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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Israel fence revives old controversies
Israel tank patrolling a section of fence built years ago
Israel plans to cordon off the whole West Bank
Barbara Plett

Bulldozers churn up the sand on the side of a hill northeast of Tel Aviv: they are preparing the ground for a security barrier to separate Israel from the West Bank.

It is the latest Israeli attempt to try to stop Palestinian suicide bombers. But it is deeply controversial, opposed by both right-wing Israelis and Palestinians for very different reasons.


It means the people can't go from their villages to the major cities except with a military order

Khalil Tofakji, Palestinian
The barrier will be 115 kilometres (70 miles) long, it will include fences, trenches and security patrols.

And this is only the first phase, eventually it is meant to extend the full 350-km (220 mile) length of the West Bank.

That is where all the latest suicide bombers have come from, not from the Gaza Strip which is already closed off with a fence.

Borderline controversy

The project gets cautious approval from a lot of Israelis ground down by the relentless attacks.

"It won't stop all the suicide bombers, but it will help the police and the army to guard us," said one young man.

But it will be built roughly along the lines that Israel held before it occupied the West Bank in 1967, and therein lies the controversy.

Jewish settlers who have moved in to stake a claim to the West Bank are afraid the fence will turn into a permanent border.

"If the border is returned to the pre-1967 borders, to the green line where the security fence is being built, the one international airport of the state of Israel will be about five miles from the border enabling Palestinian terrorists to shoot rockets, to shoot down any plane which is landing or taking off," says Settler Spokesman Ezra Rozenfeld.

That view is shared by right-wing politicians who are still trying to scupper the project. Palestinians agree with their opposition, but not their agenda.

Villages split

It is easy to see why with villages like Bartaa.

It straddles the (as yet) invisible dividing line, half in Israel, half in the West Bank.

In the past the village was actually split down the middle. There is some fear that may happen again, but it is more likely Bartaa will be absorbed into Israel's new security zone.

Israeli protester
Israeli right-wing groups fear the fence will become a permanent border

That worries Ahmed Fitha, a fruit seller who has come here because business is better than in other West Bank towns, there aren't as many soldiers and roadblocks.

If Bartaa is cut off from the West Bank and he stays, he will be cut off from his family. If he leaves, he will be cut off from his work.

"The village could become a big prison," he says. "It would be very bad, because many people come here to work, if the wall is built the people would lose their jobs."

Land issues

As always, it boils down to a question of land: Israel taking Palestinian land to ensure its security.

Work starts on the security barrier
Barrier will include fences, trenches and patrols

Khalil Tofakji works for a Palestinian mapping organisation. He calculates that Israel will seize 80 sq km for the fence and a surrounding buffer zone, land that he says will be annexed to Israel.

"We found that there are 11 villages inside this area," he says. "It means the people can't go from their villages to the major cities except with a military order.

"And the people who have land inside this buffer zone will need a permit to use their land, if they don't get one they'll lose the land."

Already there has been armed opposition. Palestinian militants set off a bomb and fired at police guarding the construction site on Wednesday.

In the absence of a peace settlement, the fence has raised all the old questions about where Israel ends and the West Bank begins.

For the settlers there is no division.

For those Israelis who support the fence there is still a distinction between the West Bank and Israel proper.

And for the Palestinians this is just one more wall in a land full of barriers.


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17 Jun 02 | Middle East
16 Jun 02 | Middle East
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