TOPICS > World

The Barrier

February 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: From the Mount of Olives, a visitor can see the wall under construction between Israel and the West Bank snaking along the hillsides of east Jerusalem. As we reported last night, Israeli leaders say they’re building the barrier to stop Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks. Palestinian leaders say the attacks are an inevitable result of Israeli occupation, and call the barrier a “catastrophe.” Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi:

HANAN ASHRAWI: It’s a wall that distorts any Palestinian reality, that prevents any kind of emergence of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state. And at the same time it’s an excuse for annexation of further land, annexation of water resources, and of course with the byproduct of displacement of Palestinians, of tremendous economic and daily living hardships. This is just incredible.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This map shows the barrier, which is finished only in the North, as a red line stretching between Israel and the West Bank. In some places it traces what’s called the green line, the armistice line between Israel and the Palestinian territories before the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. But elsewhere, the fence — or wall, depending on the location — cuts several miles into the West Bank.

Here on the edge of east Jerusalem, the wall is dividing families and towns, and cutting people off from jobs, schools and hospitals. Terry Boullata lives with her husband and two children on the edge of Abu Dis. She has translated for the NewsHour in the West Bank on three of our last trips. The wall is going up between her neighborhood and her town, leaving her house on the Israeli side. When it’s finished, the barrier will cut her family off from easy access to work, schools and relatives in Abu Dis.

TERRY BOULLATA, School Headmistress: My family is in Jerusalem. My husband, his family and his work is in West Bank, in Abu Dis. My children need both sides — need their grandfather in the West Bank and need their grandparents in the, in the Jerusalem side. For us, we are one people and one land. My house was in a very luxury residential area. Overnight, we have become in the middle of a military base.

We have army all the night. We have security people. They get drunk, they start singing yesterday night, for example; at 11 o’clock they were shooting. We don’t know if it was for good or for not good. So we’re part of a military base by now. We have 30 families here. I think this is part of their wishful thinking to get us out of the area, fearing for our children, for our safety, and so on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But show me how you go to work now, and then will there be a gate for you to go to work through the wall later?

TERRY BOULLATA: Up till now there are small openings, so I am trying to sneak in. At the end, when all is blocked, I will have no other way but to go around the bypass, which is at least 30 minutes of drive, where here two minutes of walk to my school.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Boullata borrowed money five years ago to open a private school where 220 grade school students are now enrolled. They are all Palestinian children from Abu Dis or nearby villages, some of which will be cut off by the wall.

TERRY BOULLATA: I lost around 50 children this year from Ras al Amoud area, which is behind the wall inside Jerusalem. They are unable to reach me. The second year, I’m going to lose at least another 60 to 70 children.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On this day, Boullata walked home after school, crossing at a point where the wall is incomplete. She was in a hurry to pick up her children at the corner, where they’re left off after their school. As often happens, Israeli police stopped her and asked for her Jerusalem identification card.

TERRY BOULLATA: They wanted to prevent me from jumping over the wall, saying this is illegal according to them. And then “give me your card.” I said, “I know you want to take the card in order to punish me.” He said, “just give me the card.” He took it and he delivered it to the captain in the jeep. I said, “you know, listen. I live here and I have to jump because I have to pick my kids.” And he said what, “OK, why are you doing all of that?” I said, “ask your army.” He said “OK, OK. Take your card and that’s it. Go away.”

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Boullata family and other residents of Abu Dis have hired a lawyer to press Israel for a change in the path of the barrier. And Israeli officials have said repeatedly they are willing to consider changes to lessen the hardships on Palestinians. They have promised more gates in the future, checkpoints like this one near Jenin, where people can get through.

But Israeli leaders are not backing away from finishing the separation barrier, which they insist is necessary to stop attacks like this suicide bombing in Jerusalem last month, which was carried out by a Palestinian policeman. The bombing was officially condemned by the governing Palestinian Authority. But legislator Hanan Ashrawi insists violence breeds violence.

HANAN ASHRAWI: The bombings do not come from a vacuum. The first thing that has to be addressed is the issue of the occupation itself. Occupations are very dangerous. They generate — it’s an abnormal situation. They generate aberrant and abnormal behavior. And we do have this sort of bizarre exchange of violence, where the military in Israel seems to think it has a free hand to inflict any kind of pain and punishment and violence on a captive civilian population, and the Palestinians have to become, you know, perfect Christians — turn the other cheek or die quietly. This is not happening.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinians have killed more than 900 Israelis in the last three years. And on the other side, nearly 3,000 Palestinians have died in the same period as a result of Israeli army actions.

JAMAL JUMA’A, Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition: When it’s finished, the first phase, it will start to go deep into the West Bank like this one.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To learn more about the consequences of the new barrier for Palestinians, we visited the office of Jamal Juma’a, who leads a coalition of anti-fence civic organizations. Juma’a’s main concern on this day was Qalqilya, a city about 35 miles north of Jerusalem.

