by Safa Dhaher
Political Background: The Oslo Accord
Al-‘Eizariya (Bethany) is one of East Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods located on the historic Jerusalem-Jericho route, two miles from Jerusalem. The reality of al-’Eizariya has changed dramatically in the last two decades. After the Oslo Accords (1993) were signed, al-‘Eizariya expanded to accommodate the flood of migrants who arrived due to an economic boom and the political expectation that it would be part of the future capital of the state of Palestine. All this economic growth has since been disrupted by the failure of the Oslo Accords1 and the construction of the Separation Wall beginning in 2002.2
The Separation Wall disconnected al-‘Eizariya from East Jerusalem and cut off the main road connecting East Jerusalem with Jericho which passed through al-‘Eizariya. This forced many shops at the eastern entrance to close, since they were now inaccessible to shoppers from East Jerusalem, as well as to those who use to pass by on their way to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement3 or to the city of Jericho. Furthermore, the unemployment rate has risen because those who worked in Jerusalem are now unable to reach their jobs. Similarly, schools and hospitals in East Jerusalem, located within walking distance from the town, are now out of reach. Women in labor and those requiring advanced medical care now must drive to the nearest hospitals in Jericho or Ramallah. These hardships have caused a mass migration out of al-‘Eizariya, and dozens of houses stand empty. Most of the Jerusalemites who came to al-‘Eizariya as a result of the housing crisis in East Jerusalem have moved back into the city because crossing the border and passing through checkpoint inspections has proven too disruptive to their daily lives; many were also concerned about losing their Jerusalem residency status.
The Empirical Research
The first thing I observed in al-‘Eizariya was the chaos: rubbish on the sidewalk at the entrance, unlicensed transportation vehicles, traffic jams, unpaved side streets and unorganized high-rise buildings. Isam Faroon, who had been the mayor of al-‘Eizariya during the period in which the wall was built, explained:
There is no possibility to expand horizontally, al-‘Eizariya’s extended land was confiscated by the Israelis to build the settlement of Ma ’ale Adumim, the bypass road and the Wall, the rest are considered Area C. The center and the rest of the town are Area B, this means an area without national security forces (Palestinian police), this explains the chaos we are living in.4
Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into three administrative divisions: Area A, under full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority; Area B, under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control; and Area C, under full Israeli civil and security control. This classification of Areas A, B and C was supposed to be temporary, with all of the West Bank — except Israeli military locations and settlements — to become Area A within 18 months. As explained by Mr. Ziad AbuZayyad a former minister and a resident of al-‘Eizariya: “All this was disturbed by the end of 1999. Ehud Barak was against the transformation and suggested to postpone it to a final stage. In 2000 Ariel Sharon became the prime minister and everything went the other way.”5
All Palestinian cities with high population densities were designated Area A and put under the control of the Palestinian security forces.6 For Area B, the towns where the Palestinian population density was lower than in the cities, the Israelis and the Palestinians each had a different interpretation of the term “joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.” For the Israelis, security meant only the security of Israel, not Palestinian security. When two Palestinian cars are in an accident, for example, the Israelis do not interfere. Meanwhile, Palestinian police cannot move freely from Area A to Area B because they have to coordinate with the Joint Security Coordination office, which usually takes up to 48 hours, according to the Cairo protocol,7 and is useless in the case of emergencies. Due to al-‘Eizariya’s classification as Areas B and C, AbuZayyad explained, “around 25,000 inhabitants are left without National Security Forces (Palestinian police). This has made al-‘Eizariya a perfect place for outlaws and explains the current security chaos.”
On the discourse of regulation, expansion and chaos, “we may say that the economic development has been in a state of chaos since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority,” said Faroon. “The structural plan that was adopted by al-‘Ezariya local council was done with computer technology: fake streets, fake public places and fake services that were unworkable and unrealistic.” Therefore, there were enormous violations of the structural plan for new buildings. There are 18 wedding halls in al-‘Eizariya and no parking, explained Zakariyya M. Abu-Rish: The son of al-‘Eizariya’s ex-mayor, the late Mahmoud K. Aburish, and one of the regional notables.
