A curving limestone palisade hugs a busy intersection, shining white and stately in the morning light. Cars whiz by in the sunshine, dappled by the shade of a row of stately palm trees, windows open to catch the early spring breeze that ruffles the luscious green fronds.

If you were to think that this row of palm trees runs along a seaside highway in a sun drenched South American capital, you would be mistaken. This is a border. A municipal scar on the national psyche. A tense demarcation line between two groups of people rebelling against their suffocating, inescapable closeness. It is, in fact, the precursor and ideological parent of a much more sinister barrier: a hulking concrete wall built to pen two peoples into miserable ghettos of their own political making.

Anyone who is intimately familiar with the topography of Jerusalem (and not entirely deluded by their own political prejudices) understands that the city can never be effectively partitioned between the Israelis and Palestinians. A patchwork of chaotic, unplanned Arab neighbourhoods and villages bleeding woozily into each other due to severe overcrowding underlies, overlays and hems in the Jewish street plan, most of which was laid down defensively: either at a time when the city was still torn by a barbed wire fence manned by Jordanian snipers, or in the immediate and bombastically imperialist aftermath of the Six Day War.

None of it was ever made to fit together; but the cruel – or fortuitous – irony of generations of city planners burying their heads in the sand is that it all grew so enmeshed in each other as to leave no clear demarcation line between Eastern and Western Jerusalem. There are many points of contact between these hostile and distant worlds, none as threatening or endearing as the outskirts of the neighbourhood in which I grew up, where regimented apartment blocks slide down the hills to wash their feet in the soft waters of the randomly expanding Arab village that, after the war, was left stranded on the interior of the city.

This is why those palm trees were planted. The road they border skirts the walls of the Old City on the way to the otherwise isolated northern neighbourhoods. They were the decorative opening salvo in a struggle for separation in the city. The palisade was put there to prevent people easily walking along – or across – a porous busy street on which the stoners of the West met the all night pitta bakeries of the East. They are infuriating, draconian, misguided… And unnecessary.

Even as a teenager I refused to stay on my side of the twisting, winding, invisible line that somehow manages to run across the undulating hills. I have my stories of being stranded on the dangerous side of it in the middle of the night, praying my good English will save me from being discovered as a soldier in the IDF. I’ve been on tense dates with boys from the wrong side of the valley, stupidly hoping that they liked me for my politics and not my loose un-Muslim morals. I learnt how to haggle from the shop owners in the Christian Quarter who took me for a dumb tourist, to tell Arab from Turkish coffee with my eyes closed. I always go back, at least once each time I’m back for a visit.

But nobody wants me there. Well, yes, they do in a way – I have money, I consume, I help keep their fragile and stunted economy going. But I’m welcome as a tourist, a pilgrim; not a neighbour. For them, I have no right to think I should be allowed there.

And for most people living on “my” side, the citizens of this other Jerusalem have no right to cross over into our orderly, clean, green city, to bring the menacing shadow of war and our own moral responsibility into the semblance of normality we have managed to create for ourselves. To walk off the disassociated movie screen we like to think they are playing a part on. When I was fifteen, my mother found out that I was going out with a boy from the Old City, and went ballistic – not out of simple racism, but because it meant one of us would be always interloping in the other’s physical space.

The two peoples making up the human landscape of Jerusalem can never be separated by geography or architecture as effectively as they are by their intense desire to not live in the same city. That’s why the trees shouldn’t be there. They are clumsily trying to scratch a line in the sand that is already etched indelibly in the minds of people.