West Bank Barrier

The Israeli West Bank barrier is a security and separation barrier (see "Names of the barrier") under construction by the State of Israel along and within the West Bank. Upon completion, the barrier's total length will be approximately 700 kilometres (430 mi).[1] 90% of the length of this barrier is a fence with vehicle-barrier trenches surrounded by an on-average 60 metres (200 ft) wide exclusion area, and 10% of the barrier is an 8 metres (26 ft)-tall concrete wall.[2] As of 2012, 439.7 km (273.2 mi) of barrier (62.1%) have been built, 56.6 km (35.2 mi) (8%) are under construction and 211.7 km (131.5 mi) (29.9%) are projected but construction hasn't begun.[3] The barrier is built mainly in the West Bank and partly along the 1949 Armistice line, or "Green Line" between Israel and Palestinian West Bank.[4] According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, 8.5% of the West Bank area is on the Israeli side of the barrier, and 3.4% is on the other side but "partly or completely surrounded".[5]

Israel argues that the barrier is necessary to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian political violence, including the suicide bombing attacks that increased significantly during the Second Intifada.[6] There has been a reduced number of incidents of suicide bombings since the construction of the barrier. According to statistics published by the Israeli government, between 2000 and July 2003, when the "first continuous segment" of the barrier was built, 73 Palestinian suicide bombings were carried out from the West Bank, killing 293 Israelis and injuring over 1,900. However, from August 2003 and the end of 2006, only 12 attacks were carried out, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445.[7] Supporters argue that this is indicative of the barrier being effective in preventing such attacks.[8]

Opponents of the barrier object that the route substantially deviates from the Green Line into the occupied territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. They argue that the barrier is an illegal attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security,[9] violates international law,[10] has the effect of undermining negotiations (by establishing new borders),[11] and severely restricts Palestinians who live nearby, particularly their ability to travel freely within the West Bank, including to and from the lands on which their subsistence depends,[12] and to access work in Israel.[13] In a 2004 advisory opinion resulting from a Palestinian-initiated U.N. resolution, the International Court of Justice considered that "Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall". The Court asserted that "the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law".[14]

Two similar barriers, the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier and the Israeli-built[15] 7–9 meter (23–30 ft) wall separating Gaza from Egypt (temporarily breached on January 23, 2008), which is currently under Egyptian control, are also controversial.[16]

Names of the barrier

Israelis most commonly refer to the barrier as the "separation (hafrada) fence" (seam zone" (קו התפר, Kav HaTefer) referring to the land between the fence and the 1949 armistice lines.

Palestinians most commonly refer to the barrier in

The International Court of Justice, in its advisory opinion on the barrier, wrote it had chosen to use the term "wall" as "the other expressions sometimes employed are no more accurate if understood in the physical sense."[14]

The BBC's style guide for journalists states "The BBC uses the terms barrier, separation barrier or West Bank barrier as acceptable generic descriptions to avoid the political connotations of "security fence" (preferred by the Israeli government) or "apartheid wall" (preferred by the Palestinians)."[19]


Most of the barrier (over 95% of total length) consists of a "multi-layered fence system".[20][21] The IDF's preferred design has three fences, with pyramid-shaped stacks of barbed wire for the two outer fences and a lighter-weight fence with intrusion detection equipment in the middle. Patrol roads are provided on both sides of the middle fence, an anti-vehicle ditch is located on the West Bank side of the fence, and a smooth dirt strip on the Israeli side for "intrusion tracking".

Some sections (less than 5% of total length) are constructed as a wall made up of concrete slabs up to 8 m in height and 3 m in width.[22] Occasionally, due to topographic conditions other sections of the barrier will reach up to 100 m in width.[23] Wall construction (5%) is more common in urban settings, such as areas near Qalqilyah and Jerusalem, because it is narrower, requires less land, and provides more protection against snipers. In all cases there are regular observation posts, automated sensing devices and other apparatuses. Gates at various points are controlled by Israeli soldiers.

Stated purposes and history of construction

The idea of creating a physical barrier between the Israeli and Palestinian populations was first proposed in 1992 by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, following the murder of an Israeli teenage girl in Jerusalem. Rabin said that Israel must "take Gaza out of Tel Aviv", in order to minimize friction between the peoples.[24] Following an outbreak of violent incidents in Gaza in October 1994, Rabin announced his stance that "we have to decide on separation as a philosophy. There has to be a clear border. Without demarcating the lines, whoever wants to swallow 1.8 million Arabs will just bring greater support for Hamas."[24]

The first section of the wall (as slabs of concrete contiguous for miles) that stood as a barrier was constructed during the Oslo accords negotiations in 1994. The section follows the border between Bat Hefer and Tulkarm communities.[25] Following an attack on HaSharon Junction, near the city of Netanya, Rabin made his goals more specific:

This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism.

In early 1995, the Shahal commission was established by Yitzhak Rabin to discuss how to implement a barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, prior to the Camp David 2000 Summit with Yasser Arafat, vowed to build a separation barrier, stating that it is "essential to the Palestinian nation in order to foster its national identity and independence without being dependent on the State of Israel".[24]

Following a Palestinian violence outbreak in 2002, Israel began construction of a barrier that would separate most of the West Bank from areas inside Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court made reference to the conditions and history that led to the building of the barrier. In the September 2005 decision,[2] it described the history of violence against Israeli citizens since the breakout of the Second Intifada and the loss of life that ensued on the Israeli side. The court ruling also cited the attempts Israel had made to defend its citizens, including "military operations" carried out against "terrorist acts", and stated that these actions ...

