For Residents of Ras Hamis, the Separation Obstacle' Moves Ever Closer

At best, the eight-meter-high wall, part of the separation fence going up north of Shoafat on Jerusalem's northern flank, will only block the windows of Mohsein a-Natshe's house. At best, it will only block the view of the wadi and the grove, and block access to the yard for the children who now play there. Barbed wire will be placed on top of the fence, a-Natshe learned from those in charge of the "separation obstacle," which comes closer every day. He hears automatic weapons will also be placed on top. "If my son sticks his head out the window, he's gone," a-Natshe said.

But the bulldozers, which two weeks ago started to shake up the life of a-Natshe, his family and his neighbors on this ridge, might also force them to leave their homes. It's no secret - the houses of the neighborhood known as Ras Hamis, on a ridge that stretches the length of the Shoafat refugee camp, were mostly built on private lands without permits from the city because of the limitations put on construction by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. A few houses were destroyed over the years, and a few have demolition orders outstanding.

However, a house that stands for five years without a demolition order being issued against it becomes subject to the statute of limitations. Ayala Ronal, an architect advising residents who were forced to build their homes without municipal permits, said that separation fence administration head Danny Tirza specifically promised her that no house in Jerusalem - with or without a permit - would be destroyed because of the barrier.

But this promise does not reassure a-Natshe, who has lived since 1966 in this house, which he built on land he bought with his savings. The route of the fence was marked with red paint two weeks ago on the northern wall of his house and on a rock near the southern wall. The imaginary line from the rock to the wall runs right through the house. A-Natshe also said he heard that in a year's time, construction within 50 meters of the fence will be prohibited. Does this mean their homes will be destroyed, or that the construction of new houses will be prohibited? That is an unknown at this time, because, as A-Natshe has it from the man in charge, "every day they change their minds."

A-Natshe can see this for himself: The red mark keeps changing, moving up the ridge, toward the area between the houses. A wadi divides Ras Hamis from the houses on the outer reaches of Pisgat Ze'ev, on the opposite ridge. There is a grove on the slope. Why, a-Natshe asked, if they insist on building a wall here, don't they build it on the other side, below the grove, at some distance from our houses? Why don't they leave our children a little room to play? Why do they need to build the wall in a way that blocks our air and light and the view of the wadi?

The bulldozers arrived on June 27. Since then, they have been digging, sometimes as many as five at a time. A sewage pipe broke during excavation, and a pool of waste water collected in the wadi, drawing legions of flies. On Sunday, the sewage was covered with earth, but it continues to trickle into the wadi. A few Border Police with their vehicles stand guard over the work, along with civilian guards and the man in charge of the fence construction. A Border Policeman is carefully photographing the house and those around it. The armed civilian guards shake a-Natshe's hand when they show up. "They sit and eat melon like children, they drink coffee," he said. "Every one of them is from a different country - Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia."

According to a-Natshe, a man named Yishai from the municipality showed up on June 29 and offered him and his neighbors money to move out of their houses. The municipality told Haaretz that no such offer had been made. Attorney Danny Zeiderman, who represents the area's residents in petitions against the fence, said similar reports of evacuation compensation offers have come in from elsewhere.

For a-Natshe, the house is his whole life. Yesterday, the bulldozers took a bite out of the yard. "I told the driver to get off my land and come back with a court order stating exactly where the wall would go," he said.