August 08, 2011 Edition 23 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Ten years to the West Bank barrier
Illegal, unjust and ultimately destructive  - Ghassan Khatib
The Wall is one more component of illegal Israeli settlement expansion.

Justified, despite the many mistakes  - Yossi Alpher
None of us wanted a fence, but the terrorist offensive called for extreme measures.

Still seeking victory  - Sharif Omar
It is not accurate to say that the Wall stopped Palestinian attacks.

Building a future border  - David Newman
It has, overnight, become one of the most closed borders in the world.

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Illegal, unjust and ultimately destructive
 Ghassan Khatib
Ten years after Israel started building a Wall in the occupied West Bank, the project has not proven Israeli arguments in its defense, but rather illustrated the Palestinian view that this is one more component of illegal Israeli settlement expansion. Israel, for the most part, said that the Wall was needed for its security. In response, Palestinians asked why then it was built to incorporate settlements into Israel, rather than on the internationally-recognized 1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank.

Early on, Palestinians took this case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Palestinians argued that the Wall was just as illegal as the Jewish settlements--facts on the ground meant to change demographics--in the occupied territories. The court agreed, ruling in an advisory opinion that both the Wall and the settlements are illegal according to international humanitarian law, and that the Wall should be dismantled and Palestinians compensated for damages incurred.

The fact that the international legal system and the international community, especially the United Nations, subsequently failed to bring Israel to respect and implement the ruling of the court had a very negative effect (justifiably) on international legality and the international system in the eyes of the Palestinian public. It also probably negatively affected public confidence in the Palestinian leadership. This was likely one of the factors contributing to the internal Palestinian political shift in favor of the opposition.

Another legal aspect of this issue that needs to be addressed is the incompatibility between international legality and the Israeli "legal system". Ultimately, domestic laws in any country should be consistent with international law and international humanitarian law. The fact that the Israeli legal system continues, in many court rulings, to justify construction on the Wall, despite the International Court of Justice's ruling, exposes a significant defect in the Israeli legal system.

Recent developments in which the Palestinian Authority, cooperating with Israel, has succeeded in fulfilling its security obligations, together with changes in Palestinian public opinion away from violent resistance and armed struggle, have produced a period of marked calm. There is almost no armed response by Palestinians to the Israeli occupation. Nevertheless, Israel has continued building the Wall, proving that its objectives are actually related to the Israeli strategy of maintaining and increasing control over as much as possible of the occupied territories as possible.

Moreover, it is clear that the Wall, rather than serving its declared objectives of ending violence, is being built at the expense of the fundamental rights of Palestinians, who are losing land, livelihoods, and access to services because of it. As a result, the Wall has become a major source of tension and instability in an expanding number of localities. Nilin and Bilin villages have become famous for their regular demonstrations against the Wall. But the number of areas that see regular confrontations by Palestinian activists against the Wall has increased to no less than 15 villages around the West Bank.

The settlements and the Wall--especially in East Jerusalem and its environs--are realities on the ground that are entirely incompatible with the two-state solution, which requires the creation of a Palestinian state in the exact areas they are built on. For that reason, this project--still unfinished--is not only harmful to current peace efforts, but also makes peace less possible in the long run. The only peaceful solution that has been imagined by the parties and the international community is a two-state solution along the borders of 1967--which is now gradually becoming impossible.-Published 8/8/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Justified, despite the many mistakes
 Yossi Alpher
Successive Israeli governments since those of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have made nearly every mistake possible in creating the West Bank security fence. Yet the fence has not only served its original security purpose well; it has also delineated the broad outline of a future Israeli-Palestinian border everywhere in the West Bank except Jerusalem.

