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Conference notes IRRI-KIIB

Summary of the conference
chaired by ambassador Claude Misson, Director General of IRRI-KIIB:

"The West Bank Wall - Unmaking Palestine"

Ray Dolphin,
Brussels, 20 June 2006

Summary; this is not an official record of proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Executive Summary

    Ray Dolphin first offered a critical account of Israel’s West Bank Wall route. He illustrated its negative effects on the lives of ordinary Palestinians in northern West Bank, where the wall has been completed for 2.5 years now, and in Jerusalem where the wall is not yet completed. He acknowledged the security treat facing Israel and conceded that the wall may be fulfilling its objective of stopping suicide bombers. But wouldn’t the wall be just as effective had it been built, perfectly legally, along the Green Line?
    Dolphin detailed how the wall is being used by Israel as a tool for expansion, a means of physically linking the settlements to Israel and for annexation of Palestinian land and water resources. He referred to the route around Alfe Menashe, South of Qalqilya, where several villages have been left stranded on the Israeli side of the fence. He also focused on the situation in the Zufin area, where the wall isolates Palestinian communities.
    He clearly demonstrated the impact of the Wall on Palestinian daily life. The severe permit regime has been tightened and the education and health system are seriously affected by the barrier. The harm to the farming sector has drastic economic effects.
    He presented then the situation in East Jerusalem where the route actually separates Palestinian suburbs from each other. Finally, he focussed on the international reactions to the wall that is subject to four UN resolutions and to an ICC decision and he examined the importance of the wall in the context of Israel’s permanent borders.



The Route of the wall

    The most important issue is the fact that 75% of the length of the wall goes through the West Bank and East-Jerusalem. It doesn’t go along the Green Line, but rather cuts deep into the West Bank. The impact of the plan has been felt acutely in Qalqilya, once known as the West Bank's "fruit basket", which lies within a tight loop in the wall. Dolphin shows (see his pps-presentation) a satellite photograph taken in Qalqilya, northern West Bank and the Zufin settlement: the white line is the wall route which goes 6 km. inside the West Bank.

    The Green Line is 315 km long, but when the wall will be finished, it will be at least 670 km long. "If it was build on the Green Line or in Israel itself, there would be no legal challenges, because Israel has the right to build any obstacle on its territory or borders. Finally, there would be no humanitarian consequences", Ray Dolphin noticed. Looking at the map of the Zufin settlement, the wall goes right up against the Palestinian village Jayus and clearly leaves a vast majority of useless agricultural land, 6 water welts and olive trees that are situated in the area between the wall and the Green Line. The farmers have to get to their land through gates.

The question is why was the wall built so far in the West Bank?

    To illustrate the answer to this question, Ray Dolphin used some slides from a report prepared by B’tselem and Bimkom that examined the route of the wall around 12 settlements and the expansion plans.

    The official reason is to prevent suicide-bombers penetrating Israel and attacking civilians. Ray Dolphin stressed that there is no doubt that Israel has suffered. Hundreds of Israelis have been killed. However, this Israeli claim is not borne out by the reality on the ground. Ray Dolphin highlighted that the route in the area of Zufin, one of the settlements built by Israel and illegal under International law, is meant "to surround the settlements and to physically join them to Israel". In fact, the wall still goes 2.5 km to the east of the Zufin settlement under the pre-text of 'security reasons' - if by chance a suicide bomber enters, it still gives time and distance to catch him. 
    The future plans for Zufin illustrates that Israel intends to expand towards the north and towards the wall. The new area will be 6 times the current settlement. The area in the South-East will be an industrial zone. "This is contradictory to the given security reasons", he said. "The complicity shows the wall is determined to physically join the settlements to Israel and to appropriate land and water resources for the future expansion of the settlement".  He added that last week the Israeli Court accepted the arguments of the Israeli human rights group saying that ‘there were not security factors involved here in Zufin, but political considerations'. The Court ordered the state to rebuilt the wall so that it wouldn’t take in the south-east.