Furthermore, “The new generation has less [sense of] belonging,” K. Abu-Rish8 said, trying to explain the chaos from his point of view. “They do not care about throwing garbage in the street or driving too fast and hitting an electricity pole.” Calling them “the generation of the intifada,” he said, “most of them were jailed by Israel and did not finish school. They are confused and always ready to create social problems. The spread of drugs became a phenomenon, Israeli security forces will interfere only if they sell drugs to an Israeli. Otherwise they do not.”
It is worth mentioning that all Jerusalem suburbs were classified as Area B. Many interviewees expressed their belief that this deliberate classification serves the Israeli scheme to transform these areas into what they are today. It is common knowledge that the administrative authority Palestinians have over Area B, without the presence of law and order, is irrelevant and useless.
Al-‘Eizariya’s Social Fabric
The second thing I observed in al-‘Eizariya was the density and diversity of the population. AbuZayyad and other key interviewees explained the al-‘Eizariya social fabric: Before the war of 1948, al-‘Eizariya was socially homogeneous, with about 7,000 inhabitants, but after the war, a wave of refugees came from different Palestinian villages in historic Palestine to settle in al-‘Eizariya. Between 1952 and 1954 the Anglican church adopted a project that aimed to resettle refugees who were expelled from the villages of Suba, Durban and Qastal, to the southwest of Jerusalem. The church bought land that was far from the center and built houses for those refugees. This area was named “Al Mashroo,” which literally means “The Project.” These refugees eventually intermingled with the locals though marriage, at work and as classmates. During the 1967 war some of the same relocated people and a number of locals left for Jordan out of fear for their lives, many because they remembered the trauma of the 1948 war.
After the 1967 war and the occupation of East Jerusalem, Palestinians were evacuated by Israel from the neighborhood of Waqf Abu Madan, (adjacent to the Wailing Wall in the Old City) to al-‘Eizariya, where they were settled in the empty houses of those who had fled during the war.9
In the late 1980s, the overall number of al-‘Eizariya inhabitants ranged between 15,000 and 16,000. It was at this point that many Jerusalemites moved to al-‘Eizariya in order to escape the housing crisis in Jerusalem. But these Jerusalemites continued to live their lives in Jerusalem and did not integrate with the locals. This phase continued until the construction of the separation wall starting in 2002-03. Other Palestinians from different parts of the West Bank moved to live in al-‘Eizariya during this time, because it was the closest point from which they could enter and work in Israel during the time of restricted movement. Others moved to al-‘Eizariya due to rumors that al-‘Eizariya would be annexed to Jerusalem, and that its residents might receive an identity card with more benefits. This wave of immigrants strained al-‘Eizariya’s social fabric, causing the locals and other integrated groups to feel like strangers in their own town as drugs, disputes over land and other social problems started to spread. The estimated population at this time was between 25,000 and 27,000 inhabitants.
Social Structure, Relationships and Transitions
At the official level, there is no discrimination between various groups when it comes to local council services and other services such as health care and education. However, on the social level it is the complete opposite. Although the refugees of the 1948 war actually integrated with the locals and occupied important jobs such as teachers in the local schools, they expressed deep feelings of bitterness and a sense of discrimination. Even after all of these years, many consider themselves “strangers,” while those who came afterwards and settled in al-‘Eizariya for economic reasons expressed no sense of alienation and described the social sphere as positive.
Family relationships have also seen a notable change since 1988. Before the intifada the head of the extended family, had notable authority over its members. Since the intifada, however, this has shifted to the influential youth of the intifada. As Mr. AbuZayyad said, “We started to hear a new expression: ‘Al Shabab,’ which means the young men, Al Shabab became the reference point of the society. The dominance of the family has been weakened and disintegrating since then. Politics influenced relationships.”
