The Israeli West-Bank barrier is a barrier being constructed by Israel consisting of a network of fences with vehicle-barrier trenches surrounded by an on average 60 meters wide exclusion area (90%) and up to 8 meters high concrete walls (10%). It is located mainly within the West Bank, partly along the 1949 Armistice line, or "Green Line" between Israel and Jordan which now demarcates the West Bank. , the length of the barrier as approved by the Israeli government is 703 kilometers (436 miles) long. Approximately 58.04% has been constructed, 8.96% is under construction, and construction has not yet begun on 33% of the barrier. The Jerusalem Post reported in July 2007 that the barrier may not be fully constructed until 2010, seven years after it was originally supposed to be completed.
The barrier is a highly controversial project. Supporters argue that the barrier is a necessary tool protecting Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism, including suicide bombing attacks, that increased significantly during the al-Aqsa Intifada; it has helped to significantly reduce incidents of terrorism from 2002 to 2005; its supporters assert that the onus is on the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism.
Opponents argue that the barrier is an illegal attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security, violates international law, has the intent or effect to pre-empt final status negotiations, and severely restricts Palestinians who live nearby, particularly their ability to travel freely within the West Bank and to access work in Israel. In a 2004 decision, the International Court of Justice declared construction of the wall "contrary to international law."
Settler opponents, by contrast, condemn the wall for appearing to renounce the Jewish claim to the whole of Eretz Israel.
Palestinians most commonly refer to the barrier in Arabic as , (racial segregation wall), and some opponents of the barrier refer to it in English as the "Apartheid Wall".
The International Court of Justice, in its advisory opinion on the barrier, wrote it had chosen to use the term wall because "the other expressions sometimes employed are no more accurate if understood in the physical sense."
The BBC's style guide for journalists states "The BBC uses the terms barrier, separation barrier or West Bank barrier as acceptable generic descriptions to avoid the political connotations of "security fence" (preferred by the Israeli government) or "apartheid wall" (preferred by the Palestinians)."
This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism.
In early 1995, the Shahal commission was established by Yitzhak Rabin to discuss how to implement a barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, prior to the Camp David 2000 Summit with Yasser Arafat, vowed to build a separation barrier, stating that it is "essential to the Palestinian nation in order to foster its national identity and independence without being dependent on the State of Israel".
Following a Palestinian violence outbreak in 2002, Israel began construction of a barrier that would separate most of the West Bank from areas inside Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court made reference to the conditions and history that led to the building of the barrier. In the September 2005 decision, it described the history of violence against Israeli citizens since the breakout of the Second Intifada and the loss of life that ensued on the Israeli side. The court ruling also cited the attempts Israel had made to defend its citizens, including "military operations" carried out against "terrorist acts", and stated that these actions...
...did not provide a sufficient answer to the immediate need to stop the severe acts of terrorism. . . . Despite all these measures, the terror did not come to an end. The attacks did not cease. Innocent people paid with both life and limb. This is the background behind the decision to construct the separation fence (Id., at p. 815)
The stated goal of the movement is to encourage the government to construct a security fence along Israel's borders. "Fence for Life" urged the government to build a continuous fence as speedily as possible, and without any connection to the political future of the areas it separates, with a goal of hermetically sealing off the Palestinian territories from Israeli population centers to prevent the terrorist acts by Palestinians against the people living in Israel.
The "Fence for Life" campaign emphasized that any security fence has no connection whatsoever to the political future of the settlements. The Movement for the Security Fence for Israel included protests, demonstrations, conferences with public figures, media blitzes, lobbying in the Knesset as well as legal battles in the High Court of Justice, both with demands to quickly build the security fence as well as appeals not to cause further delay in construction. The movement does not support any specific path for the barrier, as this is subject to a government decision. "Fence for Life" was of the opinion that "politicization" of the fence by various groups was delaying the completion of the security barrier and is likely to block its construction. At the end of 2002, due to government inaction, several localities who suffered the most from lack of a border barrier had started to build the barrier using their own funds directly on the green-line.
