Since the start of its construction two decades ago, in defiance of international law, Israel’s separation barrier, known also as the “apartheid wall,” has been a major source of controversy. The wall cuts through Palestinian communities, agricultural fields, and farmlands, thus adding further obstruction and misery to the lives of Palestinians.
Israel vigorously defended the walls’ construction as an essential security need. But on its 20_year anniversary, serious questions are being asked about Israel’s security narrative as the occupation state turns a blind eye to thousands of Palestinians crossing through its porous wall.
Where, once Palestinians would have been shot for merely approaching the wall, a steady stream of Palestinians are able to commute through its many holes and gaps along the snaking 712 km-long route, built almost entirely within the Israeli occupied territories, beyond the 1967 borders. Some sections of the wall reach as deep as 22 km into Palestinian territory, dividing communities and leaving farmers reliant on Israeli permits to access their own land.
“Stop the Wall”, a Palestinian grassroots advocacy campaign, said that upon the wall’s completion, Israel will have annexed 46 per cent of the West Bank, “isolating communities into Bantustans, ghettos and military zones”. The group said that the wall will isolate more than 78 Palestinian villages and communities, a total of 266,442 Palestinians.
Disputing the Israeli narrative, Palestinians have always maintained that the wall was another one of Israel’s many ruses to annex their territory to build and preserve existing illegal Jewish-only settlements.
Supporting the Palestinian claim, the Guardian published a report uncovering the ease with which Palestinians move through the wall in full view of Israeli occupation soldiers.
“The Israeli public was sold this wall as a necessary security measure,” Dror Etkes, who documents illegal Israeli construction in the occupied Palestinian territories for his NGO, “Kerem Navot”, is reported as saying in the British paper. “My understanding is there’s been a change of policy, and soldiers are now supposed to turn a blind eye to the Palestinians coming in.” Etkes estimates there are now hundreds of breaches in the barrier, which an unknown number of people use each day.
“Israel knows it needs to relieve the economic pressure in the West Bank and it benefits from the cheaper labour. Which raises the question: if [the wall] is just an arbitrary construction, why is it here at all?” Etkes asked, questioning Israel’s argument about the wall.
The Palestinian economy has been starved by the Israeli occupation and has forced many to seek work elsewhere. Unemployment in the West Bank has hovered at around 25 per cent for several years, and wages are much lower than in Israel, reported the Guardian. Once they arrived, many workers remained in Israel for a week or longer, avoiding police or anyone who might report them, until they had earned enough to risk making the journey home again. Even working with no rights in sometimes dangerous conditions, the risk was worth it.
Holes are said to have been cut all along the wall to facilitate access to the Triangle, a cluster of majority-Arab-Israeli towns and villages abutting the Green Line. All the gaps were big enough for adults to pass through comfortably; incongruously, some were next to locked gates, or close to checkpoints and visible cameras. Some people said they had valid permits but chose to use the breaches in the fence because it was quicker and easier than queuing at official terminals, where soldiers can question and search them.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN judiciary organ, issued an advisory opinion in 2004, declaring Israel’s separation wall illegal.It found that the wall violates international law and called for its dismantlement. It also ruled that Israel should pay reparations for any damage caused.
The UN General Assembly later voted overwhelmingly to demand Israel complies with the ICJ ruling. The vote called on UN member states “not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem” and “not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction”.