... did not provide a sufficient answer to the immediate need to stop the severe acts of terrorism. ... Despite all these measures, the terror did not come to an end. The attacks did not cease. Innocent people paid with both life and limb. This is the background behind the decision to construct the separation fence (Id., at p. 815)

In 2012 it was reported that Israeli negotiators had proposed to Palestinians that the barrier would become a border between Israel and the State of Palestine.[26]

Grassroots effort

In June 2001, a grass roots organization called "Fence for Life – The Public Movement for The Security Fence" began the grassroots effort for the construction of a continuous security fence. The movement was founded by people from all over Israel following the Dolphinarium discotheque suicide bombing.

The stated goal of the movement is to encourage the government to construct a security fence along Israel's borders. "Fence for Life" urged the government to build a contiguous fence as speedily as possible, and without any connection to the political future of the areas it separates, with a goal of hermetically sealing off the Palestinian territories from Israeli population centers to prevent the terrorist acts by Palestinians against the people living in Israel.

The "Fence for Life" campaign emphasized that any security fence has no connection whatsoever to the political future of the settlements. The Movement for the Security Fence for Israel included protests, demonstrations, conferences with public figures, media blitzes, lobbying in the Knesset as well as legal battles in the High Court of Justice, both with demands to quickly build the security fence as well as appeals not to cause further delay in construction. The movement does not support any specific path for the barrier, as this is subject to a government decision. "Fence for Life" was of the opinion that "politicization" of the fence by various groups was delaying the completion of the security barrier and is likely to block its construction. At the end of 2002, due to government inaction, several localities who suffered the most from lack of a border barrier had started to build the barrier using their own funds directly on the green-line.[27]

Government action

Although the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was initially hesitant to construct the barrier, he finally embraced the plan. The stated purpose of the barrier is to prevent terrorists from entering Israeli cities, a problem which has plagued Israel since the start of the Second Intifada. A secondary stated purpose of the barrier is to prevent infiltration by Palestinians for economic reasons. The Israeli government says that the high concrete portions are to protect cars and people on the Israeli side from gunfire.

According to Natan Sharansky, Minister of Housing and Construction at the time:

When Israel's free society was defending itself against an unprecedented campaign of terror, most of the international community was calling for an end of the "cycle of violence" and a return to the negotiating table. When the Palestinian terrorists struck. ... Israel was condemned for imposing "collective punishment" on the Palestinian population. When Israel chose to target individual terrorists with precision air strikes, its actions were condemned as illegal extrajudicial assassinations. It seemed that in eyes of many, the Jews had a right to defend themselves in theory but could not exercise that right in practice. ... our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.[28]

Route and route timeline

The barrier sometimes runs along or near the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice/Green Line, but it diverges in many places to include on the Israeli side several of the highly populated areas of Israeli settlements in the West Bank such as East Jerusalem, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Emmanuel, Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze'ev, Oranit, and Maale Adumim.[29] Most of the barrier is actually set in the West Bank.[5] It diverges from the "Green Line" by anywhere from 200 meters to as much as 20 km (12 mi), with the result that many Israeli settlements in the West Bank remain on the Israeli side of the barrier, and some Palestinian towns are nearly encircled by it. Approximately 20% is actually on the Green Line.[30] The proponents of the barrier say that its route is not set in stone, as it was challenged in court and changed several times. They say that the cease-fire line of 1949 was negotiated "without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines" (Art. VI.9).[31] Security experts argue that the topography does not permit putting the barrier along the Green Line in some places, because hills or tall buildings on the Palestinian side would make the barrier ineffective against terrorism.[32] The International Court of Justice has countered that in such cases it is only legal to build the barrier inside Israel.

During important Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Washington, Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved on 25 December 2000 financing of a 74 km (46 mi) fence between the Wadi Ara region and Latrun. The Deputy Defence Minister stated that the barrier did not necessarily delineate the boundaries of a future Palestinian State.[33]

In November 2003, the barrier extended inside most of the northwestern and western edges of the West Bank, sometimes close to the Green Line, and sometimes running further east. In some places there are also secondary barriers, creating a number of completely enclosed enclaves.

In February 2004, the Israeli government said it would review the route of the barrier in response to US and Palestinian concerns. In particular, Israeli cabinet members said modifications would be made to reduce the number of checkpoints Palestinians had to cross, and especially to reduce Palestinian hardship in areas such as the city of Qalqilyah which the barrier completely surrounds.

On June 30, 2004, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a portion of the barrier west of Jerusalem violated the rights of Palestinians, and ordered 30 km (19 mi) of existing and planned barrier to be rerouted. However, it did rule that the barrier is legal in essence and accepted the Israeli government's assertion that it is a security measure. On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that it is a violation of international law. At the beginning of September 2004, Israel started the southern part of the barrier.

On February 20, 2005, the Israeli cabinet approved a new route. The new route was 681 km (423 mi) and would leave approximately seven percent of the West Bank and 10,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side.[34] Before that time, the exact route of the barrier had not been finalized, and it had been alleged by opponents that the barrier route would encircle the Samarian highlands of the West Bank, separating them from the Jordan valley.[35]

Following a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the route was again revised by a cabinet decision on April 30, 2006.[36][37][38] In the Ariel area, the new route corrects an anomaly of the previous route that would have left thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side. The Alfei Menashe settlement bloc was reduced in size, and the new plan leaves three groups of Palestinian houses on the Palestinian side of the fence. The barrier's route in the Jerusalem area will leave Beit Iksa on the Palestinian side; and Jaba on the Israeli side, but with a crossing to the Palestinian side at Tzurif. Further changes were made to the route around Eshkolot and Metzadot Yehuda, and the route from Metzadot to Har Choled was approved.[39]

According to the current route, 8.5 percent of the West Bank territory and 27,520 Palestinians are on the "Israeli" side of the barrier. Another 3.4 percent of the area (with 247,800 inhabitants) is completely or partially surrounded by the barrier.[5]

See also 1949 Cease-fire line vs. the permanent border.

Effects and consequences

Effects on Israeli security

Israeli statistics indicate that since the construction of the barrier the number of Palestinian infiltrations and suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians in Israel and in Israeli settlements has substantially reduced, and Israeli officials assert that completion of the barrier will make it even more effective in stopping these attacks[40] since "An absolute halt in terrorist activities has been noticed in the West Bank areas where the fence has been constructed".[41]

Israeli officers (including the head of the Shin Bet) quoted in the newspaper Maariv have said that in the areas where the barrier was complete, the number of hostile infiltrations has decreased to almost zero. Maariv also stated that Palestinian militants, including a senior member of Islamic Jihad, had confirmed that the barrier made it much harder to conduct attacks inside Israel. Since the completion of the fence in the area of Tulkarm and Qalqilyah in June 2003, there have been no successful attacks from those areas. All attacks were intercepted or the suicide bombers detonated prematurely.[24] In a March 23, 2008 interview, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah complained to the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq that the separation barrier "limits the ability of the resistance to arrive deep within [Israeli territory] to carry out suicide bombing attacks, but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage" of the intifada.[42]

Israeli government sources have stated that since the barrier has been built, Israeli security has improved with regard to suicide bombings.[8][43] According to statistics published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Security Agency, from the beginning of the Second Intifada until the construction of the "first continuous segment" of the barrier in July 2003, 73 Palestinian suicide bombings were carried out from the West Bank, killing 293 Israelis and injuring over 1,900. However, between August 2003 and the end of 2006, only 12 attacks were carried out based in the West Bank, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445.[7] The trend continued into 2007,[7] and 2008 as well.[44] The number of fatalities due to terror attacks have continued to exhibit a steady decline since 2002, from 452 in 2002 to 9 in 2010.[45]

However, there is debate over how effective the barrier has been in preventing other attacks. A report by the Shin Beit, published in early 2006 says that attacks in 2005 have significantly decreased due to increased pursuing of Palestinian militants by the Israeli army and intelligence organizations, Hamas's increased political activity, and a truce among Palestinian militant groups in the Palestinian Territories. According to Haaretz the report also mentions that "The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it."[46] Former Israeli Secretary of Defence Moshe Arens says that the reduction in Palestinian violence is largely due to the IDF's entry into the West Bank in 2002.[47]

B'Tselem challenged the assumption used as the basis of the decision to erect the barrier, that people who carry out attacks enter via open areas between the checkpoints rather than through the checkpoints themselves.[48] According to Israel's state comptroller's Audit Report on the Seam Area published in July 2002, "IDF documents indicate that most of the suicide terrorists and the car bombs crossed the seam area into Israel through the checkpoints, where they underwent faulty and even shoddy checks."[48][49]

Effects on demography and asset values

According to a 2005 report published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, the barrier being built around Jerusalem may have unintended effects on the city. According to the study, many Jerusalem Palestinians who were living in areas outside the barrier are now moving back into the city, creating housing shortages, increased real estate prices, and the phenomenon of Palestinians moving into traditionally Jewish neighborhoods of the city.[50]

Arguments from right wing Israeli circles that the fence will reduce the Jewish population behind it have been countered from the same circles, arguing that attempts to keep Jews out of the land they believe is theirs are no more likely to succeed today than they were in Mandate Palestine, when the British blockaded the shores and issued the White Paper of 1939 to prevent Jews from purchasing land in the Mandate.[47]

Effects on Palestinians

The barrier has many effects on Palestinians including reduced freedoms, reduction of the number of Israel Defense Forces checkpoints, road closures, loss of land, increased difficulty in accessing medical and educational services in Israel,[51][52] restricted access to water sources, and economic effects.[53]

Reduced freedoms

In a 2005 report, the United Nations stated that:[54]

... it is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people's access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the Barrier's exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future lives will be impacted. ... The land between the Barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently the home for 49,400 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns.
—Introduction, The Humanitarian Impact of the West Bank Barrier on Palestinian Communities, United Nations

An often-quoted example of the effects of the barrier is the Palestinian town of Qalqilyah, a city of around 45,000, which is surrounded on all sides by the barrier. One 8 meter-high concrete section of this wall follows the Green Line between the city and the nearby Trans-Israel Highway. This section, referred to as an "anti-sniper wall," has been said[by whom?] to prevent gun attacks against Israeli motorists on the Trans-Israel Highway.[55] The city is accessible through a military checkpoint on the main road from the east, and an underground tunnel built in September 2004 on the south side connects Qalqilyah with the adjacent village of Habla. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to change the route of the barrier in this area to ease movement of Palestinians between Qalqilyah and five surrounding villages. In the same ruling, the court rejected the arguments that the fence must be built only on the Green Line. The ruling cited the topography of the terrain, security considerations, and sections 43 and 52 of The Hague Regulations 1907 and Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention as reasons for this rejection.[2]

