Shaiya Rothberg

No man’s land beyond the concrete wall: Life for thousands of Palestinians in “united Jerusalem”

I want you to imagine that you are a 12 year old girl who lives in Ras Khamis, a neighborhood of Jerusalem. Maybe a picture of a real girl who lives near-by will assist your imagination:

Stills by Marc Grey from "Three Houses": Life beyond the Separation Barrier in Jerusalem".
Stills by Marc Grey from “Three Houses”: Life beyond the Separation Barrier in Jerusalem” – A Film by the East Jerusalem Project at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

In many ways you have a normal life. You have parents and siblings. You go to school. You celebrate holidays with your family. But as a Palestinian living in Israel’s Jerusalem, your life is far from normal.

Let’s begin with the fact that your neighborhood is enclosed on three sides by a tall concrete wall cutting you off from the rest of the city (of which you are a legal resident). Check it out in pictures:

Apartment buildings in Ras Khamis peek over the security barrier in East Jerusalem (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
Israel's separation barrier is seen along the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras Khamis on March 4, 2009.  AFP/Getty Images
Israel’s separation barrier is seen along the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras Khamis on March 4, 2009. AFP/Getty Images. Borrowed from
Near Ras Khamis 2014. Photo by Shaiya Rothberg (Public Domain).

You can see how your neighborhood is enclosed on three sides by taking a look at a map of the wall (in red) below:

Map from B'Tselem's 2011 map of West Bank. Captions added. Downloaded from
Map from B’Tselem’s 2011 map of West Bank. Captions added. Downloaded from

Notice that the only direction you can walk freely out of your neighborhood (because it is not enclosed by the tall concrete wall) leads beyond the borders of Jerusalem (the yellow line) and into the West Bank! Does that give you the impression that you are not wanted?

There is no question that you are not wanted. When we Israeli Jews annexed your village, together with another 20 or so West Bank Palestinian villages that together became part of “united Jerusalem”, we didn’t want you but only your land. In fact, our explicit policy has been to plan the city and use the land in order to maintain a 70% Jewish majority. One way that policy has been executed is by expropriating a third of the land owned by the annexed Palestinian villages  for the “public good”. On the land we took from Arabs we built homes only for Jews. Clearly, you are not part of the public in whose “good” we are interested.

But that’s not the end of the story. We also engaged in the unofficial but well documented policy of preventing the development of decent housing for people like you (i.e. Palestinians). We did that by authorizing discriminatory town plans or by refusing to authorize town plans for Palestinian areas at all. Often, people like you have two choices: 1) leave Jerusalem (the unofficial goal of our policies) or 2) build “illegally”. (I put “illegal” in quotes because a law designed for criminal and immoral discrimination is not a legitimate law).

Even though we take your parents’ taxes, we’ve never provided you with equitable city services. You and your family have received far less than your share in every area of life: education, health, urban planning, social services, water, postal services…you name it. Like all East Jerusalem Palestinians, you are less than second class. You are an unwanted ethnic-national minority in a country that on your side of the green line flouts some of the most basic principles of legitimate government. Like many minorities in many places, you have fallen victim to an ethnic-national majority that uses the power of the state to severely discriminate against you.

But as bad as East Jerusalem Palestinians have it, for you it’s much worse. Before we cut you off with the wall, you at least received some city services. Now, there aren’t even police to protect you. They won’t come if you call. When you walk home from the militarized checkpoint at the entrance to your neighborhood on your way home from school, you are exposed to drug dealers operating in broad daylight, cars and buses driving in every direction without marked streets, pits, piles of garbage and, needless to say, there are no sidewalks. If there’s a rapist lurking in one of the unfinished buildings or garbage strewn lots, only your friends and family can protect you. In your neighborhood there is no state supervision of building or hygiene, no postal services and no adequate garbage collection. Even water is in chronic shortage. One of the very few “services” you receive from the city are demolition orders for your “illegal” homes. But since you live in “united Jerusalem”, we will not allow you to receive services from the Palestinian Authority which governs the territory just beyond the only side of your neighborhood that is not enclosed in the wall. We don’t want you, but neither will we give you to anybody else.

Stills by Marc Grey/ACRI  from "Three Houses": Life beyond the Separation Barrier in Jerusalem".
Life beyond the Barrier. Stills by Marc Grey/ACRI
Outside the barrier near Ras Khamis 2014. Photo by Shaiya Rothberg (Public Domain)

The wall enclosing your neighborhood is called the “security barrier”. But clearly it is not designed to protect your security. You live in no man’s land and your dignity and life are not protected by the state. You simply have the wrong ethnic-national identity.

That’s the end of the imaginative exercise. Thank you for reading this far. Take a look at the picture of the girl above and I ask that in addition to your prayers for our kidnapped boys, and our soldiers, and the many of us wounded and killed by terrorist attacks, that you also offer a prayer on her behalf: may the Loving and Just God of Israel help her, because the only human authority with the power to determine her fate regards her life as of little worth. 

Does all this sound too extreme to be true? Could this really be the reality in “united Jerusalem”, the capital of the modern Jewish state?

Don’t take my word for it! To learn more, check out this excellent (and short) film by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Three Houses": Life beyond the Separation Barrier in Jerusalem".
Three Houses”: Life beyond the Separation Barrier in Jerusalem”.

When you watch the movie, pay special attention to the first speaker who talks about his daughter. While she is not the girl in the picture above, I had her in mind when I wrote this blog. And don’t miss the fact-sheet that appears under the film as well as this terrific article by Elhanan Miller of the Times of Israel.

To learn more about the claims I made regarding Israeli policy towards East Jerusalem Arabs, see the sources brought in my previous blog: It’s time for Jews to wake up and face Israel’s human rights violations.

Lastly, let me make clear that admitting the truth about these violations does not mean that Israel is the bad guy in the Arab-Israel conflict. Israeli human rights violations are only one chapter in a larger story in which we have also been the victims of racist, fundamentalist and genocidal aggression perpetrated against us by major segments of the Arab-Muslim world. One reason we built the barrier was to protect ourselves against terrorist attacks. And there are lots of worse human rights violations than ours happening in other places. Admitting the truth does not justify demonizing Israel or calling for our destruction. But it means recognizing that we are badly off course and mired in injustice.

The time has come for Jews to learn the facts, to take a stand for what’s right, and to put an end to this dismal discriminatory chapter in the history of our third return to Zion – the Holy Land, and to Jerusalem – “the city of justice, the faithful city” (Isaiah 1:25)

If you think I’m wrong and tell me so respectfully, I’ll try to respond to your comments. Only rational discourse, mutual respect and the love of Israel can get us out of this mess. all blue 50




About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.