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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid