Vehicles move slowly a few metres down the crowded main street of Aizarya, a Palestinian suburb east of Jerusalem, before stopping again.
Islam Rabea, a 23-year-old minibus driver, pulls on the handbrake and begins musing again.
“This town is more crowded than a can of tuna fish,” he says. “There’s one entrance, which is also the only exit, and I drive people to it back and forth all day.”
Aizarya’s only route to the outside world is to the east via an Israeli-built road, facing the entrance of Maale Adumim, the largest illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, built almost entirely on lands belonging to the Palestinian town.
To the west is Abu Dis, another Jerusalem suburb flanked by Israel’s separation wall, which forces all Abu Dis’s traffic to pass through Aizarya and exit east.
Last week, however, the Israeli government approved a project that would build extensive new sections of its separation wall around Aizarya’s north and east, severing it from the Israeli road and direct route to Jerusalem it has enjoyed for centuries, which now would be only accessible to Israeli settlers.
Israel’s government has allocated 14m shekels ($4.3m) for the project, according to Israeli NGO Peace Now.
Aizarya wouldn’t be totally cut off by the scheme. A new entrance to the town and Abu Dis would be erected to the north. That would move traffic towards Ramallah, away from the settlers’ view, and sever it from Jerusalem, the city that Aizarya has always been a satellite of.
“It wouldn’t change much for me, as a minibus driver. I’d still have to drive through this crowded cage to the new way out. But it would cut the town off completely from Jerusalem,” Rabea says.
‘Greater Jerusalem’ and Israeli annexation
This is not merely a traffic issue.
By funnelling Aizarya’s people away from Jerusalem and running the separation wall along the edge of the town, the suburb would be further cut off from the surrounding lands that Palestinian residents for centuries have worked and lived on.
The more would see Aizarya’s lands not already settled on by Israel as “effectively annexed”, according to its mayor, Issam Faroun, who says that his town would be “stripped of its lands – to the bone”.