Separation barrier

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Israeli separation barrier at Abu Dis, June 2004

Separation barrier or separation wall refers to a barrier, wall or fence constructed to limit the movement of people across a certain line or border, or to separate two populations.

David Henley opines in The Guardian that separation barriers are being built at a record-rate around the world along borders and do not only surround dictatorships or pariah states. The term "separation barrier" has been applied to structures erected in Belfast, Homs, the West Bank, São Paulo, Cyprus, and along the Greece-Turkey border and the Mexico-United States border. Several erected separation barriers are no longer active or in place, including the Berlin Wall, the Maginot Line and some barrier sections in Jerusalem.[1]


Barriers separate various Palestinian towns and villages within the occupied territories from each other and they separate Egypt and Jordan from Israel.[2]

Early barriers[edit]

Israel-Egypt separation barrier circa 2012
  • Egypt: A rusty low fence divided Israel's 155 mile Sinai Peninsula border with Egypt. It was often crossed by smugglers and Bedouins whose tribal lands straddle the border.[7] In 2010 Israel began building an electric fence with surveillance to keep out migrants and asylum seekers.[8]
  • Egypt-Gaza Strip barrier: In 1979, after the signing of the Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty, the two nations created a 14-kilometer-long, 100-meter-wide strip of land, the Philadelphi Route, as a buffer zone between Israeli-occupied Gaza and Egypt.[9] It includes the Rafah Border Crossing between Egyptian and Palestinian-controlled Rafah. Israel built a stronger corrugated sheet metal and barbed-wire barrier as part of a larger 200-to-300-meter buffer in the Philadelphia corridor during the Palestinian uprisings of the early 2000s.[10][11]

Rationale for separation barriers[edit]

At the end of the 1948 Palestine war with Arab states, Israel took control of almost 60% of the area allocated to the proposed Palestinian state recommended by UN General Assembly Resolution 181.[12] As a result, between 700,000 and 800,000 Palestinian refugees left Israel. Another 280,000 to 350,000 more were refugees of the 1967 war.[13] As of 2013 five million Palestinian refugees, including both first-generation refugees and their descendants, were registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.[14] Palestinians support the Palestinian right of return of refugees and their descendants to former lands and property, in Israel and the occupied territories, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel’s refusal to grant these demands over the years, despite a long peace process, has led to Palestinian protest, political action and political violence.[15]

Palestinian protest art on separation barrier running through Bethlehem.

In 1987 Palestinians began the First Intifada, organizing campaigns of civil disobedience as well as demonstrations with hundreds of youths throwing stones at Israeli troops.[16] In 1993 Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation signed the Oslo Accords. In 1996, after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced the intention to build an $80 million "'separation' barrier" between Israel and the West Bank.[17] After the 2000 Camp David Summit failed to bring about a "final status settlement" and Israeli leaders continued settlement activity in the West Bank, Palestinians began the far more violent Second Intifada. It included guerrilla warfare against Israeli military and civilian targets inside Israel using tactics like ambushes, sniper attacks, and suicide bombings.[18] In 2001 former prime minister Ehud Barak called for immediate "unilateral separation" from the Palestinians.[19] The idea of such separation, including through the use of "separation barriers", quickly became popular among traditional Left and Right politicians.[20] In early 2013 Ehud Barak promoted a unilateral separation in the West Bank as was done in Gaza in 2005.[21]

While Israel has said that the barriers are designed to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel to commit terrorist acts, Palestinians see them a means of confiscating West Bank land[22] and of short-circuiting the peace process;[23] former Palestine Authority leader Yassir Arafat said their goal was to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Palestinians have called them a form of collective punishment and a means of ethnic cleansing.[24] Many Palestinians and their supporters label the separation barriers an "apartheid wall,"[24][25] and some have publicly protested against them.[22][26][27]

