by Peter Hirschberg
A UN rights expert compares it to the Berlin Wall built by the Soviets to divide the conquered German city.
The security fence that Israel is building between itself and the West Bank has become another flashpoint between the two warring sides. The first phase of the fence along the northern part of the West Bank is in an advanced stage of construction. The ultimate plan is to build the barrier along the entire 365- kilometer border of the West Bank.
In some areas the fence, which will include electronic surveillance devices and watchtowers, is almost 60 metres wide. A patrol road is being built to a side, leaving room for a strip of land to detect footprints. Much of the barrier is fencing, but in sections it is being built of concrete blocks. The final cost is expected to cross a billion dollars, probably to be paid for, directly or indirectly, through U.S. aid.
Earlier this year, United Nations expert on rights in the Palestinian territories John Dugard accused Israel of using the fence to expand its territory. "I think the reality is that this is a form of creeping annexation of Palestinian territory ... I have seen portions of that wall, and it makes the Berlin Wall look very small," he said.
Construction of the next phase towards Jerusalem has been held up pending government approval. The reason is political: settlers want the planned route altered to wind around the Ariel settlement inside the West Bank.
The settlers' demand to shift the fence eastward, and so further into the West Bank, has again sparked accusations that Israel is using the barrier to gobble up more Palestinian land.
The section of the fence around the northern part of the West Bank -- an area that includes the Palestinian city Jenin -- has been under construction since last year, but it is not clear what path the remainder of the fence will take. This will depend largely on political pressures the right-wing settlers bring to bear on the conservative government.
Some changes were made to the route of the first section to include settlements on the Israeli side of the fence. But as it is planned, many settlements will end up on the Palestinian side. The majority of the Israeli public want the fence to go up as quickly as possible, but lobbying by settlers to move it deeper into the West Bank could delay completion.
The path of the fence could be critical for the future of the region. The West Bank is the west bank of the Jordan River, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. At the time it was under Jordanian rule. The total land mass of the West Bank is some 5,600 square kilometers. It constitutes some 23 percent of what was Palestine during the period of the British Mandate, and has a population of more than two million Palestinians. Some 220,000 Jewish settlers also live on the West Bank.
Israel with a population of a little more than six million has a land mass of more than 20,000 square kilometers. The densely populated Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel is only about 370 square kilometers, but with more than a million Palestinian inhabitants.
In July 1988, King Hussein of Jordan renounced his country's claim to the West Bank. Later, after the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, about 42 percent of the West Bank came under Palestinian control, though Israel maintained security control in some of these areas. Since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel has recaptured much of the territory that was handed over to the Palestinians.
This has inevitably deepened resentment among Palestinians. Former Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat accuses Israel of "creating facts on the ground." He adds: "You don't build a wall like that in order to move it voluntarily in six months or two years."
Many Israeli defense experts say the fence is a vital security need. They point to the effectiveness of the more primitive fence that rings Gaza. Since the intifada erupted 32 months ago there have been dozens of suicide attacks inside Israel, but only one of them has emanated from the Gaza Strip. That was carried out by two foreigners, both with British passports.
"If the terror continues then this wall is essential," Shlomo Brom, former head of the Strategic Planning Division of the Israeli army and now a senior research associate at the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv told IPS. "The fence around Gaza and the border fences with Lebanon and Jordan have all proven themselves."
The fence is not being built as a border. After it is built, Israeli troops will still operate on both sides of it. But right-wing leaders fear the fence will ultimately become the future border of a Palestinian state. Their opposition to the fence declined, however, as suicide bombers kept coming, and the death toll kept mounting.
Brom fears that settler leaders lobbying Sharon to shift the fence will ultimately prevail. "If the motivation for the fence is to protect Israelis, then its route should more or less follow the 1967 border," he says. "The moment political factors become involved and there are demands to push the fence further east, then you have to redesign it, which means construction is slowed, and the fence becomes longer and more difficult to patrol."
Palestinians see the fence threatening the viability of any future state. They are also angry that farmers who live in the vicinity have had some of their land expropriated and their orchards churned up by Israeli bulldozers clearing the ground for construction.
Other Palestinians now find that the fence separates them from their fields on which they depend for their livelihood. They are unconvinced by Israeli pledges to build gates to allow them access to their land.
Palestinian environmental groups say that in the first stage of the plan alone, two percent of West Bank territory has been expropriated and at least 30 villages have lost land.
Despite Palestinian anger, opposition by settlers and procrastination by the Israeli government, construction of the fence will almost certainly go ahead.
June 18, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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