ISRAEL: Six years later, UN says barrier is still a big problem
Six years ago, on July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague gave an advisory opinion on Israel's construction of a part-concrete, part-fence barrier running along its borders with the West Bank. The court stated that in addition to being "contrary to international law," the construction of the barrier does not justify Israel's security objectives.
Since then, United Nations officials operating in the occupied Palestinian territories have marked the anniversary of this opinion with heartbreaking stories of the impact of the barrier on the lives and livelihood of almost three million Palestinians living in the West Bank, but mainly those caught between the barrier and the Israeli border, in what has been termed the "seam zone."
UN officials from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA), the World Health Organization and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned this week that unabated construction of the barrier continues to have adverse effects on the everyday lives of Palestinians.
They said the barrier and Israeli military laws associated with it had made it very difficult for Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to reach medical facilities in Jerusalem without first obtaining a permit from the army. They said it sometimes takes patients several days to get a permit for any of East Jerusalem's six specialized hospitals.
Farmers have also had difficulty reaching their farm land in the seam zone, officials said.
Currently there are 57 barrier gates which open on a daily, seasonal or seasonal-weekly basis, officials said.
The majority of the gates are open only during the olive harvest season and usually for limited periods during the day. As "visitors," farmers are not permitted to stay on their land overnight and must return at the last gate opening time, officials added.
The combination of the restricted allocation of visitor permits and the limited number and opening times of the barrier gates has severely curtailed agricultural practice and undermined rural livelihoods, officials said.
They recommended allowing farmers to reach their land behind the barrier at any time of the day and year and said West Bank and Gaza Strip residents should be able to reach East Jerusalem medical facilities without delay or obstruction.
Israel began construction on the barrier in the summer of 2002 after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel. The barrier's total length is 707 kilometers -- about 440 miles, or more than twice the length of the 1949 armistice line, also known as the green line, between the West Bank and Israel.
According to UN figures, more than 61% of the barrier has been completed, with an additional 8.4% of the barrier's total length under construction and 30% planned but not yet built. When completed, 85% of the barrier will run inside the West Bank, thus incorporating 9.4% of the West Bank area, mainly where blocks of settlements have been built.
Ray Dolphin, OCHA barrier specialist, said there is "a strong correlation between the route of the barrier and settlements in the West Bank." He said Israel is incorporating land in the West Bank with the construction and route of the barrier "taking into account expansion of settlements."
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator in the Palestinian Authority, said Thursday on the ICJ opinion anniversary that "we are witnessing colonization in the 21st century with Israel's settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the wall is one of the ugliest manifestations of this grave violation of international law. It separates farmers from their lands, children from their schools and families from each other. It is a land grab disguised as a security measure and its purpose is to allow the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to expand. Simply put, the wall is an integral part of a regime intent on heading in the direction of apartheid."
-- Maher Abukhater in JerusalemPhoto: A Palestinian man walks next to Israel's barrier in the West Bank village of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on July 3, 2010. Credit: Maya Hitij / Associated Press