April 6, 2009
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR


   

NPR NEWS TRAVELS “ISRAEL’S BARRIER” TO WITNESS FENCE’S IMPACT ON PEOPLE LIVING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE CONFLICT

MULTIMEDIA SERIES FROM CORRESPONDENT ERIC WESTERVELT
AND PHOTOGRAPHER DAVID GILKEY AIRS IN FOUR PARTS APRIL 6-9 ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED WITH VIDEO, PHOTOS AND EXTRAS AT www.NPR.org


April 6, 2009, Washington, D.C. – Starting today, NPR News introduces “Israel’s Barrier,” an in-depth multimedia series that journeys the length of the 450-mile wall dividing Israel from Palestine to examine how it impacts the lives of people on both sides of the conflict. Reported by foreign correspondent Eric Westervelt and photographer David Gilkey, “Israel’s Barrier” will be told over four parts on the afternoon newsmagazine All Things Considered from April 6 to April 9, and through original video and photography at www.npr.org/news/specials/2009/israelbarrier The site also offers maps detailing the region, and additional reporting from Westervelt.

Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sworn in a few days ago, has discussed expanding economic incentives for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, but has downplayed talks of a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. To show in great detail the continuing conflict and controversy over “Israel’s Barrier,” Westervelt and Gilkey spent several weeks traveling both sides of the barrier – giant cement walls in some places and a metal fence with barbed wire in others – that separates the West Bank from Israel. Israelis credit the wall for helping to dramatically reduce suicide bombings and other militant attacks on Israel; Palestinians say the wall and its hundreds of military checkpoints have stifled economic betterment by impeding the movement of goods and people, and have divided families.

In the series, Westervelt and Gilkey tell personal stories from both sides of the divide – a tree farmer whose once-thriving nursery has been partially declared a closed military zone; bordering neighborhoods that share one elementary school, requiring children to navigate security checkpoints; and a refuge camp in Bethlehem, now completely cut off from Jerusalem a few miles up the road. They also visit Ariel, one of Israel’s largest settlements in the West Bank, and hear from its mayor and founder. The four-part series is as follows:

Part One, April 6: Since the construction of the fence, farmer Hassan Shrem’s once thriving tree and plant nursery near Qalqilya now lies partly in what’s been declared a “closed military zone.” To get to their jobs, only a short distance away, his laborers in the northern West Bank must navigate an elaborate security screening. Israelis on the other side of the barrier, meantime, credit the fence with saving lives and returning calm to the coastal city of Netanya once rattled frequently by suicide bombings. "The ability to put a bomb is much harder when you’ve got a wall. This was the situation we were forced to do. That was the only thing that stopped the bombing here," says Netanya doctor and city councilman Zvi Sacks.

Part Two, April 7: The close knit, neighboring villages of Ras Tira and Ras Atiya used to share schools, medical facilities, shops and more. Israel, citing security concerns, put its barrier between the two villages. Children and workers now have to navigate a checkpoint manned by heavily armed Israeli soldiers to get to school or work, and to visit family and friends.

Part Three, April 8: For the moment, Ariel, one of Israel’s biggest settlements deep inside the West Bank, is outside the barrier. Its mayor and other local leaders are not happy about that. And it's become something of an issue in relations between Israel and the U.S. Mayor Ron Nachman warns Israeli officials the settlement is not as protected from attack as it should be, saying: “When something will happen, somebody will have to be responsible for that. I wrote to the minister of defense, I wrote to the prime minister, to the generals. I said, ‘Listen, when crisis will come and disaster will be, you will not be able to claim not guilty. Each one of you will be guilty. Because you cannot abandon the security of the people.’”

Part Four, April 9: In Bethlehem, now penned in by a giant cement wall, families in a refugee camp feel completely cut off from Jerusalem just a few miles up the road. For centuries, Jesus’ birthplace was integrally linked to Jerusalem. Today, many of those commercial, social and political ties have been severed. Retired Colonel Danny Tirza, “father of the wall” as he’s sometimes called, defends the barrier and its route.

With 17 international bureaus and offices, NPR News has more foreign bureaus than the other major U.S. broadcast networks, offering in-depth coverage across its programming on air and online. NPR’s newest bureau, in Islamabad, Pakistan, opens this week.

All Things Considered, NPR’s signature afternoon newsmagazine, is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel, and reaches more than 13 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org