- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

JERUSALEM — Palestinian olive farmer Fuad Jado describes his small patch of land outside Bethlehem as an “open prison.”

To the north and west is the road used by those traveling to and from Har Gilo, a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Mr. Jado said the Israeli army forbids him from using the road.

To the south and east snakes Israel’s West Bank barrier — part barbed-wire fence, part 26-foot-high concrete slabs — that, when complete, will leave Mr. Jado and the other residents of this small community trapped permanently in a no man’s land between Israel and the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Already, a gate in the barrier’s wire fence has been closed, and the only exit that remains is a gap in the huge concrete blocks accessible only on foot.

After a visit to the Middle East by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared a cease-fire yesterday at a summit in Egypt aimed at ending more than four years of bloodshed.

“The calm which will prevail in our lands starting from today is the beginning of a new era,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, where Israeli and Palestinian flags flew side by side.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: “We must all declare here today that violence will not prevail, violence will not be allowed to murder hope. … For the first time in a long time, there is hope in our region for a better future for us and our grandchildren.”

Mr. Abbas said the Palestinians agreed to stop violence, while Mr. Sharon called a halt to military operations at the highest-level meeting since near the start of the Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, in which about 3,350 Palestinians and 970 Israelis have been killed since September 2000.

However, Israel is continuing to build the “separation barrier” at speed, particularly near Jerusalem.

It is planned to run 435 miles through the West Bank, and is now about half complete. In some places, the barrier cuts deep into the West Bank in what some Palestinians say is a deliberate land grab by Israel to influence decisions on a permanent border.

Israel says the structure is necessary to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from attacking its citizens.

The Foreign Ministry says the barrier is “a temporary and reversible line of defense” against attacks by Palestinian militants. The ministry says it has taken into account the humanitarian needs of those affected by the structure, but that “it cannot be clearly stated that the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement must take precedence over the right of Israelis to live.”

The Israeli government said the barrier was working and was responsible for a 30 percent drop in attacks by Palestinian militants in 2003.

Such statistics are one reason Israel has refused to bow to international pressure to dismantle what it calls a “security fence.” In July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague ruled the barrier illegal under international law and said construction should be halted.

The Sharon government rejected the ICJ’s findings but moved construction closer to the 1967 Green Line border between Israel and the Palestinian territories in some areas after a ruling from Israel’s high court.

Haaretz.com, the Internet site of the Israeli daily newspaper, reported that Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled yesterday that the government can resume construction of a portion of the separation fence between northwest Jerusalem and Modi’in.

The court had issued a temporary injunction freezing construction while it considered a petition by residents of Biddu and Beit Surik, villages near the planned route. Yesterday, the court canceled much of the injunction but said the petitioners still could contest portions of the fence’s route that are particularly close to villages.

Haaretz.com said the court gave the petitioners three days to appeal to the Civilian Administration and register their opposition to state confiscation of their land.

Jamal Juma, a Palestinian activist against the barrier, said the continued construction is affecting an increasing number of people.

“The implications of the wall are becoming more dramatic, and every day the level of humiliation is increasing for Palestinians,” he said. “But they have been struggling for 50 years — they won’t accept this reality in the end.”

Israeli human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will be affected by the completed barrier, and many will be cut off from access to their farmlands, jobs and health care services.

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