Map of existing or planned West Bank separation barrier as of 2005

Israeli West Bank barrier[edit]

see Israeli West Bank barrier

Israel began building the Israeli West Bank barrier in 2002. When completed it will be a 400-mile long network of high walls, electronic fences, gates and trenches. It is the most controversial barrier because much of it is built outside Israel's 1949 Armistice (Green Line), annexing potentially 10 percent of Palestinian land, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It cuts far into the West Bank and encompasses Israel's largest illegal settlement blocs containing hundreds of thousands of settlers. Some Israeli politicians have admitted it is less a security measure than a new political border.[25] In 2012 Palestinian officials accused Israel of using it as a permanent border.[28][29]

In June 2004 the Israeli Supreme Court held that building the wall on West Bank Palestinian land is in itself legal, but it ordered some changes to the original route, which separated 35,000 Palestinian farmers from their lands and crops. The Israeli finance minister replied that it was disputed land, not Palestinian, and its final status would be resolved in political negotiation.[23] In July 2004, the International Court of Justice at The Hague in a nonbinding opinion declared the barriers illegal under international law and called on Israel to dismantle the walls, return confiscated land and make reparations for damages.[30][31]

Separation barrier around Jerusalem, 2009

Israel refers to land between the 1949 lines and the separation barrier as the Seam Zone, including all of Palestinian East Jerusalem. In 2003 the military declared that only Israeli citizens and Palestinians with permits are allowed to be inside it; Palestinians have found it increasingly difficult to get permits unless they own land in the zone.[32][33] The separation barrier cuts off east Jerusalem and some settlement blocs from the remainder of the West Bank, even as Israelis build illegal settlements in East Jerusalem.[34] Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have continued to protest the separation barrier.[35]

Israel also has built a barrier in the Jordan Valley near the Jordan border to prevent infiltration from Jordan and to prevent Palestinians from entering Jordan. Because of international condemnation after the International Court ruling Israel did not build an even stronger barrier, instead instituting a restrictive permit regime for Palestinians.[36] However, it has changed the route to allow settlements to annex parcels of land.[37] The existing barrier cuts off access to the Jordan River for Palestinian farmers in the West Bank.[38] Israeli settlement councils already have defacto control of 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea[39] as the settler population steadily grows there.[40] It is proposed that if Israel unilaterally disengages from the West Bank, as it did Gaza, it maintain a military presence there to contain Palestinians within the separation barrier.[21]

Other separation barriers[edit]

Green Line separation barrier, Cyprus
Beach in Tijuana at the American-Mexican border, circa 2006

Cyprus Since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Turkey has constructed and maintained what economics professor Rongxing Guo has called a "separation barrier" of 300 kilometres (190 mi) along the 1974 Green Line (or ceasefire line) dividing the island of Cyprus into two parts, with a United Nations buffer zone between them.[41]

Egypt The Egypt-Gaza barrier is often referred as "separation barrier" in the media.[42] or as a "separating wall".[43][44][45] In December 2009, Egypt started the construction of the Egypt–Gaza barrier along the Gaza border, consisting of a steel wall. Egypt's foreign minister said that the controversial wall, being built along the country's border with the Gaza Strip will defend it "against threats to national security".[46] Though the construction paused a number of times, the wall is nearly complete.

Kuwait Writer Damon DiMarco has described as a "separation barrier" the Kuwait-Iraq barricade constructed by the United Nations in 1991 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was repelled. With electrified fencing and concertina wire, it includes a 15-foot-wide trench and a high berm. It runs 120 miles along the border between the two nations.[47]

Malaysia Renee Pirrong of the Heritage Foundation described the Malaysia–Thailand border barrier as a “separation barrier.” Its purpose is to cut down on smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, crime and insurgency.[48]

Saudi Arabia In 2004 Saudi Arabia began construction of a Saudi-Yemen barrier between its territory and Yemen to prevent the unauthorized movement of people and goods into and out of the Kingdom. Some have labeled it a "separation barrier."[49] In February 2004 The Guardian reported that Yemeni opposition newspapers likened the barrier to the Israeli West Bank barrier,[50] while The Independent wrote "Saudi Arabia, one of the most vocal critics in the Arab world of Israel's 'security fence' in the West Bank, is quietly emulating the Israeli example by erecting a barrier along its porous border with Yemen".[51] Saudi officials rejected the comparison saying it was built to prevent infiltration and smuggling.[50]

