Stonewalling the Peace Process

George Bush's road map for Middle East peace may soon crash straight into a wall, or to be more accurate, a "security fence."

Israeli newspapers report that Condoleezza Rice and President Bush recently raised objections with Ariel Sharon over Israel's construction of a West Bank "security fence," a barrier ostensibly aimed at preventing Palestinians from entering Israel to carry out attacks.

In reality, however, the "fence" is a massive wall that serves an illegitimate goal: the seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank. In many places the "fence" is actually a 25-foot-high concrete wall, with guard towers and trenches. Yet it is not the size but the location of the Wall that worries the Bush administration.

It is primarily being built within the West Bank, up to four miles from the "Green Line", the generally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank. Its path is being bulldozed through Palestinian olive groves and greenhouses, surrounding entire Palestinian cities and villages, separating them from their farmland and wells, while trapping other villages in a "no man's land" between the Wall and Israel.

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem found that the Wall's northern phase alone "will likely infringe the human rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in sixty-seven villages, towns, and cities." A World Bank study raises fears that "the Wall will isolate, fragment, and, in some cases, impoverish those affected by its construction."

It is choking the life from the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. With 40,000 residents, Qalqilya is entirely surrounded, a ghetto with one narrow, Israeli-controlled entrance for people and goods. The villages of Jayyous and Mas'ha primarily depend on agriculture but will lose virtually all their farmland behind the Wall. Both lie four miles inside the "Green Line." Meron Rappaport of the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth writes that, "Behind the separation fence are thousands of personal tragedies, which are entirely invisible to the Israeli public."

The initial route planned for the Wall isolated 10 percent of the West Bank. But in recent months, the Sharon government has proposed a more drastic plan, cutting ten miles into the West Bank to surround major Israeli settlement blocs, and building a second wall in the eastern West Bank to secure Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. If executed, these plans would effectively annex more than 50 percent of the West Bank to Israel, imprisoning Palestinians in three disconnected islands.

Israel's government asserts that the Wall is not a permanent, political boundary, and that Palestinian farmers will pass through gates to their farmland. But the colossal, concrete Wall is clearly not designed to be removed, and some Israeli soldiers are already harassing many farmers, denying them access to their land. B'Tselem, the World Bank and others have expressed deep concerns about the Wall's permanence, and maintaining farmers' access to their land.

Village residents, with support from Israeli peace groups and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), have held peaceful protests against the Wall. In Mas'ha, Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners established an open-air "peace camp" to educate visitors about the Wall's impacts. B'Tselem, echoing the views of Palestinian farmers, recommends: "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."

Israel's security needs are real, but the means being used to achieve them are unjust and self-defeating. No wall has ever brought peace between peoples, and one forcibly built upon stolen land at the expense of recognized international boundaries certainly will not.

Patrick Connors conducted advocacy on the Wall for three months in the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement. He has previously managed international humanitarian aid programs for twelve years, including three years in the Gaza Strip.

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