Israel’s Wall

July 01, 2005

“Ariel Sharon keeps goats and sheep. He puts a fence around them and closes them in with a gate. He decides if they come in or go out. This is now what he is doing to us.”
– Palestinian from Sur Bahir

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s wrong with the Wall?

Israel is not building the Wall on its 1967 preoccupation border, rather Israel plans to build

80% of the Wall inside Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territory, in the process attempting to de facto annex Palestinian agricultural lands and water resources, restricting Palestinian freedom of movement, separating Palestinians from schools, health facilities and jobs, and depriving thousands of Palestinians of their livelihoods.

In total, the Wall and settlements (colonies) will de facto annex at least 46% of the West Bank to Israel (containing approximately 85% of Israeli settlers), thereby ensuring that Israel’s illegal colonies not only remain, but also expand. 1 The Wall alone will de facto annex 9.5% of the Israeli occupied West Bank to Israel when complete.

Additional settlement (colony) blocs take 8.0% more of the West Bank. The Jordan Valley, which Israel has repeatedly affirmed that it intends to keep, accounts for 28.5%more of the West Bank.

Israel’s strategy continues to be to take as much Palestinian land as possible while militarily encaging as many Palestinians as possible, all in an attempt to continue Israel’s colonization and theft of Palestinian territory.

Ultimately, this neither serves Israeli nor Palestinian interests: By taking Palestine’s most valuable lands and resources, by fragmenting the West Bank and restricting development of

Palestinian communities, and by depriving the future Palestinian state of its capital and economic engine, East Jerusalem, there can be no viable Palestinian state. Without a viable Palestinian state, there can be no lasting and viable peace.

Upon its completion, the Wall will be approximately 680 km in length (more than twice the length of the 1967 boundary). Approximately 242,000 Palestinians (including approximately 5,300 Palestinians in the Closed Zone – see question 4) will be trapped between the Wall and the 1967 boundary.

2. Is it a “wall” or a “fence”?

The Wall takes many forms. In some areas (notably in Israeli-occupied Palestinian Jerusalem and around the Palestinian city of Qalqilya) the Wall is an eight meter high structure of solid concrete – twice the height of the Berlin Wall – sometimes with armed sniper towers positioned every 300 meters. In other areas, the Wall consists of an entire complex running 30-100 meters across and comprised of several layers of fortified barriers, including trenches (up to four meters deep), electrified fences, razor wire, motion sensors, and military patrol roads.

Whether it is called a “wall”, “barrier” or “fence” is irrelevant because the effect is the same: Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian land, forced impoverishment of Palestinian communities and a coercion of Palestinians to abandon their homes and their property.

3. Isn’t the Wall necessary for Israel’s security?

No. So long as the Wall has been routed around existing illegal settlements and their planned expansion areas, the Wall remains a land grab and not a security measure. If Israel were truly interested in its security it would: (1) abide by international law and withdraw completely from the occupied Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, and/or (2) build the Wall on Israel’s side of the 1967 boundary rather than in occupied Palestinian territory.

The International Court of Justice ruled that the Wall, along the route chosen, is not a military necessity: “the Court is not convinced that the construction of the wall along the route chosen was the only means to safeguard the interests of Israel against the peril which it has invoked as justification for that construction.”2

According to the Israeli State Comptroller’s report, most Palestinians who perpetrated acts of violence in Israel entered the country through checkpoints situated along the 1967 boundary, and not through the open areas between the checkpoints. Despite the report’s findings, Israel decided to erect the Wall before it addressed the problems that were found in the operation of the checkpoints.

B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, reached a similar conclusion:

The route was based on extraneous considerations completely unrelated to the security of Israeli citizens. A major aim was to build the barrier east of as many settlements as possible, to make it easier to annex them into Israel.

The overall features of the separation barrier and the considerations that led to determination of the route give the impression that Israel is once again relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish facts on the ground that will affect any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In the past, Israel used “imperative military needs” to justify expropriation of land to establish settlements, arguing that the action was temporary.