According to Natan Sharansky, Minister of Housing and Construction at the time:
When Israel's free society was defending itself against an unprecedented campaign of terror, most of the international community was calling for an end of the "cycle of violence" and a return to the negotiating table. When the Palestinian terrorists struck... Israel was condemned for imposing "collective punishment" on the Palestinian population. When Israel chose to target individual terrorists with precision air strikes, its actions were condemned as illegal extrajudicial assassinations. It seemed that in eyes of many, the Jews had a right to defend themselves in theory but could not exercise that right in practice... our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.
In February 2004, Israel said it would review the route of the barrier in response to U.S. and Palestinian concerns. In particular, Israeli cabinet members said modifications would be made to reduce the number of checkpoints Palestinians had to cross, and especially to reduce Palestinian hardship in areas such as Qalqilyah where the barrier goes very near, and in some cases nearly encircles, populated areas.
On June 30, 2004, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a portion of the barrier west of Jerusalem violates the rights of Palestinians, and ordered 30 km of existing and planned barrier to be rerouted. However, it did rule that the barrier is legal in essence and accepted the Israeli government's claim that it is a security measure. On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that it is a violation of international law. At the beginning of September 2004, Israel started the southern part of the barrier.
On February 20, 2005, the Israeli cabinet approved a new route. The new route is 681 kilometers and would leave approximately seven percent of the West Bank and 10,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side. (Map) Before that time, the exact route of the barrier had not been finalized, and it had been alleged by opponents that the barrier route would encircle the Samarian highlands of the West Bank, separating them from the Jordan valley.
Following a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the route was again revised by a cabinet decision on April 30, 2006. The route now leaves fewer Palestinians and less West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier. In the Ariel area, the new route corrects an anomaly of the previous route that would have left thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side. The Alfei Menashe settlement bloc was reduced in size, and the new plan leaves three groups of Palestinian houses on the Palestinian side of the fence. The barrier's route in the Jerusalem area will leave Beit Iksa on the Palestinian side; and Jaba on the Israeli side, but with a crossing to the Palestinian side at Tzurif. Further changes were made to the route around Eshkolot and Metzadot Yehuda, and the route from Metzadot to Har Choled was approved.
Some sections (less than 5% of total length) are constructed as a wall made up of concrete slabs up to 8 m in height and 3 m in width. Occasionally, due to topographic conditions other sections of the barrier will reach up to 100 m in width. Wall construction (5%) is more common in urban settings, such as areas near Qalqilyah and Jerusalem, because it is narrower, requires less land, and provides more protection against snipers. In all cases there are regular observation posts, automated sensing devices and other apparatus. Gates at various points are controlled by Israeli soldiers.
Israeli officers (including the head of the Shin Bet) quoted in the newspaper Maariv have claimed that in the areas where the barrier was complete, the number of hostile infiltrations has decreased to almost zero. Maariv also stated that Palestinian militants, including a senior member of Islamic Jihad, had confirmed that the barrier made it much harder to conduct attacks inside Israel. Since the completion of the fence in the area of Tulkarem and Qalqilyah in June 2003, there have been no successful attacks from those areas. All attacks were intercepted or the suicide bombers detonated prematurely. In a March 23, 2008 interview, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah complained to the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq that the separation barrier "limits the ability of the resistance to arrive deep within [Israeli territory] to carry out suicide bombing attacks , but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage" of the intifada.
There is general agreement that effects to date have coincided with improved Israeli security.
However, there is debate over how effective the barrier has been in preventing terrorist attacks. A report by the Shin Beit, published in early 2006 notes that terror attacks in 2005 have significantly decreased due to increased pursuing of Palestinian militants by the Israeli army and intelligence organizations, Hamas's increased political activity, and a truce among Palestinian militant groups in the Palestinian Territories. According to Haaretz the report also mentions that "The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it."
