Saturday, November 1, 2003

JERUSALEM — A hard-hitting U.N. report has warned that Israel will effectively annex large tracts of Palestinian territory by ordering thousands of Arabs living near the new security wall to apply for permits to stay in their homes.

The wall has been built inside the internationally recognized Green Line, encroaching on about 18,000 acres of Palestinian land and cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. They have now been declared a “closed military zone.”

Israelis living in settlements in the zone will receive automatic residence rights, but more than 10,000 Palestinians must apply for permission to continue living in the 15 villages affected, fueling charges that Israel is attempting to colonize or annex the area.

“The prohibitive effect of the permit system raises serious concerns of effectively causing thousands of Palestinians to leave these areas,” said the report by the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “These areas would be effectively annexed to Israel.”

The report is likely to heighten tensions between Israel and the United Nations, which is viewed as instinctively anti-Israel by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“We are saying that if these people are not allowed to stay in that area, it is de facto annexation because they cannot go back to their homes. If these people are deprived of their homes and of their livelihoods, it will be a humanitarian disaster,” said David Shearer, the head of the U.N. agency.

The Israeli government, which says the wall is designed to deter Palestinian suicide bombers by sealing off the West Bank from Israel, has regularly revised its plans for the barrier, which will now stretch more than 400 miles.

About 100 miles of the wall are now complete. Among the West Bank villages affected is Ras e-Tira, which lies 4 miles east of the Green Line but west of the wall. It is home to about 400 people, some of whose families have lived in the area for centuries.

The village is now encircled by the fence and wedged between two large Israeli settlements that are extending their boundaries. The village has no schools or clinic and few basic amenities, forcing many of the residents to travel beyond its limits. The travel permits they can obtain from the military allow them only to get to the local military office: there they must get additional permits to visit the hospital.

Mahir Maraabeh, an English teacher from Ras e-Tira, works at a school in Kibla, a village that is now on the other side of the wall. He can still get to work for now because other Palestinians opened a small hole in the wire fencing. When this is sealed off, however, he believes he will have to move to Kibla or face losing his job.

“They are trying to force us out, to migrate to other areas,” Mr. Maraabeh said.

The new order on closed zones and permits is expected to dominate talks proposed for this week between Palestinian officials and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

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