The government of Israel under prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to build a "security barrier" in 2002, in the midst of a dire security situation. The failure of the Camp David and Taba talks and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, which took a heavy toll all over Israel and in Jerusalem in particular, accelerated the implementation of the idea of separation between Israel and the Palestinians with a physical barrier, which had been discussed since the 1990s. Prime Minister Sharon, who had initially opposed the erection of a barrier that could be perceived as a border, finally gave in to public pressure and decided to build it. The 202 km segment of the barrier that surrounds Jerusalem, built alternately as a concrete wall and a chain-link fence, was named "the Jerusalem envelope."
Even though the official purpose of the barrier was to constitute "an element in the struggle against Palestinian terror, with the intention of minimizing the ability of terrorists to infiltrate from the area of the Palestinian Authority into Israeli territory," its planners and critics were not unaware of its political ramifications. In a document written by the National Security Council, the purpose of the barrier was described as follows: "To improve the effectiveness of the fight against terror in the Jerusalem region and to maintain the Israeli interest therein." Thus, from the outset the definition of the barrier surrounding Jerusalem exceeded its immediate security purpose. Accordingly, the route of the separation barrier must be examined not only in terms of security but also in light of its overall political significance and consequences.
The Considerations in Deciding the Route of the Barrier and its Results
1.Legitimizing the Municipal Boundaries
In June 1967, two weeks after the Six-Day War, the government of Israel declared it was expanding Jerusalem’s jurisdiction into territories it had occupied. The city’s new municipal area included the territory of Jordanian East Jerusalem and another 28 Palestinian villages in the West Bank near the city. On another occasion, the government applied Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the territories within the city's new municipal boundaries, thereby de facto annexing East Jerusalem and its surroundings to Israel. Since then, Israel's governments have maintained a policy of erasing the Green Line – the 1949 armistice line that ran through Jerusalem, cutting it in two – and applied the "united city" policy. Construction of vast Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which presently house some 200,000 Israelis, served the policy of uniting the city and completely changed the geopolitical reality on the ground.
As it set out to determine the barrier’s route in Jerusalem, Israel’s government faced a complex political situation. The annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel contradicted international law and was never recognized by the international community, which continued to view the entire area of East Jerusalem as an occupied territory, and viewed its newly constructed neighborhoods as full-fledged settlements. Even though the government of Israel continued to adhere to the united city policy, Israel agreed in the Oslo accords that Jerusalem was a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would be settled in final negotiations. A further step towards a settlement in Jerusalem took place during the Camp David and Taba talks (2000-2001), in which the Clinton parameters were accepted as the basis for discussion of a settlement/resolution in Jerusalem. The parameters proposed to divide the city while leaving most of the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem on the Israeli side and connecting them to West Jerusalem, in exchange for territorial exchanges and refraining from further construction. Those parameters served as the basis for the Olmert-Abu Mazen negotiations (2008). The decisions about the barrier’s route, therefore, had significant political consequences.
Israel’s government believed a barrier running through Jerusalem on the basis of what was left of the Green Line, or between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods could have been perceived, especially in the context of political negotiations, as a proposal to divide sovereignty over the city. And, indeed, major parts of the separation barrier run more or less along the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and include most of East Jerusalem that was annexed in 1967 along the Israeli drawn border. In those areas the barrier does not separate between Israelis and Palestinians in accordance with the original security rationale for building it, but mostly separates between Palestinian neighborhoods and the Palestinian suburbs that surround Jerusalem. In one of the petitions to the Supreme Court regarding a segment of the barrier in a-Ram (a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel), the defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz, declared that the barrier was built along the municipal boundaries of the city and that the government has the right to place a barrier on them.
In the barrier’s extensive segments where its route overlaps with the municipal boundaries (the annexation line), it constitutes another effort to establish and set those boundaries. However, by doing so, it also severs them from the map of a future political resolution. Diminishing the feasibility of such a resolution undermines both Israeli and Palestinian interests.
2. The Barrier and the Settlements: a Territorial Consideration
The route of the barrier was indeed determined in relation to the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but also in relation to the settlements that surround the city.
The route of the barrier exceeds the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem in three main areas:
In the south it surrounds the Gush Etzion settlements and Palestinian villages south of Jerusalem: parts of the eastern segment of the barrier near al-Khadr are already built and parts in Walaja are under construction (as of October 2012). Other parts of this segment are not yet built.
