New expressway to divide Palestinian village

Residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa will appeal next week to Israel’s Supreme Court to halt construction of a highway that is to divide the district, community activists said at a press conference Feb. 18. Work on the six-lane artery, an extension of the north-south Begin Expressway, is sparking opposition in Beit Safafa, a quiet, middle-class Arab neighborhood that lies among Jewish areas in southern Jerusalem. Aluminum walls along the construction site are covered in graffiti against the expressway, with slogans such as “Don’t run over Beit Safafa.” Said Mohannad Gbara, a lawyer for residents: “The road in its current format cannot go ahead. It would be a disaster for Beit Safafa.”

Beit Safafa, a village split between Israeli and Jordanian rule until it was reunited in the 1967 war, has become the most integrated of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, with frequent Jewish visitors and shoppers. Last week, the Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by residents to halt construction of the expressway. The project has officially been in the works since 1990, but Beit Safafa has grown since then, and an route originally intended to pass along its southern flank now cuts through its center.

The road is meant to ease traffic to and from the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo—but also aims to make access to the city easier for residents of the Etzion Bloc settlements in the West Bank to the south. Kais Nasser, another attorney representing the community, called the road “racist planning meant only to connect the settlements to the north of Jerusalem.” He charged that the city has proceeded with work without carrying out a detailed plan for the segment through the neighborhood or allowing public comment, as required by law.

The Jerusalem municipality rejects the residents’ claims, saying they were given opportunities to object over the 23 years that the plan made its way through Israel’s zoning bureaucracy. The city has spent millions of shekels to improve the neighborhood and minimize damage caused by the project, City Hall said in a statement, calling the highway “of importance to all Jerusalem residents and…great economic value.”

But the road is splitting the district into two—in some cases just meters from residents’ homes. And residents say they are subject to a campaign of official harassment aimed at silencing their protests. Beit Sefafa business owners say income tax authorities have suddenly stepped up raids. (Haaretz, Feb. 20; Times of Israel, Feb. 18; The Economist, Feb. 16)

  1. Jim Crow advances on West Bank
    Still think the apartheid analogy is spurious? This March 2 account is from YNet, an Israeli news portal not exactly known for its pro-Palestinian views…

    Ministry launches ‘Palestinians only’ buses
    Transportation Ministry sets up designated bus lines for Palestinian passengers in West Bank; insists lines are for general public, but only Palestinian villages have been advised of their existence

    Racial segregation or transportation mitigation? The Transportation Ministry announced that starting Sunday it will begin operating designated lines for Palestinians in the West Bank.

    The bus lines in question are meant, according to the ministry, to transport Palestinian workers from the West Bank to central Israel. The ministry alleges that the move is meant to ease the congestion felt on bus lines used by Jews in the same areas, but several bus drivers told Ynet that Palestinians who will choose to travel on the so-called “mixed” lines, will be asked to leave them.

    While officially the new lines are considered “general bus lines,” Ynet learned Saturday that their existence has been made public only in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, via flyers in Arabic urging Palestinians to arrive at Eyal crossing and use the designated lines.

    The Transportation Ministry defended the plan, saying it was the result of reports and complaints saying that the buses traveling in the area were overcrowded and rife with tensions between the Jewish and Arab passengers.

    A ministry source said that many complaints expressed concern that the Palestinian passengers may pose a security risk, while other complaints said that the overcrowded buses cause the drivers to skip stations.

    The ministry has also gotten reports of scuffles between Jews and Arab passengers, as well as between Palestinians and drivers who refused to allow them to board their bus.

    The ministry reportedly considered several alternatives before deciding to opt for designated lines – knowing that the issue of so-called “Palestinian lines” would be highly controversial.

    Controversial? We hope. Has this won coverage outside Israel yet?