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Profile: Israel's Construction of a Security Wall in the West Bank Town of Jayous Taking Pelstinian Farmland Out of Cultivation

Morning Edition: November 18, 2002

New Israeli Security Wall >

BOB EDWARDS, host:

The Israeli government broke ground last July on a major construction project in the West Bank. Today, graters and bulldozers continue to carve into dry, rocky earth to make way for a wall. When finished, it will separate Israel from the West Bank. NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Jayous in the West Bank.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

It should have been a normal, productive day in Jayous, with Palestinian farmers working in the olive groves that cradle the small West Bank town. But when some construction vehicles were spotted in the distance, a call went out to the farmers in the hills and the fields.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: About a hundred people, farmers and their families, quickly gathered on a dirt track and watched as several army jeeps and a bulldozer drove up the path. The farmers had been waiting for this day since September, when they received a notice that their land was being requisitioned by the Israeli government to build a concrete wall, one that will cut off more than 70 percent of the farmland from the town. The Palestinian farmers said their only course of action was to try to block the bulldozer by standing in its path. But the Israeli military had its orders, and heavily armed soldiers tried to move the farmers. After several warnings, the inevitable happened.

SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION; YELLING

NORTHAM: A volley of tear gas pushed the crowd back, but not for long. Later, soldiers fired live ammunition in the air. Finally, a curfew was imposed on Jayous, and the construction crews finished their work. Similar confrontations are being played out in many parts of the West Bank, but it's an ineffectual fight by the Palestinian farmers against a government determined to build a wall. Zalman Shoval, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, says the wall is necessary for Israeli security.

Mr. ZALMAN SHOVAL (Senior Adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon): With the increase in suicide bombings and things like that a year ago, people began to say, `Why shouldn't we create some sort of fence separating us from the Palestinians, preventing terrorists from coming in?'

NORTHAM: But many Palestinian farmers say the wall will be disastrous for them. Long sections of it will not follow the Green Line, the internationally accepted border between Israel and the occupied West Bank. Instead it will weave in and out of Palestinian territory, in the process gobbling up thousands of acres of land, the only source of income for many farmers.

Mr. SHARIF HALLAD: They confiscate all the land within this five kilometers. Yes? They ...(unintelligible) total to the Green Line.

NORTHAM: Two weeks after the confrontation in Jayous, Sharif Hallad(ph) travels over rutted lanes to get to his farm. Behind him is the now scared earth where the wall will be built. Three miles ahead of him is the Green Line. In between is a valley, more than 2,000 acres filled with greenhouses, fruit and vegetable farms owned by Palestinians. All of it will fall on the Israeli side of the fence once it's built. Hallad says his losses will be enormous.

Mr. HALLAD: Inside the fence, inside the security wall, as we call it, I lose 2,700 trees, not only olive; 500 citrus, 100 avocado, 50 mango, 50 apple.

NORTHAM: Ezra Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlers, says the patch of land between the wall and the Green Line will become what he calls a sterile area. In effect, a free-fire zone. That, Rosenfeld says, will make it easier for security forces to apprehend any suspected Palestinian militants trying to get into Israel.

Mr. EZRA ROSENFELD (Spokesman, Yesha Council): Any fence can be traversed, so therefore the idea was to support the fence by a sterile area which no one is allowed to be in, and therefore if anyone is in the sterile area, the assumption is that he is hostile, and therefore can be shot at.

NORTHAM: The Israeli government says that Palestinian farmers will still be allowed to work their fields, but they'll have to pass through a gate manned by Israeli soldiers. Many farmers in Jayous worry the nearest gate could be miles away, and that they'll need permission to gain access to their fields. That, they say, is a reality now in the West Bank. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Jayous in the West Bank.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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