The Bad Fence

by NEVE GORDON

Jerusalem.

Although Mazmuriah is located less than 20 minutes drive from my Jerusalem apartment, all roads connecting the small village to the city have been blocked off.

Using roundabout roads which wind across the hilly terrain of the southern Jerusalem municipal border, it took us more than an hour to reach the village. The Palestinian residents invited us. They wanted to tell Israeli peace activists about the imminent expulsion, about their fear of being forced to move from their ancestral land. They wanted to tell us about the bad fence.

But first some background. After the 1967 War, Israel annexed some 70 sq. kilometers of land to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, imposing Israeli law on this area. These annexed territories included not only the part of Jerusalem which had been under Jordanian rule but also an additional 64 sq. kilometers, most of which had belonged to 28 villages in the West Bank.

Unlike most of the inhabitants of the annexed villages, who were subsequently registered by the Israeli civil administration as Israeli residents (as opposed to citizens), the inhabitants of Mazmuriah were given West Bank identity cards.

This created a juridical situation taken straight out of a Kafka tale. The Mazmuriah residents and their houses belong to different legal and administrative systems: the houses and land are part of the Jerusalem municipality system, while the inhabitants are residents of the West Bank and therefore subjected to Israeli military rule.

Using its juridical control of the land, in 1992 Israel classified the area in which the village is located as "green land" — land that cannot be built on and is basically a nature reserve. The idea was to strangle the local population, prohibiting them from constructing new houses. Young adults who wished to build a family home were forced to choose between leaving their birthplace or building illegally, knowing that the Israeli authorities would most likely destroy any new house.

Simultaneously, the Jerusalem Municipality also refused to provide basic services to the village like extending water and sewage lines. Later, after the eruption of the second Intifada, all roads between the village and Jerusalem were closed off, thus forcing the residents to become dependant on the West Bank for their livelihood and their children’s education.

What appeared to be a "legal anomaly" slowly became the grim reality of everyday life. Although they live on land annexed by Israel, for all practical purposes the Palestinian residents themselves do not belong to Jerusalem, they are West Bankers. The only "defect" in this grand plan is that they still reside in the annexed area. It is this so-called defect that Israel now intends to fix.

Accompanied by border policemen, a coordinator for the Israeli Housing Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Jerusalem Municipality recently visited the village. He showed the residents a map of where the separation fence will pass, a fence that Israel is building around the West Bank in order to "prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel."

The fence, the residents learned, would surround the village on its southern side and thus separate it from the West Bank. No openings or gates have been planned for this section of the fence, meaning that even if the residents are allowed to stay in their village, their water supplies will be cut-off, they will not be able to reach work and their children will be unable to go to school. To make things clear, however, the Israeli official notified the Palestinian residents that due to the village’s proximity to the planned separation fence they would have to move.

Israel’s goal, it appears, is to expropriate the land "uninhabited." It is highly unlikely, however, that the villagers will actually be forced out of their homes at gunpoint and put on buses. A more intricate strategy will be employed.

Creating a physical barrier between the village and the West Bank and not allowing the inhabitants any contact with either the Palestinian Authority or the Jerusalem Municipality will undermine their infrastructure of existence. They will be living on a virtual island with no possibility to sustain themselves. Ultimately, they will have to leave the village of "their own accord."

This scheme of expelling a whole population from their land is in blatant violation of basic rights as well as all the agreements Israel has signed, not least the principles laid out in the Road Map. In Israel we call this policy "transfer."

While the end of this story has yet to be told, the first 145 kilometers of the separation fence will be completed in two months time, violating, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, the rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in sixty-seven villages, towns, and cities.

The crux of the matter is that the fence is not being erected on the 1967 borders, but is being used as a mechanism to expropriate Palestinian land and create facts on the ground that will affect any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. Already in this early stage, thirty-six communities, in which 72,200 Palestinians reside, will be separated from their farmlands that lie west of the fence. More importantly, thirteen communities, home to 11,700 people, have become enclaves imprisoned between the fence and Israel. A recent report published by the World Bank suggests that by the time the fence is completed 95,000 Palestinians will be living in cantons closed off from all sides.

Yehezkel Lein from B’tselem concludes:

"In the past, Israel used ‘imperative military needs’ to establish settlements on expropriated Palestinian land and argued that the action was temporary. The settlements have for some time been facts on the ground and Israel now demands that most of them be annexed to Israel. As in the case of the settlements, it is reasonable to assume that the separation fence will also be used to support Israel’s future claim to annex territories."

Good fences, Robert Frost once wrote, make good neighbors; the question the Israeli government must ask itself is "what do bad fences make?"

NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and is a contributor to The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press 2002). He can be reached at ngordon@bgumail.bgu.ac.il.

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