The Highway, the Village and the Road Not Taken

A major new highway that is meant to link Jewish settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem is bisecting Palestinian village of Beit Safafa, cutting families from each other and making their lives a nightmare. On a larger scale, it blocks the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

David Grossman
David Grossman
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David Grossman
David Grossman

Beit Safafa is a Palestinian village in southern Jerusalem. Around 10,000 people live there. The village maintains good neighborly and work relations with Jerusalem, which annexed it.

Over the past year enormous work has been done in the village toward building a six-lane highway, expanding into 12 lanes (!) at the two interchanges situated within the borders of the village. Although two kilometers of this freeway passes through the heart of the village, there will be no access to it from within Beit Safafa. The explanation is simple: The new road is intended mainly to link the settlements of northern Jerusalem with those to its south. It will be the link between Begin Road, which near the village has just four lanes, to the two-lane tunnel road.

But suddenly, as it passes through the small village of Beit Safafa, the road will swell to three and four times its size. There, of all places – in the heart of the village – its builders decided it must expand and empower itself.

The injustice and the malice of it cry out: The highway crosses the village's residential area, just a few meters from dozens of houses. The moment it is completed, the fabric of the village will be torn to pieces. Families will be cut off from each other, and their lives will become a nightmare. Village land set aside for construction, which is limited in any case, will be even further restricted. Beit Safafa will be completely absorbed into Jerusalem, but the village itself, as a social unit, as a separate, unique entity, will dissolve.

Does anyone doubt that the main purpose of this aggressive road is to bisect the entire West Bank even further, to deepen the separation between the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and their brethren in the West Bank, in short to continue to thwart the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state and achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict?

This enormous, monstrous road – I was there, I saw it and it was simply unbelievable – was ostensibly built under the aegis of the law. The detailed plan, however, was never submitted for public scrutiny, nor was a map showing the route of the road presented. There is a straight line leading from the government's official, “legal” policy to the acts of terror – excuse me, the recent incidents of unlawful assembly – in Abu Ghosh, Beit Hanina and dozens of other places.

The same straight – yet very twisted – line leads from the institutionalized, official and overt abuse of vulnerable people to the acts of cruelty and intimidation committed under the cover of darkness by those the prime minister refuses to call terrorists. One line also links the wave of bigoted, nationalistic legislation whose purpose is to exclude and oppress the Palestinian public in Israel to the “privatized” acts of thuggery that could soon escalate to physical injury. It all comes together into one picture; it is all fed by the same worldview that is gradually turning the State of Israel itself into a “price-tag” entity of provocation, defiance and lawbreaking. Of a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

The villagers insist on conduct a commendably quiet, civil struggle. They refuse to cause the authorities to drag them into illegal action. If only they continue to do so. But the State of Israel is slowly encircling them, pushing them into desperation.

Most of what has been done in Beit Safafa is nearly irreversible, but the harm could be reduced by putting the road underground or otherwise covering it. The cost to the economy would very low, certainly relative to the overall price - about NIS 1 billion - of this unnecessary highway. Some adjustment could be made, to consider the residents and improve their lives slightly. It would be an act of compassion, if that word can still be used here. In the long run it would also be wise politically.

The High Court of Justice will hear the residents’ petition on Wednesday. Would that every judge recall the words of Hillel the Elder in the Ethics of the Fathers: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” 

Residents of Beit Safafa, in southern Jerusalem, protest the construction of a road through their neighborhood.Credit: Emil Salman

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