The Bethlehem crossing, seen from the West Bank side. This is the actual opening in the Separation Fence; a roadblock and checkpoint lie on the other side, a little ways down a barbed wire lined street. 2005:06:06 09:53:46
Today several thousand anti-disengagement protesters spent their third day penned up in the dusty little town of Kfar Maimon, surrounded by barbed wire and twice their number of police and IDF troops. Thankfully, they do not seem to be generating the kind of sympathetic coverage that such a scene was designed to evoke. Late reports suggest that they are beginning to disperse.
To backtrack, the Yesha Council (an umbrella organization of settlers in the occupied territories) planned for tens of thousands of settler sympathizers to march on the Gaza Strip, defy the military closure of the Gush Katif, and flood the area with zealots sure to relentlessly oppose the evacuation when the time comes. The IDF strongly suggested that they not do this. Still, they came, they marched, and they were cut off at the pass (Kfar Maimon, that is) by a human wall of perhaps as many as 20,000 police and soldiers. The Israeli government (and, well, pretty much everyone else) was convinced that things would turn ugly, but so far they have not. However, is sounds like the families, the working adults ... the responsible people, in general ... have had enough and are leaving, replaced in part by orange-shirted kids. When the mob has dwindled to a hard core of several hundred versus the army, worry.
Here is a story that broke just before I left town, but which I am only now getting to:
The usual problem with the Separation Fence is that it cuts deep into the West Bank in places, so as to keep Jewish settlements on the Israeli side. This tends to cut off Palestinian communities from each other and from their lands, especially considering that the Fence routinely winds up slicing right through (Arab) towns and neighborhoods. It is generally a double curse to be in a so-called "envelope zone" as one must navigate unpredictable Israeli checkpoints to travel either east into the West Bank or west across the Green Line.
In Jerusalem, as usual, the rules are different and more complex.
Presumably to deny the Palestinians the appearance of a formally divided Jerusalem (Israeli policy holds that it is the eternal, undivided -- and non-negotiable -- capitol of Israel) Sharon will not let the Fence simply segregate East and West Jerusalem. But thus far, the walls around the city have cut deep beyond the Green Line to claim the Jewish suburbs and surrounding settlements, while excluding Arab population centers. How, then, to deal with Jerusalem, a third of which houses a good fraction of the Palestinian population? The wall there not only hasn't been built, but until last week didn't even have a definite route.
Sharon is well aware that once the disengagement concludes, international attention will shift from Gaza to the West Bank, and will greatly complicate further construction of the Fence. So he has ordered that the Jerusalem segment be completed by September, and drawn a curious sort of compromise route for it. Along with outlying settlements like Ma'ale Adumim, much of East Jerusalem, and about four-fifths of the Israeli Arab population, will be on the Israeli side. That will leave 55,000 Israeli Arabs (i.e. citizens of Israel who happen not to be Jewish; predominantly ethnic Arabs and mostly Islamic) cut off from the city in which they live, besides an unknown number of Palestinians who effectively, if unofficially, live or work there.
The Ha'aretz article emphasizes that municipal services will be extended to fully cover the severed areas before the wall is completed, and that there will be abundant crossing points to connect the population to the urban core. New schools will be built on the far side of the walls, and special lanes will speed the passage of public transportation. These promises are not much different than earlier pledges that Palestinian farmers would be able to cross the Fence to work in their fields, or that ambulances would be rushed through roadblocks. By and large, the fields have been taken over by settlers on the far side of the Fence and patients frequently die waiting for the ambulance.
The Jerusalem Post article lacks any particular emphasis, as their staff writing often does. But it does give some additional play to the Palestinian objections to this plan, which come in pragmatic and political varieties. The political complaint is obvious; carving up East Jerusalem will make it that much harder to establish as the Palestinian capitol, although we really are talking about slightly harder than nearly impossible in this case.
The practical complaint is interesting. These 55,000 Israeli citizens will be gradually cut off from the city of Jerusalem, as the schools, communication services, and transportation take second priority to more fully Israeli concerns. It's the old "separate but equal" problem. On the other hand, this is one of the very few times Israel has actually used "separate but equal" rhetoric with regards to the Separation Fence. Usually it's more of a "separate but the other side isn't our problem" kind of attitude. The major difference being the number of Israeli citizens involved, I would think.