Profile: Idea of Separation of Israelis and Palestinians Gaining Great Popularity in that Region

All Things Considered: May 31, 2002

Mideast Separation

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Liane Hansen.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

Palestinian suicide bombers are again striking deep into Israel. The recent Israeli military assault on the West Bank towns and villages caused $300 million in damage and the arrest of thousands of Palestinians. But according to the Israeli military, Palestinian militants have already recovered and are again targeting Israel.

Now, after 19 months of violence, an Israeli grassroots movement claims to have another answer. It's called unilateral separation. And that means fencing off much of the West Bank. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The town of Makibala(ph) in northern Israel is a three-hour drive from Tel Aviv. In the early evening, it seems everyone in this small town is outside. Children play on the swing set in a fenced back yard. Nearby, two men sit on kitchen chairs. One is minding a baby. It's a quiet place, the pace of rural Israel.

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AMOS: Until now, few Israelis thought much about Makibala, but soon it will be on the political map, a map with a line that is a $25 million, 15-mile electrified fence. It will separate this Israeli village from the Palestinians in Jenin six miles away in the West Bank that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Makibala is caught up in a popular movement called unilateral separation.

Where is Jenin?

Mr. DANNY ATAR(ph): In Israel.

AMOS: Danny Atar sweeps his finger across a landscape of open fields and low hills. The Jenin refugee camp is directly across from us, and at this distance, blends into the beauty of this rural setting. Atar is the head of a regional council called The Forum of Seamline Settlements(ph), Israeli towns bordering the Palestinian areas in the West Bank. We are standing on a rooftop.

So people are going back and forth?

Mr. ATAR: Now, yes.

AMOS: And the army doesn't stop them?

Mr. ATAR: No.

AMOS: A Palestinian woman appears out of the tall grass. She's walked out of the refugee camp and into this Israeli town. It's startling because just outside Makibala, there is an Israeli military checkpoint with barbed wire and bristling guns to stop anyone from leaving Jenin. But this field is open. Palestinians walk across all the time, says Danny Atar. There is nothing to stop them.

Mr. ATAR: (Foreign language spoken)

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AMOS: Down from the rooftop, Atar strides across a field of dry grass to a ditch where the tall grass begins. With one jump, we cross from Israel into Palestinian Jenin, and here is where Atar wants to build his fence, right on the 1967 border.

Mr. ATAR: (Through Translator) We worked very hard to build a relationship of trust between us and the Palestinians of Jenin. Then came these suicide attacks, and most of the attackers came from Jenin.

Mr. HIRSCH GOODMAN (Israeli Journalist): What's happened in Israel is a very sharp shift to the right wing.

AMOS: Hirsch Goodman is an Israeli journalist and analyst.

Mr. GOODMAN: What they're saying is that, `We can't see us living together with the Palestinians.' They can't see a peace treaty between us. So what they're saying is they--for separation, let them live there and us here.

AMOS: It is a powerfully simple idea that unites Israeli doves and hawks. According to the polls, 60 percent to 70 percent of the Israeli public supports separation. But how to actually separate? It depends on whom you ask.

Professor YACHEM PRIO(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: In Jerusalem, a movement called Leaving Big pitches a tent across from the prime minister's office. Yachem Prio, a physics professor, is collecting signatures. For him, separation is more than security; it means unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank without waiting for peace negotiations.

Prof. PRIO: Our plan calls for indeed a fence or an obstacle, but more than that, it includes evacuation of several of the densely populated Arab areas, Palestinian areas from isolated Israeli settlements, so that the Palestinians can conduct their own life.

AMOS: Thirty-eight percent of Israelis say they support withdrawal from settlements to make defending Israel easier.

Prof. PRIO: What we're suggesting is that the isolated settlements, about 40 or 50 of those, should be cleared. And it's about 30, 40,000 people.

AMOS: Another group under this tent is the Council for Peace and Security. It raised a lot of money to promote unilateral separation and the group has credibility. Council members are retired military and intelligence officers, tough men who have fought Israel's wars.

Colonel SHLOMO DIVAR(ph): We would like to establish real separation or clear division between the two peoples where there will be drawn a line, a physical line, that will divide the two nations. Any IDF military would be only on our side of the line.

AMOS: Shlomo Divar, a colonel in the reserves, was the chief psychologist for the Israeli army. Now he devotes all his time to gathering signatures on petitions.

Col. DIVAR: We intend to sign up about one million Israeli citizens. We'll get back to the prime minister and we'll have the proof.

AMOS: The prime minister's approach remains the military one. If Israel is attacked from the West Bank, then Israel attacks back. It is an escalating cycle. Ariel Sharon has said he supports separation, but has not said where or how to separate. And there are powerful critics of building a fence in Sharon's Cabinet. One is Effi Eitam, the head of the National Religious Party. He does not want to remove any of Israel's 200 West Bank settlements.

Mr. EFFI EITAM (National Religious Party): Running away, building a fence is not a solution for anything. What kind of a fence, of a wall can stop this hatred, frustration and desperation? I don't think, I don't believe in these solutions. It's again something that you just use to manipulate people who want a solution for their personal security tomorrow.

AMOS: But many Israelis say the massive military incursion did not bring personal security. Suicide bombers have returned en force. And that has given a boost to the unilateral separation movement. Israelis here; Palestinians there.

Mr. GOODMAN: It's not implementable. It's a simplistic, populistic concoction that is there to fill the void of any real thinking in terms of: How do we resolve this problem, really?

AMOS: Again, analyst Hirsch Goodman.

Mr. GOODMAN: What is required in this country is leadership. We have to work toward a negotiated--a negotiated solution to this problem. And any settlement that's not negotiated will not last.

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AMOS: In Makibala, Danny Atar insists the fence comes first; then negotiations.

Mr. ATAR: (Through Translator) I know that in the end, it doesn't matter whether it takes one year or 50 years. The border between Israel and the state of Palestine will be wherever we intend to put this fence.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Makibala.

HANSEN: You can view Deborah's Middle East reports on the both the Palestinian and Israeli points of view tonight on the PBS television program "NOW with Bill Moyers." That's at 9 PM Eastern. Local listings are at pbs.org.

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YDSTIE: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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