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"This is the first time I've ever been here," said Azzedine Amash during a strenuous climb up the new wall that separates his town, Jisr al-Zarqa, from neighboring Caesarea. "The truth is, I'm afraid to come here alone, that they'll stop me, that they'll ask me questions. I have a feeling that a special permit is needed to come here." Irony and great bitterness mingled in his voice as he spoke.

Amash, 48, has not always felt this way. The first academic from his village, he served for 12 years as head of the Jisr al-Zarqa council on behalf of Meretz. He used to believe, emphatically, in living together, a stance that was expressed politically by his membership in the Zionist partly. Even now, when he is no longer a member of Meretz, there is a picture hanging on the wall of his living room of Meretz MK Ran Cohen. On the opposite wall hangs a picture of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

He was so captivated by this concept, that to this day he finds it difficult to call the separation wall that has been in place for two months now between the poor Arab village and the wealthy Jewish community by the name "racism wall," a term commonly used by the inhabitants of the Arab village. After extensive verbal circumlocutions, he chooses the term "economic racism," and says that it is possible to understand the residents of Caesarea, as the proximity of the northern neighborhoods of Caesarea to the Arab village has decreased the value of the real estate in Caesarea. Every time they looked up, they would see an Arab first thing in the morning. Now they don't see anything any more, except for the new hill, about one kilometer long and about 12 meters high, that was erected at such lightning speed it would arouse the envy of the fans of the separation fence from the Palestinians that is now being erected very slowly.

"They worked day and night, as if a war were about to break out between Caesarea and Jisr al-Zarqa," is the cynical comment of his friend Dr. Raji Ayat, the director of the Kupat Holim Leumit health maintenance organization in Jisr. "They've built themselves a Bar-Lev line."

In the recent local elections in the village, Amash lost to his rival, Murad Amash, an imam in a local mosque, who is identified with the Islamic Movement. Azzedine Amash relates that in all the parlor meetings he held they would taunt him that he is "a Zionist," that he "came out a sucker" and that from all the coexistence he talked about all that resulted was the racist wall.

The separation wall has done bad things for the Arab residents. Jisr, whose 11,000 inhabitants live in terribly crowded conditions, has acquired a reputation for crime and drugs. The image was made even worse when the first Jewish casualty of the current intifada was killed by a stone thrown by a young inhabitant of the village at a car on the main road between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

However, with the inhabitants of Caesarea, they maintained good relations, and Amash proudly lists the names of all his friends there. Once, in days gone by, he dreamed of setting up with them a joint promenade on which he and his neighbor, Ezer Weizman, would take walks. This dream has been replaced by what the people of Caesarea delicately call "an acoustic battery" to prevent thievery and stop noise, with a patrol path along its entire length and young vegetation planted along both sides.

A walk along both sides of the barrier reveals the fragility of the "prevention" argument. The "battery" ends hundreds of meters away from the shore, and even a physically challenged thief would have no trouble crossing from this point into Caesarea. The only obstacle he would encounter along the way are the cement barrels and spools of barbed wire that have been left lying about among the dunes in the wake of a plan to envelop the "battery" with more barbed wire. The inhabitants of Jisr rebelled against this plan, and the idea was dropped.

The inhabitants of Jisr see in this separation evil intent directed at them. In any case, they say, we are stuck like a bone in the throat of the country as the only Arab locale to remain along the shore after all the rest were cleared out in 1948. In the north of the village, which is adjacent to Ma'agan Michael, they are also closed in by a national park (which in Arabic is always translated into a Jewish park), so the feeling has increased that there is a master plan to strangle them until they go somewhere else.

"Not all the problems have been solved, but the situation has very much improved since the battery was erected," says Miri Raveh, an inhabitant of Caesarea. "We felt like a second Gilo here," she says, referring to the Jerusalem neighborhood that suffered from Palestinian gunfire. "The inhabitants of Jisr have a special affection for garden furniture. People had to chain down tables, chairs, bicycles and barbecues so as not to get up in the morning and see that everything has disappeared. But this isn't the whole story. They don't have any halls for holding celebrations and they hold their celebrations outdoors, with fireworks and shooting into the air. Some cartridges fell in Caesarea. I know that in the current situation people love to hate the wealthy, but the wealthy also have a right to protect themselves. I don't have any guilt feelings; we didn't choose to live in a Jewish settlement in the territories."

But the impression is that all of Israel is turning into one big settlement in the territories. The territories are here. The wall between Jisr al-Zarqa and Caesarea is not the only one. "Separation" as a security conception has trickled deep into the Israeli consciousness as a handy civil solution. Alongside the big separation from the Palestinians, in recent years national and class separations have been developing inside the state of Israel itself. Usually these divide Jews from Arabs, majority from minority.

