AP PHOTOS: Israel’s separation barrier, 20 years later
JERUSALEM — Twenty years after Israel decided to build its controversial separation barrier, the network of walls, fences and closed military roads remains in place, even as any partition of the land seems further away than ever.
Israel is actively encouraging its Jewish citizens to settle on both sides of the fence as it builds and expands settlements deep inside the occupied West Bank, more than a decade after any serious peace talks failed .
Meanwhile, Palestinians living under decades of military occupation are demanding work permits inside Israel, where wages are higher. Some 100,000 Palestinians cross military checkpoints legally, mostly to work in construction, manufacturing and agriculture.
Israel decided to build the barrier in June 2002, at the height of the second Intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians carried out dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks that killed Israeli civilians. Authorities said the barrier was designed to prevent attackers from entering Israel from the West Bank and was never intended to be a permanent border.
Eighty-five percent of the still unfinished barrier is inside the West Bank, cutting off almost 10% of its territory. Palestinians see it as an illegal land grab, and the International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier was “contrary to international law”.
The United Nations estimates that around 150 Palestinian communities have agricultural land inside the West Bank but west of the barrier. Some 11,000 Palestinians live in this so-called seam zone, requiring Israeli permits just to stay in their homes.
The UN also estimates that around 65% of the approximately 710 kilometer (450 mile) structure has been completed.
The security benefits of the barrier have long been debated, and although the number of attacks has dropped sharply, other factors may play a role.
The intifada began to falter in 2005, after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his replacement by President Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes armed struggle. Most of the key militants have been captured or killed, and under Abbas the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel on security issues. Israeli troops operate regularly in all parts of the West Bank, and Israel often announces that it has foiled attacks before the attackers have even left the territory.
Earlier this year, amid a new wave of violence, Israeli media reported that authorities have long ignored gaps in the barrier because it is used by Palestinian workers. These are now closed, but the barrier is not expected to be completed anytime soon.
Last week, Israel began construction of a new fence about 45 kilometers (nearly 30 miles) long in the northern West Bank, to replace a security barrier built two decades ago. It says the new barrier will be 9 meters (30 feet) high, more than twice the height of the Berlin Wall.
You can already see such tall concrete walls meandering through Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other urban areas. Near a main Israeli highway, the barrier is hidden behind earthen embankments planted with trees and flowers. In other rural areas it is barbed wire fences with surveillance cameras and closed military roads.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
In Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’s forces in 2007, Israel recently completed a high-tech barrier that runs along the 1967 border.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized by the international community and considers the entire city its capital. But towering concrete walls cut through dense Palestinian neighborhoods that lie within Israeli-drawn municipal boundaries and have largely separated the city from the occupied West Bank.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy in major population centers, but Israel retains full control over 60% of the territory. He built more than 130 settlements there that housed nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers. Many live on the other side of the fence but have access to a growing road network linking settlements to Israeli towns.
With any peace process effectively frozen, the government has instead pursued what it calls goodwill gestures – primarily issuing more permits for Palestinians to enter checkpoints and work inside. Israel.
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