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West Bank Barrier, New Divide in Palestinian-Israeli Conflict


The human rights group Amnesty International has called for the dismantling of the Israeli security barrier in the West Bank. The London-based group says the barrier has had a "disastrous impact" on the lives of Palestinians. It accuses Israel of blatant violations of international law in the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land. And it calls on Palestinian militants to stop attacks on Israeli civilians. VOA's Jim Teeple offers a close-up look at the barrier.

For 700 kilometers this barrier divides Israel from the West Bank. Just a decade ago it did not exist. But then more than 1,000 Israelis died in the second Intifada [revolt] -- many killed by suicide bombers. Four-thousand Palestinians also died in the second Intifada. Palestinians say this barrier being built by Israel -- to stop suicide bombers -- will hurt efforts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace effort.

Just a few years ago what was an open field now looks more like an international border. The checkpoint is part of the West Bank barrier. It is only about 12 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea, at Israel's narrowest point. Israelis say, before this checkpoint was built, Palestinian suicide bombers could easily reach Israeli towns just a few minutes walk away.

Captain Benji Rutland of the Israeli Defense Forces says at this location there is no need for an eight-meter concrete wall. Here the barrier is a fence -- a high-tech fence. "The dirt road is swept on a regular basis and footprints can be checked. Next to that is an electronic fence. It has sensors that can detect touch, plus video cameras. Next to that is a ditch to prevent vehicles crashing and then barbed wire, plus another dirt road."

Just on the other side of that checkpoint is Nebi-Allas, a Palestinian village that is on the other side of the West Bank barrier.

Because the village is so close to Israel's border there are also checkpoints on the other side of the village. Many in Nebi-Allas say they are now trapped between the West Bank barrier which keeps them from traveling to Israel, and Israeli military checkpoints that keep them from traveling to nearby West Bank to towns like Nablus.

The Nebi-Allas pharmacy is the only place in this part of the West Bank where Palestinians can get any sort of medical advice.

Shaza Hanoun and her mother have run the pharmacy for years. They say the West Bank barrier has had a negative impact on people's lives in Nebi-Allas. She says a young boy recently died because he could not cross the West Bank barrier to receive medical treatment in Israel -- something the residents of Nebi-Allas were used to doing before the barrier was built. "He had to bring permission to get outside the wall and imagine the time is so important and you have to call for permission. It is ridiculous."

Just a few kilometers from Nebi-Allas is Alfei-Menashe, a quiet Israeli town that has suffered several terrorist attacks in recent years. Alfei-Menashe is one of several Israeli settlements that used to be in the West Bank but are now in Israel -- inside the West Bank barrier.

Israel has extended the barrier -- in some places as much as seven kilometers into the West Bank. One Israeli human rights group says 2,800 hectares, or 7,000 acres of Palestinian land has been expropriated for construction of the barrier.

At the Everything for the Home hardware store, Paz Moshe helps a customer. Like many who live in Alfei-Menashe, he lived in fear for years of Palestinian terrorists who in recent years carried out three deadly attacks against people who lived in Alfie-Menashe. "I am hoping that in the future the wall, the fence, is eliminated and there be open space, but now it is necessary."

Israelis across the country, from small towns, like Alfei-Menashe, to Jerusalem, say the West Bank barrier has given them a sense of security they never had before.

Still, the West Bank Barrier divides neighbor from neighbor in Arab neighborhoods of the city, like one in East Jerusalem, where many families have been divided by the Barrier -- a barrier that many believe will one day become a permanent border.

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