In early October 2003, the IDF OC Central Command declared the area between the separation barrier in the northern section of the West Bank (Stage 1) and the Green Line a closed military area for an indefinite period of time. New directives stated that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the enclaves created in the closed area have to obtain a "permanent resident permit" from the Civil Administration to enable them to continue to live in their homes. Other residents of the West Bank have to obtain special permits to enter the area.[5]

Fewer checkpoints and roadblocks

In June 2004, The Washington Times[56] reported that the reduced Israeli military incursions in Jenin have prompted efforts to rebuild damaged streets and buildings and a gradual return to a semblance of normality, and in a letter[57] dated October 25, 2004, from the Israeli mission to Kofi Annan, Israel's government pointed out that a number of restrictions east of the barrier have been lifted as a result of it, including a reduction in checkpoints from 71 to 47 and roadblocks from 197 to 111. The Jerusalem Post reports that, for some Palestinians who are Israeli citizens living in the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm (population 42,000) near Jenin, the barrier has "significantly improved their lives" because, on one hand, it prevents would-be thieves or terrorists from coming to their town and, on the other hand, has increased the flow of customers from other parts of Israel who would normally have patronised Palestinian business in the West Bank, resulting in an economic boom. The report states that the downsides are that the barrier has divided families in half and "damaged Israeli Arabs' solidarity with the Palestinians living on the other side of the Green Line".[58]

A UN report released in August 2005 observed that the existence of the barrier "replaced the need for closures: movement within the northern West Bank, for example, is less restrictive where the Barrier has been constructed. Physical obstacles have also been removed in Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate and Jerusalem Governorate where the Barrier is under construction." The report says that more freedom of movement in rural areas may ease Palestinian access to hospitals and schools, but also says that restrictions on movement between urban population centers have not significantly changed.[59]

Loss of land

Parts of the barrier are built on land seized from Palestinians,[55][60] or between Palestinians and their lands[61] In a 2009 report, the UN said that the most recent barrier route allocates more segments to be built on the Green Line itself compared to previous draft routes of the barrier. However, in its current route the barrier is annexing 9.5% of the total area of the West Bank to the Israeli side of the barrier.[62]

In early 2003, 63 shops straddling the Green Line were demolished by the IDF during construction of the wall in the village of Nazlat Issa.[63][64] In August 2003, an additional 115 shops and stalls (an important source of income for several communities) and five to seven homes there were also demolished.[65][66]

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 15 communities were to be directly affected, numbering approximately 138,593 Palestinians, including 13,450 refugee families, or 67,250 individuals. In addition to loss of land, in the city of Qalqilyah one-third of the city's water wells lie on the other side of the barrier. The Israeli Supreme Court says the Israeli government's rejection of accusations of a de facto annexation of these wells, stating that "the construction of the fence does not affect the implementation of the water agreements determined in the (interim) agreement".[2]

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) estimates that in the north of the West Bank approximately 80 per cent of Palestinians who own land on the other side of the barrier have not received permits from the Israeli authorities, and hence cannot cultivate their fields.[67]

Israel has built a barrier in the Jordan Valley near the Jordan border. Because of international condemnation after the 2004 International Court ruling Israel did not build an even stronger barrier, instead instituting a restrictive permit regime for Palestinians.[68] However, it has changed the route to allow settlements to annex parcels of land.[69] The existing barrier cuts off access to the Jordan River for Palestinian farmers in the West Bank.[70] Israeli settlement councils already have defacto control of 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea[71] as the settler population steadily grows there.[72] It is proposed that if Israel unilaterally disengages from the West Bank, as it did Gaza, it maintain a military presence there to contain Palestinians within the separation barrier.[73]

Health and medical services

Médecins du Monde, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel have stated that the barrier "harms West Bank health".[74] Upon completion of the construction, the organizations predict, the barrier would prevent over 130,000 Palestinian children from being immunised, and deny more than 100,000 pregnant women (out of which 17,640 are high risk pregnancies) access to healthcare in Israel. In addition, almost a third of West Bank villages will suffer from lack of access to healthcare. After completion, many residents may lose complete access to emergency care at night. In towns near Jerusalem (Abu Dis and al-Eizariya), for example, average time for an ambulance to travel to the nearest hospital has increased from 10 minutes to over 110 minutes.[75] A report from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel states that the barrier imposes "almost-total separation" on the hospitals from the population they are supposed to serve.[76] The report also said that patients from the West Bank visiting Jerusalem's Palestinian clinics declined by half from 2002 to 2003.