    Another case study that undermines the security argument is the situation in Alfe Menashe (see slide), where the (red) route of the wall creates enclaves. The light blue area represents Alfe Menashe and the dark blue zones are the future expansion plans.
    It is clear that the route is determined by connecting Alfe Menashe to Israel and by taking in land for its future expansion. It cuts off the villages Habla and Ras’Atiya from Qalqilya that are enclosed in a kind of bottle-neck. However, Qalqilya, the biggest Palestinian town with 43.000 people, has the main market centre, schools and health services for these villages. Ray Dolphin pointed out that "furthermore, there are five Palestinian villages surrounding Alfe Menashe which are on the Israeli side of the wall and there is no physical obstacle to prevent these Palestinians from entering Israel. Palestinians living there, in the so-called seam zone, do need permits to remain in their homes and on their lands. It demonstrates again that Israel is preoccupied with land for the future expansion of settlements!

Impact of the wall on Palestinian daily lives

   In most areas, the barrier is comprised of an electronic fence that sends a signal to an operational route. On the left, coils of razor wire and big ditch, then a fence with a sandbank to detect the footprints of an intruder; a paved road for vehicles, more sand, and another ditch and rise wire. Sometimes it is 100 m wide. In some areas, a wall six to eight meters high has been erected in place of the barrier system.

     Ray Dolphin detailed the catastrophic humanitarian, economic and social impacts of the wall on Palestinians living in the seam zone. As the wall will be finished, there will be 49.000 – 50.000 Palestinians in this situation. The immediate impact of the wall is the destruction of land and irrigation network (slide) and the severe permits system by which Palestinians are affected.

Destruction of land.
A lot of olive trees have been uprooted. It is difficult to replant them. Officially, the trees should be returned to their owners, but “in many cases, they actually died and above all, the farmers don’t have any land to replant them. The trees have disappeared”. Dolphin added that in fact, a daily Israeli newspaper (Yedioth) discovered that the contractors were selling the trees to communities inside Israel. He also elaborated on the farmers' situation.

-The Palestinians living in the seam zone now need “permanents residents’ permits” to continue to live in their own land. Anybody visiting, family members and esp. farmers are required visitors’ permits. There are 10000 farmers. It is worth bearing in mind that the ICC declared on 4 July 2004 the route of the wall through the West Bank and through East –Jerusalem and its associated regime illegal.

-Education. A photograph shows one of the school gates. The school remains on the Palestinian side of the Wall, while the village is located in the “seam zone”. Unicef built in that location a short of shelter. Following criticism, the Israeli authorities provided busses, but sometimes the gate is not being opened. Since 2003 October, when the wall was finished, a lot of young girls are no longer allowed to go through school gates, because there is a feeling that they are harassed by soldiers.

-Problem for women. Palestinian women living in the seam zone are confronted with the residence transfer. When a woman marries, she moves to the house of her husband or to his village. When people move, there are supposed to change the address on their ID card, but a lot of people don’t do that for various reasons. Furthermore, it costs a lot of money. This causes problems at the gates.

-Health. The gates close in the afternoon and there is no access in the evening. Women who must give birth are leaving their village a month before to make sure they have properly medical care.
International organisations, like the UN and NGO’s, that provide health services and food distribution and are now also affected by the barrier. As far as the route of the wall deviates from the “Green Line” and goes far into the West Bank, the route and the associated regime are illegal. So, the UN doesn’t apply the permits for local staff. They are now required to hold visitors’ permits by the soldiers at the gate.

-Socio-economic issues. Farmers now need visitor’s permits to access to their land. In 2003, Israeli authorities promised that ‘residents and those that use area will be able to use the closed areas with minimal interference’. Indeed, initially that was the case, but since two and a half years, a tightening of the permit regime has been noted. Early this year, UN OCHA conducted a study and found that only land owners and first degree relatives who were getting these permits. Labourer, tenant, second-degree relatives and spouses did not receive it. Even farmers with permits may wait hours to cross because the gates are closed. Furthermore, most of the gates are closed and the agricultural roads are damaged. Mr. Dolphin detailed the consequence of this situation:

-a loss of agricultural livelihoods. Jayus used to produce 7 million kg of produce, fruits and vegetables. By October 2003, it dropped to 4 million.
-an increased unemployment.
-lower maintenance and lower return corps
-disruption of social traditions (Olive harvest used to be a time of celebration. The whole family works on the land during the olive harvest, but this has changed).