All these walls, fences and ramparts are the physical expression of fear of the "demographic threat" referred to by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at theHerzliya Conference this week. In all these places, the minority says that it feels it is being shut into a ghetto. But on the other side, the majority is running around, declaring its sovereignty in its country, in a maze that it itself is creating and that in fact undermines the consciousness of its sovereignty.

Not even eye contact

This is the way things look where the wall is going up between the distressed Arab neighborhood of Pardess Snir in Lod and the well-to-do moshav Nir Zvi. Visiting Pardess Snir is like watching a movie by Quentin Tarantino. In the neighborhood that is devoured by drugs and lacking in infrastructure, the only direction sign is a large red arrow drawn on some of the houses pointing toward the "automatic teller" into which money goes and drugs come out. In the good old days, 12,000 fixes of drugs were sold here.

The moment we arrived there, a police car sped out onto the narrow, muddy road that encircles the neighborhood. Drug squad police leapt out of it, wearing black undershirts and with their rifles at the ready. A taxi that arrived there, apparently with a potential customer, turned around on the spot and collided with another vehicle. A car that happened to get between them was almost banged into the wall on which swastikas and stars of David are scrawled; to avoid the collision, the car swerved to the other side and ended up on the pile of garbage that is currently the separation fence between Pardess Snir and Nir Zvi.

This is how everyday life looks in this terrible place, which, it seems, no one wants to extricate from its distress. Even the police are perceived by many as wanting to perpetuate the situation for reasons of convenient centralization. They found the handy solution in a wall to separate the Arab neighborhood of 3,000 inhabitants from the Jewish locale that is adjacent to it. Already in place, to the glory of the State of Israel, are about 15 meters of the wall that began to go up before a temporary restraining order was issued to stop the construction work. The order was issued about three weeks ago at the request of inhabitants of Pardess Snir.

"Even in the territories they haven't built a wall like this," grumbles Ahmad Abu Muamar, 17, whose family's home is almost adjacent to the last houses of Nir Zvi and to the intended route of the separation wall. "We aren't animals. We're human beings."

"Never mind if they would have put up an acoustic wall, like they said at first," adds Assad Abu Muamar. "The truth is that in principle I'm not against a wall, because in any case there is total separation. But like this, of concrete? It gives us a feeling that we are under administrative detention. It is true that there are people who steal in Nir Zvi, not necessarily people from our neighborhood. So the police should deal with the thieves instead of shutting us in with a four-meter wall."

At the entrance to his house, a few meters away from the planned wall, Ali Abu Ktifan looks longingly at the sky, as if separating from it forever. "If they put up a wall that is four meters high next to my house, which is only two meters high, I won't see the sun any more. It is as if my house would disappear, not exist, and with it I too disappear."

Until such time as there is an additional discussion at the district planning and construction commission, the dividing line between Pardess Snir and the pretty houses of Nir Zvi is a heap of garbage and muddy earth. At one point, a board laid across the mud serves as a bridge. Anyone who crosses it feels like an infiltrator.

Next to one of the last houses in Nir Zvi, about 15 meters from Pardess Snir, the following sign hangs on a tall post: "Dear Taxi Driver/Citizen! You are in a place where the sale of drugs is carried out. In order to avoid arrest, interrogation and unpleasantness - leave this place!!!" The three exclamation points appear on the original, which is signed: "Resh-best-bet-girshayyim-shin" (Coordinator of local security) Nir Zvi."

This strange sign provokes a sense of discomfort. Usually signs of this sort are there to warn of proximity to the border, or dangerous proximity to a minefield. Here they warn against crossing a class and national border that separates the two locales. "If they really suffer so much from theft and sabotage to their agricultural land - and they do suffer - let them fence themselves in, and not us," challenges Bakr Abu Muamar. "But they sometimes say straight out that they don't even want eye contact with us."

Aref Muharab, 44, a construction engineer, is a resident of the neighborhood who since the last elections has served as a member of the Lod city council. He has the reputation as a leader for many years in the fight against demolishing houses and the wars to formulate a master plan for the neighborhood. Now the implementation of the master plan depends on the erection of the separation wall, which last year became a government decision.

"This wall has long been the dream of the inhabitants of Nir Zvi," he says. "They used to call it an `acoustic wall'; since we proved how baseless the acoustic argument was, they've been talking outright about a wall that separates the populations, instead of bringing them closer. I can live very well without seeing the inhabitants of Nir Zvi; I'm indifferent to them. But it bothers me quite a lot that the wall has become a government decision. This is no longer a quarrel between neighbors - it's policy."

