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The fence or wall that Israel is building in the West Bank has been the subject of acrimonious debate. Israeli settlers opposed the fence because it will leave many of them outside its protection and make a de-facto division of "the Land of Israel." Israeli moderates initially supported the fence because it would protect Israel from Palestinian terror attacks.
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was originally opposed to the barrier. He doesn't believe in static defenses, and didn't want to create a "fact on the ground" that might seem as though Israel is giving up territories ahead of negototiations. However, under pressure from Israelis living along the border, and in the face of repeated terror attacks due to infiltration from the West Bank into Israel, Sharon adapted the fence plan of the Israel Labor party to suit his own program, moving the route off the 1949 armistice lines and into the Occupied West Bank, and, some say, planning construction that will totally surround Palestinian areas creating Palestinian enclaves surrounded by Israeli territory. Palestinians have opposed the fence bitterly, calling it an Apartheid Wall and are joined by the Israeli left. The United States expressed reservations about the security fence and forced the Israel government to postpone implementation of a section that would have included the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Activist groups have made a big issue of this barrier. Of course, conclusion of a peace agreement, cessation of th violence and Israeli withdrawal would make the fence issue irrelevant and there would be no support for building it in Israel.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to debate the issue on October 14.
The Economist has published a detailed and thoughtful analysis (see below) but it is flawed by factual errors. There is no Ottoman law regarding reversion of unworked private land after 3 years. Rather, the lands in question are owned by the state and are leased to the farmer who enjoys the usufruct of the land only. The deeds of ownership are not deeds of ownership of private land. The Intifada has indeed caused grave economic hardship as the Economist notes, but this hardship is not due to the security fence, which has only been constructed recently, but rather to the disruption of normal life caused by war and the inability of Palestinians to get employment in Israel. In recent months, the Palestinian economy has shown signs of recovery, also unrelated to construction of the fence.
Note: All maps of the fence route and proposals are unofficial and are generally obtained from sources hostile to Israel.
Israel's security barrier
A safety measure or a land grab?
Israelis want a barrier to protect themselves from Palestinian terrorists. But the wall, now being constructed, is taking a strange route for that purpose
AFTER every suicide bombing, the wall that Israel is building to seal itself off from the West Bank grows more popular with its people. This remains so, even though the latest assailant, a 29-year-old woman lawyer from Jenin who blew herself up in a restaurant in Haifa on October 4th killing 19 people, is said to have slipped into Israel through an unmanned gate in a completed section of the barrier.
Three days earlier, the Israeli cabinet had approved the army's plans for the full length of the barrier between Israel and the West Bank. These plans include deep incursions into Palestinian territory, to take in several large Israeli settlements, and a sweeping arc around occupied East Jerusalem that would sever Palestinians in the city from their West Bank hinterland.
One of the deepest incursions, encompassing the settlement-towns of Ariel and Emmanuel, is to be deferred for the moment because of American objections (though the settlements themselves will be fenced around). But Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, believes that America's pressure will weaken with time, especially as its election grows close.
Mr Sharon was slow to succumb to public pressure for a security wall. At first, he sided with the settlers who feared that a physical divide-built, as the early pro-wallers envisaged it, approximately along the pre-1967 Green Line between Israel and the West Bank-would inevitably harden into the
Israel's far-left opposed the barrier, on the grounds that such highhanded unilateral action by Israel must necessarily set back the prospects of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. Once the wall was started in June last year, Israeli peaceniks joined in the outcry of Palestinians living along its first stretch, many of whom found themselves trapped, relying on the fitful diligence of Israeli soldiers to open gates in the wall to let them in or out.
But the political mainstream embraced the wall as a self-defensive measure to be implemented while the intifada continues, and the peace process is stalled. Keeping the terrorists out-and thus providing the security that would allow for eventual talks-is the foremost consideration with most Israelis, trumping humanitarian worries about what is happening to Palestinians along the barrier's route.
The cabinet decision on October 1st, however, confirmed what the Palestinians have long been fearing and saying. Thanks to the sustained lobbying of Israel's settlers, and Mr Sharon's own identification with their cause, the barrier will not reinforce the 1967 Green Line, but will jut deeply and repeatedly into the West Bank. The pro-wall activists, say the settlers, have been hoist on their own petard.
The first phase of the barrier was completed in July. It runs 125km (78 miles) from Salem, a northern Israeli-Palestinian village, to the Elqana settlement south of Qalqiliya, 5km within the West Bank (other small sections of the wall have been built around Jerusalem). The first part of the northern barrier does run more or less parallel with the Green Line, although always built on the Palestinian side. As such, it resembles the barrier that encircles the Gaza Strip, which has proved pretty effective at preventing the infiltration of Palestinians from Gaza into Israel.