Slovakia BBC reporter Nick Thorpe described a 150-meter-long and 2.2-meter-high wall in the Slovakian town of Ostrovany as a “separation barrier” and compares it to the Berlin Wall and the Israeli separation barriers because it is meant to divide the two-thirds majority Roma population from the native Slovaks. Slovaks accuse the Roma of stealing their fruit, vegetables and metal fence posts.[52]

United Kingdom Over 21 miles of high walling or fencing separate Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland, with most concentrated in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. The wall [clarification needed] was built in 1969 in order to separate the Catholic and Protestant areas in Belfast.[53] An Army Major, overseeing the construction of the wall at the time, said: ‘This is a temporary measure … we do not want to see another Berlin wall situation in Western Europe … it will be gone by Christmas’. In 2013, that wall still remains and almost 100 additional walls and barriers now complement the original. Technically known as 'peace walls', there are moves to remove all of them by 2023 by mutual consent.[54]

United States The United States has constructed a barrier along 130 kilometres (81 mi) of its border with Mexico of 3,169 kilometres (1,969 mi) to prevent unauthorized immigration into the United States and to deter smuggling of contraband. The Georgetown Journal of Law has referred to it as a "separation barrier" and suggests that while it is "revolting to many as an ugly face of separation" it could be used as an opportunity if part of a larger program of "foreign aid, infrastructure investment and regional development."[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Henley, Walls: an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank, The Guardian, November 19, 2013.
  2. ^ Steven Poole, Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality, Grove Press, 2007, p. 78-83, ISBN 0802143059, 9780802143051
  3. ^ "A History of Modern Israel - Colin Shindler - Google Books". 2013-03-25. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  4. ^ Stacie E. Goddard (2010). Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy: Jerusalem and Northern Ireland. Cambridge University Press. pp. 126–. GGKEY:SAAS0864HJ6. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "ISRAEL: The Good Fence Policy". TIME. 1976-08-16. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  6. ^ Mitchell G. Bard, Will Israel Survive?, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p.131, ISBN 0230605214, 9780230605213
  7. ^ Tim Butcher, Sharon presses for fence across Sinai, Daily Telegraph, December 07, 2005.
  8. ^ "BBC News - Israel starts building barrier on Egypt border". 2010-11-22. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  9. ^ Moshe Hirsch (2006). ""Treaty-Making Power: Approval of the Israel-Egypt "Philadelphi Accord" by the Knesset". Israel Law Review. p. 229. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  10. ^ Abrahams, Fred; Garlasco, Marc; and Li, Darryl (2004-10-18). "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. 
  11. ^ Rubin, Andrew (2005-07-07). "We Are No Longer Able to See the Sun". Al Ahram Weekly. 
  12. ^ Cragg, Kenneth. Palestine. The Prize and Price of Zion. Cassel, 1997. ISBN 978-0-304-70075-2. Pages 57, 116.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for palestine refugees in the near east". UNRWA. 2013-11-01. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  15. ^ Julie M. Norman, The Activist and the Olive Tree: Nonviolent Resistance in the Second Intifada, The American University, ProQuest, 2009, p. 69-70, ISBN 1109166699, 9781109166699
  16. ^ "Bbc News". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  17. ^ David Horovitz, Middle East peace process suspended after bombing, The Irish Times, March 4, 1996, via Highbeam.
  18. ^ Gal Luft, The Palestinian H-Bomb: Terror's Winning Strategy, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 4 (Jul. – Aug. 2002), pp. 2–7.
  19. ^ Janine Zacharia, Barak pushes unilateral separation in 'Times' op-ed, Jerusalem Post, May 25, 2005 via Highbeam.
  20. ^ Yosef Goell, Unilateral separation, Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2001 via Highbeam.
