Jerusalem Digs Ditch to Separate Jewish, Palestinian Neighborhoods

Ditch necessary to deter violence and crime, Jewish residents and city officials say; Critics maintain separation will only further alienation and neglect.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem municipality dug a separation ditch this week between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem as a security measure after repeated complaints of violence against Jewish residents. Neighbors and city officials say physical separation between the French Hill neighborhood and the Palestinian village of Isawiyah in East Jerusalem is an appropriate deterrent against crime and terror attacks. Isawiyah residents and critics in city hall say, however, that the ditch only serves to stoke animosity and perpetuate neglect of the village.

Personal safety in the French Hill neighborhood has in recent weeks become a central issue in the race for Jerusalem municipal office. A number of parties have criticized the municipality and Mayor Nir Barkat, for failing to provide residents protection from acts of terrorism such as firebombing and criminally motivated burglaries and car theft, believed to originate in adjacent Isawiyah. Female students living in the neighborhood have also complained of sexual harassment by Palestinians.

We have a real problem. There is no physical separation and the level of hostility is very high, said Avner Blankstein, a member of the board of the French Hill Community Council.

City officials have coordinated with police to implement several security measures such as new security cameras and increased street lighting. The city has also allocated a budget to set up a neighborhood patrol.

This week the city stepped up efforts further. Jerusalem City Manager Yossi Hyman had proposed deepening an existing ditch between Nahagei HaPradot Street and Isawiyah. In recent days the ditch was dug. It stretches for a few hundred meters, and the earth removed has been used to build a an embankment besides the ditch. The goal of the ditch is to block entrance for off-road vehicles and cars from the village to the neighborhood, Blankstein said.

In the past, French Hill residents proposed building a fence between the neighborhoods, and one resident even built a private fence that was then dismantled by the authorities. "We realize that building a fence is a decision even the prime minister can't make, that's at the level of the Americans, a resident said. It's true that a ditch won't stop a 17-year-old, but it does create an obstacle. It also won't stop a resident of the village coming to the post office. We've given a lot of thought to the ethical aspect of the ditch and to neighborly relations and we're also worried about the neighborhood's image, but there seems to be a real, objective problem."

The gesture of building a ditch and not a fence might have been lost on the Palestinians neighbors.

"This proves that there is great hatred for Isawiyah in French Hill," said Darwish Darwish, the mukhtar of Isawiyah village. "Isawiyah was here before French Hill, and the neighborhood was built on village land. In the past, the residents were friendly, but today they've changed and they're no longer interested in maintaining good relations with their neighbors."

Deputy Mayor Yosef (Pepe) Alalu, Chairman of the Meretz faction who is running for mayor, has blasted the city over the separation ditch.

"An embankment and ditch cannot solve safety problems; Just the opposite, he said. The village residents feel insulted time and time again and they ask themselves if after the mound of dirt there will be a separation fence, and another separation fence. The embankment only invited more violence. It's too bad the tractor, instead of digging a ditch, didn't enter the village and carry out trash and provide debris hauling removal jobs that the residents have been demanding from the municipality for a long time."

The Jerusalem Municipality stated in response: "As part of the security committee set up in the community council, it was decided to perform a number of operations by the municipality to increase security and assist the police in reducing the number of violent incidents in the neighborhood. The mayor has already visited the neighborhood personally to investigate this matter, and together with police officials has met with representatives of the community council a number of times, including in recent weeks. In recent months, the municipality has allocated many resources to the neighborhood, including installing cameras, increasing security lighting, improving security systems in the neighborhood's schools, providing a budget for a parents' patrol team, and preventive patrols in the neighborhood. In addition to these actions, the city management, headed by the mayor and the city manager, have acted in collaboration with the police to improve the sense of security and provide a fitting response to violent incidents in the neighborhood. The majority of actions the municipality has committed itself to have already been carried out, and the rest will be carried out according to the schedule prepared at the joint meeting. It should be noted that there is a decrease in the number of incidents and an improvement in security, as a result of the work of the police and the municipality."

Scorched earth with Isawiyah in the background.Credit: Yuval Ben-Ami

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