border 2 FROM THE FIELD
Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East

A Look at the Israeli West Bank Barrier Wall

by |August 30, 2017
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A portion of the West Bank Wall near Baqa al-Gharbiyye. Photo: Cheryl Poccia

By Cheryl Poccia

In August 2017, nine Columbia University students traveled to Jordan and Israel to learn about how the two countries are cooperating on environmental issues and managing shared natural resources. This is one in a series of posts about the trip.

Unlike other towns that we visited in Israel, Baqa al-Gharbiyye is a predominantly Arab community that has been directly impacted by the West Bank Barrier—a 25-foot concrete wall and, in some places, a security fence that divides Israel from Palestine.

To most Israelis, the wall is considered a security measure protecting Israel from attacks by the Palestinian community. Many Palestinians consider the separation manifested in the wall a form of apartheid. The international community, for the most part, and the United Nations, consider the wall a separation barrier—the legality of which is in question.

The wall was constructed in the early 2000s to define a triangle within the Green Line, a territorial demarcation established as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements concluding the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. To date, the wall is incomplete; when it is complete, it will cover approximately 700 kilometers, exceeding the length of the Green Line. Only a small portion of the wall is on Israeli land: 85 percent of is on the West Bank. Israel defined its boundaries to accommodate topographical issues and community gatherings.

What we noticed while visiting is that Baqa al-Gharbiyye—as well as other cities—has been deeply impacted by the construction of the wall. Communities have been irreversibly altered as the wall divided their neighborhoods. Homes have been destroyed with no warning, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been isolated from each other and their communities, and the impact that the construction has had on the local environment is evident: waterways have been blocked and untreated waste-water from nearby rivers is visible in local water supplies. The wall was originally intended to be a temporary security measure but by all accounts appears to be quite permanent.

Where we visited, the impact on the Palestinian people was clear. Their connections to each other were severely altered, with commutes to work and school that used to take fewer than fifteen minutes now stretched in some situations to three hours or more. Palestinian homes have been occupied by Israeli Defense Forces as checkpoints. Before they’re permitted to travel across the border, Palestinians and Israelis need to be vetted and approved. Checkpoints for Israelis were frequent along the wall and border, while checkpoints for Palestinians could be up to an hour apart. And meeting the demands of these identification checkpoints, according to the Palestinians that we spoke to, can be difficult, if not impossible. They are sometimes classified as Israeli Muslims, other times as Palestinians, and everywhere they go they face discrimination and questioning. For many Palestinians, and some Israelis, the wall doesn’t protect either community as much as it further divides each.

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Tour with Mohamad Biadsi of Ecopeace on August 21,2017.

Cheryl Poccia is a student at Columbia University studying Sustainability Management Program. She participated in the Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East course in Jordan and Israel in August 2017. The course is a collaborative effort of Columbia’s School of Professional Studies and the Earth Institute, and the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University.  


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