The settlements have for some time been facts on the ground. It is reasonable to assume that, as in the case of the settlements, the separation barrier will become an entrenched

fact to support Israel’s future claim to annex additional land.3

4. What is Israel really trying to do by building the Wall?

Israel wants Palestinian land but it does not want the Palestinian people. The Wall is part of a strategy to annex large parts of occupied Palestinian territory while caging in large Palestinian population centers. Once complete, the indigenous Palestinian population will be restricted to ghettoes constituting less than 12% of historic Palestine while Israeli settlers will be able to freely travel throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.

In addition, Israel has instituted a number of measures to encourage the migration of Palestinian communities living on the “wrong side” of the Wall. On October 2, 2003, the Israeli Army issued an order declaring all land between the Wall and the 1967 border in the northern West Bank as “closed military zones” (the Closed Zone). The Order states that “No person will enter the [Closed Zone] and no one will remain there.”4  Free access to the Closed Zone – which represents approximately 2% of the Occupied West Bank – is granted to “Israelis,” defined as Israeli citizens, Israeli residents and anyone permitted to immigrate to Israel (i.e., anyone who is Jewish).  The Order requires Palestinian residents of the Closed Zone to obtain permits to live in their houses, farm their land, or to travel in and out of the area. Nothing in the Order guarantees that permits will be granted or even respected if they are granted. Palestinians not residing in the Closed Zone but whose agricultural lands or jobs are within the Closed Zone must apply for permits periodically to farm their land or go to work. The Order effectively grants anyone in the world who is Jewish the right to freely travel throughout the Closed Zone while denying the same rights to the Christians and Muslims who live on, farm and own the land.

5. Hasn’t the Wall saved lives?

Since September 2000, 4,681 Palestinian and Israeli civilians have been killed (3,626 Palestinians and 1,055Israelis5). Approximately 2,7076Palestinian and Israeli civilians were killed after Israel began construction of the Wall, with the vast majority (1,802 Palestinians) killed in the Occupied Gaza Strip, where a similar wall has existed since 1994.7 In other words, there has not been an overall drop in the number of civilians killed.

Although there has been a drop in the number of Israeli civilians killed, the Wall has not stopped Israel from killing Palestinian civilians. Rather, Israel continues to kill Palestinians at an average rate of 53 Palestinians per month (for the period between September 28, 2000 and press time).

Civilian lives can best be saved by understanding and addressing the roots of the conflict: both Palestinians and Israelis are losing their lives because of Israel’s 38-year military occupation of Palestinian land and Israel’s refusal to abide by its obligations under international law. If Israel wanted to save lives, it would place life above its desire for territorial expansion.

6. Isn’t the Wall just a “temporary” measure?

Israeli actions, both past and present, suggest the opposite. In 1967, when Israel first began colonizing the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel similarly claimed that its settlements (colonies) were a “temporary security measure.” More than 38 years later, these colonies have not only been entrenched but continue to expand. Israel has never dismantled any of these “temporary” settlements and there are now over 400,000 settlers living illegally in occupied Palestinian territory.

Furthermore, the damage that is being caused by the Wall cannot be reversed: Palestinian farmers have already lost their crops, their land and their primary source of livelihood and

Palestinian homes and businesses have been demolished for the Wall’s construction (such as

in Nazlat Issa where 124 shops and 7 homes were demolished in August 2003 and in Barta where 26 shops, 3 homes and 1 factory were demolished in July 2004). At press time, 10 structures (including 6 homes housing 58 people) were at imminent threat of demolition in Um Rukba South, near Bethlehem, after residents lost their appeals to the Israeli High Court in June 2005.

In its recent decision on the Wall, the International Court of Justice stated:

Whilst taking note of the assurance given byIsrael that the construction of the wall does not amount to annexation and that the wall is of a temporary nature, the Court nevertheless considers that the construction of the wall and its associated regime create a “fait accompli” on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterization of the wall by Israel, it would be tantamount to de facto annexation.8

7. Hasn’t Israel built “access gates” to allow Palestinians access to their lands?

If Israel really wanted to facilitate access of Palestinian farmers to their land, the Wall would have been built on Israeli territory rather than between Palestinian farmers and their land.