In an interview with Al-Sharq, Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, mentioned that the Second Intifada was currently characterized by rocket fire , which had replaced the previous stage of suicide bombing attacks. That, he said, was because Israel had found ways and means to protect itself from such attacks: "For example, they built a separation fence in the West Bank. We do not deny that it limits the ability of the militants to arrive deep within Israeli territory to carry out suicide bombing attacks."
An often-quoted example of the effects of the barrier is the Palestinian town of Qalqilyah, a city of around 45,000, where an 8 meter-high concrete section is built on the Green Line between the city and the nearby Trans-Israel Highway. The wall in this section, referred to as an "anti-sniper wall," has been claimed to prevent gun attacks against Israeli motorists on the nearby Trans-Israel Highway. The city is accessible through a main road from the east, and an underground tunnel built in September 2004 on the south side connects Qalqilyah with the adjacent village of Habla. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to change the route of the barrier in this area to ease movement of Palestinians between Qalqilyah and 5 surrounding villages. In the same ruling, the court rejected the arguments that the fence must be built only on the Green Line. The ruling cited the topography of the terrain, security considerations, and sections 43 and 52 of The Hague Regulations 1907 and Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention as reasons for this rejection.
In early October 2003, the IDF OC Central Command declared the area between the separation barrier in the northern section of the West Bank (Stage 1) and the Green Line a closed military area for an indefinite period of time. New directives stated that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the enclaves created in the closed area have to obtain a “permanent resident permit” from the Civil Administration to enable them to continue to live in their homes. Other residents of the West Bank have to obtain special permits to enter the area.
A UN report released in August 2005 observed that the existence of the barrier "replaced the need for closures: movement within the northern West Bank, for example, is less restrictive where the Barrier has been constructed. Physical obstacles have also been removed in Ramallah and Jerusalem governorates where the Barrier is under construction." The report notes that more freedom of movement in rural areas may ease Palestinian access to hospitals and schools, but also notes that restrictions on movement between urban population centers have not significantly changed.
Parts of the barrier are built on land confiscated from Palestinians. In a recent report, the UN noted that the most recent barrier route allocates more segments to be built on the Green Line itself compared to previous draft routes of the barrier. , the fence construction had already uprooted an estimated 102,320 Palestinian olive and citrus trees, demolished 75 acres (0.3 km²) of greenhouses and 23 miles (37 km) of irrigation pipes. At that point, it rested on 15,000 dunums (3,705 acres or 15 km²) of confiscated land, only meters away from a number of small villages, or hamlets. In early 2003, in order to move a section of the barrier to the Green Line, a ramshackle mall of 63 shops straddling that line into Israel was demolished by the IDF in the village of Nazlat Issa after giving their owners 30 minutes notice. In August 2003, an additional 115 shops and stalls (an important source of income for several communities) and five to seven homes there were also demolished. The Israeli government has promised that trees affected by the construction will be replanted.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 15 communities were to be directly affected, numbering approximately 138,593 Palestinians, including 13,450 refugee families, or 67,250 individuals. In addition to loss of land, in the city of Qalqilyah one-third of the city's water wells lie on the other side of the barrier. The Israeli Supreme Court notes the Israeli government's rejection of accusations of a de facto annexation of these wells, stating that "the construction of the fence does not affect the implementation of the water agreements determined in the (interim) agreement".
In his November 2006 interview with Al-Manar TV, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Salah claimed that the barrier is an important obstacle, and that "if it weren’t there, the situation would be entirely different. In a March 23, 2008 interview, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah complained to the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq that his organization had been forced to switch from martyrdom missions to rocket attacks because the separation barrier "limits the ability of the resistance to arrive deep within [Israeli territory] to carry out suicide bombing attacks, but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage" of the intifada.
According to the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) and other sources, much of Qalqilyah's farmland now lie outside the barrier, and farmers require permits from Israeli authorities to access their lands that are on the opposite side. In the town of Jayyus, in the district of Qalqilya there are three gates in the barrier for the purpose of admitting farmers with permits to their fields that are open 3 times a day for a total of 50 minutes, although according to the NAD they have often been arbitrarily closed for extended periods leading to loss of crops, and one of these gates has been closed since August 2004 due to a suicide attack that took place near the gate. The Israeli Human Rights center B'Tselem notes that "thousands of Palestinians have difficulty going to their fields and marketing their produce in other areas of the West Bank. Farming is a primary source of income in the Palestinian communities situated along the Barrier's route, an area that constitutes one of the most fertile areas in the West Bank. The harm to the farming sector is liable to have drastic economic effects on the residents – whose economic situation is already very difficult – and drive many families into poverty".
