By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photos by Nancy Updike
It’s strange that the peace plan known as the road map, which is a very detailed document, doesn’t mention the 90-mile fence/wall that Israel is building right now. This barrier — which is a fence at some points and a wall at others — is not being built on the Green Line, the armistice line that was the de facto border between Israel and the West Bank until the Six Day War in 1967. Rather, the barrier is cutting deeply into the West Bank in many places, affecting thousands of acres of Palestinian land in the process.
“Barrier” doesn’t quite capture the scope of what’s being built. It’s a whole barrier system, with successive layers, each of which takes a bit more land. It includes: a motion-sensitive electronic fence (and sometimes a wall); a service road running alongside the fence (on the Palestinian side, but Palestinians will not be able to use this road); a barbed-wire fence; “a trench or other means intended to prevent motor vehicles from crashing into and through the fence” (as the Israel Defense Forces described it in response to a recent, unsuccessful lawsuit to halt construction); three roads on the Israeli side of the fence and another barbed wire fence.
So far, about 24,000 acres of Palestinian land have been cut off from the rest of the West Bank and are now on the western (Israeli) side of the barrier.
President George Bush is against all this construction, but so far that hasn’t mattered. He sent his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon how he felt, but Sharon rebuffed her, saying the barrier is for security and Israel is building it, period. The barrier is popular in Israel, on both the left and the right: In a poll last weekend, more than two-thirds of the Israeli public said they support it.
Grunt work on the barrier is being done, in some places, by Palestinians, some of whose land has been taken by Israel in order to build the fence/wall. I drove with a translator north to Jenin, where men in the villages nearby are working on the barrier.Rebhiyeh Igbariyeh, center, had to move her husband’s grave.
Saleh Jaradat, whose full name is much longer but who gave me permission to use the summary version, looks older than 56. He has a white strip of beard on his chin, and he opened his mouth to show me that he has no teeth left. Saleh is working on the barrier near his home village of Zbuba. He does this work, he said, because he’s got 15 kids and no other income. He makes 100 shekels (about $22) a day, moving stones from 7 in the morning until 6 at night.
He was telling me this in a room with five other men from his village — including the head of the village council — and I was surprised he was willing to talk about it in front of others; some men working on the wall don’t even tell their families what they’re doing. I suddenly hit a nerve, though, when I asked if the man who told him about the construction job had let him know exactly what sort of work it was. He answered angrily, through the translator.
“I have 15 kids waiting for me, and in the end of the day I have to feed them,” he said. “What do you want me to do? I know that this is difficult, impossible. I know that I am making this fence around myself, but I need to feed my kids.”
One of the village council members jumped in to defuse the tension.
“I want to tell you about this contradiction,” he said. “In the beginning we were saying it’s not even a normal thing: It’s not logical that they confiscate our land and then we are going to build [this barrier]. But more than 350 workers used to do work inside Israel, and they lost their only income. They lost everything.”
This unemployment crisis isn’t just happening in Zbuba. Throughout the West Bank and Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinian families were supported, before the intifada, by one family member working inside Israel or in settlements. Most of those workers haven’t been able to get into Israel in the last 30 months, and have lost their jobs.
In Zbuba, the village council met to discuss the barrier, and tried to convince people not to work on it. The conversation got heated. Some villagers saw the work as an outrageous betrayal, while others were desperate to take the job. Finally, the ones who wanted to work told the others: If you give us each 100 shekels a day, we won’t do it. Otherwise, we’re going.
Sharon says that the barrier — which has cost about $200 million so far — is a security measure, not a political border, and that it can be dismantled once Israel is safe. Since more than two dozen suicide bombers in this intifada have come into Israel from Jenin — right next to Zbuba — it’s easy to see why Israelis support putting a fence around the area, and fast. It’s also true that walls and fences have been an effective security measure for Israel so far: A barrier was built around the Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, and in this intifada only two suicide bombers have made it out of there, and they held British passports.