The Wall between East Jerusalem and al-‘Eizariya
The case of East Jerusalem is critical, because Palestinians claim it as their capital. However, Israel annexed East Jerusalem in June 1967 and later claimed it as part of its capital in 1980. There was disagreement from the beginning; the Israelis, having no desire to discuss their positions on East Jerusalem, postponed the issue in order to use time to change the reality and the character of the city by Judaizing it.10 The Israeli aim was, and still is, to create facts on the ground that make it difficult for Israel to withdraw later. In fact, Israelis considered al-‘Eizariya and the town of Abu Dis an alternative to East Jerusalem. According to AbuZayyad: “That’s why Israel gave the Palestinians permission to build their Legislative Council in Abu Dis. Usually such buildings are located in the capital of the state.”
Many of the al-‘Eizariya population used to work in East Jerusalem and Israel; thus they have strong social ties with East Jerusalem and its suburbs, despite their West Bank identity cards (the green ID). This freedom of movement ended on March 28, 1993, when Israel announced a full closure of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, prohibiting Palestinians from entering Israel, including East Jerusalem. The implementation of the Oslo Accords did little to change these restrictions on movement, which in fact have become worse with time and have caused severe economic and social consequences for the residents of al-‘Eizariya.
The Separation Wall ignores urban planning considerations, literally running down the middle of the Ash’Shayyah11 neighborhoods, leaving half of the residents in East Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall, and imprisoning the other half in al-‘Eizariya, on the West Bank side.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem, although they were given Israeli residency status, have been subjected to consistent policies of negligence, discrimination and expropriation exercised by the Jerusalem municipality and various Israeli governmental agencies (Amir, 2011). Housing policy and urban planning, for example, have been used to manipulate and limit Palestinian demography and urban geography in Jerusalem (Bollens, 2000). One-third of the area annexed in 1967 was expropriated from Palestinian landowners, and used, exclusively, to build 12 Jewish neighborhoods, populated by some 192,000 Israelis (B’Tselem, 2006). In comparison, building for and by Palestinians is allowed in only 7% of East Jerusalem, mostly in existing Palestinian neighborhoods. Permits are needed to extend or enlarge a home, and these are rarely given to Palestinians. “We are 12 people living in two rooms,” said Mohammed, an interviewee. “We asked the municipality to transform the terrace to a third room, but they refused. What are we going to do?”12
As families grow and children marry, there is an ever greater demand on the limited housing available. This has driven many to build without permits — and live in fear that, one day, the Israeli authorities will demolish their homes. Others have moved to the suburbs even at the risk of losing social security benefits, hoping it will improve the quality of their lives and afford them a dignified existence. Al-‘Eizariya was the destination for many such Jerusalemites.