A brief review of those mistakes is instructive for appreciating the role the fence has played in the past decade of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The first and worst mistake, by Sharon and the defense establishment, was to look upon the fence idea as the opportunity for a land grab: a chance to link as much of the West Bank as possible to Israel and expand the territory under the control of specific settlements. This was a clear violation of the primary intent of those Israeli security experts who advocated the fence in the first place: a green line fence that would separate potential Palestinian terrorists from the heartland of Israel. Here we recall that the fence idea evolved in 2001-3 at the height of the Palestinian suicide bomber campaign inside Israeli mainstream cities, and that the model for the West Bank fence was the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, which sits exactly on the green line and has never been successfully breached by a terrorist attack.

The land-grab intention was largely thwarted, and in a few areas is still being thwarted, by a combination of Israel High Court of Justice rulings and international and domestic Israeli pressure. Of the eight percent or so of the West Bank that is today "attached" to Israel by the fence, some portions still have little justification in terms of security.

The next mistake was to ignore the case brought by the Palestinians against the fence before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The government of Israel's blanket refusal to defend itself before the court ignored a golden opportunity to present to the world Israel's case against the suicide bombings and the Palestinian leaders who actively or passively supported these attacks. Instead, the Court's ruling in 2004 added considerable fuel to the international de-legitimization campaign against Israel. It also enabled the Palestinian side successfully to market the security barrier as a "wall", when in fact it is 92 percent fence and only eight percent wall (in crowded urban areas like Jerusalem). Walls have a much more negative connotation in the international community than do fences. The Court's ruling actually denotes the entire fence a "wall".

Next came the mistake of building the fence/wall (here much of it is a wall) around Jerusalem on the basis of ideological/religious rather than security considerations. By forcibly attaching some 250,000 Jerusalem Palestinians to Israel and detaching them from the West Bank where their political, cultural and commercial links lie--all in the name of "united Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel"--Israel clearly acted against its long-term strategic interests and laid the foundations for future physical and political strife.

Last in this list of mistakes is the fact that, ten years after it was begun, the fence is still not complete. In some places, such as the Ariel bloc in northern Samaria and Maale Adumim east of Jerusalem, this reflects ongoing controversy regarding the location of the fence on the eastern flank of these settlement blocs and its ramifications for a future border. In others, such as the southern Judean Desert area, it reflects a combination of low terrorist infiltration and higher priorities for available funds. Add to this the security establishment's deference to demands by settlers east of the fence to enable them to quickly traverse official passages through the fence, and Israel remains potentially exposed to terrorists and illegal migrants entering the country where there is no fence or, by subterfuge, through the passages (even settlers have been caught smuggling Palestinians into Israel).

Yet, despite all these errors of judgment or of greed, the fence has served two positive purposes. First, it has helped radically reduce terrorist incursions. This is its main purpose, and it reflects the heavy trauma visited upon the country by suicide bombings beginning a decade ago. Undoubtedly, additional factors have contributed--in particular the advent of a Palestinian leadership that genuinely opposes terrorism and the emergence of well-trained, dedicated Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. Yet, the status of the fence as primary preventive element is borne out by the situation with Gaza, where the Hamas leadership is intent on sending terrorists into Israel to attack Israeli civilians, yet the fence does its job.

Second, reflecting the not-so-hidden agenda of the primary advocates of the fence ten years ago, the fence has definitely contributed to the gradual delineation of an Israeli-Palestinian sovereign border. The fence still "grabs" eight percent of the West Bank; judging by the contents of final status negotiations since 2000, the final border is likely to annex around four or five percent. The difference is bridgeable, thanks in part to the fence. And the fence, incidentally--even where it's a wall--is easily moved.

Finally, one additional thought in response to those Palestinians who oppose the fence, whether as a matter of principle or because it diverges from the green line. They brought it upon themselves. None of us wanted a fence, but the terrorist offensive against our civilian population beginning a decade ago, which was supported by at least half the West Bank Palestinian population and the Palestinian leadership of the day, fully justified our taking extreme measures.-Published 8/8/2011

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Still seeking victory
 Sharif Omar
It was in September 2003 that the meaning of the Wall that Israel had constructed between me and my land began to sink in. Despite our refusal to apply for permission to cross the Wall, Israeli officials had gone ahead and issued permits to some of the farmers in Jayyous, where I live.