Citizens as an environmental hazard

Omar Mughdad is a concrete victim of this policy of separation. About 10 years ago, they began to build the wall in Ramle that separates the Arab Juarish neighborhood, where he lives, from the Jewish Ganei Dan neighborhood. During its construction his 4-year-old son fell into a pit full of water that was dug for purposes of erecting the wall and drowned. Now many of the companies involved in building the wall are arguing over who bears the responsibility for the NIS 100,000 that a court ruled must be paid to the Mughdad family for the loss of the child.

This was not the only tragedy in the life of the family, in which there are 12 children. About a year ago, two houses that the family built in its compound for the two eldest sons who wanted to marry were demolished. One day dozens of police from a special unit, horses and bulldozers showed up and razed the completed houses to the ground. "They brought more forces than the ones that caught Saddam Hussein," scoffs Mughdad. To his lawyer they explained that "the house interfered with Ganei Dan." To this day they are keeping the piles of rubble from the demolished houses in their yard, like a memorial.

The separation wall, dozens of meters long and four meters high, did not really help in judaizing the neighborhood on the other side. Despite it, some of the Jewish neighbors were deterred by the proximity to the problematic Arab neighborhood and left. They were replaced by Arab tenants. "They put themselves behind the fence, not me," says the father of the Mughdad family. "I was here before them. So who is behind the fence? Not I, but those who built it."

Khader, who has not gotten married since his intended home was demolished, says that the wall only increases hatred. "When everything is open, people see each other and visit each other. But when there's a wall, they are only more frightened."

"I was born in a mixed neighborhood," says Buteina Dabit, a young architect who is a resident of Ramle and who coordinates the mixed cities project of the Shatil association. "Since then, only the option of separation has been given strength," she says. "They separate with walls, with roads or through master plans. They relate to Arab citizens as if they were an environmental hazard that has to be sealed off so it will not spread."

The conversation with her takes place in a restaurant in Ramle belonging to members of her family. To this day they proudly display there an old letter, preserved in a frame, that the grandmother, Loris Salim-Rabia, received: "The government of Israel is sending you a check for the sum of 100 lira as a sign of appreciation and encouragement to the nation of Israel for having given birth to and raised 10 children." The letter is signed by the prime minister of Israel, Moshe Sharett. On the background of the demographic threat that is raging, the letter, from the early days of the state, seems like a different reality.

Now they are planning another wall around Juarish. No sooner had there been a bit of rehabilitation, flourishing and development of the neighborhood, which was known primarily due to the members of the Karaji tribe who were moved out of there, then a new blow fell on it.

This week, next to the fence that separates Juarish from Moshav Yashrash, sat six young men, the new generation of Juarish. Out of fear, they refused to give their names. In the near future the temporary fence is expected to become a separation wall six meters high, and an access road to the Trans-Israel Highway will cut them off from another direction.

"They try to trick us into believing that they're putting up an acoustic wall, but in fact it's a separation wall between Jews and Arabs. A genuine border," says one of them. Then they debate briefly among themselves on the issue of whether the wall will fan hatred or only resentment. "Now, Jewish visitors are still coming to see us; when there is a fence, they will be afraid," said another. "It's always that way. When there's a wall, you wonder what's behind it. Maybe there are aliens from outer space there?"

The walls are no longer transparent

"The transparent walls in Israeli society are now getting physical embodiments," says Dr. Haim Yaacobi, an architecture and town-planner at the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and an activist in the association Bamakom - Planners for Planning Rights.

Recently the association has been very much engaged with the issue of separation inside Israel and is preparing a position paper on "Fences, Walls and Social Justice." Their working assumption is that during the recent period the surface of Israel is changing as fences and walls are going up in various areas. The phenomenon, the major manifestation of which is the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank, is trickling inwards.

"The social and spatial logic in Israel is a logic of separation," says Yaacobi. According to him, in the planning field there has been a manipulation - through planning, the state is imposing the ideology and interests of people in power. "The separation between Pardess Snir and Nir Zvi is not wanted by the Arab inhabitants but by the Jewish inhabitants," he offers as an example. However, Yaacobi holds that there is no scope for complaints against the inhabitants of Nir Zvi or the inhabitants of Caesarea, but rather against the state that is organizing the lives of its citizens.

According to Yaacobi and his colleagues, the victims of the separation are not only the Arabs and the poor, but also the Jews and the wealthy, from whom solidarity among the groups is also prevented in a way that leaves the arena to a policy of divide and rule.

"These walls are a cry for help in healing the social problems, with the big separation fence that has given legitimization to fencing as a solution," argues Yaacobi. "In Belfast they built `peace lines' to prevent friction between the populations, but it is precisely those places that have become clear focal points of violence."