Following the construction of the Separation Wall, which cut off the suburbs, many of the same people who moved out of the city moved back, as previously mentioned. This, combined with restrictions on building, has forced many Palestinians to live in inhumanly crowded conditions in order to keep their jobs, businesses or property (UN-OCHA, 2009). “My wife and I left our spacious house empty in Ash-Shayyah,” one former resident said. “Now we are living with our son’s family in his small apartment in Shu’fat within the Jerusalem municipality boundaries because we are afraid to lose our (blue ID) residency card.”13 According to another interviewee:
Our lives changed dramatically; my husband, two kids and I had to leave our relatively big apartment in al-‘Eizariya to live in a very small apartment with my in-laws in Jerusalem. We are suffering to keep our blue [Jerusalem] ID and to make sure that our children will be registered as residents of Jerusalem. We had to move; the Israeli national insurance makes unannounced visits to make sure we actually live inside the municipality borders.14
The Jerusalemites who have not moved out of al-‘Eizariya are living in “monitoring” mode, constantly worried about the possible closure of the eastern entrance to the town, which would mean that Jerusalemites would no longer be able to enter al-‘Eizariya through al-Za’ayyem checkpoint.15
Until the Separation Wall was built, the distinction between neighborhoods and towns located inside and outside Jerusalem was purely artificial. It is common for members of the same family to have different civic statuses. Whereas some hold Israeli residency status (blue IDs) others have a West Bank identification card (green IDs). Before the construction of the wall, people moved back and forth relatively freely. Differences in civil status did influence entitlement for services and benefits, but these differences did not split the families themselves. When the Separation Wall was built, however, these differences sliced their way through the spatial continuums (Amir, 2011). The Separation Wall did not only tear the urban social fabric; it literally tore families apart. As one interviewee said: “The occupation entered my bedroom, my husband has a West Bank ID, he needs a permit to visit me. The occupation actually decides when and where we should meet.”16 (October 29, 2013)
While, prior to the construction of the Separation Wall, family members and other West Bank identification card holders were formally forbidden to enter the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, this restriction was not enforced as a general rule. The construction of the separation wall provided the means for implementing this restriction. “Whoever imagined that we would be forbidden from entering our city and joining our family on happy and sad occasions?” said Mohammed Izhiman.17 In its early stages, the wall was merely an obstacle that stood in the way of the flow of people and goods — people had to squeeze their way through the cracks. The ability to cross through these makeshift passageways was often arbitrary and added an element of constant unpredictability to Palestinian movement within greater Jerusalem (Eilat, 2010). However, in 2009, Israel sealed almost all of the unofficial passages, and all movement across the separation wall became restricted to the six designated checkpoints. One such checkpoint is the “Olive” checkpoint in al-‘Eizariya.
The question of which side of the Separation Wall one is living on, working on, has a family on, etc. has become crucial. Martha, a British woman who is married to a Palestinian, has two sons and lives in Ash-Shayyah.
“I want to rent a house somewhere, your father’s house will stay here, our quality of life is more important, we can come and visit, or we could come back when the situation is better. Our quality of life declined; when I came to live here in 1993, I could go where ever I wanted, I used to have an Israeli driving license, now they took it away from me because of the Wall, now I am in the same house but it’s considered to be in the West Bank. The neighbors left, there is no one here but us and a few others. They left to live in Jerusalem because they are afraid of losing their Jerusalemite ID. We are here almost alone.18”
During this interview, it was clear that Israeli polices and laws affect even those who have foreign passports: She cannot stay in the same house with an Israeli tourist visa anymore. Now she is a West Bank resident and has started to suffer like any other Palestinian citizen. But worse is the division that it has caused within the family: She wanted to rent a house somewhere else to avoid the daily suffering, but her Palestinian husband refused. For him, leaving means surrender and would be a betrayal of his father’s soul and the Palestinian cause. He has always felt a stranger in al-‘Eizariya and argues that, “We are refugees, we left our home in Safad19 once, it was a big mistake, and we are not going to leave this one, too.” He knows that his decision is not rational, but he does not think he should leave, no matter what.
The Separation Wall has sliced its way through the neighborhoods and literally broken families apart. Now, people are living in “monitoring mode,” worried about the possible closure of the eastern entrance to al-‘Eizariya. If this happens, al-‘Eizariya will be encircled by the Wall on the east, west and north sides; the only open space will be the Abu-Dis area. Abu-Dis will connect al-‘Ezariya with the surrounding Palestinian cities in the southern part of the West Bank, and an alternative bypass road will be constructed through Anata to connect al-‘Eizariya with Ramallah and other cities in the northern part of the West Bank. For the people of al-‘Eizariya it will be a long journey to Jericho through Ramallah to the north, then from there to the southeast, instead of the direct route they use to have.
The Separation Wall has paralyzed social life. The Jerusalemites who lived in al-‘Eizariya are the most affected; they began a reverse migration for fear of losing their blue Jerusalem ID cards and to avoid the difficulty of movement they faced daily. They have been forced to return to live in Jerusalem despite bad living conditions, leaving spacious houses empty in al-‘Eizariya. All of these effects have had negative social and economic effects on al-‘Eizariya.