Change in tactics and strategy

Members of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been less able to conduct attacks in Israel, the numbers of which have decreased in areas where the barrier has been completed.[41][77] Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, suggested that reduced ability to conduct attacks would "save the political process" because the barrier would neutralize the ability of militant groups "to hold that process hostage" by conducting these acts.[78]

In his November 2006 interview with Al-Manar TV, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Salah said that the barrier is an important obstacle, and that "if it weren't there, the situation would be entirely different."[79]

Economic changes

Real GDP growth in the West Bank increased modestly in 2003, 2004, and 2005 after declining in 2000, 2001, and 2002 (see Figure 1).[81]

According to the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) and other sources, much of Qalqilyah's farmland[82][83] now lie outside the barrier, and farmers require permits from Israeli authorities to access their lands that are on the opposite side. In the town of Jayyus, in the district of Qalqilya there are three gates in the barrier for the purpose of admitting farmers with permits to their fields that are open three times a day for a total of 50 minutes,[84] although according to the NAD they have often been arbitrarily closed for extended periods leading to loss of crops, and one of these gates has been closed since August 2004 due to a suicide attack that took place near the gate. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem says that "thousands of Palestinians have difficulty going to their fields and marketing their produce in other areas of the West Bank. Farming is a primary source of income in the Palestinian communities situated along the Barrier's route, an area that constitutes one of the most fertile areas in the West Bank. The harm to the farming sector is liable to have drastic economic effects on the residents – whose economic situation is already very difficult – and drive many families into poverty."[85][86]

Legal status

United Nations and International Court of Justice

In 2004, the United Nations passed a number of resolutions and the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion calling for the barrier to be removed, for Arab residents to be compensated for any damage done, and for other states to take action to obtain Israel's compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. The advisory opinion resulted from a Palestinian-initiated resolution adopted in a special emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly. The opinion was advisory, rather than binding, because Israel had refused to accept jurisdiction over the issue by the Court.

The Court found both the barrier and the associated regime that had been imposed on the Palestinian inhabitants is illegal, and said that an occupying power cannot claim that the lawful inhabitants of the occupied territory constitute a "foreign" threat for the purposes of Article 51 of the UN Charter. It also explained that necessity may constitute a circumstance precluding wrongfulness under certain very limited circumstances, but that Article 25 of the UN Declaration on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts bars a defense of necessity if the State has contributed to the situation of necessity. The Court cited illegal interference by the government of Israel with the Palestinian's national right to self-determination; and land confiscations, house demolitions, the creation of enclaves, and restrictions on movement and access to water, food, education, health care, work, and an adequate standard of living in violation of Israel's obligations under international law. The Court also said that Israeli settlements had been established and that Palestinians had been displaced in violation of Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[87] On request of the ICJ, Palestine submitted a copious statement.[88] The UN Fact Finding Mission and several UN Rapporteurs subsequently said that in the movement and access policy there has been a violation of the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin.[89]

The Anti-Defamation League heavily criticized the ruling, asserting that the outcome was stacked against Israel in advance through the biased wording of the submission. It said that Israel was systematically excluded from any say in the Court's makeup and asserted that an anti-Israel environment prevails at the General Assembly, which "regularly demonize[s] Israel". According to the ADL, the politicized nature of the process that produced the opinion threatens to undermine the integrity of the Court and contravene constructive efforts to promote peace in the region.[90]

Security Council Resolution 1544 (2004) reiterated the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and called on Israel to address its security needs within the boundaries of international law. The United Nations remains sidelined in the conflict.[91]

Israel submitted a 246 page written statement containing the views of the Government of Israel on Jurisdiction and Propriety to the Court, but chose not make any oral statements.[92]

Israeli supporters of the barrier stood in the plaza near the courthouse, holding the portraits of 927 terror victims. The organization Christians for Israel helped bring the No. 19 bus, on which eleven civilians were killed, to the Hague.[93]

Israeli Supreme Court rulings

On two occasions the Israeli government has been instructed by the Supreme Court of Israel to alter the route of the barrier to ensure that negative impacts on Palestinians would be minimized and proportional.[94]

Opinions on the barrier

International opinions

The United Nations

In October 2003, a United Nations resolution to declare the barrier illegal where it deviates from the green line and should be torn down was vetoed by the US in the United Nations Security Council.[95] In December 2003, Resolution ES-10/14 was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in an emergency special session.[96] 90 states voted for, 8 against, 74 abstained.[96] The resolution included a request to the International Court of Justice to urgently render an advisory opinion on the following question.[96]
"What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, as described in the report of the Secretary-General, considering the rules and principles of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions?"[96]
The court concluded that the barrier violated international law.[97] On 20 July 2004, the UN General Assembly accepted Resolution ES-10/15 condemning the barrier with 150 countries voting for the resolution and 10 abstaining.[98][99] 6 countries voted against: Israel, the US, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The US and Israel rejected both the verdict and the resolution.[100] All 25 members of the European Union voted in favour of the resolution after it was amended to include calls for Israelis and Palestinians to meet their obligations under the "roadmap" peace plan.[101]

The Red Cross

The Red Cross has declared the barrier in violation of the Geneva Convention. On February 18, 2004, The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier "causes serious humanitarian and legal problems" and goes "far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power".[102]

Human rights organizations

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other Human rights groups have protested both the routing of the wall and the means by which the land to build the wall was obtained.[103] The Israeli women of Machsom Watch regularly monitor events at checkpoints and report their findings. In a 2004 report Amnesty International wrote that "The fence/wall, in its present configuration, violates Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law."[104]

They continue:

Since the summer of 2002 the Israeli army has been destroying large areas of Palestinian agricultural land, as well as other properties, to make way for a fence/wall which it is building in the West Bank.

In addition to the large areas of particularly fertile Palestinian farmland that have been destroyed, other larger areas have been cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the fence/wall.

