West Bank Barrier

In June 2002, the Israeli government adopted a plan to construct a security barrier in the West Bank. Israel maintains the barrier is essential to protect its citizens from terrorism and to prevent would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel. It claims the construction is intended for purely security purposes, and does not represent a political statement or a future permanent border. The majority of Israeli public has supported the barrier. Palestinians, however, believe it creates “facts on the ground” and imposes unilateral solutions, which preclude negotiated agreements in the future. They argue it makes the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, since it will leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous, walled enclaves, closely controlled by Israel. Their main point of contention is that the barrier does not run along the 1967 border, the so-called “Green Line”, but in some areas veers well into the Occupied Territories, therefore rendering it illegal. If completed, around 16% of Palestinians will be situated outside the confines of the fence, whereas, 98 % of the settlers will live in the zones de facto annexed into Israeli territory.

Concerns have also been raised as to the damaging effects of the separation barrier on the Palestinian population. Palestinian villages and towns near the wall have become isolated ghettos where movement in and out is limited, if not impossible, thus severing access to work, health, and education. Fertile lands of more than 50 villages have been separated and isolated from their communities. Hundreds of farmers and traders are cut off from their land and means of economic survival, and subjected to a permit system to access their lands. Additionally, the demolition of numerous houses, the confiscation of land, wells and water tanks, and the deracination of olive plants have instigated strong apprehension and opposition. Moreover, around 200.000 people will be trapped between the Green Line and the barrier, in areas declared “military closed zones” by Israel. The impact of the plan has been felt most acutely in Qalqiliya, which has been cut off on three sides with one single entrance, an Israeli checkpoint, regulating access to the 40.000 inhabitant town.

The construction began in June 2002 west from Jenin. In July 2003, the Israeli army announced the completion of the “First Phase”, which runs 145 km through the northern West Bank districts of Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqiliya, and will continue south until Ramallah. Two sections either side of Jerusalem and a section in the Jordan Valley have also been completed. In the southern West Bank the wall encircles Bethlehem and Hebron. (See map for the total proposed route).

The structure, part wall, part fence, will reach approximatively 700 km long upon its completion, scheduled for the end of 2004. It will cost the Israeli government 3.4 billion dollars. In some parts, it is made up of a concrete base with a five-metre high barbed wire superstructure. Rolls of razor wire and a 4 metre-deep ditch are placed on one side. In addition, electronic sensors, cameras and an earth-covered “trace road” are placed beside it. In other parts, the barrier consists of an 8-metre high concrete wall, with armed concrete watchtowers, and a buffer zone of 30-100 m to make way for electric fences, trenches, cameras, sensors and security patrols.

The US considers the security fence problematic because it undermines peace negotiations, and has exerted mild pressure on Israel, such as threatening to withhold loan guarantees. In September 2003, it raised objections to a proposed extension of the fence so as to place many more settlements between the fence and the Green Line. In October, however, the US vetoed a resolution condemning the controversial security barrier. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Israel to take it down, deeming it counterproductive and an obstacle to the peace process in the Middle East. In late September, the UN issued a report which condemned the barrier as illegal and tantamount to “an unlawful act of annexation”.

In December 2003, the United General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to consider the legal consequences of the construction of the barrier in the occupied territories. The court hearings were held between the 23rd and the 25th of February 2004. 44 UN members submitted arguments to court, including Palestinians, the EU, the US, the Arab League and South Africa. Israel, while boycotting the hearing, submitted a written argument claiming the court had no competence to judge what it sees as a politically motivated case. The EU and the US, even though they have criticized the route of the barrier, backed Israel’s opposition to the hearing. The pending court ruling, if one is made, is expected to be issued in several months. Even though it is not binding, many believe it could have a considerable symbolic weight in terms of public opinion and diplomatic relations.