. Some 73% believe the barrier will increase the level of security in Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods compared to 17% who believe security will decrease. Yet while proponents of the fence are pleased that Olmert appears to be ready to assume responsibility for the fence's construction, they note that successive governments have declined to enact legislation requiring the barrier's completion by the end of the year. Mayor Uri Lupolianski has called on the government to complete the envelope as soon as possible, certainly by the end of 2006, "in order to provide Jerusalem's residents with the security they so deserve." But Olmert, and Sharon before him, consistently refused to set definitive dates for completion. Finally, the envelope is being held up because security and political considerations often contradict each other. Last month, Ir Amim issued a press release claiming that "the present route of the separation barrier around E-1 discloses ulterior political considerations rather than security ones, which do not serve Israeli national interests. The intended route will create a dismembered West Bank, lacking the geographical integrity necessary for viable living conditions." They point to the PSR and Truman Research Institute report which also shows that 62% of respondents who say they support the project were giving their opinion about the "security fence" - that is, a structure that would prevent terrorists from infiltrating Israeli cities, buses and malls, not a future political border between Israel and the PA. Retorts planner Tirza, "The security barrier is meant to be constructed for the purposes of security and defense and whoever claims this is the future political border should think again." And the Defense Ministry's Web site promises, "The borders of the barrier in no way constitute state borders or political borders, and if, in a future agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the borders differ from the outline of the barrier, these specific segments will be destroyed." But these responses leave critics and proponents of the fence alike wondering why the authorities persist in drawing unrealistic maps that are inevitably contested in the Israeli Courts, which, in turn, instruct the authorities to amend the route and the manner of construction. And this at the financial expense and security risk of the residents of Jerusalem.