Jump to content
Clubplanet Nightlife Community

Arab-Israeli Barrier Has Both Sides Divided


Recommended Posts

Arab-Israeli Barrier Has Both Sides Divided

By David Hoffman

Washington Post Foreign Service

Tuesday, July 2, 2002; Page A01

SALEM, Israel, July 1 -- Sending up swirling clouds of dust, giant dump trucks lumber along a freshly hewn dirt road behind the house where Bilan Arifi and his family live, on a hillside in this Israeli Arab village.

The trucks and excavators are carving a path for an ambitious Israeli plan to build a barrier separating Israel from the West Bank, a move of potent symbolism and uncertain prospects begun in the aftermath of the recent Palestinian suicide bombing campaign.

Arifi, a 26-year-old Israeli Arab, lives and works in Israel as an air-conditioning mechanic. He resides here, just west of the Green Line that separates Israel and the West Bank, in a house facing southeast, with a view extending through rolling valleys to the Palestinian city of Jenin. Since the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the boundary has remained largely unmarked and invisible in the stony outcroppings and valleys beyond Arifi's house. But as the fence is built, it will be unmistakable.

The fence is a response to demands from the Israeli public for a security barrier that would stop the suicide bombers. Most of the bombers have come from the West Bank -- many from Jenin -- and have unleashed deadly explosions in Israel's major cities on buses, at restaurants and in a hotel banquet hall.

But the fence is more than a security device. It also reflects a desire among many Israelis, exhausted by the bloodshed, to abandon the search for a negotiated peace and separate themselves from the Palestinians.

Although Israeli public opinion is divided, those who back separation say it is a move born of frustration and desperation, and not intended as a solution to the long conflict over the land.

"Separation created by a fence is not peace," said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of an Israeli-Palestinian Internet newsletter, bitterlemons.org, who advocates building the fence and redeploying Israeli forces out of many West Bank areas. "The fence is not meant to replace a peace process. We have to deal with the quasi-existential threat of suicide bombings. Let's separate, and tell the other side, wherever it is put does not preclude negotiations."

The idea of separation was broached, broadly, in the early 1990s by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said Israelis had to end the occupation of another people. More recently, some Labor Party leaders have pushed for construction of the fence.

But the notion of separation and of building a permanent wall has also inspired anger, doubt and bewilderment among Arabs and Jews, albeit for different reasons.

Arifi, surveying the trucks and tractors, nodded with an air of resignation toward Jenin and a scattering of Palestinian villages on the other side of the boundary. "I lose everything, not just the land, but my family," he said, adding that members of his extended clan live on both sides of the line, and often travel back and forth.

His village of Salem, about 45 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, will no longer be within easy reach of relatives in the West Bank.

"Wait one month," he said. "It will be two countries. It's very bad, but there is nothing we can do."

The project has also provoked fears of isolation among Jewish settlers spread across the hilltops of the West Bank. Their concern is that the fence could become a permanent border, leaving them cut off from Israel.

The fence will resemble those constructed on Israel's border with Jordan, including barriers of coiled barbed wire, trenches and electronic sensors to detect intruders, as well as a road for military patrols. Israeli officials said, however, that there would not be mines along the fence. The Israeli government has estimated the cost at about $1 million a mile.

The fence will also run close to Umm el-Fahm, a large Israeli Arab city in the north that has long been highly politicized. It was one of the locations where riots broke out when the current Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. Arab citizens of Israel living here have often complained of discrimination, and the prospect of a fence between Umm el-Fahm and the West Bank has stirred new resentment.

Hussein Abu Hussein, 49, a lawyer in Umm el-Fahm, said the fence would create more unrest by further isolating Palestinians in the West Bank. "These are our people," he added. "They belong to us, and we belong to them."

"It is not a peace," he said of the barrier. "It is a recipe for continued hostility." He noted that the Berlin Wall, which stood for decades, came down in a moment. "It fell not to bombs, but to people who decided that it should fall down." Similarly, the fence "is a solution that can't stand," he said.

The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently approved construction of the first phase of the 70-mile fence along the northern part of the West Bank. A longer, second phase has not been approved, but it is planned.

The fence is not being constructed precisely on the 1967 border, but rather is drawn to roughly parallel the border inside the West Bank, with detours to incorporate a few Israeli settlements close to the line. Some settlements, meanwhile, have started building their own protective fences, which could be connected. In addition, a highway near Qalqilyah is protected with enormous concrete barriers.

Sharon has long been an advocate for the Jewish settlers in the West Bank who have expressed fear that they could end up on the wrong side of the fence. He has insisted that the barrier is only a security fence in response to the suicide bombings. An Israeli government official said Sharon did not want to build it, but felt he had to respond to public demands for action against the bombers.

"Sharon initially had no desire to build a fence or a wall," said Alpher, the Web site writer and editor. "He understands perfectly well there will be not only security benefits, but political consequences."

Those could include a decision to turn the fence into a permanent boundary between Israel and a future Palestinian state. If the fence ever became such a line, it would mark a huge retreat from the dream of the Jewish settlers and their political supporters to establish a "Greater Israel" that includes West Bank lands, which they claim on historic religious grounds. Sharon has vowed not to dismantle the settlements.

Israeli has already built a fence around the other hunk of Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, and Israel uses it to tightly control the movement of people in and out of the region. One argument for the West Bank fence, made by some Israeli officials, is that few of the suicide bombers have come from Gaza, meaning the fence there must be having its intended effect.

But the topography of the West Bank border with Israel is rural and easily permeable, making this fence a far more difficult security challenge.

Jerusalem, which has been the target of the largest number of suicide bombings, is even more complex. Fences and barriers erected for security reasons are already visible both inside and outside the city. But Jerusalem's mosaic of neighborhoods makes separation of two peoples problematic at best. In the intricate geography of the city, Arabs and Jews live cheek-by-jowl in some areas.

For example, Israeli troops have created a checkpoint on the main road leading toward Ramallah, well inside the Jerusalem city limits. The checkpoint is there to guard against suicide bombers coming into the city. But because of the restrictions, about 20,000 Arab residents who live north of the checkpoint, in Kfar Aqab, have been cut off from easy access to Jerusalem, according to Daniel Seidemann, an attorney for many such residents.

"I can't visit the people I represent," he said. Although they are officially residents of Jerusalem, he said, the attempt at separation for security reasons has effectively thrust them outside the city.

Seidemann, who has often represented Arab residents of Jerusalem in class action suits in Israeli courts, said the Arab population in East Jerusalem had, for the most part, not joined the Palestinian uprising. Most of the suicide bomb attacks were carried out by Palestinians from outside the city. But he warned that attempting separation of Arabs and Jews by fences and barriers within Jerusalem could backfire, creating more resentment and conflict.

"There are people ideologically against fences and for fences," he said. "As one of the tools [for security], there's justification for them. But in this area, it won't work, and will be counterproductive. We'll soon be worrying about car bombs inside East Jerusalem."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...