Behind the barrier: human rights violations resulting from Israel’s construction of the wall

Finished portion of the separation barrier between Rumana, in the West Bank and ‘Um al-Fahem (Photo: Eyal Raz, B’Tselem)

In June 2002, the government of Israel decided to erect a barrier along the entire West Bank to separate Israel and the West Bank in order to prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel. To date, the government has directed the construction of only some 190 kilometers. According to the Ministry of Defense, the first 145 kilometers (Stage 1) are to be operational by July 2003.

Most of the barrier’s route in Stage 1 passes through the West Bank. As a result, the barrier will likely infringe the human rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in sixty-seven villages, towns, and cities.

Thirteen communities, home to 11,700 people, will become enclaves imprisoned between the barrier and the Green Line.

The winding route of the barrier, together with the closure of areas as a result of another barrier (a depth barrier) east of the separation barrier will turn nineteen communities, in which 128,500 residents live, into isolated enclaves.

Thirty-six communities east of the separation barrier or the depth barrier, in which 72,200 Palestinians reside, will be separated from their substantial areas farmland that lie west of the barrier.

Route of the first stage of the wall and the enclaves in the Qalqiliya area

The Israeli authorities have promised that crossing points will be set up along the barrier, through which residents harmed by erection of the barrier will be able to cross after receiving “special permits.” That said, even assuming that the crossing points are set up and Palestinians are allowed to cross– which is a questionable assumption – the population will be dependent on Israel’s security system and practices. Past experience indicates that Israel takes advantage of its ability to restrict Palestinian movement in the Occupied Territories to accomplish forbidden objectives and is driven by considerations unrelated to its security. It is reasonable to assume that Israel will continue these practices and policy, in which case the crossing points will not prevent infringement of the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement.

The restrictions on movement will gravely harm the thousands of Palestinians who will have difficulty going to their fields and marketing their produce in other areas of the West Bank. The area planned for Stage 1 of the barrier is among the most productive in the entire West Bank, and farming is a primary source of income in the communities that will be affected by its construction. The harm to the farming sector is liable to have drastic economic effects on the residents and drive many families into poverty.

The erection of the barrier will also significantly reduce access of the rural population to the hospitals in Tulkarm, Qalqiliya, and East Jerusalem, which will be isolated from the rest of the West Bank. The educational system will also suffer because many teachers come from outside the community in which they teach. This is especially true in village schools.

In deciding to build a barrier to prevent attacks within Israel, the authorities selected the most extreme solution to the problem and the one that creates the greatest harm to the Palestinian residents. Israel preferred this solution over alternative possibilities that would cause a lesser degree of harm to the Palestinians. In doing so, Israel breached its obligations under international law.

Although most of the Palestinians who perpetrated attacks in Israel entered the country through the checkpoints situated along the Green Line, and not through the open areas between the checkpoints, Israel decided to erect the barrier before it solved the problems that were found in the operation of the checkpoints. Also, the IDF did not take any meaningful action in the seam area that would prevent Palestinians from entering Israel, and gave low priority to this objective in comparison with other objectives, such as attacking Palestinian Authority institutions and protecting the settlements.

Even if we accept Israel’s claim that the only way to prevent attacks is to erect a separation barrier, Israel is required to select the route that results in the fewest possible human rights violations. The planned route almost totally ignores this principle and is based on illegitimate considerations. One of the government’s primary considerations was inclusion of as many settlements as possible west of the barrier in order to increase the likelihood of their annexation into Israel. The authorities also determined the route of the barrier in a manner that would avoid the political problems resulting from recognition of the Green Line as the border of Israel. In one of the areas, the route was changed due to pressure by residents of the Israeli town of Matan, who demanded separation between Qalqiliya and Habla, a village south of Qalqiliya, in order to safeguard their “quality of life.” In other areas, it was decided to move the barrier eastward to prevent damage to sites containing antiquities. In the area of Bethlehem, the authorities decided to erect the barrier within the city to ensure Jewish worshipers free access to Rachel’s tomb.

The overall features of the separation-barrier project give the impression that Israel is once again relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. In the past, Israel used “imperative military needs” to justify expropriation of land to establish settlements and argued that the action was temporary. The settlements have for some time been facts on the ground and Israel now demands that some of them be annexed into Israel. It is reasonable to assume that, as in the case of the settlements, the separation barrier will become a permanent fact to support Israel’s future claim to annex territories.

For these reasons, B’Tselem urges the Israeli government to:

  • Nullify the government’s decisions regarding the separation barrier and immediately stop all work on the barrier, including the taking of land;

  • If it is decided that there is no choice other than building the barrier, the government must set the route, as a rule, along the Green Line or, alternatively, within Israel.

    To access the full report (rtf) click here.

    Related Links:

  • Map of the of the first stage of the route (PDF)
  • Aerial photo of the Kafr ‘Aqab area in the northern portion of the “Jerusalem Envelope” (PDF)