A Westmont in Jerusalem student reflects on studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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January 23, 2019, a protest against what has been nicknamed the “Apartheid Road” or “Segregated Highway” was held on the two-lane highway divided by a 26-foot high wall that separates Israeli and Palestinian drivers. Constructed more than ten years ago and only opened early January of this year, Route 4370 has become a featured exhibition of the contested land and political nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I have learned studying abroad in Israel-Palestine with Westmont in Jerusalem this semester that road systems carry as much political implications as border walls and checkpoints. Thus, my goal is to present a reflection of the conflict’s nuances as imaged by Route 4370 and my experiences this semester. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply rooted and longstanding in history of contested land claims and violence. In present day Israel-Palestine, the land is not clearly divided between the state of Israel and the West Bank with official borders.
Despite the checkpoints and walls controlled by Israeli military personnel, land jurisdiction is defined by the patchwork of Areas A, B, and C. According to Ehab Zahriyeh of Aljezeera America, Area A comprises 18% of the West Bank and is under full control and security of the Palestinian Authority and includes Palestinian-only communities. However, Area A is divided by Israeli checkpoints and settlements. Area B is 22% of the West Bank is meant to be shared Israeli-Palestinian security, while under Palestinian civil control. Lastly, Area C is 60% of the West Bank land and fully controlled by Israel, populated by settlements, and under Israeli building and zoning laws.
Route 4370 is in the land of Area C between East Jerusalem—which is largely populated by Arab-Israelis—and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement bloc. The Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs describes the road part of the East-1 Area Plan to connect Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem and a “feasible solution” to counteract Palestinians losing West Bank “territorial continuity” due to E-1.
In a recent interview with community activist, Bethlehem resident, and regular driver of Route 4370, Said Zarzar stated, “[The highway is] something new. It’s unlike what we are used to. For me, the idea of this new road is to prepare for the bigger plan of that area in particular. The Ma’aleh Adumim settlement is one of the most important […] connecting the mountains and building housing projects for settlers and connects the settlements with the mountains with Jerusalem, so it becomes essentially Jerusalem.” Zarzar defined the highway as a new Israeli expansionary “tactic” and a means to sever the West Bank in two.
While Route 4370 is the first wall-divided highway in Israel-Palestine, it is not the first of the region’s separated road systems. According to Visualizing Palestine, in 2012, there was approximately 75 KM of Israeli-only roads and 155 KM of restricted Palestinian access roads (i.e. roads with checkpoints and other road control obstacles) in the West Bank. Other structures, such as tunnels and overpasses, allow for the intersection and crossing of Israeli-only roads with Palestinian roads throughout the West Bank road system.
I had the opportunity to experience the Jewish-Israeli settler’s perspective during a Shabbat homestay south of Jerusalem in the Efrat settlement bloc. When I asked my host about the road, an employee at the American Embassy in Jerusalem, I received a positive response, “well, the Palestinians can get where they need to go and so can the Israelis.” My host also pointed out the wall, while its 26-feet of concrete and metal fencing appears scary, the design provides security for both sides while maximizing efficient traffic flow.
Zarzar also commented on the road’s efficiency, as the traffic separates according to the white and green Palestinian license plates and yellow Israeli plates. The division allows for Israeli license plated traffic to drive free of checkpoints and thus alleviating the integrated traffic travel time.
However, the future of E-1 plan, Ma’aleh Adumim bloc, and the West Bank infrastructure remains uncertain to either side. The media’s labeling of the bypass road as “apartheid” calls into question citizenship status of Israelis and Palestinians as “separate but equal”—in allusion to the the apartheid state of South Africa. However, as Israelis and Palestinians drive alongside each other, the divided road reflects the reinforcement of one side’s perception of the other. An aerial view of Israel-Palestine’s political infrastructure reveals the daily lives of the Israelis and Palestinians who use Route 4370 as divided.