Middle East
Background: The separation barrier
A fence, a wall, a barrier? A background to Israel's "security" construction.
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2008 17:41 GMT

Supporters say the barrier protects against "terrorism". Opponents say it violates human rights [EPA]

In June 2002, the government of Israel began building a physical barrier to separate Israel and the occupied West Bank, arguing that it would prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel.

Along 90 per cent of its route, the barrier is made up of barbed-wire fences and trenches, creating a 60m-wide gap.

Some sections are made of concrete blocks, creating a wall between six and eight metres high.

Those in favour of the barrier say it is necessary to protect Israelis from attacks, including suicide bombings which increased during the al-Aqsa uprising in 2000.

But those against it argue that it violates international law - an opinion supported by a 2004 international court of jusitice decision - and that it is an illegal attempt to annex occupied Palestinian land in the name of "security".

Opponents also say that the barrier blocks the passage of Palestinians in need of medical attention, and that it intends to pre-empt final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Initial proposal

After dozens of petitions against the initial proposed route of the barrier by the Israeli government, the Israeli high court ordered in June 2004 that the state must propose another route.

In February 2005, a new route was accepted by the high court, which took the barrier into the West Bank and not along the Green Line - established between Israel and its neighbours Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Palestinian farmland has been destroyed and water supplies have been cut off from Palestinians, and when they have legitimately protested against the construction of the separation barrier, they are regularly met with force by Israeli soldiers.

The Stop the Wall organisation claims that the barrier will isolate more than 360,000 Palestinians from 92 villages and communities when completed.

'Closed area'

External Link

B'Tselem's map of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank (.pdf)

(Updated February 2008)

Israel has declared the land in between the barrier and the Green Line – now referred to as the "seam zone" - a "closed area" for an indefinite period of time.

This "seam zone" accounts for roughly nine per cent of the West Bank's territory.

When completed, the barrier will be more than 700km long, at a cost of about $3.7m per kilometre.

About 60 per cent has been constructed, 10 per cent is under construction, and building is yet to start on the remaining 30 per cent.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported in July 2007 that the barrier may not be fully constructed until 2010, seven years after it was originally supposed to be completed.

B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, argues that the barrier is "an extreme solution that causes greatest harm to the local population".

Gaza barrier

A separate barrier also encircles the Gaza Strip. The barrier, 60km in length, was  constructed after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994.

In June 2001, a one-kilometre buffer zone was added between the Israel and Gazans, in addition to new high technology observation posts.

There are three crossing points. The northern Erez Crossing into Israel, the southern Rafah Crossing into Egypt, and the eastern Karni Crossing used only for cargo.

All crossings have experienced periods of closure due to tensions and truces between Israel and the Palestinians.

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