Swerving and dipping
But there the resemblance ends. The farther south the barrier runs, the more it starts to swerve and dip eastwards, like a vast territorial river, to envelop ten settlements, housing 19,000 settlers, built on occupied land. It is the extent and reach of these detours from the Green Line that convinces Palestinians that the barrier is less a project for Israel's security, and more a means to realise the colonial ambitions of the settler movement and its supporters.
The winding route of this first phase of the plan traps 15 Palestinian villages with 13,600 residents between the Green Line and the barrier. These unfortunates are prohibited from entering Israel to the west, and physically barred from reaching their lands, businesses and extended families in their West Bank hinterland to the east. A further 30,000 Palestinian farmers who live on the east side of the barrier are now cut off from their orchards, groves and farms on the western side.
Thousands more Palestinians have lost their access to schools, hospitals, government services and universities in the main urban centres of Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqiliya and Nablus. According to B'tselem, an Israeli human-rights lobby, 210,000 Palestinians living in 67 Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps have been "directly affected" by the construction.
The UN reports that 160,000 dunums (36,000 acres), or 2% of the West Bank's total land area, now falls on the Israeli side of the barrier, including some of the Palestinians' most fertile agricultural land, and prime West Bank water resources. About 10,000 dunums of privately owned Palestinian
Palestinians' urban life has fared no better. Take Qalqiliya, a city where 42,000 Palestinians live, but which is the business and medical hub for 90,000 others from 32 neighbouring villages. The city is now caged on three sides by 13km of fences and blockades, including a 25-foot high concrete wall, topped by military watchtowers. There is one entrance for people and goods, and two agricultural crossings. Unemployment stands at 63% compared with 20% at the start of the intifada, 5,000 families are defined as destitute, and 80% of its residents depend on aid, either international or Islamic.
There is also a slow but clear exodus from the city, with many of the young and educated moving to the centre of the West Bank, or to Jordan and the Gulf. Qalqiliya's mayor, Mahrouf Zahran, believes as many as 8,000 Palestinians have left the town in the past three years. This, he insists, is the wall's basic purpose: "If Israelis had wanted security, they could have built it on the Green Line. But the aim is to strangle us economically, to force us to leave."
Defenders of the wall say that all this dislocation is temporary only. "We are using a law to seize land for security reasons, and the law is very clear," a defence ministry official told Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper last month. "When the security problem does not exist any more the land is returned to the owner." Palestinians do not believe this to be true.
They point to the sheer extent of the barrier. On the section already completed, it is between 60 and 100 metres wide, consisting of concrete walls, electronic and razor-wire fences, trenches or ditches, plus, as a rule, three roads: one to trace infiltrators, another for army patrols and a third wide one for tanks. It has meant a big financial investment. The first phase is estimated to have cost the Israeli government $200m, working out at around $1.6m per kilometre. The final cost is incalculable, given how
They are also wary of the legal means Israel has used to construct the barrier, if only because they have experienced them before. Most of the land for the wall has been "requisitioned for military needs" by the army. These orders are valid until 2005, but can be renewed. Palestinian landowners can
"Two things are certain about Israel," says Muhammad Maraabi, the deputy mayor of Ras Atiya, a Palestinian village south of Qalqiliya, "It never returns your land and it never pulls down walls it puts up." Ras Atiya is 3km from Alfei Menashe, a settlement built on confiscated Palestinian farmland in the early 1980s. Between village and settlement runs the barrier: a turmoil of bulldozed land, dynamited rock, coiled wire, ditches, a concrete wall, a tarred road and a tangle of razor wire.
Mr Maraabi says the village has lost 1,400 dunums to the barrier's construction, and that its route has cut the village off from 9,000 dunums of the citrus groves, cucumber fields and flowers that have been its livelihood for close on 150 years. When the armistice lines were drawn after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Ras Atiya lost 1,000 dunums to the new Jewish state. Mr Maraabi is convinced that this current, larger expropriation will be similarly irreversible.
The army says that the problems will be eased when five "main" gates and 26 agricultural ones are installed along the barrier's route. But few openings have been built so far, and no money was allocated for them in Israel's 2003 budget. Instead, Palestinians gather each morning on the outskirts of their
It is a dangerous abandonment. In the West Bank, the Israelis use an old Ottoman statute in which private land unworked for three years can be claimed by the state. Since 1967, Israel has invoked this law to take over 60% of the West Bank as state land, to build 135 settlements and to
The first phase of the barrier has been bad but Palestinians fear worse to come. The next phase of the western barrier may not, for the moment, include Ariel and other settlements deep in the heart of the northern West Bank, but it will certainly incorporate southern settlement-blocks, including Gush
Obliterating Palestinian Jerusalem
In the East Jerusalem area the entire 45km of planned wall will be up by early in the new year if construction continues at its present rapid pace. Broadly speaking, the wall will follow the line of the municipal boundary. But there's the rub. That line was hastily drawn in the immediate aftermath
Tens of thousands of Palestinians found themselves residents of a nominally Israeli city (almost all declined a somewhat half-hearted offer of citizenship). They have become hundreds of thousands, with hundreds of thousands more living alongside them in village-suburbs to the north and east of the city, indistinguishable from the others save for the colour of their ID cards.
