The town of Al-Eizariya is a forgotten place. Once a bustling suburb of East Jerusalem, the town's fate was irrevocably changed after Israeli authorities began the construction of the Apartheid Wall, separating the town from life itself.
Al-Eizariya is lawless. Literally.
“No police here! No Israeli, no Palestinian!” the driver said as we passed into Al-Eizariya on that first day. He removed his seatbelt and laughed.
Police are absent from this city to the extent that young men volunteer to direct traffic on busy days – Eid, Thursday afternoons, and every day at rush hour. They wear neon yellow vests and stand at intersections, waving their hands back and forth like the inflatable balloons at car dealerships.
The cars ignore their exasperated pleas and speed forward anyway, whizzing past each other without warning and without lanes, parked perpendicular to the sidewalk, many of them unlicensed.
[The Apartheid Wall's] concrete is infused with the generational trauma of occupation—the Palestinian lives and liveliness lost to a physical manifestation of apartheid."
But traffic is the least of Al-Eizariya’s problems.
Once a thriving suburb of Jerusalem, Al-Eizariya enjoyed a more stable economy and easy access to the city. But in 2002, the Israeli government began construction of the so-called “separation wall,” known to many as the “apartheid wall,” and subsequently cut off Al-Eizariya from its livelihood.
Without easy access to Jerusalem, stores closed, tourism quelled, and hospitals fell out of reach.
The children and parents of Al-Eizariya and its adjacent town, Abu Dis, speak for themselves. They tell the story of how a wall changed lives, a wall built with no intention of demolition – solidifying the feared permanence of occupation.
Its concrete is infused with the generational trauma of occupation – the Palestinian lives and liveliness lost to a physical manifestation of apartheid. They tell the story of a place forgotten on the other side of the wall, where parents cannot guarantee the childhood they imagine for their children. Yet they try, fearlessly.
Without the wall, the residents of Al-Eizariya would be a 10-minute walk away from the holy city.
En route to Al-Eizariya, one cannot miss Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest illegal settlements in the West Bank, its checkpoint entrance adorned with Israeli flags and the typical armed iron-gated barriers of a settlement.
The main commercial street, Jericho road, runs between Ma’ale Adumim and the wall, placing the suburb in the jaws of occupation. Al-Eizariya cannot expand, but the population continues to grow rapidly, regardless of its limited job opportunities.
The wall is oddly placed, unaligned with the internationally recognised Green Line – the border between pre-1967 Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The wall was strategically built past the Green Line, allowing the Israeli government to further annex Palestinian land. Quotes in English and Arabic cover many of the massive concrete slabs:
“Soon everything will be magic.”
“Free is all you have to be, dream dreams no one else can see.”
“Peace on earth.”
And, of course, “Free Palestine.”
Khalil*, the co-founder and chairman of a local kindergarten and elementary school and father of two, remembers when the wall was built. He was born in 1983, shortly before the First Intifada, to the second Christian family in Al-Eizariya. Without the wall, Khalil grew up between Jerusalem and Al-Eizariya, attending schools in the Holy City.
“The wall destroyed our childhood,” he said, explaining that it turned Al-Eizariya into an open-air prison.
“I used to go on my bicycle to Jerusalem, I used to go running, I used to walk… The wall made our life more miserable, it made people poorer, it limited our dreams.”
Before the construction of the wall, Palestinians with green West Bank ID cards were able to move more freely between the West Bank and Jerusalem. While Israel formally forbade West Bank ID holders from entering Jerusalem in 1993, this was not strictly enforced until after the Second Intifada (2000-2005) and the construction of the separation wall in 2002. Palestinians with West Bank IDs can enter Jerusalem with a permit, but these are often difficult to obtain.
"Without the wall, the residents of Al-Eizariya would be a 10-minute walk away from the holy city. En route to Al-Eizariya, one cannot miss Ma'ale Adumim, one of the largest illegal settlements in the West Bank, its checkpoint entrance adorned with Israeli flags and the typical armed iron-gated barriers of a settlement"
Khalil’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, during the construction of the separation wall. She was treated with a medical permit at the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, known in Arabic as the Al-Muttala’ Hospital. But without an Israeli permit, Khalil could not sit by her bedside. The wall stood between him and his dying mother.
“The reality is harsh,” Khalil said. “It's a hard feeling when your mom is dying and she's five minutes away.”
Eventually, Israeli occupation forces approved his “mercy letter” asking to visit his mother before she died – but it was too late.
“Her soul was waiting for me, but she was dead.” He shook his head. “This is humiliation.”
Now, Khalil is a parent, and he hopes to protect his kids the way his own family protected him. But, he admits, “We cannot save our kids if the oppressor is still oppressing us.”
The construction of Israel's separation wall on the western edge of the camp in 2006 cut Shuafat off from the rest of Jerusalem, which can only be accessed through a military checkpoint by Israeli ID holders https://t.co/PMIJoVHJPg
— Al-Shabaka الشبكة (@AlShabaka) October 30, 2022
Nadia*, another parent from Al-Eizariya, understands the struggle of navigating the complex barriers created by the wall.
At 33 years old, she is a mother of four – her youngest, seven, and oldest, 15 – and she works as a kindergarten teacher. Before she received a permit to work in Jerusalem, Nadia was the only member of her family without access to Jerusalem.
Three years ago, the family was stopped by Israeli police in Jerusalem. Without a permit or ID, the police took Nadia and her husband to the precinct for questioning, leaving all four children in the car – alone and crying. Police interrogated them for the next seven hours in separate rooms.
“Where are you right now?” they asked Nadia, expecting her to say “Israel.”
“Palestine,” she answered.
At this response, the police officers began screaming, threatening to imprison her. Outside, her young children ran up and down the stairs of the precinct crying, looking for their mother. Until Nadia received a Jerusalem work permit, her children begged her not to return to the city without proper documentation. They did not want her to be detained again.
From next door Abu Dis, sisters Zeinab*, 11, and Zara*, 15, also see the wall as an obstacle that stands between them and Jerusalem. When asked to draw the first thing that comes to their mind when picturing Israeli occupation, they both drew the iconic yellow dome that sits atop Al-Aqsa Mosque, surrounded by soldiers, barriers, and scenes of violence.
“My drawing shows Al-Aqsa Mosque occupied by the army,” Zeinab explained. “They are shooting and killing the Palestinian people.”
Zara’s first drawing shows a Palestinian walking in the street, “and then an Israeli soldier shoots and kills him, so people gather around him and his crying mother.”
In her second drawing, soldiers surround Al-Aqsa Mosque with guns. They “trample” the Palestinian flag and raise the Israeli flag in its place.
While the girls live in Abu Dis, their family was originally displaced from the town of Abu Ghosh, 10 kilometres west of Jerusalem. They consider themselves refugees.
If the wall were destroyed tomorrow, Zara said, the first thing she would do is run to her father and tell him that they can go home.
*All names have been changed for security reasons.