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Israel's Security Barrier - 2004-07-08


Much of it is a five meter high fence of wire and mesh. Part of it is an eight meter high concrete wall. It lies within Palestinian land that has been occupied territory since the 1967 war. It's the Israeli security barrier, which planners intended to twist and turn some 700 kilometers through the West Bank.

As sections of it have gone up, the lives of Palestinians in those areas have been irreparably changed and international protests have been made. But from the Israeli perspective there was little choice, as Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations explains. "The suicide bombings within the 1967 borders of Israel have created a tremendous trauma for the Israeli people. They tried using conventional force, intelligence, all kinds of things, but the attacks continued. So, they decided the only way to protect themselves was to build a wall."

Construction of the security barrier began in June 2002. Immediately, Palestinians and some countries protested that Israel had no legal right to fence off the West Bank. But Israeli government spokesman Ranaan Gissin invokes the U.N. Charter in defending the barrier. "Israel has the right to build the fence because of the inherent inalienable right of self-defense the right of a member state of the United Nations to exercise its inalienable right according to Article 51 that all other countries don't have to stand up and justify."

Many of the protests against the security barrier are focused on its route which does not follow Israel's official border, the so-called "Green Line." Instead, it meanders through the West Bank, putting most Jewish settlements there on one side and Palestinians on the other.

Former Israeli Knesset member and peace activist Uri Avnery believes, as do the Palestinians, that the route chosen reflects Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's expansionist intentions. "This wall is manifestly political. It is there to annex territories to Israel. It has very little to do with security because if you wanted security, pure and simple, you would build the wall on the Green Line."

The security barrier is separating some Palestinians from their farm lands, from their schools and jobs, and from their relatives. In places, it is being built down the middle of villages, much as Berlin was divided by a wall. There are openings in certain places but Palestinian access to the other side is controlled by Israeli security forces.

Tom Neu of the American Near East Refugee Aid agency believes the barrier affects the Palestinians' future. "A wall just cuts the fabric of life. It means many of them are deprived of their income or their access to their place of work. Already, you can see that communities on the other side of the wall are dropping in their quality of life. There's a danger that the Israeli side will be "first world" and the Palestinian enclaves will be "third world."

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery says the fence has put some Palestinians, such as those living in Ahram, in a bureaucratic nightmare. "There is one small Arab suburb of Jerusalem where for some reason the inhabitants are registered in another place outside the wall. So they automatically become illegal residents in their own homes, and they need permits to stay in the homes in which they have been living for centuries."

Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled parts of the barrier's route sections north and south of Jerusalem, must be changed because of their impact on Palestinian lives. The court's ruling is expected to prompt similar challenges to other parts of the barrier's route. Additionally, the United Nations has asked the International Court of Justice at the Hague to rule on the legality of the fence. Ahead of that decision, which is expected shortly, Israeli spokesman Ranaan Gissin asserts that any adverse action can be blocked. "We don't find validity in the court to begin with, and of course we are going to ask the United States in the event that this is brought to the Security Council to exercise its veto."

The Israeli security barrier has a much larger implication than just its impact on Palestinians cut off from family, jobs, and farm fields. There are concerns that if the fence is fully built and maintained, the West Bank part of a future Palestinian state will be badly fragmented. But those who support the barrier say that the most important consideration is saving innocent lives from suicide bombings, and that eventual Palestinian sovereignty hinges on stopping such terrorism.