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Abu Dis: A Village Divided

[Abu Dis] – While most Israeli politicians and army personnel agree the country’s security barrier prevents many terror attacks, one cannot ignore the difficulties it constitutes for the local Arab population.

One of the places through which the buffer passes is the village of Abu Dis, located on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, just over a mile from the Old City.

Some 11,700 people live in Abu Dis, and its population almost doubles as a result of the daily influx of students and employees who commute to the area.

During the summer of 2003, the Israeli government began implementing its decision to build a barrier, which would separate the Arab West Bank cities and villages from the Jewish population to the west of the fence.

Unlike virtually all the areas the divider runs through, in Abu Dis it is no less than a 30-foot wall made of concrete, splitting the village, separating extended-families, and keeping students from their schools and university.

(All photos: Dudi Sa’ad)

While drinking a bitter black coffee, Nawal Abu Qalbein, a 48-year-old housewife and resident of Abu Dis, explained her family’s daily hardships. Nawal lives on the western side of the buffer, some 250 yards away.

“My mother lives on the other side of the wall. Before this wall was erected, I used to visit her every evening. It took me fifteen minutes to walk to her house. Today, I can either take a taxi – which is expensive – or walk more than two hours, until I circle the wall,” said Nawal.

Nawal Abu Qalbein

Nawal has five children. Three go to school, one graduated high school this month, and the eldest is a student at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. The problem is that all the children’s schools are located on the eastern side of the wall. Again, the route that used to take them a few minutes is now much longer.

Walking beside the wall, one can see a passage through which people move from one side of the barrier to the other. The narrow slit runs between the wall and a yard fence located next to it. A constant flow of people – men and women, young and old – stream through it.

The ‘passageway’

Ahmad, Nawal’s husband, was happy to act as a guide to his village. Ahmad explained the slit makes people’s passage possible, so they can buy food from their favorite grocery, or go to school.

Additionally, it seems possible that a terrorist might easily pass through, thus overcoming the obstacle the Israeli government is erecting inside the village.

When completed, the security buffer in the Jerusalem area will run for some 42 miles. It will surround Jerusalem’s eastern, northern and southern sides.

The blueprints for the project show walls will only be erected where it is believed there could be direct shooting. Up until now, no more than four percent of the entire buffer (around Jerusalem and in other places in the West Bank) – approximately 5 miles – is made from cement blocks.

The existing fence surrounding the Gaza Strip has proven its efficiency in preventing suicide bombers from entering Israel. Only one instance of this nature occurred since the beginning of the current violence in September 2000. On the other hand, more than a hundred suicide bombers managed to infiltrate Israel from the West Bank, causing the deaths of more than 400 Israelis since October 2000 (some 500 Israelis were also killed in shooting incidents).

Ahmad, unemployed for a few years now, has some very definite ideas of his own as to the possibility of peace and the future in general. “No peace is possible as long as the current Israeli government is in power,” he said. In his opinion, peace is very easy to obtain. “The Jews must return to the pre-1967 borders, and all the Palestinian refugees will return to their homes. Once this happens – peace will come.”

Ahmad Abu Qalbein

But even if peace eventually comes, the future of the Jews is already determined, Ahmad opined. He picked up a rock and said, “If this rock could speak, it would have told us ‘any Jew who’s hiding underneath me – kill him’. This is what our Quran tells us. I do not know when this will happen – maybe in a year’s time, maybe in 500 years, but it is predetermined.”

Mu’stafa, a 15-year-old boy, sells fruits and vegetables. The little ramshackle place where he peddles his goods is literally in the shadow of the wall. Last year, before the wall was built, Mu’stafa was able to see the streets and houses across the road. Now he views huge concrete slabs replete with graffiti, mainly in English. “I am deeply depressed. I feel it is all around me,” Mu’stafa says as a huge truck passes, loaded with a 30-foot high piece of the wall, raising dust which immediately settles on Mu’stafa’s merchandise.


If it is possible to set politics and security aside, it is hard not to feel sorry for the residents of Abu Dis, who are paying the price for the uncontrolled violence that has killed so many Israeli civilians.