Israel's Anti-Terror Fence The Wall around the West Bank
Fortifications cut through 760 kilometers of the Holy Land. The Israelis see it as a way to keep out suicide bombers while the Palestinians see it as a land-grab effort. Israel also ignored the cease-fire line during construction of barrier, exacerbating the Mideast conflict.
We should really only call it "the thing". The structure with which Israel is trying to seal itself off from the West Bank it occupied in 1967 is so contentious that even trying to name it is foolhardy. What is a wall to some is a fence to others. And in an attempt to remain neutral, the Western press has come up with a third name for the monstrosity that cuts through the Holy Land: the "separation barrier."
The separation barrier is about 760 kilometers (472 miles long) -- roughly twice the length of the 1949 cease-fire line which separates Israel from the West Bank in the Palestinian territories. Most of its length consists of an electric fence, but about 30 kilometers worth is comprised of a concrete wall measuring up to eight meters (26 feet) in height. The wall-vs.-fence issue is more apparent in the densely populated areas in and around Jerusalem: For the Palestinians, the barrier is an obstacle that makes daily life more difficult, but for the Israelis, it's a defense against terrorism.
Plans to seal Israel off from the land it had occupied were gaining ground as far back as the 1990s. After a number of bloody attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, Nobel Prize-winning President Yitzhak Rabin, who was later murdered, declared that he wanted "... to take Gaza out of Tel Aviv." In 2000, the outbreak of the second Intifada -- the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation -- increased pressure on Israel's government to curb attacks by suicide-bombers from the West Bank. To start, a couple of fences were put up along the border here and there. Then, with military-like precision, the construction of today's barrier began in 2002.
Little Regard for the Cease-Fire Line
The problems began as soon as the planning did. For approximately two-thirds of its length, the fence and wall ran east of the Green Line, on Palestinian territory. The construction meandered over hills and through valleys, creating enclaves as it did, cutting through olive groves and fields, into villages and heavily populated parts of Jerusalem.
The aim of this bizarre route was to annex the majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel proper. Almost no heed was taken of the cease-fire line which had once served as the theoretical basis for the borders of a future Palestinian state.
Some of the Jewish settlement blocks surrounded by the separation barrier, such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel, are located up to 20 kilometers inside Palestinian land. For Israel, they are footholds in enemy territory; for skeptics, they are problem areas which will make it harder to reach a peace agreement for decades.
It is mainly the route of the wall which has brought international condemnation. In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that while Israel had an inalienable right to defend itself, building the wall on Palestinian territory was in contravention of international law.
Even the Palestinians don't object so much to the barrier itself as they do to its being built on their land. "If you have a dispute with your neighbor, by all means build a garden fence. But build it in your own garden," as one Palestinian farmer rather succinctly put it.
Barrier Complicates Everyday Life
Palestinian settlements like Qalqilyah are surrounded on three sides, making a seemingly simple trip to school or a neighboring village an arduous journey. In other locations, farmland has become inaccessible. In Jerusalem,it can take half a ay just to get to the next street. It can be kilometers between the checkpoints which people need to pass through to get to the other side. They can also only do so provided they have the right documentation.
Ray Dolphin is a "barrier specialist" at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem. He cites the three main problems for Palestinians as being "... freedom of movement in the villages, farmers not being able to get to their land and people in Jerusalem being cut off from hospitals, schools and religious centers."
In Israel, the separation barrier is seen as a success, in spite of the enormous costs. The military and political classes are happy to remind the public that since the barrier was erected, infiltration into Israel by suicide bombers has fallen to almost zero. But there are still difficulties: The Israeli Supreme Court deals with hundreds of lawsuits from Palestinians hoping to bring about the removal of the barrier from their land. The court keeps ruling in the plaintiffs' favor.
The cost of adjusting the course of the wall could end up exceeding the actual construction costs. Yet according to Ray Dolphin, "pulling it down and rebuilding it on their own land is the only solution that will bring long-term peace."
The wall will remain an issue in the Holy Land for a long time to come.
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