In the beginning of 2004, as the new neighborhood association was being organized, the residents of Ras Hamis, Shuafat refugee camp and Anata (which form a continuous geographic and municipal unit), were informed that the Israeli security establishment had decided to effectively exclude them from the rest of Jerusalem by building the Separation Barrier at the entrance to their neighborhood. This would separate the residents from the center of their lives, including many essential services – such as schools, places of employment, health clinics, etc. In addition, although the official reasons given for this placement of the Barrier spoke of security, the exclusion of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem belied a long-held Israeli intention to “improve the demographic balance” of Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem.
This development – clearly the most radical change to effect the neighborhood since 1967 – virtually dictated the agenda of the fledgling community organization. Immediately, Ir Amim assisted the residents in opening communication lines with the Israeli security authorities in order to see if it would be possible to change the decision. In the meetings arranged by Ir Amim, neighborhood leaders, were able to voice their concerns directly to the Israeli security establishment (ultimately with the tacit support of the Palestinian leadership)
When this route of action failed to ease the situation, the Ras Hamis neighborhood corporation chose to oppose the planned route of the Separation Barrier, which would have left the entire neighborhood on the eastern, or “Palestinian” side of the Barrier, despite the fact that all the residents are Jerusalemites, and that the municipal boundaries include the Ras Hamis-Shuafat Refugee Camp-Anata area. This would mean that children going to school across the street, parents working, and sick people going to hospital or a clinic, would have to travel and wait hours at a checkpoint located miles away.
Opposing the building of the Barrier required neighborhood residents to confront the issue of the desired route of the Barrier, in order to file objections in the Israeli Courts. After much back-room discussion, a number of “town meetings” were held, in order to decide on a united position. The position hammered out at the assemblies was to request that the route of the Barrier follow an operationally sound route close to the municipal boundary in their neighborhood. This position is “politically incorrect” from a Palestinian national viewpoint, because it complies with another Israeli “fact on the ground” effectively annexing more Palestinian residents, and their land, to Israel. However, this position reflects the residents desire to maintain their ties with Al Quds (Jerusalem), where their lives are centered, rather than a desire to “become” Israeli. Consequently, this position was given the green light from the Palestinian political leadership. Approximately 250 residents joined the court case, prepared by Daniel Seidemann, legal advisor of Ir Amim. The Court has placed a temporary injunction on the construction of the Barrier that would exclude Ras Hamis. The work has been frozen, and the case is still pending before the courts.
It should be noted that the community organizing which had taken place in the last few months of 2003, and which culminated in the establishment of a formal Development Company in 2004, was critical in enabling the residents of Ras Hamis to take coherent, effective, and representative action when the crisis of the Barrier hit. Because the response was led by people who held the interests of the community as their highest priority, it was possible to navigate among the various ideologies and interests. It was possible to synthesize a position that answered the needs of the residents.
Thus, the timing of the Empowerment Project was this issue was particularly fortuitous. The very fact that town meetings were held is a significant development. This community process, catalyzed by the project, allowed residents to weigh their political/national aspirations together with their socio-economic needs; and to come up with the solution which was best for them in their own eyes. When they decided to fight the route of the Barrier, they were able to use the Project funds to hire legal services.
At the same time, the NGO has decided on an initial strategy in order to improve other aspects of community life. Specifically, they have chosen to work on the issues of ensuring a regular supply of water, and improving the physical appearance of the neighborhood.