The report that follows took me back to something that happened almost 30 years ago;
I was a new immigrant to Israel and had to go to special classes to learn Hebrew. The students were divided into study groups of four to work together on special assignments. In my group, there was a young Palestinian man named Osama. We became close friends which continues until today.
Our group took turns at working together in each other’s homes. There was some reluctance on the part of the others to go to Osama’s home despite his willingness for us to go there. He constantly referred to his village as “his country”. His home was in Beit Safafa, the village described below.
Finally, the entire group agreed to visit ‘his country’. It was an eye opener for all of us. Here we were in an Arab village in the heart of Jerusalem, yet we were in a different country, a country called Palestine. We were welcomed into Osama’s home by his loving family and treated with the most delicious Palestinian dishes reserved only for special holidays.
When I read the following report I wept for Osama’s family and neighbours. It brought to light the need for a Palestinian State which would put an end to the occupation and devastation of ‘THEIR country’.
Beit Safafa to be sliced by settler only highway
By Anna Germaine
“No, no Route 4!” a young Palestinian boy yelled out in Arabic.
His cries are directed towards the white washed Jerusalem stone walls and heavily tinted windows of the Jerusalem Municipality. He is speaking about Route 4, a controversial, illegal settler-only road that upon construction will slice directly through the predominantly Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, dividing the community in half.
Wednesday’s protest at the Jerusalem Municipality has legally bypassed the typical procedures that require public inclusion on the plan, making it impossible for Beit Safafa’s many affected residents to formally object to the plan. So in addition to protesting in Beit Safafa, demonstrators also gather weekly in front of the municipality, voicing their opposition in alternating Hebrew and Arabic in one last effort to be informally, if not formally heard.
Around 150 people gathered in front of the Municipality on Wednesday afternoon—the crowd is a mixture of both Palestinians front Beit Safafa and Israeli activists from Jerusalem. The Palestinian boy, Farook Salman, a young resident of Beit Safafa is at the very front, holding a sign that is taller than him.
Although he is yelling in Arabic, the sign is in Hebrew, with a graphic that traverses the language barrier of a photograph of the pastoral landscape of Beit Safafa being sliced with a pair of scissors.
“We want them to listen to us, so we write our signs in their language,” he tells me.
Beit Safafa is a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, just south of the area commonly known as “West Jerusalem.” However, its relationship to Israel and Jerusalem has been tense since the beginning of the occupation. In 1949, Beit Safafa was divided by the Green Line, putting the northern two thirds under Israeli control and the southern third in the Jordanian-controlled occupied West Bank. In 1967, Israel annexed the southern two thirds and united them as part of Jerusalem, giving all residents the blue Jerusalem ID cards.
Now Beit Safafa is home to just under 10,000 Palestinians—some who are originally from Beit Safafa, and many others who re-settled after leaving Jaffa, Nazareth, Haifa and other cities inside of the ’48 territories.
However, the Jerusalem municipality does not treat the predominantly Arab town of Beit Safafa as equal residents of Jerusalem. While a city park is being planned for the south of Jerusalem in Beit Safafa (after a long battle by the residents for a green space in this part of the city) the logical geographic continuation of the park is being eschewed for the highway. While the other two neighborhoods of the German colony and Katamon are predominantly Jewish, Beit Safafa is largely Palestinian.
If built, Route 4 will separate Beit Safafa’s residents from the mosque, bakeries, hospitals and schools that are part of their daily lives. In order to cross the highway, Palestinian residents will be forced to use overpasses, underpasses and long roads to get from one side to the other—turning what was once a simple journey into an extensive ordeal.
The width of the road planned will be 33 meters wide at its smallest and 78 meters at its largest—meaning that at points, it could have as many as 10 or 11 lanes. Even with the alternate routes, underpasses and overpasses that are being implemented to justify the highway, the amount of land taken by the highway alone is devastating.
“It will make it very hard to get to school,” Saga, a Palestinian student said. “I am sure there will be a way, but it will be much more difficult than it is now.”
For some residents, although the highway has not been completed—and theoretically there is still time to halt its construction—the effects of the highway on their daily lives are already beginning.
“The highway will go behind my house,” Farook, tells me while adjusting his sign. “It’s where I normally play football with my friends, but a few days ago a soldier with a gun told us we couldn’t be on that land anymore, so we had to stop.”
Route 4 for Israeli residents
In the same way that this highway slices through the daily life of its Palestinian residents, it facilitates life for Jerusalem’s Jewish—and surrounding Jewish settlements—population. If the road is completed, it will connect the Gush Etzion settlement cluster south of the city to the Givat Ze’ev cluster in the north. Ultimately, it would link Tunnel Road—which connects Gush Etzion to Jerusalem—to Route 443, which connects several settler roads to Tel Aviv, facilitating easy access between settlers, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, further fulfilling a vision of a “Greater Jerusalem”—a vision of the city as the undisputed “Jews-only” capital of Israel.
In many ways, Route 4 echoes the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR) which, through connecting Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem with Central Jerusalem, condoned Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and uprooted and displaced many Palestinian families in the process. Once the train was finished, Israeli Jews living in settlements surrounding Jerusalem had an easy route into the city while—though it was ultimately decided that Palestinians could also use the train—it divided and uprooted Palestinian communities, and served as a permanent symbol of the occupation.
“I’m against building the road in the middle of Beit Safafa,” Maya, an Israeli resident of Jerusalem who prefers not to give her last name tells me.
“Although in some ways I think Beit Safafa should be on its own, as part of the Palestinian Authority, then it would be even further under occupation which wouldn’t be good.”
“But with this street it is not hard to figure out who is right and who is wrong,” she finishes. “It’s obvious.”