Wall Sparks Worldwide Protests
The world's best-known human rights organization, Amnesty International, added its voice to worldwide protests this weekend against Israel's construction of a barrier throughout the occupied West Bank that it says is designed to prevent the infiltration of Palestinian suicide bombers into Israel.
"This fence/wall is having devastating economic and social consequences on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, separating families and communities from each other and from their land and water--their most crucial assets," the London-based group said.
"The construction of this fence/wall in its current location must be halted immediately. As it continues to snake through Palestinian land, more and more Palestinians find themselves trapped into enclaves and cantons, unable to have any semblance of a normal life," Amnesty added.
Several thousand people participated in a major demonstration in Rome Saturday as part of the international "Stop the Wall" campaign that sponsored protests during the past week in 19 countries around the world, including the United States, as well as in Israel and the West Bank itself.
The most colorful took place in the Sawahra Valley near Jerusalem where the barrier most resembles the high, gray Berlin Wall that was torn down 13 years ago, signaling the end of the Cold War. The wall was set on by dozens of Palestinian, Israeli, and international graffiti artists who painted slogans, such as "Barrier for Peace," "No More Ghettos," "No to the Apartheid Wall," "There Are No Good Walls," "This is Sharonistan," and "The Wall Will Fall."
The weekend's events come at a critical moment in Middle East diplomacy. With a new Palestinian government about to be approved by its parliament and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sending a top envoy to Washington this week--apparently to discuss both the fence and the prospects for talks with the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei--hopes that the two sides may make some progress toward a ceasefire appear to be on the rise.
Adding to the anticipation is the scheduled release December 1 in Geneva of a comprehensive peace plan secretly worked out over the past two years by Israeli and Palestinian delegations headed by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, and former Palestinian information minister, Yasir Abed Rabbo.
While Sharon has denounced the plan--which calls essentially for what was agreed by official Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Taba, Egypt, in January, 2001--as "dangerous," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to both Beilin and Rabbo last week praising their effort, while UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also lauded the plan as a "courageous" effort to break the deadlock at the root of the unprecedented violence between Israelis and Palestinians over the past three years.
A second, similar unofficial plan drawn up by Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh and the former chief of Israeli's intelligence service, Ami Ayalon, is also coming to the fore with the announcement last week that some 100,000 Israelis and 60,000 Palestinians have signed a petition in favor of the plan since the summer. Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, widely considered the architect of the U.S. war in Iraq, publicly praised the proposal, noting that it was consistent with the main ideas contained in the Bush administration's Road Map, which has stalled badly in recent months.
Among other provisions, both plans call for Israel to withdraw essentially to the "Green Line"--its border before the 1967 war--while retaining some of its larger settlements just inside Palestinian territory in exchange for giving a new Palestinian state a comparable amount within the Green Line.
In the view of many analysts, however, what the Sharon government calls the "fence" and what its critics call the "wall" threatens the possibility of such a settlement because it cuts so deeply into Palestinian territory to defend many of the Jewish settlements well inside Palestinian territory. Altogether, it will incorporate some 80 percent of existing settlements and, in zigzagging across the West Bank, completely encircle some 70,000 Palestinians, cutting them off from the rest of the territory.
The Palestinians have charged that the barrier amounts to an attempt by the Sharon government to impose permanent borders that will make impossible the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank and transform the area into a collection of "Bantustans," the black tribal states created by South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The Palestinians have marshaled strong international support for their position. The UN General Assembly voted last month 144-4, with 12 abstentions, to condemn the project as contrary to international law. It demanded that Israel halt work on it and remove the barriers it has already erected. The four no votes included the U.S., the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Israel itself.
Washington vetoed a similar measure in the UN Security Council the week before, and the Sharon government has insisted it will continue to build in order to protect Israeli citizens.
In its statement, Amnesty noted that the barrier is not being built along the Green Line, but mostly on Palestinian land more than a mile in most places inside the West Bank.
"Israel has the right to take reasonable, necessary and proportionate measures to protect the security of its citizens and its borders," Amnesty said. "These include measures to prevent the entry into Israel of Palestinians or others who are reasonably suspected of intending to carry out suicide bombings or other attacks."
"However, Israel does not have a right to unlawfully destroy or confiscate Palestinian land and property and hinder the movements of Palestinians inside the Occupied Territories in order to consolidate its control over land which is being used for illegal Israeli settlements," the group said.
It noted that although the seizure orders for the land being taken by Israel to build the barrier say they are "temporary," over the decades Palestinian land "temporarily" seized by Israel has been used to build permanent structures, including settlements and roads for settlers, and has never been returned to its owners. Amnesty said the barrier appears intended as a permanent structure, noting that thousands of Palestinians now have to cross it at designated checkpoints or gates to reach the rest of the West Bank, get to work, tend their fields, sell their produce, or go to school or hospitals.
Recent columns by Jim Lobe
Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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