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Sunday, July 11, 2004

Herald.com | 07/11/2004 | Some of Israel's Arabs welcome the wall's rise

Herald.com | 07/11/2004 | Some of Israel's Arabs welcome the wall's rise

Posted on Sun, Jul. 11, 2004
Some of Israel's Arabs welcome the wall's rise
Some Israeli Arabs living along the separation barrier in northern Israel say it has brought peace back to their neighborhood.

BY SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON
Knight Ridder News Service

BAQA AL GHARBIYA, Israel - The 26-foot-high concrete-and-razor-wire barrier down the hill from Najeh Abu Mukh's house cuts him off from relatives and the West Bank.

But the Israeli Arab said he doesn't mind, because the controversial Israeli barrier has done something years of failed peace talks have not: It has taken the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict away from his home.

Like many Israeli Arabs who live in northern Israel along parts of the security barrier erected earlier this year, Abu Mukh agrees with the Israeli government that it is beneficial. The Israeli military claims the barrier has cut suicide attacks coming from the now-enclosed northern West Bank by 90 percent.

COURT IS OPPOSED

On Friday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague condemned the barrier as illegal and inhumane, a ruling that Abu Mukh questioned.

''I'm wondering if the judges ever have been here or lived here and understand the real reason for its construction,'' the 30-year-old gas station worker asked, relaxing on his front porch with a cup of sweet coffee. ``If not, they should listen and not judge.''

Israeli Arabs don't readily share this sentiment with outsiders. They fear appearing disloyal to their fellow Palestinians, who live across the line separating Israel from Palestinian territory and hate the structure as much as they despise the government that built it, said journalist Hassan Mawsi, an Israeli Arab.

The route the Israeli Defense Ministry selected for the barrier, which places large chunks of Palestinian land on the Israeli side, adds to Palestinian anger. A row of homes that was once in Palestinian Baqa al Sharghiya, or Baqa East, is now in Baqa al Gharbiya, or Baqa West.

''Eight of our houses are now cut off from our village and two of them were destroyed so this thing could be built,'' said Palestinian Riyadh Hussein, 28, gesturing at the security barrier, which he now must walk around to take his three children to nursery school.

But Israeli Arabs, like their Jewish counterparts, wanted relief from the suicide bombings and gun attacks that have killed 980 Israeli citizens in nearly four years during the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Five of 21 people killed by a suicide bomber at an Arab- and Jewish-owned restaurant last October in Haifa, for example, were Israeli Arabs.

Their problem was compounded because attackers often crossed into Israel through Arab hamlets such as Baqa al Gharbiya, blending in with hundreds of undocumented workers and clashing with the heavily armed Israeli border guards who tried to ferret them out.

VULNERABILITY

A particularly frightening experience, Abu Mukh and his mother, Hanifa, 71, recalled, occurred in March 2002, when police stopped a suicide attacker's vehicle at a checkpoint in their town.

An Israeli policeman and the two Palestinian gunmen in the car were killed in an ensuing shootout.

''All the time Israeli border guards would come here to search for Palestinians who had come illegally,'' Abu Mukh recalled. ``That meant we, too, were repeatedly subjected to identity-card checks and questions.

``I couldn't even go to the store at night without being checked.''

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