Israel has decided to expand the nine-meter-high wall that surrounds part of the West Bank for two decades. This controversial decision is presented as a response to the wave of attacks in which 14 people have died in the last three weeks in four cities. The Security Cabinet agreed during an emergency meeting on Saturday night to build 40 more kilometers of the controversial wall to replace a section of metal fence in the northwest of the occupied territory, in an area from which the attackers of the last two shootings, committed in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The new wall will have “additional means of protection and electronic components,” as announced by Defense Minister, former General Benny Gantz, “in order to improve security.”
The so-called security barrier (a succession of high concrete walls marked by watchtowers, walls, fences and bars) that must surround the West Bank perimeter along 708 kilometers, began to be erected in the middle of the Second Intifada (2000-2005) , with the aim of preventing attacks in Israel. It was designed to penetrate into Palestinian territory 85% of its way, which meant the de facto annexation of 10% of the West Bank. For this reason, the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared it illegal in 2004 for extending beyond the Green Line, which served as a border divider until the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.
Its winding line is still pending completion. With more than 60% of its route executed, Israel has so far disbursed about 13,000 million shekels (3,700 million euros), according to an estimate by the information portal Times ofIsrael. The new section in the northwest of the West Bank has been budgeted at 360 million shekels (102 million euros) by the Ministry of Defense.
Paradoxically, the barrier designed to contain armed attacks from the West Bank has left wide open spaces (such as west of Bethlehem and south of Hebron) through which Palestinians mostly travel, seeking an escape from misery in the Israeli labor market. It is also crossed by attackers from radical groups. “The security barrier has hundreds of gaps,” recalls Yossi Yehoshua, military affairs correspondent for the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, “And some 30,000 Palestinians pass through it clandestinely, the vast majority to work without permission in Israel.”
More than 100,000 West Bankers have recognized work authorization and another 20,000 are employed in settler settlements, but many more are clandestinely crossing the Separation Barrier every day, even at risk of being shot by security forces. They risk their lives to work in agriculture or construction in Israel, where they earn more than three times what they earn in the West Bank.
Repairing the numerous gaps in the barrier does not seem to have been a priority for the Jewish state during the 12 years of governments led by the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu. Its final termination would be equivalent to recognizing, in practice, specific territorial limits for the future Palestinian State, when negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been suspended since 2014. This is what the parliamentarians of the Israeli extreme right. “It will not be a security fence, but a border fence,” warned the deputy Orit Struckof the Religious Zionist Party, in reference to the potential diplomatic consequences of the construction of the 40 new kilometers of the controversial nine-meter-high concrete wall.
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Since last March 22, when a Bedouin of Israeli nationality perpetrated the first attack in the city of Beersheva (south), military operations and incidents with troops in the West Bank have claimed the lives of more than a dozen Palestinians, between members of radical groups, attackers, suspects and unarmed civilians, according to data compiled by Agence France Presse.
Military intervention after wave of attacks
Most of the army’s operations against Islamic Jihad militants and the extremist armed wing of Fatah have been concentrated around Jenin (north of the West Bank), where the perpetrators of the shootings recorded on March 29 in Bnei Brak came from. (central Israel) and on April 7 in the nearby city of Tel Aviv. After this latest attack in the heart of the economic and cultural capital of the country, military raids have intensified over the weekend. The defense minister acknowledged on Monday that he had authorized his troops to “use unrestricted force against suspected terrorists.”
Palestinian protests against the deployment of Israeli forces have caused a succession of incidents with victims in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and on the eve of the start of Jewish Passover. Two ultra-religious Israelis who had entered Nablus (north) at dawn on Monday were shot in a Palestinian attack when they were going to pray at the Tomb of Joseph, a Jewish holy place located in territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
A 17-year-old Palestinian was killed in Jenin on Sunday night by gunfire from troops. He was admitted to a hospital badly injured with “a wound caused by an explosive bullet,” according to the Palestinian Wafa News Agency, cited by Eph. That same day, a woman was shot dead by soldiers she had tried to stab in Hebron (southern West Bank). Another Palestinian woman died after being shot by soldiers she pounced on at a checkpoint in the Bethlehem area. She was unarmed.
A country surrounded by barriers
The construction of separation barriers has spread to all the confines of the Jewish State, which is on its way to becoming a country surrounded on all sides, except by the sea, to prevent the infiltration of armed groups or undocumented immigrants. The northern border with Lebanon is sealed with walls and fences. Also that of the Golan Heights, the Syrian plateau occupied since 1967. Both northern countries are still theoretically at war with Israel, but the fence has also expanded to the south, with Egypt, and to the east, with Jordan, Arab states with those who signed peace treaties. The Gaza Strip has also been surrounded and subjected to a military blockade since the last Israeli settlers definitively left the Palestinian coastal enclave in 2005.
The Palestinian population denounces that the wall and other barriers in the West Bank have deprived them of many of their agricultural lands, while they continue to be subjected to strict restrictions on their freedom of movement for more than half a century. The Army controls dozens of roads (about 700 kilometers) in the West Bank on which the circulation of Palestinian vehicles is prohibited or limited, as well as permanent and temporary checkpoints inside the West Bank, according to the Israeli peace NGO B’Tselem. The same thing happens inside the city of Hebron, divided into an Israeli zone and a Palestinian zone.