Many of the atrocities that are being committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza against the Palestinian population have had little coverage by news media around the world. Similar to the cover up that the Israeli government and its military attempted in the aftermath of the Jenin atrocities, the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Defense Force are doing their best to cover up, and divert attention from, major crimes in the making. One of these crimes has been in progress for a while with little attention from the world.
The Israeli government, with the expressed approval of Ariel Sharon, has prepared a plan to build a wall to encircle the western perimeter of the West Bank and separate it completely from Israel, in the same style as the infamous Berlin Wall. The government has not published the details of the plan and considers it a “secret” including the specifications of the wall and its location with respect to the Green Line, the 1967 line of demarcation. While the plan seems to be more advanced in the northern part of the West Bank (the first phase), land confiscation has been in progress along the entire length of the planned wall. The confiscation of Baron Der, a church property north of Bethlehem, has been the most visible example of property confiscation in preparation for construction of the wall.
Baron Der is Armenian Church property located in the northern outskirts of Bethlehem. The 50 acre property was bought in 1641 by Grigor Baron Der (1560-1645), the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. Over the past five centuries, Baron Der has served as an Armenian Apostolic administrative center, a location for religious retreats, a religious training center, an income producing orchard and an archaeological site. The property contains a monastic building that has served as a residence for Armenian monks who officiate in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Armenian monks from Jerusalem also use Baron Der for their annual retreat and for spiritual training. The land holds great meaning for the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Armenian Palestinians and Armenians throughout the world. The confiscation of Baron Der has very special significance to all Palestinians, Christians and Moslems, and symbolizes the repression that the Israeli government has been practicing on all Palestinians including all minorities within them.
For over a year, the Israeli army has occupied the Armenian property of Baron Der, citing Israeli security as its justification. In April of 2002, without the knowledge or consent of the Armenian Patriarchate, the Israeli Army paved a military road through Baron Der. The road is approximately 1000 meters long and 50 meters wide. When paving the road, the IDF destroyed tombs and antiquities on the property, uprooted many of the olive trees that had been on the property for centuries and rendered the property essentially unusable. At that time, an Israeli military commander and representative of the Israeli Army stated that the road would be for temporary use only. He further “reassured” the Armenian Patriarchate that the Israeli Army would restore the area to its original state once the situation in the region settled.
In recent weeks, the Israeli government has escalated its violations against the Armenian Church by announcing its intention to convert the road into a permanent security wall. The wall would effectively divide the property into two useless plots. The Israeli Ministry of Defense has stated that the security wall is intended to be a separation wall between the West Bank and Israel, but the Israeli authorities have offered no satisfactory explanation why the wall can not be built around the property. The good-faith efforts of the Armenian Patriarchate to reach a negotiated settlement with the Israeli authorities have either been ignored or have met with responses that have been totally unsatisfactory. As of this time, the seizure of the property continues, and Israeli plans to divide the property with a permanent wall are moving forward. Apparently this had always been the intention of the Israeli government and their discussions with the Armenian Church had been nothing more than the usual deception practiced by the Israeli government regarding everything they have done and continue to do in the West Bank and Gaza.
The impact of the separation wall on the entire West Bank will be the same as its impact on Baron Der. It will divide properties, separate them permanently from their owners, separate entire Palestinian communities from the rest of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and make travel for Palestinians on the eastern side of the wall even more difficult than it is today. The exact location of the wall may be a “secret,” but the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has been able to piece the route that the wall will follow in the northern part of the West Bank (the first phase). B’Tselem’s information is based on what little has been published in the Israeli media about the wall, on actual confiscation of Arab land by the IDF in the name of “security,” and on contacts with various Israeli government agencies. B’Tselem has published a position paper on the infamous wall, a map showing where the wall is expected to be built in the northern West Bank and the specification of the wall. B’Tselem’s paper outlines the devastation that the wall will have on the Palestinian population.
According to B’Tselem, the location of Sharon’s Wall, the Israeli Berlin Wall, will be up to several kilometers inside the West Bank (east of the 1967 border). B’Tselem’s map traces the route of the wall and shows the Palestinian communities that will end up on the west (Israeli) side of the wall once it is built and, therefore isolated from the rest of the West Bank Palestinians. Palestinians on either side of the wall will be denied access to their farms, orchards and their places of work on the opposite sides of the wall. Whether the communities isolated on the west side will be allowed to stay on the Israeli side is not known at this time but many of us can guess that the IDF will find an ingenious way to evict the population to the east side of the wall and confiscate their land for Israeli settlers, again in the name of security. The wall will also cut off some of the Palestinian roads and in some cases will cause what is today a 10 minute car journey to take hours especially that the new journey will cross one or more additional Israeli checkpoints.
The wall, which is really an elaborate separation barrier “system” will consist of a “smart” fence in the center with a barrier (trench) against vehicles to the east of the wall and another fence to the east of the trench for delay purposes. The average width of the barrier ranges from 50 to 70 meters and may reach up to 100 meters in some locations. Depth barriers may also be added in areas where the wall may come “too close” to the Green Line. It should be expected that an additional buffer zone east of the wall will be declared a military zone off-limits to the Palestinian population.
While this wall is defended by the Israeli government as necessary for security, it is obviously intended to give Israel the excuse to grab more Palestinian land from any potential Palestinian state. Imagine 10 to 15 kilometers taken away from the perimeter of the West Bank bordering Israel; even if one conservatively assumes an average of 5 kilometers will be lost to the west of the wall (let alone the buffer zone on the east side) along the West Bank border with Israel, that will constitute a loss close to 28 percent of the current land mass of the West Bank. As with its other actions since 1967, Israel is again attempting to change the facts on the ground to influence the outcome of future negotiations and continue its efforts to make life ever more miserable for the Palestinian population with the hope that they may simply give up and leave.
The saddest part about this wall is that it is being planned and built illegally, in violation of international law. Israel is building their Sharon Wall in violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, in violation of several UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting Israel from such actions, and under the nose of the international community including the United Nations and the “honest peace broker,” the United States. No one so far has lifted a finger to oppose this yet another crime against the people of Palestine. As far as our free press is concerned, this development must not really be news worthy of printing, and as far as our president is concerned, Sharon is a man of peace.
B’Tselem’s position paper is available on their web site http://www.btselem.org
B’Tselem’s map of the northern West Bank showing the route of the security wall is available on their web site http://www.btselem.org
Michael S. Ladah is a Friends Boys School graduate (class of 1958). He is the author of “Quicksand, Oil and Dreams: The Story of One of Five Million Dispossessed Palestinians.”