by Ferry Biedermann
After the first ever visit of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the White House last week, Bush took a surprisingly strong stand against the fence, calling it a problem.
"It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking though the West Bank," Bush said. That problem has not disappeared within a week.
Quite suddenly, the construction of the fence and wall barrier has become the highest point of contention between Israel and the United States.
Israel has been trying to justify the building of the fence for some time. "Israel is building the separation fence for the Palestinians' own good," said Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom as Sharon arrived in Washington.
Shalom has been trying to give a new spin to the mammoth construction project on the West Bank. "It will take away from them the option to use terror against us and I believe that will have a positive effect on their own situation," he said.
Bush has made clear that progress on the international peace plan, the roadmap, is more important to him than the fence Israel is building. Israel says the fence will keep suicide bombers out, but the Palestinians see it as land grab, and an attempt to set borders unilaterally.
The first part of the fence, some 120 miles along the northern part of the West Bank and near Jerusalem is nearing completion. Large tracts of Palestinian land are included on the Israeli side. The planned length of the fence is 360 miles.
Looking at the walls and fences around the Palestinian city Qalqilya, it is hard to believe that the mammoth project is not permanent. At a cost of $1.3 million a mile, it also sounds too expensive to be a temporary measure, costing nearly half of a billion dollars.
In his fields outside the small Palestinian village Jayyous near Qalqilya, local landowner Sharif Omar points to a tower that he says marks the old green line border between Israel and the West Bank. "That is four miles away and here the fence passes just yards from our houses in Jayyous," he says. "Do they really need those four miles of Palestinian territory, could they not have built it on the border?"
The people of Jayyous are afraid of losing their agricultural land, most of which has been cut off from the village by the new fence. Mayor Fayez Salam says 73 percent of village land lies now on the other side of the fence. That is also a staggering 97 percent of irrigated agricultural land.
Sharif Omar is a veteran member of the Palestinian Land Defense Committee and has fought countless battles against Israeli attempts to expropriate his fields. He seems to be the driving force behind the decision of some 30 families from Jayyous to live on their land now that it has been cut off by the fence.
Abu Soufian emerges bent and walking with the help of a stick from a rickety shelter in a field near Jayyous. He says he is lucky because he built that shelter a long time ago with an old Volkswagen van and some corrugated iron, to take a nap after work in the afternoon. "Now all we had to do was put up a sheet to sleep under at night," he says. "I'm not leaving my land alone any more."
Israel has built gates in the fence to give Palestinians access to their land. But many in Jayyous are suspicious of the gates. "They can close them or make it difficult to get special permits," says Sharif Omar Abu Soufian agrees. "We cannot take the chance," he says. "We have to take care of our land every day. What will happen if the gates are closed for a few days and we cannot water our crops?"
Thus far, the two gates near Jayyous have remained more or less open. At the gate nearest Jayyous, the guards were relaxed last week, and traffic was unimpeded.
Foreign volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement have arrived to support Sharif Omar at the breezeblock shelter on his land. "My brothers help us, they stand at the gate to make sure nobody is beaten," Omar says.
Apart from land there is also the issue of water. Many of the wells around Jayyous and other villages along the fence end up on the Israeli side, says Abdelatif Khader who runs a campaign against the wall in Qalqilya. Besides, access to schools and hospitals has become more difficult because of the fence.
There is very little sympathy in Israel for Palestinians whose lives are being affected by the fence. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is almost offended by question about the fence. "Why is it that people always ask me about the viability of a Palestinian state?" he says. "What about the viability of Israel, what about our right to survival?"
He maintains that there can be no return to the borders that Israel had between the end of the war of independence in 1949 and 1967 when it conquered the West Bank. "There have to be security zones," says Steinitz.
Steinitz says he still hopes something will change on the Palestinian side. "Then we may not have to build the wall and spend so much money on it," he says. He is one of the few people who should know, but he says nothing about the path of the rest of the wall. That is what the United States is pressuring Israel over.
July 31, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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