There were 650 permits issued for our village, and my name was not among them.

Before the Wall, I went to my farm whenever I wanted, often sleeping there during the week in a simple agricultural house I had constructed there. Buyers would come to purchase our olives, citrus, loquats, avocados, guava and almonds, straight from the fields. And it was no problem finding workers to help harvest the produce and tend the fields.

Now, despite years of fighting Israel in court, frequent demonstrations, and actually achieving a ruling by the International Court of Justice calling for the dismantling of the Wall, we remain restricted from our land.

The Wall cut off some 8,600 dunams from Jayyous, about 75 to 90 percent of its agricultural land, and six water wells. Now we are forced to share with our neighbors in Azzun from a well located between the two villages, which covers less than half of our needs.
I have managed to obtain a six-month permit to access my 175 dunams, but prior to this I was only getting a permit every three months--sometimes waiting for weeks in between. The permit says I can be on my land from five am to seven pm, but the gate in the Wall is only opened three times a day--6:45 to 7:15 in the morning, 1:45 to 2:15 in the afternoon, and from 5 to 5:30 in the evening. If you are late, it is a problem. Often the soldiers are late and you have to wait.

Finally, I and my wife are the only members of my family granted permits. She is 65 years old, with a bad back, and I am 69--how can she help me? It's nice that she can sometimes come to the fields and we can have breakfast together, but I would really like for my son, who studied agriculture in Italy, to be able to help a few days a week.

Finding workers has become really difficult. The Israelis say I should get permits for 15 workers, but that has not materialized. Sometimes, other farmers who don't have a lot of land will come and help part of the week.

And, of course, because buyers can't come to the fields beyond the Wall, we sell our produce in the market near Nablus at a ten percent mark-up for transport and middleman costs.

Israelis may think that the Wall has served them well, since suicide bombings in Israel stopped not long after its construction. We oppose these attacks; that was something we agreed on even in 1981, when the settlement of Tsufin ate up 2,000 dunams of our land.

And while it is important to say that Palestinians have the right to resist occupation through any means, I believe the majority of Palestinians began to oppose the attacks inside Israel because they didn't produce the desired results. It is not accurate to say that the Wall stopped these attacks. Anyone who wants to carry out an operation can cut the fence and enter. Even now, when the soldiers aren't at the gate, the young people are able to open its doors. If they really wanted to enter Israel, they could. And now in the time of rockets, does a Wall really provide any protection?

If the goal of building the Wall was security, why didn't they build it on the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the West Bank? Why did they cut six kilometers inside the line into Jayyous? They did this because the real issue is not security, it is the desire for more land and water.

I testified at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, and I was pleased with its ruling. But that was not the real success, in my view. The real success in Jayyous has been the community solidarity built up around this issue. We succeeded in changing the course of the Wall to restore 2,488 dunams to Jayyous and Azzoun. In September 2009, the Israel High Court ruled that the Wall be moved to return our land, and about six weeks ago, an army captain came and told us that the decision will be implemented in June 2012. This is a direct result of the popular resistance in this village.

We fought in court, but we also demonstrated. One day they would cut the fence, the next day they would have activities, one day they would throw a Molotov cocktail, the next day they would burn tires.

Still, I remember when an Israeli journalist came and asked me about it. I said this court ruling was not a victory--victory will come when the Wall is gone. -Published 8/8/2011 ©

Sharif Omar is a farmer and leader in the Land Defense Committee in the northern West Bank village of Jayyous.

Building a future border
 David Newman
The construction of the West Bank barrier has, in reality, been the construction of a border between Israel and a future state of Palestine. This does not mean that the location of the barrier will remain in situ and that there will not be changes in its course if and when a formal agreement is reached. But the fact that it was constructed as a physical part of the landscape, visual to all, negotiated and crossed only through a few official border crossings where documents have to be shown and where people can be refused entry (or exit) has, more than any other policy of the past decade, transformed the abstract notion of "border" into a tangible element within the political landscape.

