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Writing on the Wall

Israel’s security barrier foreshadows further misery for Palestinians caught on the wrong side

text by Marilyn Raschka
photographs by Kevin Unger


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As hard as the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was some 2,000 years ago, if Mary and Joseph were to do it today, the journey might be impossible.

In June 2002, the Israeli government decided to erect a barrier to separate Israel, where Nazareth is located, from the West Bank, where Bethlehem lies.

The barrier, now partially constructed, is a combination of electronic and barbed wire fencing, military roads and concrete walls, stretches of which reach 26 feet in height.

The barrier does not run along the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is being built, for the most part, on West Bank land taken without compensation. Israel has occupied the West Bank since the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967.

The barrier, which the Israeli government says is necessary to prevent terror attacks within Israel, snakes through the West Bank, separating farm from farmer, student from school, grandchildren from grandparents, one side of town from the other. By making movement difficult, it is keeping people from living their lives and earning their livelihoods with dignity.

Lamia is a nurse at Muslim Muqassad Hospital on the Mount of Olives. She is a resident of Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

The Israelis had annexed Bethany, an Arab village, to Jerusalem, which means Lamia has an Israeli-issued Jerusalem permit allowing her to travel freely. But her status is about to change.

The barrier will put Bethany outside Jerusalem and make Lamia and her family West Bankers. Israeli law forbids West Bank residents to work in or travel to Jerusalem without a special permit. Lamia is about to be handed a pink slip.

But the hospital counts on Lamia. Duty and financial need have now forced her to do what many Palestinians do, use a route that skirts the not yet completed wall and the Israeli border guards. Backyards, convent gardens and even cemeteries are commonly used alternate routes.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows live and work next door to Bethany in Abu Dis. The sisters run a home for the elderly, which has received CNEWA assistance for years and provides seniors with a clean environment, good meals and companionship.

The neighborhood was a haven of peace and quiet. Then the wall came.

The wall was routed right outside the home’s front gate. The space between the gate and the wall is just big enough for a car or ambulance to pass.

The sisters and their elderly charges now live in a construction zone.

Buildings shake as the bulldozers roll by. The home’s walls have cracked from the pounding. Dust covers the gardens and filters into the buildings. At the beginning of the construction work, the sisters and their residents were without water and electricity.

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Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel Sisters