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In Israel:  Walls of Separation

In the aftermath of the terror attacks in the United States, Israelis say fear and insecurity is what they live with every day: drive-by shootings, suicide bombings and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence. More and more, they talk of the need for separation and protective walls.

From the front porch of Inbal's house in Bat Hefer, you can see the minaret of the main mosque of Tulkarem just a few kilometers away.

Tulkarem is a Palestinian village on the other side of the Green Line that delineates Israel from the territories it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Inbal remembers what it was like when she first moved here four and a half years ago. "When I first came here," she says, "there was no wall, just strawberry fields. During the first years we would sit here with our Palestinian neighbors from Tulkarem to drink coffee. But now, there is no contact at all."

She hears shooting almost every day. Her two young sons rarely go into the front yard that faces the wall. "The children," she says, "play on the other side of the house, not near the wall. In the evenings, we don't go outside."

Today, Bat Hefer is nestled behind a two-meter high concrete wall that stretches along its eastern side for two-and-a-half kilometers. There is an electrified barbed-wire fence in front of the wall for extra protection.

The head of the Hefer Valley Regional Council, Nahum Itzkovitz, says he started pushing for the physical separation more than six years ago, after a suicide bombing at a nearby highway intersection that killed more than 20 Israelis. It was during the early days of the peace negotiations.

"We started to build a new village, Bat Hefer, which is very close on the green line and very close to Tulkarem and Shuweika," he said. "And I was afraid that when we are going into the peace process, they will be able to shoot right into the new houses because the distance is nothing, about 200 meters, even less than that. And the first line of the houses, about 20 meters from the Green Line."

Mr. Itzkovitz says he supported the peace negotiations and still does. He talks of close cooperation with Tulkarem in the past - helping to build a sewage system, clean the stream that flows through the neighboring villages, fumigate against West Nile fever, which is carried by mosquitoes.

But now, he says, the wall provides security, especially since the start of the latest Palestinian intifada a year ago. Israelis have charged that terrorists use towns like Tulkarem to launch their attacks against Israeli citizens.

"Everything was okay until the last intifada, [when] they started to shoot, Molotov bottles, and they put bombs in six months ago, they put a bomb on the wall," Mr. Itzkovitz says. "They [tried] to explode the bomb on the wall when the vehicles of the army [were] going near the wall and they didn't succeed. And after that they jumped over the wall so we decided to make an electric fence near by the wall to avoid and prevent the opportunity to go into the village because we have more than 5,000 inhabitants in the village right now."

Mr. Itzkovitz wants to extend the wall another 600 meters east and south of Bat Hefer.

And he is not alone in his push for protective barriers.

Tamar Hermann of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace in Tel Aviv says recent surveys indicate that six out of 10 Israelis favor some form of physical separation - regardless of their support for the peace process. "This has nothing to do with the deterioration of the peace process or the violence - it's a state of mind," she says. "Of course, nowadays, there's even stronger support for separation and for unilateral separation."

Mrs. Hermann says Israelis no longer equate the peace process with integration into the Middle East, only with an absence of violence. "They would like to see a peace that is a cessation of violence, but not integration, which brings in its wake the lifting of all physical barriers between Israel and the Arab countries and the Palestinians," she says.

While many Israelis consider fortified borders the safest way to live with their Arab neighbors, others say unilateral separation is unrealistic.

Palestinians express outrage over the idea of walls and fences, calling it just another form of apartheid and collective punishment.

Palestinian leaders also denounce the building of trenches around Palestinian towns and the roadblocks along roads into the West Bank and Gaza. They argue that a comprehensive peace settlement is the best guarantee for security on both sides.

But the violence that has engulfed the area for the past year appears to have dimmed hopes for a peace agreement any time soon.