JAMAL JUMA’A: Qalqilya is in — they erected this wall around. It’s became like surrounding Qalqilya from all parts. And if you look at the walls, how it will be encircling them — this Palestinian cities. In this, some certain areas will be disconnected, the communities, from each other.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Juma’a took us north to Qalqilya on the back roads that link the hills and valleys of this holy land. Many roads are blocked now by barriers erected by the Israeli army to limit and more easily control the area, and travel is difficult and time-consuming.

JAMAL JUMA’A: The place that used to take from you like one hour start to came — to take from you three hours, to go from place to another.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Near Qalqilya, we could see the fence as it wound into the West Bank on a path aimed at incorporating nearby Israeli settlements. Juma’a said thousands of olive trees, some of them hundreds of years old, have been uprooted to build the barrier, and precious water wells have been lost or incorporated on the Israeli side. Inside Qalqilya, a wall 25 feet high skirts the edge of the city. Just beyond it, in Israel, before the barrier was built, highways and towns like Kfar Saba were attacked by militants based here.

As we reported last night, Israeli officials say the barrier has cut down on those attacks. It has also cut some Palestinians off from their lands. This woman said she first lost land to an Israeli highway, then to a more temporary fence, and now to the wall. Over the last year and a half, thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated to build the barrier.

“They call us terrorists,” she said. “Those who have tanks and helicopters are not terrorists, but we are? We have nothing to defend ourselves. What can we do? I blame America for not solving the problem between us and the Jews.” Omar al Baz is her son. Although Israeli officials say they will pay landowners compensation, al Baz said he and many other farmers won’t take money for land they consider to have been stolen. He also said the wall won’t stop violence.

When we speak to the Israeli army, they say, “Look, we don’t want this fence here; we’ll take it down, but we’ve had suicide bombers coming out of Qalqilya into Kfar Saba and into other places.” What would you like to say to them?

OMAR AL BAZ ( Translated ): First of all, this wall doesn’t secure them. For every action there is a reaction. It does not protect them. There are different ways of entering. I’m not one of those who carry weapons and go to fight, but some people will do anything to reach the other side.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: From Qalqilya, Jamal Juma’a took us to another village nearby where the fence has also come between farmers and their crops. This village wasn’t prosperous to begin with, we learned, and now people are beginning to go hungry.

Last week, a fact-finding committee of the British parliament released a report, which said the security barrier, and other Israeli policies had “crippled” the Palestinian economy, resulting in higher rates of malnutrition, and unemployment as high as 60-70 percent. Legislator Hanan Ashrawi runs a nonprofit organization in Ramallah trying to bring better governance to the Palestinian territories.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We certainly are in dire straits in every possible way. We are in a state of siege, cut off from the rest of the world, and internally we are in a state of fragmentation. You’re seeing children with malnutrition. We’ve never had that in Palestine. Polio, measles, things like that that are coming back again because with the siege and the fragmentation, people are unable to carry out a massive national vaccination program.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ashrawi said the Palestinian Authority has been almost fatally weakened by repeated Israeli attacks. Yasser Arafat is effectively imprisoned by Israel in the ruins of his headquarters in Ramallah, and the result is near-anarchy in some places.

HANAN ASHRAWI: So the siege and isolation and fragmentation have generated power systems that are localized, and have made people regress and go back to a system of tribalism, family-based power systems, as well as local armed groups, gangs, militias, whatever, because in the absence of a sort of national institutional system based on rule of law and due process, you end up with power systems that tend to be more family-based, more tribal, more community-based.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ashrawi believes fragmentation is the real purpose of the fence.

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, the ostensible purpose certainly that Sharon says is to defend Israel from the Palestinians. It’s a sham. I don’t think that’s the purpose. I think the real purpose is an excuse to annex more Palestinian land, destroying the Palestinian national identity and our ability to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On our trip through the West Bank, we stopped in Salfit, a small Palestinian town about 13 miles into the West Bank from the green line. It’s just across a valley from the large Israeli settlement Ariel. The fence is projected to run along these hills above Salfit, incorporating Ariel on the Israeli side.

In Salfit, Jamal Jama’a addressed a gathering of townspeople worried about being cut off from their land and from other Palestinian towns. He told them what his anti-wall coalition and others are doing to stop the barrier. He mentioned the Israeli high court and the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which are both holding hearings on the barrier.

Meetings like this one are occurring all over the West Bank now, as activists like Juma’a try to organize a mass movement against the separation barrier. Salim Tamari is director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies:

SALIM TAMARI, Institute of Jerusalem Studies: In some unexpected way, the fence is galvanizing people against Israel and away from internal disputes, which is a situation I don’t think foreseen by Israel. So in a way, the wall may indirectly bring about political changes, which in the long run could be good, because it will focus on the situation of occupation. It will highlight the segmentation and apartheid situation that Palestinians are living, and mobilize more and more people against it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some Israelis and Palestinians are already demonstrating together against the separation barrier. In Abu Dis late last month, activists gathered near the part of the wall on the other side of Terry Boullata’s home. But at the same time, construction on the barrier continues, as the latest, most concrete expression of this old conflict rises up.