In the east: the route of the barrier surrounds Maale Adumim and the settlements north and south of it. Most of this segment has not yet been built (as of October 2012).
In the north: the barrier surrounds Givat Ze'ev and the nearby settlements and creates an enclave around Bir Naballah and the nearby villages. This segment is already built.
While the parts of the barrier that run along the municipal boundaries are already built, extensive segments of the route surrounding the settlements are not yet built, partly due to an official freeze by the government. The non-construction of the barrier in extensive areas reflects the legal and political complexity of building a barrier in the West Bank, in places that even Israel admits are not under Israeli sovereignty. At the same time it also demonstrates that policymakers prefer to leave parts of the barrier incomplete rather than completing it on the basis of a more minimalist route and leaving the settlement blocs around Jerusalem outside of it.
The de facto connection of the settlement blocs to Jerusalem by way of the barrier has turned Jerusalem into a metropolis that operatively, although not officially, extends over 210 km², well beyond the city's municipal boundaries. With the concept of “Greater Jerusalem,” the Israeli government wanted to realize a vision of a large Jerusalem that guaranteed the settlements surrounding the city would remain within Israel's boundaries as an integral part of the city. The settlements surrounding the city create a wide circle of Israeli control around Jerusalem, unilaterally severing it from the area of the Palestinian Authority, while penetrating deeply into the West Bank and detracting from the territory of the future Palestinian state.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the security barrier’s erection is against international law and that Israel must stop its construction. Among other things the court ruled that the barrier violates freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, the rights to health, education and employment services, and a decent standard of living. The court decision expressed a concern that the barrier might predetermine, on the basis of facts on the ground, the route for the future border between Israel and Palestine.
Connecting Jerusalem with the settlements and the dozens of square kilometers around them does indeed reflect a policy that is inconsistent with striving for a political settlement, a precondition for which would be maintaining territorial continuity between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
3. The Demographic Consideration
The map of "Greater Jerusalem," surrounded by the separation barrier, reflects the Israeli governments' official aspirations for a demographic balance that maintains a clear Jewish majority in Jerusalem – a majority that has gradually declined since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Surrounding settlements with the separation barrier, de facto attaching them to Jerusalem, satisfies the policy of bolstering the Jewish majority by adding Jewish population to the Jerusalem area. The route of the barrier was planned so it adds to Jerusalem the Jewish population that lives in the settlement blocs outside of the city's municipal area in addition to a very large area of land outside them. At the same time, the route subtracts the Palestinian population that lives in those areas from Jerusalem.
How can entire areas be attached to the city without including the Palestinians that live in them? This has been achieved by building another barrier around Palestinian population centers within the settlement blocs that were added. In this way, Palestinian villages and neighborhoods were trapped within a barrier surrounding them from all sides and de facto severing them from the area of the "Jerusalem envelope," with their only way out being through an underground tunnel that exits in the West Bank. This is the situation in the Bir Naballah area in the Givat Ze’ev bloc north of Jerusalem, and for the village of Walaja on the outskirts of Gush Etzion, where a barrier that is going to surround the village is in the final stages of construction. This has created an unbearable situation for the residents of those Palestinian villages and neighborhoods. Geographic and demographic Israeli contiguity was achieved through the route of the separation barrier by segmenting and severing the Palestinian urban continuity and turning Palestinian neighborhoods and villages into isolated and separate enclaves.
Palestinian Jerusalem Neighborhoods beyond the Barrier
While the route of the separation barrier marks Greater Jerusalem – a Jerusalem connected to the settlements around it –it also separates Palestinian areas from the city, both in the settlement areas and from Jerusalem itself. The barrier’s path disconnects eight Palestinian neighborhoods from the city, even though they are within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, and their residents are Palestinian Jerusalemites. Four of these neighborhoods are in the Qalandia area in the north of the city and another four are in the area of the Shuafat refugee camp northeast of the city. All eight are within the city's jurisdiction, as drawn by Israel in 1967. An estimated 80,000 Jerusalem Palestinians currently live in those neighborhoods.
Even though the route of the barrier does not officially undermine the status of neighborhoods that are located outside of it as official Jerusalem neighborhoods, their de facto physical separation from the city has led to a near-total halt in municipal services, development of physical and social infrastructures, emergency services and more. Thus, tens of thousands of Jerusalem residents, with the status of permanent residents of Israel, live in no man's lands that are gradually turning into pockets of poverty and neglect, do not receive the most basic services to which every resident is entitled and are required to go through checkpoints every time they wish to enter their own city.
