The Separation Barrier

Published: 
1 Jan 2011

The separation wall next to houses in the village. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, B'Tselem, 5 November 2010.In June 2002, the Israeli cabinet decided to erect a physical barrier separating Israel and the West Bank with the declared objective of regulating the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. In most areas, the Separation Barrier is comprised of an electronic fence flanked by paved pathways, barbed-wire fences, and trenches. The average width of the barrier is 60 meters. In a few locations, the security establishment decided to build a concrete wall six to eight meters high in place of this type of barrier. The full route of the Separation Barrier – the portions already built, those under construction, and those not yet implemented – is 709–kilometers long, twice as long as the Green Line.

Since the cabinet’s decision to build the Separation Barrier, Palestinians have filed dozens of petitions against the proposed route. In June 2004, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled on a petition filed by a number of villages northwest of Jerusalem, stating that the proposed route around these villages is illegal for the most part, and that the state must propose an alternative route. In light of this ruling, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instructed the security establishment to review the entire route. A new route was proposed, and the cabinet approved the amended route in February 2005.

In September 2005, the High Court of Justice ruled that the state must alter the barrier’s route around the settlement of Alfei Menashe, which made an enclave of the Palestinian villages Wadi Rasha and Ras a-Tira. In September 2007, the High Court of Justice ruled that the barrier’s route around the village of Bil’in must be adjusted so that the village gets back 700 dunams [70 hectares] of land that had been cut off from it to expand the Modi’in Illit settlement. However, even after the adjustment, 1,500 dunams [150 hectares] of Bil’in’s lands remain west of the Separation Barrier.

Eighty-five percent of the amended route is within the West Bank itself, not along the Green Line. In areas where the Separation Barrier has already been built, the extensive violations of human rights of Palestinians living nearby are evident. Further construction of the Barrier within the West Bank in accordance with the cabinet decision of February 2005 leads to further violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of local Palestinians.

Construction of the Barrier has imposed new restrictions on movement for Palestinians living near its route, in addition to the sweeping restrictions in force since the outbreak of the second intifada. Thousands of Palestinians have difficulty reaching their fields and marketing their produce to other areas of the West Bank. The areas west of the Separation Barrier are among the most fertile in the West Bank. According to the World Bank, the agriculture there generates 8 percent of overall Palestinian agricultural production. The damage to the agricultural sector means that Palestinian farmers cannot get supplementary income and makes it impossible to increase the number of workers in what is the primary sector of Palestinian economy.

The restrictions on freedom of movement also limit the access of Palestinian villagers to hospitals in nearby towns; the educational system suffers because many schools, primarily village schools, depend on teachers who live outside the community and must commute to the school; also family ties and social connections are adversely affected.

In early October 2003, OC Central Command declared the area between the Separation Barrier in the northern section of the West Bank (Stage 1) and the Green Line a closed military area, until further notice. The new directives dictated that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the enclaves created within the closed military area must obtain a "permanent resident permit" from the Civil Administration to enable them to continue living in their homes. Other West Bank residents would have to obtain special permits to enter the area. Israel has established dozens of checkpoints and gates along the completed sections of the Separation Barrier that allow permit holders to pass. However, requests of many Palestinians for entry permits to their land have been rejected, either on security grounds or on the contention that the applicant has not provided sufficient proof of ownership of the land or family relation to the landowner. Moreover, a permit from the Civil Administration does not guarantee that the holder will be allowed to pass through the gate: “total closures” imposed in the West Bank invalidate the permits.

Israeli authorities provided figures to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel regarding the number of permanent permits issued to Palestinian farmers who live east of the Separation Barrier and whose lands remain west of it: the number of permits allowing the farmers to work their land that was cut off by the Barrier dropped by 83 percent from 2006 to 2009 (from 10,037 to 1,640 permits). During this same period, Israel extended the amount of Palestinian land that remained west of the Barrier by 30 percent to approximately 119,500 dunams [11,950 hectares]. In addition, many Palestinians have to travel long distances, usually along unpaved roads, to get to the gate to their land. Because of the difficulty and expense in gaining access to their land, farming is not cost effective and many residents do not exercise the right to go to their land, thereby losing their primary source of livelihood.

In setting the Barrier's route, Israeli officials almost entirely disregarded the severe infringement of Palestinian human rights. The route was based on irrelevant considerations completely unrelated to the security of Israeli civilians. A major aim in planning the route was de facto annexation of part of the West Bank: when the Barrier is completed, 9.5 percent of the West Bank, containing 60 settlements, will be situated on its western, “Israeli” side. Israeli politicians already consider the Barrier’s route as Israel’s future border.

Israel has both the right and the duty to protect its citizens from attacks. However, the building of the Separation Barrier as a means to prevent attacks inside Israel is the most extreme solution and one that causes the greatest harm to the local population. Israel preferred this solution over alternate options that would cause less harm to the Palestinians. However, if it is Israel’s decision to protect its population by constructing a physical barrier between it and the West Bank, such a barrier must be built along the Green Line or in Israel proper. Israel may not use the route of the Separation Barrier to expand the area of settlements or its sovereignty. Israel must dismantle all parts of the Barrier constructed within the West Bank.