    Mr. Dolphin then drew the attention to Jerusalem and showed a map of this city. In 1967, East-Jerusalem was only 6 km². Israel took the lands from 28 surrounding villages and joined it to Jerusalem. The Wall will create a much larger metropolitan Jerusalem: from Ramallah in the North to halfway to Jericho in the East down to Bethlehem in the South. He reiterated again that the route is determined by the settlements (in dark brown) and land for the future expansion.

    What is the impact? It is built to actually separate Palestinian suburbs from each other. Two photographs, one taken in 2003 in Abu Diz and one taken at the same place earlier this year, demonstrate the changes: now there is a huge wall.  Dolphin confirmed that “economically, this area is totally dead at the moment". Other consequences: difficult access to health services, schools, religious sites. 11 transit points for vehicles and pedestrians plus 2 cargo terminals are planned along the length of the so-called Jerusalem Envelope; 65.000 people may soon be commuting in each direction daily. The idea is to create high-tech passage ways with biometric scanning. How will Israeli authorities deal with this enormous traffic?

    Palestinians living in East-Jerusalem annexed by Israel have only obtained a permanent residence status. Jerusalem Palestinians have access to Israeli health care etc. provided they continue to prove that they are actually living in Jerusalem. The wall around Jerusalem will wall out certain area's that are currently part of Palestinian Jerusalem, but will be on the Palestinian side. In the Shofat refugee camp, 20000 people all have a Jerusalem ID status, but they fear that when the Wall is finished, Israeli will declare the wall the new municipatory boundary. Palestinians are moving inside the wall to hold on to their Jerusalem ID card. Because of the negative effects, such as housing shortage, overcrowding, economic decline, there is fear that it will radicalising Palestinians in Jerusalem.

International reactions to the wall

    The route of the wall approved by the Israeli Cabinet in February 2005 is taking in an enormous area around Jerusalem and totally cuts off East-Jerusalem from the West-Bank. 10% of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel - which will include most of the settlements - as opposed to the 16% of the previous plan. This has changed as a result of the international criticism and the decision of the International Court of Justice in July 2004 saying that the construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law. ICC ordered Israel to cease forthwith the construction, to dismantle what is built and to render ineffective the permit and gate regime. Finally, all states were under the obligation not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall. Israel has not complied.

    Ray Dolphin indicated the connection between the disengagement plan of Israel and the route of the wall.
Because of Sharon's disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip and his intention to remove some settlements in the West Bank, all international pressure was relieved. Dolphin observed that "the international community did not look at the fact that, as a part of removing Gaza, Israel would hold on to those parts of the West Bank that it intended to keep under its borders".  The letter of President Bush to Sharon concerning the disengagement plan is usually interpreted as that 'Israel could go on to the settlement blocks in the West Bank'. Remarkable is that in February 2005, the same day it approved the Gaza disengagement plan, the Cabinet also approved the most recent route of the wall.

Israel's borders

    Ray Dolphin examined the possible effects in the case that the wall would become the permanent border of Israel. Prime Minister Olmert has said that by 2010, Israel will declare where its permanent border is and that the wall will play an important role in this. Dolphin is convinced that the structure of the wall indicates that it is likely intended as a permanent wall. A picture of a checkpoint going into Jerusalem, which he took a few years ago, and a recent photo of the same checkpoint prove this. As for the Alfe Menashe settlement for example, it will be behind the wall and presumably be annexed by Israel.

