The defense minister declared last week that he was freezing construction work on the separation fence in the Judean desert. Earlier, in the framework of the 2007 budget discussions, the Treasury proposed to cut or freeze the fence construction altogether.
This declaration sounds strange in the face of the fence's mythical reputation as the top means for preventing any security threat from the east. And still, the proposal, which amounts to denial of the Israeli security establishment's holy of holies, went without a response.
This lack of response attests to what is clear already: The separation fence, and particularly its yet-to-be-built parts, mostly in Jerusalem are not and never were premised on security needs. They were built to achieve wholly different objectives:
In order to stress the "undivided" city's municipal borders, annex more West Bank territory to Jerusalem in practice, and while doing this trying to change the demographic balance in the city in favor of the Jewish side.
The Israeli government decided on a wall route in Jerusalem that leaves out of the city's bounds Palestinian neighborhoods that are home to about 60,000 people who are permanent residents of Israel and constitute about a quarter of the capital's Palestinian population.
Seemingly, the government's intention was to improve the demographic balance, but in fact we're talking about a destructive recipe to the city's future and the relative quiet that prevailed there for years.
An internal report by the borderline communities' administration, a body established to address the needs of residents who were disconnected from the city, points to growing anarchy across the fence.
The report shows that in the said neighborhoods, all municipal and government services were curbed immediately upon the building of the fence. There are no hospitals, there's a shortage of classrooms, and the police stopped functioning, as did many other bodies. The result is increasing crime, poor infrastructure conditions, and an unbearable life for residents with clear implications for the future of those who remain beyond the fence and the disquiet in the city.
This move also failed to bring the hoped-for improvement in the demographic balance. Many residents who were separated from the city by the fence, all those who could afford it, are coming back by moving to the "right side" of the Jerusalem wall. It's hard to estimate the scope of this trend, but it's characterized as a mass phenomena. It's clear that with the anarchy that emerged outside the walls, the desire to move inside the city will only grow.
Moreover, the residents of nearby Jewish neighborhoods such as Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze'ev report that more Palestinian residents are moving into those neighborhoods, which offer better conditions than the Palestinian ones. What 38 years of coexistence couldn't do is being achieved by two years of separation fence.
Wrong reasons, right decision
In recent years we have witnessed time and again the failure of the conception of the wall as a hermetic barrier that cannot be overcome. If we can learn something from the Lebanon war or the events in Gaza, it is that setting up a fence or building a barrier aren't' enough – it's important to see what's happening across the fence.
In Jerusalem, the way to refrain from undermining the stability in relations between the various communities in the city is to make sure both sides are rewarded by maintenance of the status quo.
The separation of tens of thousands of Jerusalemites from their city, and negatively changing their entire way of life is not the way to do so. The reality created by the fence route leads to complete and cruel disregard to the residents' welfare and their daily needs, and cannot manifest itself in any other way but further deterioration of the situation and a new nadir.
The fence route in Jerusalem won't be able to do a thing in the face of a population pushed into an abyss of despair, and the other objectives of this route aren't being achieved either. Yet despite all this and the clear damage resulting from the wall, it doesn’t appear as though anyone in the defense establishment seriously considers changing the route or admitting the mistake.
Now, the Treasury is talking about curbing the huge inflow of money needed for continuing to build the fence. There, perhaps for the wrong reasons we'll see the right decision. It's unfortunate that such things are being decided only by budgetary considerations rather than practical considerations.
The writer heads Ir Amim ("City of Nations" or "City of Peoples") - a non-partisan Israeli organization that aspires to promote a stable city, equitably shared by both Israelis and Palestinians, and a sustainable Jerusalem