Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
August 15, 2010 - 12:00am

The Israeli military on Sunday began dismantling a concrete barrier that protected residents of a once-troubled district on the edge of Jerusalem from Palestinian sniper fire.

At the height of the second intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising that broke out in 2000, the barrier’s tall concrete blocks had shielded the residents of Gilo, most of whom are Jews, from gunmen who took over homes and rooftops in a West Bank village across a ravine.

The makeshift barrier quickly became a symbol of the geographical intimacy of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, and of the precarious nature of life on the seam of the conflict. Its dismantling is giving graphic expression to the calm that now prevails in the area.

In the past only the ravine separated Gilo, built by Israel on land it captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, from the predominantly Christian West Bank village, Beit Jala, and other localities sprawling over the opposite hills near Bethlehem. Within the Jerusalem city limits defined by Israel’s leaders after the war, Gilo is considered by most Israelis to be one of the city’s southern neighborhoods. But most Palestinians consider it a settlement built on occupied land.

During the early years of the second intifada, frontline streets like Ha’anafa and Hashayish, which once featured views with biblical overtones, became a battleground. Palestinian militants fired bullets and some mortar shells across the valley, seriously wounding several people. Israeli tanks stationed on the ridge fired back.

In 2001, Israeli forces briefly took control of parts of Beit Jala for the first time since the arrival of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. In 2002, the concrete blocks went up along several streets in several sections, stretching for a total of about 600 yards.

Art students painted murals on the gray panels, depicting the hills, olive trees and houses that the wall obscured. It was like a local, downsized version of the West Bank security barrier that Israel started building shortly afterward, with the declared intention of keeping out suicide bombers. Large sections of that barrier, made up of fences and wall, are also clearly visible from parts of Gilo.

After several years of quiet, some thought it was time for the antisniper barricade to go. Residents raised the issue with the Jerusalem municipality, a city hall spokesman said, and security officials agreed that the protective blocks could be removed.

“We are not where we were in 2002,” said Yoram Biton, an officer from the military’s engineering corps, who watched as a crane lifted the blocks onto trucks. “The Palestinian Authority got stronger and has an orderly police force.”

Ricki Peretz, a resident who was out walking, praised the barricade’s removal, saying that it was time “to take away the fear.”

Many residents seemed unconvinced.

“The shooting is bound to start up again,” said Racheli Aroeti, 30, a mother of four who lives on Hashayish Street. “They are making a mistake.”

Hilda Aharoni said that she did not trust the Palestinians. “It is about our security,” Ms. Aharoni said. “The view does not interest me.”

The concrete blocks are being taken to a nearby army base. Military officials said that if necessary, they could always be brought back. Each block has been numbered, so that if the Gilo barricade has to be reassembled one day, the pieces can be placed in the right order, keeping the murals intact.


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