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24 December 2005

The Thing (but it's NOT like the Berlin Wall) (or maybe it IS)

The West Bank Barrier, also known as the Separation Wall, seen from the roof of a Catholic kindergarten in the West Bank (Palestinian) section of Bethlehem.

If anyone can explain to me why the Berlin Wall was a human rights atrocity built by a despotic tyranny, whose eventual destruction was a joyful triumph for decent people throughout the world, but This Thing is a valid, lawful and necessary construct of a responsible, humane sovereign power, please Leave A Comment.

(Associated Press photo from 14 March 2005.)


15 September 2005

What is the
West Bank barrier?

The West Bank barrier has been highly controversial ever since the Israeli government decided to build it in 2002 and it remains a bitter bone of contention after Israel's evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC News website answers questions about the plan.

Wall? Fence? What exactly is this structure?

"The Thing," as one commentator has drolly called it, is in fact part-wall, part-fence. Most of its 670-kilometre (420-mile) length is made up of a concrete base with a five-metre-high wire-and-mesh superstructure. Rolls of razor wire and a four-metre-deep ditch are placed on one side. In addition, the structure is fitted with electronic sensors and has an earth-covered "trace road" beside it where footprints of anyone crossing can be seen.


Parts of the structure consist of an eight-metre-high solid concrete wall, complete with massive watchtowers. The solid section around the Palestinian town of Qalqilya is conceived as a "sniper wall" to prevent gun attacks against Israeli motorists on the nearby Trans-Israel Highway.

There are also sections of wall around Jerusalem -- blocking off Ramallah and Bethlehem and running through the village of Abu Dis.

Work started -- at a cost of $2,000,000 a kilometre -- in June 2002 and contractors have now completed about half of the planned barrier: a long segment on the north-west edge of the West Bank; two sections either side of Jerusalem; and a section in the Jordan Valley.

But construction has been slowed with the Israelis announcing some changes to the route necessitated by legal rulings.

On 20 February 2005 -- the same day it approved the Gaza disengagement plan -- Israel's cabinet approved the current planned route for the barrier, after Israel's Supreme Court ruled the previous route was needlessly disruptive to Palestinians' lives.

The new route runs closer to Israel's boundary with the West Bank -- the Green Line -- than the original one but will still include 6 - 8% of occupied territory in the West Bank on the Israeli side.

Why is Israel building it?

The government says it is essential to prevent Palestinian would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel and attacking Israeli civilians, as has happened many times during the Palestinian intifada.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government was originally reluctant to build the barrier -- which was first championed by the centre-left opposition Labour party.

Right-wing ministers and their hardline supporters were not keen to build any structure which might be construed as a future Israeli-Palestinian border which left Jewish settlements stranded in Palestinian land.

Pro-settlement objections have been largely assuaged by the fact that the structure is not being built on Israel's pre-1967 boundary, but snakes several kilometres into the West Bank to link settlements with Israel.

What are the main objections to the plan?

Israel's critics say the plan epitomises everything that is wrong with Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and its approach to making peace with its Arab neighbours.

The massive structure is part-wall, part-fence

Palestinian land is confiscated to build the barrier; hundreds of Palestinian farmers and traders are cut off from their land and means of economic survival. Most significantly, it creates "facts on the ground" and imposes unilateral solutions which preclude negotiated agreements in the future.

The impact of the plan has been felt acutely in Qalqilya, once known as the West Bank's "fruit basket", which lies within a tight loop in the wall. It is cut off on three sides -- from the farms which supply its markets and the region's second-largest water sources. Access to the 40,000-inhabitant town passes through a single Israeli checkpoint.

Why didn't Israel build the barrier along the old 1967 boundary?

Palestinians say a fence around the entire West Bank might have shown the Israeli government was serious about ending the occupation -- the minimum requirement for a fair resolution of the conflict as far as Palestinians are concerned.

As it is, the Palestinians argue, the current plan looks suspiciously like the precursor to a structure which will hem them into discontiguous "bantustans" on 42% of the West Bank -- something they believe Mr Sharon has been planning all along.

from Wikipedia
(there's more about its Apartheid history in the "bantustan" entry.)

Bantustan refers to any of the territories designated as tribal "homelands" for black South Africans and Namibians during the apartheid era. The term "bantustan" was first used in the late 1940s and was coined from Bantu (meaning "people" in the Bantu languages) and -stan (meaning "land of" in the Persian language, equivalent to the Latin ending -ia and the Germanic -land). It was based on Hindustan, a term used to refer to the land beyond the Indus/Sindhu India. It was a disparaging term used by critics of the apartheid-era government's "homelands" (from Afrikaans tuisland).