Despite the fact that there is a social security vacuum and an absence of law and order in the community, the size of the existing problems is reduced by the presence of remaining family ties. Nevertheless, the imbalance is an assault on public order, yet no one in the community has tried to do anything about it. If there is no personal direct negative effect, there is no initiative to solve the problem, and this, unfortunately, has become the general attitude.
Everyone is busy with their everyday life problems. Some call coping with the new reality “enhancing the resilience” or “resistance by existence,” but others argue that when the pressure reaches the point of despair, it will explode and turn negatively on Israel. Those few who still believe in negotiations assume that, within the framework of any political settlements on Jerusalem, the Israelis will give back Arab-populated areas to reduce the number of Arabs in Jerusalem, and at the same time annex all the Jewish settlements around Jerusalem to increase the number of Jews in the city and guarantee that the demographic balance will be always in favor of Israel.
The people are tired, and they have lost faith in politics and politicians; everyone is busy doing what he or she has to do to survive and save the family. This leads to self-interest becoming more important than the sense of national collectivism. The Palestinian community and leadership must be aware of the new challenges which demand urgent action on the local and international levels. Otherwise the consequences will be catastrophic.
1See Said, E. W., The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (London: Granta Books, 2000).
2See Lagerquist, P. (2004). Fencing the last sky: Excavating Palestine after Israel’s “separation wall.”
3An Israeli settlement that was established on the land of al-‘Ezariya and eastwards in the year 1975, a community of 40,000 people; see Allegra, 2012.
4Interview with the author, November 5, 2013.
5Interview with the author, November 6, 2013.
6See Neve Gordon (2008) in his article “From Colonization to Separation: exploring the structure of Israel’s Occupation,” in which he said that the overarching logic of the Oslo accords was that Israel transfer all responsibilities relating to the management of the population to the Palestinians themselves while preserving control of Palestinian space.
7The agreement that was signed in Cairo by Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat in Cairo on February 9, 1994, this agreement was in the form of two documents, one on general principles, and the other on border crossings.
8Khalil M. Abu-Rish, interview with the author, November 7, 2013.
9By using the Absentees’ property’ laws that were designed to establish Israel’s legal control over lands and properties, this body of law focused on formulating a legal definition for the people (mostly Arabs) who had left or been forced to flee from these lands.
10Judaizing Jerusalem means creating geographic and demographic facts on the ground in order to establish exclusive Jewish hegemony over the city (Dolphin, 2006).
11The wealthy upscale northwest neighborhoods of al-‘Eizariya, the west part also called (Kobsa).
12Mohammed, interview with the author, November 14, 2013.
13Abu Mahmoud, interview with the author, November 12, 2013.
14Interview with the author, Nov. 26, 2013. Lana is from Jerusalem and she and her family hold Jerusalemite IDs, but she lives most of her life in al-‘Eizariya. She studied, and is now working at, al-Quds University’s main campus in Abu-Dis.
15This checkpoint is located on the bypass road that connects the settlements in the West Bank to the east of Jerusalem with Israel.
16Khawla, interview with the author, Oct. 29, 2013. Khawla lives in Jerusalem and she holds a Jerusalemite ID and works at al-Quds University main campus in Abu-Dis.
17Interview with the author, Nov. 7, 2013 Izhiman is a Jerusalemite settled with his family in al-‘Eizariya before the 1967 war and, accordingly, he obtained a green West Bank ID.
18Interview with the author, Nov. 30, 2013. The Wall passes by their garden separating them from their neighbors.
19Safad is a Palestinian city that the Palestinians lost during the 1948 war and which has now become an Israeli city.
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Acknowledgment: The author wishes to thank Mr. Ziad AbuZayyad for his time and help in various stages of this research.