In 2004, the United Nations passed a number of resolutions and the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion calling for the barrier to be removed, and the Arab residents to be compensated for any damage done: "The Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law". Israel submitted a 246 page written statement containing the views of the Government of Israel on Jurisdiction and Propriety to the Court, but chose not make any oral statements.
Most Israelis believe the barrier and intensive activity by the Israel Defense Forces to be the main factors in the decrease in successful suicide attack from the West Bank. The proponents of the barrier insist that reversible inconveniences to Palestinians should be balanced with the threats to lives of Israeli civilians and believe that the barrier is a non-violent way to stop terrorism and save innocent lives.
However, there are some Israelis who oppose the barrier. The Israeli Peace Now movement has stated that while they would support a barrier that follows the 1949 Armistice lines, the "current route of the fence is intended to destroy all chances of a future peace settlement with the Palestinians and to annex as much land as possible from the West Bank" and that the barrier would "only increase the blood to be split on both sides and continue the sacrificing of Israeli and Palestinian lives for the settlements.
Additionally, many Israelis living in settlements, such as the Gush Etzion area, oppose the fence because it separates them from the rest of Israel. They argue that building the fence defines a border, and that they are being left out. According to most settlers, all of the West Bank belongs to Israel, and separating any of it with a fence is the first step in giving the land away.
More broadly, Palestinian spokespersons, supported by many in the Israeli left wing and other organizations, claim that the hardships imposed by the barrier will breed further discontent amongst the affected population and add to the security problem rather than solving it.
On April 14, 2004, American President George W. Bush said "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” In direct reaction to Bush's comments, the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority accused the U.S. of rewarding construction of the barrier and replied, "[t]he US assurances are being made at the expense of the Palestinian people and the Arab world without the knowledge of the legitimate Palestinian leadership. They are rewarding illegal occupation, settlement and the apartheid wall.
Since the summer of 2002 the Israeli army has been destroying large areas of Palestinian agricultural land, as well as other properties, to make way for a fence/wall which it is building in the West Bank.
In addition to the large areas of particularly fertile Palestinian farmland that have been destroyed, other larger areas have been cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the fence/wall.
The fence/wall is not being built between Israel and the Occupied Territories but mostly (close to 90%) inside the West Bank, turning Palestinian towns and villages into isolated enclaves, cutting off communities and families from each other, separating farmers from their land and Palestinians from their places of work, education and health care facilities and other essential services. This in order to facilitate passage between Israel and more than 50 illegal Israeli settlements located in the West Bank.
On July 25, 2003, President George W. Bush said "I think the wall is a problem. And I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank." The following year, addressing the issue of the barrier as a future border, he said in a letter to Sharon on April 14, 2004 that it "should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities." President Bush reiterated this position during a May 26, 2005 joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Rose Garden.
Graffiti on the Palestinian side of walled sections of the barrier has consistently been one of many forms of protest against its existence. Large areas of the walls feature messages relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demanding an end to the barrier, or criticizing its builders and its existence ('Welcome to the Ghetto-Abu Dis'). In August 2005, the U.K. graffiti artist Banksy painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the barrier. He describes the barrier as "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers", and returned in December 2007 with new images for "Santa's ghetto" in Bethlehem. The Times headlined the graffiti project "Let Us Spray". On June 21, 2006, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters wrote "Tear down the wall" on the wall, a phrase from the Pink Floyd album "The Wall".
On March 9, 2006, The New York Times quoted then-acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as stating that if his Kadima party wins the upcoming national elections, he would seek to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010, and that the boundary would run along or close to the barrier.
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