The fence/wall is not being built between Israel and the Occupied Territories but mostly (close to 90%) inside the West Bank, turning Palestinian towns and villages into isolated enclaves, cutting off communities and families from each other, separating farmers from their land and Palestinians from their places of work, education and health care facilities and other essential services. This in order to facilitate passage between Israel and more than 50 illegal Israeli settlements located in the West Bank.[104]

World Council of Churches

On February 20, 2004 the World Council of Churches demanded that Israel halt and reverse construction on the barrier and strongly condemned "violations of human rights and humanitarian consequences" that resulted from the construction of the barrier. While acknowledging Israel's serious security concerns and asserting that the construction of the barrier on its own territory would not have been a violation of international law, the statement called on "member Churches, Ecumenical Councils of Churches, Christian World Communions and specialized ministries of churches to condemn the wall as an act of unlawful annexation."[105]

United States opinion

On May 25, 2005, then-President of the United States George W. Bush said "I think the wall is a problem. And I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank."[106] The following year, addressing the issue of the barrier as a future border, he said in a letter to Sharon on April 14, 2004 that it "should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities."[55] President Bush reiterated this position during a May 26, 2005 joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Rose Garden.[107]

In 2003, when the Bush administration was considering reducing loan guarantees to Israel to discourage construction of the fence, then Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized the project. He said, "A nation is within its rights to put up a fence if it sees the need for one. However, in the case of the Israeli fence, we are concerned when the fence crosses over onto the land of others."[108] Response from pro-Israel members of Congress criticized the possible reduction in loan assistance. For example, Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "The administration's threat to cut aid to Israel unless it stops construction of a security fence is a heavy-handed tactic." Lieberman criticized the threat as improper between allies, and continued, "The Israeli people have the right to defend themselves from terrorism, and a security fence may be necessary to achieve this."[108]

In 2005, Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the time a U.S. Senator from New York, said she supports the separation fence Israel is building along the edges of the West Bank, and that the onus is on the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism. "This is not against the Palestinian people," she said during a tour of a section of the barrier being built around Jerusalem. "This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism."[109]

European Union opinion

According to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the EU considers the barrier to be illegal to the extent it is built on Palestinian land.[110]

Canadian opinion

The Canadian Government recognizes Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, including through the restriction of access to its territory, and by building a barrier on its own territory for security purposes. However, it opposes the barrier's incursion into and the disruption of occupied territories. Considering the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to be "occupied territory", the Canadian government considers the barrier to be contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. It opposes the barrier and the expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure preceding its construction.[111]

Israeli opinions

According to a survey conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, an academic research institution of Tel Aviv University, there was overwhelming support for the barrier among the Jewish population of Israel: 84% in March 2004 and 78% in June 2004.[112]

However, there are some Israelis who oppose the barrier. The Israeli Peace Now movement has stated that while they would support a barrier that follows the 1949 Armistice lines, the "current route of the fence is intended to destroy all chances of a future peace settlement with the Palestinians and to annex as much land as possible from the West Bank" and that the barrier would "only increase the blood to be spilt on both sides and continue the sacrificing of Israeli and Palestinian lives for the settlements."[113]

Some Israeli left wing activists, such as Anarchists Against the Wall and Gush Shalom, are active in protests against the barrier, especially in the West Bank towns of Bil'in and Jayyous.[114][115]

Shaul Arieli, a senior member of the Council for Peace and Security and one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative wrote in Haaretz in March 2009 of the importance "to complete the fence along a route based on security considerations." Arieli found the fence to be justified due to legitimate concerns of Palestinian terrorism and violence, but was critical of the then-government's alleged negligence of completing the fence due to budgetary and political considerations. He called on the public to "demand that the new government complete the fence quickly and along a logical route."[116]

Palestinian opinions

The Palestinian population and its leadership are essentially unanimous in opposing the barrier. A significant number of Palestinians have been separated from their own farmlands or their places of work or study, and many more will be separated as the barriers near Jerusalem are completed. Furthermore, because of its planned route as published by the Israeli government, the barrier is perceived as a plan to confine the Palestinian population to specific areas.[117][118] They state that Palestinian institutions in Abu Dis will be prevented from providing services to residents in the East Jerusalem suburbs, and that a 10-minute walk has become a 3-hour drive in order to reach a gate, to go (if allowed) through a crowded military checkpoint, and drive back to the destination on the other side.[119]

More broadly, Palestinian spokespersons, supported by many in the Israeli left wing and other organizations, say that the hardships imposed by the barrier will breed further discontent amongst the affected population and add to the security problem rather than solving it.

On April 14, 2004, American President George W. Bush said "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”[120] In direct reaction to Bush's comments, the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority accused the U.S. of rewarding construction of the barrier and replied, "[t]he US assurances are being made at the expense of the Palestinian people and the Arab world without the knowledge of the legitimate Palestinian leadership. They are rewarding illegal occupation, settlement and the apartheid wall."[121]

Protests against the barrier

For over five years, hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli activists have gathered every week to protest the barrier at the town of Bil'in.[122] A number of Palestinian protesters have been killed by the IDF while protesting.[123] Covert operatives of the Israeli government have posed as protesters and threw stones in the general direction of the IDF so as to create a pretext for arresting protesters.[124] Protesters posed as members of the fictional "Na'vi" race of the major motion picture "Avatar" during protests following release of the movie, in an effort to compare the Palestinian struggle with that of the fictional Na'vi race, who must defend themselves and their homeland against foreign invaders.[125]


The wall has been used as a canvas for many paintings and writings. It has been called the "world's largest protest graffiti".[127] Some of these (but not all) have been removed by the Israelis, and sometimes by people on the Palestinian side.

