A hard-hitting United Nations report has warned that Israel will effectively annex large tracts of Palestinian territory by ordering thousands of Arabs living near the new ‘security’ wall to apply for a permit to stay in their homes.
The wall has been built inside the internationally recognised Green Line, so far encroaching on about 18,000 acres of Palestinian land and cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. They have now been declared a “closed military zone”.
A Palestinian imprisoned in the West Bank town of Abu Dis gives money to a friend to buy goods for him in a shop on the other side of the Apartheid Wall.
Israelis living in settlements in the zone will receive automatic residence rights but more than 10,000 Palestinians must now apply for permission to continue living in the areas affected, fuelling allegations that Israel is attempting to colonise or annex the area.
“The prohibitive effect of the permit system raises serious concerns of effectively causing thousands of Palestinians to leave these areas,” said the report by the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “These areas would be effectively annexed to Israel.”
The report is likely to heighten tensions between Israel and the UN, which is viewed as instinctively anti-Israeli by the Right-wing government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
David Shearer, head of OCHA, said: “We are saying that if these people are not allowed to stay in that area, it is de facto annexation because they cannot go back to their homes. If these people are deprived of their homes and of their livelihoods, it will be a humanitarian disaster.” The Israeli government, which says the wall is designed to deter Palestinian suicide bombers by sealing off the West Bank from Israel, has regularly revised its plans for the barrier, which will now stretch more than 400 miles.
About 100 miles is now complete: among the West Bank villages affected is Ras e-Tira, which lies four miles east of the Green Line but west of the wall. It is home to about 400 people, some of whose families have lived in the area for centuries.
The village is now encircled by the fence and their land wedged between two large Israeli settlements that are extending their boundaries. The village has no schools or clinic and few basic amenities, forcing many of the residents to travel beyond its limits. The travel permits they can obtain from the military allow them only to get to the local military office: there they must get additional permits to visit the hospital.
Mahir Maraabeh, an English teacher from Ras e-Tira, works at a school in Kibla, a village that is now on the other side of the wall. He can still get to work for now because other Palestinians opened a small hole in the wire fencing. When this is sealed off, however, he believes he will have to move to Kibla or face losing his job.
“They are trying to force us out, to migrate to other areas,” Mr Maraabeh claimed. “We have a small population with a large area of land and they want to expand the settlements here. If this barrier was about security then Israel could have built the wall on the Green Line. Can you imagine anyone ordering you to leave your land and your house?”
The new order on closed zones and permits is expected to dominate talks proposed for next week with Palestinian officials by Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defence minister. Mr Sharon has said he would consider meeting Ahmed Qurei if the new Palestinian premier manages to form a permanent government.
The UN report has coincided with renewed debate within Israel over the true aims of the steel and concrete security barrier. Last week, Lt Gen Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s chief of staff, caused controversy when he claimed that the army had recommended a less controversial route through the West Bank.
During a wide-ranging critique of the government’s hardline policy towards the Palestinians, Gen Ya’alon said the military had warned that the wall would make the lives of some Palestinians “unbearable” and require too many soldiers to guard it.
The UN recently asked for ?11 million ($18 million) to fund humanitarian relief for Palestinians affected by the fence. As more of the wall is completed, the bill is expected to rise sharply.
Article courtesy of the Sunday Telegraph