Gilo barrier
A section of the concrete barrier separaing Gilo from Bait Jalla Photo by Alex Livak
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Work began east of Jerusalem Monday morning to remove one of the city's enduring symbols of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a two-meter-high concrete barrier built to separate the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo from the Arab district of Beit Jalla.

The army's home front command began the demolition at the request of Jerusalem's municipality, after security checks suggested that the wall, designed to protect Gilo residents from sniper fire, was no longer needed.

Gilo, which is beyond the Green Line but which Israel considers part of Jerusalem,  was sealed off from Beit Jalla eight years ago, when the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, saw violence flare across the West Bank.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces launch Operation Defensive Shield, the largest military deployment in the Palestinian territories since 1967.

"The wall was built at the time of Defensive Shield and right now we don't see a problem in getting rid of it," said Lt. Col. Hezi Ravivo, a military engineer in charge of the demolition.

During the two years between the start of the intifada in 2000 and the construction of the wall two years later, Gilo was hit regular sniper and machine gun fire, with one attack seriously wounding a Border Guard.

Today Gilo is quieter. "I don't expect the gunfire to resume," Ravivo said.

"If the need arises we can put it up again," he said, adding that in the current security climate, it would even be safe for Israeli tour guides and groups to enter Bethlehem, a major Palestinian city that lies just south of Jerusalem.

But the demolition has angered local residents, who say the army has left them exposed.

"It gave us a certain feeling of security," said Aviva Klein, who lives nearby. "I didn't feel the wall was shutting me in – I felt safe."

The army said in a statement: "The IDF will continue to protect the citizens of the State of Israel continuing to assess the changing security climate."