The gates, when in fact they are actually open, are an Israeli attempt to make the Wall look humane. Of the 63 gates currently built9into the Wall, only 25 are accessible to Palestinians; and that number is steadily decreasing. In addition, those that do open do so irregularly two or three times a day for one-hour intervals. For example, all agricultural gates were closed from October 4 - 20, 2003 during the olive harvest, causing many farmers to lose their annual crops and related revenue. In the case of the northern gate in Qalqilya, the gate never reopened in 2004.  The closure of the gates in Qalqilya has caused livestock (particularly poultry) to die. Palestinians regularly endure long, grueling waits and are often denied access. In Jayyus, for example, farmers must travel an additional 2.5 kilometers from their existing gate, which is projected to be closed due to the ongoing expansion of Zufin settlement on their land.

Furthermore, Palestinians must apply for permits to access their own land. Even if granted, such permits, which are for a limited duration (typically from two weeks to six months) and may be used only at gates specified on the permit, do not guarantee access as they may not be honored by soldiers stationed at the gates. Even if permits are granted to the landowners, many farmers complain that laborers are not being granted permits and hence farmers have difficulty in harvesting their crops for lack of manpower.

In addition, a new trend is being documented whereby Israel is denying permits based on narrow definitions of land ownership, and not security. In fact, according to preliminary investigations, only a small fraction of rejected permit applications were done so on a security rationale. The remaining permits were denied on land ownership issues. In practice, this means that both farmers and laborers “even when from within the same family” have difficulty accessing and tending to lands on the other side of the Wall. Now, Israel has been denying permits, for example, to grandchildren of bona fide land owners.

Finally, Israel continues to claim the right to confiscate Palestinian agricultural land if it is not being regularly farmed, even if the reason that it is not being farmed is due to Israel’s refusal to allow farmers to access their fields. Consequently, by denying Palestinian farmers the right to farm their land, Israel is setting the stage for invoking the “use it or lose it” laws to later justify illegal confiscation of Palestinian land.

8. But hasn’t a wall around the Gaza Strip saved lives?

No. The wall encaging Gaza has not been good for anyone. First, it has not enhanced Israel’s security: the only two suicide bombers to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip came after the wall was erected – not before. Second, the Gaza wall has severely harmed Palestinian life. With a population of approximately 1.3 million Palestinians, and a land area of approximately 370 km2, the Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated areas in the world. Moreover, the wall around the Gaza Strip, which has been in place since 1994, cuts off Gaza’s Palestinian residents from the rest of the world.

Whereas Israeli settlers living illegally in the Strip have complete freedom of movement, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are unable to leave the Gaza Strip without Israeli permission. In other words, Israel has effectively caged in the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, cutting them off from the rest of occupied Palestinian territory and the world.

Due to Gaza’s complete isolation, 65% of Palestinian households in the Gaza Strip survive on only $2.25 per day per person,10 and 11.4% of Gazans suffer from chronic malnutrition. At the same time, Israel has continued to carry out attacks in the Gaza Strip, including military invasions, aerial bombings, assassinations, home demolitions, and land confiscations. In the process, since September 2000, 1,802 Palestinian civilians have been killed, while at least 20,000 Palestinians have been made homeless.

9. What if Israel were only to finish building the Wall along the western portion of the Occupied West Bank, would that be acceptable?

No. Any wall that allows for the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, denies Palestinian freedom of movement within their own territory, or the ability to earn a livelihood is neither “humane” nor politically acceptable. Even without the previously planned eastern Wall, 9.5% of the occupied West Bank (home to approximately 242,000 Palestinians) will remain situated between the Wall and the 1967 boundary. Moreover, including the additional 8.0%

of the occupied West Bank taken by settlement blocs on the “Palestinian” side of the Wall, along with the 28.5% that remains entirely under the jurisdiction of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, 46% of the West Bank’s most valuable lands will be taken by Israel. Key Palestinian natural resources (including water and agricultural land) lie in the portion of the Wall that has already been built or that is slated for construction.

10. Is there any proof that Israel is attempting to annex Palestinian land?

Yes. In addition to Palestinian East Jerusalem, which Israel illegally attempted to annex in 1982, Israel is treating areas beyond the Wall as though it were the territory of Israel. In some areas, such as the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, where checkpoints have been moved deeper into occupied Palestinian territory, Palestinians are required to obtain permits to enter “the State of Israel” even if they want to travel within occupied Palestinian territory beyond the checkpoint. Meanwhile, Israel has also confiscated some 6,000 dunums (1,500 Acres) for the construction of an “industrial zone” at the Wall, which will serve as a source of cheap Palestinian labor for Israeli companies. Additionally, some Palestinian landowners in Zayta have received expropriation orders indicating that Israel intends to “correct the border.” Thus, while Israel has not passed formal annexation laws with regard to these areas, it has nevertheless taken measures aimed at their de facto annexation, in violation of international law.

