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But Gaza is much smaller than the West Bank, and there is evidence that a barrier in the West Bank may not get to the heart of the problem. A report published last year by Israel’s State Comptroller’s Office said, “IDF [Israel Defense Forces] documents indicate that most of the suicide terrorists and the car bombs crossed . . . into Israel through the checkpoints, where they underwent faulty and even shoddy checks.” In other words, checkpoints — and not the open areas that the fence is supposedly being built to protect — may be the weak link in the security chain. IDF spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold said she isn’t familiar with the comptroller’s report. “We have a whole defense concept around this fence,” she said. “It’s a whole system, not just a defense barrier.”
It’s significant that even though a majority of Israelis support building the barrier, they are deeply divided about where it should be. Of those who said in the poll this month that they support it, 40 percent said build it to include settlements and 39 percent said leave the settlements behind and build it on the Green Line.
Israelis want suicide attacks to stop, but plenty of them are wary of what the government sometimes does in the name of security. Settlements were built and justified, in part, as a security buffer for Israel, then huge areas of land around the settlements were claimed as a buffer zone for the settlements, and now more land is being claimed as a buffer zone for the fence.
Israel has stressed — through the State Attorney’s Office — that it is taking control of land for the barrier temporarily; the land-seizure orders do not transfer ownership of the land to Israel. But these “temporary” seizures can be extended indefinitely, and they don’t prevent the state from building, on this temporarily seized land, non-temporary structures like settlements, roads and walls. In response to another recent, unsuccessful lawsuit filed to stop construction of the barrier, the state attorney said Israel can use temporary seizure orders “even for the purpose of erecting structures that are not necessarily temporary in nature . . . such as bypass roads and Israeli communities.”
Zbuba is not the worst-case scenario for the villages and towns along this barrier. The city of Qalqilya, for instance, is now completely enclosed by a 25-foot concrete wall on one side and the electronic fence, etc., everywhere else. Other villages are trapped between the Green Line and the barrier complex, in a no-man’s land that the IDF is designating a closed military zone. Residents of these areas will probably need special permits to stay in their homes, and will have to cross a checkpoint to go anywhere outside this zone, including the rest of the West Bank, making it harder to see friends, family, doctors or anyone else. Other villages are cut off from large chunks of their farmland, and will have to pass through designated gates, with special permits, in order to work their land.
But even in areas that aren’t getting the worst of it, the barrier is making life difficult enough for some people that the road map seems irrelevant.
“I didn’t feel any change in daily life [from the road map],” said Mohammed Abu Bakr, a slight, exhausted-looking 23-year-old in Zbuba. “Not me, not my parents. The opposite. It’s checkpoints and it’s closure and it’s a fence around us. This is what we see.”
Mohammed said he has sickle cell anemia, which is part of the reason he’s so drained. Since the start of the intifada, when his father stopped being able to work inside Israel as a plumber, the extended family has been living off his father’s land, growing olives and almonds. Mohammed, his wife and his two brothers had to drop out of university when his father stopped working, and Mohammed was no longer able to get to Jerusalem to see the doctor who specializes in sickle cell anemia. Still, everyone was making ends meet with the orchards. When the barrier started going up in their area, Mohammed found out that about one-third of his father’s land had been taken for the fence. It’s not clear how the family is going to get by now.Mohammed Abu Bakr says the road map is going nowhere.
I drove south through the villages along the barrier, with the translator and a local guide. We pulled into the parking lot of an elementary school in Taybeh. A woman named Rebhiyeh Igbariyeh and her family have been living in two of the school’s classrooms for the last couple of months because her house was smothered by mudslides from the explosions used to clear rock out of the way for the barrier.
Rebhiyeh said she first saw Israeli soldiers on her land last November. They were making marks on the ground along the ridge above her house. Her husband was buried on the ridge.
“I climbed up to my husband’s grave and asked them, ‘Why are you marking the grave of my husband?’” she said.
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