Gilo residents part with barrier
Decade after cement wall installed in Jerusalem neighborhood to shield residents from Beit Jala fire, and in accordance with military decision, 80 out of 800 concrete plates removed. Rest of wall to be dismantled over next two weeks. 'I hope this signifies an age of sanity,' resident says
A decade has passed since the residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo have been under fire on a daily basis. Since then, a concrete barrier was placed to separate between the houses in Gilo and the neighboring town of Beit Jala. On Sunday, Gilo's residents are starting a new chapter, as the Israel Defense Forces begins the project of dismantling the barrier.
Eighty out of 800 concrete plates, spread over an area of 600 meters (1,970 feet), were to be removed on Sunday. The remaining 720 plates will be dismantled within the coming two weeks.
Speaking with Ynet, residents of Ha'anafah Street, which suffered the most during the second intifada in 2000, related their feelings ahead of the new beginning. "To be honest, I'm a little scared, I just hope its not an opening for something bad; that they'll see the walls coming down and it will start all over again," said Gilo resident Ester Cohen.
Cohen remembers the frightening time 10 years ago, "I live in the same house since the shootings, and it was a very difficult experience. I have a disabled daughter, and she would enter a trance of fear, screaming and shouting. There is still a little trauma. I am not completely okay with them taking it down, but I hope it signifies the start of an age of sanity. I would like to feel that I live in a sane place, like anywhere else."
Dismantling barrier on Sunday (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
It was the Jerusalem Municipality that first contacted the IDF about the barrier, and a military source told Ynet the IDF decided to agree to the request following a situation evaluation.
Deliberations were held in the Central Command in recent months on the dismantling of the 800 concrete plates. In light of the security stability in the area in recent years, it was decided that there is no place for the concrete blocks, which protected the neighborhood's residents from small-arms fire and mortar shells.
Cement plates to be relocatedTrucks and cranes arrived at the site Sunday morning, to begin dismantling the concrete wall, in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Police. Works are expected to last some two weeks, during which certain roads in the area will be closed to traffic.
A military source said changes taking place in the West Bank in recent years are making their mark and shaping a new reality. "The in-depth military activity in the West Bank cities significantly reduced scope of terror, then the Palestinians security apparatus entered the picture, and, in cooperation with the IDF – created a new security reality that enables them to make moves that could not have been made in the past, including allowing Israeli travel guides into Bethlehem, and now, the removal of the barrier from the neighborhood of Gilo," the source said.
Lieutenant-General Hezi Revivo, deputy commander of the Central Command's engineering force which is responsible for the dismantling operation, said at the start of the works on Sunday, "The security situation in the area is better than it was in the period before the wall was built. It was constructed as a response to the attacks during Operation Defensive Shield and today I see no problem with removing it."
'I hope it signifies the start of an age of sanity' (Photo: Noam Moscowitz)
He added that the cement plates will be relocated to a nearby military base, "So that, if necessary, we can rebuild it. In any case, we estimate that there will be no attacks from Beit Jala."
'We told tourists of sleepless nights'Gilo resident Ronit Roash, hopes the dismantling of the cement barrier signifies a new era. "It's been calm here for years now, and I hope the quiet remains. Tourists come to look at the paintings on the walls. We would tell them about what we went through, about the fear and the sleepless nights, it was a real trauma for us. We lived like that for two years. It wasn't easy until they gave us shielded windows. Once I was standing in the kitchen on a Saturday night, I was doing the dishes and suddenly I heard a boom, I thought we were being fired at, I ran away in a panic, fell and broke my hand. I had a cast and back pains for a month-and-a-half, and the window was full of gunshot holes," she said.
And Roash still does not feel completely safe: "I hope that one day the political situation will change. You can't know with them, we are not safe here in Israel."
Moshe Rubin, who also lives on HaAnfah Street, said, "I am the first one to rejoice. Reality has changed, it's been 10 years and I hope the incidents don't reoccur, so why not get rid of this monstrous view?" Rubin said he is not afraid. "I wasn't really afraid back then either, for 2,000 years we fled from place to place, and even if they shell my house I am staying here and not going anywhere. It is the State's duty to protect its citizens; in any case, I will sleep soundly."
But there are also those who will miss the barrier. Natalie, a guide for groups of Jewish students from abroad visiting Israel for PR work, has been taking her groups to the Gilo barrier for nine years now. She only learned Sunday morning that this would be her last tour in the area. "I felt a little emotional. I have been here from the very moment they built the fence, I have been doing this for years, and today is the last time. I think I will keep coming here, this is still an important part of history, but now it will be a little different."
Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report
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