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Looking south through a gap in the battlements of the Old City, the Separation Fence snakes along the hilltops. 2005:03:05 13:39:25

Walls can be some of the most enduring traces of settled civilization. The smallest, most primitive village may leave only the foundations of building walls for archeologists to find. They also become symbols of ancient power -- the Chinese emperors walled out Mongolia, Hadrian cut Britain in two, and in the end we gawk at the boundaries centuries after their usefullness has faded.

Small wonder then, that the Palestinians doubt Israel's claim that the Separation Fence is a strictly temporary security measure.

I spent Saturday morning walking along the ramparts of the wall surrounding Jerusalem's Old City. Although built only about 500 years ago by Suleyman the Magnificent, Jerusalem has been surrounded by some kind of wall in much the same location for most of the past 3000 years. Until modern times the wall existed, like most city walls, to keep invading armies at bay. Jerusalem doesn't seem to have had notable success with this tactic, though. Nowadays, though, I get the sense it's seen more as keeping Old Jerusalem in, preventing the antiqueness, the religious orthodoxy and ancient grudges, from spilling out and overwhelming the nice, modern New Jerusalem.

This is a land of walls.

Near the old citadel the wall is double-battlemented. Further along the inner wall falls away, affording an occasionally-spectacular view over the Old City. Mostly, though, nearby buildings on the inside are too tall to afford much view at all.

Saturday the weather was lovely. Sunny and warm, but with just enough moisture in the air to keep dust from obscuring the view. For most of the walk, there's not a great deal to see on the inside, because the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate rises above eye level just across the road from the wall. This tends to be the case, since the wall isn't very tall on the inside -- only a couple of stories. I can only surmise that there's a great deal of fill and rubble underneath, because the outer face of the wall drops at least five or six stories to the hillside below. Although I've seen a number of doors and gratings at street level, always mounted low on a building wall, that lead to a lower passageway or corridor. This makes me think that the city goes farther down than it lets on to the casual tourist.

The dominating division in the Old City isn't Jewish versus Muslim or old against new. It's inside as opposed to out. On the streets and walkways, I am always hemmed in by building walls, but it's never an obstacle. The roads interconnect freely, and structures routinely vault overhead rather than obstruct the flow of pedestrians. And given how often the buildings are joined by bridges, archways, and other joints, I tend to suspect that commerce among the residents is also easy. The view from above suggests there are lots of shared, enclosed courtyards, too.

However, with the exception of public places like churches and restaurants, there's never an obvious way in.

The boundaries are less obvious elsewhere in Israel. The Weizmann Institute is surrounded only by a dense hedge -- until more intrepid probing reveals a barbed wire fence hiding within. Israeli villages aren't walled off, but I do get my bags searched on the way into the bus station, and a more thorough screening awaits when we disembark in Jerusalem. On the other hand, it's apparently not uncommon in the occupied Territories to pass through multiple checkpoints while walking to work.

At eight meters high and made of solid concrete, the Fence sure looks permanent to me. Yes, the Berlin Wall also came down. But first the people on both sides had to want that. So far, it doesn't look good.

A section of the Separation Fence south of Jerusalem. The best site I've found detailing the wall's route is at B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights center. The near side is Israeli-controlled, which explains the lower building density and obviously more profligate irrigation.

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You've got the makings of a very interesting essay here. Why don't you polish it up and extend it a bit and send it to the Texas Observer for their Afterword section?

-- Papa

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on March 7, 2005 11:19 PM.

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