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall has been one of many forms of protest against its existence, demanding an end to the barrier, or criticizing its builders and its existence ("Welcome to the Ghetto-Abu Dis"[128] and "Blessed are the Peacemakers"[129]).

In August 2005, U.K. graffiti artist Banksy painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the barrier.[130] He describes the barrier as "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers", and returned in December 2007 with new images for "Santa's ghetto" in Bethlehem.[131]

The exhibition "Santa's Ghetto in Bethlehem 2007"[132] was co-organized by Banksy and a number of other artists with the aim of drawing attention to poverty in the West Bank and boosting tourism.[133] On the wall, it features, among other images, a peace dove dressed in a bulletproof vest that is being aimed at,[134] a young girl frisking a soldier,[135] a donkey that is facing a soldier who is checking his identity papers,[135] as well as a rat, one of Banksy's recurring themes, with a slingshot.[136][137] One of Italian artist Blu's contributions to the project, featured a walled christmas tree surrounded by a number of stumps.[138] American contemporary artist Ron English pasted portraits of Mickey Mouse dressed as a Palestinian with the slogan "You are not in Disneyland anymore" on the wall.[137][139] In an expression of frustration, Palestinian artist "Trash", glued the lower part of a leg on the wall that is appearing to kick through it.[131]

Although many artists received positive attention and reviews, some Palestinian people had negative opinions toward the artists' movement. A street artist from New York, Swoon, put two works on the Sentry towers in Bethlehem. She did not anticipate that some Palestinians would be opposed to her efforts. Swoon states that there was much enthusiasm from the kids of the Aida refugee camp, who were excited about the new artwork going on the wall. While the kids were excited, many elders believed that the children would grow up with the wrong, positive idea of the wall. One elder from the refugee camp claimed that "they don't necessarily want the kids to start viewing that area positively, and so they see the work as a thing of beauty, but in a place where beauty shouldn't be" (Parry, 10). Most international artists felt that they were creating "something for the people trapped behind wall, as well as creating an international symbol that would be broadcast around the world. [The elder man] wasn't speaking about international symbols, but about what it means to live in the shadow of an 80 foot guard tower" (Parry, 10). Although the graffiti artists felt that they were making a statement with their pieces that would help bring attention and help to the Palestinians, many Palestinians feel that it turns the wall into something beautiful. By painting on the wall, some Palestinians feel that the wall turns into a work of art instead "of an aggressive prison Wall" (Parry, 10). Of course, transforming the wall into something positive was not the intention of the artists. They thought that their work would bring out the oppressiveness and the emotion responses of the people affected by the wall.[140][141]

On June 21, 2006, when he visited Israel to give a concert, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters wrote "Tear down the wall" on the wall, a phrase from the Pink Floyd album The Wall.[142]

In 2007, with their project "Face2Face",[143] French artists JR and "Marco", organized what was then (until at least 2010), considered to be the largest illegal photography exhibition ever made.[144] In monumental formats, portraits of Israelis and Palestinians of similar professions and backgrounds were pasted next to each other on the wall. The idea was to highlight similarities rather than differences between the peoples. The project spanned over eight cities on both sides of the wall such as Betlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Jerusalem.[145] The project was subsequently hosted by a number of exhibitions around the world including the Biennale di Venezia in Italy,[146] the Foam-Musée de la Photographie in Amsterdam,[147] the summer photography festival "Recontres d'Arles" in Arles, Southern France,[148] Artitud in Berlin, Germany,[149] Artcurial in Paris, France[150] and the Rath Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.[151] JR's work, including "Face2Face" is currently shown at the Watari-Um Museum in Tokyo, Japan.[152]

As part of a Dutch-Palestinian collaboration, led by Palestinian activist Faris Arouri, Internet users were invited to submit 80-character long messages to be spray-painted on the security barrier in exchange for a donation of 30 Euro. Messages that included or incited racism, hate, violence or pornography were rejected.[153][154] About two-thirds of the money raised was donated to social, cultural and educational grassroots projects such as the renovation of the Peace and Freedom Youth Forum's open Youth Center in Bir Zeit. When the project was ended, it was claimed to have reached 550,000,000 people worldwide and placed 1,498 messages on the wall.[154][155][156] One of the organizers of "Send a message", Justus van Oel, a Dutch theater director, commissioned South African anti-apartheid activist and theologian Farid Esack to compose a letter to be placed on the wall in 2009. The result was a 1,998-word letter in English written in a single line and stretching over 1.6 mi (2.6 km) near the town of Ramallah, comparing the situation in the Palestinian territories to the South African apartheid era.[153]

In book and documentary film

The British photojournalist William Parry has recently published a book entitled "Against the Wall" The wall was the primary focus of British playwright David Hare's dramatic monologue Wall, which is being adapted as a live-action/animated feature-length documentary by the National Film Board of Canada, to be completed in 2014.[157][158]

The barrier is also the subject of the 2011 documentary film, 5 Broken Cameras, which documents the story of Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer of the Palestinian village of Bil'in, who had intended to use his videocamera to record vignettes of his son's childhood but ended up filming the resistance movement to the Israeli separation wall that was erected through his village.[159] This award-winning film tells the story of the nonviolent protests of the village residents and the international and Israeli activists who join them, and of how in the course of his filming one after another of his cameras is shot or smashed.[159][160]

