Three years after ICJ wall ruling, access to land still denied

In 2004 the route of the Israeli Apartheid Wall was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. Here the wall is seen in Qalqilya where it nearly completely surrounds the West Bank city, preventing many Palestinians from accessing their lands, 24 May 2007. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

QALQILYA, 26 July 2007 (IRIN) - Three years ago, in July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague issued an advisory opinion, which, by a vote of 14 to one, declared the barrier illegal, and expressed particular concern that parts of it were being built within the occupied Palestinian territory.

In the Qalqilya district of the northern West Bank, many Palestinians were separated from their agricultural land and livelihood, because the barrier did not always follow the internationally recognized “green line” between Israel and the Palestinian area.

Others found themselves divided from the rest of the West Bank. Overall, about 15 villages remain in the “seam zone” between the serpentine path of the barrier and the border. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 50,000 Palestinians will be located in that zone when the barrier is complete.

The ICJ observed that these pockets were created for the benefit of Israeli settlements, which it declared were also illegal under international humanitarian law.

The once successful industrial zone in the village of Mas’ha is virtually a ghost town. The barrier, here a mix of concrete slabs eight meters high, fencing and barbed wire, runs right up against the village.

Residents and aid workers say this village, like others in the region, has lost commerce, particularly from Israel, as well as agricultural profit.

“The majority of the businesses here have shut down since the wall was built,” said Moad Issa, a labourer working in a furniture shop, one of the few storefronts still open.

“It’s now much harder to find work,” lamented Issa, who is registered with the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). His small salary as an unskilled labourer feeds his three younger siblings and two ageing parents.

Israeli security officials say the barrier protects people inside Israel from militant attacks, but admit the route took settlements into consideration. When complete, the barrier will surround Mas’ha from three sides.

An enclave: ‘Azzun ‘Atma

On the other side of those settlements, to the west, lies ‘Azzun ‘Atma, a town with several thousand residents, which has been turned into an enclave by the barrier’s path. Access to the village is through a gate run by the military.

About eight families are divided from the rest of the village by an Israeli-controlled road.

“The lack of guaranteed access to emergency health care through the barrier gate at night is the biggest problem. Women are left most vulnerable,” said Rosemary Willey-Asana’, from OCHA in Jerusalem, for example, choosing home births or leaving the village during the last stage of pregnancy to avoid the barrier.

Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry, said the military worked to “provide solutions to all humanitarian concerns,” and there was no problem accessing health care. The gates would be opened at any time if needed, he added.

Many “seam zone” Palestinians need permits to stay in their homes and villages. Friends and family require different permits to visit. Similarly, farmers must receive permits to access land, which is contingent upon a schedule determined by the Civil Administration.

Dror said there were more than 60 gates in the barrier, for access to agricultural lands. He said the army was working to improve the gates and ensure farmers got the right permits.

However, a UNRWA official who studied the system, said: “The gates were never designed to offer a comprehensive humanitarian solution.” He noted in certain areas residents’ needs were not being met, and the gates “in some cases are in totally arbitrary places.”

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