The Israeli security fence project has, in the course of some five years of construction and operation, provided a rather incredible vehicle for Palestinians and other opponents of Israel to malign it. The way Israel has been pilloried over the fence offers a unique and telling study of the facility with which our Palestinian neighbors (and many others who simply don't know better) grasp and manipulate symbols of the conflict in order to gain a propaganda advantage, excuse their own excesses and failings and satisfy their need for Israel-bashing.
Bearing in mind that only eight percent of the currently existing barrier (and but four percent when the entire barrier is completed in a year or so) are constructed in the form of a movable concrete wall and the remaining 92 percent is metal fencing, it is quite an achievement for Palestinian public diplomacy to have labeled the barrier internationally "the wall". Walls, as in the Berlin Wall, have more negative connotations than fences (remember "good fences make good neighbors"?).
The International Court of Justice at The Hague, mandated to discuss the fence's legality by the UN General Assembly, called it a wall, which makes one wonder just how objective those judges could possibly be. Jimmy Carter, in his recent book accusing Israel of apartheid, labels the fence "the Great Wall", thereby establishing a parallel between a wire mesh barrier that can barely be distinguished from a distance of a few hundred meters and a structure visible from satellites orbiting the earth. It was only a matter of time until Holocaust comparisons were introduced: a few days ago, two members of a delegation of German Catholic bishops compared the West Bank as separated by the fence to the Warsaw ghetto.
The fence currently attaches less than 10 percent of the West Bank to Israel. This figure is not far from that more or less agreed in talks between President Clinton, PM Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat as the amount of West Bank land Israel would annex in a final status agreement within the framework of "land swaps". Moreover, the fence is temporary in structure: in accordance with Israel High Court decisions it has already been moved countless times. Yet Israel is constantly accused of abusing the fence to cantonize the West Bank and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Undoubtedly, Israeli mistakes have made it easier to demonize Israel by means of the fence project. Initially the fence was placed deep in Palestinian territory in several areas, thereby lending credence to the claim that it was being abused for a land-grab (it was later moved closer to the green line). And Israel foolishly never bothered to show up at the ICJ deliberations in The Hague in order to counter deceptive Palestinian claims.
These mistakes have at times distorted the real and vital need for the fence. It was built to stop the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that had begun to generate real panic in Israel in 2002. Coupled with additional military measures inside the West Bank, it has worked to a surprising extent, considering that only a little more than half of it has thus far been constructed and operationalized: no suicide bombers have ever successfully crossed the Gaza or West Bank fences. Here it is important to note that, while virtually all Palestinians condemn the fence, around 50 percent of Palestinians still support suicide bombings. In this regard, what I wrote in these virtual pages three and four years ago remains just as true today: if there were no suicide bombers there would be no fence. Since that is not the case, we have to protect ourselves and we are doing it the right way.
Except in one region. If Palestinians were to concentrate their criticism of the fence on the Jerusalem area, they would find in me an ally. Everywhere else, the fence not only stops suicide bombers but, broadly speaking, separates Palestinians from Israelis, thereby keeping alive the option of a two-state solution based on the existence of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state. In Jerusalem, sadly, these rationales do not appear to apply. In Jerusalem, misguided ideology trumps genuine security logic, and in the name of "united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel" some 250,000 Palestinians are being forcibly attached to Israel and separated from Palestine.
The result is extensive hardship and inconvenience for Palestinians and ongoing damage to the concept of two states for two peoples. The fence/wall in Jerusalem could ultimately create far more angry terrorists inside the city than it keeps out of the city. There is nothing united and nothing eternal in this arrangement.- Published 12/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Israel is currently having an easy time expanding its settlements and constructing the separation wall that is snaking its way in and around the occupied West Bank.
Partly this is due to the ongoing internal Palestinian problems that have distracted the focus of Palestinian leaders from their struggle against these colonialist Israeli policies.
Partly it is due to the absence of any firm international commitment to the principles of international law under which both the wall and Jewish settlements in occupied territory are illegal.
In the Palestinian perception the separation wall is, at least where it veers into occupied territory, a part of the overall settlement project. If there were no settlements, the wall could have been built on the green line and cause no Palestinian objections. But Israel is building part of the wall inside the occupied territories because of the existence of settlements. Thus, the wall is part of the settlement project.
The ongoing construction of the wall has been aided by the rather weak attitude of the United States and Europe, the only parties with influence on Israel. These parties have singularly failed to impress upon Israel that commitment to international law and the findings of the International Court of Justice are important factors determining the relations of these countries with Israel. This leaves the impression that neither the US nor the EU cares whether Israel abides by international legality.
This is a regrettable repetition of history. In the mid-1990s, Israel's illegal settlement program in occupied territory was the single most damaging blow to the peace process, and the international community's failure to seriously address the settlement issue was a major contributing factor.
