It might be the biggest, most expensive and most influential construction project in Israel’s history. To mark the 10th anniversary of its inception, +972 will be publishing in coming days a series of stories about the separation wall and its history, arguments in favor and against its construction, its effects and side effects and an analysis of its possible implications on regional politics in years to come. Chapter one – the Israeli story of the wall.
Haggai Matar writes: Looking at it from here, for just one minute, the whole project of the wall appears to be nothing more than an absurdity. I’m standing at the furthest, deepest part of this massive barrier, in the settlement of Ariel. Located about 20 kilometers east of the green line, less than thirty to the Jordan River, it is the very heart of the West Bank. In front of me I see some olive groves, behind them – the “separation fence” with its electric detection, cameras and barbed wire, and on the other side is the Palestinian village of Marda, the residents of which own these trees. So far, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.
However, a short walk to either direction leads to an abrupt end to the fence. In one direction it reaches a nearby road, and simply doesn’t continue on the other side, as it does elsewhere. Instead, there is a small area near the road with turned earth, suggesting that construction was planned here but was stopped. Oren, the photographer, tells me he was at a demonstration here against the planned route of the fence five years ago, and that nothing has changed on the terrain since. He takes some pictures, and I think of several other places along the route where the fence or wall simply comes to an end, enabling dozens, hundreds or thousands of Palestinians to cross it on a daily basis. Some are caught by patrols. Others aren’t. Looking at it from here, for just one minute, the whole project of the wall appears to be nothing more than an absurdity.
On April 14, 2002 then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that a separation fence would be built in the West Bank (a matter of terminology: The barrier is part fence, part wall. I will be using the two terms interchangeably). It was the height of the second intifada, which started with mass demonstrations that were murderously repressed by the IDF, and continued with a series of deadly suicide attacks against citizens inside Israel. After the 2002 attack on a Passover dinner in a Netanya hotel, Israel launched operation Defensive Shield, during which some 500 Palestinians were killed, and mass destruction caused to houses and infrastructure across the West Bank. At that point, no planned route or budget existed for Sharon’s fence, announced during the operation. But the project, which was to become probably the largest in Israeli history, was born.
Ten years have passed, and much has changed. The route of the wall was drawn, altered and changed time and time again by both the government and the Supreme Court. Construction went ahead, come to a halt, was restarted and frozen once more – due to political debates on its route, international pressure regarding the annexation of Palestinian lands and lack of funds. Here are a few figures to help get an idea what this project is all about:
The entire route of the wall – between 680-709 kilometers (the first is a Ministry of Defense figure, the second B’Tselem’s). This is more than twice the length of the Green Line, Israel’s recognized border with the West Bank (320 kms).
- Portions already built- 525 kms
- Portions inside Palestinian territory – 85 percent
- Palestinian lands currently on the Israeli side of the wall – 8.5 percent
- Palestinian lands in on the Israeli side in earlier plans – 17 percent
- 8-meter-high concrete wall comprises 10 percent of the barrier
- 2-meter-high electronic fence – 90 percent
- Total cost so far – over NIS 10 billion ($2.6 billion)
- Cost of maintenance per year – NIS 1 billion ($260 million)
- Scheduled end of construction – unknown. Most construction has been stopped.