In September, 2004, a tunnel was completed between Qalqilya and Habla. However, Israel did not reissue permits to farmers who own land above the tunnel. The Israelis informed them that now they had a tunnel to access Qalqilya, they no longer needed permits, even though the tunnel provides no access to their lands, which lie between Qalqilya and Habla.

Furthermore, Israel is attempting to coerce the migration of the Palestinian population in the Closed Zone: approximately 20% of homes in these areas are under threat of demolition, including in the area of Arab Ramadin, south of Qalqilya where one-third of the village’s 33 homes are under threat of demolition. (See question 4).

11. Is there a connection between the Wall and Israel’s “Disengagement Plan”?

Yes. West Bank Wall construction and settlement expansion is actually the flip-side of the so-called Gaza “Disengagement” Plan. Under the Plan, Israel claims that it will eventually evacuate its illegal colonies in the occupied Gaza Strip. In a unilateral “exchange” for evacuating its 8,000 settlers in the Gaza Strip – along with a few hundred in the northern West Bank – constituting just under 2% of more than 400,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel intends to retain and expand its colonies (settlements) in the occupied West Bank (including occupied Palestinian Jerusalem).

In other words, in “exchange” for evacuating from less than 1% of Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel expects to keep more than 40% of occupied Palestinian territory. In order to ensure Israeli control over much of the West Bank, the Wall has been routed so as to ensure Israeli control over major settlements around these blocs and their planned expansion areas. Just this year alone, Israel has approved plans to make room for 30,000 more settlers in the West Bank, largely in and around East Jerusalem.

12. But won’t the Wall separate Israelis from Palestinians?

No. Rather than separating Palestinians from Israelis, the Wall separates Palestinians from Palestinians, as well as from their land and livelihoods. Since the Wall has been routed to accommodate Israeli colonies and their planned expansion, Palestinians are now caged into reservations separating Palestinians from one another. The Wall divides Palestinian farmers from their land, Palestinian students from their schools, and Palestinian worshippers from their holy sites and Palestinian patients from their hospitals. At the same time, illegal Israeli settlers are granted free movement both within occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel. Palestinians do not seek, and have never sought separation. Palestinians seek freedom. The

Palestinian vision of peace is based on inclusion rather than exclusion: Palestinians seek a warm peace with Israel based on justice and equality between two states, Israel and Palestine enjoying mutually beneficial economic and social cooperation. Real peace is one in which bridges are built; not walls.

13. Is the Wall legal under international law?

No. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that the Wall is illegal under international law and is not a military necessity. In reaching this conclusion, the Court determined that: (1) in order to build the Wall, Israel destroyed or confiscated Palestinian property in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention;11 (2) Israel’s severe restrictions on Palestinian movement violate international human rights and humanitarian law;12 (3) the Wall impedes the right of Palestinians to work, health, education and to an adequate standard of living,13 and (4) the Wall “severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination.”14 The Court also ruled that Israel must halt construction of the Wall, return the land to Palestinians whose property has been seized and pay compensation to them. For a full legal analysis of the Wall’s violation of international law, please visit

14. Is the Wall legal under the Oslo Agreements?

No. The Wall violates the Oslo Agreements.

  • Obligation to Preserve the Territorial Integrity of the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period. (Interim Agreement, Chapter 2, Article XI).

The construction of the Wall within Occupied Palestinian Territory violates the territorial integrity of the Occupied West Bank.

  • Prohibition on Changing the Status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations. (Interim Agreement, Chapter 5, Article XXXI).

  • Prohibition Against Restricting Freedom of Movement

Without derogating from Israel’s security powers and responsibilities in accordance with this Agreement, movement of people, vehicles and goods in the West Bank, between cities, towns, villages and refugee camps, will be free and normal and shall not need to be effected through checkpoints or roadblocks. (Interim Agreement, Annex I, Article IX, para 2(a)).

