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May 30, 2017

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Jerusalem wall splits Palestinian family

JERUSALEM--The six children of Ahmed and Rokaya Khatib shuttle between two parental homes during the week, spending time with their mother in Jerusalem or with their father in the West Bank.

Theirs is not another story of a family broken up by divorce.

The Khatibs are being kept apart by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement in east Jerusalem, including a towering separation barrier of cement slabs that cuts through families and neighborhoods.

Their two homes, built on ancestral lands of their extended family, are just a mile (less than 2 kilometers) apart, but have ended up on opposite sides of the separation barrier. Rokaya and the children have Israeli permits to reach the Jerusalem house through a barrier checkpoint, but Israel has barred her husband on security grounds.

"We cannot live the life we want as a family," said Ahmed Khatib, 45. "It's not a normal life."

The dispute over Jerusalem forms the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and hope of finding a way to share the city has faded with the failure of the latest U.S. mediation attempt. A nine-month negotiating period, envisioned by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as bringing about a final peace deal, expired Tuesday with no progress on any issue, including the fate of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians seek to establish a capital in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, while Israel's center-right government claims the entire city as its undivided capital. The fate of east Jerusalem is especially explosive because it is the home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

Some warn that the situation in Jerusalem is becoming increasingly unsustainable, particularly for tens of thousands of Palestinians whose daily lives are disrupted by the barrier and by Israel's permit regime, which bars most Palestinians in the West Bank from entering the city. In addition to seeing east Jerusalem as their spiritual capital, many Palestinians rely on the city for jobs, health care and other services.

"Jerusalem has been turned into a corked volcano ... and at some point it will erupt," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and Jerusalem expert.

Israel says the restrictions are needed to keep out militants who targeted Israeli civilians in Jerusalem during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.

"Israel wants to see a different reality of peace and co-existence," said government spokesman Mark Regev. Until then, security measures need to stay in place, he said.

The story of the Khatibs begins in the West Bank village of Hizme, near Jerusalem.

After Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, it expanded the city limits into the West Bank and took land from more than two dozen villages, including Hizme. Israel then annexed the enlarged Jerusalem to its capital — a move not recognized by most countries in the world.

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