Border opinions

Some speculate that because sections of the barrier are not built along the Green Line but in the West Bank, the real purpose is to acquire territory.[9] Some people describe the barrier as the de facto future border of the State of Israel. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, has said that the barrier has "unilaterally helped to demarcate the route for future Israeli control over huge West Bank settlement blocks and large swathes of West Bank land".[161] According to B'Tselem, "the overall features of the separation barrier and the considerations that led to determination of the route give the impression that Israel is relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish facts on the ground ..."[85] Chris McGreal in The Guardian writes that the barrier is, "evidently intended to redraw Israel's borders".[162] Some have speculated that the barrier will prejudice the outcome of border negotiations in favor of the Israelis.[162][163] Yossi Klein Halevi, Israeli correspondent for The New Republic, writes that "[b]uilding over the green line, by contrast, reminds Palestinians that every time they've rejected compromise—whether in 1937, 1947, or 2000—the potential map of Palestine shrinks... The fence is a warning: If Palestinians don't stop terrorism and forfeit their dream of destroying Israel, Israel may impose its own map on them... and, because Palestine isn't being restored but invented, its borders are negotiable."[164]

On March 9, 2006, The New York Times quoted then-acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as stating that if his Kadima party wins the upcoming national elections, he would seek to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010, and that the boundary would run along or close to the barrier.[165]

Comparisons to apartheid

Ahmad Hajihosseini, Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that building and maintaining the wall is a crime of apartheid,[166] isolating Palestinian communities in the West Bank and consolidating the annexation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlements.

Malcolm Hedding, a South African minister who worked against South African apartheid and Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, said that the West Bank barrier has nothing to do with apartheid and everything to do with Israel's self-defense. He said that Israel has proven its desire to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians while granting political rights to its own Arab citizens within a liberal democratic system, but that the Palestinians remain committed to Israel's destruction. By contrast, he says, it was a tiny minority in South Africa that held power and once democracy came, the National Party that had dominated the masses disappeared.[167][168][169]

Comparison with the Saudi–Yemen barrier

In February 2004 The Guardian reported that Yemeni opposition newspapers likened the barrier Saudi Arabia was building to the Israeli West Bank barrier,[170] while The Independent headed an article with "Saudi Arabia, one of the most vocal critics in the Arab world of Israel's "security fence" in the West Bank, is quietly emulating the Israeli example by erecting a barrier along its porous border with Yemen".[171]

Head of Saudi Arabia's border guard, Talal Anqawi, dismissed comparisons with Israel's West Bank barrier: "The barrier of pipes and concrete could in no way be called a separation fence. What is being constructed inside our borders with Yemen is a sort of screen ... which aims to prevent infiltration and smuggling," he said. "It does not resemble a wall in any way."[170]

See also


External links

  • West Bank Barrier Status 2012 – Aug 2012 map from the Geneva Initiative, including sections that are under construction, frozen or being dismantled, and specifying which sections are wall
  • Palestinian Film Looks at Suicide Bombers
  • Interview Neazh Mashiah - Director of the Israeli separation barrier project

General news resources

  • Barrier route July 2008
  • Betselem
  • Barrier Gates: Northern West Bank (map) PDF (1.21 MB).
  • Ha'aretz
  • BBC News special feature
  • BBC News
  • BBC News
  • Israel annexes land from West Bank using the 'Separation Wall' further impedes peace process.

Israeli government and courts

  • Homepage
  • Homepage
  • 2004 Israeli Supreme Court ruling (RTF format)
  • 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling
  • Full text of Israel's document as presented to the ICJ PDF (1.67 MB)
  • Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Statement on ICJ Advisory Opinion
  • Unofficial Summary of State of Israel's Response regarding the Security Fence

United Nations and International Court of Justice rulings

  • ICJ Advisory Opinion, as well as separate opinions of some judges.
  • Compilation of UN documents relating to the barrier.
  • UN OCHA Humanitarian Information Centre in the occupied Palestinian territory reports, analysis, detailed maps.
  • Commission on Human Rights: Report on 61st session PDF (2.25 MB).

Links to articles opposing the barrier

  • Gush Shalom site about the Separation Wall
  • B'Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) page about the Separation Barrier
  • Machsom Watch daily reports on checkpoints in the barrier
  • Anarchists against the Wall
  • "Beyond the Wall" an Ir Amim Report on the barrier in Jerusalem
  • statement on the West Bank barrier
  • The New York Times
  • Electronic Intifada
  • The separation wall and the village of Ni'lin at IMEU.net

Links to articles in favor of the barrier

  • on HonestReporting.com
  • on imra.org.il
  • Is Israel's Security Barrier Unique? article by Ben Thein in Middle East Quarterly
  • Research articles on the ICJ decision
  •  PDF (2.29 MB), detailed 193 page book supporting a position in favor of the barrier.
  • The New York Times March 18, 2006
  • You Are Judging and I Am Burying My Husband by Fanny Haim (Yediot Ahronot), February 23, 2004
  • Jewish Virtual Library
  • In-depth brochure with pictures, polls, reports, stats PDF (2.83 MB)
  • Fence for Life Public Movement for The Security Fence
  • IsraCast: THE HAGUE HEARING -Exclusive Interview --Legal Advisor Daniel Taub: 'The International Court Is Trying Victims Of Terror And Not Terrorists'
  • Statement by Daniel Taub, Director, General Law Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Press Conference of Israeli Delegation 23 February 2004, Israeli demonstrators at The Hague carry pictures of victims of Palestinian terror
  • The Controversial Fence

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