Israel’s security powers, with respect to freedom of movement, extend only to prohibiting or limiting the entry into Israel of persons and of vehicles from the occupied Palestinian territory. Building a Wall within the occupied West Bank affects Palestinian freedom of movement not only into Israel, but also within and throughout occupied Palestinian territory.

15. What is the international community doing to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law?

International condemnation of the Wall has been widespread: the UN General Assembly has passed two Resolutions demanding that Israel stop and reverse the Wall’s construction, and even the United States has expressed its serious concerns over the Wall. Nonetheless, despite these condemnations, the international community has taken no substantive action to stop the construction of the Wall in occupied Palestinian territory.

The Fourth Geneva Convention obliges the international community to ensure that the

Convention, a primary purpose of which is to protect civilian populations under occupation, is respected:

The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances. (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 1).

This obligation was highlighted by the International Court of Justice which recently ruled that:

All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction… In addition all State parties to the Geneva Convention… are under an obligation… to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.

If the international community continues to allow Israel to construct the Wall, it will only serve to teach Israel that it will never be held accountable for its violations of international law and fundamental human rights.

16. Doesn’t the Wall create an opportunity for peace?

No. By destroying the possibility of the two-state solution, Israel’s Wall creates a barrier to peace. The Wall itself takes the West Bank’s most valuable agricultural lands and water resources, along with Palestinian East Jerusalem. Settlement expansion to the east of the Wall and Israeli control over the Jordan Valley will take more of the lands and resources necessary for a future Palestinian state. Without access to these vital land and water resources, or the Palestinian capital East Jerusalem, there can be no viable Palestinian state. Without a viable Palestinian state, there can be no viable peace.

Today’s Wall and settlement (colony) expansion, however, do not just threaten achieving peace today, but also may deny that possibility for generations to come. Together, the Wall and settlements create the conditions to change demography. An influx of Israeli settlers into Israeli-occupied areas – all with the military and economic support of the Israeli government – combined with growing restrictions and hardships on Christian and Muslim Palestinians isolated or constricted by the Wall and settlements will make historic Palestinian communities non-sustainable, both economically and culturally. Meanwhile, remaining Palestinians will be trapped in urbanized ghettoes, with neither the means nor the freedom to build an independent and bright future of their own.

One year after the ICJ’s ruling on Israel’s Wall, however, the settlements continue to expand and the Wall continues to rise. Since July 9th of last year, many kilometers of Wall have been built, 604 homes demolished, 553 Palestinian civilians have been killed, and over 6,391 settlement units have been approved, which can house over 30,000 settlers. All of this continues despite the Court’s ruling that every nation has an obligation to ensure Israel’s compliance with the law – in this case, dismantling the Wall or moving it to the 1967 boundary, and dismantling all of its settlements, all illegal under international law.

Ensuring the law’s equal application to and protection for all – regardless of race, creed or

Ethnicity – is the only way to create the conditions in which to negotiate a fair and lasting peace. Peace, after all, is the best security – for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Enforcing the law selectively, therefore, ultimately serves no one’s interests. By ignoring Israel’s violations of international law, and by failing to comply with its own law, the international community may unwittingly embolden those who would act against the interests of peace.

  • 1. These figures include occupied East Jerusalem, the “no-man’s land” area of the Latrun Valley, and the so-called Ariel Finger.
  • 2. Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, International Court of Justice, 9 General List No. 131. para. 140 (July 2004).
  • 3. Last checked July 6, 2005. B’Tselem, The Separation Barrier,
  • 4. Israel Defense Forces Order Concerning Security Directives (Judea and Samaria)(number 378), 1970 Declaration Concerning the Closure of Area Number s/2/03 (Seam Area), Section 3a.
  • 5. Israel Military  July 3rd, 2005.
  • 6. began construction of the Wall. July 3rd, 2005. Data provided by Palestine Red Crescent Society. A total of 4,681 were killed during the intifada (up until July 3rd, 2005), of which 1,974 were killed before Israel
  • 7. Data provided by Palestine Red Crescent Society. Figures are accurate up to July 3, 2005.
  • 8.  Supra note 5 at para 121.
  • 9. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
  • 10. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, July, 2005
  • 11. Id.
  • 12. Id. at para. 134.
  • 13. Id.
  • 14. Id. At para 122
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