Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walling out Abu Dis

Within a mile and a half of the Old City of Jerusalem along what was historically the main road to Jerusalem from the east is the community of Abu Dis. In biblical times Abu Dis and the nearby town of Al Eizariya were know as Bethany. It is noted as the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. You can still visit what is supposed to be the tomb of Lazarus. As is the case with every other religiously significant site in the area there is a church there. Tourists do visit as evidenced by the four large tour buses that were there when I walked by. As you walk down the main street heading toward Jerusalem, a short stroll down the hill, you come to what seems surreal. As you come around a bend you see an imposing 25 foot high wall closing off the road right in front of you and going off into the distance for as far as you can see in both directions. The community of Abu Dis is east of Jerusalem well into the West Bank, and several miles from Israel. The wall in front of us is one part of a vast land grab that the State of Israel has undertaken in recent years in the name of security. The real reason is immediately clear as you walk along the length of the wall. It is clearly designed to grab as much land as possible, establishing a new border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It snakes around to make sure the most land with the least amount of Palestinians living on it is on the Israeli side. In every case the wall is built immediately adjacent to people’s houses and their yards, olive groves, and open land have been included on the Israeli side of the wall.
One of our guides Abed has lived in Abu Dis his whole life. Almost everyone in Abu Dis works in Jerusalem, or did, before the wall and the need for a special permit to go to Jerusalem for any purpose. When he was a boy they simply walked the mile and a half to the markets in the Old City or to visit family and friends. Now they need a special permit that is rarely received, and even if they get one, they need to reapply every 6 months.
On another tour from the other side with B’SELEM, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (, a short distance from where the road is closed, we were showed one story of a family who ended up on different sides of the wall while their houses are next to each other. Even though part of the family, and about eight other houses ended up on the Jerusalem side of the wall they are not allowed to go to Jerusalem. They must go through a special gate manned by the Israeli Army, go East to Abu Dis and then like, everyone else in Abu Dis travel further East on the 417 to highway 1 and then to the North of Jerusalem near Hebrew University and then back South to within 2 miles of their home. This is a trip of about 20 miles which you can only make if you have the proper permit to show to the Army at the Zaytem checkpoint. They are not even allowed to go to a grocery store across the street from their homes. Just last week one of the family members needed some bread and did not want to walk all the way to Abu Dis going through their special checkpoint. He was stopped in the shop by the Army, given a large fine and told that if was caught again he would be put in jail. They are only allowed to walk on a dirt path immediately adjacent to the wall to the checkpoint and nowhere else.
The tour busses must also make this trip which is why fewer and fewer bother to do it. They do not want to expose the tourists to the unpleasantness of the military checkpoints where everyone has an M16 and looks ready to use it. The same is true of Bethlehem. In spite of this obvious oppression it is clear that the Palestinians are not leaving. Even this wall, much to the dismay of the Israeli government, will not force the Palestinians out of their homeland. Abed says that this is his home and he has no intention to leave. He will continue his non-violent pursuit of justice even if it takes a lifetime.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?