There have been several other negative consequences of the wall. In many areas, the wall has created enclaves that have almost completely curtailed any freedom of movement for Palestinians inside them. Access to health and education services has been sharply reduced, as has the ability of a majority of Palestinians to exercise their right of worship, particularly in Jerusalem. The increased hardship resulting from the wall has also caused more anger and further radicalization among Palestinians.
The repercussions for the economy have been predictably dramatic, exacerbating the general economic deterioration. The most damaging economic consequence is the transformation of the economic boundaries between the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel from a soft into a hard border. Over the last 40 years, the Palestinian economy became completely dependent on Israel, and now, with little to no access to the outside world as a result of Israeli restrictions and the occupation, the economy has no possibility of recovery.
Occupied East Jerusalem, meanwhile, is one of the primary victims of the wall. The wall neither separates Jerusalem from its immediate environs nor East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem but rather separates different neighborhoods of East Jerusalem from each other and most of the city from the West Bank.
To describe this wall only in security terms as Israel does is so misleading as to be bordering on the absurd. The wall is constricting any political horizon by unilaterally taking land away from Palestinians, thus destroying the possibility that a viable Palestinian state can emerge and devastating any possibility of economic recovery.
The Hamas-led government has shown an impressive commitment to the current ceasefire. With the possible return of international attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the resumption of political contacts between the two leaderships, it is time that this wall is tackled head on.
The lead must come from the Palestinian leadership, which should work to persuade the members of the Quartet to take action and pressure Israel to abide by international law, whether as expressed by the International Court of Justice or in UN Security Council resolutions.
The wall must be removed and replaced by confidence-building measures that can improve the Palestinian economy and bring back hope of a peaceful end to Israel's occupation. Only that way can both sides' legitimate aspirations be achieved successfully. - Published 12/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
by Baruch Spiegel
The idea of a separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinians, including a "separation fence", was first broached during the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin and again under prime ministers Netanyahu and Barak, but remained dormant. Increased suicide bombing attacks during Ariel Sharon's tenure generated public and political pressure to build a fence that would prevent infiltration. Sharon, faithful to his ideology, initially avoided any activity that could create even the appearance of a "border" between Israel and the Palestinians. But in April 2002 he overcame his natural reluctance and yielded to public pressure. He acknowledged that the country's "sense of security" had been lost and decided to construct a security fence that would create a barrier between Israel and the Palestinians and improve both security and the sense of security.
In order to provide security for Israel and its strategic, military and civilian infrastructure on both sides of the green line, a path was chosen for the fence that was in places on or near the line and in others to its east. This twisting and complex location created political, humanitarian and economic problems, thereby posing the question: was the fence intended for security or for political ends, among them the annexation of Palestinian territories and expansion of Israeli settlements?
Growing domestic and international criticism and pressure from the courts soon led to a significant alteration in the path of the fence at Baqa al-Gharbia, moving it closer to the green line. The protests also led to the convening of the International Court of Justice at The Hague that, in an advisory decision in July 2004, determined that the fence violated international law, harmed the Palestinian population and infringed its rights. Further, in a precedent-setting decision in June 2004 regarding the fence near the village of Bet Furiq, the Israel High Court of Justice ruled that the fence was legal as a security measure but that its path had to reflect proportionality with regard to Israel's obligations toward the fabric of Palestinian life.
This decision, additional appeals to the courts and ongoing criticism generated a process intended to locate the existing fence in a more balanced and proportional manner and to alter planning of additional sections. Changes are planned in fence sections at the villages of Bartaa, Jayous and Palma, the settlement of Alfei Menashe and elsewhere, and court proceedings and planning constraints have generated considerable delays. Thus far, around 180 appeals have been made to the High Court of which some 50 are still pending. Work on the fence, which was to be completed by the end of 2005, will probably continue past 2007.
Along the 780 km of fence that is planned there will be over 30 passages for economic interaction and the movement of people and goods. Another 60-70 gates are planned for Palestinian farmers to work lands on the other side of the fence (13 passages and about 30 agriculture gates are already active).All told, some 420 km of fence are operational, of which about 34 km (in the Jerusalem, Qalqilya and Tulkarm areas) are constructed in the form of concrete walls.
At the security level, not a single infiltration of Israel has been carried out through the operational sections of the fence, and the overall number of attacks has declined precipitously. Terrorists have been forced to seek out areas to infiltrate where there is no fence and in the Jerusalem region. For example, the few successful terrorist attacks perpetrated in Israel (in Netanya and Tel Aviv) over the past year were carried out by terrorists whose point of departure was Jenin and Nablus and who made a wide detour to avoid the fence, which they could not penetrate. Security sources estimate that upon completion of the fence and its passageways, the capacity to carry out terrorist attacks on the ground inside Israel will be radically reduced.
The distance between the fence and the green line, the inclusion within the fence of settlement concentrations and the obstacles created to the free movement of Palestinians have generated suspicions at both the local Palestinian and the international level that Israel is in fact cantonizing Palestine and is not interested in the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. This accusation focuses on the political significance of the fence. Israel's formal response is that the fence is temporary, and that upon reaching an agreed solution to the conflict the fence can be moved, just as it was on the Israel-Lebanon border in 2000.
