Road near Jerusalem puts wall between Israelis, Palestinians

Jerusalem (AFP) –


A newly-opened highway into Jerusalem divides Israeli and Palestinian drivers into separate lanes with a wall, leading Palestinians to label it an "apartheid road".

Route 4370, which winds for several kilometres (miles) northeast of Jerusalem, consists of two separate two-way roads divided by a wall topped with fencing.

Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan, who attended the road's inauguration on Wednesday, called it "an example of the ability to create shared life between Israelis and Palestinians, while meeting the existing security challenges."

He was referring to Palestinian attacks against Israelis, which in recent years have included sometimes deadly car-rammings and stabbings.

Israeli officials say the road will ease heavy traffic in the Jerusalem area for residents of settlements in the West Bank, occupied by Israel for more than 50 years.

The long-term goal is to provide settlers with another route to allow them to access Jerusalem more directly, said Aviv Tatarsky of Israeli NGO Ir Amim, which opposes settlement expansion.

Many residents of nearby settlements work in Jerusalem.

But Palestinians travelling between the north and south of the West Bank would have to change course and some Palestinian villages would find themselves further isolated from Jerusalem, said Tatarsky.

Mohammed Abu Zaid, administrative director of the local council for Al-Zaim, a Palestinian village on the other side of the wall, fears that the journey from his village to the city will be lengthened by some eight kilometres (five miles) if the project is completed.

- 'Apartheid road'? -

Palestinians and Israelis often share roads in the West Bank, although some are reserved exclusively for Israelis.

But a Palestine Liberation Organisation official joined others who have called it "the first apartheid road" and voiced fears it could create a precedent.

For Tatarsky, the road is also part of a push to incorporate Israeli settlements near Jerusalem more closely into the city, he said.

Maale Adumim, a settlement with more than 40,000 residents on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, could become a suburb like any other, he said.

Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians want as part of a future state.

Some 450,000 settlers live in the West Bank alongside more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

Jerusalem is already cut off from the West Bank by Israel's separation barrier, built during the bloody second Palestinian intifada.

Israel says the barrier is necessary for security, but for Palestinians it has become a symbol of the occupation.

Ahmed Mohammed al-Qaysi, a Palestinian driver for the Al-Zaim local council, does not have permission from Israel to cross the separation barrier and enter Jerusalem, like many Palestinians in the West Bank.

Still, he sees an advantage with the new road.

Infrastructure is a problem in the West Bank, where Palestinians say they have been unable to build adequate infrastructure due to Israeli restrictions.

Qaysi says the road has cut his journey to the neighbouring village of Anata to a few minutes instead of half an hour or more.