Jerusalem divided as Israel blocks off Arab areas

Israeli troops are encircling Arab neighborhoods, blocking roads with concrete cubes the size of washing machines

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Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem, more than a third of the city’s population, have awoken to a new reality: Israeli troops are encircling Arab neighborhoods, blocking roads with concrete cubes the size of washing machines and ordering some of those leaving on foot to lift their shirts to show they are not carrying knives.

The unprecedented clampdown is meant to halt a rash of stabbings attacks. Many of the attacks were allegedly carried out by residents of occupied East Jerusalem, the sector captured and annexed by Israel in 1967 and claimed by Palestinians as a future capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has portrayed the measures as temporary, in line with what his advisers say any police department in the U.S. or Europe would do to quell urban unrest.

But some allege he is dividing occupied Jerusalem, something Netanyahu has said he would never do.

Arab residents, who have long complained of discriminatory Israeli policies, say the latest closures are bringing them to a boiling point and lead to more violence.

“They want to humiliate us,” said Taher Obeid, a 26-year-old janitor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He spoke over the din of car horns, as drivers stuck at one of the new checkpoints vented their anger.

Domestic critics say Netanyahu — long opposed to any negotiated partition of Jerusalem into two capitals — is effectively dividing the city along ethnic lines with his security measures.

“The great patriots ... who don’t go to bed at night before praying for a unified, undivided, greater occupied Jerusalem, are now proposing to dissect it, divide it and return it back 48 years in time,” commentator Nehemiah Strassler wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Some warn that recent events — a rise in “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians and Israeli crackdowns — offer a taste of the constant hate-filled skirmishes that would likely prevail for years if there’s no deal on setting up Palestine next to Israel.

They say that due to the growth of Israeli settlements, the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River has effectively become a binational entity, with Israel ruling over several million Palestinians.

“This is what the future looks like,” said expert Daniel Seidemann. “It’s the one-state reality.”

Amid the blocking of Arab areas in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a Palestinian gunman attacked the central bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Sunday, killing a soldier and wounding 11 other people, police said.

In one of the most serious attacks during this month’s upsurge of violence, police said the attacker was shot dead after a protracted gun battle, police said.

Palestinian media outlets named the attacker as Asam al-Araj from Shuafat, on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem.

A number of the wounded were police officers. Hospital officials said two people were in critical condition.

Forty-two Palestinians and eight Israelis have died in the recent violence, which was in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on occupied Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

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