The fence in the Jerusalem area presents a complex and complicated issue. Tens of thousands of Palestinian and Israeli ID-card holders have had to adjust to a new status beyond the fence, with constraints on entering and leaving the city. In East Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim the planned path of the fence encompasses extensive Palestinian territories, thus mandating further study before completion. Whether the current fence line in and around Jerusalem is the right proportional line from the standpoint of political, economic, demographic and international considerations remains an open question; in my view, the line will have to undergo additional amendments. In contrast, from southern Jerusalem/Etzion Bloc and south to the Hebron/Judean Desert area the path of the fence is close to the green line and thus less controversial.
The fence, then, is not just a security issue. Today, in the absence of an agreed solution or even negotiations, Israel continues to make unilateral decisions. The path of the fence has far-reaching international, economic, social and humanitarian ramifications whose legal consequences generate a dynamic situation and render imprecise the fence's final shape and location. This, in turn, makes it impossible to assess with precision how much of the West Bank will remain "inside" the fence (somewhere between 9.5-13 percent). In any future negotiations, Israel will have to relate to the fence in ways that afford a dignified political, economic, social and humanitarian fabric of Palestinian life without compromising Israeli security.- Published 12/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel served during the past two and a half years as special adviser to the minister of defense for Palestinian fabric of life issues, where he dealt with matters relating to the fence, passages, checkpoints, settlements and outposts.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A tragedy in three parts
by Issa Samandar
Act one: Reports amass detailing the increasing havoc Israel's wall is wreaking on Palestinian lives, livelihoods, their access to education or health facilities, the economy and environment. You name it, it's been covered by well-meaning international NGOs, who warn time and again that the wall will spell the end of hopes for peace. The truth is out there.
Act two: Appalling audiences, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decides to grant Palestinians and the settlers of Nili and Na'aleh the gift of yet more walls, this time one that will trap some 20,000 Palestinians in five villages west of Ramallah between the wall and the green line in another ghetto, made in Israel.
Act three: An American-sponsored public relations campaign is launched. US officials call it "peace negotiations". The campaign aims to prettify the ugly face of the Israeli occupation, particularly the wall, a deep scar that runs from the ear to the mouth. The dramatic denouement is a perversion of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Israel's occupation stands fully exposed for all the paltry fear and greed that sustains it, but only the audience perceives: the actors stay silent, either cowed or diverted.
Like a Greek tragedy, Israel's wall project is building to a long foreseen but apparently inevitable conclusion. International actors, with the notable and crucial exception of the United States aided by the spineless impotence of the European Union, have been consistent in their condemnation of the wall. Most recently, on March 3 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had this to say. "The Committee is of the opinion that the wall and its associated regime raise serious concerns under the Convention, since they gravely infringe on a number of human rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel. These infringements cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order."
The wall, once completed (it is nearly 60 percent finished at time of writing), will run for 703 km and by some projections will place 45.5 percent of West Bank territory under direct Israeli control. Some 360,000 Palestinians could find themselves stuck between the wall and the green line. Anything else is detail. That much many have acknowledged.
Politically, the wall has changed the ground rules. In response to international criticism, Israel has hit on the "magic" solution of building local walls, tailored to fit snuggly around Palestinian villages and thereby protect nearby illegal Jewish settlements. Astonishingly, this change in tactic appears to have done the trick. While local walls are still built on land taken from Palestinian villages and in occupied territory, as are the Jewish settlements the walls protect, the Israeli high court has apparently ended its protestations and is cooperating with the Israeli army in this venture to dispossess more and more Palestinians and preclude any possibility of the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
And with the Quartet now too busy punishing Palestinians for exercising their democratic right to vote, the pressure on Israel has almost ended. So why not? Why not take advantage of the American cover? (Because, make no mistake, that is what Washington is providing.) And for as long as the US retains its power to ignore international law, why shouldn't Israel take full advantage of its special friendship with Washington? After all, what are human rights violations, but three words in ink on paper that prompt memories of a bygone era?
On this side, meanwhile, our politicians are preoccupied with polishing the seats they want to occupy in the future. Apparently, even for our own leaders, the dust from the settlement and wall construction work and the smoke from Israeli guns and bombs are obscuring the view of what is happening on the ground.
Israel's wall and Jewish settlements in occupied territory are causing untold suffering to Palestinians and placing entirely avoidable yet insurmountable obstacles in the way of peace.
The wall is theft and apartheid made concrete, pure and simple. In turn, anger is brewing among Palestinians, anger that is fomenting and will soon create a potent brew. Another round of protests and struggle will ensue.
It is time for all those believing in "rights for peace" to unite their efforts. This horse and carriage will soon tumble over a sheer cliff side, despite the simple and well-understood cure: End the occupation, destroy the wall and send the settlers packing.- Published 12/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Issa Samandar is coordinator of the Land Defense General Committees and project manager of the Popular Committees Against the WALL.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.