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Jerusalem suburbanites oppose fence

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A Palestinian throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Bidu on Feb. 26. (Brian Hendler)

A Palestinian throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Bidu on Feb. 26. (Brian Hendler)

MEVASSERET ZION, March 1 (JTA) — This quiet corner of Israeli suburbia never needed to mend fences with its Arab neighbors — until the West Bank security barrier came along. Now 200 residents of the affluent Jerusalem suburb Mevasseret Zion are lobbying alongside scores of Palestinian farmers for the controversial project to be rerouted, in a campaign that has vexed an Israeli defense establishment adamant that says it is only trying to save lives. “We are hopeful this will change things in our part of the country and set a precedent for similar changes elsewhere,” Mohammed Dahla, a Jerusalem lawyer handling a petition against the five-mile section of fence due to go up between Givat Ze’ev and Mevasseret, told JTA on Monday. Farmers at eight Palestinian villages just over the Green Line — the boundary that divides Israel proper from the West Bank, captured from Jordan in 1967 — stand to lose access to 12,500 acres of land when the fence at Mevasseret goes up. When construction began last week, hundreds of locals rioted outside the biggest villages, Bidu and Beit Furiq. Police opened fire, killing two local men. The bloodshed shocked Mevasseret residents, the vast majority of whom never thought of the Arabs living in the next valley as a security threat. Apart from a brief spike in car thefts police attributed to local Palestinians, Mevasseret’s 25,000 residents have been virtually untouched by more than three years of conflict in the Palestinian intifada. Mevasseret veterans speak of deals for mutual respect struck between town elders and their counterparts in Bidu and Beit Furiq shortly after the villages came under Israeli rule in the 1967 Six-Day War. Eventually, Mevasseret residents found cut-rate agricultural produce and mechanical know-how at the Palestinian villages. The villagers, in turn, found work in Mevasseret — not to mention a mall and superior medical facilities. But since the West Bank fence arrived, new fears have been felt on the streets of Mevasseret Zion, Hebrew for “Good Tidings of Zion.” “If the current planned route is acted on, it will blow up in our faces,” local Sara Bartel said. The town’s Palestinian neighbors “will feel discriminated against and frustrated, and violence will break out.” Bartel was one of 200 Mevasseret residents who signed a petition that persuaded the High Court of Justice on Sunday to issue a one-week stay on construction of the fence. Dahla said he expected to meet with Defense Ministry officials with a view to changing the route so that it approximates the Green Line and reduces land appropriations to the minimum. So far, ministry officials “have not been especially helpful, delivering only one rudimentary map of the route,” he said. “But thanks to the involvement of Israelis in this petition, I believe it will get the attention it deserves.” With prior Israeli opposition to the fence limited primarily to fringe left-wing activists, the Mevasseret lobby is raising hackles in the government. Having shunned the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Israeli government now finds itself hobbled by a town just down the road from the capital that is seen as an example of the Israeli good life. “I very much hope that we will be able to clarify some of these issues” and that “this will allow us to continue and build the fence, because it greatly helps to stop terrorists and suicide bombers,” Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said in response to the petition. According to a representative of another community on the capital’s periphery, Mevasseret is simply too innocent for its own good. “When, God forbid, a bus blows up in the heart of Mevasseret, they’ll be singing a different tune,” said Meir Turjeman, a councilman in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which came under frequent gunfire from neighboring Arab areas in the first months of the intifada.

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