Drive in and out of Jerusalem from the West Bank, travel along the cross-Israel highway in the center of the country, or drive along the roads parallel to the barrier and you cannot but understand what it means to have a real border, separating two distinct political entities. Successive Israeli governments can argue as loudly as they wish that this is a security barrier to prevent suicide bombers from coming into Israel and that it is not, nor is it meant to be, a political boundary. But the power of the facts is, in this case, much stronger than the rhetoric of the words.

Not only is it a political border in every sense of the word but it has, almost overnight, become one of the most closed borders in the western world. Palestinians are unable to cross if they don't have a permit to work inside Israel, and this is a luxury afforded to only a small proportion of the local residents, as Israel prefers to work with cheap immigrant laborers from other countries who do not, in its view, present a potential security problem. No Palestinian vehicles are allowed inside Israel; the border crossing points have large car parks where the vehicles are left during the day, while on the other side Israeli employers arrive with their trucks early in the morning and late at night to pick up and deposit the workers on their daily trek across the border.

Arab citizens of Israel are allowed to cross the border but they are invariably pulled aside for additional checks of their documents and the contents of their vehicles. Other Israel citizens are usually allowed through with a wave of the hand, their border visa being their ability to answer a simple question in colloquial Hebrew or to be dressed in clothing deemed "appropriate" by border officials. For these Israelis, the border is just a minor inconvenience that holds them up for a few moments on their daily travel into and out of their West Bank settlement homes.

The crossing points are administered by the same agency that manages all of Israel's borders, be they the borders with Jordan and Egypt or the booths at the international airport. In turn, security control of the borders is partly franchised out to semi-private security agencies that operate in accordance with guidelines issued by the Israel Ministry of Defense but that, on occasion, behave in ways a regular soldier in his/her uniform would not be allowed to. For a Palestinian crossing the border, it can be quite a humiliating experience. There are few places in contemporary Israel where the differential treatment of Israelis and Palestinians at one and the same place is as stark as at the barrier border.

The construction of the barrier has been implemented approximately 70 percent along the course of the green line, while nearly all deviations have been inside the West Bank rather than inside Israel. De facto annexation of Palestinian territory in this way has been aimed at retaining as many of the Israeli settlement blocs as possible under direct Israeli control.

But this has also created a new situation of Palestinian "spatial" hostages, namely those Palestinian villages that are to the east of the green line (inside the West Bank) but to the west of the barrier. Villagers have difficulty accessing schools, jobs and hospitals in almost any direction and the construction of the barrier has severely curtailed their basic human rights. If, indeed, the final delimitation of a border includes these areas as part of Israel, serious consideration would have to be given to the citizenship status of these "hostages" and/or their automatic right of free access across the new border.

During the past ten years it has become common parlance to talk in terms of territorial exchange along the border. When such ideas were first suggested as many as 20 years ago, they were thought of as no more than fictional, unrealistic proposals by ivory tower academics. But in recent years this has become a real topic of discussion between the two sides, with maps showing the potential areas of territorial exchange by Israel in return for the settlement blocs.

One alternative is the relatively unpopulated area inside Israel south of Qiryat Gat. Another much more contentious proposal is the area bordering the north of the West Bank. This would redraw the border in such a way as to transfer (without physically uprooting) tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel into the Palestinian state--regardless of whether or not they actually want this to happen.

The underlying conclusion to be drawn from this short essay is that construction of the West Bank barrier/fence/wall has been responsible for the transformation of the discussion of borders from something abstract into something real and tangible. Israeli governments, especially those of the Likud persuasion, may try to deny or avoid discussion of future borders between two sovereign and independent states. But they have, with their own hand, created the conditions that have brought this even closer.-Published 8/8/2011

David Newman is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. He is a professor of political geography and chief editor of the international journal, Geopolitics. His work focuses on the contemporary functioning and significance of borders.