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From the field

Ten years on: Israel did not uphold its promise to prevent the separation barrier from harming Palestinians

Abandoned house near the Separation Barrier in the town of Bir Nabala, 24 September. Photo: Anne Paq,
Abandoned house near the Separation Barrier in the town of Bir Nabala, 24 September. Photo: Anne Paq,

Ten years after construction began on the Separation Barrier, a new B’Tselem report published today (5 Nov. 2012) examines the long-term impact on the Palestinian communities on whose land the barrier was built. The main conclusion of the report, Arrested Development, is that—in spite of promises to the High Court, the steps taken by the State have not prevented the barrier’s harmful effects on the lives of Palestinians. Since the construction of the barrier, Palestinians in nearby communities lost the ability to make profitable use of their lands—their major remaining resource. Today, with the barrier nearly two-thirds completed, the agricultural economy has shrunk drastically in West Bank areas once considered stable. Moreover, the spatial division between neighboring communities, and between them and their land, strains their ability to survive and paralyzes sustainable development.

The report examines the four largest Palestinian communities harmed by the construction of the barrier. Among the findings of these case studies:

  • Prices for goods and services in Barta’a a-Sharqiyah rose following the institution of lengthy security checks on goods and persons entering the village at the Rehan crossing;

  • In Jay'yus, agricultural production dropped as the result of the lack of permits granted to farmers, and the need to frequently renew them, while farmers shifted from profitable and competitive crops to those not requiring continual, daily cultivation;

  • The encirclement of Qalqiliyah by the barrier strangles the city’s development as an urban and commercial hub;

  • Bir Nabala’s isolation from adjacent East Jerusalem has paralyzed commercial activity in the town, as residents with Jerusalem residency moved back to East Jerusalem neighborhoods within the city’s municipal boundaries.

Current data on the Separation Barrier, its impact and its cost

The length of the barrier route is 708 km: more than twice the length of the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line between Israel and the West Bank, which is 320 km. Eighty-five percent of the route of the barrier lies within the West Bank and not on the Green Line, so that 85 settlements, 20 outposts and 8 industrial zones would be on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. Territory on the “Israeli” side of the barrier includes 9.4 percent of the territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, along with 85 percent of the settler population, about 430,000 persons.

Israeli Ministry of Finance data reveal that building and maintaining the Separation Barrier through the end of 2013 will cost NIS 10.84 billion, making it Israel’s largest and most expensive infrastructure project since construction of the national water carrier, in the 1950s and 60s.

Seam Zone: Israel imposed a permit regime to access lands in what it defines as the Seam Zone, between the barrier and the Green Line.

Around 140,000 dunams, comprising 2.46 percent of the West Bank and 74 percent of all the West Bank land isolated on the “Israeli” side of the Separation Barrier, have been designated as the Seam Zone. Some 7,500 people live in this area. About 68 percent of Seam Zone land is privately owned by Palestinians.

Based on data supplied by the State to the High Court, once construction of the Separation Barrier is complete—on a route encompassing the settlements of Ariel, Kedumim and Ma’ale Adumim—the Seam Zone will be 2.4 times larger than it is now and include 325,000 dunams, constituting 5.8 percent of the territory of the West Bank.

Elusive permits: The Civil Administration estimates that at least eleven thousand Palestinians have some connection to Seam Zone farmlands. However, fewer and fewer permits have been granted to farmers over the years, and those are mostly temporary and non-consecutive, complicating the exploitation of agricultural land for profitable crops. Obtaining a permit to live in the Seam Zone or to work the land there involves an immense burden, both bureaucratic and financial, and many landowners have given up applying. Over eight years after imposition of the permit regime, the Civil Administration has still not bothered to translate into Arabic the collected Seam Zone orders—describing the types of permits and approval criteria.

Illegality of the barrier: Apart from the harm to Palestinians, construction of the Separation Barrier within the West Bank violates many norms enshrined in international law which Israel is obligated to uphold. The barrier’s convoluted route creates territorial contiguity between dozens of settlements and the territory of the State of Israel. International humanitarian law prohibits establishment of settlements in occupied territory. Israel is prohibited from using the barrier to annex additional areas to its sovereign territory or to expand its settlements, and thus the construction of the barrier along a route chosen for those reasons serves a prohibited purpose.

In the report’s conclusions, B’Tselem calls on the Israeli government to dismantle all sections of the barrier built inside the West Bank and repeal the permit regime. If Israel wishes to erect a physical barrier between its territory and that of the West Bank, as a rule it must do so along the Green Line or within its sovereign territory, along a route that does not harm human rights.