TEL-AVIV – The Israeli government has begun to erect a so-called “Defensive Fence,” part concrete, part wired net, all with barbed wire and equipped with sophisticated electronic warning systems. In its first stage, the wall will run approximately 70 miles, roughly parallel to the 1949 armistice line (the “Green Line”) but within the eastern, Palestinian side of the line. In several places, it will leave on its western, Israeli side settlements that were set up on confiscated Palestinian soil. The construction of this walled fence will take more than a year and will cost an estimated one billion shekel ($210 million).

A similar fence is already near completion within Jerusalem. There, it does not follow the 1949 dividing line at all. Instead, it entrenches the Israeli annexation of settlements established since 1967, isolating the 220,000 Palestinian residents of eastern and northern Jerusalem from the outside world and the rest of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his hard-liner Likud associates assert that the new fence, although it runs close to the pre-1967 line internationally recognized as the border of the State of Israel, is not a future border between Israel and Palestine. They state repeatedly that the Israeli army and other security services will rule both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

The most extreme voices say the wall would herald the end of their dream of a “Greater Israel from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean coast.” If fences are necessary, they maintain, they should be built around each Palestinian town and village.

Sharon and his myrmidons assure these groups that Israel will rule forever over the whole of pre-1948 Palestine. If and when a Palestinian state becomes a fact, it would remain under Israel’s “security hood,” its border guarded by Israeli forces, its civilian authority under Israeli control.

The Palestinian Authority has sharply condemned the fence. They say it will separate several Palestinian localities and their agricultural land from the rest of the Palestinian West Bank and annex them to the Israeli side, and it will prolong the de facto imprisonment of more than three-and-a half million Palestinian people in huge reservations, encircled by barbed wire, tanks and heavily armed occupation troops. President Yasser Arafat termed the fence a “fascist method of racist encirclement.”

The leadership of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel has condemned the fence, including the unilateral decision to build it, its annexation of Palestinian land, and the fact that it will divide towns and separate Israeli Arab towns from the West Bank and Gaza.

A Gush-Shalom ad, published in several dailies under the headline “The Evil Fence,” states, “East of the fence the occupation will continue, the settlements will multiply and the oppression of the Palestinians will get worse, engendering more resistance, hatred and attacks. … The fence will not bring peace; in fact, it is meant to be an alternative to peace. Its advocates argue that there is no partner for peace, because they are not ready to pay the price for peace. That fence will create a huge prison for the Palestinians, a ghetto for the Jews.”

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