In a classic article that he wrote in 1938, the sociologist Louis Wirth wrote that cties are places where different kinds of people live and work close to one another. As a result, needs, desires, and interests clash, and create problems for public authorities. That trait of cities was evident in the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States. Urban segments were typically the most difficult to plan and construct, due to drawn out conflicts between economic interests, ethnic and racial communities, and the local authorities who had their own concerns for economic development, social harmony, and tax income. Each wanted advantages from the new roads, and none wanted their lives or opportunities damaged by what would have to be torn down for the construction.
Friday morning Varda and I took a tour of the security barrier around Jerusalem. The event was organized by the Ben Zvi Foundation, set up long ago in memory of one of Israel's early presidents. We have done several of the Ben Zvi courses that combine lectures and tours. They offer a full portfolio of programs on Jerusalem, Israel, and some overseas points. Their lecturers are professional and their audiences tend to be educated and well behaved. Somewhat to my surprise, there were no tendentious comments strongly in favor or opposed to the barrier. There were numerous questions by individuals who knew what they were talking about.
We saw the equivalent of what it meant to build the Interstate Highway in and near large cities. Israel began building the barrier began in 2002. Despite the pressures of continued violence and its capacity to protect Israelis from hostile others, only 24 kilometers of the approximately 194 kilometers planned for Jerusalem have been built and made operational.
We saw a number of sectors that have been featured on television: 60 foot high concrete slabs cutting through neighborhoods that multiply the time and the inconvenience of Palestinians to reach school, work, medical care, or relatives. What once was a short walk is now a long walk, and forces people to line up and pass through unpleasant inspections. We saw sophisticated barriers, with towers, electronic sensors, and patrol roads that are not operational because nearby sections have not been approved for construction. There are many places where Palestinians intent on suicide can enter Israel and travel on to wherever their handlers have directed them.
Fences are less ugly than concrete walls, but require a 50 meter wide path that includes two fences, a dirt road between them raked frequently to reveal the footprints of those who have made it through the outer fence, plus an asphalt road for military patrols. It is impossible to construct such a wide facility in a built up area; there the barrier is a high wall of concrete slabs, soon covered with graffiti. It only requires a few meters of width, but where the Arab neighborhood to be excluded is built right up against the municipal boundary, or close to a Jewish neighborhood, it is difficult to find a few meters that will survive challenge in court.
The Israeli Supreme Court is the major source of delay. Palestinians who claim that they will suffer from the route chosen for the barrier initiate suit, and the Court more or less automatically delays decision, sometimes for a year or more, while it demands a convincing counter argument from the authorities. On several occasions it has rejected the government's argument, causing further delays while planners seek to adjust the route in order to avoid further objections.
There are challenges and delays elsewhere. Overeall perhaps a third of the entire route planned for the barrier has been built and made operational. The proportion accomplished in the highly urbanized area of Jerusalem is only 12 percent.
The heterogeneity of Jerusalem makes it difficult to find routes for the barrier that will protect the Jews, while allowing Arabs a minimum of disruption. Each successful suicide bombing or other attack traced to an entry around Jerusalem prompts the government and the Court to approve more construction, but it moves slowly. Protecting the Jews is not the only value that motivates the Jewish state.
The barrier pursues a similar set of goals as did the redrawing of municipal boundaries immediately after the 1967 war. Then and now the policy has been to make the city more secure for the Jews. The boundaries fashioned in 1967 took in empty land that would be turned into Jewish neighborhoods, and twisted here and there to exclude Arab villages. Now there are new neighborhoods, some with upwards of 30,000 residents, mostly Jewish, where once there had been rocky hillsides and valleys. There are also new Arab neighborhoods, or villages that have grown in 40 years from 5,000 to 50,000 residents. The route of the barrier follows much of the municipal boundary, but stretches to include new Jewish settlements outside of the municipal boundaries, and twists here and there to exclude large pockets of Arabs.
It is not a multi-cultural venture designed to make the city varied and exciting, but is set against almost six years of multi-cultural violence. Ironically, the proportions of Jews and Arabs in the city are about what they were before the 1967 war: 60-70 percent Jewish, and 30-40 percent Arab. Skeptics admit that the barrier may keep violent Arabs out of the city who originate in Hebron, Jenin, or Nablus, but there will be 250,000 Arabs on the inside of the barrier, and not all of them are nice people.
There remain problems in Gaza, where the Palestinians are living by themselves. Separate armed forces, operating under the control of Hamas and Fatah, have been shooting at one another, invading one another's headquarters, and--in the West Bank--a Fatah force attacked a government minister beholden to Hamas. Money is tight, insofar as a great deal of foreign aid has dried up and the banks are not transferring what is donated. A Hamas operative tried to bring 900,000 Euros in a briefcase over the border from Egypt to Gaza, but was intercepted by Fatah border guards. They wanted the money for their side. Reports tell of a division, but the whole package would supply less than one-half of one month's payroll for the Palestine Authority, and there have been two months without salaries. We have heard of a few deaths and more injuries in recent days, and observers are betting on an escalation.