The municipal boundary has, in effect, been invisible. The proposed wall will now slice through several of these suburban districts, separating children from their schools, shopkeepers from their stores and family members from each other. Hours-long queues at frustrating, and often humiliating, checkpoints have already become a way of life for many Palestinian Jerusalemites seeking to move about in their own city.
Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer and Jerusalem civic activist, says the route of the wall is intended to obliterate the memory of Bill Clinton's proposal, accepted at the time of Camp David in 2000 by Israel's then prime minister, Ehud Barak, that Jerusalem's Jewish suburbs be part of Israel, and its Palestinian suburbs become part of a Palestinian state.
Mr Seidemann fears that, far from enhancing security in Jerusalem, the wall, with its inevitable dislocation of everyday life, will destabilise the city and lead to radicalisation among Palestinian residents. "It will deprive them", he argues, "of their ability to be ambiguous. East Jerusalem has been
Will there be a barrier to the east of the West Bank as well as to the west? Mr Sharon announced in March that construction of the eastern section of the barrier would begin, snaking first east and then south from Salem. It has not proceeded very far, either through lack of political will or through budgetary constraints. It will not need to be anything like the solid barrier to the west. Unlike the West Bank's western hills, the Jordan valley is sparsely populated. Palestinians can be separated easily from their eastern hinterland by simple fences, closed military zones or natural mountain ridges.
There is considerable ambiguity about what is being planned. Settler leaders in the vast central settlement-town of Maale Adumim, and the smaller ones that line the Jordan valley, say that they have had assurances from the prime minister that they too will be included on the "right side" of a barrier, whether it lies to the east for Maale Adumim. or to the west for the Jordan valley settlements.
"Sharon unrolled maps before me showing that all of the Jordan valley and Judean desert will remain under Israel's control," David Levy, a settler leader from the Jordan valley, told Yediot Ahoronot in September. If he is right, that could mean an Israeli strip of land, 20-30km in width, running west of the Jordan river, the Palestinians' main gateway to the Arab world.
Improbable as this eastern barrier seems, it may be consistent with Mr Sharon's strategic vision. He has long argued that it is in Israel's vital interest to keep hold of a strip of land, between six and ten kilometres wide, east of the Green Line, a 20km-wide strip west of the Jordan border, and a "united" Jerusalem. He has spent much of the past 30 years initiating and supporting settlements that make such a hold on land irreversible.
Speaking at a conference last December, Mr Sharon gave the clearest account of his vision of a future Palestinian "state". He said it should "overlap" with the West Bank area where the Palestinian Authority now has (nominal) security and civilian jurisdiction, "minus regions essential to Israel's security". The worst-case scenario is that this would leave the Palestinians with about 40% of the West Bank, cut into three unconnected enclaves: one between Jenin and Ramallah, one between Hebron and Bethlehem, and a small circle around Jericho. Some of this disconnection is already in force: to journey from Bethlehem to Ramallah, a Palestinian has to get through two border crossings.
A fence on the property line, it isn't
Whether the barrier is built as currently planned depends to a critical degree on the position taken by the United States. George Bush noted pointedly and publicly during the summer that the wall was "a problem". Mr Sharon, anxious not to anger him, devised the deferred solution for the Ariel-Emmanuel enclave.
But Colin Powell, America's secretary of state, said at the weekend that this was not satisfactory, and that American officials were having "intense discussions" about their response. The problem was not the fence itself, Mr Powell told the Washington Post, but its projected course. "If you want to put a fence on something that is a recognised border, the Green Line, then put a fence on your property line. But the more you intrude in Palestinian areas, and the more it looks like it could be contiguous intrusion around large sections of Palestinian land that would prejudge subsequent negotiations as to what a Palestinian state may look like, that's a problem."
The Post had observed editorially several days earlier that "administrations have a poor record of preventing unilateral Israeli actions in the occupied territories". American officials are said to be examining whether the $1 billion projected cost of the wall could be deducted from the $9 billion in
This sanction alone, however, is unlikely to deter Mr Sharon and his ministers; America's deduction of Israel's outlays on new building projects in the settlements from the loan guarantees has by no means dissuaded the government from going ahead with such projects. Once a reluctant convert to the wall, Mr Sharon may now be using the overwhelming domestic support for it to pursue his own long-held territorial and strategic ambitions.
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