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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 08:38 GMT
Finding holes in West Bank barrier
By Lipika Pelham

Palestinians climb West Bank barrier
Some Palestinians go over, through or under the massive barrier
Six days a week Hani, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Ramallah, comes to work in a shop in East Jerusalem.

He works from 0800 until midnight, sorting vegetables in a cold, damp back room.

He has no permit to work in the Israeli-occupied eastern part of Jerusalem, but like hundreds of others from the West Bank, Hani finds ways to travel through the barrier that zigzags through the West Bank.

Israel says the defensive system of concrete walls and wire fence is needed to stop suicide bombers. Palestinians say it is part of an Israeli land grab of West Bank territory.

Although many Palestinian workers get caught in the process of crossing illegally into Israel or East Jerusalem, a huge number of them manage to get through.

If caught, without papers or proper identity cards they risk being sent to prison for up to two years.

School rush

"I got caught once and went to prison for two months. I didn't have a permit, the soldiers caught me five minutes after I entered Jerusalem," Hani says.

I try these openings, which is more risky, as I have to run for cover in the shade of those buildings and through no-man's land

"I told them that I had to go to hospital, they didn't believe me, and asked me whether I had papers to go to hospital. I said no. They put me in their car, took me to the police station, six hours later I found myself in Haifa prison."

Hani is not eligible to apply for a permit, as he is only 25. The Israeli authorities tend to issue work permits to people over 35 years old.

Most mornings Hani joins the checkpoint queue along with hundreds of students from the villages of Dahiya and Ram, who have to travel through checkpoints to go to school.

Most of the residents in these villages hold Jerusalem residency cards, but the route of the barrier has left the two villages on the West Bank side.

In the morning school rush, the soldiers sometimes do not check students' papers.

On days when he is unlucky and is turned away from all the checkpoints, Hani tries to find other ways through.

The alternative route into Jerusalem is much trickier and more unsettling for Hani because it requires him to dodge the soldiers guarding the part of the barrier that is still being built.

Closed in

One day after he finished work, I accompanied Hani to the barrier.

Israeli barrier in Abu Dis, east Jerusalem
The high concrete wall separates Palestinian communities

He showed me the stretch where people had cut through the fortified wire fence in several places.

High residential buildings hide this stretch of the eight-metre-high barrier from the patrolling soldiers.

"When I can't get through the checkpoint, I try these openings, which is of course much more risky.

"I have to run for cover in the shade of those buildings, and run through the wasteland which is the no-man's land, before jumping onto the busy Shufat road to Jerusalem," Hani said.

In this area where the construction work to complete the high concrete-panelled wall is continuing, armoured police patrol buggies move very fast across the rough terrain hunting for people trying to cross.

When the wall finally closes in on the villages of Dahiya and Ram, there won't be very many options left for these workers, says Yasmin Barghuti who is a resident of the Arab quarter of Beit Hanina, just across the barrier in Jerusalem.

Fetid passage

Now cut off from the West Bank by a high concrete wall, which in places goes through the middle of the main street, Beit Hanina was once was a thriving, vibrant neighbourhood.

There's still a three-meter-wide opening between the two wings of the wall, which, once completed, would permanently isolate Beit Hanina from the adjacent West Bank neighbourhoods.

Israel border police guarding a gap in the barrier
Israel says the barrier is designed to stop suicide bombers
"Once this gap has been filled in with a few more concrete panels and the temporary fence removed, there'll still be other means to get through to Jerusalem," said Hani.

He led me along the wall until we reached an area full of rubble, building material and disused barbed wire.

The air was fetid with strong smell of sewage. He pointed at three manhole covers.

"I once used one of these sewers. It was so dark, we could hardly see a thing. When we finally came out on the Jerusalem side, I felt degraded for putting myself through it."

Checkpoints have become part of Hani's life. Despite serious risks, Hani deals with them on a daily basis.

Even on his wedding night, he said laughing, he had to cross checkpoints to go to the hotel where the newly-weds were staying.

His wife and two children live in a modest apartment in Ramallah.

If Hani were to abandon the hazardous travels to Jerusalem and find a job in Ramallah, he would only earn 3,000 shekels - around US $700 a month, which is less than half of what he earns in the Jerusalem shop. The rent for his apartment is US $500 a month.

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