As Israel's prepares to withdraw from Gaza Strip after more than forty-five years of occupation, it appears to be increasingly strengthening its hold over the West Bank ' tenaciously fortifying its settlements there by constructing a 'security barrier' ' the current path of which requires the seizure of broad swaths of land deep into the Palestinian territory. Israel has argued that the barrier is being built to filter out suicide bombers. However, the content of the entire exercise does not purport the professed intent. The Israeli High Court's landmark ruling last year found that a 30-kilometre section of Israel's West Bank security barrier violated Israeli and International Law and must be moved and rerouted. In the same vein, the International Court of Justice at The Hague was not convinced that 'the route was the only means to safeguard the interest of Israel against the peril it invoked as justification'.'
Background of the 'barrier'
The idea of a barrier that would separate the West Bank from Israel in order to limit unmonitored entry of Palestinians into Israel is not new, and has undergone various transmutations in recent years. In March 1996, the Israeli government decided to establish crossing points along the Green Line, the frontier that divided Israel from the West Bank until the 1967 War, to limit the entry of Palestinians into Israel. All alternative access routes were to be blocked. These decisions were implemented only partially and inefficiently and did not bring about the desired results.
Following the outbreak of al-Aqsa Intifada, in September 2000, and as a result of the sharp increase in attacks in Israel committed by Palestinian residents of the West Bank, the current plan to erect the separation barrier took shape. In November 2000, the then prime minister, Ehud Barak, approved a plan to establish a 'barrier to prevent the passage of motor vehicles' from the northwest end of the West Bank to the Latrun area (near Jerusalem), which remained unimplemented until June 2000. The steering committee established by current prime minister Ariel Sharon to formulate a set of measures to prevent Palestinians from infiltrating into Israel across the seam area, recommended, in addition to Barak's decision relating to motor traffic, erection of a barrier directed at preventing pedestrian traffic in selected locations based on the threat involved. The Cabinet approved the erection of a separation barrier in April 2002.
In some areas, the barrier runs near Israel's old frontier with West Bank, but elsewhere they cut cavernously into the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state. The entire barrier, when completed, would stretch 700 kilometers from the northern West Bank to the south, wrapping around some settlements like Ariel quite deep into the Occupied Territory. According to B'Tselem (a pro-peace organization in Israel) position paper of September 2002, owing to Israeli government's decision to bring several of the largest West Bank Jewish settlements onto the Israeli side of the barrier, its proposed route would effectively appropriate about 17 per cent of the West Bank land.
Israeli arguments in favor of the barrier
Israel's main justification for the barrier is self-defense. It argues that the barrier is a last resort to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country. Over the last three years, Palestinian attacks have killed more than 920 Israelis and maimed even more, which is why Israeli officials feel they have no alternative. Israel argues that the fence is not an attempt to establish a permanent or unilateral border. When the terrorism stops, the fence will be deemed unnecessary, but opposing the wall is counterproductive until more efforts are made by Palestinian leaders to dismantle terrorist organizations, collect illegal weapons, and actively censure their people's violent acts.
The Israeli government insists that precautions are being taken to minimize the impact of the fence on Palestinian's lives. If the fence does pose an unforeseen problem, an appeal procedure is available for parties wishing to make use of it. Further, only 10 per cent of the wall is actually concrete, while the rest is fence, with dozens of passageways being constructed.
Palestinian arguments against the barrier
Palestinians view the barrier as land grab; they do not see Israel's primary goal as one of security but rather as an attempt to define new borders. Their reasoning for this is not so much the proposal of the fence itself, but its route. It is not being built along the internationally recognized 1967 border, and up to 90 per cent of the wall effectively annexes Palestinian territory, cutting off towns and villages from one another. A recent report by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reads: 'The wall, when complete would veer as much as 13 miles from the 1967 border.'
According to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the barrier's route cuts many workers off from their livelihood and imposes strict limitations on their mobility through the wall's passages. In the case of the town of Qaliqylia, the people are completely fenced in on all sides except for one Israel-manned checkpoint. The town has 40,000 citizens and only one gate for moving in and out. In the 18 villages surrounded into an enclave in the Turkarem district, the inability to travel due to the barrier and Israeli military closures has brought the unemployment rate up from 18 per cent in 2000 to an estimated 78 per cent in spring of 2003, according to B'Tselem. Palestinians have difficulty accessing work sites, medical treatment, educational institutions schools, health care, welfare services, higher education, acquisition of goods, and marketing of farm produce. Family and social connections also link the residents of these villages to other villages throughout the West Bank and these are being increasingly disrupted.
Palestinians say that the overall feature of the separation barrier gives the impression that Israel is once again relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish 'facts on the ground'. Many doubt that border negotiations will ever be successful, thus making the wall a fixture of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape. Palestinians fear that as in the case of the settlements, the separation barrier will become a permanent fact to support Israel's future claim to annex the West Bank areas.
If the true purpose of the barrier it to create a security fence between Israel and the West Bank, then let it be built on a route that follows the Green Line as closely as possible, which represents the shortest and most logical Israeli line of defense. As Israel's budget for this project relies heavily upon aid from the United States, the latter has an obligation to objectively consider positions from both sides and take a stand that would result in a permanent settlement along reasonable, internationally recognized border. As Chief Justice Barak wrote in his judgement that, 'There is no security without law,' ' i.e. there can be no lasting peace without justice ' for both sides.