Israeli construction crews hoisted 26-foot-high concrete slabs into the middle of a main road in this Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem on Monday, cutting off thousands of Palestinians from the city they consider their home.
The impenetrable wall is part of a series of barriers Israel is building around much of the West Bank with the stated aim of keeping out Palestinian suicide bombers.
Palestinians see it as an effort to take land they claim for a future state. Along its path, the barrier has cut Palestinians off from their fields and schools, their hospitals and businesses.
Parts of the wall have been put up elsewhere around east Jerusalem — which Israel seized in 1967 along with the West Bank — but the sections put up in Abu Dis were the most intrusive yet, signaling that Israel’s encirclement of the city is becoming more permanent.
There had already been a 6-foot-high divider that slowed but did not stop the flow of people and goods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Residents have been able to crawl over that barrier or pass goods over it.
But the new construction replaces that with a stark, impenetrable wall, more than four times as high, running down the center of Shayah St.
Work began Saturday night and continued Monday morning. Earth movers ripped down the old barrier, which was covered with graffiti declaring: “The wall is wrong,” and “Apartheid wall.” Bulldozers dug out a long pit that cranes filled in with the slabs of the new wall.
The barrier in Abu Dis also has symbolic significance. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia lives in the suburb, and the building set aside for the future Palestinian parliament is located there.
In past peace negotiations, Abu Dis was proposed as the center of a possible compromise capital for a Palestinian state, with some neighborhoods of east Jerusalem tacked on — though the idea seems to have been dropped since.
The Palestinians seek a capital in Jerusalem for a future state. Tens of thousands of Palestinians live in the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem that will lie on the “Israel side” of the wall’s planned path, along with Jewish neighborhoods built there since 1967.
The Abu Dis construction confused and angered residents, many of whom consider themselves Jerusalemites, carry the blue identification card of Jerusalem residents and say they pay Jerusalem city taxes.
“This is Jerusalem. Why are they putting the wall here,” said Yazid Abu Hliel, 31, who lives on the West Bank side of the new barrier.
Abu Hliel worries that his four children will not be able to cross to get to school and he won’t be able to reach his job as a floor polisher.
“They are putting us into prisons,” he said.
Palestinian leaders have reacted with anger to the building of the barrier, a line of walls, trenches, fences and razor wire that snakes through parts of West Bank land that Palestinians claim for a future state.
“At a time when we’re trying to make peace, the Israeli government continues with the wall, settlement activity, stifling ... closures, in a line of fait accomplis that destroy the essence of peace in the region,” Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.