News / Middle East

    Jerusalem Road Cuts Village, Drives Arab Discontent

    A boy runs past a road under construction in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem February 28, 2013.
    A boy runs past a road under construction in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem February 28, 2013.
    Reuters
    The mechanical diggers start work soon after dawn, cutting through a leafy village on the outskirts of Jerusalem to build a six-lane highway that has become the latest focal point of Arab-Israeli discontent.

    The road leads directly to Jewish settlements, built on occupied land around the foothills of Bethlehem. When finished, it will allow the settlers to speed down to Israel's thriving coastal plains, unhindered by traffic lights or roundabouts.

    Their gain is coming at the expense of Beit Safafa, home to some 10,000 people - a largely Arab neighborhood and a rare oasis of peace and calm in an often troubled region.

    "Ever since the Israelis arrived, all they have done is take land away from the village. Now they are cutting it in two with their road," said 38-year-old Ala Salman, whose house rattles with the roar of diggers tearing up the nearby ground.

    "Their aim is to force us all away"

    Local Jewish politicians dismiss any such accusations, saying the road was approved back in 1990 and is part of the normal expansion any major city must undergo to cope with a growing population and increased traffic flows.

    "This is fulfilling the role of a ring road for the city, helping both the Jewish and Arab communities," said deputy Jerusalem mayor, Naomi Tzur. "It is perfectly legitimate for the residents to complain, but I do not think this should be seen as part of a geopolitical struggle,'' she added.

    That is an almost impossible wish in this part of the world, where every rock and olive tree is marked by history.

    Unlike some nearby Arab villages, most of Beit Safafa's residents stayed put during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but their community was split in two under the 1949 armistice, with a fence built to divide the Jordanian and Israeli halves.

    After Israel's victory in the 1967 war, the village was re-united. Swathes of surrounding agricultural land were taken for Jewish settlements and industrial estates, but the village itself remained largely intact, its neat stone houses interspersed by flowery meadows and olive groves.

    "If this was a Jewish neighborhood, there would be 100,000 people living here," said Yair Singer, one of the road construction engineers. "Time cannot stand still.''

    Tunnel Vision

    When the bulldozers arrived in November, activists went straight to court, saying they had never received detailed plans and arguing that the road broke safety norms by coming within less than 10 meters (32 feet) of some of the homes.

    They lost the initial verdict and have appealed.

    A plainclothes Israeli policeman (L) detains a Palestinian protester during a demonstration against Israel's construction of a road in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, February 10, 2013.A plainclothes Israeli policeman (L) detains a Palestinian protester during a demonstration against Israel's construction of a road in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, February 10, 2013.
    x
    A plainclothes Israeli policeman (L) detains a Palestinian protester during a demonstration against Israel's construction of a road in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, February 10, 2013.
    A plainclothes Israeli policeman (L) detains a Palestinian protester during a demonstration against Israel's construction of a road in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, February 10, 2013.
    Locals are also staging regular protests, looking to block access to another major road that flanks Beit Safafa on its way to the adjacent urban settlement of Gilo. On Friday, eight protesters were detained after their latest demonstration.

    "Beit Safafa was a very peaceful place. We have not made any trouble. But because we are Arabs, they think they can do what they like to us," said Salman, an artisan who earns his living by making Jewish ornaments in a nearby workshop.

    In all, 1,000 people in the village will be left isolated on the wrong side of the highway.

    Promises by city authorities to build two or three road bridges to connect them to the rest of their community bring little cheer. Locals say it will only lead to more land confiscation, more tarmac and less greenery.

    Instead, they want the entire 1.6 km (one mile) stretch of road covered by a tunnel.

    "Unfortunately we cannot cancel the road, but we are trying to limit the damage," said Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer and Beit Safafa resident.

    Villagers point to two stretches of the same highway that have already been completed and were concealed inside tunnels when they neared Jewish neighborhoods.

    Deputy Mayor Tsur says the city, as a concession, has promised to cover 180 meters of the new road, but that further tunnelling would not be possible because it would require fresh planning permission, which would take years to complete.

    She hinted that Arabs lacked political clout because most refused to take part in local elections in protest against Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem after 1967.

    "We have a basic problem that Arabs do not engage in city politics. They should have a third of the seats in the city council ... and they don't take advantage of the electoral system as they should," she said.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora