Living in the shadows of Jerusalem’s West Bank Wall
By Yemeli Ortega
Jerusalem, Jun 26 (EFE).- Mohamed Hmoud, a Palestinian musician who was born and raised in the Shuafat refugee camp, dreams of tearing down all borders, as Israel’s controversial West Bank Wall marks 20 years since its construction.
“I dream that I’m flying like birds. Soaring over all borders,” Hmoud’s song lyrics say in reference to the gargantuan wall that currently straddles 600 kilometers and which continues to grow, according to official sources.
Known among Palestinians as “the wall of apartheid” and considered illegal by the United Nations, the austere cement structure reaches 10 meters high at some points and the use of both barbed wire and electric fencing ensures that Palestinian communities, like the Shuafat camp and Kafr Aqab, remain isolated.
“Being on this side of the wall is basically like living in a big jail, there is a gate, there are soldiers that allow you to walk and pass the checkpoint whenever they want, sometimes if they don’t, you’re just stuck here,” the 25-year-old hip-hop artist tells Efe.
The Shuafat refugee camp was set up by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees(UNRWA) in 1965, but in 1967 the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was illegally annexed by Israel.
“You have a security check every single day, like if you’re running through an airport, this is how bad it is,” Hmoud, who like all other Palestinians living in Jerusalem does not have Israeli citizenship, continues. “If you are working outside the refugee camp and you have work at 8:00, you have to leave your house at 5:00, because of the traffic.”
According to researcher Aviv Tatarsky, from the Israeli Ir Amim NGO, the decision to leave these communities outside the wall was to reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.
Israel considers the holy city its capital, while Palestinians claim the eastern flank of the city as the bastion of their future state.
Jessica Montell, director of the HaMoked organization, agrees that the wall serves to prevent “any challenge to Israel’s sovereignty in east Jerusalem.”
In 2017, the right-wing Likud party tried to get a law pass to disconnect Palestinian settlements from Jerusalem and annex several Jewish settlements.
Israel’s strategy of isolation was further cemented in the so-called “deal of the century”, backed in 2020 by former United States president Donald Trump.
The Trump Peace Plan proposed using the wall as a border and leaving Jerusalem neighborhoods on the other side under Palestinian control.
POVERTY, VIOLENCE AND OVERCROWDING
The Jerusalem City Council’s disdain for neighborhoods beyond the wall has left them in a state of negligence and devoid of regulation, security and public services.
Garbage overflows in containers that block the dusty and unpaved streets, families suffer from water and electricity cuts, children do not have access to enough education, and recreational spaces are scarce.
“Here there are no hospitals, just the primary healthcare centers,” says Salim Anati, director of the neighborhood’s center for people with disabilities. “Ambulances are not allowed inside the camp when there are critical cases.”
Security forces remain indifferent amid rampant crime, soaring drug consumption and the presence of weapons.
Another issue these communities face is overcrowding.