Palestinians rage at proposed fence across Jerusalem

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The Independent Online

Israel's decision to press ahead with a barrier that will separate 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the rest of the city has provoked a storm of criticism, prompting the Palestinian Prime Minister to state that the fence will make "a farce" of Ariel Sharon's peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, arriving for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said yesterday: "We think that Israel has the right to defend itself, but we think the fence which will stand outside the territory of Israel is not legally proper and it creates also humanitarian problems." The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmad Qureia, said the move was "theft in broad daylight" of land Palestinians hope will form part of their future capital.

Israel claims it needs the fence for security reasons. The barrier, which is due to be completed by 1 September, will cut off around one-fifth of Jerusalem's Palestinian residents, most of themin areas annexed to the city after the 1967 war. Israeli authorities have guaranteed crossing points to ease movement. But following Sunday's announcement that the fence will be constructed by the autumn, there was anger among Jerusalem's Arab residents.

Fatimah al Toush, a 44-year-old mother of four lives in Kufr Aqab, a village on the city's northern fringe. She has an Israeli identity card; her husband has a West Bank one. She travels daily to work as a secretary in Arab east Jerusalem. Her 14-year-old son, Firas, goes to a Christian school there, though he too is registered as a West Bank resident. Treatment for her chronic back problem is paid for by her Israeli health insurance.

"If they build the wall," she agonised yesterday, "how will I be sure of getting to my office? Shall I climb the wall? How will Firas get to school? I can't put him in a West Bank school. All his friends are in Jerusalem. He feels he belongs with them." Mrs al Toush said she knew 30 or 40 families in her village who faced similar dilemmas. She worried that eventually Israel would cancel her health insurance.

"Maybe," she sighed, "one day I'll burn my Israeli identity card, but the Palestinian Authority won't give me one of theirs. They want to encourage people to stay in Jerusalem."

Ribhi Shehadeh, a 52-year-old father of 14, faces the problem from the other side of the barrier. He lives in a two-storey stone house in Ras Hamis on the rim of a rocky valley between the cramped Shuafat refugee camp and the high-rise flats of Pisgat Ze'ev, a Jewish suburb built on land captured from Jordan in the Six-Day War. The wall will run down the middle, though both the camp and the suburb will remain in Jerusalem.

Mr Shehadeh gave up his job as a driver in the building trade after he developed diabetes. To feed his family, he grows vegetables on a plot in front of his house and keeps a flock of 30 sheep.

"The wall will suffocate us," he protested over thick Turkish coffee beneath the grapes on his terrace. "I won't be able to graze my sheep in the wadi. Arab building workers won't be able to get to Pisgat Ze'ev."

The Israeli government has allocated a 2005 budget of eight million shekels (£1m) to maintain services for Arab residents affected by the fence.

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