No writing on the wall
Israel Antiquities Authority supervisor Yonatan Mizrahi recounts how one day he arrived in the Abu Dis area, where the separation fence blocks the old Jerusalem-Jericho road. Mizrahi found the Palestinian construction workers who are building the fence spraying a white liquid on it. After inquiring, he learned it was a graffiti repellent spray apparently developed in satellite labs in the United States. Mizrahi was shocked: is the State of Israel going to spend money spraying graffiti repellent for use in outer space on the giant concrete wall? Is the graffiti a security threat? One of the guards there explained the operation to him: "We won't let them write incendiary remarks against us on the walls. The foreign press, after all, will have a field day with the graffiti, and you should know that Jews will probably also come to write on it, just to add fuel to the fire. These leftists will give the terrorists some ideas yet."
This episode is included in a collection of stories gathered by Mizrahi into the book, "People of the Wall" (Pardes Publishing). The book describes the two-years from 2003-2005, when Mizrahi was the Antiquities Authority supervisor of the route of the separation fence around eastern Jerusalem. During this period, it was his job to ascertain that the infrastructure work for the fence did not damage antiquities sites.
The very thought that someone in the Israeli defense establishment conceived of the idea of coating the fence with graffiti-repellent spray meshes very well with the dreamy images of the fences, walls and gates around the city. Abu Ali al-Akramawi, the owner of a grocery store that abuts the wall on the road in Abu Dis, recalls that over a year ago, experts came and sprayed the white liquid on the fence. When he asked them about it, they told him it was a color repellent. "Very good," he told them, "give me a some of this liquid, because my little kids scribble on the walls at home and it drives my wife crazy." But the experts refused. Afterward, Akramawi found out that it was a trial. In the end, the liquid was not sprayed on the entire length of the fence.
Akramawi points to a section of the fence opposite his store, which has been sprayed with the white liquid from the space labs and on which a few slogans have been drawn. He says that if you pour a bit of water on the slogans, they are erased. In other words, the trial was successful, but for some reason the Israeli defense establishment did not continue the operation.
In the meantime, the fence has become a canvas featuring dozens if not hundreds of drawings and slogans, along many kilometers. The phenomenon predominates on the Palestinian side of the fence, where there is almost no Israeli presence and everyone can draw freely. The slogans are in three languages: English, which is used by Palestinians who want to appeal to international public opinion via the cameras of foreign television stations; Arabic, which is used for slogans of the various Palestinian organizations; and Hebrew, which is used mostly by Border Policemen to praise their units. The most common slogan in all three languages is: "The wall will fall."
The Defense Ministry said in response that, "esthetic considerations were behind the effort to cover sections of the fence in Jerusalem [with graffiti repellent]. A large number of options were looked into, including using inlaid stones of different colors, painting sections of the fence freehand or based on a given idea, with the paint also being graffiti-repellent. Unfortunately, the trial section of inlaid stones, which was very successful as far as esthetics were concerned, was set alight by the Palestinians. Since then the request to make the fence durable has also been included. The various trials did not cost anything because those proposing the ideas made the investment. It was decided to postpone the choice on how to do this, and not to do the actual work until the completion of all sections of the wall."
Akramawi's father, who had to leave Ein Karem in 1948, bought the grocery store run by his son almost 50 years ago. The grocery catered to travelers on the Jerusalem-Jericho road up until 2004, when the building of the fence that blocks the road and passes among the houses of Abu Dis and the Al-Shyah neighborhood on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives commenced. According to the younger Akramawi, since the fence was built here, tourists and media crews from all over the world come to visit. He declined the offer to build a sort of museum and guidance center for visitors to the fence, because he feels everyone already got used to the fence and there will be no livelihood earned from it.
Archaeologist Mizrahi writes in his book that the Jerusalem-Jericho road has a history dating back thousands of years, but no ruler thought that closing it would strengthen his hold on the area or contribute to improved security. The most famous man to pass through here was Jesus, who went up to Jerusalem from Jericho and, according to the gospel, while on the way, told of the kindness of the Good Samaritan at Khan al-Ahmed, east of Ma'aleh Adumim. From there, Jesus continued on to the home of a poor woman, where he revived Elazar (Lazarus), after whom the adjacent Arab town of Al-Azariya was probably named. The milestones of Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem are marked by a series of monasteries and churches near the route of the separation fence adjacent to Abu Dis. Local Arabs claim that the heads of the monasteries concluded secret agreements with the Israeli defense ministry to permit the passage of their people.
There is also a special arrangement, incidentally, for the owner of the small hotel in Abu Dis whose courtyard is bisected by the fence. Because there is no other alternative, he has apparently rented out the hotel to the local headquarters of the Border Police. On the east side of the hotel is the large, unfinished structure that was to have been the Palestinian parliament as well as buildings that are part of Al-Quds University.
From the Abu Dis road south, a security road of around 10 kilometers is under construction and it will lead to the Arab neighborhood of Sawahra and the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, on the way to Beit Sahur. However, a Border Police roadblock permits passage on this road only to people from the Ateret Kohanim organization, who have settled in one house on the slope of the hill. Once, it was an Arab house that stood on the edge of a plot of land purchased years ago by Jews and an eight-meter high fence was supposed to pass through the courtyard. The Arab owner of the house, so it is told, faced a choice: Raze the house or sell it to Jews who would somehow manage to deal with the fence. And indeed, after the house was sold to Jews, the route of the fence was moved to the east and did not pass through it. This is not an unusual occurrence in the stories revolving around the separation fence. A thick pamphlet published by B'Tselem depicts cases where the route of the fence was drawn not based on security needs, but to cater to the expansion of settlements.
Along the dozens of kilometers of the fence's winding route around Jerusalem, you can hear different stories and complications. The fence passes through yards and houses, blocks access roads, creates fortified enclaves, damages vital services, separates families and destroys economic and social infrastructure. Construction of two terminals - at Qalandiyah in the north and next to Rachel's Tomb in the south - has been completed. The Palestinians pass through electronic gates and do not come into direct contact with a single Israeli soldier. They are subject to full supervision from concealed and open cameras and hear instructions issued through powerful loudspeakers. Another 12 terminals, from Betar in the south to Bitunia in the north operate as regular checkpoints and construction work is underway at some of them. Along some sections of the fence route, work has been delayed due to some 50 petitions against the fence submitted to the High Court of Justice or due to other diplomatic reasons. For example, construction of the eastern section of the wall has been delayed because of a disagreement over the inclusion of Ma'aleh Adumim inside the route.
But even when the work is completed, it is not clear how this system will be able to function and separate Palestinians in Jerusalem from Palestinians in the West Bank. None of them are Israeli citizens and it is unclear what means there are to separate them. There is hardly a visitor to the fence around Jerusalem who is not amazed by one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the State of Israel, and which seems like madness. Archaeologist Mizrahi claims in the book that, indeed, the Palestinians are physically affected by the fence, but Israel, which is closing itself off from the area in a Crusader-type ghetto, is even more affected.