The word "bantustan" is often used in a pejorative sense when describing a country or region that lacks any real legitimacy or power, and that sometimes emerges from national or international gerrymandering. It has been used particularly with reference to Israeli policies towards the Palestinian populations of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

But Israel argues that the fence is purely a security obstacle, definitely not a part of a future border. Israeli officials say there is nothing to prevent the fence from being moved after a negotiated settlement.

Can legal action stand in the way of the barrier?

Court challenges have been made to the barrier both internationally and in Israel itself.

The International Court of Justice ruled against the barrier in July 2004, saying that it breaches international law and should be dismantled. Calling it "tantamount to de facto annexation," the Court said the barrier inhibited Palestinians' right to self-determination.

The court's decision -- which came at the request of the United Nations General Assembly -- is advisory, not binding, and it has been rejected by the Israeli government.

Civil rights groups have meanwhile gone to Israel's Supreme Court questioning the principle of building the barrier on occupied land and the restrictions it imposes on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

This challenge has not succeeded, but more limited challenges have. In June 2004 the Court ruled that a 30-km section of barrier northwest of Jerusalem imposed undue hardship on Palestinians and must be rerouted.

The Supreme Court specifically said Israel had to limit Palestinian suffering, even if that meant accepting some restrictions on its ability to defend itself. It accepted that security was the reason for building the barrier.

A second ruling in September 2005 ordered reconsideration of the route around Alfei Menashe, south of Qalqilya, where several Palestinian villages have been left stranded on the western, "Israeli" side of the fence, devastating the local economy.

On this occasion, the court also rejected the World Court ruling, saying Israel did have the right to build the barrier on occupied West Bank land, but ordering that the route be determined by the army on the basis of security needs.

Where does America stand?

Washington, still keen to keep alive the roadmap peace plan, views the barrier as problematic because of its capacity to poison the atmosphere between the two sides.

In an exchange of letters in April 2004, President George W. Bush outlined US policy in this way:

"As the government of Israel has stated, the barrier being erected by Israel should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities."

What is the UN's position on the barrier?

In late September 2003, the UN issued a report which condemned the barrier as illegal and tantamount to "an unlawful act of annexation."

In his report for the UN Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, a South African law professor, warned that about 210,000 Palestinians living in the area between the wall and Israel would be cut off from social services, schools and places of work.

"This is likely to lead to a new generation of refugees or internally displaced people," he said.

Israel has dismissed the UN report as "one-sided, highly politicised and biased."


Associated Press
Sunday 11 December 2005

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
slams West Bank
separation fence

The top Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land planted an olive tree Sunday on the planned route of Israel's separation barrier in a West Bank village and prayed for the wall's removal, saying it is serves no purpose.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, visited the barrier in the village of Abud that Israel says it needs to keep Palestinian attackers out.

"This position and the confiscation of lands have no reason at all. (The wall) doesn't benefit the security of either Israel or anybody else. Our prayers are for the removal of this physical wall currently under construction and the return of our lands and your lands to you," Sabbah told his audience, a group of some 1,000 protesters and believers who traveled with him to the planned route of the wall.

Sabbah, the first Palestinian to hold the top Roman Catholic position in the Holy Land, has been the patriarch since 1988 and has often had testy relations with Israel. He said last Christmas that the separation barrier has turned Bethlehem into a "prison."

"We share your concerns," Sabbah said Sunday to the people of Abud, but urged them to keep their protests peaceful.

"Our hearts are filled with love, and no hatred for anybody, We want life for ourselves," he said. "This peace will be possible regardless of the obstacles put between the people."

Israeli soldiers stood on the other side of the barbed wire and removed one of the protesters from the scene, averting a clash, witnesses said.

- 30 -


Anonymous Adam said...

Sure, he may not actually exist, and even if he does, he's never served, but Gary Brecher has an interesting perspective on war all the same. His suggestions for the American military read like Jonathan Swift stretched across wars big and small across the globe, and despite his unabashed love of war and death (easy for him to have, I think, since he's never been involved in either personally) he actually reaches many of the same conclusions anti-war writers reach, if for slightly different reasons. Worth a look.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Happy Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, etc. to you too Adam! I'll read your link after my Seasonal Craziness is over!


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