The first phase of the wall is being built in the northern West Bank.
al-Fahm, Israel: Walling Themselves Out
My trip begins where the Seam Line Project is under construction
-- outside the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm in Israel, near the
Palestinian West Bank town of Anin. Once, all this was contiguous
territory in British-controlled Palestine. After 1948, the westerly
Umm al-Fahm became part of Israel, and the surrounding areas
to the east, part of Jordan. Here, in the early stages of construction,
the new barrier is a modest pack of concrete and steel girders
bisecting an empty few lanes of cleared, rocky, chalky road.
the fence outside Umm al-Fahm, as at so many frontier areas
around Israel, the air tastes of dust: late-summer desert under
construction. Most of the 40 workers toiling in the dry, dull
heat are West Bank residents; very few have permits to enter
Israel. No problem, they joke -- if the border police show up,
they can hop across the half-constructed wall to the West Bank.
The barrier they are building will, when finished, separate
them from their jobs. Worker Adnan Auib shrugs. "You have to
make a living," he says.
"It won't work," says Arya Kolzski, the project manager for Ramgil,
the Israeli contractor in charge of the 10 miles of fencing here.
"You close one hole, you open another hole." In the late 1940s
and early 1950s, Israel guarded its borders to keep thousands
of Palestinian refugees, some armed and fighting, from "infiltrating"
to return to their homes. Now each day at 7 a.m., Kolzski says,
he sees the grandchildren of those refugees crossing the hills
into Israel to look for work. "The border guards come, but the
people hide behind trees. You cannot keep enough soldiers here
to stop them. They run -- with luggage, children, bombs."
Men in Bartaa show their different
ID cards. Palestinian residents of the village have orange
IDs and Israeli Arab residents have blue ones.
Kolzski feels sorry that his wall will someday wall out his
workers. "It's not a good feeling. We want peace, not a wall.
We want to be together. They want to live, to work for food.
I understand that."
Israeli Arabs: Caught Between the Lines
Jameela Jabereen, the sister of my friend Yousef, has offered
to show me around her part of the Seam Line Project near Umm
al-Fahm. Jameela is a member of Israel's 20 percent minority
of Arabs, Palestinians who were assigned Israeli citizenship
because in 1948 their land became part of the state of Israel
and they remained.
Jameela, a lawyer, is used to talking her way out of trouble
in Hebrew with the soldiers who frequently stop Arab Israelis
to check their identification. Yet, married and the mother of
two girls, she's nervous about approaching the wall to the West
Bank -- five minutes from her house, but an alien place. "It
could be dangerous," she says. She isn't happy when Israeli
soldiers outside Umm al-Fahm interrogate her and record her
details. She is nervous at a Seam Line Israeli military base,
where passing armored personnel carriers exhale a soot-black
exhaust and soldiers reach for their M-16s first and talk second.
She knows that the wall area has itself been the object of attacks:
A Palestinian blew himself up near the construction site at
Salem, and Palestinian gunmen opened fire on border policemen
guarding construction near Megiddo Junction.
Jameela Jabareen, an Arab Israeli lawyer
with two daughters.
Minutes away from this front line, Jameela shuffles the paperwork
of separation as she argues cases of Palestinians with identity
card problems. Often her work takes her to the border of the
strange city of Bartaa, a few miles outside Umm al-Fahm, where
the new Seam Line barrier will soon encircle people's lives
Watch a West Bank boy crossing the
gully -- the border between the Israeli and Palestinian
sides of Bartaa.
Almost all residents of Bartaa, population about 6,000, belong
to the same clan, and most everyone has the same last name --
Kabha. But during the war in 1948, Jewish forces only claimed
half the town for Israel, leaving the rest under the jurisdiction
of Jordan. I've heard tales of weddings and funerals in split
villages conducted through a megaphone so both sides of the
family could attend. But in Bartaa, the banks of the gully --
the unmarked border between the West Bank and Israel -- are
so close that a megaphone was never necessary. People on either
side of the border just talked, though soldier patrols kept
them from crossing. These days, Israeli soldiers mount checkpoints
outside the Israeli side of the village to check identification
cards. Through marriage, brothers and sisters from the same
family are liable to have different cards; only the Israeli
siblings are allowed to exit west into Israel.
As the Seam Line Project snakes through this area, it will
be built not along the former border, but outside both halves
of Bartaa, enclosing the entire town. Some 3,200 Palestinian
residents will be caught between a new barrier separating them
from the West Bank and an Israel they are not allowed to enter
because they are still considered West Bank residents.
The road where the fence will be built
outside Umm al Fahm.
The Israeli government promises to create exit systems for
people to reach their farmlands in the West Bank, but few details
have been released. Farmers granted such access will have to
cross a 55-yard-wide militarized area to tend their crops. Jameela,
her husband and daughters, and I eat lamb and chicken kabob
in a restaurant at the entry to Umm al-Fahm. Jameela tells the
story of an 18-year-old boy from Umm al-Fahm who phoned police
to report his suspicions of a man sitting next to him at a bus
stop whom he feared might be carrying a bomb. The man detonated
the bomb and injured the boy. Police initially assumed the injured
Arab youth was the bomber's accomplice and tied his legs to
the rails on his hospital bed for five days before they decided
that he was not a terrorist, but a hero. Jameela's daughters
fall asleep and don't hear the sadness and bitterness in their
mother's voice as she talks of other piguim, the Hebrew
word for suicide bomb attacks. Arin leans into her father, Marcel
slides down, across the next chair, her mouth open against the
hard seat. Over their heads, the parents talk about the girls'
citizenship and nation, not knowing who their children will