Since Israel constructed the barrier, the residents of the neighborhoods that remain beyond it have been living in constant fear that the authorities want to completely disconnect their neighborhoods from the city and even deny them their residency status, even though their neighborhoods are officially within the area of Jerusalem. That fear increased in light of comments made by Israeli officials such as the mayor of Jerusalem. In the absence of an alternative, the residents of those neighborhoods hang on to the existing reality and the shreds of residency status they have left, because it is the only thing that currently guarantees their connection with Jerusalem, with their families and communities who live in it, with their places of employment and with the services they need.
The impact of the Barrier on East Jerusalem at Large
The routing of the barrier in relation to the municipal boundary of Jerusalem created an artificial blockade between East Jerusalem and its social and economic hinterland. While family, employment and commercial ties connect the Jerusalem area to the region around the city, the municipal border, which does not run along a natural border, has become a concrete wall. Areas such as a-Ram, al-Azariya, Abu Dis and Sawahreh, located around Jerusalem, were the city's economic hinterland, while Jerusalem served for the residents of those towns and villages as a center of employment, services, education, culture and trade. The dissection of Palestinian space caused by the separation barrier was an economic blow for thousands of Palestinians who made a living in Jerusalem and are now cut off from the city, as well as for the businesses and services in Jerusalem that serve the large suburban population from outside the city, including hospitals and centers of culture and education. Furthermore, the cost of living in Jerusalem rose significantly since the barrier was built because of the growing demand to live inside the city. The checkpoints along the barrier are not only for the residents of the West Bank but also for tens of thousands of Jerusalemites, who, for lack of building opportunities in the city due to severe building restrictions Israel imposes on Palestinian neighborhoods, move to the suburbs outside the city. The erection of the barrier severely diminishes their freedoms of movement and worship, and creates a growing dependency of the residents of East Jerusalem on the checkpoints for their livelihood, medical treatment and family ties.
The daily hardship of separation from the city caused tens of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites who had migrated to the suburbs to return back to the city. This process made the already dire situation of East Jerusalem even worse, with the city's Palestinian neighborhoods gradually turning from urban centers into slums.
On the political level, the separation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank undermines the possibility of a political settlement in which East Jerusalem would be the capital of a Palestinian state, because the two-state solution is based on the assumption that East Jerusalem would be connected to the West Bank by a territorial continuum. Routing the separation barrier so that it artificially cuts up the Palestinian space and leaves large populations outside the city to which they were connected 45 years ago by an Israeli decision, reflects the other side of the demographic coin: while the barrier surrounding the settlements serves to increase the ratio of Jews in the Greater Jerusalem, the barrier also extracts neighborhoods from the city with the goal of reducing the portion of Palestinians. The barrier’s demographic rationale therefore outweighs its security rationale. In Jerusalem itself the security reasoning gave way to political reasoning, as evident in significant parts of the barrier where it does not separate Israelis from Palestinians but perpetuates the reality created after 1967, in which the Palestinian and Jewish populations live next to each other according to Jerusalem’s municipal border.
The separation of entire neighborhoods from Jerusalem on the one hand and the dissection of Palestinian neighborhoods and villages on the other, reflect an ongoing policy of establishing borders in a variable and arbitrary manner within Palestinian space. Erecting the barrier within this framework is one more tool for Israel’s "divide and rule" policy, as a result of which Palestinian Jerusalem has been shattered to pieces.
Ultimately, about one decade after the government decided to build the "Jerusalem envelope," it is clear that the separation barrier has deeply affected the character and future of Jerusalem. It is hard to say to what extent the barrier prevents terrorism because the drop in attacks is a result of a multitude of factors, not to mention the "Jerusalem envelope" has not yet been completed in its eastern and northern sections, which remain open to this day. One thing that can be said with certainty is that the separation barrier denies the residents of East Jerusalem a normative life, in particular those who live in Jerusalem’s periphery or in the city’s neighborhoods beyond the barrier. The barrier fatally tears the social-economic fabric of Palestinian Jerusalem, thereby diminishing the security of the whole city and the wellbeing of its residents; it harms our future by establishing borders that make Jerusalem bigger than ever and take it farther from the possibility of a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.