    What will happen if Israel formally annexed the seam zone in which 50000 Palestinians are living? Then, they presumably will be living in Israel. "Will they be offered Israeli citizenship or will there be a suggestion that some of them be exchanged for the settlers who will be removed from the Palestinian side of the wall?" These Palestinians are living in ancestral homes and the settlers are living illegally on occupied land, but, according to Dolphin, "there is a suggestion of population exchange".

    A lot of other questions rise. What will happen with all the land behind the wall wich officially belongs now to the Palestinians? If this land will be annexed by Israel, will Palestinian farmers have access to their land and how will they? How will these villages survive?
Dolphin pointed out that at the moment tunnels would be built to link the areas, such as a tunnel for Qalqilya and Habla, but from humanitarian point of view, this is not an improvement. He warned against the danger that Israel can take away land, linking them by tunnels and then it can say that there is no longer any problem.

    Looking at the route, Jerusalem would be totally cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Dolphin quoted the former Palestinian Minister of State for Jerusalem Affairs: "Without Jerusalem as a shared capital for Palestinians and Israelis, there is no two-state solution". This is generally acknowledged. Bethlehem is a particular problem: it will be cut off not just from Jerusalem to its north, but it will also loose its agricultural land to the west. Will it become like Qalqilya?

    Concerning the Jordan Valley, it is not clear what Prime Minister Olmert meant by "Israel will retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley". Dolphin demonstrated that the same situation prevails in Jordan valley as in the seam zone. The West Bank is thus cut off on both its east and west sides.
Looking at the UN map, the trans-Samaria highway cuts off the northern from central West Bank and around Jerusalem the route one cuts off central West Bank from the South. The outcome is a Palestinian state that is loosing land.


Q & A Session

Questioned on the water resources in Palestine, Dolphin noted that since its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel has almost completely controlled the water available to the Palestinian population. It continues to deprive Palestinians of their fair share of water. If the land will be annexed, obviously access will be on Israeli side.

Responding to the question “Why should we worry so much about the wall as Hamas is not considering Israel’s existence”, he commented that the reality is that 10000 Palestinian farmers are affected by the wall. From humanitarian point of view, it is a disaster if they loose land. Furthermore, the construction of the wall is adding insecurity to Israel.

On the issue of the reactions of the international community, he reiterated this earlier point about Israel annexing unilaterally land. He had a pessimistic view of the seam zone. He thinks it will be gone by 2030. "Villages like Jays will have disappeared, because they don't have any future".

On Gaza, Dolphin said that its future is very bleak. It will be totally disconnected from Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. "We will have a Palestinian state in totally dismembered parts with no physical connections between them".



Further info:

* Ray Dolphin: has worked with various humanitarian agencies in the Middle East and the Balkans for 15 years. Most recently he compiled reports on the impact of the West Bank wall for UNRWA, the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees. Download West Bank Wall: book flyer + His pps-presentation (17080 kB)

* BBC News: "Q& A: What is the West Bank barrier?"

* ReliefWeb: Occupied Palestinian territory with updates and background information

- Seam zone: The lands between the Wall and the Green Line have been declared by Israel as a “seam zone” whereby all residents and lands owners must obtain a permit to remain in their homes and on their lands.

-"Revised route of the security Fence: Feb. 2005":

* Israel Ministry of Defense: News: Revised route of the Security Fence: 30/04/2006 + Operational Concept

* International Court of Justice: ICC: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Advisory Opinion

* B'tselem:

- "Separation Barrier", see

- In a report called, "Under the Guise of Security," B'Tselem and Bimkon, two Israeli human rights organizations, studied the path of Israel's Wall and concluded in their report: “Not only were security-related reasons of secondary importance in certain locations, in cases when they conflicted with settlement expansion, the planners opted for expansion, even at the expense of compromised security.”

* UNWRA Emergency appeal 2006:

* "Access and ID Cards / Humanitarian Impact of the Jerusalem Barrier: Effect on the ID Cardholders". -UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2003.  [2.46 Mb pdf file]

Report made by Vanlauwe