  21. ^ a b "Barak: consider unilateral separation from West Bank | Israel". Jewish Journal. 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  22. ^ a b "Thousands march in protest against separation barrier - SpecialsMiddleEastConflict". 2004-02-24. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  23. ^ a b " - Israel orders separation barrier changes". 2004-06-30. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  24. ^ a b Tami Amanda Jacoby (28 March 2013). Bridging the Barrier (Epub) Israeli Unilateral Disengagement. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 67–. ISBN 978-1-4094-9808-7. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  25. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  26. ^ "Palestinians Protest The Israeli Wall Surrounding The Gaza Strip - International Middle East Media Center". 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  27. ^ Maia Carter Hallward, Creative Responses to Separation: Israeli and Palestinian Joint Activism in Bil'in, Journal of Peace Research July 2009 vol. 46 no. 4 541-558.
  28. ^ "Palestinian leader blames Israel for failure of latest talks". Fox News. 2012-01-29. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  29. ^ Mohammed Daraghmeh and Dan Perry, Israel proposes West Bank barrier as border, Associated Press, January 27, 2012.
  30. ^ "U.N. court rules West Bank barrier illegal - Jul 9, 2004". 2004-07-10. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  31. ^ "International Court of Justice - Legal consequences of the construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory - Written Statement submitted by Palestine". 30 January 2004. p. 364. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  32. ^ "Israel's Separation Barrier:Challenges to the Rule of Law and Human Rights: Executive Summary Part I and II". International Commission of Jurists. 6 July 2004. Retrieved 2012-05-27. 
  33. ^ "Cabinet Communique". 1 October 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-31. 
  34. ^ "Palestinian official rejects partial Israeli settlement freeze to restart peace talks". 2013-03-24. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  35. ^ Ben Ehrenreich, Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?, New York Times, March 15, 2013.
  36. ^ "13 Feb. 2006: Israel has de facto annexed the Jordan Valley | B'Tselem". 2006-02-13. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  37. ^ Akiva Eldar, Israel effectively annexes Palestinian land near Jordan Valley, Haaretz, November 18, 2011.
  38. ^ Ferry Biedermann, Mideast: Environment Too Encounters a Barrier, Inter Press Service, November 25, 2004.
  39. ^ "Beyond the E-1 Israeli settlement | Maan News Agency". Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  40. ^ "EU on verge of abandoning hope for a viable Palestinian state". 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  41. ^ Rongxing Guo, Territorial Disputes and Resource Management: A Global Handbook, Nova Publishers, 2006, p 91, ISBN 1600214452, 9781600214455
  42. ^ "Egypt-Gaza Border Quiet Despite Political Rhetoric - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  43. ^ Fleishman, Jeffrey; Hassan, Amro (2009-12-21). "Egypt's barrier along Gaza border called 'wall of shame' - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  44. ^ Younis, Nora; Knickmeyer, Ellen (2008-01-26). "'Dear Palestinian Brothers . . . Please Return to Gaza'". Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  45. ^ Erlanger, Steven (2008-01-26). "Egypt Tries to Plug Border; Gazans Poke New Hole". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  46. ^ "Egypt defends Gaza wall - Middle East". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  47. ^ Damon DiMarco, Heart of War: Soldiers? Voices, Citadel Press, 2007, p. 129, ISBN 0806528141, 9780806528144
  48. ^ Renee Pirron,, Heritage Foundation blog, August 6, 2010
  49. ^ Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia: National Security in a Troubled Region, p. 276.
  50. ^ a b Whitaker, Brian (February 17, 2004). "Saudi security barrier stirs anger in Yemen". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  51. ^ Bradley, John (February 11, 2004). "Saudi Arabia enrages Yemen with fence". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  52. ^ Nick Thorpe, Slovakia's separation barrier to keep out Roma , BBC, March 9, 2010.
  53. ^ "The wall was built in 1969 to separate the Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankill Road. An Army Major, overseeing the construction of the wall at the time, said: ‘This is a temporary measure … we do not want to see another Berlin wall situation in Western Europe … it will be gone by Christmas’. In 2013, that wall still remains and almost 100 additional walls and barriers now complement the original. " [2]
  54. ^ "Robinson and McGuinness want “peace walls” down within 10 years". The Irish Times. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  55. ^ The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Volume 5, Georgetown University Law Center, 2007, p. 347.

External links[edit]